With the election of President Trump, California politicians have had to defend the state's interests and values in the face of an often hostile administration. Some have sought to find common ground with the president while pushing back against more odious policies; others have simply declared war. After all, this is the home of "The Resistance."
That tension over how to work with an unreliable and frequently unwilling partner in the Oval Office and an unfriendly Republican majority in Congress is at the heart of the race for California's U.S. Senate seat. Incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who began her tenure in the Senate in 1992, is running for a fifth six-year term, and, for the first time in many years, she's facing a serious challenger: state Sen. Kevin de León. The Los Angeles Democrat is the self-described leader of the anti-Trump resistance.
Feinstein, in the view of de León and other critics, is too centrist to represent liberal California and too accommodating to Trump. When she said last August that she hoped Trump could be "a good president" if he could learn and change, and she urged people to have "patience" with him as he responded to Hurricane Harvey, there was a collective howl from the left. Trump? Good president? Patience? How dare she!
But that criticism misses the point of who Feinstein is, what she's done — and what she's capable of. No, she is not going to be a masterful troller on Twitter; that's more the province of Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). Nor is she prone to throwing red meat to the partisan faithful. "I'm not a name-caller," she says.
After 2½ decades in the Senate, Feinstein is a pragmatist grounded in the reality of what is and isn't possible. Pragmatism may be underrated in the current political climate, but here's what it means for California: Few Democratic senators are in a better position to hold the line against Trump's regressive agenda and to defend the state's interests.
That's why California voters should reelect Feinstein to another term.
Feinstein has been a champion for key California issues for decades, including environmental protection, comprehensive immigration reform and gun control, to name just a few. She was the author of the temporary ban on assault weapons in 1994, and she has long sought to revive the ban and pass other common sense gun-control measures — though she has been thwarted by the National Rifle Assn.'s power on Capitol Hill.
She steered the Desert Protection Act through Congress in 1994, creating Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, and she successfully lobbied President Obama in 2016 to create three new national monuments, placing 1.8 million acres of desert habitat under federal protection. Her high-ranking position on the Senate Appropriations Committee means she's helped steer billions of federal dollars to California projects, from subway construction to wildfire restoration. And as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she led the drive to expose the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
At 84, Feinstein is the oldest sitting U.S. senator, and that's raised questions about her ability to serve another full six-year term. But in interviews and hearings, Feinstein still shows a firm grasp of complicated policies and a deep understanding of the complex choices facing the country, both domestically and abroad.
She will face 31 rivals on the June primary ballot, although de León is by far the most serious challenger (no seasoned Republicans entered the race). He has spent much of his 11 years in the Legislature working to lift up low- and moderate-income Californians. He pushed through landmark bills to direct money from the state's climate change program to the poorest, most polluted communities and to create the nation's first state-sponsored retirement savings program for low-income Californians who aren't covered by a pension or 401(k) plan.
If this were an open seat in a different political environment with a different president, de León would be a strong contender. But Feinstein's experience and influence are too important to pass up. Besides, de León has already declared that he won't work with the president. "I recognized from Day 1 that this is a president you can't negotiate with," de León said during an interview with the Editorial Board. His distaste for our mercurial, dishonest and reckless president is understandable. But on the other hand, how does he expect to get anything accomplished as a legislator if he won't deal with the person who signs the bills?
Granted, de León may just be spouting off hyperbolic campaign rhetoric. Still, we've got enough provocateurs, rigid ideologues and rhetoricians in Washington. We need more people who can unite divided constituencies to get things done, while also knowing when to stand firm on matters of principle. We need lawmakers who recognize that Congress serves no purpose if it can't end the paralysis and tackle the problems facing this country.
Trump has certainly changed the game and raised the stakes in D.C., but that's all the more reason to stick with Feinstein. She has the seniority, the gravitas and the experience. Why trade all the value she brings to California for a freshman senator now?