10 min read

A Golden State showdown

Katie Porter made the first move in what is poised to be one of 2024’s most contested Senate primaries.
A Golden State showdown
(Porter campaign)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, January 11, 2023. The 2024 elections are 664 days away.

In today’s newsletter: A preview of what will likely be one of the most contested and expensive Senate primaries of 2024. Plus, the latest on Biden’s documents mishap, a new congressional committee on China, and more.

If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Porter announces Senate run, sparking California primary fight

California Rep. Katie Porter announced on Tuesday that she is running for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat in 2024. “California needs a warrior in the Senate,” she declared in a video unveiling her campaign.

The only problem? Dianne Feinstein has yet to say if she’ll be running for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat.

Feinstein, the longest-serving senator in California history, has had a legendary career in Democratic politics, ever since she ascended to the San Francisco mayoralty following the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk in 1978. In the Senate, she has served as the top Democrat on the Rules, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees; she is also known as the author of the short-lived 1994 federal assault weapons ban.

But, at age 89, the longtime senator has faced serious questions about her mental acuity in recent years. A San Francisco Chronicle piece last year cited four U.S. senators, including three Democrats, who anonymously said that Feinstein’s “memory is rapidly deteriorating,” to the point that “it appears she can no longer fulfill her job duties without her staff doing much of the work required to represent the nearly 40 million people of California.”

Multiple longtime colleagues of Feinstein’s said there are times that she does not recognize them in the halls of the Capitol; “I don’t even know what that is,” she could be heard saying about a government funding bill last year. When Democrats moved into the majority in 2021, she had to be pressured to relinquish the Judiciary Committee gavel. According to the New Yorker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had to discuss the decision with her several times because she “seemed to forget about the conversations soon after they talked.”

Dianne Feinstein is facing pressure to step aside in 2024. (Senate Democratic Caucus)

Despite those concerns, Feinstein has filed the initial paperwork that would enable her to run for a sixth term in 2024. Feinstein’s office has made clear the move was just preliminary and that she has yet to make a decision about 2024; she said in December that she will announce her plans “probably by spring.”

Feinstein will be 91 years old on Election Day 2024. (U.S. senators have been re-elected at older ages: Strom Thurmond won his last election a month before his 94th birthday, in 1996. A slightly younger Chuck Grassley was sworn into his eighth term at age 89 last week.)

Porter’s announcement adds pressure on Feinstein to accelerate her timeline and step aside. Joining a Senate before the incumbent from your own party has announced her plans is an unusual move, but it represents the urgency felt by several California Democrats ahead of a contest that is likely to attract several high-profile contenders.

Some of the other high-powered Democrats who are considering joining the California-sized primary field if Feinstein does retire:

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee leader and MSNBC mainstay who became known during the Trump era as a manager of both of the former president’s impeachment trials. Schiff considered running against Hakeem Jeffries for House Democratic Leader after fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi stepped down, but stayed out of the race to keep his eyes trained on a 2024 Senate bid instead.
  • Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley and recently authored a book — “Dignity in a Digital Age” — on Big Tech. The grandson of an Indian politician/activist who spent years in jail with Mahatma Gandhi, Khanna is also known for his dovish foreign policy, often working with Republicans to end U.S. intervention abroad. Khanna is seen by some Bernie Sanders aides as a possible future presidential contender and heir to the Vermont progressive.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee, another longtime lawmaker with a storied career in progressive circles. Having served in Congress since 1998, Lee is a former Congressional Black Caucus chair and a member of Democratic leadership; her liberal credentials have been well-burnished ever since she cast the sole vote in Congress against authorizing the “War on Terror” days after 9/11.
  • Mayor London Breed, who has followed in Feinstein’s footsteps as the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and now the city’s mayor. She is the second female mayor of San Francisco, after Feinstein, and the first Black woman to hold the post. Crime and homelessness in the city have been defining struggles of her tenure.
Barbara Lee’s post-9/11 anti-war vote made her a liberal hero. (Gage Skidmore) 

And then there’s Porter, who has quickly established herself as a progressive icon in just four years in the House by wielding her famous whiteboard to hold financial executives and Trump administration officials to account. A protégé of Elizabeth Warren, who was her Harvard Law professor (and for whom she named a daughter), Porter leaves behind a House seat in Orange County that is one of the nation’s most competitive.

Porter was recently caught in a controversy when a fellow in the Wounded Warrior program who was serving in her office alleged that she was fired for violating Covid testing protocols. When the staffer explained that her “head was not in the best place” after a friend from the Navy had been murdered, Porter responded: “Well you gave me Covid.”

Notably, Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised to name a Black woman to the seat if Feinstein resigns before her term is over; Lee and Breed would be the top contenders for the appointment. That would give them an incumbency advantage in 2024, and possibly make it awkward for any white Democrats to challenge them.

Although Porter is the only announced candidate in the race, the pre-campaign sniping has already begun. Asked about Porter’s announcement, both Schiff and Khanna seemed to chide her for launching a Senate bid while California is being battered with storms and flooding that have killed 17 people. “I think that’s where we should all be focused right now,” Schiff said.

California uses a top-two primary system for its congressional elections, meaning all candidates for the Senate seat — regardless of party — will appear on the same ballot in June 2024. The top two vote-getters will then face off that November.

As she jumped in the race, Porter released a private poll from late last year that showed her and Schiff as the leading contenders in the first round of voting. (They were tested against Lee, Khanna, and a nameless Republican. Feinstein was not included.) The poll then showed Porter beating Schiff in a one-on-one contest, 37% to 26%. (The rest of the respondents were either undecided or said they would not vote if that was the match-up.)

Adam Schiff is one of the most prodigious fundraisers in Congress. (Gage Skidmore)

Taking place in America’s most populous state, the race will likely be one of the most expensive of the cycle. Both Schiff and Porter are known as prodigious fundraisers. Porter raised more than $25 million last cycle, although she used much of it in her hard-fought re-election race and now has $7.7 million in the bank. Schiff, meanwhile, currently boasts a $20 million war chest.

Especially if both of them run, gobsmacking amounts of money will likely be poured into the contest, sucking up resources towards a safe-blue seat in a year when Democrats face one of the most brutal Senate maps in memory.

More news you should know.

Biden documents. The classified documents found at President Biden’s post-vice presidential office include intelligence memos and briefing materials related to Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom, CNN reports. The documents were in a manila folder marked “personal.” Biden said Tuesday that he was “surprised” by the discovery.

  • The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the documents. Per CNN, U.S. attorney John Lausch — a Trump appointee tapped by Attorney General Merrick Garland to review the matter — “has already completed the initial part of his inquiry and provided his preliminary findings to Garland.”

Congress vs. China. The House voted 365-65 on Tuesday to form a “Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party,” a bipartisan panel that will investigate China and submit policy recommendations on competing with the country. All Republicans and 146 Democrats joined together to vote for the committee.

  • In a less bipartisan fashion, the chamber also voted 221-211 — along party lines — to form a “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government,” which is poised to probe the Justice Department, CIA, IRS, and other Biden administration agencies.
China has emerged as a bipartisan point of agreement in Washington. (Agriculture Department)

George Santos. Reps. Daniel Goldman (D-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) took the rare step Tuesday of filing an ethics complaint against one of their colleagues, Rep. George Santos (R-NY). The Democratic lawmakers asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Santos filed “timely, accurate, and complete financial disclosure reports as required by law.”

  • “I have done nothing unethical,” Santos told reporters in response to the complaint. It has been uncovered that the newly-sworn-in congressman lied about his professional background, educational history, family heritage, charity work, and several other elements of his biography.

Trumpworld. Allen Weisselberg, the longtime former CFO of former President Donald Trump’s family business, was sentenced to five months in prison on Tuesday. Weisselberg had pleaded guilty to helping orchestrate a 15-year tax fraud scheme at the Trump Organization.

  • Weisselberg, who worked for the Trump family for almost 50 years, is only expected to serve 100 days of his sentence due to earning time off for good behavior. The time he does serve will be at Rikers Island, a notorious New York prison.
A longtime Trump Organization executive was sentenced to five months in prison. (Tony Webster)

Plus, a few more headlines:

  • “The past 8 years were the world’s warmest, report finds” [Axios]
  • “Ukrainian troops to train on Patriot system in Oklahoma” [AP]
  • “FAA orders temporary pause in U.S. flight departures due to computer outage” [CBS]
  • “Yellen to stay on as Biden’s Treasury chief as debt fight looms” [Politico]
  • “Democrats’ new primary calendar isn't quite a done deal, as complications arise” [NPR]
  • “House Republican files articles of impeachment against DHS Secretary Mayorkas” [NBC]
  • “C-SPAN is calling on McCarthy to allow its cameras in the House after its unprecedented coverage of the leadership fight” [CNN]

What your leaders are doing today.

All times Eastern.

Executive Branch

President Biden is back in Washington after a trip to Mexico City for a “Three Amigos Summit.” The only thing on his public schedule is his daily intelligence briefing in the afternoon.

Vice President Harris will host a meeting with climate and environmental leaders at the White House.

First Lady Biden will undergo a procedure known as a “Mohs surgery” at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, today to remove a small lesion found above her eye during a routine cancer screening.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will brief the press. [Watch at 2 p.m.]

Legislative Branch

The Senate is on recess until January 23.

The House will vote on two pieces of legislation:

The Wagner bill would institute a penalty of up to 5 years in prison for physicians who fail to comply. According to the CDC, 1.3% of abortions take place after the fetus would be viable to survive outside the womb; a 2016 report from the CDC found 143 instances of infant deaths between 2003 and 2014 that involved “induced terminations.” [Watch today’s House session starting at 10 a.m.]

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, a public records dispute that involves questions over Puerto Rico’s status as a territory. [Listen at 10 a.m.]

Before I go...

Today is the first day of the second semester of my junior year. Back in August, I included a list in this space of the classes I was taking that semester, and enough of you seemed to get a kick out of it that I thought I would do it again.

So if you want a glimpse into my life at school and some of what will be occupying my mind when I’m not writing this newsletter — not that any of the topics are *that* far removed — here goes:

  • A government course: “Political Parties”
  • A history course: “History of U.S. News Media”
  • A journalism course: “Political Journalism” (taught by an AP White House correspondent!)
  • A linguistics course: “Language and the Law”
  • A science and technology course: “Artificial Intelligence and Policy Problems”
  • A 1-credit international affairs seminar: “Intel 101”

Thanks for reading.

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Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe