Rep. Adam Schiff’s relentless fight against former President Donald Trump catapulted him to national prominence and made him a darling of the Democratic Party.
But it may not be enough to make the former Blue Dog budget the “progressive champion” he’s billing himself in the California Senate race.
Activists to the left of their own favorites in the crowded primary contest are beginning to argue that Schiff is not one of them.
The friction became apparent when he decided to withdraw his application to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Wednesday, a move that could be because the group was not letting him in.
“Adam is proud to be a progressive and was encouraged to join the caucus last season, but put off until after completing his committee responsibilities on January 6. After hearing from his colleagues that Some were attempting to politicize joining this session, Adam decided to withdraw from consideration until he joins the US Senate,” said Schiff spokeswoman Lauren French.
Questions about Schiff’s ideological evolution have already stalled his campaign in California and caused consternation on the left in Washington, where members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – which generally welcomes all Democrats who want to get involved — were concerned that Schiff was only trying to use his group to bolster his credibility while campaigning for the Senate against two of its most prominent members, Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee.
“It’s always a challenge when we have a sitting member who’s been here a long time and hasn’t been a member of the progressive caucus and then wants to [join] Right before the election,” Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said at the House Democrats’ retreat in Baltimore last week, before Schiff withdrew his application.
Jayapal told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that Schiff’s application given the timing was “divisive” in the caucus, so she appreciates she decided to drop herself out of the race.
During his 22 years in Congress, Schiff has been a member of the centrist Blue Dogs and New Democrat caucuses and has supported moderate policies – balancing the budget, the death penalty for police killers, business-friendly labor regulations – that might have raised eyebrows. Can’t raise the typical Democratic primary but does in California.
Amar Shergill, chair of the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus, said, “I think it’s fairly clear that he is now trying to recast himself as a progressive, if he understands that he will win this election.” Will lose.” Opponents. “He has never been a leader on progressive issues. He is a below-average Democrat who gets involved in progressive issues only when he sees that everyone else is already there.”
David Atkins, a California DNC member who is currently neutral in the race, praised “Schiff’s vehement defense of democracy during the Trump era” but said the state’s next senator needs to be “the strongest candidate for progressive policy in the Senate”. Must be the champion”. , not just a good vote.”
Progressive harmony is important in the land of Hollywood and San Francisco, where most Democrats and independent voters identify as liberal and where Bernie Sanders handily defeated Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
“Every candidate in this primary wants to tout their progressive credentials,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a California Democratic strategist. “Adam Schiff has an incredible record on the issue of defending democracy, but has belonged to the libertarian caucus in the past, so I’m sure he sees [joining the Progressive Caucus] as a way of assuring progressive voters that he was on their side.
Schiff’s Los Angeles-area district — which includes Hollywood and some affluent suburban communities — has moved to the left along with the entire state and national Democratic Party in the two decades since Schiff became the first Democrat to represent that seat in decades. Is. defeating a Republican incumbent in what was then the most expensive House race in American history.
As his district faded, so did Schiff, embracing ideas such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. He left the Blue Dog Caucus a decade ago, although he is still a member of the centre-left New Democrat coalition, and his campaign said the Progressive Caucus would be a “natural home”.
In a lengthy statement to NBC News that used the word “progressive” four times, Schiff suggested he was in a better position than Lee or Porter to enact policies that support the entire region.
“Californians need a progressive champion in the Senate who can deliver, and who will work tirelessly to lower everyday costs for working families. If you are not able to make progress, you are not progressive. Can’t be,” Schiff said.
His opponents on the left still don’t buy it.
A scathing review of Schiff’s record in the liberal American Prospect by its executive editor concluded that “Schiff has never passed the test.”
It points to the anti-crime bills Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, wrote in the California state senate in the 1990s; the Iraq War after 9/11 and his vote for the Patriot Act; his opposition to several bills supported by labor unions, which barred Transportation Security Administration personnel from unionizing; and his opposition to progressive budget goals and support for spending cuts.
“Revenue shortfalls, uncontrolled spending and faulty planning have driven our national debt so high that putting our fiscal house in order seems out of reach,” House floor promoting Blue Dog plan to balance the budget But in a 2005 speech, Schiff called for and create a surplus “rainy day fund”, which would require drastic cuts to many programs.
Critics also note that Schiff has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate PACs over the course of his career – although he has sworn them off in the Senate race – which they say has made him friendlier to industries such as pharmaceuticals, For example given that he voted against legislation opposed by the industry. To crack down on so-called patent trolls.
Defenders noted that many outside trackers ranked Schiff’s recent voting record as progressive or even more so than Porter, who had her own electoral politics to consider in a typically Republican-friendly district.
And Schiff aides noted that most of California’s delegates in the Progressive Caucus who have endorsed it are currently supporting Schiff, including several vice chairs.
Even some critics agree that Schiff’s conceptual development is serendipitous.
“I think it’s real with him, it’s my gut,” said Howie Klein, a progressive donor and blogger who lives in Schiff’s district and was one of his early supporters, on his Iraq War vote in Congress. before publicly breaking up with.
Klein, a former record executive who oversaw artists such as The Talking Heads and The Ramones, said he would probably vote for Lee if the election were held today, but he would be “perfectly happy — not reluctantly happy” with all three candidates. “.
Privately, some on the left worried that Porter and Lee would split the progressive vote, clearing the way for Schiff.
A recent poll of California Democrats and independents found that a narrow majority – 53% – identify as moderates. Porter and Lee do the best of them, while Schiff fares better with self-described moderates and among the large majority — 69% — who say they want a candidate who is willing to make compromises to get the job done. .
Pollster Mark DiCamillo, who conducted the survey for the Institute of Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “The vast majority of voters, in what I consider to be their frame of potential voters, are moderates.” “But it’s also important that a candidate has his or her own lane. You don’t want your lane to be crowded with candidates of the same orientation, and that may be true with Porter and Lee.