Senate candidate Kevin de León on values, health care for all, and abolishing ICE


State Senator Kevin de León, who is challenging fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein for her U.S. Senate seat, says he wants voters to see him as a progressive option. If elected, he’s promising to push issues like single-payer health care, immigration reform, and climate change.

But he has an uphill battle. Feinstein has been in the U.S. Senate for more than two decades, and she’s leading by double digits in the polls. Press Play spoke with Feinstein last week.

De León suggests this Senate race isn’t about his ageism, but values.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

A USC/LA Times poll shows Feinstein leading de León by 44% to 31% among likely voters

De León: We have a very good trend. Right now there’s a couple polls. About a month ago, one has us at 11 points. Another one has us at eight points. There’s another poll out there that says that the race is about maybe seven points separation. So the trend line is actually very positive. We have two weeks left. And I’ve got to make my case up and down the state of California — especially here in Southern California and in my backyard — to the voters why it’s time for change. It’s time to have a new type of representation that’s reflective of California today. Not California 25 years ago.

Is Feinstein is too old to continue her job?

No, not at all whatsoever. This is not about age. It’s not about ageism.

I think that these are very dangerous, consequential times in our nation’s history. We are engaged in a battle for the soul of our nation against a president without one. So I believe strongly that the status quo in Washington is either unwilling or incapable of fighting back. So it’s time that we stop biding our time, and biting our tongue, while this president unravels all of California’s progress.

Listen, I’m the youngest child of a single immigrant mother with a 3rd grade education. I’m not just a strong proponent of the California dream, but I am a direct product of that California dream. And I believe that Californians want someone who reflects our values, who’s going to step up and speak out, and fight for them every single day.

…It doesn’t make a difference to me how old or how young you are. You have the right to run. It’s about your values.

On getting stuff done in Washington

It’s not just about a mathematical game, and about ‘can I get this policy done?’ Of course you can’t get the policy done — because the Republicans have a trifecta with regards to the executive branch, the White House, the bicameral Congressional legislative branch, as well as the Supreme Court now with the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

…I don’t accept the ‘We just can’t do this in Washington. We just can’t do that.’ …I mean that’s Washington speak– that we just can never do anything unless we have the majority.

The reality is this. We’ve had plenty of opportunities when we had the majority to move forward comprehensive immigration reform; climate change; health care for all, not health care for some; sensible gun safety and ammunition policies. But we never took advantage of those opportunities.

On Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh

I would never have voted to enable Brett Kavanaugh to be part of the D.C. Court of Appeals in the first place. The reason why he’s on the U.S. Supreme Court today with his seat in perpetuity — to must certainly unravel a woman’s right to choose, voting rights, civil rights, our environmental laws — is because Dianne Feinstein acquiesced and collaborated with the Republicans.

…I would never be in the U.S. Senate today, and vote for 60 percent of Donald J. Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. …Moreover, just last week, she voted for 15 more Republican men to have a seat in perpetuity on federal benches… Judges that do not reflect the values of a state like California — that’s not the type of representation that Californians want today.

…We can strike a deal in a bipartisan fashion. I’m all for it. I’ve brokered deals with Republicans here today. But that’s one thing. When you’re actually giving the judicial branch almost completely to Donald J. Trump, that’s another thing altogether.

What he would have done differently if he received Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s letter accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault  

I would have kept the letter confidential. There’s no question about it.  Because the anonymity of Dr. Ford is first and foremost the most important thing.

…Would have engaged with my Democratic colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee… We could have easily redacted all the information that was personal to Ms. Ford. Because the Judiciary Committee handles many, many highly sensitive and confidential documents.

…But let me say this: Anita Hill — she got it right. Because in an op-ed piece a couple of weeks ago in a New York Times…she wished that the Senate Judiciary Committee had a process to deal with victims of sexual harassment and assault; and those individuals accused of sexual harassment and assault coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation.

And 30 years, fast forward to 2018, that Senate Judiciary Committee has not done a single thing. And that’s why you saw this circus in Washington D.C. They have no internal processes to figure out how to work with these dynamics.

Would he reopen the Kavanaugh investigation, if he were on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Democrats held the majority?

There’s no question about that. I mean, we have an individual who has been accused of a serious allegation by a very credible, credible witness — who risked her life coming out public before the country, who today is in hiding.

…So if the Democrats were to retake the House of Representatives, I would be supportive of an impeachment process. This is serious because this is a seat that’s in perpetuity, and it gives strong control to the Trump administration on a 5 to 4.

This was not an arch conservative replacement of another arch conservative. Anthony Kennedy was a swing vote, someone who is middle of the road. But now you have squarely placed this U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, in the hands of a very driven, ideological, right-wing conservatives.

Paying for a single-payer health care system

I spent the vast majority of my childhood without access to child care. And the current system that we have today is simply not fiscally sustainable. I think it’s immoral that we have to choose between a mortgage payment, your rent, or paying for your healthcare costs, or to choose between food for your children… or to pay for your medication.

I know that if we move forward with the Medicare for all system, as opposed to Medicare for some, that actually we can incur $2 trillion worth of savings for taxpayers over a course of 10 years. That’s a $200 billion a year tax savings.

Finding money in Washington

It’s so interesting that Washington always is able to find the money it needs to fund its priorities. Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are ongoing, GOP tax cuts that are going to cost us in the trillions.

But Washington can never seem to find the money to fund its most important priority, which is the American people. On issue of health care, and debt-free college education.

…I think Californians want health care for all. They don’t believe that health care is the exclusive privilege of the wealthy or the elites.

Would he take money away from military spending, and put it toward health care for all?

We’ve got public sector dollars, and we have also two private sector dollars. We spend roughly about $3.3 trillion on an annual basis. That is a combination of both public and private… So we have to look at that.

We also have to start bringing our troops back from those two wars because they have cost us — to date — and it’s still ticking $6 trillion. We have to prioritize our values as Americans.

His priorities if elected to U.S. Senate

I would say three pieces of legislation… In no order specifically, but I believe in health care for all…

…I believe that climate change is an existential threat to our humanity. I want to put this nation on a track to 100 percent clean energy, like I’ve done here in California.

…I think that we as a nation have turned our backs on our family of immigrants. We have betrayed American children by sending in ICE agents to hunt down their mothers and their fathers.

Abolishing ICE

I think that we have to dismantle ICE altogether. Because ICE right now has lost their way. Their focus was supposed to be on drug traffickers, human traffickers, violent criminal felons, and terrorists…We have to start a new type of agency.

…Senator Feinstein helped create ICE by voting for the Homeland Security Act… You have an agency right now that are terrorizing innocent mothers and fathers, folks who are sous chefs in Santa Monica, and fathers who sell oranges on a street corner. They’re not criminal dangers to our society as we know it today.

…California is home to the largest number of immigrants from all over the country. It’s right here. Dreamers, TPS, folks who have been here 20-30 years.

…Even when we had a majority as Democrats, they didn’t move this issue. You have to strike when you have that opportunity. You have to move forward. That’s why we need these new values, a new approach, a new vision. That’s why we need to change for California.

Photo: Kevin de León at KCRW. By Christopher Ho.