Bernie Sanders-backed group to support Barbara Lee in California Senate primary

Left rallies around Lee as three House Democrats battle to replace aging Feinstein

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 19 September 2023 22:33 BST
Barbara Lee speaks at her US Senate campaign launch event
Barbara Lee speaks at her US Senate campaign launch event (ONLINE_YES San Francisco Chronicle)

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Louise Thomas

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The Bernie Sanders-backed group Our Revolution has cast its endorsement behind Barbara Lee in California’s Senate primary, which has grown more contentious in recent months as a number of House Democrats vie for the top spot.

Our Revolution president Joseph Geevarghese is set to make the announcement Tuesday evening on a livestream.

Mr Sanders himself has not officially endorsed Ms Lee’s candidacy, though that can now be expected before the nonpartisan primary election next year. The congresswoman is running in the primary against two of her colleagues in the lower chamber, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff.

California uses a unique primary system wherein the top two candidates, regardless of affiliation, advance to the November general election.

She has gone on the offensive against her opponents as the three have become the likely frontrunners for the seat, which is currently held by retiring Sen Dianne Feinstein. In a recent tweet, she criticised Mr Schiff by name for support of what she has called George W Bush’s “endless war” resolution — the Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF). That resolution, against which Ms Lee was the lone dissenter in the House of Representatives, began the US’s post-9/11 crusade against terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“22 years ago, while the nation was mourning 9/11, President Bush put forward a 60-word resolution allowing any president to go to war at any time, in any place, for any reason. I voted against it—knowing it would lead to endless war. @AdamSchiff voted for it,” she wrote.

The intent of the message was clear: Ms Lee plans to stake out her progressive bona fides and consolidate support on the party’s left flank, leaving her two opponents fighting for what remains. That journey could be successful with the backing of the Sanders wing of the party, which remains a resilient force in many Democratic races.

While Mr Sanders was not a participant in the Tuesday evening livestream event hosted by the group he founded after his 2016 battle with Hillary Clinton, several of his allies in the House of Representatives were – Ayanna Pressley, Mark Pocan and Ro Khanna. The backing of the three prominent progressives in a primary against two of their own is not an insignificant pickup for Ms Lee’s candidacy.

Adding to the national attention around the race are the continued concerns regarding the health of Ms Feinstein, the incumbent. At 90, the senator and Judiciary Committee chair has raised serious questions regarding her ability to carry out her duties in the upper chamber over the past year after she was out for several weeks due to an illness and was unable to preside over her panel’s efforts to press the Supreme Court on ethical concerns. In numerous instances she has also appeared confused about her surroundings or what she was doing while in view of reporters in the Capitol.

The issue has led to Ms Lee sparring with California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, over who should be appointed to the seat should Ms Feinstein retire early.

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