BRANSON — Candidates for Missouri’s U.S. Senate seat debated Friday afternoon, with Democrat Jason Kander emphasizing the need for new faces in Washington, D.C., while incumbent Republican Sen. Roy Blunt touted his almost two decade of experience in Washington.
Kander, the Missouri Secretary of State, and Blunt, who served seven terms in the House before election to the Senate in 2010, were joined by three third-party candidates, including Libertarian Jonathan Dine, Green Party candidate Johnathan McFarland and Constitution candidate Fred Ryman during the forum hosted at the 150th annual Missouri Press Association convention Friday afternoon in Branson.
While the senate debate wasn’t quite as lively as the debate for Missouri governor earlier in the day, both Kander and Blunt still took jabs at each other’s records in their first debate for the upcoming general election. Kander has repeatedly said things won’t change in Washington unless voters change who they send to represent them. Blunt responded Friday by saying his experience matters and will play an important role in the coming years.
The moderator’s first question was whether or not the candidates think the U.S. Senate is working, noting it worked less days in 2016 than in 60 years.
The need for the Senate to work more days has been a large part of Kander’s campaign, and he was quick to remind the audience of the many issues senators left unsolved when they went on a recent seven-week break.
“The interesting thing about that is it’s not as if they’d gotten all their work done. They had plenty left on the table,” Kander said. “They just the other day finished funding the government, they had to hurry to do it when they got back, and prior to that everything from the Zika virus to the fact they haven’t really updated even at all really seriously debated the authorization of military forces against ISIS.”
Blunt said senators need that break to spend time in their respective states.
The candidates were also asked about how they would approach Supreme Court nominees, as the next president will most likely appoint several and the U.S. Senate confirms the nominees. Kander said he would meet with the nominees, no matter who is elected president, and judge their qualifications.
Blunt didn’t exactly answer the question, but reminded the audience how important this upcoming election is, for both president and Senate, because of those upcoming nominations.
“I think the next Senate and the next president will have an opportunity to reshape the court that you probably won’t see happen for two or three presidencies,” Blunt said. “… One of the things voters ought to be thinking about is who’s going to be nominating judges to the court and who’s going to be confirming those nominations.”
A question that seemed to stem from the previous question about if the Senate is working, the candidates were asked if they thought Congress waited too long to provide funding for Zika virus research.
“Yes, Congress waiting too long and they were busy taking seven weeks off to campaign or vacation for those that weren’t up for re-election,” Kander responded immediately. “I don’t think that was the best use of their time. That’s one of the differences here — I saw that as something pretty urgent that should have been dealt with, and that really goes back to the make-up of Congress.
“Right now we have the fewest veterans in Congress than in any time since World War II. It is not a coincidence that we have so few people — in either party — who have the ability to put aside their differences or personal opportunity and actually work together.”
Blunt noted that he was part of the pair that helped with a compromise to pass the Zika funding bill.
“The administration again saw a crisis and overreached and tried to make the most of it, but even though they asked for $1.9 billion … we came quickly to $1.1 billion,” Blunt said. “Sen. Murray, a Democrat from Washington, and I came up with that compromise, 89 senators voted for it. I wanted to get it done before we left in July but we did get it done when we got back.”
The final question was about Kander’s recent campaign ad that has been widely seen, showing Kander put together a rifle while blindfolded and talking about his support of both the Second Amendment and background checks for gun owners.
“I support the Second Amendment,” Kander said. “Here’s the difference between me and Sen. Blunt. I’m a gun owner and I learned how to use a gun in the army and I’m also a father. … I believe what we need to do is we need universal background checks, we need to expand criminal background checks. I believe that’s very important. Sen. Blunt is about to tell you about his NRA rating, but I would put my marksmanship badge against a political rating any day of the week.”
Blunt did in fact tout his A rating from the NRA — Kander received an F.
“Of course nobody wants criminals or terrorists to have guns. What a foolish line to try to draw,” Blunt replied. “… You got an F from the NRA in the General Assembly. Not easily done, fewer than 10 percent of the members of the Missouri General Assembly manage to get an F.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.