U.S. Senator Ed Markey and his Democratic primary challenger Congressman Joe Kennedy sparred on several topics during their first broadcast debate last night.
Markey used much of the hour-long debate to highlight his longstanding support for progressive causes, repeatedly mentioning his co-sponsorship of the Green New Deal, and pointing to his authorship of legislation to fund gun violence research and to protect the environment by doubling the fuel-economy standards.
" I have been leading and delivering," said Markey. " The fossil-fuel industry, I've beat them. The gun lobby, I beat them."
While agreeing broadly with Markey on many issues, including the Green New Deal and moving toward a single-payer healthcare system, Kennedy argued that he would be the better one to represent Massachusetts in the Senate.
"This is not about filing the right bill and voting the right way," said Kennedy. " We have to do everything we can to restore power to a Democratic party across the entire country. Flip the House, flip the Senate, flip the presidency and restore the courts. That is the type of leadership I can bring to the seat and I think that is what Massachusetts deserves."
Markey, who is 73, has served in Washington for decades, first in the House and since 2013 in the Senate. Kennedy, who is 39, is four-term representative from the state’s 4th Congressional District and a member of one the country’s most storied political dynasties.
This was their first debate since Kennedy announced last September that he would try to unseat Markey. It was broadcast from the studios of WGBH in Boston and heard live here on WAMC.
Money in politics was a topic in the debate. Kennedy was questioned about his investments, worth a reported $2 million, in fossil-fuel companies.
"There is not a single vote that anybody can point to that shows investment holdings that have been long held have influenced my vote once," said Kennedy.
Markey was on the defensive over his refusal to sign a so-called “People’s Pledge” to discourage outside groups from buying ads to try to influence voters. He’s proposed a watered-down plan that would allow some third-party participation.
"I have introduced a progressive people's pledge for 2020 to deal with the era of Donald Trump," said Markey. "We should have a pledge that keeps out dark money, that keeps out negative voices, but we should welcome positive voices."
Kennedy said it was " an exception that swallows the rule." He said deciding what consititutes a positive message would be totally arbitrary.
At the start of the year, Markey had about $4.5 million in his campaign account. Kennedy had $5.5 million.
Both Markey and Kennedy decried President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Markey said Democrats should file lawsuits to challenge Trump’s actions.
" We have to stop them in court," said Markey.
Kennedy, who recounted how he spent Father’s Day on the U.S.-Mexico border to witness how Trump policies are playing out, said negotiations with Republicans about immigration have been to no avail.
" You can not negogiate with a ghost," Kennedy said. " Every time we engage in negogiations, (Trump) changes his mind."
Two votes by Markey on foreign policy drew criticism from Kennedy – a vote on the House floor in 2002 to authorize the use of military force in Iraq and a 2013 committee vote as a senator on the use of military force in Syria. On the later, Markey voted “present.” He was one of just 81 House Democrats to support the Iraq war resolution.
" I regret that vote. It was a mistake," conceded Markey.
" Roughly ten years after that vote the Senator voted 'present'," rebutted Kennedy. " Not 'no' not 'yes' on a matter of war and peace, but 'present' and I think that record speaks for itself."
Markey touted several endorsements from several anti-war groups.
The candidates have agreed to participate in two more broadcast debates before the September 1st Primary. The next one is on March 18th in Springfield.