4 moments from the California U.S. Senate debate that will have people talking


The top four candidates hoping to succeed the late Dianne Feinstein and represent the Golden State in the United States Senate squared off Monday in a debate hosted and moderated by Inside California Politics.

Democrat Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee tried to stand out from one another and pitch themselves to voters as they hope to advance to the November runoff. Meanwhile, Republican Steve Garvey looked to make his case as the alternate choice for Californians who have grown tired of the Democratic status quo.

While Schiff, Porter and Lee seemed to operate with an unspoken truce, the Democrats took several swings at the Los Angeles Dodgers legend, hoping to knock him off balance and paint him as a MAGA Republican who aligns closely with Donald Trump.

Here are four moments that people will be talking about after the California U.S. Senate debate.

TRUMP

The 45th President of the United States, and the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, was a major topic in Monday’s debate.

The three Democrats were united in their belief that Trump should not be allowed to be on the 2024 ballot, but said they would not hesitate to certify a Trump win if it were to happen.

“Donald Trump engaged in an insurrection and should not be on the ballot,” Porter said.

Schiff, a major thorn in the side of Trump during his single term as POTUS, called his former rival the “greatest threat to democracy.”

Garvey disagreed with Schiff’s proclamation, calling the “deconstruction of the constitution” as the greatest threat to democracy, specifically citing removing the filibuster from Senate procedure and “packing” the Supreme Court.

The four candidates for California's U.S. Senate seat sparred during a debate hosted by Nexstar and Inside California Politics on Feb. 12, 2024. (Nexstar)
The four candidates for California’s U.S. Senate seat sparred during a debate hosted by Nexstar and Inside California Politics on Feb. 12, 2024. (Nexstar)

Garvey’s non-denouncement of the former president came into focus again just as it did weeks earlier the first time the four candidates sparred on the debate stage.

For the second time, Garvey, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, refused to say whom he would be voting for in the 2024 Presidential election.

“I think it’s personal. I’ll make that decision when the time comes,” Garvey said. “And I hope this puts to an end the constant badgering and the use of the former president’s name as an attack against me.”

The baseball legend did say that he hadn’t talked to the former president since his campaign began and was mum about whether he would accept a Trump endorsement.

CRIME

The topic of retail theft and smash-and-grab burglaries led to arguably the most contentious moment of an otherwise civil debate.

Schiff agreed that burglaries and crime were a problem, adding that he’s worked to build safe communities dating back to his time as a prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office, saying that he’s been prosecuting criminals since “back when Mr. Garvey was playing baseball.”

As a non-politician, Garvey took an even harder stance and blamed crime in California on the powers that be, specifically singling out his debate opponents.

“There’s never been more crime on the streets of California than today. And my opponents here, career politicians, it’s been on their watch. They are responsible,” Garvey said.

MINIMUM WAGE

Rep. Lee made waves recently for saying she believed that the federal minimum wage should be raised, possibly as high as $50 per hour.

On Monday, she didn’t back down from that stance, citing a recent survey that found the cost of living in the Bay Area required an income in the six figures; a $50 minimum wage would land around $104,000.

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  • U.S. Senate candidate Steve Garvey (R) is shown during a Feb. 12, 2024 debate hosted by Nexstar.
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While $50 per hour eclipses any of the other suggested raises from her Democrat colleagues, Lee said any raise to the federal minimum is desperately needed as long as affordability is taken into consideration.

“Just do the math. Of course we have national minimum wages that we need to raise to a living wage,” Lee said. “We’re talking about $20, $25, fine.”

Garvey dismissed the idea, saying that the federal minimum wage was “where it is and should be.”

“Instead of a Big Mac for $9, it’s going to be $15,” Garvey said.

ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR

Perhaps no topic has a wider range of opinions than the ongoing crisis in Gaza and Israel’s war with Hamas.

Schiff has been outspoken in his support of Israel and its right to defend itself, saying of Hamas, “they wanted this kind of response.”

“Hamas is threatening to attack them over and over and over again, no nation could endure that,” Schiff said. “At the same time, the President is right to continue pressing Israel to try to avoid civilian casualties to try to minimize the loss of civilian life.”

Porter called on the United States and Israel to commit to rebuilding war-torn Gaza once the dust has settled and Hamas has been removed from power.

“I think the people of Gaza absolutely need different leadership,” Porter said. “I think that any peace should come with the release of the hostages as well as a commitment by the United States and Israel to help rebuild Gaza and position it to flourish in the future.”

Schiff, Lee and Porter all advocated for the “two-state solution,” that would establish an independent state of Palestine alongside Israel.

Garvey called that idea “naïve.”

“Israel will determine … whether Hamas will survive,” he said. “And to think there could be a two state state solution is naïve because one of those states will always try to annihilate Israel.”

FAVORITE MEDIA

Another topic that came up, although not one that will likely determine the future of our nation, the four candidates were asked two simple questions: what is your favorite film and the last book you read.

Garvey said his favorite film was, fittingly, the Robert Redford baseball flick, “The Natural.” The last book he read, Garvey said, was “The Case for Civility,” by Os Guinness.

Schiff picked “The Big Lebowski,” and said the last book he read was Ron Chernow’s “Grant,” a biography of the 18th President.

Lee’s favorite film was “The Color Purple,” and her most recently read book was “Beloved” by the late Toni Morrison.

The last book Porter read was “The Latecomers” by Helen Klein Ross and her favorite film was “Star Wars,” although she didn’t specify which one.

Who do you think won Monday’s debate? Let us know here.

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