In the June primary, California voters will be asked whether to re-elect U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. California’s senior senator is facing more than 30 primary opponents — most prominently, State Senator Kevin de León. Senator Feinstein talks about why she’s running for re-election with KCRW’s Warren Olney. (Olney spoke to Kevin de León here.)
KCRW: Well Senator, let’s get down to it. You have been in the Senate since 1992. You’re 84 years old that’s beyond the retirement age of many corporations. Why don’t you step aside in favor of a new generation of leaders?
Feinstein: Because there’s so much left to do and because in the Senate there are a number of reasons. Because in the Senate seniority matters and you percolate up through the seats. And so I percolated to ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And number three on a very large committee which is the Appropriations Committee so I can be helpful and have been with transportation grants both north and south. Money and programs that might have not come about bills passed and seniority does matter. And I’m of good mind and good strength and I see no reason not to unless the electorate says no.
KCRW: Do you have anything new to offer the people of California that you haven’t done before. Are their priorities new priorities for you that you want to establish in 2018?
Feinstein: Well what I would do that I really have done some things in the air arena for but I’m looking to be much more broad based is the issue of homelessness, that is a huge issue in this state. Los Angeles County has 57,000 people homeless and I have come to the conclusion that homelessness is going to be with us for a while. You see Warren, when I was mayor way back in 1981 it was the year of AIDS and it was the first time in my life I had ever seen anyone eating out of a garbage can. I used to think well this will pass us by. I don’t think it’s going to pass us by. I think so many services that at one time in state hospitals and other places were provided for people are not now provided for people, and people out on the streets for a substantial period of time have a great deal of trouble getting back to work, putting themselves together. So I’m taking a good look at what I see. I went with the mayor and members of the city council to Skid Row.
KCRW: So how does this become a federal issue? What can the federal government do? What would you advocate that the Trump administration would do?
Feinstein: Well the federal government already spends money that goes to various aspects of homelessness. And that’s probably what would be done, is a certain kind of grant program set up and provide funds for the therapeutic services in conjunction with a private public partnership with the city or the county to provide certain kinds of housing for people where they could stay until they could get their life back together again and become functioning members of society. We have been very successful in getting money for the veterans’ center which is on Wilshire and San Vicente, and have completed the first set of 60 rooms in a barrack for homeless veterans. We have funded the second set and we now are looking at a third set of rooms to be able to fund.
KCRW: Let me get back to politics and ask you this, with the state Democratic convention. Senator de León got 54 percent of the vote. You got 37 percent. Are you out of touch with your party?
Feinstein: Well no because I’ve had that problem before. I haven’t gotten the party vote and it’s never really been an issue. It’s never really mattered nor did anybody else for governor get the 60 percent. But for some reason you know my number was singled out. I am a Democrat. I have served as a Democrat, but I am also a Democrat that’s going to work with Republicans and I’m also a Democrat that understands that right now we have to elect Democrats. All three branches of government are controlled by the Republican Party and that makes life very difficult for some of us that want to do the social things such as a meaningful program for homelessness.
KCRW: You said he would work with Republicans as senator de León once again says he wants California to lead the opposition to President Trump is a good idea for California to do that.
Feinstein: Well it all depends upon what California wants, I guess, and it all depends on whether you can do this as a freshman, as a freshman you’re at the end of the of the line and you work your way up. So you have to spend the time to really be in a place where you can make a difference. And now I believe I’m in that place. I believe I have been successful in making a difference and just not far from here for example I was able to get the money for the Purple Line. The second part of the Purple Line we just celebrated it. My particular mode is to work with people and I learned that as mayor, following two assassinations in a very divided city that what you don’t want to do is divide this country. What you want to do is bring this country together and get people of a mind to work together to solve the problems that face us. I deeply believe that.
KCRW: I asked Senator de León about the issue of seniority and he said the two of the things that you get the most credit for- one is the assault weapons ban and the other is the Desert Protection Act- you managed to accomplish in one of your first or second years in the Senate. He says that shows that you can get a lot done.
Feinstein: Oh That’s right. But it was Democratically controlled. There’s a big difference. So we need to restore a Democratic majority in each house. That will change the dynamic.That will do more, I think, to somewhat subdue the president to make him understand that there are two points of view. One of the things that I hope we’ll talk about that I’ve worked the hardest on has been mileage efficiency standards and this president has just decided that he’s going to throw out one half of my bill, which was a bipartisan bill, which went through in the Bush Administration and was signed by President Bush.
KCRW: So is that one of the areas where California should stand up against and be resistant to the president.
Feinstein: Yes. Oh yes absolutely. And I am. And we’ve written OpEds and spelled it out. So hopefully people will write to the president and say, “don’t do this Mr. President.” Global warming is real it’s happening and the earth is warming and it’s warming at a speed which is very dangerous.
KCRW: You said as recently as last August that we need to have patience with the president and that he could be a good president. Did you get ahead of the game?
Feinstein: What I said, Let me correct that. What what I said was I hoped he could be a good president
KCRW: How’s he doing?
Feinstein: Well not very well, let me let me tell you why because my rationale may be a little bit different. I’ve worked in the Senate at a time of both Republican and Democratic presidents. None of them necessarily perfect but all of them had a kind of stability. When they said something you took it to the bank and you knew it was a product of consultation. You knew that people had looked at the answer that the president gave before he gave it. Now we don’t know that.
KCRW: You’re worried about the campaign?
Feinstein: Am I worried about the campaign? Oh I worry about every campaign. I do the best I can and I am hopeful that the people believe that my service is worthwhile. I try very hard to make it worthwhile. I try to be creative and think of what needs to be done and find a way to get it done. And if they want somebody that does that I believe I’ll get reelected.
KCRW: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Feinstein: Thank you Warren.
(Photo: Dianne Feinstein)