Photo by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines Archive
U.S. Senate candidates Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn debated for the second and final time before the Nov. 6 election in the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy on the University of Tennessee’s campus in Knoxville Wednesday.
Since the first Tennessee Senate debate on Sept. 25 in Lebanon, Tennessee, Blackburn, a Republican, holds an 8-point lead over Bredesen, a Democrat, according to a recent CBS poll.
Many news outlets noted the instinct of the two candidates to verbally attack each other on stage in the first clash, and this trend continued on Wednesday with another fiery debate.
The debate began with several questions to Blackburn and Bredesen regarding the recent and controversial confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Bredesen was also the subject of controversy recently as he made a statement last week in support of the confirmation of Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. Blackburn supported Kavanaugh as well, but this came as no surprise.
“I watched it very closely, and I just came to the conclusion that, all things being equal, I did not think those allegations rose to the level of disqualification from the Supreme Court,” Bredesen said.
Bredesen noted in a later question that he doesn’t consider someone not coming forward at the time of their assault as “an issue at all.”
“Tennesseans wanted to see Judge Kavanaugh confirmed,” Blackburn said in her response.
Blackburn went on to say that if Hillary Clinton had become president, Kavanaugh would not have been confirmed. She then stated that Bredesen “took his time” with his support of Kavanaugh and suggested that the reason for Bredesen’s delayed response was due to sexual assault allegations within Bredesen’s administration during his time as governor of Tennessee. Blackburn referenced a Tennessean story from 2005 in which Bredesen said, “Anytime you mix men and women together in a work environment there’s going to be issues.” She also referenced the, according to a 2005 Tennessean investigation, shredding of investigators’ notes in multiple sexual assault cases under Bredesen’s administration.
“I think that is something that is an insult to women in the workplace,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn went on to say that the investigation into Kavanaugh was “a character assassination” and “dirty politics.”
Bredesen addressed Blackburn’s references to his administration by saying, “We had an issue with someone. We got rid of that person the next day. We tried to help the victim every way we could. We do not maintain notes of (the investigation) … The reason we do not maintain notes is to help the victim.”
The debate then moved to health care.
Bredesen began by saying that he was not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act when it came out but that it has “done a number of good things” since then. Bredesen said that when politicians, such as Blackburn, vote to repeal the ACA without having a replacement, they are voting to remove the ability of someone with preexisting conditions to obtain health insurance.
Bredesen responded by saying that “every plan” she has voted for includes preexisting conditions.
“That was a Republican provision, as was older children staying on their parent’s plans,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn referenced Bredesen’s 2010 book “Fresh Medicine,” saying that Bredesen advocated for government-controlled health care and for putting a 20 percent surcharge on income in order to pay for health care.
Bredesen responded by suggesting that Blackburn hasn’t actually read the book. He stated that in the introduction, he discusses the importance of keeping government out of designing a health plan for the country and just being responsible for setting up the incentives.
The candidates were then asked about social security, with moderators stating that 2018 is the first year in decades in which the program is dipping into its own reserves to cover benefits. Moderators also noted that the funds are expected to be depleted by 2034.
Blackburn said that making sure the current benefits of senior citizens will not be diminished is important to her. She then said that Bredesen supported President Barack Obama when it comes to the ACA, which she claimed took $700 million out of the Medicare trust fund.
“I do not support reducing the benefits by either raising the age or any of the other mechanisms for doing that,” Bredesen said in his response.
He went on to say that America should push for a small increase in social security tax to strengthen the social security trust fund.
The debate moved to gun control.
The moderators asked the candidates to raise their hand if they were in favor of enhancing the “red flag” system that identifies people with suspicion of mental health issues as a part of firearm background checks. Both Blackburn and Bredesen raised their hands.
“There are some basic, sound things that we can do, including enhancing background checks and properly funding (the National Instant Criminal Background Check System), but one of the most important things would be to have some mechanism to identify people who, from a mental health perspective, are not suitable for handing or owning weapons,” Bredesen said.
He said that, if a system like this was in place in the past, multiple recent school shootings could have been prevented.
“I think that we can protect the Second Amendment and also protect our citizens,” Blackburn said.
She noted that she has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, while Bredesen has a “D” rating. Blackburn then claimed that Bredesen would be taking away people’s guns if Hillary Clinton had been elected president.
Bredesen then said that he is a “strong supporter” of Second Amendment rights and has been a gun owner his entire life.
The two candidates were then asked if they believe that Trump’s recent zero-tolerance immigration policy, in which many families were forcefully separated, was effective.
Bredesen stated that the policy was a “stain on our country’s reputation.”
“It’s the sort of thing that’s going to be studied by school students in future years as an inappropriate period in American history,” Bredesen said.
He stated that he believes in securing America’s borders but that there are “much better ways of doing it than building a wall.”
“No one wants to see families separated,” Blackburn said in her response.
She went on to say that the zero-tolerance policy is effective in deterring immigrants from bringing drugs over the border.
“Tennesseans want to see that wall built,” Blackburn added.
The candidates were then asked to grade the performance of Sen. Bob Corker, who Blackburn and Bredesen are hoping to replace. Both candidates gave Corker an “A.”
Blackburn said that she has enjoyed working with Corker on various policies, commending Corker on his fight against human trafficking.
Bredesen said he admired that Corker “did his homework” during his tenure and that all of Corker’s opinions on issues were very well thought out.
Bredesen and Blackburn were then asked why they think there has been such a large political divide in the country in recent years.
“Social security was bipartisan,” Bredesen said. “Medicare was bipartisan. The Civil Rights Act was bipartisan. I think we need to get back to that, especially in dealing with some of these big issues.”
He added that Democrats and Republicans will have to work together to solve the immigration issue.
“I’ve been recognized as a bipartisan leader in Congress,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn then repeated that Bredesen wanted Clinton to win the presidency and mentioned Clinton’s comments against supporters of Trump.
The candidates were asked about the establishment of Trump’s proposed “Space Force.”
“… So much of our fighting will be done in the virtual space,” Blackburn said in support of the Space Force.
“I would want to know a lot more about the Space Force before I sign on to that idea,” Bredesen said in his response.
The candidates were then asked their thoughts on Trump’s new USMCA trade deal, which is designed to help farmers and automotive workers, and if they do enough to offset the harm done by the recent tariffs on steel and other products.
Bredesen responded first, saying he supports the deal.
“It does advance the issue somewhat,” Bredesen said. “It does not address in any way the issue of the steel and aluminum tariffs … These (tariffs) really are threatening our (automotive) industry.”
Blackburn said that she has never been for tariffs but instead, “free and fair trade.” She said that the automotive industries are very hopeful with the USMCA deal.
Lastly, the final question asked if Tennessee would be in good hands if either opponent was elected to the Senate.
“I think it will be in better hands with me,” Blackburn responded.
“I think what we have to do is to accept the outcomes of the elections, so, yes, it will be fine,” Bredesen said.
In his closing statement, Bredesen said that Tennesseans should vote for Blackburn if they like “Washington the way it is.”
Blackburn then said that she will be taking “Tennessee values to Washington” in her closing statement.
To contact news Editor Caleb Revill, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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