116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
JOHNSTON — A trio of Democrats vying for their party’s U.S. Senate nomination toed the party line on issues including protecting abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but showed their differences on canceling student debt, expanding the nation’s Supreme Court and which of them offers the best opportunity for winning in November.
The hourlong Iowa Press debate Thursday evening was in contrast to a debate two weeks ago when candidates Abby Finkenauer, Mike Franken and Glenn Hurst showed few differences other than on foreign policy and ethanol.
The candidates seeking the Iowa Democratic nomination are competing in the June 7 primary. Early voting is underway and will continue through June 6. The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who also faces a June 7 GOP primary that he’s widely expected to win.
The Democratic candidates agreed that the abortion rights established by the Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade should be codified into law.
“As a man, I would say no,’’’ Franken, 64, said when asked if there should be limits on abortion. “I believe that this is the responsibility of the mother of the woman and her doctor.”
“Body autonomy is part of being an American,” said Hurst, 51, a Minden physician and leader of the Iowa Democratic Party Rural Caucus. “A woman not having the ability to control her body at all times due a pregnancy would be out of the question.”
Finkenauer, 33, who served two terms in the Iowa House and one term in the U.S. House, agreed, adding “it’s why we need somebody standing on the floor in 2023 in the United States Senate who is a woman of childbearing age, who does actually have a personal stake in this.”
It was one of several attempts in the debate by the Cedar Rapids Democrat to draw a contrast with Grassley. If elected, Finkenauer said, the youngest woman to ever serve in the Senate would replace the oldest man in the Senate.
The Democrats showed their differences when asked about canceling college debt.
If Congress does anything, Finkenauer, who said she still has more than $20,000 in college debt, called for targeting relief to those making less than $100,000 a year. She also called for using college debt relief to incentivize people to work in areas where there has been population loss and their skills are needed.
When he went to college, Franken, a retired three-star admiral in the U.S. Navy from Sioux City, said, “An entire summer in the slaughterhouse could pay for an entire year at school.” Now, the state support for colleges is less and wage scales have not kept up with the rising cost of an education
“And if we constantly wipe out college debt, what do you think the cost of college is going to do?” he asked.
Hurst not only would support repayment of student loans but supported reimbursing those who have paid off their loans. He also rejected an income cap.
“Just because you did well, in spite of having been taken advantage of by a predatory loan market, doesn't mean that you don't deserve equality of the refund of your of your money,” Hurst said.
Hurst also staked out a difference in his approach to changing the Supreme Court. He called for expanding the court from nine by adding two justice every two years until there were 19.
“That gives us an opportunity to elect people who are going to run those confirmation hearings,” he said. Hurst also called for Senate rules reform that would require any nominee to have a confirmation hearing within 60 days. He would limit senators’ length of service on committees.
Franken called for term limits for justices rather than expansion.
“We can keep it at nine, but we should have term limits — 18 years — so that it doesn't become a partisan placement,” he said.
Finkenauer didn’t rule out expansion, but also called for term limits and eliminating the Senate filibuster.
“That's something that I think we should look at, specifically given the makeup of our Supreme Court and the fact that it has become so partisan,” Finkenauer said. “You've got these folks who sit there right now and it's basically dependent upon who we've got as United States president … or who's heading up the Judiciary (Committee), like we saw with Sen. Grassley.”
Reminded that Democrats have suffered a string of statehouse and federal election losses to Republicans, including Grassley, all three candidates voiced optimism.
Rather than run from the middle, Hurst highlighted his credentials as “a progressive candidate in this race that is different from the other candidates.” He’s the only candidate in the race to support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, for example.
However, Franken embraced the middle.
“This is a state where some counties have went 20 percent for Obama and then 20 percent for Donald Trump,” Franken said. “It's that middle segment who want logical, pragmatic, smart, dedicated national servants to work for them — leader servants.”
Finkenauer said she offers the best contrast to Grassley.
“We've got a senator who sits there and walks around like he's Mr. Rural America” while Iowa has continued to see small towns shrink and family farms disappear, Finkenauer said.
“This is what this race is about. It is making sure we hold him accountable and it's making sure you have somebody who doesn't want to spend their life in Washington, D.C., like he has,” she said.
A replay of the debate can be seen at IowaPBS.org.
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