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Rep. Katie Porter on her 2024 run for Feinstein's Senate seat

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein has been in the Senate since Katie Porter was in college. Porter is almost 50. The Southern California representative is known for her whiteboards and her interrogations of corporate CEOs like this one during a September 2020 hearing featuring Mark Alles, CEO of Celgene.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE PORTER: Do you know what this number is?

MARK ALLES: I...

PORTER: Does it ring any bells?

ALLES: I think you're referring to my compensation in some way.

PORTER: In some way. This was your compensation in 2017 for being CEO of Celgene. And that's a lot of money.

SUMMERS: Now the California congresswoman is setting her sights on Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat. She's the first Democrat to announce she'll run for that seat in 2024. At 89 years old, Feinstein, the longest-serving member of Congress, still hasn't announced whether she plans to retire. Katie Porter joins me now to talk about her candidacy. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PORTER: Thank you.

SUMMERS: So let me just start by asking you about the timing of this announcement. Senator Feinstein has not said what she plans to do. Why didn't you wait for her to make your announcement?

PORTER: Senator Feinstein has had a remarkable career and has accomplished so much for California. She is definitely a trailblazer. And the path that she created for women in politics in California is one that I am proud to follow. And so I have a deep respect for all that she has done. As she said, anyone is welcome to throw their hat in the ring. I think that perspective from her shows a lot of maturity and leadership. But I think it's time for a change. I think now, given the challenges that we face in this country, more than ever, California needs a warrior in Washington, one who is unafraid to stand up to Mitch McConnell and the powerful special interests who run D.C.

SUMMERS: Anyone is welcome, as you said, and there's a chance you could be running against a number of other members of the California delegation, like Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Ro Khanna the congressman, California's Adam Schiff. How much of the timing of this announcement has to do with your ability to raise funds?

PORTER: Well, there's no doubt that it takes a lot of resources to get to know Californians. But I have been an incredibly strong fundraiser. I had to be in order to win the tough elections I've had so far. Last cycle in the House of Representatives, I was the second highest fundraiser behind only now-Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. So I'm confident I'll be able to raise the resources. For me, getting started early is about really getting a chance to know parts and pockets of California that sometimes people don't listen to, that don't - communities they don't go into. It's a big, diverse state in terms of population and in terms of geography. And I take a lot of pride in doing the work of getting out into communities and listening to them, learning from them and being able to take their perspective to Washington. So I wanted to give myself the time to do that important political work.

SUMMERS: Some of the same people I just listed earlier and even Senator Feinstein herself directly and indirectly pushed back over the timing of your announcement in a different way, saying that while you were out planning your next campaign, they are focused on helping the people of California who are dealing with historic flooding, record storms - any sense of how that's been received in California or that you'll pay a price for the timing of this announcement?

PORTER: Well, one of the reasons that I am in this race is because I think we need fundamental change, and that is especially true on climate. The extreme weather event we saw with the flooding and the wildfires we've seen are the direct result of climate change. And honestly, frankly, Congress has too often been a roadblock to change. Also, let's be clear. As a senator, you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. In these challenging times, as a U.S. senator, you have to know how to juggle. You have to be able to do it all. And trust me. As a single mom of young kids, that's something I know how to do.

SUMMERS: You are one of the more progressive members of the House of Representatives. And it's still rather early. But we're already seeing President Biden, in some ways, tack to the center as he likely prepares to seek the presidency again. We've just come off of a midterm election year in which we've seen that many voters are rejecting candidates who run to the extremes on either sides. Do you have any concerns at all that your policies and values are not in step with where the electorate is headed?

PORTER: Well, I'm the type of Democrat who believes that our democracy shouldn't be auctioned off to special interests and our economy shouldn't be leveraged on the backs of regular people. And so I have a strong track record of fighting those kinds of problems in Washington, the influence of special interests. I'm one of a handful of members who does not take federal lobbyist money. I've never taken corporate PAC money. I've led the fight that members of Congress shouldn't trade stock and that Congress should be taking its oversight role, including protecting taxpayers seriously. So I think that that has broad reach across the ideological spectrum because I think everyday Americans of all different political stripes feel that Washington isn't working for them. And I think they want someone who understands where they're coming from, why they feel frustrated with Washington and who, out of love of our country and our democracy, is going to fight to make Washington do better for families.

SUMMERS: You've talked about having the type of message that resonates with people across the aisle. You know this better than me, of course, but your district is in a more conservative area of your state. How do you think you can make the case to voters who, on their face, might not necessarily see eye to eye with you as a Democrat?

PORTER: Well, I've done that in my three tough elections. I represent an area that has Democrats, independents, Republicans in different - equal numbers, roughly. And I've been able to reach across the aisle by showing them that I am going to put families first, that I understand that a strong economy that values workers is one that helps everybody - Republican, independent and Democrat, young and old. I am somebody who is willing to stand up to things like anti-Asian hate. I'm somebody who's willing to never compromise her values - for example, the right to an abortion. And I think we - people understand across ideologies that this moment in time, we are - we have this sort of urgent need to have warriors in Washington, especially for our California values.

SUMMERS: I have to say, one of the things I hear when I talk to voters, though, is that people want members of Congress, representatives in Washington to turn the temperature down. We've got about a minute or so left. I'm curious here. What do you say to those people? You talk a lot about warriors, but - people who just want Washington to work for average people.

PORTER: Well, the way you get Washington working is, one, you stand up to special interests that are making Washington work for them. If Democrats and Republicans were refusing corporate PAC money like I have, who were refusing lobby - federal lobbyist checks like I have, then I think you would see more ability to have conversation about the issues. I am, you know, in this race representing right now a very, you know, diverse community ideologically, ethnically. And what I hear from everybody is, we want you to work together on the issues. We don't want you to be bought and paid for. And I think that is what unites people across the ideological spectrum and across the state of California.

SUMMERS: We have got about 30 seconds left here. Before I let you go, briefly make the case to us as why you are the one that California should send to the Senate in 2024.

PORTER: Well, I think as a House member, I have shown that I am willing to think about how to reach people who may be disengaged from our politics, how to show people that I see the challenges that face them. I am a single working mom of young kids. I understand how the cost of living, the difficulties in educational opportunities, the rising cost of college...

SUMMERS: Right.

PORTER: ...And housing are making things difficult for California families.

SUMMERS: California Congresswoman Katie Porter. She announced this week that she plans to run for Senator Dianne Feinstein's seat in 2024. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

PORTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA SONG, "THINK TWICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.