On a day when President Obama took the unusual step of releasing a long-form copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California rose to his defense in San Francisco by telling reporters that efforts by potential 2012 contender Donald Trump to fuel questions about the president’s birthplace were “reaching the point of ridiculousness.”
“With all the problems in the world -– and if Mr. Trump wants to run for president, why doesn’t he talk about what he would do to solve some of these problems?” Feinstein said after an appearance at a Commonwealth Club gathering Wednesday evening at a hotel in Nob Hill. “I think everybody who has ever heard Barack Obama knows he is a very smart man, and I think the birther movement was ridiculous. Now pushing this into something else is ridiculous.”
Feinstein spoke briefly to reporters at the end of a wide-ranging conversation before an audience of 400 people that touched on the federal deficit, the turmoil in Libya and Syria and her plans to investigate the possible risks of nuclear power production in California.
The former San Francisco mayor also clarified her own plans for 2012 in response to a question from the audience, which was read by the event’s moderator, Greg Dalton, the Commonwealth Club’s vice president for special projects.
“My intention is to run for another term,” she said with a smile, prompting cheers and applause.
So far no California Republican has emerged to challenge Feinstein, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in a 1992 special election and reelected for three full terms beginning in 1994.
Feinstein addressed several issues that are likely to shape the debate on the campaign trail next year, including the deficit reduction plan proposed by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. She said Republicans had created serious liabilities for their party by backing Ryan’s proposal to transform Medicare into a voucher program for those under 55 years old while turning Medicaid into a block grant program for the states. She criticized Ryan’s plan as “basically unfair.”
“What it does is make the cuts basically in programs that the poor and the lower income of our nation are dependent on, and it does this to avoid having to put taxes back up where they were for the very wealthy,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein, who shares the president’s view that Congress should allow the George W. Bush-era tax cuts to expire for households making more than $250,000, said she didn’t think the nation’s deficit problems could be solved “without revenue increases.”
“And it should be a fair share,” she added. “You can’t leave the very wealthy out of this problem.”
In the foreign policy arena, Feinstein said she believed the U.S. should be cautious about getting involved in the conflict in Syria or deepening its involvement in the NATO-led mission in Libya since U.S. forces are already stretched thin in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.
“The commitment of American resources at this particular time should be looked at very conservatively,” Feinstein said. “I had questions about us getting into Libya in the way we did. Nonetheless, I think the president has been correct: no boots on the ground.”
Feinstein said she would continue to focus her attention on the ability of California's nuclear power plants to withstand an earthquake after the disastrous tsunami in Japan. She called for a “regional” solution for the storage of spent nuclear fuel from U.S. plants, but did not identify any possible sites.
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-- Maeve Reston in San Francisco
Photo: Donald Trump, in Portsmouth, N.H., on Wednesday, told reporters: "Today I'm very proud of myself." Credit: Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images