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.