Indiana Senate Debate Highlights

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Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton clashed in the first 2018 U.S. Senate debate for Indiana. The debate took place at Purdue University Northwest in Westville from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Oct. 8.

The Indiana Debate Commission sponsored the debate and broadcaster Anne Ryder served as the moderator. Candidates staked out contrasting positions on topics such as health care and the confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Donnelly repeatedly touted his support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare, while Braun criticized the law.

“I’m the person who cast the final vote to make sure your child with asthma can get their inhaler,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly was referring to his vote against the June 2017 proposal to repeal and replace the ACA. The repeal proposal failed by a vote of 49 to 51. If Donnelly had voted to support it, the vote would have been a tie that Vice President Mike Pence could have broken in the favor of the repeal.

Braun criticized Donnelly’s support for the ACA, arguing that the program was failing.

“The senator gave us Obamacare, which has no choices and is falling apart,” Braun said.

However, Braun voiced support for certain parts of the law, including coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“I would never be for not covering pre-existing conditions,” Braun said.

Donnelly argued that this was untrue because Braun had supported a lawsuit that would have eliminated the ACA, including its coverage for pre-existing conditions. Donnelly challenged Braun to denounce the lawsuit, which Braun did not do in his following rebuttal.

“Hoosiers, clearest difference: He won’t even denounce the lawsuit that will take away your coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Donnelly said.

From left to right: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) are the major party nominees for the U.S. Senate election in Indiana.

Braun argued that Donnelly’s vote for the ACA suggested that the senator was beholden to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader for the Democratic caucus.

“He voted for Obamacare originally, he voted against its repeal,” Braun said. “He says for other reasons, but he did it because he takes his marching orders from Chuck Schumer.”

“I go against my own party all the time,” Donnelly said. “I went against my party when I voted for Justice Gorsuch.”

Donnelly was referring to his vote to confirm Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45. Donnelly, along with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), was one of three Democrats to vote to confirm Gorsuch.

Braun argued that Donnelly’s vote against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s second appointee to the Supreme Court,  Brett Kavanaugh, suggested that he did not support Trump’s agenda.

“Democrats, including Joe Donnelly, will do or say anything when it comes to their political interests,” Braun said.

Kavanaugh is alleged to have committed sexual assault by multiple accusers, one of whom was called to testify before the Senate. Donnelly previously cited these allegations as the reason he voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but the senator did not mention this during the debate.

“I voted against Judge Kavanaugh because of concerns about his impartiality and concerns about his judicial temperament,” Donnelly said.

“This will be a clear separator between us,” Braun said, before he offered praise for Kavanaugh. “There is no doubt he is not going to legislate from the bench. He is not going to do things the court has done for a long time.”

Braun drew another contrast between himself and Donnelly.

“I’ve done things in the real world. This gentleman is a career politician,” Braun said of Donnelly. “I’m a job creator and a political outsider.”

Donnelly has held public office for eleven years since 2007, serving for over five years in the Senate and six years in the House of Representatives. Braun has held public office for thirteen years since 2004, serving for three years as a state representative and ten years on the Jasper school board.

Donnelly criticized Braun’s record as a state representative.

“Mike increased taxes 45 times while in the legislature, the largest tax increase in Indiana history,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly was likely referring to the 45 tax increases passed by the Indiana state legislature during 2017. The Associated Press reported that Donnelly’s claim was misleading because the largest tax increase in Indiana’s history was likely in 1983, accounting for inflation.

In turn, Braun criticized Donnelly for voting against the Trump tax cuts last year.

“Small businesses would have been left out in the cold when we did tax reform,” Braun said. “I didn’t hear this senator’s voice because he never speaks up."

Donnelly argued that the Trump tax cuts would have increased the deficit by $2 trillion, a claim supported by projections from the Congressional Budget Office.

Donnelly expounded more on his positions in a post-debate press conference along with Libertarian nominee Lucy Brenton. Braun declined to participate in the conference, while the other candidates addressed reporters and took questions from them.

Donnelly's RV sits outside of the Purdue campus in Westville.

One issue addressed at the press conference but not the debate itself was whether or not the candidates would support the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in workplaces and schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

As NBC News reported, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are not currently protected by nondiscrimination statutes. Statewide, Indiana lacks such protections for LGBT employees in the private sector.

When asked if he would cosponsor the Equality Act, Donnelly answered, “I’ll be back this weekend. I’ll take a look at it and be right back to you.”

On the same question, Brenton said that she would support a boycott of any business that would fire an LGBT person for their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, she voiced opposition to statutes that would make it illegal to fire someone for being a member of the LGBT community.

“When there’s corporate injustice, we all have the responsibility to band together and put them out of business,” Brenton said. “It’s not the government’s responsibility to do that.”

The three candidates for the Senate election in Indiana will participate in the second and final debate for the 2018 cycle on Oct. 30 in Indianapolis.

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