Candidate Q&A: United States Senate
Published 8:20 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Incumbent United States Sen. Tina Smith (DFL) is running against Jason Lewis (R) to represent Minnesota.
How do you grade the federal government’s response to the pandemic? Are additional measures necessary to spur the economy? If so, what?
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Tina Smith: In the Senate, I helped pass the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that included $1,200 per adult/$500 per child in direct cash payments to individual Americans, enhanced unemployment benefits, the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The package also included nearly $340 billion in aid to state and local governments, billions to hospitals and our health care systems, and several other key provisions that helped address the fallout of the economic shutdown.
But more must be done. It’s time for Mitch McConnell to quit blocking additional relief and bring up the House-passed HEROES Act for a vote. This would include more direct assistance to individual Americans, businesses, and state and local governments, as well as much-needed aid for the Postal Service.
Jason Lewis: Between the China travel ban (which Democrats opposed and decried as xenophobic) and actions taken to shore up medical supplies and resources to “flatten the curve,” the administration’s approach has proven effective. Having seen a drastic reduction in cases and mortality rates, it’s time to fully reopen our economy.
I was all in on “15 days to slow the spread” and its initial extension so that our health care infrastructure could shore up and flatten the curve. I have been proposing since April that we lift once and for all this economic lockdown that has plagued and derailed what had previously been the best economy on record, thanks to the tax cuts I helped pass in Congress. Americans indeed need more relief from the fallout surrounding COVID and the lockdown, such as SBA loan forgiveness, which I support and my opponent opposes, based on her latest “No” vote on COVID relief bills.
Police reform has become center stage since the George Floyd death and has prompted calls for legislative action at all levels of government. What actions do you support at the federal level?
Smith: The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others have underscored the dire need to systematically reform policing at the local, state and federal levels. All Minnesotans — including Black, Brown and Indigenous Minnesotans — should have the right to feel safe in their communities, and that includes when interacting with police. To do this, we must reimagine policing to ensure that de-escalation and community engagement are at the forefront of decisions and training. I helped introduce the Justice in Policing Act, which would change the culture of departments by holding police accountable, improving police training and practices, making lynching a federal hate crime, and making it a federal crime to conspire to violate existing federal laws.
I also wrote the Supporting Innovation in Public Safety Act, which would help state, local and tribal governments reimagine policing in their communities by funding innovative projects and best practices to transform how we deliver public safety and other social services.
Lewis: I know firsthand from marrying a St. Paul police officer that nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop. But to paint with a broad brush and label an entire profession as “rotten to the root” as Ilhan Omar did (who my opponent enthusiastically endorsed), is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Bad cops must be held accountable — that’s why I spoke out in favor of Sen. Tim Scott’s and Congressman Pete Stauber’s reform bill, the “JUSTICE Act,” while Sen. Tina Smith voted against it. But we owe it to the men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe, to stand behind them and support them, and I do. That’s why I’m proud to have been endorsed by the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
How do you grade President Donald Trump’s foreign policy record? Which of his initiatives do you support, and which do you oppose?
Smith: I am thankful everyday for the role that our brave service members play in preserving peace and stability around the world.
Over the past four years, President Trump has moved our foreign policy in the wrong direction by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, cozying up to dictators, and turning a blind eye to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and Russia’s ongoing interference in our elections. As a result, our credibility on the world stage has been diminished.
Lewis: The Trump doctrine of “America first” is precisely what the American people have been looking for in the post-Cold War era. We protect our allies abroad while disentangling our nation from foreign conflicts that have no direct national security threat to the United States.
Trump won in large part by running against globalism and nation building. He has fulfilled that promise and I support that. It’s the difference between a republic and an empire.
Do you support the expansion of association health plans?
Smith: I support expanding access to affordable health care by improving on the Affordable Care Act and by addressing the underlying issues that drive health care costs, such as the exorbitant prices of prescription drugs. I do not support expanding loopholes to make iteasier for insurers to sell Americans “plans” that lack many of the consumer protections provided by the ACA like coverage of essential health benefits.
We have heard too many stories of Minnesotans rationing their prescriptions due to the astronomical price tags of many life-saving medications. This should be unheard of in America. I have a track record of working across the aisle, and one example of this is my bipartisan law that helps lower the price of insulin and brings low-cost insulin products to market.
Lewis: I support association health plans which enable small businesses and the self-employed to compete with larger groups by forming their own pools. I also am proud of my efforts in Congress to reform ACA and lower premiums, deductibles and drug costs.
We now have two competing visions of what direction health care in America should take. A market-based system of private medicine with a safety net, or a heedless slide into a single-payer government run system.
Democrats now insist the only way to fix the skyrocketing premiums and deductibles that have been foisted upon us by Obamacare (which conservatives like me warned would happen) is to embrace a single-payer style health care system such as “Medicare For All.” Plans such as those supported by my opponent, Tina Smith, could force up to 50 rural Minnesota hospitals to close.
Lest you believe that more government is the answer to the issue of health care, ask Canada and Europe how their care rationing and months-long waiting lists are working out for their citizens.
COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the demands for and delivery of education. What role should the federal government play in ensuring that U.S. graduates can compete in the global economy?
Smith: We must continue to pass legislation and provide relief to individuals and businesses, ensure accessible COVID-19 testing to keep workplaces safe, and work across the aisle to make sure we build back better than before. Graduates are now in the unique position of job searching in a pandemic, and it is on us to ensure that businesses get the support they need to continue to hire and grow our economy.
Lewis: We are leaving an entire generation of kids behind as we continue to keep millions of them out of school with this never-ending, one size fits all lockdown. It’s imperative that we get our kids back in school safely, and I would fight for that as U.S. senator. On the other hand, my opponent, Tina Smith, has blocked COVID relief bills three times. The most recent iteration of COVID relief that she blocked in the Senate contained money to help get kids safely back in school.
Is the United States doing enough to reduce carbon emissions? What can the federal government do to promote homegrown energy?
Smith: We are at an inflection point and the science is clear: We must make big and bold steps to address the climate crisis immediately. I believe the U.S. must be a leader in this fight.
In the Senate, I wrote legislation to create a federal clean energy standard and set us up to achieve net-zero emissions from the electric sector by 2050. We must continue to support bills like this to ensure that our grandchildren have a safe planet to live on. I’ve also fought to protect Lake Superior from cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, I’ve pushed back on the Trump Administration’s reckless repeal of environmental protections.
Lewis: Under President Trump, for the first time, the United States of America is a net energy exporter. In order to promote homegrown energy, we need only continue the pro-growth, pro-energy policies promoted by the president and myself when I served in the 115th Congress. I would hate to see this progress reversed because we gave in to the short-sighted whims of radicals pushing proposals like the Green New Deal.
I don’t believe in hamstringing our economy and putting us at a competitive disadvantage relative to other nations who have no intention of meaningfully reducing emissions.
That’s not to say our nation’s energy policy should be heedless of concern pertaining to emissions and the environment. We need to continue to foster the surge we’ve seen in clean fracking. I have been a vocal and forceful advocate for the Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline, which would create 8,600 jobs in Minnesota and generate more than $19 million dollars in local property tax revenue. And yet, Minnesota Democrats throw hurdle after hurdle in its way, which is surprising considering the pipeline is so old and dilapidated that it can only operate at 50% capacity.
Protecting our land, water, and air and supporting our job creators and businesses are not mutually exclusive. Take the Minnesota Iron Range, for example. Some of the strongest environmentalists I know are also some of the most vocal proponents of new copper and nickel mining. We must lend more trust to businesses and individuals to be good stewards of the land.
Do you support the president’s actions on international trade? Long term, will they help or hurt the U.S. economy?
Smith: We need fair trade policies that help workers, businesses and farmers in Minnesota. That means standing up to countries like China when they violate international trade rules, but President Trump’s trade wars lack any apparent strategy and have resulted in chaos and uncertainty for Minnesota’s ag producers instead of the stability that they need.
I successfully pushed for improvements to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), including tougher worker protections and measures to improve our trading relationships and protect Minnesota farmers — especially dairy farmers. We must take a more thoughtful approach to trade policy than that of the current administration.
Lewis: Whether it’s China Phase 1 or the USMCA, I was proud to work with the president in Congress on scrapping decades-old bad trade deals that hollowed out the middle class, hurt our farmers and all but destroyed American manufacturing. Democrats like my opponent needlessly delayed the USMCA’s passage, and sadly, Minnesota’s middle class families, manufacturers and farmers are paying the price.