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Schiff, Porter, Garvey Spar Over Trump, Homelessness, Hamas

Insights from the California Senate debate among Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, Steve Garvey, and Barbara Lee.

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California state quarter reverse featuring John Muir and the Yosemite Valley

It was a painful but predictable lopsided hour-long debate among the four candidates vying to represent the state with the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee, the three Democratic candidates to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest serving senator, mostly denied their role in contributing to the state’s many problems, including homelessness, the cost of living, and high urban crime.

The sole Republican on the stage, former baseball star Steve Garvey, tried to steer the conversation to the culpability of the three Democrats, all of whom are longtime Washington lawmakers. While Schiff has a strong lead, Garvey has shaken up the race by vaulting into a near-tie in the polls with Porter. Lee lags far behind.

In this heavily blue state, Garvey is counting on benefiting from a three-way split in the Democratic vote. The top two vote-getters in the March 5 primary will advance to the November election. Schiff is widely believed to have an easier path to victory if Garvey winds up in second place and Porter is shut out of the general election. In a state not averse to electing celebrities, Garvey’s candidacy is predicated on making the runoff and capitalizing in the general election on Californian’s concerns over crime and the economy, which polls show are voters’ top concerns.

The debate hosts, KTLA reporters in San Francisco, worked hard trying to force the four candidates to answer simple questions about California issues and policy. But the candidates seemed incapable of doing so. Instead, all four tried to stick to their scripts even if they only vaguely responded to the question asked.


One clear exception came early when all four were asked what they would do about the border crisis. Only one, Garvey, blamed the influx of illegal immigrants on President Biden and vowed to stop it if elected.

“The president opened the floodgates and created this crisis in the United States,” Garvey said. “He should be the one to step up and close the border. He should be the one to stop the infiltration of the cartels. Let’s stop the rampant drugs coming into this country from China, by the way. Let’s stop human trafficking.”

All three Democrats rejected his position, criticizing President Trump’s and GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s aggressive approach to the lax border enforcement during Biden’s time in office.

“I don’t agree with draconian solutions. I don’t agree with Mr. Garvey, who is promoting Trump’s border wall,” Schiff said, pledging to work to change Senate rules to force a “comprehensive immigration” overhaul through Congress.

Instead of bolstering security at the border, Schiff called for more immigration judges to help process asylum claims. Porter mostly agreed and blamed Washington’s gridlock for failing to produce a bipartisan compromise. Instead of talking about beefing up border security, Porter pledged to secure more federal resources “to help our border communities, including technology to make it easier to detect fentanyl or other goods coming to this country.”


Lee also called for more federal dollars, but she argued cities and counties receiving the immigrants should receive them and hit Republican governors for transferring them to “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

“We need to invest in making sure that immigrants have a safe place to stay because they are part of our economic fabric,” Lee said. “What they’re doing is dividing residents from immigrants.”

The candidates also squared off over Biden’s age and cognitive ability and whether Trump was experiencing a similar decline. Although Porter lauded the Biden administration “for delivering for Californians,” she opened the door to age limits for all presidential contenders.

“I do think, generally, that age limits are a conversation for all elected officials that we ought to be having. You’re absolutely right,” Porter said. “I think we need a mix of people who have had years of experience and people like me who’ve only been in Congress for five years,” she said.

Garvey tried to keep the focus solely on Biden’s mental state. “When you were talking about this administration and this president, we’re saddened when we look at him and his condition now, but let’s not forget that this country is worse off today than it was three years ago, categorically,” he said.


Later in the debate, Schiff referred to Trump as “the gravest threat that we have to our democracy,” to which Garvey quickly rejoined. “No, the greatest single threat to democracy is the deconstruction of the Constitution, packing the court, doing away with the filibuster,” Garvey argued. “These are things that deconstruct democracy.”

The Republican, a first-time candidate who voted twice for Trump, once again refused to say whether he would do so again this year. “I think it’s personal,” he said. “I’ll make that decision when the time comes, and I hope this puts an end to this constant badgering and the use of the former president’s name as an attack against me.”

All the candidates were the most divided when it came to the conflict in the Middle East and the Israel-Hamas war. Garvey sided with Israel without nuance. “I stand with Israel, yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” he said, arguing that a two-state solution is “unrealistic” because Hamas would always be trying to destroy Israel.

Lee said she condemned the Oct. 7 attack but now supports an immediate ceasefire. Schiff, the lone Jewish candidate on the debate stage, said the atrocities Hamas committed against Israel were “designed to provoke exactly the reaction that they got, and they could care less about civilians in Gaza.”

While Schiff said Israel has “a right to defend itself,” Biden is “right to continue pressing Israel to try to avoid civilian casualties and minimize the loss of civilian life.”


The candidates were similarly divided regarding their prescriptions to lower crime and curb homelessness in major cities. When the debate hosts asked if progressive policies, such as eliminating bail, had led to spikes in crime, Garvey readily agreed. The former Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star first baseman argued that police departments across the state are facing serious morale and recruitment problems because officers are risking their lives to arrest lawbreakers only to see those guilty of serious crimes walk away without being prosecuted.

For their part, the three Democrats refused to blame progressive criminal justice policies, including Proposition 47, which lowered shoplifting of any merchandise under $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor charge. Bipartisan efforts are now underway to amend the law. “I think what we’re seeing is not a result of the ballot proposition,” Schiff said. “The data set doesn’t show that.”

Porter was more eager than Schiff to acknowledge the general fear most Californians feel about the spike in violence and theft. But she, too. didn’t blame a soft-on-crime approach, instead calling for more federal funds to combat the problem.

“Every Californian should be able to feel safe in their communities,” Porter said. “We’ve all seen the news reports, and it’s a concern as a parent and as a Californian to worry that we’re not going to be safe when we’re shopping, when we’re parking our car, when we’re going to church.”

“It’s really, really important that the federal government surge resources as appropriate to help with where the worst of these crimes are coming from, which are organized criminal enterprises and transnational crime,” she said. “I don’t think we should return to the so-called tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s. They resulted in terrible racial discrimination and set back communities of color for generations.”


The predictable partisan split also played out when it came to the topic of raising the minimum wage. Garvey argued that the cost of a recent minimum wage increase for fast-food workers had been passed on to “hard-working Californians,” while all three Democrats backed a boost for the lowest earners, with Lee supporting a $50-per-hour minimum wage in the Bay Area, which she represents.

“You can say the minimum wage is fine where it is, but you want to know why people are living in the street?” Schiff asked without acknowledging the mental health and drug elements of homelessness. “It’s because we’re paying them poverty wages.”

The cost of living is so astronomically high in the Bay Area, Lee said, that one study found that a $127,000 annual income is “barely enough” for a family of four to survive. “Just do the math,” she said. “Of course, we need a national minimum wage raised to a living wage.”

The Democrats ignored Garvey’s assertion that a higher minimum wage would contribute to an increase in inflation, a top voter concern. When it comes to California’s high cost of living, Garvey said reducing regulations and “opening the gates, cutting inflation” would do wonders for the state’s economy. The question was about reducing housing costs, but Garvey didn’t say exactly which regulations would impact that sector directly.

Just like curbing homelessness and fighting crime, Porter once again turned to Washington for the solution to making housing affordable.


Porter’s plan would “harness the power of the federal government to unleash that capital that we need to build more housing at a price point where our workers can afford it,” she asserted. Her proposals call for more federal tax credits and government loan guarantees to help encourage multifamily housing developments across the state.

Porter, however, had no direct response when the host asked her why she had waited until her Senate election to introduce such a measure.

Garvey eagerly offered a similar line to the one that helped him stand out in the first debate as a reasonable alternative to the Democratic trio.

“These are three career politicians [on this stage] who have failed the people,” Garvey said. “Sixty years of [combined Washington] experience. They could have solved this issue.”

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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White House/national political correspondent at | + posts

Susan Crabtree is a political correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Shepreviously served as a senior writer for theWashingtonFree Beacon, and spent five years asa White House Correspondent for theWashington Examiner.

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