AUSTIN, Texas — Friday night’s debate between Texas Senator John Cornyn and his Democrat challenger David Alameel held few surprises as Cornyn, the incumbent viewed by virtually all political observers as a shoe-in for reelection, stayed positive, while Alameel sought to energize his supporters with a broad support for open immigration policies and attacks lobbed at the Senator.
The debate, the one and only this election cycle, was hosted by KUVN, the Dallas Univision affiliate, and the original plans were for the debate to only be broadcast in Spanish. However, after many expressed concerns about the only debate between the candidates not being available in English, plans were changed at the eleventh hour, with the news announced on Thursday that The Texas Tribune would livestream the debate in English, as well as a later re-broadcast by C-SPAN.
The difference between the candidates was clear right from their opening remarks. Cornyn mentioned his pride in growing up in Texas and then turned to one of his favorite themes: criticizing President Barack Obama’s administration and a dysfunctional Washington. “We know that Washington is broken — you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this,” said Cornyn. The Senator also mentioned Obama’s recent quote, “I’m not on the ballot this fall … But make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot,” explaining that the answer was not to send people who will support Obama and the status quo, but people who will fight back.
Alameel began his remarks telling the story of how he had come to America with nothing, and been able to get an education, work hard, and become very successful. He then pointed a finger at Wall Street, blaming them for making it harder for other Americans to follow in his footsteps. “Today that American dream is out of reach because Wall Street has bought Washington,” said Alameel, claiming that they had bought “the whole Republican party” and a select group that he called “the Wall Street Democrats.” Alameel accused Cornyn of “creating a minimum wage country,” and said he wanted to defeat Cornyn to force him to live on minimum wage.
With Univision hosting the debate and providing the moderators, many of the questions naturally focused on immigration, and Alameel took every opportunity to express his support for amnesty, expressly stating that people who have been in the United States for years should be allowed to stay. “They deserve a path to citizenship now,” said Alameel about the estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. He also stated his support for allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition and called Governor Perry’s deployment of Texas National Guard troops to the border “a joke,” saying that the border should be secured and the federal government should pay for it, but not offering any suggestions for what to do until the federal government actually did start paying for it.
Cornyn disagreed with Alameel’s pro-amnesty positions, but did point out that our current immigration system was a failure. “No one believes it’s working the way it should,” said Cornyn, calling it a “system of chaos,” run by the cartels who were trafficking people over the border and committing horrific human rights abuses. “Their business is human misery,” he said, and advocated legal immigration reforms that would “take back the power from the cartels.”
On the specific issue of comprehensive immigration reform, Cornyn said that the current partisan political environment thwarted any attempts to pass comprehensive bills, and one way to find consensus would be to break immigration down into smaller pieces. For example, he would like to be able to debate the issue of children who are brought here at a young age by their parents without it being entangled in efforts to pass across the board amnesty. Alameel, predictably, took the opposite view, saying that the answer was to “stop deportation and keep families together until we figure out what immigration reform will look like.”
In response to a question about the 175,000 work visas issued by the United States every year, Alameel again supported amnesty and a path to citizenship for all who wanted to come. Cornyn opposed any hard cap on the number of visas, but thought the limit should be tied to economic conditions. If the economy was doing well and Americans were fully employed, then allowing more flexibility to grant visas would be fine in his view. Cornyn also voiced support for expanding visas for highly technical and skilled fields, especially for students who were being educated in American universities and then taking their skills with them back to their home countries.
On economic issues, the candidates again had predictably divergent responses. In response to a question about student loan debt, Cornyn said that their generation “has not been treated very well” by elected officials, pointing out the 17 trillion dollar national debt and the failure to properly fund Medicare and Social Security. “We’re not meeting our commitment to future generations,” said Cornyn. “It’s immoral.” Regarding Obamacare, Cornyn expressed sympathy for young people without insurance, but noted that Obamacare was only “broken promises,” with Americans being unable to keep their doctors, facing rising premiums and increased out-of-pocket costs. Alameel admitted that the health care law was “not perfect” but advocated improving it instead of tossing it out.
Cornyn and Alameel had previously made public statements about their views about how the United States should respond to the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIS or ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), with Cornyn supporting keeping all options on the table, including the use of ground troops, and Alameel strongly opposing the use of any ground forces. Friday’s debate offered no change in either’s position, with Alameel emphatically supporting Obama’s plan of airstrikes and Cornyn saying that the events of September 11, 2001 showed us that “what happens over there affects us.”
On social issues, Cornyn expressed support for Texas’ abortion law, praising it for improving safety standards at abortion clinics. The Senator said he was pro-life, but if women were going to pursue this legal right, then he wanted to avoid them being treated like the patients of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. “He was a human butcher and women died seeking otherwise legal abortions.” Alameel said that this made Cornyn “pro-choice” and said that he agreed with him.
The candidates were in less agreement on gay marriage, with Cornyn opposing courts imposing changes to marriage laws, saying that “the verdict of the people of Texas in favor of traditional marriage should be respected,” and we “should not have unelected judges” setting policy. Alameel did not expressly come out and say he wanted to allow gay marriage, but stated his “love” for all people and his wish that “we should move on from this divisive issue.”
On the issue of term limits, Cornyn said “I think that the term limits imposed by elections are the best,” and that he worried that term limits would empower lobbyists and faceless bureaucrats. He also supported keeping Senators on six year terms, as opposed to the shorter two year terms served by members of the House of Representatives.
Alameel again went on the attack in his closing remarks, calling the Senator “John ‘Trickle Down’ Cornyn” and accuse him of working for Wall Street. Cornyn did not respond to the bait, instead saying that it had been “an honor and privilege” to represent all Texans “whether they voted for me or not,” and citing Alameel’s own personal story as proof that the American dream was still possible.
Early voting has already begun in Texas, running through Friday, October 31, and election day is November 4.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.