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Schiff, Lee and Porter Clash Over Gaza While Garvey Demurs on a 3rd Trump Vote in California Senate Debate

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Woman and man stand in front of lecterns ready to debate.
US Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), left, and US Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) react during a televised debate for candidates in the senate race to succeed the late California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Los Angeles.  (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

The four top candidates vying to represent California in the U.S. Senate clashed over the conflict between Israel and Hamas and pushed the only Republican in the debate over whether he will support the reelection of Donald Trump as they faced off in Los Angeles Monday evening in their first debate.

Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff found at least one thing they could agree on: Dragging former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Garvey over his unwillingness to say whether he plans to vote for Trump a third time at the ballot box.

All four candidates appeared onstage at the University of Southern California for the debate, which was also hosted by Politico and FOX11. They’re fighting for a rare opportunity to represent the most populous state in the nation, a seat left vacant by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.  It’s only the second time since 1992 that state voters will choose a Senator without an incumbent on the ballot (Vice President Kamala Harris was elected to the open seat in 2016, but she didn’t face a serious challenge.)

The three Democrats who took the stage have nearly identical voting records in Congress, and share similar positions on many key issues including supporting abortion rights, expanding Medicare, and ending the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

But it was Garvey’s first turn in the spotlight, and he tried to frame himself as a “conservative moderate” in an apparent attempt not to alienate either Trump supporters or independent voters. When pushed to ask whether he disagrees with Republicans in Congress on anything Garvey responded “Just about everything,” but when asked what a second Trump presidency would mean, he demurred.


While polls have shown Schiff in the lead, with Porter just a few points behind, many voters remain undecided. The top Democrats are hoping to engineer a runoff against Garvey: Given California’s top two primary system as well as Democrat’s strong voter registration advantage, it would be difficult for Garvey to win. In fact, no Republican has won a statewide election since 2006.

Here’s where the candidates stand on several key issues:

Trump’s reelection

All three of the Democrats are strong critics of the former President. But Garvey, who says he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, tried to dance around what he would do in November.

“What more do you need to see of what he’s done to be able to say that you will not support him,” Schiff asked.

Garvey responded, and accused Schiff of engaging in “identity politics.”

“When the time comes, I’ll do exactly what I said I will: Look at the two opponents. I will determine what they did. And at that time I will make my choice. I don’t believe Joe Biden has been for good for this country,” Garvey said, then went on to say the U.S. was safer under Trump.

Porter shot back, “Once a Dodger, always a dodger.”

“Ballots go out in six weeks, Mr. Garvey. This is not the minor leagues. Who will you vote for?”

Woman and man stand in front of lectern before a debate
US Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), left, and former baseball player Steve Garvey react during a televised debate for candidates in the Senate race to succeed the late California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

Israel/Hamas war

Foreign policy is fertile ground for Lee, who needs to rally her progressive base to have any hope of overtaking the other candidates. She was the lone vote in Congress against military action in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, and called for a ceasefire within days of the October 7 Hamas attack.

On Monday evening, Lee argued for a “political and diplomatic solution” saying that Israel deserves to live in peace and that the offensive in Gaza has been counterproductive.

“Killing 25,000 civilians — it’s catastrophic and it will never lead to peace for the Israelis nor the Palestinians,” she said.

Schiff and Garvey both rejected calls for a ceasefire and said they stand staunchly with Israel. But Schiff supports a two-state solution while Garvey said it’s “naive” to think it’s possible to achieve a Palestinian state in “our lifetime.”

“It won’t be until the next generation when we’ll be able to talk about that again,” he said.

Porter said she supports a “durable bilateral peace” saying it cannot happen until the Israeli hostages are released, but that the U.S. should use its diplomatic heft to help get the parties there.


The debate did elicit one area of disagreement among the Democrats: whether they should use their position in Congress to funnel money to their home state. Porter, whose broader campaign is framed around the notion that corporations and special interest groups have too much power, is opposed to earmarks and says they should be eliminated entirely.

“Earmarks is just a fancy word for Washington politicians substituting their personal interests, including getting earmarks for their big donors for what our needs are,” she said.

Schiff, however, pushed back, noting that California sends more tax dollars to Washington, D.C., than it receives back in federal aid. He called Porter’s position “wonderful news to the 49 other states.”

Lee and Garvey both said they would use earmarks if elected to the Senate.

The candidates

Porter, who gained political fame questioning bank executives and other Congressional witnesses armed with a dry erase marker and whiteboard, has positioned herself as a populist and consumer advocate. On the campaign trail, she’s talking about tackling corruption in both the public and private sector and “unrigging” the economy.

Schiff is best known as one of former President Trump’s most dogged critics in Congress. He helped lead the first impeachment of the former president and has framed his campaign as a way to protect democracy; he’s also promoting a number long-shot proposals to make government more accountable, including eliminating the electoral college and expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

Lee is the staunchest progressive in the race and the only person of color. Best known for her lone vote in Congress against military action in the wake of 9/11, Lee has tried to stress her unique foreign policy credentials including an early call for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, but her campaign has struggled to catch fire.


Garvey, who has never run for public office, is the least known of the set, at least politically: A professional baseball player from 1969 to 1987, he’s leaned heavily on that history in his rare campaign appearances since he announced a run this fall. He’s tried to strike a middle ground on touchy issues such as abortion, saying he personally opposes it but wouldn’t vote for a national ban.

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