McSally and Sinema hold first debate: go head-to-head just in time for early voters

U.S. Senate candidates Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) faced off in their first debate Monday night, discussing key issues such as internet privacy, human trafficking, border security, health care, and more.

The two women, who both currently represent Arizona in the U.S. House, are fighting for Senator Jeff Flake’s (R) open seat. Polls show the candidates in a dead heat and political analyst Jennifer Duffy recently said she expects this race to be the closest Senate race in 2018.

The debate kicked off with moderators Ted Simons, host of “Arizona Horizon” on Arizona PBS, and Maria Polleta, a reporter from the Arizona Republic, asking the candidates about their previous voting records and stances.

Simons called out McSally, saying she flipped on her support of President Donald Trump.

“I was representing my district back in 2016, I was fighting for Southern Arizonans and I was running my own campaign and I’ve never endorsed anyone for anything, whether president or dog catcher, so I continued with that path,” McSally replied. “He’s now in office, as our president, and we have this historic opportunity to move America in a new direction, and we’ve really seen more opportunities for people in Arizona and I’m going to keep working with him.”

Alternatively, the moderators asked Sinema about her change from a far-left activist to a more centrist politician.

“I have taken the time to learn and to grow and occasionally even change my opinion. So over time, I think it makes sense for individuals to learn and to grow,” Sinema said. “Over time [I’ve] been able to grow and get even better at my job serving Arizonans.”

Sinema stated that Arizonans need a senator who is willing to learn from experiences, buck their party if it is in the best interest of their constituents, and is willing to change opinions throughout their career.

The often tense debate touched on key issues that have dominated the election cycle.

Federal Tax Reform and Budget Deficit 

Last year, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the largest piece of tax reform legislation in more than thirty years. Congresswoman McSally supported the legislation touting the positive economic impact.

“Well the revenue is actually up this year. [The deficit is] not because of the “Tax Cuts and Job” act, which I proudly voted for, to cut the taxes of hardworking Arizona families to make sure they have more money in their paychecks. I was excited and privileged to be able to vote for that,” McSally said. “The economy is doing so well. We are at a historic 3.8 percent unemployment rate, there is so much opportunity for people, revenue is coming in at a higher rate this year than last year. We have a spending problem, [that was] the issue. Now we supported, and I fought for us having the biggest military increase in spending over last year and this year.”

Sinema voted against the tax reform bill, citing deficit concerns.

“I voted no on that tax bill last year for several reasons. First, it increased our deficit by what we though would be $1.9 trillion, turns out, from that report this morning, it could even be higher. More importantly for Arizonans, and their everyday lives, the bill jeopardizes spending from Medicare and Social Security…it is wrong to try and balance your budget on the backs of seniors, who’ve worked so hard for their entire lives for these benefits. My last concern about that legislation is that it didn’t provide permanency of tax cuts for middle class families or small businesses. Last month the House took a vote to increase tax cuts for those communities and I voted yes,” Sinema said. “Small businesses and individuals in the middle-class deserve a tax cut.”

Lastly, McSally rebutted saying, “our economy is doing amazing. [We had a] 4.2 percent GDP growth.  Every single day jobs are opening around Arizona. I talked to small business owners who are investing in equipment, investing in training employees, hiring new employees. The optimism is like we’ve never seen before and we’ve got to keep it going. So, this is the right approach for us. Cut taxes, roll back regulations, and make it permanent for small businesses, individuals and for companies. The economy is doing great and Arizonans feel it every single day.”

Would you have voted for Justice Brett Kavanaugh?

“I would have voted yes to, now-Justice Kavanaugh,” McSally stated. “He’s highly qualified and he has shown what we need to be looking at for judges and justices.”

McSally added that she, herself, was a victim of sexual assault and can stand for survivors, as well as support Kavanaugh.

Sinema, who seemed to dodge the initial question, eventually answered that she would have voted no on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“I had several concerns with Justice Kavanaugh,” Sinema said. “I was concerned about the partisan nature of some of his comments during his second testimony. I [am] also concerned that he appears to have lied under oath.”

What is the government’s role in health care?

Both candidates agreed there should be protections for people with pre-existing conditions and from insurance coverage caps.

“I voted to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” McSally said. “At the federal level there should be a part but it’s best managed at the state level where there’s more options for them to be innovative because what works best in California is not what works best in Arizona.”

“It is the number one issue that I hear from folks both on the campaign trail, as I travel the state, and in my office at the United States Congress. Arizonans are very worried that they will lose coverage [for] pre-existing conditions,” Sinema said. “We cannot go back to a time when people could not get coverage because they had pre-existing conditions.”

Social Security and Medicare 

“I’m committed to protecting social security and Medicare for current and future generations. I oppose privatization schemes. I think that’s the wrong answer for our seniors. I also oppose raising the retirement age. I believe after a lifetime of hard work it is not fair to ask someone to work even more to just get the benefits that they’ve worked so hard for and deserve. Lastly, I believe turning Medicare into a voucher system is risky and allows Wall Street to make decisions about what our future health care looks like,” Sinema said.

“Our seniors have been working their whole lives and they have been saving for retirement and they have been paying into Medicare and Social Security and they deserve to have the benefits that they had paid into. We must protect Medicare and Social Security for those that are at retirement and the next generation to come… so the only person who has supported cutting Medicare in this senate race is [Sinema]. Obamacare’s cutting $700 billion from Medicare, robbing it for its one size fits all Washington approach… The Medicare trust fund and Social Security trust fund are doing better right now because of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs” act. More people are working, more people are paying into it, and that is going to sustain it,” McSally said.

Immigration and Border Security

 The dangers we have around border security are too great to simply allow for an 18th century solution to a 21st century problem,” Sinema said in regard to President Trump’s border wall. “We’ve got to combine our efforts not just with a physical barrier but with smart technology.”

Sinema also shared that she does not believe in separating families who try to cross the United States border.

“Separating families is not reflective of American values; we can both secure our border and keep our country safe and secure without taking children away from their parents,” she said.

I have been leading the effort to secure our border. I represent fifth generation ranchers and 80 miles of the border, who are tired of the cartels that are trafficking through their ranches and into our communities. It has created an opioid crisis, and the policies of the past have failed,” McSally said. “Moving towards a merit-based immigration system and providing a path to citizenship for DACA, that is the definition of a compromise on this issue. Most Arizonans agree, we’ve got to secure the border, end family separation and address these other issues.”

To watch the full debate click here.

Election day is Nov. 6. To find your polling place click here and to find locations for early voting click here. To check your mail-in ballot’s status click here.

Emily Richardson

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