Blackburn and Bredesen hold first U.S. Senate debate

A visibly nervous Governor Phil Bredesen took on an outwardly confident Representative Marsha Blackburn earlier this week as both candidates for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Senator Bob Corker held their first debate at Cumberland University in Lebanon on Tuesday night.

If you missed the is an abridged transcript written by yours truly on the fly. Remember: Caveat Lector! I am opinionated and capable of error on occasion...


Debate start:


Opening Statements:

Blackburn: My number one concern is to keep the economy going. We need to keep tax cuts.

Bredesen: My number one concern is dysfunctional Washington politics. I will help bring bipartisanship again. We need new leadership on both sides of the aisle.


What about the National Debt?

Bredesen: Tax cuts are usually a good idea, but a bad strategy this time. I think it’s possible to keep them but the methodology needs more work.

Blackburn: You fight this debt with a balanced budget amendment without tax increases. You embrace spending reductions and grow the economy. Tennessee is getting jobs because we continue to not have a state income tax.

(Rep. Blackburn has already mentioned the name of Rep. Chuck Schumer three times already. Blackburn looks very prepped, Gov. Bredesen looks a bit nervous on camera, but not as scripted as Blackburn …)


Healthcare affordability and the closure of rural hospitals?

Blackburn: Too many people cannot afford insurance under Obamacare and are paying the penalty instead. Obamacare doesn’t work. Bredesen wants universal health care meanwhile health care costs have gone up nearly 200 percent since Obamacare was implemented.

Bredesen: I was originally against Obamacare and incurred the wrath of then President Obama because of my stand, but I did my best to help make it work after it passed. Don’t sabotage it, make it work. There is no sense in destroying it. Two-hundred fifty thousand Tennesseans would lose insurance if people like Blackburn sabotages it.


How to prevent rural hospitals closures and help rural Tennesseans gain access to health care?

Bredesen: We need rural hospitals to partner with city hospitals, that is the future of rural health care...associations with city hospitals. We really need Medicaid expansion for Tennessee.

Blackburn: TennCare destroyed rural health care. It was the test case for Obamacare. Rural mayors say that they need community health centres and hospitals. We need telemedicine programmes to support rural healthcare providers.


What is your plan to combat the opioid epidemic? And do you support medical cannabis legalization?

Blackburn: I personally understand the issue from friends with children suffering from opioid addiction. We need more resources for law enforcement, and we need to secure our border.

Bredesen: I know people suffering too. My opponent has enabled this problem by friendship with big pharmaceutical companies. I will file a bill to undo what Rep. Blackburn did and help law enforcement in that way.

Blackburn: (Rebuttal) That is false. It was a bipartisan bill. We know prescribing limits work and law enforcement needs more tools to combat this epidemic.

(We now have at least five mentions of Rep. Chuck Schumer by Ms. Blackburn so far...Bredesen starting to look less nervous but Blackburn seems a bit more prepared. Visibly scripted, but far more telegenic right now…)


Let’s talk Trade War. What will you do to help Tennesseans dealing with the fallout?

Bredesen: We need to convince President Trump to back off this trade strategy now. It’s hurting Tennesseans and losing jobs. I understand the need to deal with trade issues, but it’s best to deal with the issue surgically and not broadly.

Blackburn: I am for free markets and I am not a fan of tariffs, but China has been in a trade war with us for decades. We need to have these tariffs and we need to get this trade war over with quickly. If they change, their markets will expand in the long run. They have to realize that.

Bredesen: (Rebuttal) These trade policies are really hurting Tennesseans. We should use our power and leverage to open markets, not close them.


What do you think are President Trump’s good and bad points?

Blackburn: I oppose his tariff policies and his spending, but I agree with his foreign policy efforts and his support of fully funding the military.

Bredesen: I support how he handled North Korea. It was a new approach that might work. His inclination to cut back on government too is also a good point. But his embrace of tariffs as a trade weapon is bad policy, and I am concerned he is driving wedges with our allies while cozying up to Russia.

Blackburn: (Rebuttal) President Trump is draining the swamp and cutting taxes. The President listens to the people.


Should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed by the Senate for the U.S. Supreme Court?

Bredesen: I appointed a lot of judges as Governor of Tennessee. This process by both political parties disgusts me. It’s now a circus. Rep. Blackburn said she would confirm Brett Kavanaugh within minutes of his nomination by President Trump. That is pure partisanship. We need to listen to Ms. Ford before we do anything else.

Blackburn: I believe anyone who makes an accusation needs to be heard, but I will still vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh He is qualified and what is going on today is nothing more than a Democratic Party public relations stunt. When Phil Bredesen was the governor, there were the same sort of incidents and allegations and his government did nothing while shredding the documents concerning it.

Bredesen: (Rebuttal) That is a total mischaracterization of what happened back then. I’m glad people came forward. We were trying to protect these people from being outed by the press by shredding some of those documents. I am in favour of policies that shield victims and accusers from violations of their privacy.


How would you deal with “Dreamers” and children of undocumented immigrant parents who grew up in America but are not legal immigrants?

Blackburn: President Trump has made an offer to grant legal status, but Rep. Chuck Schumer does not want a legal path. I believe there should be a path to citizenship for “dreamers”, but we need to secure the southern border to cut the drug pipeline and fight gangs too. We need to do away with sanctuary cities and chain migration. We need to protect our sovereignty.

Bredesen: I support securing the border. As governor, I sent (Tennessee National Guard) troops there. But we have a moral obligation to the “dreamers.” They were brought here and it is not their fault that they are in legal limbo. We need to get beyond this issue. Let’s stop the nonsense on both sides and solve this problem once and for all.

Blackburn: (Rebuttal) The U.S. Senate is dysfunctional, and I will be a help. Bredesen passed state legislation to give illegal immigrants driving certificates. As a result, Tennessee became a magnet for illegals.


What about refugees?

Bredesen: This issue is different from illegal immigration. We ought to be generous in our support for refugees, but I do support the right of the President to do what he feels best on this issue. We need to deal with the refugee issue in an intelligent way.

Blackburn: I work with immigrant Kurds in Tennessee. We should let those who worked with the U.S. military and who served our government as interpreters in first. We need to help and support them.


Gun control?

Blackburn: We can protect the Second Amendment and protect people too. Gun control legislation does not necessarily make people safer. Democrats like Rep. Chuck Schumer want to take away the Second Amendment.

(We are now at eight mentions of Rep. Chuck Schumer…)

Bredesen: I support the Second Amendment and I am a gun owner, but I believe you should put reasonable rules in place. The First Amendment guaranteeing the right to free speech is just as good too, but you cannot cry fire in a crowded theater. Background checks are important and should be expanded. We need proper funding for checks and a database. We also need a judicial process to forbid mentally ill people from legally possessing firearms.

Blackburn: (Rebuttal) We need to harden our schools. I support mental health checks for gun ownership. The National Rifle Association rated me an A; Gov. Bredesen got a D.


What is your take on infrastructure issues and how would you pay for it?

Bredesen: Infrastructure repair is a very important issue. The City of Memphis especially depends on its transportation infrastructure and needs a focus upon repair especially. We need to specifically target projects and not use a blanket approach for funding. That will make a big difference and truly get critical things done.

Blackburn: I have traveled over 50,000 miles across the state campaigning, and trust me...we do need some roadwork. Bredesen drained the road fund for other programmes as governor. If you are sitting in traffic, it’s his fault. From a Federal government viewpoint, we need to get rid of waste and fraud in the Federal funding and that will truly help with getting things done.

(Bredesen caught rolling his eyes on that one...)

Bredesen: (Rebuttal) When I came into the Governor’s office, we had a huge budget deficit. I asked all state government departments to cut their budgets accordingly, including the Tennessee Department of Transportation too.


Do either of you believe the press is the enemy?

(Yup...dead silence in the press room on that one. No, we didn’t know that question coming…)

Blackburn: No. The First Amendment and a free press are very important. Social Media is the real problem. They are prioritizing and censoring views.

Bredesen: The press is not an enemy...they are just doing their job. I was available to talk to them as governor, and that solved a lot. I will continue that as your senator. We do have problems with social media  but we can work together to make sure they not used by entities like Russia to hurt us. The First Amendment is the most important one and we do need a free press.


What are your views on Foreign Policy?

Bredesen: The United States has been the leader of the free world since World War Two. I am disturbed that President Trump seems to back away from this concept. We have to be willing to treat our friends in a proper way. The United States is an enormous force for good and we need to keep doing so.

Blackburn: I am glad President Trump engages our NATO allies. Former President Obama did not know who our enemies or allies really were, and President Trump’s policies are working.


Do either of you have any regrets while serving in public office?

Blackburn: I would have put more energy into across the board spending cuts. This national debt is frankly immoral.

Bredesen: I focused too much on college readiness in high schools. I would have tried other paths too in retrospect.


Closing statements:

Blackburn: I want to take Tennessee values to Washington. They need to listen to people like us. That is what truly drains the swamp. Phil Bredesen is Chuck Schumer’s number one recruit! He will help the government to spend more. I want to secure the border and build the wall, he doesn’t.

(We are now at ten mentions of Chuck Schumer in one hour by Rep. Blackburn...I may have missed some..)

Bredesen: Our government can be an enormous force for good. It just pains me to see what has happened with partisanship...we’re just shouting at each other now. What the people of Tennessee really want is someone with real business experience and government experience who will make things happen by pushing the partisanship to the side. I am that person and I am applying for the job.


Debate end.


Up front: there was no mention of LGBTQ+ issues whatsoever. That may change by the second debate.

My impressions: This was an impressive performance by Representative Marsha Blackburn. Say what you will about her politics, she was ready for tonight. Governor Phil Bredesen is just not as polished since leaving office nearly ten years ago, but that will likely change by the second debate.

Ms. Blackburn was Trump-light tonight. She made sure the viewers knew that she was still his supporter, but did a fantastic job of doing so without mentioning his name too much or calling attention to his...baggage. Mr. Bredesen on the other hand seems to be caught in a death grip of trying to be the polite, statesman-like, not visibly anti-Trump, pro-business without looking like a pro-business type and nice to a female opponent with a born and bred Tennessee accent all at the same time (my sympathy for the last one.) The middle road is turning into a major headache for the former Governor in a very partisan event such was tonight.

That said, Team Bredesen came out in full force earlier this afternoon with a very public rally just outside the debate location (and a marching band) while Team Blackburn was pretty much nowhere to be seen. Bredesen’s campaign fully engaged the press while the Blackburn campaign did completely the opposite.

It was the same after the debate...Rep. Blackburn came in for the presser then left with her staff while Gov. Bredesen did the same but his political supporters stuck around to chat up the press. Team Blackburn looks to be following a “speak only when you have to speak and never to the local press” plan.

My crystal ball says Mr. Bredesen will invoke the Trump name just as many times as Ms. Blackburn mentioned Chuck Schumer in the second debate and hope his opponent rises to the bait. A meltdown or a Trump-storm on Ms. Blackburn’s part would bring out the best side of Phil Bredesen. Most likely Team Blackburn will see that one coming, but you never know...


Let’s see what happens.



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