In a few minutes Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst will start their first debate at Simpson College in Indianola. You can watch the debate on KCCI-TV in the Des Moines viewing area and on C-SPAN across the country (in central Iowa that’s channel 95).
I previewed what I see as the biggest potential pitfalls for each candidate here. I’ll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with some reaction to the debate.
UPDATE: KCCI has posted the debate video online. I cleaned up some typos and filled in gaps in the liveblog below.
KCCI news anchor Kevin Cooney and Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich are moderating the debate. The second half will feature questions tweeted by viewers. Cooney opens debate by mentioning DMR poll numbers.
Braley won the coin toss, gives opening remarks. Thanks debate hosts, audience, Senator Ernst. He grew up in a working-class home in a small town. He got a job delivering the Des Mines Register in third grade. He’s been married for 30 years, raised 3 kids in Waterloo, fortunate that all are living in Iowa. Running for Senate b/c he wants to stand up for Iowa. He will work with anyone who has a good idea for Iowa. He’s a bridge builder. Election is a clear choice between moving Iowa forward and extreme tea party agenda. Time and again my opponent has stood for the Koch brothers and their extreme agenda. Mentions that Ernst ppsed farm bill and renewable fuels standard
Ernst opening statement: also thanks hosts, Braley. I’m a mother, I’m a soldier, and I’m somene who cares deeply about Iowa. Congressman Braley has been in Washington, and he can’t defend his Washington record (Wall Street bailout, Obamacare), so he’s Washington has failed but I believe in the Iowa way. Iowans know what’s best for Iowa more than politicians in Washington DC. Our working-class families deserve better than Washington picking winners and losers. I will fight to protect Soc Security and Medicare for seniors.
First Q from Obradvich is about claims made in negative tv ads. 56 % of voters in DRM poll say it’s a problem Ernst talked about privatizing Soc Security. She says she will keep those sacred promises to seniors. Anyone on those programs now, we have to keep those benfits. But we have to acknwledge problem within 20 years system will be broke. We have to look at many optinos to address problems. I haven’t endorsed one solution but we have to come together for bipartisan solution. Braley has been there for 8 years but no resolution on issue.
Q to Braley: 66% in DMR poll said it’s problem that he missed a lot of Veterans Affairs Committee meetings. He says ads are misleading. His true record on standing up for veterans is on his website. He helped Iraq War vets get their extra pay. He helped a wounded warrior in Dubuque stay in his home, introduced bill to help other wounded warriors stay in their homes. Has helped more than 400 Iowa vets w/disability claims. Has helped women in military get more protection from sexual abuse and rape. This is personal to me. My dad was WWII combat vet, served on Iwo Jima. He came home with wounds from the war. I’ve stood up for vets, made 97 percent of votes on that VA committee.
Q on protecting Social Security: what will you say to those in their 30s and 40s who will need it later? Braley says it’s a solemn promise. He has a 4-point plan to shore it up, including raising the minimum wage. Expand our economy so people can pay into Soc Security. Let me be perfectly clear: privatizing is not an option for me. It’s not a retirement plan for Iowans. It’s a plan for Wall Street investment bankers.
Ernst says it’s a sacred promise that we’ve made. We should not raise retirement age. we need to let younger workers know they will be retiring at a certain age. Raising minimum wage would not be an answer, that would not shore up the system. We have t put other options on table, working in bipartisan manner.
Braley also says raising retirement age not an option. I haven’t just said that, I have voted four times not to raise age for Social Security and Medicare.
Ernst says rasing minimum wage isn’t the answer for shoring up Soc Security. We need to roll back job-killing regs like we’ve done in Iowa to create good-paying jobs to contribute to Soc Secur.
Q to Ernst: what’s the greatest foreign policy threat facing US? She says ISIL are extreme terrorists who must be stopped. I’m a combat veteran, and my boots have been on that ground in Iraq. We need to think through options carefully. She lays out four criteria for whether she would support military involvement abroad. She says at end of answer that Braley voted twice to defund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Braley says Iowans know that I was voting to end our decade-long involvement in Iraq, not to penalize men and women serving bravely. I agree with Sen Ernst that rising threat of terrorism is important. I agree with her four points but I also agree with a fifth point made by Gen. Colin Powell that the American people need to understand why we are sending troops to war. Braley mentions that he voted to give Obama limited authority to act against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Ernst asked if she would have voted that way. She agrees with that vote but brings up that Braley missed hearings n VA committee when he could have heard about problems facing veterans.
Braley says one of those committee hearings he missed b/c he was at WWII memorial greeting Iowans on Honor Flight. Mentions his website and Truth Team.
Cooney asked about Obamacare. Some reports say states that expanded Medicaid have reduced medical costs. What do you like and dislike about law? What can govt do to hold down health care costs?
Braley says there’s a clear difference. He thinks law should be fixed and improved. Ernst wuld repeal it and continue to obstruct efforts to improve it. He voted to allow peple to keep old health insurance policies during transition. Over 80,000 Iowans were able to get access to health care because I worked with Gov Branstad and state legislature. Over 130,000 Iowans have access to health care coverage they didn’t have before. Seniors are seeing lower prescription drug costs because we are closing the dnut hole. My nephew who had liver cancer isn’t excluded b/c of pre-existing conditions. Now his parents don’t have to worry about that. Law has also eliminated lifetime caps, prevented discrimination in pricing against women for health care coverage. So we need to improve it but we can’t go backwards.
Ernst says every Iowan deserves access to affordable health care, but Obamacare isn’t the answer. What his has done in Iowa is first, we are seeing it costs jobs. Blue Cross/Blue Shield laid off over 100 workers, 29 positions lost at Mercy Hospital, it’s a tax on Americans, it’s taking personal health care decisions out of our hands, giving it to nameless, faceless bureaucrats out in Washington DC. Has cut $716 billion from Medicare that our seniors rely on. We’ll continue to disagree on this issue. I believe that we need to have patient-centered care. Let insurance companies sell policies across state lines, give people tax credits.
Cooney wants Braley to say what needs to be fixed in Obamacare. Braley says we eliminated some record-keeping hardship for small businesses. Braley says Iowans know what Ernst said isn’t true. No one got cut in Medicare benefits because of Obamacare. Cedar Rapids Gazette determined that claim to be false. No one has lot Medicare benefits We eliminated waste in Medicare. We extended solvency of Medicare. Iowa is 8th in access to health care, and we should be proud of that. Bipartisan effort, Gov Branstad working with Congress to get a waiver.
Ernst says Braley has said he read every page and wouldn’t change a thing in Obamacare. But changes have been made, delays you have supported. Stands by claim of $716 billion in Medicare cuts, says it comes from Cong Budget Office. If he doesn’t agree he should walk down hall to visit with them. (note from desmoinesdem: the CBO did not say the money was coming out of Medicare benefits to seniors.)
Next Q on strengthening economy. What’s better: stimulating middle-class or helping wealthy/business? Ernst says I have my own way of addressing the economy. The Iowa way is working. Policies I’ve implemented with Gov Terry Branstad, a good friend and supporter. We have given tax credits to Iowans, rolled back job-killing regulations. Largest tax cut in Iowa history returned $4.4 billion to Iowa taxpayers. We have balanced budget. Our economy is booming. We have created 150,000 new good-paying jobs. Unemployment is down from over 6 percent to 4.5 percent, which means more of our neighbors and friends are going to work. The Congressman has supported failed policies.
Same Q to Braley: I can tell you with absolute clarity that the most important job is to fight for Iowa working-class families. More than 300,000 Iowans would get a raise from increasing minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. That tells me a lot of people are not sharing in economic boom Sen Ernst is talking about. She doesn’t want to raise minimum wage, wants to repeal federal min wage. That means a lot of Iowans will be left out of recovery. We need to focus on job creation that benefits Iowans not Wall St investment bankers. We need to invest in our infrastructure. We need to invest in our manufacturing base. Every dollar invested in infrastructure increases national GDP by $1.60.
Ernst responds that she has worked for minimum wage to put herself through college. She was morning biscuit-maker at Hardee’s in Red Oak. She thinks states should set minimum b/c what’s right for Iowa won’t be right for California or New York.
Braley says 60% of 300,000 Iowans who would get raise from min wage workers are women, 50% of them are over age 30, many have children and live in poverty.
Next Q is on tax reform, simplifying system. What deductions should be eliminated? Should taxes be flatter? Should tax burden be shifted? Braley says he worked with non-partisan Concord Coalition to host town-hall meetings in his district on issue. When you ask who wants to simplify tax system, every hand goes up. When you start talking about specifics, who wants to give up deductions for charitable contributions to churches, hands start to go down, when you say how many want to give up home mortgage interest tax deduction, hands start to go down. We need to talk about making things simpler. What I don’t support is Senator Ernst’s proposal that’s a tea party proposal to replace current system with a 23% sales tax [note from desmoinesdem: this is the so-called “Fair Tax” that Steve King supports]. That will hit working-class Iowans hardest because on top of paying 6% state sales tax they will have to pay 23% tax on what they buy. That type of misguided proposal is not the solution to our tax problems. He’s for Democrats and Republicans getting together to solve the problem.
Ernst says she has not endorsed any specific tax reform. She believes Iowans need to be able to keep more of paycheck. Her family works hard, many families work hard. We need fairer, flatter, simpler tax system. This is where you see a big contrast betwee the Congressman and myself. I have voted for biggest tax cut in state history. (note from desmoinesdem: she is talking about the commercial property tax reform that passed in 2013, which mainly helped commercial property owners.) We are saving Iowa taxpayers $4.4 billion over 10 years. The Congressman has voted for one of biggest tax increases in US history and that hurts all of us.
Follow up: specifically, what should be done? Braley says part of the challenge is that when you start saying let’s eliminate this, you have to look at how much revenue that’s going to eliinate and what would replace it. Cooney presses: what do you think? Braley says we need to get rid of corporate tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. That should have been done long ago. We should allow the government to negotiate for lower drug prices, that would put money into the treasury.
Cooney follow up to Ernst: you talk about lowering taxes, but how can you do that and pay for things that need to be paid for? Ernst says you need to work in bipartisan manner. We need to sit down and talk about these issues. She’s a member of minority in state Senate but we were able to lower taxes on hard-working Iowans. So yes, we need to close loopholes, I don’t think anybody disagrees with that: flatter, fairer, and simpler. How do we pay for things, we need to cut spending in the federal government, but with economy growing, then our tax problem would be fixed.
Next Q on immigration: Does Ernst believe undocumented immigrants are mainly a drain on law enforcement and social services, or primarily a source of labor and entrepreneurship that helps economy? How will you act on that?
Ernst says America is greatest nation in the world, that’s why so many families want to come to America. She visited Soviet Union as young woman on agricultural exchange and remembers peple asking her about freedoms here. We are a nation of immigrants but also a nation of laws. We need to enforce those laws. Secure the border, enforce laws on books and modernize our immigration system. We do have a need for workers here in the United States. I disagree with Congressman Braley when it comes to issues of immigration. I don’t supprt amnesty and don’t support executive action on amnesty.
Braley says this is a great example where tea party obstructionism is keeping us from getting this problem solved. The Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill, 14 Republican senators voted for it, to address the longstanding problems. It increased border security, it had pathway to citizenship, not through amnesty, but by admitting they broke the law, paying a steep fine, and going to the back of the line. I’ve talked to dairy farmers and seed corn companies that depend on immigrant labor, when they used to have a hired man who grew up in this state. Asks Ernst to join Senataors Marco Rubio and John McCain to urge Speaker Boehner to bring this bill to House floor so we can pass it.
Ernst says she doesn’t support amnesty. We are nation of laws. She doesn’t believe in granting 11 and a half million peple amnesty. I believe in bringing them forward but not giving them amnesty. We have 5 million people waiting in line for citizenship, we need to honor those people.
Braley says Senators McCain and Ruboi didn’t vote for amnesty. Amnesty means no consequences. They voted for this bill because it’s not amnesty, it has tough consequences including admitting that you broke the law.
Next Q is on abortion/contraception. Braley says what he won’t do is support legislation like what Ernst introduced in Iowa, that would have banned all forms of abortion, preventing some forms of contraception from being available to Iowa women, would have prevented in vitro fertilization, doctors could be prosecuted for procedures that are now legal. Not the role of govt to get between women and their physicians in making decisions related to their health care. That’s what I won’t support.
Ernst says she believes in life. Her views on life have been shaped by her faith. That amendment [the personhood amendment] that the Congressman references would not do any of those things, it’s just a statement about life. My faith has shaped me on this issue, and it is a very very personal issue. We will continue to disagree on this issue because she supports life. The Congressman has supported partial birth abortion. These are things we will continue to disagree on but we will disagree on them civilly.
Braley responds that he respects her faith. He has his own deeply personal faith. But let’s be clear: Fact is that CR Gazette checked his ad’s claims and found that the [personhood] amendment she supported would do all of those things. Would ban forms of contraception, would prevent people from getting in vitro fertilization, and you’ve said doctors should be prosecuted. The ad is true.
Ernst says only if it becomes legislation. This amendment was a statement about supporting life. When it comes to women’s access to affordable contraception, I will always stand with women. Congressman Braley has been trying to mislead voters on this.
Simpson College student asks Ernst about what would happen to Pell Grants if fed govt eliminated Dept of Education, as Ernst wants to do. She says it wouldn’t do anything to Pell Grants. Those programs are necessary but could easily be housed in Dept of Treasury. 94 percent of Edu Dept employees were deemed by fed govt as non-essential. She’d rather spend money at state level, making sure Iowans get a great education.
Another student asks Braley about terror threats in Middle East. What specifically would he advise President Obama? Braley says the most important advice is to make sure you do everything you can to engage our partners in the Middle East and our allies around the world in dealing with this global terrorist threat. He thought it was very encouraging that last week, an Arab, Muslim fighter pilot, who was a woman, was doing sorties along with U.S. fighter our planes. We need not to be the world’s police force but as a community of nations, bringing to bear the weight of world opinion on these horrific acts. President needs to keep Congress engaged, because only Congress can declare war.
Next Q is for Braley, why does he oppose tort reform. He says we need to do more to protect consumers and families, not take their rights away under the Constitution. When you start talking about radical proposals to take rights away, you need to think about what you would do if something happened to you. That’s important to Iowans. I think Iowans have always known that you need to hold people accountable for what they do when it’s harmful and wrong, and that’s why I don’t support those proposals.
Obradovich follows up: do you not think defensive medicine is a significant part of why health care costs are high? Braley says a host of factors contribute to cost of medicine, but as Kevin Cooney mentioned in opening, for the first time we are starting to see increases in health care costs leveling off, that’s partly because of things we did in the Affordable Care Act.
Next Q is for Ernst: readers want to know what she believes about climate change and what we should do about it. I grew up drinking well water on a SW Iowa farm. My dad was a phenomenal conservationist, most Iowa farmers are. I drive a hybrid car, and my family recycles everything. I don’t know the science on climate change, I don’t know whether it’s man-made. I do believe in protecting environment but without job-killing EPA regs the Congressman has supported. She’s not sure what man’s impact on climate change.
Braley says there’s a significant difference on these issues. Sen Ernst wants to abolish EPA and Clean Water Act. I think that’s misguided. We know that Iowa farmers for the most part do a great job in preserving the land that they farm, because stewardship is a big part of farming, but Iowans also want clean air and water in addition to robust ag economy. They want to be able to hike and bike and swim and fish. Many Iowa companies think it’s important to our economy to address these issues.
Ernst says dollars directed at federal level should be directed to a state level. Iowans know what our natural resources are and how to to best protect them. Congressman Braley stood with the EPA voted against bill that would have protected Iowa farmers from EPA and federal government overreach.
Braley says he voted against EPA having power to regulate ditches and farm ponds. But he also didn’t want to throw out all regulations and go back to square one. Iowa farmers have been waiting for guidance under the Clean Water Act. That’s why he didn’t support the bill Ernst mentioned.
Q on deficit reduction, how to do it without raising taxes or cutting entitlements: Braley says it has to be a balanced approach. Not just cutting spending or increasing revenues. When Iowans are having tough times they do tighten belts but they also sometimes go look for an additional job for extra income. We need to take same balanced approach.
Ernst says we have to reduce our debt. In 8 yrs Braley has voted 8 times to raise federal debt ceiling. Debt has doubled during that time. We need to eliminate waste in govt spending. We can cut waste and fraud in Medicare. Maybe we cut Congressional salaries if we can’t get a budget passed.
Q for Ernst: your website talks about job-killing regulations that are crushing small businesses. What specific regs are hurting Iowa businesses? She says cap and trade (note from desmoinesdem: of course that’s not even a law). She says EPA and Clean Water Act, overreach with farmers.
Braley says each of the items she mentioned aren’t even law. Cap and trade didn’t even become law. The proposed rule on clean water is just a proposed rule. I’ve been working to make it a balanced rule. It’s not a rule yet.
Ernst says Congressman has supported all these things that would kill Iowa jobs.
Q: why has Braley changed his position on KeystoneXL pipeline? He says promises were made about benefits, and he voted for it in committee. But when bill came to floor, it did’t live up to promises. Oil wasn’t going to be sold in US or create a significant number of jobs that would help Iowans. He wants to promote renewable energy, 75,000 jobs in Iowa.
Q: How long would Ernst support exception for renewable fuels subsidies? Until we’re on equal footing, she will continue to support RFS. She grew up on SW Iowa farm. My father is a very proud farmer. 1 in 6 jobs are created by the Iowa farmer, and that’s why I’m so proud to have endorsement of Iowa Farm Bureau. I will continue to support the RFS as your United States senator.
Braley says I’m not sure that’s what Sen Ernst told Koch Bros when she went to their secret meetings. She said philosophically she is opposed to subsidies, in perfect world they would not exist. My support for RFS has been clear, strong and unequivocal. In my first term in Congress, I voted to triple the RFS. I have stood up to Big Oil at every opportunity.
Ernst responds: you’re not running against these other people, you are running against me. I’m a mother, I am a soldier, and I am an independent leader. You’re being funded by Tom Steyer, who is a California billionaire extreme environmentalist. So remember you’re running against me.
Braley says President Obama’s name is not on the ballot. I’m not going to owe President Obama anything on election day, but you’ll owe the Koch brothers everything.
Ernst says I owe nobody anything except for these Iowa people. I will stand up and do what’s right for Iowans. Not California extreme billionaire environmentalists, not for Harry Reid, not for Barack Obama. I have stood up for my community, my state, my nation. I have not left my rural roots. You have left your roots behind in your beltway ways.
Braley says I have never forgotten where I came from. That’s why I voted to pass 5 year Farm Bill. Every major farm group supported it, that’s why the Iowa Corn Growers have endorsed me, Iowa Farmers Union gave me an award. I have not forgotten my rural values.
Next Q on min wage again. Has to be set by states, Ernst says. Iowa is a low cost state. We need to create good-paying jobs.
Braley says Ernst would vote to repeal fed minimum wage, would not vote to raise Iowa minimum wage. Iowa full-time minimum wage means $15,000 a year. I think that’s ridiculous.
Twitter Q to Braley: why do you think you’re more qualified to make decisions like taking over health care? I’m a bridge-builder, I’ve wrked with many Republicans to get bills passed. I wrked with R from Alabama on provision in farm bill. Wrked with R from Minnesota to get National Guard benefits. Worked with R from Georgia to protect Iowa manufacturing. Ernst would have voted to shut down the federal government with Ted Cruz.
Ernst says Congressman, you threatened to sue a neighbor over chickens that came onto your property. Hw can you work with peple across the aisle if you can’t walk across the yard?
Braley says that’s just not true. I never threatened to sue anyone. It’s just not true.
Quick Q: if elected who will you call first? Braley says Chuck Grassley.
Who do you most identify with among potential 2016 presidential candidates? Ernst says Grassley, she’d encourage him to run; Braley says we don’t even know who candidates are.
A few thoughts: neither candidate made any big mistakes. Ernst evaded more questions. I thought it was good for Braley to consistently refer to his opponent as “Senator Ernst.” It sounded more respectful than the way she said “The Congressman” over and over again (instead of Congressman Braley or Representative Braley).
I think Braley brought up the Koch brothers too many times. It’s a valid point but most people don’t know who they are, and I don’t feel it’s salient.
Ernst seems to genuinely have no clue what the personhood amendment would mean. She seems to view it as a broad statement of her faith with no real-world consequences. There’s a reason people in Mississippi (!) voted down a personhood amendment. Yes, it would limit access to in vitro fertilization, and to some common forms of contraception that anti-choicers see as abortifacients (such as IUDs).
I hope the next two debates include some more unusual questions. They covered a lot of ground in just an hour today, but not much the candidates haven’t talked about before. Maybe a more detailed discussion on fewer questions would be useful in the Sioux City and Quad Cities debates. Probably Ernst would prefer more debates like this one, where she only has to talk about each issue for a minute or so.
One clear winner today: the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I thought it was good for Braley to bring up their fact-checking pieces several times. News editors at the debate co-hosts (Des Moines Register and KCCI-TV) should be asking themselves why they have allowed the Cedar Rapids Gazette to become the most influential checker of claims in Iowa campaigns and political advertising.
UPDATE: As I predicted, Republicans are taking to twitter claiming Braley lost his temper. How absurd. He was very calm and collected.
SECOND UPDATE: Iowa has the second-most saturated television markets for the month of October (after Alaska, which also has a hot U.S. Senate race).
THIRD UPDATE: If climate change comes up in another debate and Ernst falls back on the same line about “I’m not a scientist,” Braley should respond like this:
Then there are those who if pressed about climate “duck the question and say, ‘Hey, I’m not a scientist,’ which really translates into: ‘I accept that man-made climate change is real, but if I say so I will be run out of town by a bunch of fringe elements,’ ” he said. “So I am just going to pretend like-I don’t know-I can’t read.”
The jokes snowballed from there.
“I mean, I’m not a scientist either, but I’ve got this guy, John Holdren, he’s a scientist. I’ve got a bunch of scientists at NASA and I’ve got a bunch of scientists at EPA.”
“I’m not a doctor either, but if a bunch of doctors tell me that tobacco can cause lung cancer then I’ll say, ‘OK!’ It’s not that hard.”
“I’m not a scientist, but I read the science.”
MONDAY UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs’ write-up for the Des Moines Register was mostly a bunch of “he said, she said” without any fact-checking on whose statements were accurate. Her “experts” didn’t think Ernst had a great night, though.
Ernst’s best moment, [Simpson College Professor Kedron] Bardwell said, “was the challenge to Braley, in effect, ‘You’re not running against these outside groups – you are running against me.’”
Her low point was “stubbornly pushing the claim that Obamacare cut Medicare benefits, an argument repeatedly debunked by nonpartisan fact checkers, and her confusion on a question about current ‘job-killing’ regulations, where she cited cap-and-trade, which is not law,” Bardwell said.
[Drake University Professor Dennis] Goldford said Ernst is “an excellent performer.”
“She looks right at the camera. She seems to radiate a certain kind of confidence,” he said.
But Ernst didn’t often say anything of substance, Goldford said.
“She seems to talk in terms of a lot of platitudes and generalities. When (she) says anything of substance about cutting taxes, waste fraud and abuse and getting regulations chopped and all of that, she is reciting standard Republican boilerplate,” Goldford said.
LATE UPDATE: Lauren Carroll of Politifact does the fact-check that the Des Moines Register should have done months ago. During the debate, Ernst claimed that Braley “threatened to sue a neighbor over chickens that came onto your property.” Politifact determined,
Some might not like the way Braley and his wife handled a dispute with a neighbor — by going to the neighborhood association and then consulting the association’s lawyer. Even so, there is no material evidence that Braley threatened a lawsuit against the neighbor or was even considering one. Even the neighbor says that.
We rate Ernst’s claim False.
Jennifer Jacobs has done more than any reporter outside The Iowa Republican blog to get the alleged chicken lawsuit story into the media coverage of the IA-Sen race. And as Carroll notes in her piece for Politifact, the author of the original blog post on this so-called scandal is now the Iowa GOP’s communications director.