SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein talked up the knowledge and accomplishments that come from her long career in Washington during a debate Wednesday as her rival in the November election, fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, suggested she’s to blame for dysfunction in Congress and the lack of action on immigration and climate change.
Sharing a stage with an election opponent for the first time in nearly two decades, Feinstein took fire from de Leon over immigration, health care and the environment.
“Because of the lack of action in Washington, I’ve had to lead in California,” de Leon said, pointing to state legislation he wrote to move toward 100 percent renewable energy and a “sanctuary state” bill that restricts cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
Feinstein trumpeted her work passing an assault weapons ban, which has since expired, and presented herself as a realist about what’s achievable for Democrats.
“There is a lock on power in Washington,” Feinstein said. “When you have both houses (of Congress) and the White House controlled by one party, it is extraordinarily difficult.”
Democrats taking control of the House or Senate in November would “break that lock open” and allow them to exert influence over government policy, she said.
It was Feinstein’s first appearance with an election opponent since 2000 and a chance for de Leon to directly attack her as he searches for a badly-needed boost. Feinstein leads in public opinion polling and has about $4 million left to spend compared to de Leon’s less than half a million dollars.
On many issues, they largely agreed on substance but differed on style, with de Leon calling for more combative confrontation with Republican President Donald Trump. He said California needs a new voice and a new approach during what he called a battle for America’s soul against Trump.
De Leon, a state senator, largely avoided direct criticism of Feinstein but implied repeatedly that she has failed to deliver for immigrants.
He noted that Feinstein voted for homeland security legislation that reconstituted federal migration agencies and created Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal department that detains immigrants living in the country illegally.
“We have betrayed American children because we have hunted down their mothers and fathers, pursued them with our ICE agents,” de Leon said.
Feinstein and de Leon both said they believe Democrats could find common ground with certain Republicans to craft what Feinstein called a fair and humane immigration policy that doesn’t separate parents from their children.
They also differed on health care.
Feinstein said the government should create a public option for health insurance and allow people over 55 to buy into Medicare. She also said there should be more help for people who don’t get insurance from an employer but make too much to qualify for subsidies to buy their own coverage under former President Barack Obama’s health care plan.
De Leon said he supports a “Medicare for all” plan that would extend the government health plan to all Americans. He also touts a state program that allows young people living in the country illegally to get access to state-funded health care through Medi-Cal.
Feinstein faces a fellow Democrat because California’s primary rules send the two candidates who receive the most votes to the general election regardless of party. Roughly half of California Republicans and a quarter of independents said they wouldn’t vote in the race, according to a September survey from the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, which hosted the debate in San Francisco.
Neither candidate has aired statewide television ads in the general election.
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