SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was booed by some constituents Tuesday night when she said President Donald Trump could be a good president if he changed his approach to the job and brought the nation together.
“I just hope he has the ability to learn and change — and if he can he can be a good president,” she said at a Commonwealth Club forum at the historic Herbst Theater, surprising San Franciscans used to hearing their politicians decry Trump.
“Oh, come on!” a few people shouted. “No, no!” screamed others.
While Feinstein was welcomed with a standing ovation by the 800-some attendees — and got strong applause throughout the night as she talked about immigration, global warming and gun control — her failure to offer a blunt denunciation of Trump riled the crowd.
Unlike some of her California congressional colleagues — who have called for Trump to be removed from office and even questioned his mental sanity — Feinstein threw cold water on attempts to impeach Trump or otherwise kick him out of the White House before his term is up in January 2021.
“Look, this man is going to be president, most likely for the rest of this term,” she said. “I think we have to have some patience — it’s eight months into the tenure of the presidency.”
She declined to directly discuss impeaching Trump, noting that the Senate could conceivably serve as a jury in an impeachment trial.
Feinstein found plenty to criticize about Trump’s individual policies. Earlier in the evening, she called his decision to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio “a stupid thing to do,” arguing that the pardon “sent a message to police departments … that racial profiling is OK.”
She urged her Senate colleagues to redirect funding allocated for Trump’s proposed border wall project to recovery efforts in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
“Americans would much rather contribute their tax money to the rehabilitation of Texas … than another wall on our border,” she said. “The heart of America is really in Texas right now.”
And she denounced Trump’s response to the violence that followed a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. “You cannot placate American Nazis. You cannot placate white supremacists. You cannot placate the KKK,” she said.
One policy she could agree with Trump on, she suggested, is a re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. She noted that she voted against NAFTA in the ’90s. “I believe it should be renegotiated now, in the modern age,” she said.
Feinstein — who at 84 is the oldest U.S. senator — also left politicos wondering whether she plans to run for reelection next year.
When Ellen Tauscher, a former East Bay congresswoman and the event’s moderator, asked Feinstein what her plans were in the “next five or10 years,” Feinstein responded, “Next question, please.”
In one of her most introspective moments of the night, Feinstein talked about the day San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot and murdered in 1978. Feinstein, then the president of the Board of Supervisors, became mayor, and she recalled how “I was the one who found Harvey’s body and tried to get a pulse” in a City Hall office across the street from the theater where she spoke.
“It took me a very long time — about six years into my mayoralty — to be able to sit in the chair where George Moscone was sitting when he was shot and killed,” she said.
Meanwhile, activists with the anti-Trump group Indivisible protested outside the theater, calling on Feinstein to take a harder line on Trump and complaining that the ticketed event excluded many of her constituents because ticket prices for the event started at $40.
At a free town hall Feinstein held in April in San Francisco — where she was also booed for not being critical enough about Trump — the senator said that “I will commit to doing (a public meeting) on the weekend during the summer.” She has not done so, members of the anti-Trump group Indivisible argued.
Feinstein’s office did not respond to a request for comment after business hours on Tuesday night.
As Feinstein was leaving the theater, 23-year-old Zack Akl, who lives in San Francisco, approached her and asked her to hold a free public forum, noting that many of her constituents couldn’t afford the pricey ticket. Feinstein listened to him but didn’t appear to answer. “She kind of shrugged me off,” Akl said later.
Feinstein’s comments about Trump were disappointing, said San Francisco resident Francesca Wander. “She doesn’t have to be quite a wuss about it,” she said.
But Katie Merrill, a Democratic strategist who also attended the event, said Feinstein was smart not to be more forthright about Trump.
“She is a member of two committees investigating him, and she could sit as a juror in an impeachment trial,” Merrill said. “She is using the better point of discretion to not exert a strong opinion about his fitness for office.”
(c)2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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