New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen accused Republican challenger Scott Brown of "fear mongering" over the Ebola crisis Tuesday in a debate in Concord during which the candidates also clashed over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and health care.
The Senate race remains highly competitive in the final stretch, and Democrats are fighting to keep control of the Senate. Shaheen leads Brown by an average of just 2.6 points in recent polls, according to an analysis by RealClearPolitics.
Brown, whose campaign has focused intensely on national security issues in recent months, accused President Obama of failing to protect Americans from Ebola. “The president said we’re not going to have any issues here, we’re going to stamp it out in its tracks, and we had one person die and two others infected,” Brown said. He argued that the White House needs to implement a complete travel ban on individuals from African countries battling the virus, a move health officials and medical experts have warned could be counterproductive.
Shaheen said she was open to a travel ban “if we can figure out that actually improves the situation” and cited her work as New Hampshire governor instituting safety protocols during the 2001 Anthrax attacks as proof of her credentials. “We need to work together,” she said. “What we don’t need are people who are fear mongering, who are spreading panic in the public, because this is serious.”
“I’m not fear mongering, I’m actually talking about something that’s very important and relevant to people in New Hampshire,” Brown responded.
Brown urged shutting down the United States' southern border to guard against a possible incursion by terrorists and chided Obama both for not reaching an agreement to keep troops in Iraq earlier and for ruling out ground troops in the future.
“My question to the president and Sen. Shaheen is what happens if airstrikes don’t work?” Brown asked.
Shaheen said she supported confronting ISIS, but accused Brown of hyping threats once again.
“I don’t think we should send [U.S. troops] back as an occupying force as my opponent has suggested,” she said. “We do need to address the threat of ISIS. This is another issue where we need serious people working together in a way that is really going to address this threat, not fear mongering and raising claims that its going to bring down the country.”
Turning to immigration, moderator Chuck Todd of NBC News' "Meet the Press" asked Brown to name specific metrics he would use to actually determine whether the border was sufficiently secure.
“You know it’s secure when people don’t come across it,” Brown said.
Shaheen noted that the bipartisan Senate immigration bill she voted for included billions of dollars for fencing and additional border patrol agents.
“If you really want to secure the border then my opponent would take up that Senate bill,” she said.
Brown repeatedly cited an analysis indicating that Shaheen had voted “99% of the time” with Obama and the debate’s moderators pressed each candidate to demonstrate their independence from party leaders.
Brown was asked whether he would support Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as majority leader if Republicans took the Senate. Brown did not answer, but said “he did a good job under trying circumstances” during his own time as senator from Massachusetts. Asked the same question about current Majority Leader Harry Reid, Shaheen didn’t commit to supporting him but said she hoped there would be competition from other candidates for the job.
“I’m not going to speculate on who, but I think it’s important for us to have a contest in these positions, because we need to think about how we're doing business in the Senate,” she said.
On health care, Brown repeated his intention to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, a perennial but fruitless pursuit for Republicans.
“I’ve already voted five times to repeal it,” he said. “Sen. Shaheen voted as the deciding vote to implement it.”
Shaheen defended her work on the bill, saying she was “absolutely” proud to have passed it. She accused Brown of seeking to take away health care benefits from New Hampshire residents who obtained it under the law.
“I think making sure almost 100,000 people in New Hampshire have access to health care is real progress for people in the state,” she said.
In an unusual position for a Republican candidate this year, Brown defended himself from charges he would remove coverage from thousands of residents by citing his vote for Mitt Romney’s universal health care law as a state legislator in Massachusetts.
“Of course I want everyone to have health care,” Brown said. “I supported a bill that did just that. It worked for that state.”
As Obama often pointed out in his re-election campaign, Democrats credit Romney’s law with providing the framework for the Affordable Care Act. Republican leaders outside of Massachusetts largely disowned it as a result.