Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and his Republican challenger Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, faced off Tuesday in their only televised debate of the election season.
Kyle Clark and Brandon Rittiman of 9News hosted the debate inside the Colorado History Museum. Glenn’s will-he or won’t-he un-re-endorsement of Donald Trump and Bennet’s support for the Iran deal took up a good share of the hour-long discussion as Green Party protesters outside banged on the walls so loudly that at times the candidates struggled to hear the questions. But there was plenty of talk about jobs, infrastructure, bipartisanship, Syria, etc.
We’ve pulled some of the highlights for you here:
On Glenn’s support of Donald Trump or lack thereof
Clark got right down to business by asking Glenn “once and for all” if he supports Trump for president.
Glenn said his faith teaches him to forgive, and he wants to show grace to a repentant Trump.
“What you saw on Sunday, you saw an individual that actually made an apology,” Glenn said. “I’m a deep man of faith. I think it’s extremely important that if somebody makes an apology, my faith teaches me grace, mercy and respect.”
Clark asked if it was Trump’s apology (which was that he’s sorry, it’s locker room talk, he’ll beat ISIS) that led Glenn to give another chance to someone he’d called “disqualified” a few days earlier or if it was the relatively good reviews from Republicans for Trump’s debate performance.
Glenn said he still wants to meet with Trump in person so he can understand “what’s in his heart” because when he’s talking to voters, they ask him how he knows what Trump really thinks.
Referencing the way Glenn describes himself, Clark asked, “What is principled, Christian or conservative about supporting, abandoning and then inching slowly back toward a man who degrades women and boasts about assaulting them sexually?”
Glenn called this a “teachable moment about faith.”
“What I’m trying to show him is grace as a member of the family. … I want to learn from you what is in your heart. I want to share with you what I’ve learned on the campaign trail. There are true problems that people are suffering from. I want to show him that your words actually mean things.”
Glenn said his invitation to meet in person remains open to Trump and there’s plenty of time.
Then later that night, Glenn said, “I have absolutely suspended my endorsement of Donald Trump.”
I have to note the irony of this exchange later in the debate.
Bennet was asked if he agreed with Clinton’s comment that half of Trump’s supporters were a “basket of deplorables.” And Bennet said he did not. Glenn was then asked if he was troubled by the notable increase in “racist and anti-Semitic fervor” during this election and if he held Trump responsible?
“What’s troubling to me is that Bennet just admitted about the deplorable comment but when it came time to call the candidate out that said that, he didn’t do that,” Glenn said. “Are you willing to do that now?”
“I didn’t have to because she said she was wrong,” Bennet said. “She apologized immediately, and it was a sincere and heartfelt apology.”
Glenn said Bennet still waited too long.
“Leadership is you don’t need to take a poll,” he said. “You don’t need to wait. You do it when it happens.”
On Bennet making a deal with an Iran he can’t trust
Rittiman asked Bennet what it says about his judgement that he voted for the Iran nuclear deal even as he said he expects Iran to cheat on the terms.
Bennet said that before the deal, Iran was within a few months of getting a nuclear weapon, according to the intelligence provided to Congress, and now the country has given up most of its enriched uranium, its plutonium reactor has been filled in with cement and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are “all over the place.” (Here’s a guide to the deal from Politifact.)
“The consequences of not doing a deal would have been allowing Iran to build a bomb in secret with the money from the released sanctions and put the United States of America in a position of deciding when to attack Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. I’m glad we’ve done this without firing a shot. We need to be extremely vigilant.”
This allows the U.S. to deal with the other threats Iran presents without worrying they have a secret nuke, he said.
“That was the right vote. It was a difficult vote politically, but it was the right vote, and I’m glad I did it,” he said.
“Open trade and open borders”
This is an exchange that Republicans gleefully claimed as a Glenn victory. It begins with Bennet not answering a question by repeatedly asking for a definition and ends with Glenn just not answering a question, probably because there is not a particularly good answer to it.
Bennet was asked if he agreed with remarks made by Hillary Clinton in a leaked speech where she said she dreamed of open trade and open borders throughout the Americas.
Bennet said trade has been a net good for the United States, and he supports free trade, though not necessarily every trade deal. But on “open borders,” he said he didn’t know what that meant. Bennet said he would answer if the term were defined. He noted that the compromise immigration bill he negotiated as part of the Gang of Eight would have put an additional 21,000 border patrol agents on the Mexican border and he believes in the importance of a secure border.
On trade, “TPP may have fallen short, but we shouldn’t turn our back on the rest of the world,” Bennet said.
Rittiman then asked Glenn, who also opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, how he would create a more transparent negotiation process for trade agreements while still ensuring the deals could get done. Glenn used his time to go after Bennet on open borders.
“He knows what open borders mean,” Glenn said. “I would like him to at least commit to saying he would oppose the open border concept. … Open borders would mean clear access to this country without going through legal immigration process.”
“We all know what common language is, ladies and gentlemen,” Glenn continued. “This is what frustrates people about politics. Common sense will prevail. We all know what open borders means. It’s like an open door.”
Rittiman asked Glenn twice more to offer up any concrete change he would make to the trade deal negotiation process before moving on without an answer.
Fracking and the best president ever
Bennet and Glenn agreed that local communities should not be able to ban fracking through a vote. They also agreed that Abraham Lincoln has been our best president.
On Syrian refugees
Glenn said a religious test for immigrants was “overly broad” and that he did not support a “blanket ban” on Muslims. This is in contrast to his position during the primary, when he supported Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants.
He declined to answer repeated questions about whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is our ally against ISIS, as Trump said. Glenn said we have to look at threats to the United States. Bennet pleaded with the moderators to be allowed to answer that question so that he could say Assad is our enemy.
This was a question selected by 9News viewers by a very large margin. (The other choices were education and more Trump-Clinton talk.) What would the candidates do to maintain and improve our aging infrastructure?
Glenn said states and local governments could do more if they had the flexibility to set their own priorities rather than go through a cumbersome federal appropriations process. Keeping money and decision-making close to home would allow dollars to go further.
Both Glenn and Bennet oppose raising the gas tax. Bennet said it doesn’t make a lot of sense to raise it when cars get better gas mileage, and we may be on the verge of a switch to electric vehicles. Instead, he would pay for infrastructure by changing the tax law to bring home an estimated $2.1 trillion that American companies have stashed overseas.
Bennet also used this question to give a robust defense of bipartisanship and to criticize Glenn for comments in the primary that he would not reach across the aisle.
“Because of something wrong in our politics in Washington, D.C., we don’t have the decency to maintain the infrastructure, the roads and bridges, that our parents and our grandparents had the decency to build for us, much the less the infrastructure my children and yours need for the future.”
There was more: on guns, on health care, on bipartisanship. If you missed it and you have an hour between now and when you vote, you can watch the whole thing here.