Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown Debate
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 21:10
Tuesday’s Massachusetts senate debate started with controversy, as moderator David Gregory of Meet the Press began the night by questioning Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage. “Why claim that you had [Native American] heritage if not to gain any advantage?” Gregory asked Warren. Warren had listed herself as part Native American while teaching at Harvard Law School, and since the last debate on Sept. 21, her opponent, Republican Senator Scott Brown, has run two attack ads that use Warren’s Native American ethnicity to attack her credibility.
“I never used [my heritage] to apply to college, to apply to law school, I derived no benefit from it,” rebuffed Warren.
Brown, however, insisted that “she self-reported, she changed her nationality.” Warren has said on multiple occasions that her claim of Native American heritage is based on what her mother repeatedly told her about her ethnic background. Nearly 20 minutes of the one hour debate was devoted to Gregory’s questions about Warren’s ethnicity.
The second question from Gregory was directed at Brown’s claim from last July that every day, he was in “secret meetings with kings and queens.” Brown dodged the question by talking instead about his responsibilities as senator.
Brown painted himself as a bipartisan independent candidate, never once identifying himself as the Republican nominee. “I vote with the Republican Party about half the time and the Democrats half the time, and I’m not owned by anyone,” said Brown. “I’m the least partisan member of Congress. I want to read the bills and vote based on what it says; a lot of people don’t read the bills.”
He distanced himself from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when asked by Gregory, saying, “He’s out campaigning and I’m here in Massachusetts.”
Brown also refused to endorse Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to continue as Senate minority leader. “He has a lot to do to earn my vote,” said Brown.
Warren stuck mostly to talking points from her stump speech throughout the night, attacking Brown for voting against bills that would “bring jobs to Massachusetts.”
“Senator Brown voted in lockstep with the Republicans against three jobs bills,” said Warren. “Just to put icing on the cake, he voted against unemployment insurance extension 16 times.”
Gregory then asked Warren to name a Republican she would be willing to work with if elected.
“Well [Senator] Dick, Richard, Lugar springs to mind,” she began, when Gregory cut her off to point out that Lugar (R-Indiana) would not be serving in the 113th Congress, having lost his primary to a Tea Party challenger. Warren was unable to name another Republican she would be willing to work with, but she cited her experience in setting up the Consumer Protection Bureau as an example of working across the aisle.
Brown tried to capitalize on Warren’s misstep, saying that he would happily work with other “bipartisan” Republicans, but he repeated Senator Lugar as an example and added Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who will also not be a member of Congress in January, having announced her retirement last year.
The debate was repeatedly interrupted by clapping, booing and cheering throughout the night. At one point, Brown interrupted Warren to snap, “I’m not in your classroom,” as part of his reoccurring attempt to cast Warren as an elite liberal – he also persistently referred to her as “professor” throughout the debate. Warren said that the title didn’t bother her, saying, “I worked hard to become [a professor].”
Gregory gave both candidates limited time on questions about tax code, the war in Afghanistan and immigration, issues on which the candidates differ drastically. He did ask each to name their favorite Supreme Court justice, to which Brown answered, “Scalia.” Anontin Scalia is widely seen as the most conservative of the justices. Warren answered “Kagan,” the most recent associate justice, who Brown voted against confirming.
The unsuccessful campaign of Attorney General Martha Coakley is still dogging Warren, with Gregory asking her why Massachusetts had never elected a woman to the Senate or the governorship – “I’m trying to do something about that” – and about whether Red Sox Coach Bobby Valentine should be given another year with the team. In 2010, Coakley alienated voters by disparaging the idea of campaigning at Fenway Park.
The final exchange of the night was characteristic of the tone of the race. Gregory asked each candidate to say one nice thing about the other. Warren went first, saying, “Senator Brown has a lovely family” while Brown used the moment to say that Warren was an excellent professor. “From students she’s had, they all say she’s a great teacher … and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she stays a teacher.”
The final senatorial debate is Oct. 10 in Springfield, Mass.