President Donald Trump's tax returns and his refusal to release them was topic No. 1 for Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who took questions for about two hours Saturday during a town-hall-style meeting in a gymnasium at Cañada College in Woodside.
A bill written by Eshoo would require this president and all future presidents to publicly disclose their tax returns. Since Democrats are in the minority and cannot shepherd the bill through committee to the floor for a vote, they are circulating a petition seeking 218 sponsors to bring it to the floor without a committee vote. So far, 119 Democratic representatives and four Republican have signed on, House records show. (There are 193 Democrats and 237 Republicans in the House.)
At Eshoo's town-hall meeting, attended by about 200 people, most of the questions concerned the challenges facing Democrats, as minorities in both the House and the Senate, in confronting the Trump administration.
During his campaign, Trump claimed that because he was being audited, he could not release his tax returns. "There's no such thing as being under audit and not being able to put your tax return out," Eshoo told her audience. "It's just a fib. A big fat fib." The Internal Revenue Service, according to Reuters, has said that "nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information."
Trump owns 564 business entities worldwide, and while he has put his assets in a trust, it's not a blind trust, Eshoo said. Tax returns "really give a profile of the person," she said. "We're really swimming in conflicts of interest here ... but we don't hold the keys to the majority."
"Public sentiment is everything," she said, quoting Abraham Lincoln. "The decency of the people. They're outraged over these conflicts of interest. That's what's going to change things."
Where to begin?
Over two hours, Eshoo fielded questions that covered many of the major topics in the news, including recent bombings by U.S. forces in Syria and Afghanistan, climate change, health care, money in politics, the Supreme Court and women's rights.
Commenting on the investigation by the House Intelligence Committee into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Eshoo noted that all 17 federal intelligence agencies agree that there was interference by a foreign government -- which is not to say that Trump was not legitimately elected, she added.
She said she is hoping for a tough, fair, intelligent and undramatic investigation, adding that Republicans may be slow to act until they're up for re-election.
"This is very, very serious," she said. "If we don't take it as seriously as we should, then I don't know what happens to our democracy. This is a direct attack on a major pillar of our democracy: our elections. So who did this? Who are the people that did this? Were there U.S. persons involved with the Russians? And how far up does it go? The president (is) a master at diversion on this."
On health care, the GOP's bid to replace the Affordable Care Act would have increased the number of people without health insurance by 24 million people by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill was 28 hours in committee debate, and Eshoo said she was there for all of it, bathroom breaks aside.
The bill was "immoral (and) collapsed of its own weight," she said, adding that public sentiment was the key to its downfall.
A software engineer, unemployed and no longer young but with a resume full of "cutting-edge projects," asked Eshoo to comment on his having sent out dozens of applications and receiving next to no responses while the same companies may be hiring younger foreign workers.
American companies that say they can't find Americans to fill jobs have some legitimate complaints, she said. Trump campaigned on addressing problems with the H1-B visa program -- to his credit, Eshoo said. "I agree that there are abuses. I am doing what I can about it, and we're waiting for the administration to come out with their policy," she said.
On aircraft noise above local communities, she said she is waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to comment on recommendations by the recently concluded Select Committee. "We're running out of patience" she said. One idea: an airport roundtable as is done in San Mateo County. When the FAA responds, "my constituents are going to know," she said. "We'll make wallpaper out of it. I'm on it like white on rice."
As for fighting climate change, "there is significant damage that is taking place at the hands of the administration," Eshoo said. "An attack on science, in my view, is an attack on America. Science is fundamental. It is absolutely fundamental."
She belongs to the Climate Solutions caucus, a nonpartisan group with membership kept even between Democrats and Republicans. The goal is 50 members and there are currently around 36, Eshoo said. "It's quite an achievement, actually," she said.