Steve Garvey, the Republican former MLB star, squared off with his Democratic competitors – Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Katie Porter (D-CA), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) – as the four compete for the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat.
The showdown took place on the University of Southern California’s campus and was cohosted by Fox LA, Politico, and USC.
Here are the top moments from Monday night’s debate.
Candidates spar over Israel’s war in Gaza
Candidates sparred over how to approach Israel’s war in Gaza and whether they supported a two-state solution.
Lee vocally defended her calls for a “permanent ceasefire” in the region, arguing that Israel’s current military campaign would “never lead to peace” or a lasting two-state solution. Schiff pushed back on the notion that Israel taking out Hamas would make a two-state solution impossible, pointing out that Israel has an obligation to ensure its people’s safety.
“We have to get back to a road toward a two-state solution, but Israel has to defend itself,” Schiff said. “We can’t leave Hamas governing Gaza. They’re still holding over 100 hostages, including Americans. I don’t know how you can ask any nation to cease fire when their people are being held by a terrorist organization.”
Pointing to her vote against the war authorization to invade Afghanistan days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Lee responded by cautioning that U.S. national security could be negatively impacted if Israel were to cause a regional crisis.
“I said then and I’m saying now: it could spiral out of control,” Lee said. “You see what’s happening. It’s escalating in the region. We have to make sure that our national security is also protected.”
“As this war escalates, as the Arab nations pull back… what we do not have is a path to Israel’s security, nor do we have a path to a Palestinian state,” the Oakland congresswoman and progressive icon added.
Porter tried to strike a middle ground when asked to weigh in, declining to say that she backs an immediate ceasefire. She instead told moderators that, “Ceasefire is not a magic word, you can’t say it and make it so. But we have to push as the United States, as a world leader, for us to get to a ceasefire and to avoid another forever war.”
Garvey came under fire from his Democratic opponents when he declined to say if he supports a two-state solution. The moment happened when debate moderators asked Garvey, who has recently begun polling in second place, if there was a threshold at which point he would stop supporting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
“I feel it is all so naive to think that a two-state solution can happen, even in our generation,” Garvey said. “The difficulty, even the minds that have been involved with the situation over the years, going back 75 years, know that a peace was broken, it was broken on the 7th. And it won’t be until the next generation that we’ll be able to talk about that again.”
Lee then retorted that “those that don’t believe in a two-state solution don’t believe in peace and security for Israel.”
The earmarks debate
Aside from Israel, the biggest debate of the night was about earmarks, the controversial legislative provision that allows lawmakers to set aside funding for state and local projects. Both Republicans and Democrats have sparred over whether to use earmarks in the appropriations process, and Porter reignited the debate with her push to bar their use.
“Let’s shake up the Senate. Let’s change how Washington works,” Porter said in her opening statement. “I’m calling for an end to earmarks, outlawing corporate PAC donations and lobbyists donations, and a ban on Congress members trading stock. We need a leader who puts our interests first.”
Lee, who delivered her introductory remarks immediately after Porter, pushed back on her colleague’s directive, arguing that a competent lawmaker can utilize earmarks to get federal support for programs aiding Californians.
“I believe in earmarks. I believe in not being derelict in my duty. California … sends money to Washington DC. We don’t get our money back here at all,” Lee explained. “I believe in targeting and funneling money to nonprofits and to organizations that deserve their federal dollars, for homeless shelters, for LGBTQ plus health clinics, for education, for housing, for climate initiatives, everything that our community needs.
“I am not going to stand here and say I don’t believe in earmarks. I do. I believe that I need to direct federal tax dollars to California,” she continued.
Schiff backed Lee up in the earmarks debate, saying, “Dianne Feinstein brought billions back to California for water infrastructure, for housing, for health care. I’m going to fight to bring that money back to California.”
“Any senator from California that says, ‘No, I’m not going to fight for those resources,’ that’s going to be wonderful news to the … 49 other states who will be thrilled to have that money,” Schiff added.
Garvey dodges on if he’ll vote for Trump in November
Garvey was taken to task as the only Republican on stage over his refusal to disavow former President Donald Trump, whom all three Democrat lawmakers voted to impeach after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
The discussion began when Garvey was asked what would happen if Trump was reelected in November, which the MLB great responded to by saying he would respect the outcome of the vote.
“Well, I think the single greatest currency we have is the right to vote. And I think we should take this personally,” Garvey said. “I think when we vote for a president, and he’s duly elected, I believe we should support that president, support the office because that’s the leader of the United States, the free world.”
“I’m gonna say first I believe that our Republican opponent here on this stage has voted for Donald Trump twice, according to public reports,” Lee replied. “That agenda is an agenda to dismantle our democracy.”
Schiff then chimed in to speak to Garvey directly, saying: “You won’t tell the public whether you’re going to support this man again, you voted for him twice. You saw what he did on Jan. 6, you have to see what a threat he is to the country. I can understand you don’t want to alienate MAGA world by saying you’re against them, but you also won’t stand up to them.
“What more do you need to see of what he’s done to be able to say that you will not support him? That you will not vote to put him back in office? What more do any of us need to see?” Schiff asked.
Garvey replied by targeting how Hillary Clinton and Biden ran their respective 2016 and 2020 campaigns, saying that “both times [Trump] was the best person for the job.”
“By the way, I wouldn’t have voted for President [Ronald] Reagan if he stayed in the basement, okay?” Garvey said, making a dig at Biden’s 2020 campaign style to avoid public events during the coronavirus pandemic.
Garvey calls Schiff a liar
Garvey took a few hits on stage, though he also dished some out. He went back and forth with Schiff on the congressman being censured in the House over his efforts to publicize and legitimize the theory that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election in his capacity as House Judiciary Committee chairman.
“I think you’ve been censured for lying,” Garvey told Schiff. “You put words in my mouth, and this is exactly what I’m talking about: career politicians who are trying to determine who we are by race or by color or by gender. They never listen, they have prearranged words to say.”
“I was censured for standing up to a corrupt president,” Schiff replied. “And you know something, I would do it all over again, because that corrupt president, that president who’s been indicted on 91 felony counts, that president who you won’t refuse to support? Yeah, he’s a danger and I will stand up to him and Kevin McCarthy and Jim Jordan and any of those MAGA enablers in Congress.”
Garvey then hit back at Schiff, telling him: “Sir, you lied to 300 million people. You can’t take that back.”
Porter knocks Schiff’s abortion messaging and claims he takes dark money
Porter and Schiff began trading barbs more frequently as the night went on, with the former making repeated digs at the latter on everything from abortion messaging to campaign finance matters.
Porter pivoted to Schiff after going after Garvey for his evasiveness on the abortion issue, saying at first, “Look, I think all the Democrats on this stage are going to say that they support abortion access, but I think we have to have somebody who understands the stakes.
“Congressman Schiff mentioned abortion on his website under his page called ‘Adam’s Accomplishments,’” Porter added. “As a mother of a young daughter, I do not feel like abortion rights have been accomplished, not in a year when millions of Americans have lost abortion access.”
Schiff responded by reiterating his calls to expand the Supreme Court to add more liberal justices, showing his urgency on the matter.
“When we start losing our rights as Americans, it is a sure sign that our democracy is in trouble. We not only need to pass the national right to abortion law,” Schiff said. “But we need to change the Supreme Court that struck it down to begin with.”
Porter also accused Schiff of accepting campaign contributions from liberal dark money groups, telling the Burbank lawmaker: “I didn’t realize how much dirty money you took until I was running against you. You’ve taken money for big oil, big pharma, cable companies.”
Schiff did not get a chance to respond.