Fischer and Raybould tackle health care, immigration, gun control and more in first debate
GRAND ISLAND — Most of Monday’s back-and-forth between Sen. Deb Fischer and Lincoln City Councilwoman Jane Raybould stayed inside the issues-oriented lines of the nationally televised debate.
Raybould, the Democratic nominee for Fischer’s U.S. Senate seat, took an early swing, however, labeling the Republican as a reliable vote for special interests over policies that would help Nebraskans.
“You know, Sen. Fischer, that’s corruption, plain and simple,” the Lincoln grocery store chain owner said. “And you ought to be ashamed.”
Fischer later called that comment “a low note” in the debate, characterizing Raybould’s offensive as false attacks that were not solutions to benefit Nebraskans, offering her record as a senator in contrast.
“That’s too bad, and that’s not what Nebraskans want,” Fischer said of Raybould’s attacks.
And on it went during the first Senate debate, hosted by the Omaha World-Herald and KMTV before a small audience inside the Bosselman Conference Center at the Nebraska State Fair.
The candidates sparred over 15 questions in all — covering topics such as health care, immigration, trade, tax cuts, gun violence, and the investigation into interference into the 2016 presidential campaign — during the hourlong debate.
Fischer said the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, had resulted in rising premiums that forced 40,000 Nebraskans to pay fines to the IRS, roughly 80 percent of whom made at least $50,000 per year.
The former school board member and state legislator said Democrats walked away from a bill that would have brought down premiums last year, and said she supports giving patients more information about their health care costs to better inform their decisions.
“Washington politicians like Sen. Fischer” were responsible for increased premiums because they accept campaign contributions from health care companies and later vote in the interest of corporations, not the public, Raybould said.
“(Fischer) voted for health care premiums on middle-class families, she voted for an age tax on our older Nebraskans, charging them five times more for their health insurance than younger people,” she said.
Raybould said she would work to reduce prescription costs, negotiate better prices and create tax credits for small-business owners and middle-class families so they can afford their premiums.
The candidates found middle ground when it came to immigration, both saying they believed securing the U.S. border was a first step, and voicing support for the creation of a pathway to legal citizenship for the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country.
Fischer said she supports President Donald Trump’s $25 billion plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as to begin using technology to better track who is entering and leaving the country.
Reforming the immigration process would strengthen the U.S. economy, Raybould said, particularly agriculture, which “depends on this diverse workforce.”
Fischer said she supports Trump’s efforts to “level the playing field” against countries such as China: “They cheat, they steal our intellectual property, they steal our patents, and I’m glad that we’re finally, finally working on some tough deals here.”
She added tariffs were “not the way to go,” particularly for Nebraska farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, and said she supported an amendment that would have given Congress oversight over the president’s authority to level certain tariffs.
Raybould accused Fischer of backing Trump’s trade policies, which she said have created a “Washington-made farm crisis,” and blamed Fischer of not voting for the amendment giving Congress authority to review the president’s tariff decisions; Fischer said it didn’t come to a vote.
Raybould said Republicans got their tax reform package wrong last December. Instead of passing “massive, permanent” tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations and “temporary, measly” cuts for the middle class, the opposite should have been accomplished.
She also criticized Fischer for voting for a bill that raised the deficit and only offered temporary relief for most Nebraskans.
Fischer called the tax cut “pro-growth” and said it had helped spur economic growth of more than 4 percent last quarter, as well as decades-high consumer confidence. The average Nebraskan will see $2,100 more in their pocket this year, she said.
“Businesses and families realize they are keeping more in their pockets, and to call it measly?” Fischer said. “Nancy Pelosi called it crumbs. This is not crumbs to Nebraskans.”
Fischer said ensuring “the people who shouldn’t have guns don’t have them” was key to combating the epidemic of mass shootings and gun violence in the U.S.
She supported a bill that would create a registry for those prohibited from owning a firearm.
But Raybould said federal lawmakers are to blame: “They have done nothing.”
If elected, Raybould said she would work to implement “common-sense gun measures” such as background checks and banning bump stocks.
The Mueller probe
Fischer and Raybould agreed that special counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to conclude his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“We need transparency, we need to see what’s going on,” Fischer said, adding that Americans were getting impatient to learn of Mueller’s conclusions.
Raybould disagreed with early calls from Democrats in Congress to impeach Trump “until we have all the evidence presented.”
The Libertarian Party of Nebraska protested Monday’s debate after its Senate candidate, Jim Schultz, was barred from participating. One protester stood outside the debate venue with tape over his mouth.
According to Michael Knebel, the Libertarian Party’s state chair, Schultz was prevented from appearing on stage at the debate because his campaign has not raised a sufficient amount of donations, as well as the Libertarian Party’s inability to win a statewide office in Nebraska.
“Their erroneous and ridiculous requirements are a slap in the face to all of the volunteers and candidates of our party,” Knebel said. “Our political climate today is one that would benefit from a reasonable voice being heard.
Knebel said Schultz is “a strong voice for individual rights, sensible and efficient government, and is proudly anti-war.”
Some who hoped to attend the debate were also locked out. The doors at the Bosselman Center were locked at about 8:55 a.m., according to one person who didn’t make it inside, even though the State Fair opened at 9 a.m.
The attacks between both candidates continued in media scrums after the debate ended.
Fischer called the debate “interesting,” and said she believed the issues brought up were important to Nebraskans, but said Raybould spent more time on the offensive rather than explaining her positions to voters.
“It was disappointing that my opponent was on the attack so much,” Fischer said. “That’s not what Nebraskans want to hear. They want to hear I’ve been effective in the Senate.”
Reacting to Raybould’s assertion that Fischer works for her party and corporate interests, Fischer called Raybould uninformed about contributions her campaign had received from Senate Democrats.
″(New York Sen.) Chuck Schumer launders that money,” Fischer said.
Raybould said she’s “squeaky clean of corporate PAC money,” and challenged Fischer to give up her corporate donations, too.
Raybould said her debate strategy was to press Fischer on several issues in order to show Nebraskans “the sharp contrast” between her and the Republican incumbent.
″(Nebraskans) don’t want a senator who votes along party lines 98 percent of the time,” Raybould said of Fischer’s voting record.
Fischer and Raybould will meet again for an NET News debate, as well as three debates in Omaha before the Nov. 6 general election.