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Feinstein says she hopes Trump will improve; outrage ensues

Speculation about Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection plans took on new urgency this year. Here is more information on the senator. (Jan. 17, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)

Pull out her eyes

Apologize

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Pull out her eyes

Apologize.

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That paraphrase of a passage from James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is a fair summary of the reaction among many Democrats to some comments this week by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that in other times would be innocuous.

In a speech Tuesday night in San Francisco, Feinstein said that she still harbored hopes that Donald Trump could be a "good president." Some audience members at the Commonwealth Club event at the Herbst Theater booed. She dug herself in deeper when she suggested that people show "some patience" while Trump dealt with the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, "his first big American emergency."

The reaction outside the theater was even more intense. State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) released a statement saying that it was the responsibility of Congress — especially Democrats — to hold Trump accountable, not to be "complicit in his reckless behavior."

In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, Mike Aguilar of Costa Mesa told Feinstein: "Please retire and allow someone with more sober views on this president to help put a check on his recklessness." (Feinstein hasn't announced whether she will seek another term next year.)

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On Wednesday, Feinstein released a statement that tempered her earlier expression of hope that Trump might change.

"The duty of the American president is to bring people together, not cater to one segment of a political base; to solve problems, not campaign constantly," she said. "While I'm under no illusion that it's likely to happen and will continue to oppose his policies, I want President Trump to change for the good of the country."

I doubt that this addition will make much difference to those who were offended by Feinstein's earlier statement. That strikes me as unfair, because Feinstein has been anything but a patsy for the Trump administration.

She voted against his nominees for attorney general and the Supreme Court and she called for a special counsel to investigate possible links between Russia and Trump's campaign after the president fired FBI Director James Comey. More recently, she denounced as "stupid" Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.

But it's true that, stylistically, Feinstein has not been as identified with the anti-Trump "Resistance" as some other Democrats. She seemed to acknowledge as much at a town hall in Los Angeles in April.

"Resistance to me means doing the best I can to serve people in the way we do," she said. "It's resistance to the president's budget, which is just terrible. It's resistance to executive orders which turn back history. It's resistance to his position on immigration, which is hard."

That sort of painstaking, policy-oriented resistance to Trump seems perfectly compatible with a hope — call it a hope against hope that the president might turn out to be less terrible in the future than he has been so far. But the backlash Feinstein received for even giving voice to such a wish shows that many Americans (not all of them Democrats) have given up on Trump.

As they see it, a suggestion by someone in Feinstein's position that Trump might redeem himself isn't just unrealistic; it's aiding and abetting an illegitimate administration. The point is not to urge Trump to mend his ways; it's to undermine his authority and expedite his removal from office.

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That Trump is largely to blame for this state of affairs doesn't make it any less depressing.

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