California U.S. Senate Debate
The four top candidates faced off for the first time. Democrats Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff clashed over earmarks and the Gaza war, and ganged up on Republican Steve Garvey over his support for former President Trump. But will the debate change the dynamics of the race before the March 5 primary?
By YUE STELLA YU, CalMtters
The four leading U.S. Senate contenders in California tried to use 90 minutes of free air time Monday night to solidify their pitches to voters — and also to set themselves apart from their opponents.
But the biggest fireworks in their first debate happened when the three Democrats ganged up on Republican Steve Garvey, repeatedly pressing him to say whether he would vote for former President Donald Trump this year.
Garvey wouldn’t play ball — even after Rep. Katie Porter trolled his baseball fame.
Porter: “Once a Dodger, always a dodger…. This is not the minor leagues. Who will you vote for?”
Despite not committing to a choice in 2024, Garvey said that he voted for Trump in 2016 and in 2020 (“both times, he was the best person for the job”) and that he doesn’t believe “Joe Biden has been good for this country.”
Garvey also caught flak — particularly from Rep. Barbara Lee, who received cheers from the audience after calling Garvey “so patronizing” for touting his recent tours of homeless encampments, where he said he “went up to them and touched them and listened to them.”
But Garvey wasn’t the only one who received criticism from his fellow debaters. In addition to railing against Wall Street and the Washington establishment, Porter slammed Rep. Adam Schiff for taking money from special interest groups, to which he replied: “I gave that money to you, Katie Porter.”
Schiff, for the most part, focused on his record challenging Trump, appearing to wear his 2023 censure by the House as a badge of honor (“I was censured for standing up to a corrupt president… and I would do it all over again.”) And Lee highlighted her personal background — as a formerly unhoused person, as a single mother of two and as a woman who had an illegal abortion — to drive home her platform of expanding social services.
As the lone opponent of earmarks among the three Democrats, Porter argued that the practice invited corruption and is a “fancy word for Washington politicians substituting their personal interests… for what our needs are,” while the other Democrats argued that bringing back billions of federal dollars to the state helps Californians (Said Schiff: “Any senator from California that says, ‘No, I’m not going to fight for those resources,’ that’s going to be wonderful news for 49 other states…”)
And on the Gaza war, Lee pointed out that she was the first candidate to call for a permanent ceasefire, arguing that increasing civilian casualties “will never lead to peace for Israelis nor the Palestinians.” Schiff, meanwhile, said he supports an independent Palestinian state, but that Israel had a right to defend itself, while Porter said that the conditions for a ceasefire are complex, and “you can’t say (ceasefire) and make it so.” Garvey said he stands with Israel and said after the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attack, a two-state solution isn’t possible until the next generation.
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