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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) held a townhall style meeting at the San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Center on April 17, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

To Oust "Hawkish, Centrist" Feinstein, Progressives Push for Primary Challenge

"After 47 years in elected office and 25 years in the Senate," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) says, "she continues to cling to office as a voice for the status quo."

Jessica Corbett

Progressives are gearing up to challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) after the long-time senator announced Monday that she will run for re-election next year.

"You are a hawkish, centrist Democrat in a state full of voters that have become much more liberal than you have shown yourself to be."
—Emma Roller, Splinter

Confirming her bid on Twitter, Feinstein vowed to keep working on "ending gun violence, combating climate change," and addressing "access to healthcare."

However, during her five terms in the U.S. Senate, the 84-year-old has also riled many progressives with her opposition to a single-payer healthcare system and her support for laws such as the Patriot Act and the FISA Act.

In a recent piece for Splinter, formatted as an open letter to the senator, Emma Roller captured a growing sentiment among California progressives:

Let's face it: You are a hawkish, centrist Democrat in a state full of voters that have become much more liberal than you have shown yourself to be. Perhaps now would be a great time to retire and make way for a candidate who better reflects the views of your constituents?

Now that Feinstein has committed to running, though, constituents and even some other California lawmakers are calling for more progressive candidates to challenge her.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told multiple reporters on Monday that while he is appreciative of some of Feinstein's efforts in Congress, he believes it is time for the the oldest member of the Senate to retire.

Khanna told Vox's Jeff Stein:

Feinstein is out of touch with the grassroots of our party on economic policy and foreign policy. After 47 years in elected office and 25 years in the Senate, she continues to cling to office as a voice for the status quo. The fact that the establishment is rallying around her re-election shows that D.C. insiders continue to privilege protecting one of their own over the voters' concerns. How many times will voters have to demand change before we listen?

Long-time critics like journalist Glenn Greenwald celebrated the calls for a primary challenge, saying on Twitter: "This is as great as it is rare."

"Buzz in state political circles increasingly centers on one prospective Democratic challenger, Kevin de León of Los Angeles, the first Latino to hold the powerful position of state Senate president pro tempore in more than 120 years," Politico reported last month. Although De León has not yet said whether he is officially running, New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin reported Monday that Feinstein's tweet was prompted by an "imminent" announcement from De León.

"De León, the son of immigrants—his father was Chinese and Guatemalan, his mother Guatemalan—has joined forces with billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer to become a leading advocate on the issue of climate change," Politico noted. "And, with his introduction of the California Values Act, also dubbed the Sanctuary State bill, he has assumed a leading role in the branding of California as the 'state of resistance' against Trump."

"Justice Democrats, a group inspired by progressive former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has vowed to find a primary challenger for Feinstein, though it has yet to name a candidate," the Los Angeles Times reports.

"There has been widespread speculation that heavier hitters," the Times continued, "have been waiting on Feinstein's decision in order to decide whether to run for the seat." Among her potential challengers are De León, Steyer, and Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank.

Although Khanna claims he is not interested in running for Feinstein's seat, the representative told Politico on Monday that he has contacted Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to encourage them to challenge Feinstein. Because the state has a "jungle primary," the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the general election.

"There are other voices in our state," he said, "who are far more in touch” with the progressive grassroots than Feinstein, Khanna said.

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