SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There are still 13 months to go before any votes will be cast in the race to replace veteran California Senator Dianne Feinstein, but the campaign is already ramping up.
On Wednesday, a day after Feinstein announced she would not seek reelection in 2024, ABC7 News spoke one-on-one with Democratic congressman Adam Schiff about his own bid for that coveted seat.
Schiff -- who represents Los Angeles and led the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump -- branded himself as the experienced candidate who will get things done. He also addressed criticism about his record on criminal justice reform, and his own Bay Area ties (spoiler: he grew up in the East Bay).
On running for Senate and his challengers:
Schiff is one of two official candidates in the race for Senate, alongside Democratic congresswoman Katie Porter from Orange County. However, it's expected to become a very crowded field of Democrats. Bay Area congresswoman Barbara Lee has filed her paperwork to run and congressman Ro Khanna is reportedly also mulling jumping in.
Asked how Schiff is different from the rest of the field, he described himself as the experienced candidate who will get things done.
"We're all progressives, but I think the question is who can really make progress, who has the demonstrated record of getting things done on behalf of Californians," he said.
Schiff, who was a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, pointed to his role in the impeachment trial of former President Trump and his role in the January 6th insurrectionist hearings.
"I've been at the center of these fights, and California, I think, deserves the next senator to be not on the sidelines, but in the middle of these fights," he said.
Asked about Porter, who has been branding herself as the outsider candidate, he said: "I don't really see it as an insider, outsider kind of thing."
"We're both members of Congress, we both serve the same delegation. I think I have a record of getting things done," he added.
Schiff pointed to his endorsement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Porter, for her part, has the endorsement of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
On his campaign's message:
Schiff appears to be making the fight to preserve Democracy a hallmark of his campaign. He mentioned it several times at his campaign launch event and is selling "Democracy Matters" coffee mugs on his campaign website.
Asked about that messaging, Schiff said: "My core message is really a three fold: Democracy, our economy and our planet. To me, these are the existential issues."
Schiff said the reason he believes Democracy is at risk is because the economy hasn't been working for Americans. "And this provides fertile soil for somebody to come along and promise that they alone can fix it," Schiff said. "So, core to my campaign is addressing the real world challenges of people paying their bills and keeping a roof over their head."
"That's really the bread and butter of my campaign, but also the big existential issue of them all is the planet," he added. "And if we don't aggressively attack climate change, then none of the other problems at the end of the day will make much of a difference."
On working across the aisle:
Whoever wins the Senate race will be replacing Feinstein, who was known as being the ultimate Democratic centrist -- somebody who worked across the aisle.
Asked if he sees himself in that vein, Schiff replied: "I certainly see myself getting things done."
He pointed to his work with Republican congressman Devin Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee. "We decided without ever having to discuss it that we were going to compartmentalize," he said. "We would fight over Trump and Russia and Ukraine, but we would also make sure that we got the work of the committee done and our national security protected."
"That's the kind of leadership I want to bring to the Senate," he continued. "Tolerating no opposition when it comes to protecting women's reproductive freedom or dealing with the gun violence scourge, but also where we can find common ground."
On criminal justice reform and the death penalty:
While Schiff has become a prominent target of the right (Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy recently stripped Schiff of his role on the House Intel Committee), Schiff could also face criticism in California from progressives.
Several criminal and social justice groups wrote an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021 urging him not to appoint Schiff as state Attorney General saying he has supported tough on crime policies that contributed to mass incarceration.
ABC7 News asked Schiff to respond to those who question his record on criminal justice reform.
"l think certainly, like President Biden, in the 90's when I was in the legislature, I took one view of how we should try to solve the criminal justice challenges we face. I would like to think 25 years later, my viewpoint has changed, and I've learned that some of the policies of the 90's didn't work," Schiff responded.
He went on to say he was proud of some of the work he did in the 90's, including the Schiff Crime Prevention Act in 2000. "I introduced the first legislation to try to provide an equivalent amount for juvenile justice prevention as we were providing in the cops program," he explained. "So, I'm proud of my record, but yes, I wouldn't agree with all of the policies of the 1990's."
Schiff also said he no longer supports the death penalty.
Some of Schiff's critics had pointed to his support of the 2017 "Thin Blue Line Act," which would have extended the use of the federal death penalty to people convicted of killing or targeting law enforcement.
"I don't support the death penalty," Schiff said. "I did for a time support it for a narrow category of offenders who killed cops or killed kids."
He said he changed his position after seeing the degree to which DNA evidence has demonstrated that a number of people have been wrongly convicted, and that the death penalty has been disproportionately applied to people of color.
"As long as that's the case, then I can't support the death penalty," he said.
On his Bay Area ties:
While Schiff is known as a congressman from Los Angeles, it turns out he has strong Bay Area ties.
Schiff grew up in the East Bay and still has a lot of family, including his brother, who live here.
"I'm a proud Monte Vista Mustang" he said. "So, I lived in Alamo-Danville area from the fifth grade, actually up through college."
Schiff said he had his Bar Mitzvah at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. So, shoutout to Temple Isaiah," he said.
"But it's wonderful to be back home," Schiff added, "And I think it really helps me understand a lot of the neighborhoods and a lot of the issues in the Bay Area, even though I'm an Angeleno."
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