Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick said they both could work through the gridlock in Washington, but they parted ways on health care, immigration and the economy in a debate Monday for the Senate seat McCain has held for five terms.
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The debate, which was sponsored by Arizona PBS and The Arizona Republic, was devoid of the personal attacks that have characterized the presidential debates. The moderators, Ted Simons of Arizona Horizon and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez of The Republic, asked each candidate about the top of the Democratic and Republican tickets.
Kirkpatrick, the Democratic representative from Apache County, said Hillary Clinton is the most experienced and knowledgeable candidate in years, although she said she doesn’t agree with all of her policies and criticized her handling of the email scandal.
“She could have handled it better, and she herself has said that,” Kirkpatrick said.
McCain countered with “Hillary Clinton has told lies after lies,” accusing Clinton of lying to families who lost soldiers in Benghazi.
“Hillary Clinton, I believe, has disqualified herself to be president of the United States,” McCain said.
When it came to the top of the GOP ticket, McCain reiterated his statement pulling support from Trump. McCain had openly criticized several of Trump’s previous comments regarding prisoners of war and the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in action in Iraq.
The Republican presidential nominee called McCain a loser earlier this year in reference to his loss in the 2008 presidential election and said he wasn’t a war hero.
But McCain said Trump crossed a line when he made degrading remarks about women, the latest of which came to light on Friday in an Access Hollywood videotape where Trump can be heard making vulgar comments about groping women.
“That is a point where I just have to part company,” said McCain, who pulled his support of Trump on Saturday. “I have daughters, I have friends.”
McCain said he worries “about the future of the Republican party. We have a lot of work to do after this election is over,” he said.
Kirkpatrick has been criticizing McCain since the beginning of the campaign for supporting Trump and she restated that Monday. The senator asked whether Kirkpatrick would “renounce her support for Hillary Clinton.” She said, “no.”
In the wide-ranging debate, the candidates focused on policy and experience instead of the personal attacks and interruptions that have defined this year’s presidential debates. Throughout the debate, McCain touted his experience and record of working for Arizona, while Kirkpatrick said Washington has changed McCain and it’s time for someone new.
Kirkpatrick affirmed her approval of the Affordable Care Act, saying that legislators should work on fixing it instead of replacing it.
McCain countered by saying Obamacare “was rammed through” without a single vote from the other side and that Kirkpatrick hadn’t wanted to work across the aisle until it already been passed.
In 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties, only one health insurance provider is available through the healthcare exchange.
Both candidates called for immigration reform. McCain advocated for using drones and additional Border Patrol personnel to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. And said he was proud of his work on the Gang of Eight to pass a reform bill in the Senate.
Kirkpatrick said that immigration law is broken and needs comprehensive reform. She said she supports the protections of DACA and DAPA and proposed that DREAMers be allowed to work on Capitol Hill so they could share their stories with legislators.
The candidates also discussed the scandal-plagued Phoenix VA Health Care System, and both said the newly appointed director should get a chance to succeed, even though both criticized the appointment of RimaAnn Nelson because of problems at her previous VA stops. More than two years after the discovery that patients at the Phoenix VA had been waiting too long for consults, the agency continues to struggle and recently received another critical review from the Office of the Inspector General.
Kirkpatrick emphasized that her Whistleblower Protection Act had just passed the House. She criticized McCain for blaming veterans’ service organizations for the problems at the VA.
McCain said he worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders to make “significant” reforms. He focused on his accomplishment of the “choice card,” allowing veterans to receive care from outside the VA.
McCain criticized the number of economic regulations implemented by the Obama administration, saying that Obama was micro-managing the economy.
Kirkpatrick said that to have a strong economy, Arizona first needs a world-class education system and comprehensive immigration reform.
They were asked for one-word answers about whether they support Arizona Proposition 206, which would increase the minimum wage to $12/hour in Arizona. “No,” said McCain. “Yes,” Kirkpatrick said.
Each candidate cited their record of working across the aisle. McCain emphasized his work with the Armed Services Committee and the Gang of Eight on immigration reform.
Kirkpatrick said she had also worked across the aisle with Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, who defeated her in the 2010 election. Kirkpatrick said such a combination is so rare in DC that some call them “Arizona’s odd couple.”
Poll results published by NBC News in September put McCain 19 points ahead of Kirkpatrick among likely voters.