Democrat David Alameel threw jab after jab at U.S. Sen. John Cornyn during an hour-long debate Friday night in Dallas, trying to engage the Republican in a war of words. He called the two-term incumbent “a do-nothing senator” and suggested "he and his Wall Street buddies ought to move to China and leave us alone."
Yet Cornyn, sitting on a large campaign war chest and widely expected to win re-election, ignored his challenger's swipes, speaking about his hope to return to Washington and get things done in a Republican-controlled Senate.
"I believe we need a new direction, we need new management, new leadership and I believe the American people are ready to give Republicans a chance to lead," Cornyn said.
Univision hosted the debate at Mountain View College and will air it dubbed in Spanish on all its stations in Texas on Saturday night at 10 p.m. C-SPAN plans to air it in its original English on Wednesday at 9 p.m. Central time. The Texas Tribune will also post video of the debate online in its original English after Univision broadcasts it.
Questions related to immigration took up about half the debate, with both candidates saying they supported passing immigration reform but differing on what they thought was achievable in Washington.
“If we had been able to do it, we would have already done it,” Cornyn said.
He said the realistic goal for the near-term was passing measures on which Democrats and Republicans agree, like increasing caps on certain visas.
“I think the way we bring to do that is to break this down to smaller pieces,” Cornyn said.
Alameel, a millionaire dentist from Dallas who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012, said Republicans weren’t interested in real immigration reform, and said Cornyn’s claims of support for it were disingenuous.
“The only time he voted for immigration reform is when he knew the House would not even consider it,” Alameel said.
Alameel said he would fight “tooth and nail” to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“The only way to fix this problem is to stop deportations and keep the families together” until reform is passed, Alameel said.
Other policy differences between the candidates were drawn out over the course of the hour. Cornyn opposes legalizing medical marijuana in Texas. Alameel supports it, as well as decriminalizing recreational use. Cornyn opposes same-sex marriage. Alameel supports it.
Asked about the Ebola crisis in Dallas, both candidates agreed mistakes were made. Cornyn blamed the Obama administration for not providing proper guidance to Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, where the first Ebola patient was treated. Alameel argued that cuts in funding to federal health agencies were to blame. Both said they supported a ban on travel from Ebola-stricken nations.
The normally divisive issue of abortion brought about perhaps the strangest moment of the night. A moderator asked the candidates if they would support a federal law implementing the recent restrictions on abortion clinics that Texas lawmakers approved last year in House Bill 2 that have since shut down many clinics in the state. Neither answered the question directly.
“Personally I will tell you that I am pro-life,” Cornyn said. “That’s my view. Those are my values. But I believe women’s health is important.” He described HB 2’s provisions as improving the safety of women seeking legal abortions and “a step in the right direction.”
Though Cornyn has said in the past that he does not support the Roe v. Wadecourt decision legalizing abortion, Alameel interpreted his answer as a reversal of that view.
“His answer just now, he just declared he’s pro-choice,” Alameel said. “So I’m Catholic like him, and we don’t believe in abortion, but we respect the others and we want them to have facilities like he said he would. So we agree on this.” (Cornyn is a member of the Church of Christ.)
Near the end of the debate, asked to explain a decision they regretted, Cornyn cited supporting passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit during the Bush administration without insisting it include a way to cover the costs.
“There’s a bipartisan tendency to want to do things but not pay for them,” Cornyn said.
Alameel pointed to his past support of his opponent. A decade ago, he and his wife donated more than $10,000 to Cornyn's campaign.
“I have made many mistakes. One of them was John Cornyn,” Alameel said. “There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you learn from them.”
The candidates address Alameel's past support of Cornyn: