Why are Silicon Valley socialists targeting a veteran congresswoman?
A group of protesters, including members of the Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America, rally for H.R. 1384 outside Rep. Anna Eshoo's district office in Palo Alto on July 2, 2019.

Silicon Valley Congresswoman Anna Eshoo sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, an affiliation that by itself is enough to raise the hackles of many red-blooded American socialists who aren’t fond of commerce or its regulators.

They tend to see business interests and politicians as working hand in glove to maximize their profits and re-election prospects respectively — consumers and constituents be damned — collectively. And that dialectical tension plays a role in the current standoff between Eshoo and the local lefties. But she’s been on the committee since 1995 and this fight isn’t really about money. To hear the socialists tell it, lives are at stake.

In the latest salvo, Bay Area progressives have taken aim at the longtime legislator for not supporting the Medicare for All bill currently in the House of Representatives. And they’re especially aggravated because she was a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All bill in the last Congress, but as chair of the health subcommittee, Eshoo has not committed to holding a hearing this session.

California’s 18th Congressional District, an area represented by Eshoo since 1993, covers portions of San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties, including part of San Jose. It is the wealthiest Congressional District in America, with a median income above $134,000 a year.

Eshoo herself lives in Menlo Park and is worth more than $2 million. That doesn’t score her any points with socialists, despite a history of endorsing liberal politicians like Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, when she ran for mayor of San Jose in 2006, and former Santa Cruz Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt, when she ran to be re-elected as a county supervisor in 2002.

What’s different in 2019 that’s provoked so many South Bay socialists to target Eshoo? Many of them are still energized by last year’s high-profile victories for socialist Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, which gave a tremendous boost to the group’s visibility and the efforts of its local chapters. And their campaigns raised awareness around some of socialism’s key policy proposals — especially universal health care.

Eshoo announced two weeks into this legislative session that she would hold hearings on the issue in an important health subcommittee over which she is now presiding, but raised ire when she backed off almost immediately.

When Republicans controlled the House during the last Congress, Eshoo cosponsored H.R. 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act. In this Congress, with Nancy Pelosi as speaker and Eshoo newly-minted as chair of the commerce committee’s health subcommittee, the South Bay congresswoman says she’s not allowed to play favorites with bills that may come before her — and announced she would not co-sponsor the Medicare for All Act of 2019.

During a San Jose town hall last month, socialist activists snagged the mic four times to ask questions about Medicare for All. Her answers touched on familiar refrains, such as her support for a public option during the Obamacare debates a decade ago and her continued commitment to make health insurance “universal” and “comprehensive.”

“The most important part of it is that it must be universal,” Eshoo told the critics during the meeting. “Everyone, everyone, everyone. And for those that receive their health insurance where they are employed, I want to make sure that if they are not employed anymore that they are not thrown on the scrapheap of humanity.”

But that emotional plea was not enough to convince the socialists, who planned a Medicare for All rally outside Eshoo’s district office in Palo Alto on July 2 that drew at least 40 people.

Among the protesters was Salem Ajluni, a physically fit, white-haired economist who wrote an op-ed earlier this year criticizing Eshoo for taking political contributions from pharmaceutical companies. A former economic analyst for the United Nations, he’s lived in San Jose for 50 years.

“Anna Eshoo is currently the largest recipient of drug company money. She’s addicted to drug company money, and it’s a preexisting condition and Obamacare is not going to solve it for her,” said Ajluni, who’s a member of the Silicon Valley DSA and the Santa Clara County Single Payer Health Care Coalition.

Ajluni helped organize the Palo Alto protest, which gathered dozens of people of all ages, many of whom wore red t-shirts with the slogan “Love it! Improve it! Medicare for All!” and held aloft printed signs reading “Heal the sick, tax the rich” while a band and cheerleader with a bullhorn fired up the crowd.

Among the band and the cheerleader, standing barely five-feet tall, was retired county worker Joan Simon. Simon wore a red National Nurses United smock — the largest national nurses union that’s endorsed Medicare for All — and covered her golden hair with a baseball cap emblazoned with the motto “Single Payer NOW!” on the front.

“At her town hall, Representative Eshoo said there are several Medicare for All bills that have been introduced that need to be heard,” Simon said. “There is only one Medicare for All bill in the House of Representatives and it is H.R. 1384. What are these other Medicare bills that Representative Eshoo keeps deflecting to? They are public option bills, Medicare buy-in, Medicare choice, choose Medicare, Medicaid buy-in. These are bills to offer Medicare or Medicaid type benefits, but only if you can afford to purchase them.”

In response to her critics, she cited a vote she cast ten years ago to add a Medicare buy-in program to Obamacare.

“I voted, the House voted for a public option, the Senate didn’t,” Eshoo said in defense of her record. “Would it have been better to do nothing and not have 30 million people insured? I don’t think so.”

She didn’t directly answer questions about holding a hearing on the current Medicare for All bill, but acknowledged the system is still broken.

“Do I think (Obamacare) was the end all? No. Did I think that it was a major step for people in the country? Of course,” she added. “Have we finished our journey? Absolutely not. I would never suggest to you that everything is well on the home front and that everyone is insured in the country.”

Ajluni countered that commercial interests and the politicians elected to regulate them conspire to promote their own self interests.

“An array of corporate interests and their allies in the U.S. Congress are seeking to block the Medicare for all legislation,” Ajluni said. “Anna Eshoo is one of the closest allies of the interests opposing this legislation.”

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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