After refusing to go toe-to-toe with his general election opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick agreed Thursday to debate television personality Geraldo Rivera over immigration and the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts.
Patrick first challenged Rivera to a debate during an interview with Fox News Thursday morning, apparently in response to Rivera tweeting that Tibbetts’ death was being used “to promote proven false notion that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately committing violent crimes.”
"The CNNs, the MSNBCs, most of the print media in this country and the Democrats — they are all accomplices in the death of this young girl and the death of everyone else," Patrick said. "And even Geraldo Rivera — I never met the guy, I seem to like him. I saw him on Fox saying, 'I feel badly about this, but —.' There is no 'but,' and I'll be happy to debate Geraldo Rivera any time, any place, anywhere on this issue. We have to secure this border and protect the lives of American citizens.”
Patrick, on Twitter, later made calls for a debate official.
“I am ready to debate @GeraldoRivera,” Patrick tweeted Thursday afternoon. “We immediately called @seanhannity but they haven’t put this together yet. Let me be clear. A 7 minute segment is not a debate. I will fly to NYC for 30 mins, face to face, Sept 4 or 5. Hope @seanhannity will graciously host. #txlege.”
“I agree to these terms,” Rivera responded. “Let’s see and hear who has the moral and legal high ground.”
Tibbetts, 20, was reported missing on July 19. After a man was charged Tuesday with her slaying, multiple news outlets reported that the suspect was in the country illegally, though the suspect's lawyer says that's not true. In the aftermath, some conservatives blamed the nation’s immigration policies and border security for her death.
Patrick’s calls to debate Rivera come just a couple weeks after the lieutenant governor said he had “no plans” to debate his November opponent, Mike Collier, who secured an invite by a local Fox News affiliate to debate in Houston. Patrick's campaign said at the time that voters know where Patrick stands on the issues.
"It’s no secret Lt. Governor Patrick relishes debates, but since his opponent shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government, our campaign has no plans to debate him," Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore said in a statement to the Tribune in July.
In a statement Thursday, Collier accused Patrick of being “scared” to face Texas voters.
“Wait ... so Dan Patrick has agreed to a debate on Fox, but with Geraldo Rivera? Texans see right past this clown,” Collier said. “Quit the stunts Dan, and stand up for yourself right here. Or are you not Texan enough?"
Disclosure: Allen Blakemore has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.