The struggle in Washington, D.C., came back to the Los Angeles area on Oct. 5 when U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) faced off against Republican challenger and attorney Eric Early in a tense and often personal 28th District candidate forum hosted by the Glendale/Burbank Unit of the League of Women Voters. Glendale/Burbank Unit members officiated between the candidates, with Mary Dickson timing the responses and Rita Zwern moderating.
For much of the virtual debate, Early, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, echoed Trump’s arguments and criticized Schiff, who helped lead the impeachment efforts of the president and the investigation into the alleged collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia.
When asked about the role the federal government should play in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, Early said he wished the federal government had more control over the states, but the Constitution does not allow it. He also argued that less stringent public-health measures should be implemented in California.
“In our state of California, I have major issues with how we’ve been locked down around the state … Our Constitutional rights have been trampled down around this state by a ruling class … We should have opened up with social distancing and safety measures in place in May,” Early said.
In response, Schiff criticized the federal efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and said he would like to see a federal commission revisit the government’s handling of the virus, similar to the 9/11 Commission created to analyze the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It didn’t have to be this way … But the incompetent response of Donald Trump has resulted in catastrophe,” Schiff said.
Early also argued against having the federal government provide more financial help to states due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Early criticized the state government for “taxing everyone into oblivion,” arguing instead for “sound, conservative fiscal policies.”
“Our state of California was financially bankrupt for years and years, way before COVID ever hit us … The notion that the federal government should bail out the state of California … you can’t put that on the back of taxpayers,” Early said.
Schiff pointed out that when disasters like hurricanes strike traditionally Republican states, he and other federal officials do not criticize those states’ financial situations before deciding how the federal government can best help.
“This pandemic is hitting every state … they all need help,” Schiff said.
Schiff also expressed support for federal assistance for renters and property owners that have been given a temporary reprieve by eviction moratoriums, but who likely will face a large payment all at once when those protections lapse. Schiff added that he is fighting for $100 billion in federal rental assistance and $75 billion in aid for property owners.
“The rent is still going to come due in a big balloon payment when the pandemic is over … The result will be eviction and adding to the homeless crisis,” Schiff said.
Early replied that reducing COVID-19 restrictions will let people get back to work and begin paying back the rents and mortgages are due, at one point telling Schiff to contact the governor about rolling back regulations.
“You know [Gov.] Gavin Newsom. Tell him to open up this state,” Early said.
Early also added that he wants “to do whatever I can to help everybody dig out of the ashes of COVID.”
Beyond the pandemic, Schiff criticized Trump for removing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, which seeks to take action on climate change, calling the decision “disastrous.”
“We don’t need to look around much farther than California to see the effects of climate change. Our state is on fire,” Schiff said.
He added that he would like to see “a very aggressive attack on climate change,” including investing in clean energy and conservation.
“We need to use a whole-of-government, comprehensive approach … At the end of the day, we’re seeing the enormous effects of climate change and we don’t know when the tipping point is coming,” Schiff said.
Early said he doesn’t “rule out the existence of climate change” and will “look at all the science, both pro and con,” before coming to a decision on the topic.
He added that “we have got to do whatever we can to stop forest fires, and that starts with cleaning out all the kindling in the underbrush,” an argument Trump has made after wildfires.
The one topic where the two men seemed most aligned was the ongoing violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh.
Early said the U.S. should stop selling arms to Azerbaijan and Turkey, breaking with Trump, who has vocally defended Turkey during his term in office despite growing pressure to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.
“I firmly stand with the brave, proud and strong Christian people of Armenia and their effort to have control over their ancestral lands of Artsakh,” Early said.
Early also disputed Schiff’s role in seeking recognition for the genocide, saying “it was not Adam Schiff that got those recognitions approved in government.”
Schiff pointed out that he authored the House of Representatives resolution to commemorate the genocide and noted that the recognition has “been the product of work for decades by the Armenian diaspora.”
He added that Turkey and Azerbaijan “ought to be sanctioned” for their actions.
“I’m doing everything I can in Congress to push back and fight back,” Schiff said.