Boxer and Feinstein face-off on Senate floor over California water

Retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., speaks to campaign volunteers Oct. 29, 2016, in Cincinnati.
Retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., speaks to campaign volunteers Oct. 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. AP

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer on Friday afternoon carried her fight against a California water bill as far as she could, vividly denouncing the measure negotiated by her long-time colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

In lengthy and at times heated remarks on the Senate floor, Boxer blasted the $558 million California water package crafted by fellow Democrat Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, as “dangerous,” a “disgrace” and a “power grab.”

Joined at times by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Boxer further declared the measure a threat to environmental protection.

“You’re destroying the Endangered Species Act,” Boxer said, “and what right does anybody have to do that, in the middle of the night?”

Thanks to the Senate schedule and an unrelated political tussle over government funding, the middle of the night was, in fact, when the next key California water bill action would occur. Entering Friday evening, the vote to end a water bill filibuster appeared to be put off until sometime after midnight.

If it clears the 60-vote margin to cut off debate, the water bill’s final passage would effectively be ensured; possibly, sometime on Saturday.

Though Boxer explicitly directed her fire Friday for what she called the “midnight rider” at McCarthy, the approximately 98-page California package was Feinstein’s handiwork as well; as was, apparently, the tactical decision to attach it to a much larger bill called the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.

Stuffed with politically popular projects, the larger bill and its controversial California attachment passed the House on Thursday by an overwhelming 360-61 margin. Twenty-one out of 37 California Democrats in the House voted for the bill.

I believe these provisions will place California on the path to long-term drought resiliency.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The bill funds California desalination, recycling and reuse projects; as well as, potentially, the proposed Temperance Flat dam on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. It makes it easier for the incoming Trump administration to build new water projects, and it steers more water to farms south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“The California drought provisions ... represent three years of effort on my part,” Feinstein said, speaking on the Senate floor several hours after Boxer. “I believe these provisions are both necessary, and will help our state.”

Feinstein prefaced her own extensive remarks about the California water package with high praise for Boxer, whose farewell Senate speech on Wednesday was attended by a number of colleagues but, notably, not by Feinstein.

Boxer did not speak directly about Feinstein in her remarks that lasted for about 90 minutes, instead blasting McCarthy by name for “trying to get more water for big agribusiness.”

“It’s ugly, and it’s wrong, and it’s going to end up at the courthouse door,” Boxer said.

McCarthy, for his part, has blasted Boxer for standing in the way of drought legislation.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10