U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee with Rep. Adam Schiff, center, and Rep. Katie Porter during the debate at USC on Jan. 22. (Fox News)

As Barbara Lee stepped off the stage following the first California Senatorial Debate, she felt good about the agenda and vision she articulated for the country.

She said “I shared my vision for this country – one where we as a country take a stand for unconditional peace, progress, and change.  One where we center the voices of minorities in this country, and don’t just go along with the status quo that has promoted hate and racism for too long.”

Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter – all Democrats – participated in the first debate on Jan. 22, in the race to succeed the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.  All three candidates traded barbs and criticisms during Monday evening’s program held on the campus of USC as they sought to differentiate themselves on key issues and attempted to corner the lone Republican on the stage, former Los Angeles Dodgers star Steve Garvey.

Each candidate worked to pin down Garvey as to whether he supports former President Donald Trump.

Schiff pointed out that Garvey voted for Trump twice and pressured him to answer whether he would vote for the former president again.

“…You won’t tell the public whether you’ll support this man again. You saw what he did on January 6,” Schiff said, referring to the events that followed that day in 2021 when a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Lee shares her vision for the country’s future during the debate. (L.A. Times)

Garvey responded that their remarks were an example of “identity politics as its finest.” The Republican emphasized that he makes his decisions, though he did say that President Joe Biden had not been good for the country.

In response to a question about the Israel-Hamas war, Lee said she has called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and noted that the 25,000 Palestinian deaths, according to Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, is “counterproductive” to Israel’s security and that a “political and diplomatic solution” would be the best path to peace.

Schiff, D-Burbank, acknowledged the lives lost on both sides and backed the position that Israel has a right to defend itself. Porter said the U.S. needs to push for the conditions that will lead to a “bilateral durable peace.”

Porter, D-Irvine, said ceasefire is not a “magic word” in that you can’t say it and make it so, which elicited a response from Lee saying that a ceasefire needs to happen now, if not more people will die.

Garvey, who said Israel has the right to fight back, quickly received backlash from Porter and Lee.

Lee, D-Oakland, retorted the U.S. policy is to support a two-state solution, and pushed Garvey to elaborate on what is his vision for the people of Gaza. The Republican said it was naive to think that a two-state solution can happen as the situation between Israel and Palestinians goes back 75 years.

The three Democrats held similar opinions on some topics — finding consensus in improving insurance coverage for health care and increasing housing production, as well as backing policies to prevent evictions.

One of the more heated debates differentiating all four candidates was the topic of health care.  Lee drew on her long-standing record of advocating for single-payer health care plans.  While Porter said she supports Medicare for All, Schiff backed an opt-in Medicare for All system.

Garvey backed competitiveness when choosing health care plans — and as a way to address housing insecurity. He said that revitalizing the economy, addressing inflation, and cutting excessive federal spending in Washington would invigorate housing production.

Though he rejected the idea of a government-run health care, Garvey also refrained from an all-out roll-back of the Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul that former President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.

Porter reiterated her pledge to ban earmarks, requests for federal money to fund specific projects, normally for specific congressional districts, which she said leads to corruption.

Schiff drew on the work of Feinstein, who brought back millions of federal funding to California for water, infrastructure, housing and health care, to argue in support of earmarks.

“We are a donor state, which means that we send more back in tax dollars to Washington than we get back,” Schiff said. “I’m going to fight to bring back money for housing, to fight to bring back money for mental health services and other critical needs.”

Porter and Schiff went back and forth for a few minutes addressing each other’s complaints.

“Look it is no surprise that Washington politicians think earmarks work, they get to go to a nice ceremony, pat themselves on the back, but we know that Congressman Schiff did not solve homelessness in L.A. and Congresswoman Lee hasn’t solved the challenges in Oakland,” Porter said.

“It’s going to take more than earmarks to do that.”

Lee defended the importance of earmarks, recognizing that there needs to be more transparency and accountability surrounding them. She said earmarks help fill in the financial gaps, especially for communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other underrepresented groups.

Garvey said he would secure earmarks as well — calling them necessities for California.

City News Service contributed to this article.