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Roundtable: The Kavanaugh Controversy

September 21, 2018 1:27 p.m.

Roundtable: The Kavanaugh Controversy


Andrew Bowen, reporter, KPBS News

Art Castañares, publisher, La Prensa San Diego

Jean Guerrero, reporter, KPBS News

Michael Smolens, columnist, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Related Story: Roundtable: The Kavanaugh Controversy


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories on Mark Sauer joining me at the PBS roundtable today investigative reporter Jean Guerrero of CBS News. Michael solons columnist with The San Diego Union Tribune or Justin Arist publisher of La a San Diego and PBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Well in her quarter century in the U.S. Senate Dianne Feinstein has cruised through elections. Now 85 the nation's oldest senator Feinstein is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon. He's 51 he got his party's endorsement and is running to Feinstein's left. Blue blue California has got two Democrats but he was far behind in the polls and in fundraising. Feinstein looked to be again cruising until this week in a bombshell revelation amid the nomination hearing Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. So Michael start with that bombshell and we've heard a lot about it this week.

Well you're right and I'm sure listeners and viewers of PBS have been following this closely. But as we know that Professor Christine Blassie Ford Palo Alto University back when she was a high school student she's now saying that she was the victim of an attempted rape by Judge Kavanaugh. Supreme Court nominee. She when he was going through the nomination process early on she went to. She thought this information needed to be told to somebody in power so she went to her Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and they agreed to approach Dianne Feinstein who is the ranking member Democratic member on the Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the confirmation process. So the letter was hand delivered to Feinstein but under the agreement of confidentiality so she basically sat on it. She did try to get an independent investigation or some assistance in that regard but had to go through the Senate and didn't figured that the word would get out and she didn't want to break that confidentiality agreement. Were did ultimately get out that that when she was sitting on something big. And so she turned the letter over to the FBI the White House gave its Chairman Grassley of the Jewish Judiciary Committee excuse me. And here we are today I mean the word got out the professor has gone public and is negotiating whether to testify next week even today as we talk about this on Friday.

Feinstein she got criticized from the left and the right for her handling of this but it was kind of a damned if you do damned if you don't.

Yeah and she's a lot of Democrats privately and Senate Democrats were upset they didn't know earlier but they're rallying around her and some have publicly said they wouldn't have wanted to be in that position. I mean it is a hard one. And it seemed like her ultimate threshold that Feinstein has said and her people is that she just did not want to break the confidentiality. But you know things transpired and this is the way things work. Republicans are really you know going after her on this last minute hit in all the usual things you hear and so forth. Now President Trump who has been surprisingly restrained. And I do mean surprisingly for him until today. Now he's come out and basically attacked professor for Blassie Ford and you know questioning her credibility. And you know here we are in this sort of wedge issue kind of situation on a very important and sensitive matter.

So Art I want to turn to you do. Does this create an opening for de Leone in this race. Because he was so far behind.

I don't think so. I think the opposite. I think Dianne Feinstein had been Chris for a long time for not being strong enough not just in this process or cabinet but in general being what they call resistant to Trump. And she's a very moderate Democrats have been around for a long time. She's a player and she values her relationships in the Senate so much that she doesn't take these these simply partisan political shots. But this has now put her on center stage in what is probably the most important position that Trump will be able to to appoint the most powerful present person in the country will be whoever is appointed to the Supreme Court.

It could swing this majority for probably the rest of my life in Feinstein as you say was criticized for being too genteel there were some protesters and all and she kind of apologized for that.

I think if you want to talk about how these things happened I think if you start backwards from today and go back. Why do these people not come forward. Why did victims not come forward. Because this is what happens to them. They get death threats that move out of their homes they get humiliated. And that's been happening for years.

As Professor correctly anticipated. So Trump was only quiet for about a day. Right. And then today says if it really happened why did she come forward because she was 17 when she was sitting in national polls.

All right let's look we do have a sound soundbite here from Kevin Dilling and let's set that up here. His criticisms of his opponent there's need to be change because the quality of the institution in itself is not working with what's at stake today in the potential consequences that will.

Be a whole generation. So now the what are his core issues here that he's trying to make some headway in this campaign. Well he's just trying to get some issues right. He's 21 points behind with five weeks off to the election. I've worked in politics 29 years I've run 74 campaigns. That's a hard gap to make up in the U.S. Senate race when she has multiple times the money and multiple times the name I.D. So he's using this to get to get visibility. I don't blame him. But it's a runaway for her. Well and also like I think that yeah it does provide an opening in that it does put the spotlight on Feinstein and at times she has not come off particularly well on camera and things like that. But I think she still has a great reservoir of support and goodwill if you will politically in the state. I mean she's been elected so many times she's sort of the moderate almost by default I mean in any of them and most of the states she would be deemed a liberal and you know but she's often had you know we talked about the progressives and that she's not confrontational enough. She's never really been a favorite of the liberals in the state and has done very well politically. And I think that sometimes we get caught in a bubble about you know to what degree this is going to hurt her I think that you know regular people will understand the position she's in. And you know the women that have had such issues that you know how she's tried to handle it deftly. It didn't work out as

well as people would have liked and so forth but just getting back to Daley on you know him kind of going after this issue there's been some blowback on him even though the state Democratic Party has endorsed him. Some key members of that party have criticized him for this because as we know the state Senate and state legislature has had its own sexual harassment issues and he was the president pro tem of the Senate leader at the time. Some of this was happening so what what advantage he actually gets out of it I'm not really sure. All right we have some sound here from Dianne Feinstein about about the possible debate the daily on keeps pushing for let's hear that on this race. PACIFICALLY when you visit us we asked if there would be a debate in the general. You said yes but there hasn't been one scheduled with your opponent. Do you expect to have a debate. I don't know about that. Probably not till October or not till we get out. Do you know what your schedule is with the cabinet. So there is a chance they will not be a debate. I just don't know. I just don't know. The same occurred this spring I don't think a debate makes that much difference.

I should say that was with the Union Tribune editorial board and your your latest polls and your papers are referring to big gap to make up here's a reason for her to debate at all.

No. And you're finding this in the governor's race in all these races. You know she'll debate if there's a reason to. But you know and frankly that I think you know he's appearing side by side with him in just sort of the visual reality he's going to come off better on TV so even if it closes a bit I don't know that that is going to motivate her. We'll just have to see. But you know the question just purely politically is this a sea change. You know in three weeks are we even going to be talking about this. Who knows what is happening. This is going to play out a little bit but is this a game changer.

I don't think at this stage we can certainly suggest that she had everything to gain and everything to lose by doing the debate. She's a U.S. senator and all she does is elevate him to a position of being equal. And when you're 20 points ahead you would never give that advantage.

Well we'll see how it all plays out. We got the big drama here next week with that judicial committee. We'll see what happens if the testimony comes off and how Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris or other senator of play out in all of that. Well we're going to move on.

So far Mexico isn't paying for U.S. taxpayers are paying for it. And we learned this week that prototypes for Donald Trump's border wall hardly meet a standard of quote not penetrable. And that was a surprising development in the ongoing immigration story. So Jeanne start with that news what happened specifically this week regarding those prototypes down here in San Diego.

So I got my hands on the final official government report showing the results of testing on these powder types testing for breaching further scaling capabilities and other features. And even though the documents were very heavily redacted I was able to see that every single day all eight mockups were deemed vulnerable to one of the breaching techniques. We don't know what technique that was because of the redactions. But we do know that it took the testing teams by surprise because this was a deviation from the plants they were testing a mock up with this technique and all of a sudden they were so concerned about the damage to the structural integrity of the mockup they thought it was going to collapse that they had to stop that technique and put it at the end of testing for all of the other mockups where they wouldn't have a mockup. Exactly. And then at one point there was another mockup that they were testing it with. And it might have been the same bleaching technique. We don't know but it became so damaged that it threatened the safety of the testing team. So there was there were definitely some issues with the with the mockups of these prototypes showing that they were vulnerable to to collapse and who did this report or the study.

So U.S. Customs and Border Protection did the report and the tests were conducted by tactical teams military special forces the U.S. border patrol tactical team the European mountain climbers. When he did mention forgotten climbers.

But yeah and they had they had tested these prototypes after they were unveiled and the testing took place from November to January. But they didn't release the official results. However you saw stories coming out in in the news say citing anonymous officials and the administration saying that they had held up really well and you saw headlines like virtually impenetrable nearly impossible so that's why I filed the Freedom of Information Act requests because I wanted to get my hands on the actual results and see what had actually happened.

You know they weren't exactly forthcoming with this information right.

No. So I filed the request in January and we finally received it. Just last week.

And you're saying they were maybe a little misleading in some of those earlier characterizations.

Yeah. Essentially I mean I followed up with former U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have them comment on on the apparent vulnerabilities and deficiencies in the designs. And they just said well you know they were never meant to be impenetrable these designs are just meant to inform our construction of the eventual wall.

But one of the other things that was a pair of in the report is that there was an adaptability requirement by Homeland Security these prototypes had to be adaptable for different environments because we have such a diverse terrain along the border mountainous does it like. And both of them please. Exactly. And one of the findings was that I can't remember if it was five out of eight or six out of eight but most of them were deemed deficient in their ability to be adapted to different types of environments.

And you talked to some engineers after you got a hold of the report redacted as it was. What were they saying about this.

Yes so I showed them the report I want to make sure I was interpreting it correctly and they agreed with me that the report showed that these mockups were all deemed vulnerable to collapse. One of the things that one of the engineers pointed out that he thought was interesting is that they tested reachability on ten foot mockups of the 30 foot prototypes and he was saying that the bending moment essentially a 30 foot structure is much more likely to fall down as a result of lateral forces than a 10 foot structure and more leverage on the back. So he was saying it's strange to him that they tested on a 10 foot structure and Customs and Border Protection had said that they they did this because they had to do it away from public view. They didn't want smugglers watching the testing and getting any ideas as to how to breach these barriers. But we don't really have an answer.

It was a very interesting information Sting story that you know the notion that these would be unscalable or impenetrable. I mean any wall can be a sort of you know remarkable claim from the beginning. But the fact that they could collapse and be a danger that was really sort of a startling thing but I'm glad you brought up that 10 foot mock up because that sort of makes sense as to why that would be. But you know it's just sort of another issue with this wall that doesn't seem to be going anywhere and correct me if I'm wrong but the 30 foot height requirement I mean wasn't that Donald Trump basically winging it during the campaign did that come from any particular study. I don't know. I just remember he was sort of infatuated with that and that was the requirement. But you know beyond that we've spent a lot of money on these things that don't work they don't work on the terrain. And of course Congress even the Republicans are reluctant to fund no money in this crisis.

So you know I mean well one of the most interesting things that I noticed from the report is that they didn't test at all for their ability to resist tunneling. That was one of the other requirements in Homeland Security that they'd be capable of resisting at least six tunneling at least six feet underneath the prototype. And there was no testing done of this capability. And I just spoke with a board projection this week and they were saying that it was not necessary to test for that because it was apparent in the designs that they had that capability. But we've seen tunnels here in San Diego as far deep as 90 feet underground and we know that I know from my previous reporting that tunnels tend to congregate in areas cross-border illegal tunnels tend to congregate in areas with particularly fortified fencing such as San Diego and we should point out in context which a lot of stories unfortunately don't yours do that a lot of people who wind up here in undocumented status don't come across the border that the wall would would block them right. Exactly. Most people who get here illegally come through come through the airports and send it back.

Well we've got to a couple of minutes left in this segment I want to shift gears a little bit to another development there regarding immigration the attorney is making it tougher for asylum seekers.

Yes though he referred a case to himself just a few days ago where essentially he's re-evaluating the ability for asylum seekers who crossed the border illegally to apply for released on bond after that period. If they pass a credible fear interview. So he's reassessing whether they have the right to be released from detention. And it looks like if he revokes this Board of Immigration Appeals decision that that asylum seekers will from now on be held indefinitely in detention. Interestingly and counter intuitively asylum seekers who enter through the ports of entry who don't enter illegally already do not have a right to be released on bond. It's this weird technicality. And the only way for them to be released is under the discussion of immigration and Customs Enforcement which under the Trump administration they are decreasing the back and using that that discussion and immigration attorney say about sirtuins. They say that this decision by him to refer this case to himself is is part of a rising trend. He's just increasingly reframing cases under the Board of Immigration Appeals himself. When they come to decisions that he doesn't like and it's all part of trying to make it harder for asylum seekers to win their cases and are at stake.

All right we've got to move on. We will certainly be staying on top of that with follow up stories I know. Well as the median price home in San Diego hits a record five hundred eighty thousand dollars. Funding was approved for tents to shelter homeless people. City Council this week ponied up eight and a half million dollars for which they couldn't Stet a body 70 600 square foot ocean view home listed now in LA JOLLA but it only has four bedrooms to go with its eight baths. And what was the action this week the council specifically took.

Yes. The city council sitting as the housing authority of San Diego essentially extended the contracts to operate these three shelters. Two of them are located in the greater downtown area and one of them in Midway. And that costs eight point five million dollars and the overall budget for the current fiscal year is being increased by about a million dollars. And that's because the they're trying to increase the tents focus on housing so they're hiring some higher level staffing case managers and housing specialists to try and help some of these residents navigate the system a very complicated system of trying to find a housing subsidy so that they can actually get out of homelessness. The tents themselves are basically tents but they do offer meals they offer laundry services showers and they were intended to be kind of a safe and clean place for folks to get off the street and stay while they wait for permanent housing but that wait can last many many years so I think we're starting to see now they may end up becoming at least as long as the money lasts more of a permanent fixture in Sandy was the approach to homelessness and the money is coming where it's coming from is a concern for some. Yeah. So this money is coming from the housing Commission's budget from the low and moderate income housing fund. So these are dollars that would essentially be going toward more permanent solutions to homelessness permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless low income housing to prevent people from actually being pushed into homelessness when they might be on the edge right now. So you know that's the real debate. How much longer can we

keep on taking this money out of the low income housing fund for these sort of temporary solutions when ultimately these are these are called Bridge shelters. They're supposed to be a bridge to permanent housing but if you're stuck on that bridge that you just built and there's no way to go after it you know you're kind of left there without any long term solution.

So this is a political band they a huge problem. My office is three blocks away from the shelter and downtown and it's been there for about a year. They run out of money behind my office is an encampment of dozens of people who still sleep on my building. We found someone stabbed in front of my office about three months ago. The real problem is isn't being addressed because they have these tents. It's a bandaid solution. That's a short term solution. And there is no backup to what do we do with these folks that are chronically homeless that have mental health issues. And that's what's being addressed at all.

And I think you know no one's arguing that these tents are not helping people. You know the people who were there were at the City Council meeting this week you know saying please like keep these up because we we need a place to stay. We don't want to be on the day to day horse. And yeah and you know it's a really tough political move to say you know what. This is not. This is not a sustainable solution. But you know it's it's going to be tough for the City Council to say you know what we have these 700 people sleeping in these shelters and we can't afford it any more so you know. But fortunately you're going to have to go back on the street. Or that does set up a samba that we have here from Deacon Durham Vargas or Father Joe's Village ism outlining the crisis or it was referring correlates to that because at the end of the day.

That's what we need is more housing. And you know this homelessness crisis that we have in large part is a housing crisis. We just don't have enough affordable housing you know rental vacancy rate here in San Diego is one of the lowest in the entire United States. And then a one bedroom apartment is about 1300 bucks. So the combination of that is very toxic especially to our population. Or. Into the city last year set goes up.

When the tents went up. So that 65 percent of people exiting the shelters were supposed to be going in permanent housing. I think that ambitious is not quite a strong enough word for that. It was almost farcical that there were about 12 to 13 percent who actually made it into permanent housing. And that's just the reality in San Diego that we don't have enough places for these people to go to actually get back on their feet. So one other thing that the city council did was to lower the goals to 30 percent and not just lower the goals but also broaden the definition of what is a successful exit from these tents and we're limiting the people that we're going to count toward that data to people who have stayed in the tents for a month or longer so that they're currently performing at 28 percent under those standards. And that led to criticism that while they're failing their goals so we're just going to readjust the goals to kind of create a new success out of thin air.

Art it really is. And it is unfortunate that the money that's coming out of the housing funding is exactly where these people should be transitioning into. So we need to have more. The county needs to get involved. The state may have to get involved because of weather attracts more people to live outside. A lot of these people don't want to go to the shelter. We've interviewed them before for stories we've done in La Prensa and they say they don't like the rigidity of the hours and the supervision. So we need to go out to the streets and we need to help these people and put up tents.

Yeah I think I mean I think the response is you know permanent supportive housing which is really the gold standard to ending chronic homelessness. It costs a lot of money and it takes a really long time to build so you know we of course we need it but while we try and figure out a longer term solution we still need to have a place for people to stay. Well while that kind of plays out you know it's it's the bottom line is we just don't have enough money for for these solutions. And and the only way to fix that is to essentially raise taxes and that's a tough sell here too.

Well that brings us around to Proposition 1 on the state ballot in November. What does it do regarding housing.

Well it actually wouldn't include a tax increase so it only needs a 50 percent majority from the voters to pass. But it's a 4 billion dollar bond measure. One million dollars will go to veterans for home loans. One point five million dollars would be set aside for affordable housing and the rest of it would go through to various other earmarks like transit oriented development farmworker housing. And this was part of the legislatures housing package that they passed last year. So it doesn't have any organized or funded opposition. Voters have been pretty friendly to these kinds of measures in the past so it does appear likely that it'll pass and that'll give a lot of money to some of this affordable housing we need.

But there's a lot of critics.

Your paper Michael the editorial I'm going I say I'm not on the editorial board. You don't think you get the bang for the buck out of it. There's other ways and it's a philosophical thing. We've been down this road before where they think some think not just the editorial board but you need to get away from the sort of prevailing wages they think that and regulations on housing. But money is going to be needed regardless. And you know one of the things that just happened the other day that the the once defunct hotel tax in San Diego was revitalized that's going to be on at least the 2020 ballot. There's talk about a special election there's going to be hundreds of millions of dollars in that for homeless programs. It's got a lot of political hurdles still to go. But interestingly the homeless advocate community is kind of split on that. They don't know that that's the proper way to do it. The money is guaranteed enough and so forth. And I guess a long term question is is it enough money but getting back to Andrew's point it's a catch 22. You know we talked about you know in the previous story but Feinstein which you do damned if you don't. So you need funding for both. You need something in the interim because that's what led to these shelters the situation was so bad. Hepatitis and so forth. So there's no real easy.

And unfortunately we're out of time here but we will be talking about this more and it's certainly going to play out especially in a political year. That wraps up another week of stories at the Cape PBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guest Jinger of Cape PBS news Michael Smolan of the San Diego Union Tribune art customers of La Prensa San Diego and PBS reporter Andrew Bowen. And a reminder all the stories we discuss today are available on our Web site capias dot org. Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the roundtable.