Dr. Glenn Hurst, former Rep. Abby Finkenauer and retired Adm. Mike Franken debated on May 7, 2022. (Screenshots courtesy of KCCI)
With just a month left to go before Iowa’s primary election, the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate sparred on Iowa television stations, sharing their stances on abortion, Ukraine and the Biden administration.
Three Democrats are vying for a seat in the Senate: former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken and Dr. Glenn Hurst. During Saturday’s debate, they criticized the decades-long record of Sen. Chuck Grassley, the incumbent Republican running for re-election.
The 2022 primary election will occur on June 7, 2022. Grassley also faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Jim Carlin.
Candidates grade Biden tenure as a B-average
President Joe Biden is not beloved by Iowans, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll from March. A majority, 59%, said they disapproved of Biden’s job performance. Only 35% said they approved.
The debate was hosted by Iowa Hearst television stations KCCI, KCRG, KTIV, and KWQC.
Debate moderators asked the three Democratic Senate candidates to give Biden a letter grade. They were sympathetic to trials of Biden’s first two years as president: Franken and Finkenauer gave him a B, and Hurst awarded a B-plus.
Franken said a variety of external issues had “bedraggled” the Biden administration.
“He didn’t plan on Ukraine happening. The president didn’t plan on the Trump administration doing so poorly to come out of the pandemic. He didn’t plan on the divisiveness which exists in America,” Franken said. “He didn’t plan on these things, and there was no ability to plan – who would have thought this?”
Finkenauer pointed to the successful passage of a major infrastructure bill, and she criticized the current U.S. Senate for stalling other pieces of the Democratic agenda.
“We have to have United States senators sitting there, wanting to do the work, bringing those investments into our communities and actually protecting buy-American and prevailing wage provisions on those projects,” she said.
Hurst, who framed himself repeatedly as the most progressive candidate in the race, said Biden deserved a B-plus for “phenomenal LGBTQ legislation” and the ambitious “Build Back Better” bill that failed to pass the Senate.
“We don’t want to be sending a senator to Washington, D.C., who is going to equivocate on some of these great progressive things that Biden put forward,” Hurst said.
Candidates would codify Roe v. Wade
All three Democrats criticized a leaked Supreme Court draft of an opinion that, if adopted, would overturn of federal abortion protections.
The candidates agreed that abortion should be protected federally. The U.S. Senate is set to consider a bill that would put the protections of Roe v. Wade into law, but the legislation is expected to fail.
Finkenauer and Hurst called for the elimination of the filibuster, a Senate rule that requires a 60-vote majority to pass laws. The Senate is currently split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, 50, making it difficult to pass laws without significant bipartisan support.
“We have to take back and actually expand the majority in the United States Senate so that we can get rid of the filibuster (and) make sure that we can codify Roe,” Finkenauer said.
Franken: U.S. needs to ‘step forward’ if nuclear weapons used in Ukraine
Debate moderators asked candidates if there was a “red line” at which the U.S. should send troops into Ukraine. Hurst and Finkenauer said they would not support a boots-on-the-ground response, instead pushing for additional humanitarian aid.
“We should be sending humanitarian efforts to all of the refugees that are pouring into Poland and countries surrounding the Ukraine,” said Hurst, who also called on Iowa to welcome Ukrainian refugees.
Franken, a former Navy admiral, recognized the difficulties of “being the world’s broad-shouldered democracy.” He advocated for sending troops to Ukraine if Russia utilizes a nuclear weapon.
“That’s a red line,” he said. “We must step forward. We cannot let the use of weapons of mass destruction against a large population – and a democracy – ever be used and go without retort.”
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