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5 Takeaways From NHPR's Messner, Shaheen U.S. Senate Debate


U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Corky Messner debated on NHPR Thursday morning. The two candidates opened the hour-long debate by accusing one another of being beholden to their party leaders on Capitol Hill. 

WATCH/LISTEN to the full debate here.

“She’s not looking out for you,” said Messner, who was endorsed by President Trump. “She’s looking out for Democrats in Washington, D.C.”

Shaheen, a Democrat seeking a third term, said she has worked across the political aisle both in her time as U.S. senator and as former governor of New Hampshire. “He’s in lock-step with Mitch McConnell,” she said of Messner.

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Here are five takeaways from today’s debate:

1. Shaheen announces she will vote against Amy Coney Barrett's SCOTUS nomination

Both candidates were asked about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Shaheen announced she will vote against the nomination when it comes to the Senate floor. She also said that she has real questions about what was said between Judge Barrett and Trump before her nomination was announced; Trump has said Barrett would be on the court if the 2020 election comes to the nation’s high court.

Messner, an attorney, said Barrett has demonstrated her character, integrity, and legal expertise on the federal appeals court. “She will do her job with an open mind,” he said, “Americans need to have confidence that she is a wonderful choice, who will be objective and open-minded about any decision.”

2. Coronavirus and CARES relief loom large

The candidates were asked to weigh in on the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government’s response. Messner disagreed with a question about whether the federal government should have taken more of a lead on a national strategy. He says the response should be determined on a state by state basis.

“We have not had a plan from the Trump administration from the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic,” Shaheen responded. She said the CARES Act was an effort to address a number of economic sectors and businesses who are still hurting. She also criticized the Trump administration for interfering with the FDA in connection with potential COVID-19 vaccines, and with the CDC for public health guidance.

The two sparred briefly over a proposed new stimulus to provide federal relief.

3. The politics of the PPP

Shaheen noted she helped write the PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program designed as an incentive for small businesses to keep employees on the payroll during the early months of the pandemic. Messner knocked Shaheen for her family - principally her husband's law firm -  receiving PPP loans. “It’s cronyism,” said Messner, who's lodged this criticism before.

Shaheen replied that the bipartisan program was designed so that anyone who qualified got approved for a loan, and that she didn't have a hand in loan awards. the Trump administration implemented it, she said. She also noted a law firm founded by Messner received millions in loans from the PPP. 

Disclosure: NHPR was a recipient of some PPP funding.

4. The Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion

Shaheen argues that Trump and Messner want to eliminate the Affordable Care Act when millions of Americans need it the most - during a pandemic. The candidates have gone back and forth on this subject for weeks now. Messner says he’d propose legislation to ensure people with pre-existing conditions are covered. He also supports introducing more competition by allowing companies to sell insurance across state lines. Shaheen says Republicans have not put forth any plan to replace the ACA.

“The ACA is not affordable,” Messner said, “and Senator Shaheen knows that.” Shaheen says it needs to be improved upon, not eliminated. She claimed Messner has failed to understand the landmark legislation from the Obama administration. Expansion of Medicaid, which Messner said he supports, is a major component of the Affordable Care Act, Shaheen said.

5. On gun violence and red flag laws

Messner said he would not support a red flag law - legislation that allows police or a family to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others. Shaheen said the country is losing too many people to gun violence, and that comprehensive background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of those who would do harm to themselves or others can be balanced with protecting the 2nd Amendment.

The debate also covered issues including climate change, foreign policy, race, and policing. You can listen to the full debate here,or watch the video below:

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.

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