Trading insults while debating issues
WESTVILLE – Incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun spent the first Indiana Senate debate Monday insulting each other for everything from their politics to their wardrobes.
The candidates sniped while answering questions from the Indiana Debate Commission and constituents who attended the debate at Purdue University Northwest’s Westville campus.
Moderator Anne Ryder, senior lecturer at the Indiana University Media School, repeatedly reminded Donnelly and Braun to stay on topic, and succeeded in getting at least short answers on hot-button issues amid the criticism.
Braun said he supports Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and believes he won’t legislate from the bench. But he spent most of his response time attacking Donnelly, who voted against the nomination.
“You’re going to need someone that leads and thinks independently,” Braun said. “Joe’s been there for 12 years in the Congress and Senate – considered the least effective Democratic senator because he never sticks his neck out, he blows with the wind. And in this case, he made the wrong decision on Judge Kavanaugh.”
Donnelly accused Braun of being a yes-man for President Donald Trump.
“If President Trump put up Bugs Bunny, Mike would have said he should go on the court,” Donnelly said. “Our job is to protect the court and to put people on who are qualified.”
Donnelly said he voted against Kavanaugh because he is concerned by the judge’s demeanor and temperament, and doubts his ability to rule with impartiality.
On putting people over party, Donnelly said his track record proves he consistently does just that. He touted his 77 percent approval rating of Trump’s Supreme Court nominations, including Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, and noted he has voted in line with Trump 62 percent of the time overall.
“I’ve passed 45 pieces of legislation – each one had a Republican partner, 23 with President Trump – so count me in,” Donnelly said.
Braun answered by attacking Donnelly’s voting record: in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran deal), in favor of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, against tax reform and against the Kavanaugh nomination.
“He did it because he takes his marching orders from Chuck Schumer, the same guy that runs his campaign from afar,” Braun said.
On climate change, Braun called himself “a steward of the environment for a long time.” He said he started an ecology club at his high school and continued to work as a steward of the environment as he managed land in his private business.
“When you learn it in the real world, you know how to do it,” Braun said. “And we, now, have energy independence and that has got to be always taken into consideration while you’re keeping the environment in healthy condition. I’ve lived it and that’s why I’ll know what to do.”
Donnelly said Braun can’t be trusted to fight for Lake Michigan or Indiana’s rivers.
“I am all in for American energy, for ethanol, for our farmers,” Donnelly said. “They’re having huge struggles with tariffs right now, and their prices have gone down. We need to make that ethanol market even more available and be used more. For wind, for solar, for clean coal – if it’s made in America, we want to use it and we want to make it so that we have a cleaner environment.”
On abortion rights, Donnelly said his stance is “that all life should be protected.” However, he believes women should be allowed to choose whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy in the circumstances of rape, incest or the likelihood they may die if they continue their pregnancies.
Braun said, “You can’t have it both ways,” and noted that, of all the candidates, the national and Indiana chapters of Right to Life have endorsed only Braun.
On gun control, “I believe in the Second Amendment,” Donnelly said, “but I also believe that with rights come responsibilities.”
The senator said some standards must be set to prevent violent criminals and terrorists from being able to purchase guns.
Braun agreed that prerequisites should exist for gun ownership, but said storage and other such laws go too far.
“I think the places where we’ve tried to use gun laws generally impact the folks that are law-abiding,” Braun said. “I’m going to be for anything that proves effective to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. I’m going to always be there to defend the Second Amendment rights because so often, politicians and liberals go there, not to the source of the problem.”
He recommended studying school security and mental health as means of prevention; and noted he is the only candidate endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
On North Korea, Braun said, “I think it’s very clear that with the new dynamic, regardless what you think of the president’s style, we’ve got movement on issues that there haven’t been any in a long time.”
He aligned himself with Trump as a political outsider, and said they can be more effective at applying “real-world solutions” to problems at home and abroad than career politicians like Donnelly.
Again, he criticized the senator for supporting the Iran deal, which provided more than $1.5 billion in financial relief to Iran.
But Donnelly said, “This is actually the perfect reason why you can’t trust Mike Braun. In regards to Iran, they were one month away from a nuclear weapon. They had the materials, they had the technologies. We pushed them back over 10 years.”
The senator said that had Iran developed a nuclear warhead, young men and women from Indiana would have had to enter another war.
On military spending and veterans affairs, “We have to make sure that our military has everything they need to be successful at every turn; that they have the equipment they need to be safe; that they are never, ever in a fair fight,” Donnelly said.
“You can’t trust Mike because he wants to cut defense spending, directly against what (Defense) Secretary (James) Mattis says. That first and biggest pay raise in 9 years, he would have been against. We want to stand with our men and women who, if we do go into conflict, that we have their back.”
Braun responded by praising Trump’s insistence that NATO allies pay their 2 percent commitments, calling it “outside-the-box” thinking that previous presidents didn’t pursue out of political correctness.
And he said that although Donnelly talks about advancements with Veterans Affairs, none of them were Donnelly’s doing. “You can take credit for it, but you’ve not had one original idea since you’ve been there.”
On insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, Braun recalled his experience of providing health insurance for his employees in the private sector for 10 years, noting it costs his employees significantly less than any of the plans offered by the Affordable Care Act.
“I did it before Obamacare,” he said, “and I want the public to be absolutely clear about this: I would never be for any replacement of the Affordable Care Act unless it covered pre-existing conditions and it didn’t have any cap on coverage.”
Donnelly said Braun was lying, and accused his opponent of supporting a lawsuit in which Texas is fighting the U.S. in an attempt to take away coverage for pre-existing conditions and to reimpose spending caps. He challenged Braun to denounce the suit.
Braun responded only by saying he supports the goals of the ACA, but not unless they are sustainable in terms of cost.
“Hoosiers, clearest difference,” Donnelly said, “he won’t even denounce the lawsuit that will take away your coverage for pre-existing conditions. I’m the person who cast the final vote to make sure your child with asthma can get their inhaler.”
In the final moments of the debate, the candidates were given 30 seconds to make their “elevator pitches.”
“Promises made, promises kept,” Donnelly said. “Fighting for your health care when others want to take it away. Fighting for your jobs – 70 consecutive months of increased job growth. Fighting for our veterans, for our POWs, for our MIAs. Fighting for our country. Faith, family, community, country. It’s not about R or D, or red or blue; it’s about the red, white and blue.”
Braun said, motioning to Donnelly, “What you ought to take away from this is, do you want more of the same? If you’re happy with business as usual and the results we’ve had, then here’s your man. Look at our records closely … I’ve done things in the real world. This gentleman is a career politician. That’s part of the problem.”
Both campaigns issued statements after the debate declaring their candidate the winner.
The next debate will be Oct. 30 at the Toby Theater at Newfields in Indianapolis.