There was no name-calling and little confrontation in the second U.S. Senate debate.
Instead, Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Paul Sadler stuck largely to policy issues and even found a rare area of agreement Friday evening during an hour-long debate at KERA-TV studios in Dallas. The Texas Tribune was a partner in the debate.
“I think some people wanted to see fireworks go off and instead they got a debate,” Sadler told reporters afterward.
Any change in tone was due to Sadler, Cruz said.
“I tried to keep a very similar tone in both debates, which is laying out my vision of the direction this country needs to go,” Cruz said.
The debate panelists grilled the two candidates on immigration, health care, the economy and foreign policy. More than once, they asked Cruz a question multiple times because he didn't give them a direct answer.
Sadler said Cruz was unresponsive in both debates on issues he didn’t want to discuss and that voters should be bothered by that.
Cruz said that his views are in line with the majority of Texans' and that Sadler is to the left of President Obama.
This was likely the last televised debate between Sadler and Cruz before the general election. Sadler has called on Cruz to agree to more debates but Cruz has said that two are enough.
KERA Managing Editor Shelley Kofler served as moderator of Friday's program. Questions came from Kofler and a panel of journalists: Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey; Peggy Fikac, Austin bureau chief for the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle; and Pedro Rojas, reporter/news anchor for Houston’s Univision station, KXLN-Channel 45.
Fundraising and recent polls show Cruz a strong favorite for the U.S. Senate seat.
Sadler said he supports securing the border, passing the DREAM Act, allowing immigrants to apply for temporary worker permits and creating a “reasonable pathway to citizenship.”
Cruz said he wants to secure the border first and foremost.
Fikac and Kofler asked Cruz repeatedly about what he wanted to do with those already in the country illegally. Cruz answered repeatedly that securing the border must come first before those here illegally can be addressed.
“What it will then enable is a rational conversation about legal immigration,” Cruz said.
Sadler criticized Cruz for not wanting to address the millions of people already in the country illegally.
“To do nothing leaves us exactly where we are,” Sadler said.
Sadler said he supports it because he supports the DREAM Act.
“My concern about the executive order is that it can be taken away so now you have all these young people who trusted us,” Sadler said.
Cruz said Obama’s order was an “abuse of executive authority” and done for political reasons.
“I don’t think we should have a president who is setting aside the laws that are set by Congress and are passed into law,” Cruz said.
Sadler said the program doesn’t need to be changed but that some “hard decisions” need to be made. He said Obama’s health care reform bill will help extend the program.
Sadler said he believed rolling back the tax cuts need to be looked at and stressed the need for “shared responsibility.”
“I think if we raise taxes, it will kill jobs,” Cruz said. He said this is an area where he and Sadler sharply disagree and claimed that Sadler is open to raising taxes on “all Texans.”
“His position is substantially more aggressively pro-tax raising than Barack Obama,” Cruz said.
Sadler said you can’t solve the national debt just by cutting spending.
Cruz said he agrees with Sadler on this.
“The only way to cut our national debt is through growth,” Cruz said. Sadler said growth won’t be enough.
Kofler asked Sadler if he wants to roll back the tax cuts on everyone or just the wealthy. Sadler again stressed “shared responsibility” but
"I’m not going to split wealthy and poor,” Sadler said. “I’m not going to split middle class and wealthy.”
Sadler thinks so.
Cruz spoke about his interest in closing loopholes in tax law in order to raise more government revenue without raising the tax rates.
Sadler said people like anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist considers closing loopholes the same thing as raising taxes and that Cruz would be vilified by his Republican base if he successfully closed tax loopholes.
“I’ve lived through this before. If you close those deductions, you’re raising taxes,” Sadler said.
Cruz’s response: “I think Mr. Sadler and I have different definitions of raising taxes.” He said eliminating loopholes while lowering rates is not raising taxes.
Ramsey pointed out that closing a loophole but reducing a rate will raise taxes on some people. Kofler moved the debate to another topic before Cruz could respond.
Ramsey said many doctors are refusing Medicaid patients. How would the candidates address this problem?
Cruz advocated for allowing Texans and all Americans to purchase health insurance “across state lines.” He said a “50-state market” would lower costs and allow for more people to be covered in the private market.
Sadler said Cruz’s plan wouldn’t lower costs and that there would always be people who can’t afford health insurance. He said he’s “not afraid” at looking at raising taxes because some government services are too important.
Cruz said no, calling such policies a violation of the “right of religious liberty.”
Sadler said women have a right to contraception regardless of the religious affiliation of their employer. He said the issue is an “easy decision.”
The first question was about what happens if Fidel Castro dies. Should the trade embargo be lifted?
Cruz said Castro’s brother is also a “tyrant” and that America’s Cuba policy shouldn’t be changed until Cuba stops being “a totalitarian state.”
An uncharacteristically succinct Sadler said he agreed with Cruz.
“There are reasons why the embargo is in place and I just agree with him,” Sadler said.
Cruz pointed to his work on a Medellin vs. Texas case as an example of “standing up” to members of his own party. In that case, Texas defied the Bush White House regarding whether to obey a World Court order to review the case of a Mexican national who had been sentenced to die. The US Supreme Court ultimately sided with Texas.
Cruz also pointed to the “strength of the grassroots” in his campaign.
Sadler said “character is born over a lifetime” but pointed to the car accident that put his son in a four-and-a-half day coma. It showed him what was important in life, he said.
He also pointed to his legislative experience.
“Being chairman of a committee, sheparding through legislation, actually doing the things Mr. Cruz talks about requires character every single day,” Sadler said.
Kofler asked about a policy area that the candidates were looking to increase their understanding on once they are in the Senate.
Cruz said he was seeking advice from the current U.S. Senators from Texas and others to get better prepared for the job.
Kofler asked again if there was a policy area he was hoping to learn more about.
Cruz didn’t say but added that he plans to work very hard if he’s elected.
Sadler said foreign policy was the area he was hoping to learn more about if he is elected Senator.
“We aren’t privy to the security briefings” like members of Congress are, he said. He said he’s been more “measured” in his foreign policy comments because he knows he’s missing that information.