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

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
U.S. 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. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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 and Iraq after 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.

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