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What would Adam Schiff do as California’s U.S. senator?

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What would Adam Schiff do as California’s U.S. senator?

Feb 27, 2024 | 9:29 am ET
By Yue Stella Yu
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Rep. Adam Schiff speaks to the Women's Caucus at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento on Nov. 17, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
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Rep. Adam Schiff speaks to the Women's Caucus at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento on Nov. 17, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Adam Schiff appears primed to finish first in the March 5 primary for California’s U.S. Senate seat.

For months, the Burbank Democrat has consistently led in polls ahead of his colleagues in Congress — Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — and the leading Republican, former baseball star Steve Garvey. 

Schiff is also raking in endorsements and cash, maintaining a commanding edge in fundraising and spending $38 million by Feb. 14 — ranking second among U.S. Senate candidates nationwide, behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. 

With a week until the primary, all Schiff needs to win is to maintain the status quo. But that status quo is expensive, and it is being tested left and right. 

Schiff’s campaign has spent millions in ads to elevate Garvey’s profile, associating him with former President Donald Trump in a tactic experts say could help advance Garvey and ensure Schiff an easy win in November. Garvey and Porter, a firebrand progressive competing for second place, have in turn depicted Schiff as a career politician they are running to replace.

Initially a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, Schiff is rebranding himself as a progressive Democrat. While his voting record is largely similar to Lee and Porter’s, Schiff has taken different stances on issues such as crime and the Gaza War.

But Schiff said what sets him apart is his record of getting things done. “This is a race between results and rhetoric,” he told CalMatters on Monday.

How will he achieve what he promised? In a 30-minute interview over Zoom, Schiff unpacked his positions on Gaza, homelessness, crime and more:

Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’

One of the most glaring splits among Lee, Porter and Schiff is their stance on the Gaza War — Schiff is the only one who still refuses to call for a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. 

Schiff has supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” and has called for a “humanitarian pause,” arguing a ceasefire is unrealistic when Hamas continues to hold hostages including Israelis and Americans. A few hours after the CalMatters interview, Israel agreed to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the release of 40 hostages, ABC News reported

“There’s nothing … inconsistent with recognizing that any state, including Israel, has a duty to defend itself particularly when a terrorist organization is threatening to attack them over and over and over again,” he said during the interview.

But how would he represent Californians who disagree with him on this issue? Schiff said the answer is to find common ground.

“I’m advocating what I think is the right approach. I think what my constituents want and what they respect is candor,” Schiff said. “I would like to think most people want to see that same resolution, (which) is, how do we get there? And how do we get there in the aftermath of this horrible war?”

Ending the filibuster

Like Lee and Porter, Schiff has advocated for the end of filibuster — the Senate procedure allowing members to prolong their floor speeches and delay legislative actions. In practice, it requires at least 60 of 100 votes in the Senate to cut off debate and pass bills.  

Schiff said the filibuster causes “gridlock” in Congress, preventing actions on raising the federal minimum wage, reforming the campaign finance system, passing an assault weapons ban and applying a term limit on Supreme Court judges. 

“The biggest threat to our governance now is not that the policy swings wildly from direction to direction, but that it doesn’t move at all,” he said.

But eliminating it would require political will.

Schiff said some of the staunchest opponents to ending the filibuster — including Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat — are leaving the Senate by next year. But it would still take some convincing, he acknowledged.

“I think we are going to have to make the case, even to some of the Democrats, that we would be better off eliminating the filibuster … even if that means that when the Republicans take control from time to time, that they, too, will have the ability to govern,” he said.

Airing ads on Fox News

Last year, Schiff called on advertisers to boycott Fox News and “other stations that deliberately put out lies and deliberately undermine our elections.”

“Since there is nothing but the profit motive operating here,” he said at the time, “the only way to attack is to attack the profit.”

But soon, Schiff will be airing ads on Fox News himself, Politico reported.

Why the double standard? In response to CalMatters, Schiff said it’s to counter his opponents’ ads on Fox News. Porter — who has also been critical of Fox News — is also airing ads with the network. 

“I do believe you need to be speaking in the same medium that your opponents are speaking,” he said. “I can’t unilaterally change this myself, and we are having to respond to what others are doing in the race.”

Schiff added there should be a “systematic” effort “going after the profit” of Fox News. “It has to be a broad decision either by the party or even more than the party.”

‘Smash-and-grab’ crime

A former prosecutor, Schiff said deterring crime has been a high priority of his.

The most important thing? Curbing “smash and grab” thefts and holding the offenders accountable — especially repeated offenders and organized crime rings — and also by investing more in community-based policing and crime intervention programs to keep youths out of trouble, he said.

“Right now, too many people feel immune from any accountability,” Schiff said.

Does that mean the state needs to hand down more enhanced punishment?

Schiff did not give a direct answer during the interview, stressing that it’s more important to hold people accountable for “cumulative” offenses.

“We can both deter additional crimes and make sure there are consequences for each and every crime committed,” Schiff said through his campaign in an email after the interview. “The certainty that people will be caught and the consequences that are proportionate to the harm and frequency of the harm are more important deterrents than length of sentence.”

That also does not mean California’s Proposition 47 — a 2014 ballot measure that lowered the penalties for some theft offenses — needs to be changed, Schiff said, arguing there is no evidence showing the ballot measure led to a spike in crime, as some have suggested. 

Support for Proposition 1

Schiff supports Proposition 1 — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ballot measure to borrow $6.4 billion in bonds to fund for more housing and mental health treatment facilities while redistributing some mental health dollars. 

“I think that the states, as they were intended to be, need to be able to experiment and find out what works,” he said. “I think what the governor is doing is a bold effort to address this, to get people off the street.”

Similar to Lee and Porter, Schiff noted that while cities should have the authority to clear out encampments that pose a public health risk, criminalization of homelessness is not the answer.

The biggest help would be more housing, Schiff said, which would require the federal government to expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and incentivize affordable housing projects. 

Schiff also proposed offering tax credits to renters, who are “often paying as much in their rent as homeowners are paying their mortgage.”