SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Fending off heckles at a town hall meeting on Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., vowed to fight President Donald Trump’s plans to cut domestic spending and undo health care reform.
But the five-term senator conceded her party has limited power to stop Republicans in the majority from pushing through their agenda, as demonstrated by the recent failure to block the appointment of Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
One constituent asked why the senator was “on the fence” about using a filibuster to block the nomination. Feinstein said she knew Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would respond by moving to permanently eliminate the filibuster for all future Supreme Court nominations.
“Fifty-one votes it took – 51 votes to do away with the filibuster for the Supreme Court forever,” Feinstein said. “I didn’t know whether it was the smartest thing in the world to do to lose it, because the next vote is going to be a very big deal.”
Feinstein also cited the Gorsuch nomination fight as another reason to get “dark money” out of politics, saying $10 million in untraceable money was raised to support his nomination.
“We have to stop that dark money,” Feinstein said. “It has to be stopped.”
But as she spoke, the senator faced heckles from crowd members, shouting “We know the problem,” and “What will you do about it?”
The senator replied the question everyone should ask is, “Will I vote for a law that stops dark money and limits individual contributions, and the answer is yes.”
Recent media reports have speculated Feinstein is angling to run for a sixth term in 2018, and that the two town hall meetings being held in San Francisco and Los Angeles this week are part of a strategy to drum up support for her reelection bid.
At 83, Feinstein is a former San Francisco mayor and Board of Supervisors member who has served in the Senate for nearly 25 years after winning a special election in 1992. She has authored legislation for a federal ban on assault weapons, which was passed in 1994 and expired in 2003.
During Monday’s town hall meeting, Feinstein was pressed about her stance on the military and willingness to favor diplomatic solutions to resolve conflicts. One heckler repeatedly called the senator a “hawk,” leading Feinstein to denounce the “name-calling.”
Feinstein called the use of poison gas in Syria “a real, real problem” but said the president must seek congressional approval before taking further military action in Syria. Earlier this month, Trump authorized a missile strike against a Syrian airbase in response to reports of a chemical attack by the Syrian regime.
When asked about health care, Feinstein said she would not support a government-run single-payer system, a statement that drew a few jeers and boos. But the senator said she would fight against efforts to undo health care reforms enacted under President Barack Obama.
Feinstein called Trump’s proposed budget that would transfer $25 billion in domestic spending to the military “horrendous.” At the same time, she also emphasized the need to stem the tide of entitlement spending, which has increased from 50 to 63 percent of the total federal budget during her time in office.
Addressing concerns about conflicts of interest in the White House, Feinstein said her staff was looking closely at the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars federal officeholders from accepting cash or gifts from foreign states and officials.
Feinstein said Trump did not properly divest his business interests and that dozens of trademarks his company was pursuing in China, along with money his Washington hotel receives from foreign guests, could become the basis for a fresh legal challenge.
Audience members urged Feinstein to take stronger public positions against immigration raids, anti-Semitism and human-rights violations in the Chechen Republic and Russia. She explained that she only makes public statements when members of the media invite her on air or contact her for comment, an answer that didn’t seem to go over well with the crowd.
The senator also told attendees that she is just one cog in a larger wheel of government and that her power to affect change is limited, especially when the opposition wields power over the executive and legislative branches.
“Everybody thinks that every one person in the House or in the Senate can change the direction,” Feinstein said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t. The House works with the majority party in power.”
About 1,000 people attended the town hall meeting in San Francisco on Monday, ahead of another session scheduled for Thursday in Los Angeles. The senator vowed to hold a second town hall meeting in San Francisco this summer.