Porter comes out swinging in Senate labor forum

Porter, who has been polling just a few points shy of Schiff for months, pitched herself as a scrappy newcomer who can fix a broken system — drawing a contrast with her competitors, who have spent more than 20 years in Congress. She emphasized her reputation as a hardline Wall Street antagonist and blasted Lee and Schiff for accepting past contributions from corporate PACs, even as they have vowed not to take the money in this race.

“I am the only candidate on this stage who has never cashed those checks,” Porter said. “This wasn’t a decision I made because I’m running for the Senate. This is who I am.”

Earning the approval of unions is a critical target for any Californian running for statewide office, but labor support is proving to be especially crucial as three Democrats with similar voting records approach the Senate primary in March.

Further complicating matters is the question of whether Butler will run for a full term next year. Doing so could further split the Democratic vote and make it less likely for two progressives to make it out of the top-two primary and into the general election in November.

Porter also criticized the Democratic party for failing to pass an increase of the federal minimum wage and for not going far enough when negotiating the Inflation Reduction Act, which only allows Medicare to regulate the price of some medications, but not all.

She consistently tied problems in Washington to corporate greed and inaction on the part of Democrats who had lined their pockets with donations from special interests.

“I went to Washington to unrig the system,” she said. “I went to rewrite the rules, not be complacent to them.”

The forum underscored the similarities between the three candidates, who differed little on top progressive priorities like supporting a single-payer health care system, forgiving student debt and passing the PRO Act to expand labor protections.

But there were a few notable distinctions.

Lee called for a $50 hourly federal minimum wage, whereas Schiff and Porter called for $25 and $20, respectively. Candidates were also split about whether there should be term limits for Congress. Schiff rejected the idea, arguing that the real problem for political representation is gerrymandering, while Lee said such limits would be a hindrance to democracy. Porter said she hadn’t made up her mind, but that it’s a necessary conversation.

Porter, the youngest candidate on the stage, took the opportunity to stress the need for younger representation among lawmakers. “When we say diverse leadership, that includes multi-generational leadership,” she said.

Perhaps the most notable difference was in how the candidates responded to the Saturday attacks in Israel by Gaza militants. Only Schiff offered unequivocal support for Israel, while the others took more progressive stances.

Lee called for a ceasefire — a position that has caused backlash for other left-leaning Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Porter condemned the attacks and voiced support for Israel, but also warned against sliding towards Islamophobia. She also put some blame for the attack on the U.S. government, saying it hadn’t taken a “strong enough” stand against Iran, which supports Hamas. She didn’t specify whether her critique was aimed at the Biden administration or previous administrations.

“It is important to remember, as we stand with Israel, as we stand against terror, as we mourn, that we learn the lessons of our own 9/11,” she said. “Which gave rise to hateful Muslim-phobia and civil rights violations.”

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