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Martha McSally and Mark Kelly talk Trump, gun control and COVID-19 at their only pre-election debate

Sen. Martha McSally (Left) and Mark Kelly (Right). Martha McSally was appointed to congress after the death of the late Sen. John McCain. Photo by Gage Skidmore courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
With less than thirty days left until the November general elections, Republican Sen. Martha McSally and her Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly, talked healthcare, border security, gun control and more at their only scheduled debate. At home, Arizonans eagerly awaited to hear about the issues that could decide the next Senate seat, and potentially, the next Senate party majority.

McSally, a former fighter jet pilot, won the coin toss for the first question of the night: Did she approve of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response?

On COVID-19:

“Our prayers go out to President Trump and Melania,” McSally said. “We all need to be vigilant and do our part to defeat this virus.”

McSally emphasized her involvement in saving small Arizona businesses by supporting national paycheck protection loans and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. She also emphasized an anti-lockdown stance to prevent future economic distress. She said she had been working hard to protect Arizona, and soon after bashed Kelly, a former astronaut and navy captain, for his campaign and advertisements being “bought and paid for” by Chuck Schumer, China and the Democratic opposition.

Kelly responded by criticizing America’s death toll under President Trump and McSally.

“Two hundred thousand dead Americans is proof that Washington and Sen. McSally didn’t do a great job,” Kelly said.

He then stated McSally regularly tried to attack his patriotism rather than his policies. He claimed Sen. McSally demonstrated poor leadership after she was briefed on the seriousness of COVID-19, his primary example being a fundraiser McSally held earlier this year. He finished by stating Arizonans were primarily concerned with the economy and with healthcare, and that he could not support people receiving as little as $240 a week during the pandemic.

On healthcare:

Kelly suggested multiple times during the debate that healthcare was one of Arizona’s primary concerns. He said he believed one of McSally’s primary goals in Congress was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the subsequent elimination of coverage for preexisting conditions for many Americans.

“Healthcare costs too much,” Kelly said.

To address this, he planned on fighting for public health plans purchased and paid for by private citizens. For example, he suggested lowering the age to buy Medicare to as low as 50 years old.

In response, McSally claimed public and private health care plans couldn’t coexist, that Kelly’s plan was just another form of a “government takeover of healthcare”, and that these policies were “Bernie Sanders light” and would only lead to ineffective socialized medicine. When asked about her appeal of the Affordable Care Act, she replied, “I have continually voted to protect preexisting conditions,” and emphasized fighting high costs under Obamacare.

On China:

In response to Kelly’s accusation of bad pandemic leadership, McSally accused Kelly of being untrustworthy on COVID-19 due to his previous business relations with China.

“This virus came from China,” said McSally before praising the President for closing travel to the nation in January. “…We need to hold China accountable.”

McSally questioned whether Americans could trust Mark Kelly due to his travel to China in 2003, 2004 and 2005. She even claimed Kelly brought a Chinese banner with him on his space flight in 2006 — allegedly proving his amicable attitude towards the nation.

“We have seen the rise of China. They have been helped by political elites like Joe Biden,” McSally said.

She then stated she believed Americans were now “awakened” because they realized “China released this virus onto the world”.

In response, Kelly referenced his dealings with China while in the military and claimed he had plenty of experience dealing with the controversial nation.

“I have recognized China as an adversary my entire adult life,” he said, and suggested this was another attack on his patriotism by the incumbent.

“I am not questioning your patriotism. I am questioning your judgement,” said McSally.

On Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett:

When asked if each candidate would support the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Kelly responded “I do not.” He stated he believed Barrett intended to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he claimed would eliminate coverage for preexisting conditions for millions of Americans—including many Arizonans. He stated American voters deserve a say in a nomination so close to an election.

McSally disagreed and listed other instances in which Supreme Court judges had been appointed in similar circumstances. She again stated she did not want to eliminate coverage of preexisting conditions, and that she trusts Barrett’s constitutionalist attitude.

“They want to take away your freedoms with activist judges who vote from the bench,” McSally said.

Political activism within the judiciary branch has been the subject of many public discussions since Barrett’s nomination.

Kelly did not answer whether he supported the filibuster taking place to prevent the nomination, but said instead he would make the best choice for Arizonans regarding the matter.

On border security and immigration:

McSally suggested Trump’s border wall is highly effective and stated she completely supports its construction. When asked how she felt about portions of the wall’s funding being re-distributed to the military, she called for funding for both projects.

“We should not have to choose. I support both,” McSally said.

She then likened Kelly to a member of a “radical” Democratic “squad” with other Congress members such as Ilhan Omar and suggested he did not sincerely support border security. Kelly stated he did not believe a wall to be the best line of defense, because NASA taught him not to use old solutions for new problems. He said if it were up to him, he would use technology to solve border security issues where a wall was not practical.

Both candidates supported DACA students, but only McSally suggested their presence was part of a larger problem only a secure border wall could fix.

“We have 26,000 DACA students in Arizona who are just as American as my own kids. It is a standalone issue for me,” said Kelly.

On gun control:

There was little difference in the stated opinion on gun control between both candidates. Both said protecting Second Amendment rights was important to them. Both candidates believed large loopholes in the systems need to be addressed.

Kelly continually stated there should be no reason for people to believe school shootings are unpreventable and suggested increased checks as a potential solution.

McSally claimed Kelly was not being truthful about his stance on gun control, and again likened him to Democrats like Ilhan Omar, suggesting that if he were to take the Senate seat, the Democrats would move forward with further firearm restrictions.

On Donald Trump:

When asked, Kelly said he would vote to impeach Trump. He primarily criticized Trump’s use of the late Sen. McCain’s name, his ineffective COVID-19 response, and his character.

When asked how she felt about media reports of Donald Trump calling people in the military “suckers,” McSally discounted the article.

“I am not going to comment on anonymous sources,” she said. Soon after, she stated her official position was to give the troops everything they needed to fight, and that she was working with the president “…to rebuild our military.”

When asked if she supported the Trump administration, McSally did not answer the question directly, but instead stated she supported whatever was best for Arizona while again listing numerous pro-military policies passed under the Trump administration.

She also critiqued Trump’s use of McCain’s name, saying, “It pisses me off.”

On the environment:

McSally said she did not support the Democratic Green New Deal because it would cost too much money, and suggest states who have passed similar legislation, such as California, have had multiple problems because of it.

“We are finally energy independent, thank God. We need additional green energy for sure, but that includes nuclear energy,” McSally said.

She said difficulties with the required battery storage for solar panel dependency in Arizona still exist, and that even if those are resolved, they were still dependent on China for the necessary minerals.

Kelly was also against the Green New Deal, and stated it was because he felt it had too many unnecessary add-ons.

“I am not against fossil fuels,” he said.

However he still said action should be taken to flatten the CO2 curve, and suggested one solution could be extending tax credits to businesses for solar energy expansion within Arizona.

When asked if he thought mandated deadlines for environmental changes were a good idea, Kelly replied that he thought rolling back old regulations was a mistake, but did not comment on creating any additional regulations.

McSally said as a hunter she was proud of protecting Arizona’s environment, yet she did not want to hurt anyone with environmental mandates.

“We are going to innovate our way out of it,” said McSally.

On further debates:

At the end of her two minute closing statement, McSally invited Kelly to participate in three more debates before the general election. Kelly did not agree, and instead stated he would be at next week’s virtual candidate forum with Univision. According to the Arizona Republic, this forum will air Oct. 24.

“Well that proves my point Arizona,” McSally said.

About Author

Brock Blasdell is a student journalist from Mesa, Arizona. He was hired onto the Mesa Legend in late 2018 as an Opinions Editor, and soon became the publication’s News Editor in 2019. He is now an Alumnus Correspondent for the paper. His writings emphasize college history, civil involvement, and personal reflection on modern American issues, while also analyzing and critiquing the role of modern media in national politics. Twitter @Brockblasdell

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