Democratic Sen. Al Franken and his GOP challenger faced off on Ebola, siding with President Barack Obama, health care and McFadden’s business background in a spirited debate on CBS News Sunday that, at times, had the two candidates yelling at each other.
Much of the debate — both candidates sat at a desk facing WCCO moderators — was punctuated by the candidates interrupting each other as they wrestled to answer questions on some of the most complex issues of the day: how to handle Islamic extremists, how to fix the Affordable Care Act and whether the United States should enact a travel ban from west Africa because of the Ebola virus.
Franken attempted to paint McFadden, a Sunfish Lake businessman, as inexperienced and unprepared to handle the rigors and quick decisiveness required to be a U.S. Senator. McFadden tarred Franken with his 97 percent voting record with President Barack Obama, saying he is part of the partisan problem in Washington.
“I won’t be a rubber stamp for any president,” McFadden said. “It’s an issue because I think this president is leading in the wrong direction … I haven’t met anyone who agrees with another person 97 percent of the time.”
Franken said the bulk of the votes counted are nominations and other smaller matters and that he votes “for Minnesota.”
The two had several volleys before Franken warmed up to full-throated attacks on McFadden’s campaign to unseat him. Franken called him out for not having adequate answers to foreign policy questions and slammed McFadden’s business background, calling him responsible for layoffs and so-called inversions, which allow companies to move operations overseas.
“This is a job where you have to answer questions in real time,” Franken said. “You can’t take cheap shots from the bleachers.”
On fighting Islamic extremists, McFadden said he was disappointed in Obama’s “leading from behind” on the issue. He called Franken’s letter sent earlier this year to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for additional support in Minnesota a “meager, meager effort.”
Franken called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “barbaric” and said he supported a limited bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS. He said he has been in touch by the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 2009 on Islamic recruitment of young people from Minnesota.
He said McFadden didn’t talk about foreign policy for the first 10 months of his campaign to unseat him.
“There wasn’t anything from you,” Franken said, looking McFadden in the eye. “In the first 10 months of his campaign there was not a word about foreign policy, about terrorism, about public health ... He ducked. And the reason why he ducked was because it is a difficult political decision.”
On Ebola, Franken struggled with answering whether he supported a travel ban, finally saying after being pressed three times that he had “nothing against it” but that he believed it would be insufficient because the majority of travelers from west Africa don’t fly to the United States directly. McFadden said he supports a temporary travel ban, which many international experts call ineffective.
When asked whether he was satisfied with Obama’s handling of Ebola, Franken said, “No, and I don’t think he is either.”
On Obamacare, Franken acknowledged problems with the implementation but said 95 percent of Minnesotans now have health insurance, thanks to the law. He called McFadden’s idea to scrap the plan and put states in charge impractical.
McFadden said states are “laboratories for experiments” and that they — not the federal government — should decide whether to implement an individual mandate.
The GOP candidate said Franken was lying about his company’s involvement with the restructuring of Smurfit Stone, a Montana mill, which closed and laid off 417 workers in 2009.
Once Franken’s campaign began running ads last week on Smurfit, McFadden’s company, Lazard Middle Market, took the deal off its website.
“If you’re a CEO and you don’t take responsiblity for what your company does, what are you going to do as a senator?” Franken said. “Aren’t you embarrassed?”
McFadden said his company didn’t have anything to do with the Smurfit deal. A campaign spokesman said McFadden ran Lazard Middle Market, while the company responsible for the Smurfit layoffs was called Lazard Frères.
In remarks after the debate, McFadden said he didn’t know why details of the Smurfit deal were scrubbed from Lazard’s website this week, right after Franken began running negative ads about it, saying he is on a leave from the company.
“I would encourage you to call Lazard tomorrow and ask them,” he told reporters.
McFadden said he has tried to keep the tone positive during the campaign and was “disappointed” Franken had spent millions damaging his reputation.
“Minnesotans are so sick of these attacks,” McFadden said.
Small business owners from throughout the state who say the Affordable Care Act has resulted in drastic increases in the cost to insure their employees joined U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden Wednesday to decry the legislation, while McFadden himself acknowledged relief likely wouldn’t come quickly.
“These aren’t just numbers, they’re affecting real people,” McFadden said, standing in front of greenhouse proprietors, ski resort owners and others. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have a conversation with a small business owner who shares with me their exacerbation about health care costs.”
The Sunfish Lake businessman is running against Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who voted for and is a vocal ACA supporter.
Dan Raedeke, President of Wild Mountain Ski Area in Taylors Falls, said the implementation of the ACA will cause their insurance rate increases to jump by 30 percent to a total cost of $100,000 to insure 15 families.
“I read in the paper sometimes that people are saying this is working, but it’s not working for the working class,” he said.
According to McFadden, Faribault-based Donahue Greenhouse saw an $80,000 budget increase to afford a high-deductible plan for 22 employees.
Mike Hickey, Minnesota State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, cited a survey of 233 licensed health insurance agents, who service 2,454 businesses that showed a rate increase for 74 percent of the small businesses, while 26 percent had a decrease.
One month ago, McFadden proposed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act in favor of open-border optional state-based exchanges—meaning states can decide whether to mandate health care—including the option for businesses to pool their resources to keep healthcare costs down. He defended the proposal as more effective than the principles of the Affordable Care Act because businesses would have the opportunity to buy insurance across state lines.
McFadden said that, if elected, he would push for provisions currently existing under the ACA to move authorization to the states, allowing them to address increasing rates, though he didn’t elaborate how the states would do that.
McFadden said that under his plan, he said, states would operate like “laboratories for experiments.”
“If a state wants to have a mandate they can have a mandate. If they don’t want to have a mandate they don’t have to have a mandate, and see what that impact is on the cost of insurance and the cost of healthcare,” he said. “What we can do instead of having a one size fits all, which is what we have right now with Obamacare, we’ll have 50 different examples of what can be done…What I don’t expect is that the federal government’s going to be able to do this in an efficient way that will drive down costs.”
For months, Star Tribune staff has traipsed along with Minnesota's statewide candidates as they campaigned.
Here's what they found of the men who will vie in November's election:
For Minnesota governor
Democrat Mark Dayton
An A-list player in state politics for more than three decades, Dayton, 67, has had a colorful career full of highs and lows, in both public and private. On Election Day he will learn if Minnesotans are willing to give him four more years in charge of the state — or are ready to send him into retirement. -- Patrick Condon
Republican Jeff Johnson
A Hennepin County commissioner who is a former state representative and Tea Party ally, Johnson is now battling to unseat the most powerful Democrat in state office, Gov. Mark Dayton. Johnson says he offers a clear and needed alternative to the policies of a Democratic governor and Democratic Legislature that have joined forces and moved Minnesota too far to the liberal left. -- Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
For the U.S. Senate
Democrat Al Franken
Winning his first term in 2008 by the narrowest margin in modern U.S. Senate history after a brutally combative race, the former satirist has spent five years playing it safe. His standard event is heavy on policy, in front of a crowd that generally loves him, with a humorous punchline to chase. -- Allison Sherry
Republican Mike McFadden
The art of campaigning hasn't’t come easily to McFadden, an investment banker who has never held elective office, and hadn't voted in a primary in 20 years before his own. Yet McFadden beat out a field of experienced politicians for the Republican endorsement, easily won his primary and gained the backing of Independence Party leaders who chose him over their own primary winner.
McFadden says his great asset is that he's not a politician, nor was he bred to be one. He doesn't need this job, but he wants it. -- Abby Simons and Ricardo Lopez
All photos by Glen Stubbe, of the Star Tribune. Click below to see the Star Tribune's photo galleries of the candidates:
U.S. Sen. Al Franken reiterated his stance Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision that limited access to birth control must be overridden, in a women’s health roundtable in St. Paul that focused largely in the fallout from this summer’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
The ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that requiring corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated federal law protecting religious freedom. Franken told the panel of assorted women lawyers, citizens and advocates that it ruling must be overturned.
“This turns on its head the whole notion of freedom of religion,” Franken said. “To me, it’s about the freedom of a woman, in this case, to choose whether she wants to use contraception or not. Because of the (Affordable Care Act) it’s a basic, effective, essential healthcare.”
Franken said he is open to FDA review of making oral contraceptives more accessible to women—a position McFadden has taken. However, he added that the key issue is that it be covered by insurance, not how accessible it may be.
“The issue here isn’t where you get it,” he said. “It’s who pays for it.”
The roundtable included Winnie Williams of Woodbury, a mother of two teenage daughters, one with a benign brain tumor with symptoms treated thorough a specific kind of birth control.
“When I look at this issue, I look at it and say ‘You just told me and my daughter that we might not be able to have control of excessive bleeding, depression, migraines, brain tumors,” she said. “You’re telling me that my employer controls whether I have that as part of my medical care. And that, to me, is just unconscionable.”
McFadden, however, said Franken’s criticism of Republicans on women’s issues an “election year gimmick” in efforts to distract Minnesotans from current issues like Ebola and the ongoing Islamic State threat.
“You’ve seen this play out all across the country. It’s right out of the Democrats’ political guidelines as this is how we try to divide people.” McFadden said.
Franken said Thursday that the roundtable was to address issues important to women and men alike.
“The job of a senator is to pay attention to a lot of things all at one time,” he said.
Following disconcerting shortfalls revealed in the wake of a second nurse's Ebola diagnosis, U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden proposed steps to halt the spread of the deadly disease, which include mandatory quarantines and travel bans.
“We are not remotely prepared to deal with an Ebola outbreak in the United States,” McFadden said, adding that there are four state-of-the-art contamination centers in the country, each of which is equipped to hold just three to 10 patients. “As a result I believe we aggressively make sure that Ebola is not allowed to take hold and take root in the United States.”
McFadden, the Republican challenger to Sen. Al Franken, said the spread of Ebola is the currently the concern he’s heard more than any on the campaign trail, and proposes the following:
McFadden compared President Obama’s reaction to the crisis a failure to be proactive, similar to when Islamic State militants beheaded the second of two American hostages last month. He also leveled criticism at Franken for a lack of action.
“They came back and said ‘We don’t have a strategy,’” he said. “I have the exact same feeling now that there is no strategy. The CDC allowed this nurse to get on a flight. That’s not acceptable. Someone needs to take responsibility for this.”
The country is currently without a U.S. Surgeon General, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Some Republicans have stood in opposition to Obama's current nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. McFadden wouldn't say whether he was concerned that Murthy hasn't been confirmed, and said it is only important that a cabinet member is in charge, and wouldn't say whether he would vote to confirm Murthy.
"The president can just appoint a cabinet member to take responsibility for the role of Ebola. That's the role of the president." he said.
In the wake of concerns about a possible walkout of Texas nurses staffed with caring for Ebola patients, and for the welfare of U.S. aid workers who continue to care for Ebola patients in west Africa, McFadden said he had empathy for the risk they’re taking. Reports Thursday say Obama may deploy National Guard troops to Africa to build Ebola treatment centers. McFadden said he would back this as long as troops were adequately protected.
“Here they are trying to help people that are gravely ill, and I think that what we’re seeing down in Dallas is the nurses have very little faith in the system, and the way we’re responding to things,” he said. “I would guess that they were told ‘We’re doing everything right in this hospital, you’re going to be adequately protected.’ And they weren’t. They lost trust in the system.”
Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff shot back at McFadden, saying that while McFadden held a news conference, Franken "went to work," pushing for increased screening at Minneapolis-St. Paul International AIrport, ensuring Minnesota healthcare providers have the necessary federal resources and backing legislation to fight Ebola. He backs any steps that need to be taken to prevent further spread, she said.
“Senator Franken finds it outrageous and unacceptable that CDC allowed a nurse to fly after she had been exposed to the virus." Fetissoff said. "The CDC has acknowledged this was a mistake and that they are now immediately take steps to make sure that additional Ebola infections are prevented. He will be watching to make sure they do so and there should be consequences if they do not.”