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Rep. Ro Khanna endorses Rep. Barbara Lee in Senate race in California

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/26/2023 Azi Paybarah
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), left, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) when Sanders was running for president during the 2020 primaries. © Nick Otto/For The Washington Post Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), left, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) when Sanders was running for president during the 2020 primaries.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a leading progressive Democrat, said Sunday that he will not enter the primary to replace retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California and will instead support another candidate, Rep. Barbara Lee.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Khanna said: “I have concluded that despite a lot of enthusiasm from Bernie folks, the best place, the most exciting place … for me to serve as a progressive is in the House of Representatives.”

Khanna, who was a co-chair of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential bid, said he will co-chair Lee’s campaign for the Senate.

Feinstein, 89, has held the seat since 1992 and announced last month that she will not seek reelection next year. Along with Lee, who is 76, Reps. Katie Porter, 49, and Adam B. Schiff, 62, both House Democrats, are running to replace Feinstein.

Rep. Barbara Lee tells colleagues she intends to run for Senate in Calif.

When CNN host Jake Tapper asked Khanna if he thought Schiff was a progressive, Khanna replied, “I’m glad that he is now for Medicare-for-all and some of the progressive policies.” Khanna is a deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Lee is a member and former chair; Porter is also a member, while Schiff applied to join the caucus but then withdrew. “If he wants to join, that’s great,” Khanna said. “But I think Barbara Lee has had the track record for the past 20 years, really to earn a lot of the progressive trust.”

Khanna said the field of candidates in the race played a role in his decision to support Lee. Both Porter and Schiff are White and from Southern California.

“We don’t have a single African American woman in the United States Senate,” Khanna said. “She would fill that role. She’ll be the only candidate from Northern California.”

Khanna added that he thought Lee could consolidate the backing of progressives in the state. “The other two are formidable candidates. But I think Barbara Lee is going to be very, very strong,” Khanna said.

Lee’s campaign also released a statement saying Lee and Khanna will host a “virtual grass roots event” together on Monday evening. Khanna said in the statement that Lee “will deliver” on key progressive priorities like Medicare-for-all, a Green New Deal and ending the filibuster in the Senate. Lee said she is “honored” to receive Khanna’s endorsement and promised to “deliver real change.”

Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress, has faced criticism that she spent too long in her seat, and there has been a lot of speculation about her health. The senator announced early this month that she would be away from Congress recovering from shingles. In announcing her retirement last month, she joked with reporters: “It’s not till the end of next year, so don’t hold your breath.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had said that if Feinstein vacated the seat before her term was up, he would appoint a Black woman to fill the role.


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