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Updated: Tuesday, 02 Oct 2012, 11:01 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 02 Oct 2012, 11:01 AM EDT
LOWELL, Mass. (State House News Service) - Clashing in their second televised debate, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren hammered each other on well-worn themes Monday night in Lowell as Brown stoked questions about whether voters can trust Warren, while Warren portrayed the incumbent as beholden to national Republicans.
Brown and Warren engaged in their second, hour-long debate Monday night at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center before a live audience of more than 5,000 elected officials and supporters who at times could not refrain from clapping and cheering for their candidate.
The debate, moderated by “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, followed a similar format to Gregory’s Sunday morning political talk show, with both Brown and Warren given ample opportunity to engage and Gregory pressing both for specific answers to his questions.
The first half of the debate centered on the themes the candidates have spent the past two weeks sparring over, namely Warren’s claim to Native American heritage and the legal work she did while a law professor for large corporate clients.
Warren also drove home Brown’s votes against three jobs bills sponsored by President Obama and Congressional Democrats as evidence of his partisanship, and said he had signed an “extremist right wing pledge” not to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires.
Brown countered by pointing to his work with Obama on an insider trading bill and another promoting the hiring of veterans, and said the so-called Buffet Rule that would require the wealthy to pay similar tax rates to those in the middle class “funds the government for a day.”
Warren accused Brown of claiming to be independent while telling potential donors around the country that his race was key to winning Republican control of the Senate. Pressed by Gregory on his support for Sen. Mitch McConnell as a potential majority leader, however, Brown said, “He has a lot of work to do to earn my vote.”
“Thank goodness we have people like me and others like me,” Brown said, calling himself the second-most bipartisan senator in the mold of outgoing Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe and others.
The debate drew dozens of state lawmakers, members of the Congressional delegation and candidates for office.
Perhaps the most memorable line of the night, and one that may have seemed familiar to viewers, came as Warren repeatedly tried to interject during Brown’s time to respond to a question on jobs.
The senator drew a rise from the crowd by reprising a line from a debate against Attorney General Martha Coakley when he admonished the Democrat by telling her he wasn’t a defendant in her courtroom. This time, Brown said, “I’m not a student in your classroom. Please let me respond.”
He later went back to the well when asked something he admired about Warren, saying he would work as hard as he could to make sure Warren remained in the classroom where she excelled, similar to what he said about Coakley being a good attorney general.
Brown also raised eyebrows when asked his idea of a model Supreme Court Justice. After pausing to think, Brown said he thought conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was a “good judge,” before rattling off other names like Chief Justice John Roberts and Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor.
When Gregory pointed out that Scalia, Roberts and Sotomayor seemed ideologically opposite, Brown quipped, “That’s the beauty of being an independent.” Warren cited Justice Elena Kagan.
On fiscal policy, Brown said he would “keep an open mind” about the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles report that proposed addressing the nation’s debt by combining $3 trillion in cuts with tax code reforms that would broaden the tax base and eliminate many deductions and loopholes.
“I’m not going to be raising taxes on any American in the middle of a three and half year recession,” Brown said.
Warren called the approach yet to be fully embraced by Obama a “moderate and sensible approach” combining cuts with new revenue.
After Brown used Warren’s own word to call her a partisan “rock thrower,” Gregory asked Warren if she could name a Republican senator she’d be willing to work with. Warren first named Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who lost his primary to a conservative Republican earlier this year. Reminded that Lugar will no longer be in the Senate, Warren amended her answer to say she could work with “virtually every Republican in the U.S. Senate” who agrees with the need to reform mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“I will work with anyone Republican, Democrat, independent, Libertarian, vegetarian if they will work for American families,” Warren said.
The debate started much like the first head-to-head matchup with a question about Warren’s ancestry.
“I consider myself as having a Native American background,” Warren said, when pressed by Gregory on whether she considers herself a minority. Warren has clung to stories of family ancestry to justify listing herself as Native American in legal directories
while on the Harvard faculty.
Brown once again called on Warren to release her personnel records to prove she didn’t benefit in her career by claiming minority status, and questioned her handling of the issue taking five weeks to fully explain herself to voters.
“No one questions what her parents told her when she was younger,” said Brown, who said he does believe she is qualified for the teaching position she holds at Harvard. Brown, however, said voters deserve an explanation about why she changed her ethnicity twice in the directories.
“When she says she can’t change who she is, she actually did twice,” Brown said.
Watchers observed that Brown appeared to be more on top of his game Monday than in the first debate, a bit more poised and seemingly able to make the critiques of Warren without the aggressiveness that drew him some criticism after his first debate performance.
“This was not a game changer, and the narrative of the race is unchanged,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College, who said both candidates performed solidly. “I don’t think either left with a slam dunk victory,” Ubertaccio said.
Minutes before the debate started, Warren released a list of the clients she represented before entering public service in 2008, including Travelers Insurance and LTV Steel, both of which Brown has used to attack Warren’s characterization of herself as a champion of the middle class.
“I’m a teacher. I have been out there as a consumer advocate and from time to time I have taken on a client because there was an important legal principle at stake,” Warren said, adding that in every case her work was about protecting workers and victims.
Having answered Brown’s challenge to release the client list, Warren challenged Brown to do the same. Brown said he already disclosed last week that he represented banks and mortgage companies in closings out of a home office during his time in the Legislature, but his campaign has not provided a detailed listing.
Warren said in both the case of Travelers Insurance and LTV Steel, she was fighting to preserve a trust fund for asbestos victims and mine workers’ health care, even if she also argued for immunity from future lawsuits in the case of Travelers.
Brown called it “laughable” that Warren can claim to have been fighting for victims while representing large corporate interests, and said attorneys have a choice of what clients they represent.
It was not until the second half of the debate that started with two questions from UMass Lowell students that the debate began to cover ground unexplored during their first encounter two weeks ago.
Asked by a student who earned his citizenship from the Dominican Republican whether they supported the DREAM Act, giving citizenship to the children of undocumented parents, Brown and Warren disagreed.
“I am in favor of full legal immigration. I don’t support the DREAM Act. It’s a form of backdoor amnesty,” Brown said, stressing the need to improve the country’s “legal immigration system.”
Warren, however, said she would “strongly” support the DREAM Act, and called for comprehensive immigration reform. “We can’t keep putting this off,” she said.
Asked about an “acceptable outcome” in Afghanistan, Warren said she supported bringing American troops home as soon as possible. “We can’t stay and rebuild Afghanistan forever, so having unrealistic goals and spending more money is the wrong approach.”
Brown said he worried about a resurgence of the Taliban and al Queda in that country and the possibility of nuclear technology being transferred out of Pakistan, but said he would rely on the guidance of the president and the generals on the ground to determine whether troops would need to be recommitted to that country.
After Brown used the honorific “professor” to refer to Warren about nine minutes into the debate, Gregory asked if Warren felt Brown used the term to paint her as an elitist. Warren said she was not bothered by the use of her title, and Brown said she had “earned it.”
On a lighter note with a nod to the debate’s co-host the Boston Herald, Gregory asked both Warren and Brown whether Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine deserved another year at the helm.
Warren at first said she was still in “wounded mode” after the Red Sox’s 90-plus loss season, but Gregory persisted. “This is the back page of the Herald we’re talking about,” he said. “Then I’d give him another year,” Warren said.
Brown wouldn’t say whether Valentine should stay or go. “I’ll leave it to Red Sox management, but they need to do better next year,” he said.
As for what she admires in Brown, Warren said, “I think Sen. Brown has a lovely family and I agree with him when he ultimately voted to get rid of ‘Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell.’”