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Senate Tracker: Democrat Kevin De León Challenges Sen. Dianne Feinstein To Bring 'New Voice' To Cali

State Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, speaks during a campaign stop at CHIRLA Action Fund headquarters in Los Angeles. De Leon is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Dianne Feinstein. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
State Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, speaks during a campaign stop at CHIRLA Action Fund headquarters in Los Angeles. De Leon is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Dianne Feinstein. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

This story is part of our Senate Tracker series, looking at Senate races across the country ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Check out all of our election coverage.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is up for re-election in November, and her opponent is a fellow Democrat.

In 2016, the state changed its primary rules, allowing the two candidates who earned the most votes to advance to the general election, regardless of party.

Polls show state Sen. Kevin de León ( @kdeleon) is a longshot to defeat Feinstein ( @SenFeinstein), who has served in the Senate since 1992. In the California primary, he earned just 12 percent of the vote to Feinstein’s 44 percent. So why is he running against her?

The goal was to make it to the top two in a crowded primary field, de León tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson, so that he would have the chance to “juxtapose our accomplishments, our vision and our values for California.”

“The two latest independent polls now hold us at 11 points and eight points, respectively,” he says. “So we still have a solid shot to have a new voice, a new change represented in California of today, not of the past.”

Here & Now reached out to Sen. Feinstein for an interview, but she declined.

Check out  all of our election coverage .

Interview Highlights

On the support for him from California voters who approve of President Trump

“Well it’s a bit of an oddity, that’s for sure. My values are my values. And my values as the youngest child of a single, immigrant mother with a third grade education. My mother had the courage of her convictions to come to this country to seek a better life, so as the author of Sanctuary State for California, as the leader in negotiations for raising the minimum wage to the highest in the country — $15-an-hour — and also the author of 100 percent clean energy for the largest economy in the world that has legally committed itself to carbonizing the grid, my values have always been for working families in California and that’s who I am. My goal is to be a new voice for Californians in Washington, D.C., and it’s an interesting oddity, that’s for sure.

“But I’m campaigning to all voters up and down the state of California. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re in Northern California, Southern California, Central Coast or Central Valley; whether you voted for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton or Trump supporter. I believe that all Californians deserve a real voice that’s going to fight for them on issues that they care deeply about.”

On if he will cooperate with Trump if he is elected

“Well, I can tell you this. From day one, I’ve always taken an oppositional position with him because I identified from day one that this was a man that you couldn’t trust and this was a man that was a clear and present danger to our economic prosperity, to our values and to our people. Now that’s dramatically different. Had Jeb Bush won the presidency or John Kasich or say even someone like Chris Christie or even Marco Rubio, I as a Democrat, I’d be disappointed, but I’d get over it in a couple of weeks and try to figure out where we can find common ground to move this country forward together within the spirit of normalcy, within the spirit of the American body politic. But this is something that I identified from day one as being dramatically different. And I think that’s why we can’t allow one electoral aberration to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, our scientific advancement, our economic output and our sense of global responsibility.”

On Sen. Feinstein’s handling of the allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh

“I don’t support the investigation of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but I would have taken a different approach to Brett Kavanaugh on two separate counts. I would never have opened the door to his confirmation to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, basically, the farm team for the Supreme Court. Sen. Feinstein volunteered her vote in 2006 to allow this man, a known partisan political operative, to hit the Senate floor for confirmation. If that didn’t happen quite frankly we would not have Brett Kavanaugh before the U.S. Senate today, and I would not vote to confirm 60 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees. Now these are, as we know, lifetime appointments, and these are men who almost surely will undo a woman’s right to choose, workers rights, civil rights, voting rights, our environmental laws, so this is something that I would have done dramatically different than the current senior senator from California.

On how he would have handled the Kavanaugh hearings

“Well, I can tell you this: I would never have apologized to Brett Kavanaugh for the women who are exercising their First Amendment right of the Constitution to protest lawfully and have their voices heard because of the fear and panic, the anxiety they have, that this man may in fact be a jurist on the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest in the land. We witness junior senators such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the senator from Minnesota, be very assertive and actually make motions immediately for an adjournment. Obviously, a delay tactic, and I would have followed suit. As the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, I would have programmed with my colleagues, and it didn’t seem to be any programming. It was very disjointed, and I think it demonstrated a lack of leadership on behalf of the senior senator from California.”

On what he thinks he can bring to the Senate that Feinstein cannot

“I don’t think it’s about age or ageism. I think it’s about values and having the right representation to represent the most diverse and largest economy in the United States of America. I think it’s time that we have someone on the front lines and not on the sidelines, and I think what California wants is representation. A representative who’s going to fight for them on the issues that they care deeply about, fight for them to elevate the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to fight for the existential threat that is before us — climate change — to fight for immigration reform and make sure that we stop betraying the American-born children and allow their parents to normalize their legal status. California is home to the largest number of immigrants in the country, yet we don’t have that leadership from California in Washington, D.C., especially when you are the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate.

“So that seniority has not been working for California. I think that’s what they want in today’s day and age when we have a president who occupies a White House who is a threat like I said a few moments ago to our economic prosperity, to our values and more importantly to our people.”

On his view that Feinstein is not fighting for California

“I think that she subscribes to country club rules in Washington that are grossly outdated and no longer apply to California and to the rest of the country. I think that the committee and this bipartisanship, which I’m fine with bipartisanship, I’ve always worked in a bipartisan manner as a leader the president of the California State Senate. But this is a very different ballgame in Washington with this president who seeks to undermine workers rights, women’s rights, our voting and civil rights as well as our environmental laws. I think it takes a different type of representation, and I think California wants a real fighter that will fight for their values and who they are and what they represent today.”

On Trump’s criticism of California’s sanctuary state law

“Well listen, California is a state that values our diversity and our inclusivity and because we have members of Congress in both the Senate as well as the House of Representatives who have lacked the courage of their convictions to do the right thing and move forward. Immigration reform, many states throughout the country are stuck with dealing with the mess, and states have treated this issue in a very different way in comparison to say Alabama or Texas or Arizona. Here in California, this is an issue that I take very personally because I am the youngest child of a single immigrant mother with a third grade education. I wanted to make sure that our local police officers, our sheriffs, were not a cog in the Trump deportation machine, separating innocent mothers from their children and children from their fathers.

“When the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the president announced their lawsuit against California because of my law my reply was, ‘Bring it on.’ And this was a measure that I wrote with the former attorney general of the United States Eric Holder. We wrote this law. Jeff Sessions said it was unconstitutional. I said, ‘It is the law of the land of California, and a Republican judge appointed by then the Republican President George W. Bush affirmed that my bill, the sanctuary state bill, is the law of the land of California, and it is constitutional.’

“These are the values that we fight for, which is very important. And that’s why I identified from day one that this was an electoral aberration that was a threat to the democratic institutions. This is not an overly partisan position that I’ve taken because I’ve worked with Republicans before on numerous occasions, and like I said, had Jeb Bush won or perhaps any other Republican, other than someone like Ted Cruz, won the presidency and occupies the White House today, I try to find common ground where we can move this nation together. But this is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. And quite frankly, this president makes Richard Nixon look like a choir boy in comparison.”

On if Democrats should move to impeach Trump if they win the House

“Well, I’ve always said from day one that I think there’s enough evidence for an impeachment of the current president. I have not been dissuaded from the position I’ve taken. It is not a partisan position I’ve taken. I don’t think Democrats or Republicans should play around with the idea of partisanship for political purposes. This is based on legalities, and being the commander in chief, the chief executive officer, the most powerful position in the world, I think there’s sufficient evidence for the members of Congress regardless of who controls either chamber to move forward with impeachment. Now obviously, it’s clear that the Republicans don’t have the courage to move forward and do the right thing, but if the House is taken over by Democrats I believe strongly that they should move forward with impeachment.”

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