Democratic New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and her Republican challenger Chele Farley debated for the only time before Election Day Thursday.
Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate in 2009, is seeking her second six-year term, against political newcomer Farley of New York City.
They were supposed to meet for an hour Sunday at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, but Gillibrand pulled out, citing a labor dispute at sponsor Charter Communications. That led to a 30-minute debate in New York City Thursday, moderated by Bill Ritter on ABC 7 Eyewitness News.
It opened with a question to Gillibrand about the tenor of political debate in America during a week when several high-profile Democrats were sent improvised bombs. As she would for the next 30 minutes, Gillibrand tied Farley to President Donald Trump.
“I believe we need to have a role model in the White House. I don’t think this president has done that. And he’s unfortunately been divisive and really put hate into the climate,” Gillibrand said.
“My opponent, Sen. Gillibrand, wants to abolish ICE, which is the group that actually is primarily responsible for stopping terror. We can’t allow that to happen,” Farley said.
The second question centered on immigration and the migrant caravan making its way north from Central America. The candidates appeared to agree on continuing DREAM Act protections — if little else.
“It is a real problem, but there are 14,000 people. People are calling it a caravan, I call it an invasion. We can’t allow open borders. We don’t know who’s coming across our border. They could be members of ISIS; frankly they could be members of MS-13. We have to stop it. But the real issue, we have to comprehensive immigration reform,” Farley said.
“To be very clear, I do not support open borders and neither do Democrats,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand said the migrants are seeking asylum in the U.S., which was founded by immigrants.
“Separating children from their parents at the border is immoral. That’s what this president has done. He has demonized immigrants throughout this country, which is wrong, morally wrong. So we need an immigration system that actually works.”
After their spat over immigration, health care was next.
“I believe that health care should be a human right and not a privilege," Gillibrand said. "Unfortunately, my opponent and this president wants to continue to undermine health care as a right, wanting to allow insurers to charge as much as they want if you have a preexisting condition.”
Farley said she favors the Affordable Care Act provisions ensuring coverage for people with preexisting conditions and allowing children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health plan. But:
“I am absolutely not in favor of Medicare for all. The senator wants to do this, but most importantly, how are you going to pay for it? It is estimated to cost $32 trillion over 10 years. That’s $3.2 trillion a year. That is effectively doubling the entire federal budget,” Farley said.
Later, Farley was asked whether she would work to restore the State and Local Tax deduction lost in the 2017 tax overhaul, and called the GOP bill a “bad deal for New Yorkers.”
“I mean, where were you, senator, when we lost the SALT deduction? Senator D’Amato was able to save the SALT deduction in the 1980s. I would have been at that table negotiating to get a better deal.”
Gillibrand responded: “We need middle class tax cuts and unfortunately this president put forward a tax plan that — my opponent supports this president every step of the way and would not hold him accountable. She has not held him accountable on anything up until now. In fact, that tax gave enormous tax breaks to the wealthiest New Yorkers, the wealthiest Americans, and really left the middle class with very little.”
With Gillibrand’s sizable fundraising advantage and lead in the polls, Farley contends the senator is focused on a possible 2020 presidential campaign and isn’t working for New Yorkers. Gillibrand said twice she would serve the entire term if reelected.
“I will serve my six-year term," Gillibrand said.
Farley was asked if she would have voted for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“I think it was very important that Judge Kavanaugh had the opportunity to have his say and that Dr. Ford had her say, and that the FBI did an investigation. But they were not able to corroborate any of those claims,” Farley said.
Gillibrand said she opposed Kavanaugh on the merits even before the allegations emerged.
“His demeanor, his character, is absolutely inappropriate for a Supreme Court justice, so I stand by my vote and I can’t imagine why if she wants to represent New Yorkers she would vote ‘yes,’” Gillibrand said.
Asked about climate change, Gillibrand said it has to be taken “very seriously” and added the president has failed to show world leadership on the issue. Farley said “global climate change is a problem,” but other countries should be held responsible and combatting it shouldn’t come at the expense of America’s interests.
Late in the debate, Farley said she would be willing to buck the White House.
Farley: “Look, I am asked about the president all the time. And I voted for him, I support the president when his policies are good for New York. And so many of them are.”
New York hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate since 1992. You can watch the debate at wamc.org.