The four leading candidates for California’s open U.S. Senate seat met again this evening, this time in a one-hour San Francisco debate that produced fewer clashes than their first gathering in January.
Still, with less than a month before the state’s open primary, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) focused a number of his attacks on Steve Garvey, the sole Republican on the stage, particularly over the “issue” of Donald Trump.
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“Let me just say this also to Mr. Garvey: The greatest threat that we have to our democracy is Donald Trump,” Schiff said.
Garvey voted for Trump in the last two presidential elections but said that, when it comes to supporting him this year, he “will make that decision when the time comes.” In response to Schiff, Garvey said that the “gravest threat to democracy is deconstruction of the Constitution. Packing the court. Doing away with the filibuster. These are things that deconstruct democracy.”
Their exchange continued. Schiff replied, “Then Donald Trump packed the Supreme Court, which is why millions of Americans lost their right of reproductive freedom, why the Supreme Court is striking down air quality and water quality regulations.” As he started to talk about striking down voting rights, Garvey interjected.
“You are fixated on one person and one person only,” Garvey said.
Schiff, who has long been one of Trump’s leading foes, has been atop the polls in the race, leaving it to Garvey and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) to secure the other spot on the ballot in the general election. Further behind is Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Porter has called Schiff “cynical” for spotlighting Garvey in his ads, on the premise that the former Dodger star would, as a Republican, be much easier to beat than she would be. In other words, by highlighting Garvey’s past backing of Trump, Schiff is also giving the Republican candidate the attention he needs to consolidate support among the state’s rightward voters.
During the debate, Porter took another swipe at Schiff’s ads. In response to a question of upper age limits for elected officials, Porter said, “As Mr. Schiff well knows, it is true that we have gerrymandering and elections that are deeply blue districts in which there really aren’t competitive elections. In fact, he’s hoping that the Senate race turns into one with the ads that he is running right now,” she said.
Assisted by a loud bell ring, moderators Frank Buckley of KTLA and Nikki Laurenzo of Inside California Politics kept candidates to their time limits and tried to pin them down on specific questions. When the candidates tried to answer in their talking points, they followed up with questions again.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not.
Schiff was asked whether President Joe Biden was “wrong” to say last week that Israel’s retaliatory actions had been “over the top” in its response to the Hamas terrorist attack. After initially answering by expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself and for the way that the president has handled the Israel-Hamas war, Schiff was asked again about Biden’s comment. He said, “I don’t know that I express it the way the president has. But I think he is right to try to bring about this negotiated deal, where we’ll have an extended pause, so we can get the hostages out and more aid in.”
Meanwhile, Garvey spoke in generalities when pressed on what specific regulations he would eliminate as a way to try to solve the state’s housing crisis. Asked again, he said, “We see the cost of housing continue to rise for one simple reason. Let’s take young adults. Young adults cannot afford to have the single most important equity in their lives … So I go back constantly to the idea of opening the gates, cutting down inflation.”
At the last debate, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) clashed with Garvey and she called him out for chiding his Democratic rivals as out of touch on the issue of homelessness, when she herself had once been unsheltered. At tonight’s debate, Garvey told her, “I’m so sorry that you went through that.”
For her part, Lee was asked what legislation she has seen into law that specifically addressed the homelessness crisis. She cited the expansion of a homelessness agency task force and other proposed legislation, including proposals to address the difficulty in obtaining renter security deposits.
Lee also was asked about her call for a $50 per hour minimum wage and how it would impact small businesses. Noting that she owned and ran a business, she said, “I know what worker productivity means — that means that you have to make sure your employees are taken care of and have a living wage.”
Garvey, who has called for an audit of money being spent to solve the homelessness crisis, was asked whether those who are unhoused should be allowed to live in RVs and tents while they wait for a permanent solution. “I don’t think so. I think it’s inhumane. There are two or three fires a week in downtown Los Angeles,” he said. “There are two or three deaths each week. Let’s get back to humanity. They need to be taken off the streets. They need to be cared for.”
On the border, Garvey was the most critical of Biden, saying that he “opened the floodgates and created a crisis in the United States. He should be the one to step up and close the border.”
Even though he has taken a hard line on the border issue, Garvey was non-committal when asked whether he would accept Trump’s endorsement, albeit he didn’t criticize the former president. “These are personal choices. I answer to God, my wife, family and to the people of California. And I hope you would respect that I have personal choices,” he said.
Schiff said that “there’s no question that we have a crime problem in California, particularly with these smash and grab robberies,” while pointing out that when Garvey “was playing baseball,” he was working as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorneys office.
Porter was asked about why, after five years in Congress, she waiting until last week to introduce a 10-point plan to solve the crisis. She noted her work as a consumer advocate, but was then pressed again for an answer. “I have worked on housing issues since the day I was elected and have talked a lot about this, about the challenges that my own family faces,” she said.
At a number of points, Porter attacked “Washington insiders” who ensured that billionaires got tax breaks. “The problem is that the workers who are creating the value who are hard at work are not receiving enough to live on while Washington insiders continue to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy.”
Schiff took a few swipes at Porter’s attacks on career politicians. He said, “You can’t walk down the halls of Congress without tripping over five people that are going to say they are going to shake up Washington. They don’t end up getting anything actually accomplished.”
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