Updated, 7:40 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – The League of Women Voters has released a video of Sunday’s debate between U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) and his Republican challenger, Harry Arora.
The contentious conversation features a 23-minute long argument about the results of the Affordable Care Act and many criticisms from Arora of Himes’s record. Arora argued that he will get things done, and Himes said Arora was short on facts and plans.
Video of entire debate at end of story
Moderator Kay Maxwell began the Wilton debate by asking the candidates how they would strengthen the security of the election system.
“The good news is we have a diversified and de-centralized system,” Arora said. He advocated for the federal government to spend more resources ensuring that districts have the right technology.
Arora referred to “information warfare,” and said, “Much of the news is obtained through variety of sources, we need to be on guard… that large media companies don’t sway or favor one participant or one party or one idea over the other.”
Himes said he’s been “marinated” in information about the 2016 “very brazen” effort by Russians to get Donald Trump elected President, and criticized Trump for “waffling” in response. It would be tough to tell the New York Times what it can write, he said, and Americans have a “responsibility to know that what you are hearing, even if it makes you feel good, may not be true.”
“I do think that we want to make voting easier but there is a little bit of overreach going on where we do not want to require people should provide IDs when they vote,” Arora said. He claimed that requiring IDs “many times lead to fraud.”
“Media bias is immense,” Arora said. “Most media is very left. As a result, people like me, challengers get no air time. I have been calling station after station, media outlet after media outlet, and they have shown very little interest because they have an agenda.”
“Mr. Arora just said election fraud is a big thing. That is factually wrong,” Himes said. “… Voter fraud is not a big thing. It is not even a small thing – it is a tiny, tiny thing.”
A question about gun safety led to Arora arguing that he would have more credibility with people on both sides than Himes, because Arora hasn’t gone on television to say America needs Australia-style gun laws.
Himes replied that Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson has knowingly distorted his words, and he’s not in favor of confiscating guns. Ninety-six percent of Americans believe in universal background checks, Himes noted.
“This is not a fight between gun owners and non-gun owners,” Himes said. “… This is a fight between people who are reasonable and a very small group of wealthy people who are doing the gun industry’s bidding and causing havoc on American streets in the process.”
“That is where I say Mr. Himes is totally not talking to people, because when I go speak to people who own guns, they believe that he is going to take away all guns,” Arora shot back.
“Mr. Arora suggests that I don’t have any credibility because the other side doesn’t think I have credibility,” Himes said. “They call me a gun-grabber… I can’t take responsibility with fringe people who look at me and call me a gun-grabber.”
“Getting things done is most important,” Arora replied. “I am in this as a problem solver to get things done. What we heard just now is the whole idea that I don’t care, I have an excuse why I can’t get things done because somebody else is not listening to me.”
The Affordable Care Act has broken the private insurance system, Arora said, and “in most exchanges there is one choice.”
The law was designed without regard for the laws of economics, and that does not work, he said.
“I was listening for the plan,” Himes said in reply. “I didn’t hear the plan… I heard criticism, some fair, some not, but not a plan. That is of course why the Republicans stopped themselves from repealing the Affordable Care Act because they had no plan.”
There are 20 million Americans who have health insurance today who did not have it 10 years ago and the personal bankruptcy rate has been cut in half, Himes said.
Arora called Himes comments a “mumble jumble.” It’s not 20 million, it’s 14 million, and the 14 million is actually less than the Medicaid expansion, Arora said. He argued that one million members of the middle class have lost their insurance.
“I have a plan,” he said, under which people with preexisting conditions would be put in a separate pool and subsidized, and 50 million people in the individual market would have more options.
Arora’s facts are wrong, Himes replied. Aetna, United Healthcare and other insurance companies are doing well, and there are only a couple of states in the union that only have one choice, rural states where it’s hard to serve people, he said.
Since the Affordable Care Act, from 2008 to 2016, total average premiums have increased 46 percent but before the Affordable Care Act premiums had gone up 97 percent, Himes said.
Republicans are trying to hide that their one accomplishment has been to take $2 trillion and hand it to corporations, by attacking healthcare, Himes said.
“I have given all facts,” Arora said. “All I see is flowery language.”
The candidates agreed that the border needs to be secure, but Arora said Himes was wrong when he claimed that half of undocumented immigrants are here because they overstayed their visas, not because they snuck across the border. That figure is 25 percent, according to Arora.
Most of the people crossing the border are fleeing violence or seeking more income, and “I don’t care how big your wall is. As long as the incentive is there they will find a way,” Himes said.
A 2013 reform bill was passed by 68 Senators but died in the House when Republican Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t let it come to a vote, Himes said. He went on to say that he’d support e-verify, a mechanism that immigrants would use to prove to employers that they’re eligible for a job.
Himes did not vote for a bill this session that would have provided additional resources for security, Arora said. Most immigrants are looking for economic opportunity rather than fleeing violence, he added. “I don’t blame them but we have our problems too.” The immigration is hurting school systems, Arora said.
Himes said not only did Democrats not support the recent bill, but 112 Republicans didn’t support it either. It would have wasted $30 billion on a wall, and was a brutal and cruel bill, Himes said.
Himes is basically a rubber stamp for his party, Arora said. Himes replied that he is in the problem solvers caucus, which has lunch with Republicans once a week, but he is not interested in working with the “most aggressive, xenophobic extreme.”
In closing statements, Arora said Connecticut needs a new start, new ideas and new energy; Himes pledged to continue fighting “like a wolverine” for things like transportation infrastructure.