By Tom Elias
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein took months of heat from the most left-leaning of her fellow California Democrats after she counseled patience with President Trump during a Democratic Party gathering last summer.
But lately, she has literally jumped for joy, at least partly because of her approach.
Most vocal in lambasting her since she advocated for patience is former state Sen. President Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, who also blasted Feinstein for being too old (she’s 84) for another term and too compromised by her past votes for things like the invasion of Iraq and the federal Patriot Act in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.
But Feinstein’s moderate approach may pay off big on the issue she’s cared about most ever since a few fatal 1978 gunshots from onetime San Francisco Supervisor Dan White suddenly propelled her into political prominence.
For decades since then, Feinstein has pushed for strict gun control, often not a sexy cause. As an example, immediately after last year’s Las Vegas massacre, she filed a bill to ban the bump stocks used by the gunman in that attack. The day after an AR-15 automatic rifle was used to kill 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla., she sought to reinstate the 10-year ban on assault weapon sales she wrote and carried earlier in her Senate tenure. That ban lasted from 1994 to 2004.
So it was no wonder Feinstein became excited while sitting beside Trump during a White House meeting on gun control when he suggested adding her assault weapons measure to a bipartisan bill for which he had just announced support.
What are the odds that if Feinstein had been one of his most rabid critics, Trump would have jumped aboard a Feinstein gun control bill unpopular with Republicans in Congress and their sponsors at the National Rifle Association? Slim to none for a President known to act frequently out of pique.
It’s unknown yet whether that measure will ultimately pass or how long the fickle Trump will keep supporting it. But at least he’s on record favoring it, even if he did pull back support of increasing the age limit for buying assault weapons.
So, when de Leon’s campaign airs ads showing Feinstein with Trump, it will pay to remember this reward for her more moderate approach, born of a mature recognition that as long as Trump is President she will have to deal with him.
Call Feinstein a radical practicalist if you like, but at least she’s gotten Trump to support part of her pet cause, far more than the more radically resistant style of fellow California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris has yet achieved.
That won’t stop de Leon’s carping, also likely to include some re-showing of a Saturday Night Live satire of Feinstein’s gleeful little jump.
De Leon, whose campaign attacks on Feinstein were labelled “shoddy” by the non-partisan national Bloomberg News service, frequently suggests Feinstein does not hold “California values,” by which he means sympathy for illegal immigrants and unwavering support for labor unions. De Leon also cherry-picks votes to blast, lambasting her okay for the Iraq war, even though all three of the most recent Senate Democratic leaders voted the same way.
While everyone in politics knows that over 26 years, any senator will cast some controversial votes, de Leon’s attacks cost Feinstein the endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party convention. That likely won’t matter much in November, as she has a huge campaign finance edge and can easily air messages demonstrating that she has, in her words, “always voted with labor.”
But her emotions become stronger on gun control, at least partly the product of her having been nearby when White assassinated both fellow San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone.
Feinstein has so far avoided even mentioning the fact that de Leon was the longtime Sacramento roommate of disgraced state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who allegedly brought young women he was harassing back to their quarters. De Leon maintains he never saw or heard of any such Mendoza activities.
The bottom line here is that de Leon plainly believes he can only make headway if he attacks Feinstein for being too moderate. But every poll so far indicates this approach will not get him elected.