Defending their platforms and tossing insults at each other, five Republicans — including the one endorsed by former President Donald Trump-endorsed candidate — running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania faced off Monday in their first debate since Trump weighed in on the widely-watched and crowded race.
Just weeks ahead of the May 17 primary election, conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, Montgomery County real estate investor and businessman Jeff Bartos, Trump-endorsed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, and former Trump administration ambassador Carla Sands answered questions about economics, immigration, reproductive rights, trans athletes, and COVID-19 in the one-hour forum hosted by ABC-27 News in Harrisburg.
A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll showed that the GOP primary race remains wide open.
Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on issues:
Every candidate said they support restricting abortion access, with only some — Bartos, Oz, and McCormick — saying they are in favor of exceptions in cases where a mother’s life is at risk.
Barnette did not answer whether there should be exceptions, but she has been a vocal opponent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision declaring access to abortion a constitutional right. Throughout her campaign, she has said that she opposes using taxpayer dollars to fund the procedure and recommended alternatives to abortion.
Sands did not specify whether there should be exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or health risks and said she is “pro-life at the beginning of life and at the end of life.”
Bartos, Oz, and McCormick said they support exceptions.
The candidates also used the opportunity to accuse Oz of “flip-flopping” on the issue. They cited a 2019 interview in which he said he disliked abortion and wouldn’t want anyone in his family to have one but added that he wouldn’t want to “interfere with everyone else’s stuff.”
Barnette said rising costs and lost jobs are the results of the “failed policies of the Democratic party,” saying they haven’t done work to address supply chain issues and have “weaponiz[ed]” climate change.
Bartos promoted his efforts to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, saying that the United States can use natural gas to power the nation and allies and create jobs.
He described the American Rescue Plan as a “disaster” and said the economy “will not get back on track” until people start working. Bartos added that the Biden administration “paid people to stay home.”
Sands argued that it’s important to bring back manufacturing jobs, saying that the United States should support low regulations and create domestic jobs to address supply chain issues. She said she would stop the “out of control” spending.
McCormick said the energy sector is “key to unlocking our economy” and creating jobs. He said natural gas extraction, fracking, is the best way to address the issue. He also said that the United States should enact “pro-growth economic policies” and cut back on spending.
Oz described the Green New Deal as “a false narrative” and promoted using natural gas to create jobs. He said he would work to reverse an executive order that prohibits drilling on federal lands.
Every candidate said they would support legislation prohibiting transgender women from participating in women’s sports.
Sands said that the COVID-19 response from “left-leaning” Democrats and mayors were “draconian.” She cited seniors who were “locked away” and businesses that were “destroyed.”
McCormick said that the pandemic taught him that individuals and businesses should get to decide what’s best for them.
Oz said mandates do not work and that the United States didn’t have leaders people trusted, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Barnette said the pandemic taught her that “COVID does not trump the U.S. Constitution.”
Bartos said that efforts to help businesses during the shutdown taught him that business owners want a “level playing field” and lawmakers who stop supporting policies that favor giant companies and corporations.
Bartos said the 2020 election “was a catalyst” for current events, citing a “lack of leadership” from President Joe Biden, “chaos” in Russia and the Middle East, and an economy “in disarray.”
Sands did not answer whether the GOP should stop talking about the 2020 election. Instead, she said lawmakers should focus on prohibiting third-party organizations from donating and helping to fund election operations.
McCormick said lawmakers should focus on efforts to reinstill confidence in elections, saying that voter ID is the “most important thing.”
Oz said Republicans cannot move on from the 2020 election and should continue efforts to review and improve the process.
Barnette said the GOP should “absolutely not” move away from the previous election, saying that reviewing it is the only way to ensure voters know their vote matters.
Immigration and foreign affairs
Asked about extending Title 42, a federal provision that allows the government to prevent migrants from entering the United States during an emergency, Oz said lawmakers “can’t use the cover of health” to deal with migration challenges. He said Ukrainian refugees should be allowed to come to the United States.
McCormick said keeping Title 42 was the “right decision,” saying that the United States must “secure the border” and finish building the border wall. He also said that the United States should not treat Ukrainian refugees differently and urged continued efforts to provide relief to Ukraine.
Barnette supported extending Title 42, saying that the United States should “secure the border.” He added that people should not be allowed to “shop for asylum.”
Bartos also supported keeping Title 42 in place. He promoted finishing the border wall.
Sands also said she supports finishing the border wall.
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