U.S. Senator Al Franken and Republican opponent Mike McFadden had their first one-on-one debate Wednesday in Duluth.
Sure, Franken and McFadden met before at Farmfest, but they had to share the stage with a lot of other candidates then. This debate is just the two of them. It was interesting.
Watch the replay here.
Watch debate highlights and post-debate interviews here.
(Please note, there were some technical problems with the livestream. The audio at the end of the debate was missing on our original video. The new video has all of the audio)
Transcript by Susan Maricle
RW = Roger Wedin
CF = Chuck Frederick
AF = Al Franken
MM = Mike McFadden
RW: Well good morning everybody and welcome this morning to this morning’s candidate’s forum. I’m Roger Wedin director of policy and education at the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce along with my friend and fellow moderator Chuck Frederick, editorial page editor of the Duluth News Tribune and our partner for these candidate forums.
Just a couple of acknowledgments this morning if I could. I’d like to thank the generous graciousness of the Playhouse for offering us the use of their facility. Christina and Tessa have been particularly helpful in helping us organize all that goes into the logistics of this kind of a gathering.
I’d also like to thank the Duluth Superior Community Foundation and the Speak Your Peace Ability Project. All of you were handed a leaflet as you came into the auditorium this morning, talking about what we expect to be the civil discourse that we hope to have this morning.
And on that note, I’d just like to set out some expectations for our gathering this morning. We’d ask that there be no applause until the end of our forum. We’ll accept no shouting or heckling. Our friends from the Duluth Police Department are on hand if they do need to help us keep the peace
Candidate Off camera: Ha!
RW: My experience in the past has been that we can expect a civil forum this morning with no problems in that regard. With that note, Chuck, perhaps you can get us started.
CF: Thank you very much, Roger. Listen, the heckling thing goes for you guys too up here, so. Welcome everyone to this candidate forum. Also, welcome those watching at duluthnewstribune.com, at theuptake.org and also on MyNine. The News Tribune editorial board members are also here, I wanted to mention, and our publisher Ken Browell is here.
Candidates, gentlemen, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the News Tribune’s Kris Vereecken sitting in the front row, Kris, why don’t you raise your hand. Kris is the one on the stopwatch, on the timekeeper, and she will hold up signs that indicate how much time you have left to answer. Most of your answers are going to be about two minutes for the questions. We’ll give you a little bit more on closing, closing remarks.
With that let’s let’s get started. No one came here to hear me talk. So we will begin with opening remarks, kind of a chance to set the tone, talk a little bit about yourself, whatever you want to talk about, I guess. You’ll get, each candidate will get two minutes. Senator Franken, as the incumbent, we’ll begin with you sir.
AF: Thank you. Good morning and I’d like to thank the Duluth News Tribune and the Chamber for hosting this debate. Northeast Minnesota took it on the chin in the Great Recession, but you’re fighters and Duluth is coming back strong. I’ve done everything I can to be a partner with you in that process
Off camera cough
AF: because we gotta make sure that recovery reaches everyone. Because mining is so important to this region, I worked across party lines to pass a bill that made sure that American steel is used in federal water projects. And which secured the funding for the dredging needed in Lake Superior. And because Duluth’s harbor is so important to our state’s economy, I successfully fought to get millions for dock, for harbor improvement.
I fought to make sure that the award winning 148th Fighter Wing became an active associate unit. So it could continue to be at the center of Duluth’s burgeoning aviation sector. Some of the 148th work with AAR. And I’ve seen AAR partner with Lake Superior College to train up new mechanics to service the jet liners at the airport.
See, we have a skills gap in this country. Three million plus jobs that businesses can’t fill because they can’t find workers with the right skills. So I took this model of community and technical colleges working with different business sectors to train up skilled workers and made that a focus of Congress’s first successful reform of our federal workforce training system. Now more Americans and more Minnesotans will have the opportunity to train for these high-skilled good-paying middle class jobs that will make our economy stronger.
It’s been an honor working with and for the great people of Minnesota in the United States Senate. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that our state and country work for all Minnesotans. And I look forward to this debate to discuss how we can build on what we’ve achieved so far. Thank you.
CF: Thank you Senator Franken. Now Kris, don’t be shy about waving the time cards up. Make sure the candidates get your attention, or you get their attention I guess. Mr. McFadden. Two minutes sir.
MM: Thank you Chuck, thank you Roger for the invitation this morning. I want to thank the audience I appreciate you being here at an early time in the morning. And I want to thank Senator Franken for your service over the last six years. I appreciate it. And I wanted to recognize Franni. The two of you are celebrating your 39th wedding anniversary I understand, tomorrow, so a day early I’d like to congratulate you on 39 years.
AF: I was nine years then.
MM: You can use it again.
MM: You can use it again. I’m Mike McFadden. And I’m running for the U.S. Senate because we can do better, we have to do better. I’d like to describe myself as just a dad. My wife Mary Kate and I have been married for 23 years and we’ve been so blessed. We have six children. Five boys, and my daughter Molly who I like to describe as a rose among thorns. Mary Kate and I are so concerned about what we’re handing off to our children. Seventeen and a half trillion dollars of debt. Now we’re asking them to pay for our healthcare system as we get older with a system that does not work and needs to be fixed and I will do that. We also have an overzealous regulatory agency that has absolutely been an enemy of mining and farming and I will fix that.
I am running against someone, Al Franken, who has voted with President Obama ninety seven percent of the time. And as I’ve traveled across our great state, what I hear consistently is people don’t believe that the President is leading us in the right direction. This economy has gotten absolutely sideways since Al Franken took office. Wages have not increased but every expense is going up. Whether it be food, gasoline, energy and now healthcare. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
This is America, we are greatest country in the world. I know how to get us back on the road of growth and prosperity. I have a plan. I am an independent thinker. My plan is called the Three E’s. Energy and mining. I will get these mines open. I promise you. Education and effective government. I look forward to speaking to you about those three E’s throughout this morning.
CF: Thank you both so much. I’m glad you touched on some of the issues. We will definitely get to the issues, the critical issues, throughout our questions. We have nine or ten questions. But first of all I want to talk, or ask you each about some of the more mean things, the nasty things, the negative things said by your opponents, said by in the commercials. If we are to believe the commercials, Mr. McFadden you are nothing more than a millionaire investment banker. You are out of touch with how most Minnesotans live. And you side with corporations and profits over people, and you hide your money offshore. How, how do you respond to critics who say you’re wrong for Minnesota? And Senator, we will get to you with some of yours too. But Mr. McFadden, you first.
MM: You know, I I’m proud of my business career. I’m very proud. I’ve worked very hard. My dad grew up on a dairy farm. My grandfather, his dad died when he was six years old. My dad was able to go to college because my uncle John who ran the farm paid for it. And so I’ve been able to participate in the American dream. I’ve worked hard. I’m really proud of that. And I will not apologize for it.
I I am very disappointed in Al Franken to run negative ads. They are patently false. And every news organization has come forth and said they are false. I run a company that’s headquartered here, that’s incorporated here, that pays income taxes in the United States. We can do so much better. I am so tired of politics as usual. That’s why I’m running. I’ve entered the private sector. I believe that the biggest single issue in this country is we’ve created this professional class of politicians and it’s killin’ us. And I believe in six years, that Senator Franken has become part of that professional class. He has voted with the President 97% of the time. That’s a fact. That’s not my opinion. He is the most partisan Senator in the Democratic Party. He has voted 159 out of 161 votes with the Democratic Party. That makes him the most partisan Senator in Washington. That’s a fact. That’s not my opinion.
I left my job and I put my family at risk because I fundamentally believed that we can do better in this country and this state. We have the opportunity to see our best days ahead of us by getting onto the pathway of growth and prosperity. And it begins with energy and education and effective government. We are sitting on the doorstep of an energy renaissance if we allow it to happen and get the EPA out of the way. I will get pipelines built. I will get the mines open. And that will allow us, and allow me to put more money into your pockets and allow us to grow at four to five percent a year as opposed to a half a percent to one percent that we’ve seen under President Obama and Al Franken.
CF: Thank you very much Mr. McFadden. Senator Franken in the same way if you believe some of the websites that are out there, some of the commercials I’ve seen, you’re you’re just nothing more than a comedian, don’t spend any time in Minnesota, you vote robotlike with Obama and the Democratic Party as your opponent has pointed out several times. And even proposed abortion on demand. How do you respond sir to critics who say you’re wrong for Minnesota?
AF: Well, (clears throat), I don’t subscribe to those websites.
AF: You know, I always vote in what I believe is in the interest of the people of Minnesota. And I, and in an era where there’s been a lot of gridlock, I’ve worked across party lines to find common sense solutions to things. I’ve worked with so many of my Republican colleagues. With Dick Lugar on the National Diabetes Prevention program, which is saving lives. Which is, seventy five percent of the cost of our healthcare is on chronic diseases, and diabetes is one of the biggest. On Workforce Training with Lamar Alexander, a Republican of Tennessee. On pharmaceutical safety, I did a bill with Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas.
The Farm Bill, one of the most bipartisan bills that we did, I wrote the, cowrote the energy title on that bill. And worked for Minnesota’s renewable energy. My first bill was a veterans bill with Johnny Isakson of Georgia. That was on, that was a veterans bill. We had this propane crisis this past year. I have a bill that’s cosponsored by Rob Portman, a Republican of Ohio. I’ve worked across party lines and gotten things done.
Part of the reason we had this meltdown, six years ago, five years ago, was because the credit rating agencies, Standard and Poor’s, gave triple A ratings to all this junk. I did a bipartisan bill to regulate those credit rating agencies so they can’t give Triple A to these structured financial products. And I did that with Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi.
Look, you can slice and dice these numbers any way you want and come up with with things that say pretty ridiculous things. But I’ve worked for Minnesota every day that I’m there and I’ve been proud to do that.
CF: Thank you Senator Franken. Let’s get to the issues now. Rod –
MM: Excuse me. Can – I was told that we get a rebuttal.
CF: We’ll give you each thirty seconds if you want to rebut each other’s negative ads.
MM: Yeah, y’know I’d love a rebuttal. Because one of the things I’m gonna ask everyone to do is watch Senator Franken’s actions, not his words. Politico magazine ranks Senator Franken 100 out of 100 Senators in their ability to cosponsor legislation. That’s a fact. Not my opinion. He is the most partisan Senator in the Democratic Party. That’s a fact. Not my opinion. He has done nothing to accelerate the PolyMet mine. He has not approved the Keystone pipeline which has been under review for six years. PolyMet’s been under review for eight years. Look at his actions. Not what he says.
CF: Senator Franken, thirty seconds.
AF: We can take these issues one by one. Look, that study that says I’m the most partisan said that Ted Cruz was one of the most nonpartisan Senators in the United States Senate.
AF: He’s the guy who led the shutdown of the government. So if you’re citing that kind of thing, I think that shows kind of a weak position. That’s all.
MM: They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum.
CF: Thank you.
MM: Al Franken is the Ted Cruz of the Democratic Party.
CF: Let’s, let’s –
AF: Except that Ted Cruz is right there more more bipartisan than a majority of the Senate.
Candidate cross talk
MM: He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum.
RW: All right, let’s move on with some of the issues which have already been touched on in your opening remarks and that’s oil and pipelines. We see it in the news, farmers and agribusiness frequently complain that North Dakota oil is, shipping is tying up the railroads, impacting delivery of crops to market. Discussion of that issue often leads to the question of pipelines. What’s your position on safe transport of oil, the backload of commodities to market, and ultimately where you stand on the expansion of pipelines. Mr. McFadden.
MM: Well, I’m I’m a huge huge fan of energy. And I’m a huge fan of pipelines. And I will work hard to get pipelines built and approved. We are sitting on the doorstep of an energy renaissance in this country that will allow us to see our best days ahead of us as opposed to behind us. We have the opportunity to be energy independent. Which is historical and a game changer. We’ve not been energy independent since the early 1960s. And what energy independence allows me to do for you is to put more money in your pocket. Heating bills go down. Gasoline prices go down. We’ve had over a thousand days in Minnesota of gas being above three dollars a gallon. In December of 2008 gas was a buck sixty. Most importantly as a businessman, what I know is that with low-cost energy, we become a manufacturing superpower again. We’re able to compete again globally. We’re able to insource good-paying, high-paying jobs. Not outsource ‘em. I’m a huge supporter of U.S. Steel. And I’m gonna tell you the facts here. The number one way to make our steel industry as competitive as it can be globally is to lower the cost of energy. Al Franken wants to get rid of the coal industry which will ruin the part, port of Duluth. Half of the tonnage that’s shipped out of this port is coal. I was up in the Minorca mine. They spend one point three million dollars every month on electricity which is driven by coal.
I will drive down energy costs, I will make our industries more competitive, I will get us back on the road of growth and prosperity, and that’s why I want your vote.
RW: Senator Franken.
AF: We need a diverse portfolio of energy and that includes fossil fuels. But as Mr. McFadden has acknowledged, global warming is real, and eventually we are going to have to move, move to renewables. We’re just going to have to do that. And that will be good for Minnesota and good for our our economy.
We don’t have any fossil fuels here in Minnesota. Now, you can grow a crop, a big crop. If you can’t if you can’t get it transported someplace that’s that’s a problem to market. And that’s why this rail issue is so big. So much of rail use is now for the Bakken crude. And now I’ve been going to the surface transportation board since I got to the Senate. Captive rail is something I’ve been very interested in. And actually worked with Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana to get the costs of filing a complaint with the surface transportation board which regulates the radios, rather the railroads from twenty thousand dollars to three hundred fifty dollars. so people can file a complaint.
I got the surface transportation board to come out here. I testified before them, got them to come out to Minnesota and give orders to BNSF and Canadian Pacific to have them, to make them sure, make sure that they would get fertilizer to our our our farmers. And then I got back at em again. And gave em rules to clear up this backlog on on grain shipments. But it’s not just grain. It’s taconite now we know. It’s coal for our utilities. Yes we, I’ve worked with our rural electric co-ops. They use coal, I don’t want to get rid of coal. But we have to and one of the things we’re using for electricity now is natural gas. That came from this renaissance in fracking which was developed by the Department of Energy. That’s why we like to do energy research. This is, I’m Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and this is something that I love talking about.
CF: Thank you both very much.
MM: Excuse me. We get a minute response, right?
CF: One minute rebuttal. Correct.
MM: Sen – Al, with with all due respect, your lack of an energy policy and the lack of an energy policy from President Obama has caused a rail car shortage. There’s not been one pipeline built, you haven’t approved any pipeline. The Keystone pipeline has been under review process for six years. That’s crazy. That is too long. Pipelines are proven to be the most effective, most efficient, most environmentally sensitive way to transport oil. And until you start passing pipelines, we’re gonna have a rail car shortage.
I know how to fix this economy. I know how to get us back onto the road of growth and prosperity. And you are putting band-aids as opposed to going to the root causes. We need pipelines in this country. I want everyone to know, in this room and in this state, that I am for pipelines. I will get them built. I will — that is the number one way to alleviate our rail car shortage.
CF: Thank you. Senator.
AF: Uh, the Keystone pipeline really had nothing to do with Bakken oil. This is for tar sands oil. Uh that’s just the case.
MM: How about the Sandpiper and High Prairie in Alaska
AF: Wait. (to moderators) Can I just
AF: Yeah. Uh, I what I voted is to not circumvent the regulatory process on Keystone. What I have voted for, and let me tell you what I’m for on Keystone, what I have voted for. I have voted that if we make, if we build the Keystone pipeline, that it will be built with American steel. Mr. McFadden, after our first debate, said that it would be fine, it would be OK with him, if the Keystone pipeline were made with Chinese steel. If we’re a little bit cheaper. Now those are Minnesota jobs. I fight for Minnesota jobs. Maybe that’s the difference between me and Mr. McFadden. Maybe he sees profits over people. When I when I see a pipeline I want it built with American steel. And we have other pipelines to carry Bakken. We have to make sure that they’re sited correctly, they’re not going through the headwaters of the Mississippi. But yeah, pipelines are a more efficient way than rail in many cases.
CF: Thank you Senator. As much as I want to move on to the next issue, I I do want Mr. McFadden to address the Chinese steel issue just just very quickly, just thirty seconds.
MM: Absolutely. You know the difference between Senator Franken and myself is that I’ll talk straight to you. I will talk straight to you. I don’t want to see foreign steel used in pipelines any more than Senator Franken does. He doesn’t want you to know that he’s voted against the Keystone pipeline. Period. That’s, that’s facts. He has voted against the pipeline multiple times. I’ll get the pipeline built and by taking advantage of our energy renaissance, is the number one way to make U.S. Steel as competitive as it possibly can be. I know that. I know that and I’ll get it done. That’s a promise.
CF: All right, let’s move on, move on to the next issue. Nine long years, maybe even ten now, that’s how long PolyMet of course has been working to get permitted and to start mining copper and nickel and other precious metals up in northern Minnesota here. Once they start, then there’s other companies ready to follow suit. It could be a gigantic financial boon as everyone knows. Of course there’s also those who say it cannot possibly be done safely. Clearly and once and for all, do you support copper nickel mining. Can it be done safely. Senator Franken, we’ll begin with you.
AF: I think the vast majority of Minnesotans want those jobs. Want those jobs to happen. And they’re good, they’re gonna be good paying jobs, good jobs. But I also think a vast majority of Minnesotans want to make sure that their groundwater isn’t contaminated. This is the Lake Superior watershed. So Minnesotans want to make sure this is done right. And not just Minnesotans. Executives at PolyMet, who I’ve been talking with since I came to office. They say that this process is a good process. They say that the regulators are tough but fair. And they want this done on the science. They said that the project has improved. It’s safer. It’s less likely to contaminate the water. For possibly centuries.
I have the same view as the entire Iron Range delegation. All the delegation to the state legislature have a uniform view on this. Let’s do this right. We want this to happen, but let’s make sure that we do it right. I can understand how it’s frustrating, especially those people who want those jobs. But the only thing worse than taking a long time to get this right is getting it wrong. Because Rangers want sustainable mining. This is a new kind of mining. We’ve been mining iron ore on the Range for a hundred and twenty years. I’ve just expanded, helped expand what we’re doing at MinnTac by by helping to get them permits.
Mining is so important to our state. We need sustainable miners – er, sustainable mines. Sustainable mining. And that’s what I’m for.
CF: Very good. Mr. McFadden can metals mining be done safely? Are you –
MM: Doug, did you did you say nine years?
CF: Yeah, I think it’s about nine years.
MM: Nine, nine years, right? I want everyone in this room to know here today that I support mining. That I will fight for miners. I’m an advocate to get these mines open. The fact that this has taken nine years and over two hundred million dollars in regulatory review is not acceptable. It is crazy. It is crazy. And I remind you, that the Democratic Party in this city three months ago had the opportunity to put forth in a platform that said they support mining and they didn’t.
And watch Al Franken’s actions, not his words. He has done nothing in six years to accelerate the review process of PolyMet. He’s wrote multiple times that FCC and FEC on communication issues but he has not fought for miners and he won’t because he is connected at the hip of extreme environmentalists. And I am tired of it. I am tired of this false choice that’s put forth by the environmentalists that you’re either for the environment or for jobs. You can be for both.
I’ve not met one person in Minnesota, myself included, that wants to do anything that would harm our ten thousand lakes. But we have a process here that has taken nine years and two hundred million dollars and we still don’t have an answer. And the reason we don’t have answer is there are seven different regulatory agencies responsible for making this decision. This is lunacy. And when Al Franken says he’s talked to PolyMet and they’re okay with the process – they have to say that. They are caught in regulatory limbo. They can’t tell you what they really think. You really think they think it’s been a reasonable process? Absolutely not.
We have to demand that this process be efficient. We need effective government. I will fight for effective government. I’ve been in the private sector my whole life. I know how to have efficiency and make efficiency. So let’s be absolutely clear. I support the mines. I support miners. I’m the one who will get these mines open. Senator Franken’s had six years and we’ve made no progress.
CF: Senator Franken, I’m gonna give you a minute to rebut that.
AF: Ah, I’ve been talking to PolyMet executives from the time I got here. They’re I speak with them very frankly. A they know that this process has improved the the project to make it less likely to contaminate the groundwater, which would be a disaster. We’re talking about mitigating that for centuries at unbelievable cost. There are seven agencies because this is both federal and the state have to weigh in on that. The national, the ah the forest service has to weigh in because it has land exchanges. This is too important not to get this right. We need to get this right. And if you just, if you talk to the Range delegation, the state legislators in the delegation, they they get elected by the people on the Range. They want sustainable mining. They want to make sure that this is done right. And if it is done right, then this’ll be sustainable.
MM: This, this is the difference between Al Franken and myself. He’s gone to Washington and he’s been Washingtontized. He’s here today telling you that nine years is a reasonable process. That’s not reasonable. It’s the definition of unreasonable. It’s not acceptable. And we talk about it Al as conceptually. For the good people up on the Iron Range, they’ve just lost another generation because there’s not jobs. We have the opportunity, not just with PolyMet, but with the whole copper nickel deposit up there because it is the largest, largest in the world, that has the opportunity to create thousands of jobs, and billions and billions and billions of dollars of economic impact in this state and in a region of the state that has one of the highest unemployment rates. It’s it’s almost twice the unemployment rate around the rest of the state of Minnesota. I’m here to tell you today that I, Mike McFadden, will fight for miners. I’ll fight for Rangers. And I’m gonna win up in the Range because I’m your advocate.
RW: Thank you both. Let’s talk about the Affordable Care Act. It has withstood dozens of challenges in Congress. It’s withstood the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and it is currently the law of the land. Is this a settled issue or in your opinion where should we go from here? Mr. McFadden, let’s start with you.
MM: Roger, thanks for the question. Uh, we have a health care issue in this country. I know that as a businessman. But I guarantee you that Obamacare is the wrong answer. It is a train wreck and that’s quoting a Democrat Senator, Max Baucus. And this train continues to wreck. And Al Franken was the sixtieth vote for Obamacare. We wouldn’t have this disaster but for Al Franken. And what what frustrates me –
RW: Please, please, audience, please.
MM: — to no end is that this policy was implemented based on lies. It is the largest domestic policy initiative in a generation. And was signed, nobody read it, and then it was based on mistruth. The first one being, that you can keep your insurance policy. Well, a hundred and forty thousand Minnesotans found out that that wasn’t true. The second being that you could keep your doctor. Well we know that’s not true. But the biggest lie of all is that it will cost less. President Obama, who Senator Franken has voted with ninety-seven percent of the time, has said repeatedly, that it will lower the average cost of insurance for a family by twenty five hundred dollars. I’m gonna tell you the truth. That is a lie. That will not happen. Period. I’ve come forth with my own plan. I look at cost, I look at accessibility, and I look at quality. And my plan will lower cost, increase accessibility, and maintain quality. And Al Franken will say I don’t have a plan. No, I have a plan. I’ve put a proposal forward. Obamacare is a disaster. It’s not working, it’s too expensive, we can’t afford it. And I will tell you the truth. I will go to Washington to fix things. I will roll up my sleeves. And I will go to Washington to get this fixed. And I will make sure that people with pre-existing conditions can get insurance at a reasonable rate. That’s a promise.
RW: Senator Franken.
AF: Look there have obviously been problems with the rollout in ACA. And un my job is to make the Affordable Care Act work as well as it can for every Minnesotan. Uh but let’s look at what’s happened. We have reduced the number of uninsured in Minnesota by over forty percent. Minnesota now has ninety-five percent of its people with health insurance. Second in the country. People with pre-existing conditions can no longer be turned down because they have a pre-existing condition. If you hit what used to be lifetime limits, if you hit your lifetime limits, you were thrown out.
I talked to a mom whose daughter has cystic fibrosis. Who had hit her lifetime limit. Her child is alive today because of the Affordable Care Act. Kids now can stay on their parents’ policy until they’re twenty-six. Seniors get free preventive care and they’ve seen that the pharmaceuticals that they buy under Medicare Part D. They’ve seen that donut hole closing and it will close completely. Medicare’s solvency has extended, been extended by eleven years. Do you want to take that away? Part of the reason for that is it now costs a thousand dollars less per Medicare beneficiary than was projected in 2009 than it would cost now. And that’s because of the reforms that were made. And that’s because of unbelievable work in delivery reform, healthcare delivery reform, that we do better than anybody in the world, or at least in this country, in Minnesota. We lead in that. And we need to continue to incentivize healthcare and not sick care, which is what we used to do when you do pay per service. We have a number of so many afford – accountable care organizations in Minnesota that that are doing unbelievable delivery reform.
Understand this. If he repeals this, if they repeal this, it goes back to square one. It goes back to square one. And there’s, and it goes back to a divided Congress, and all of this goes away.
RW: Mr. McFadden.
MM: Al, let’s be absolutely clear. Obamacare is a train wreck. And it continues to wreck. And I will fix it. We have a healthcare issue in this country. I’ve traveled around our great state, I’ve been to all eighty-seven counties, Al, in the last six months. And I have story after story from people where this system is not working. The 29-year-old man who has Type 2 diabetes who lost his insurance despite the President’s promise. He has go on the exchange. It costs two times more. God bless ‘im. I hope he didn’t have PreferredOne. ‘Cause now he’s gotta go find a new policy. At a more expensive rate.
I was in Rochester last week, a woman came up to me with a look in her eyes between fear and anger. She works at the Mayo Clinic, which is the largest private employer in the state, she just received her premiums in the mail. And you know what it’s gonna cost her next year? Fifty percent increase! Two hundred and twenty percent increase in the deductible! That’s not fair. We do have the best healthcare in Minnesota. That’s the difference between Al Franken and I. I want to solve it on a state level. I believe Minnesota has the best healthcare minds in the world. I believe the states are laboratories for experiment. If we allow the federal government to do it, our healthcare system will look like the VA. And I’m not gonna allow that to happen. I’m gonna fight for you.
AF: Well, of course MNsure is a state system. And – understand this. And we’re really at a turning point here. We can do one of two things. We can repeal the Affordable Care Act and go back to square one. No guarantees that you get healthcare for pre-existing, if you have pre-existing conditions. No, no guarantees that you won’t pay more if you’re a woman. Just because you’re a woman. No guarantees that once you’ve gone through your lifetime limit you’re just thrown off. Fifty percent of all bankruptcies in this country have been caused by medical cris – ah, healthcare crises.
We have a choice here. That’s the difference between Mr. McFadden and me. Make no mistake about it. You repeal this, it goes back and it’ll be 538 different health plans. And do you think that this Congress now, as gridlocked as it is, is actually going to come up with a healthcare plan that gives people guarantees that they have pre-existing conditions, and all the other stuff that we’ve seen.
CF: Thank you both very much. The Great Recession I think is still being felt, especially up here in northern Minnesota, where the recovery hasn’t been quite as quick as as perhaps elsewhere. What should the Senate be doing or what could Washington be doing to spur and encourage economic development and economic recovery, especially up north here. Senator Franken, let’s begin with you please.
AF: Well, we’ve had fifty-four straight months of private sector employment increases. But it’s not going to the middle class. And part of that is because this is kind of a top down economy. And a lot of this economy is rigged frankly. Companies offshore. They make their corporation in Ireland or in Bermuda. They do inversions. We need to focus on the middle class because seventy percent of our economy is consumption. And when people have money, that’s when businesses hire people, is when people are spending money. So that’s why I’m so focused on this skills gap. Three plus million jobs sitting there and they can be filled if these jobs if these people are trained. And it’ll make us more globally competitive. It’ll it’ll give people jobs. This is win-win.
We also need, there’s one point two trillion dollars sitting out there in student debt. Refinance student debt. Let people refinance their student debt. You can refinance your car loan, you can refinance your home loan, you can refinance a business loan. Why not be able to refinance a car loan? Raise the minimum wage. Ah, why can’t you refinance a student loan. Yknow, people are delaying buying a house. People are delaying starting a family because of this student debt. And it’s not just young people. It’s people in their forties. It’s parents and grandparents that are carrying this.
I’ve introduced a bill in the Senate we’ve got three Republican votes, we can get this done. To just allow people to finance their student loan and put that money into the economy.
RW: Thank you. Mr. McFadden.
MM: Here are the facts. Ever since Senator Franken took office, and President Obama, who Al Franken has voted with ninety-seven percent of the time, we have had the slowest rebound from a recession in the history of the United States. That’s a fact. We have an absolute stagnant economy. In Minnesota, wages have only gone up eight dollars a week over six years. That’s not acceptable. It is not acceptable.
Here’s another fact. The federal debt has gone up seventy percent under Al Franken’s watch to seventeen and a half trillion dollars. I have a plan. It’s the three E’s. It’s energy and mining. It’s education. And it’s effective government.
I will get the mines open. That’s a huge game changer here. I will get pipelines built. Senator Franken said well we’re only talking about the Keystone pipeline. Well, we’re not just talking about the keystone pipeline. We’re talking about the Sandpiper, the High Prairie, the Alaskan. The Alberta Clipper. The Line Four. And many many more. If we start getting this review process accelerated. We need people to go to D.C. that are going to get things done.
And I’m glad you brought up education. And I couldn’t agree with more with you, Al, that we need to match skills with jobs. But I gotta tell you something. You’ve sat on the Education Committee for the last six years. And in Minnesota we have great public schools that we can be really proud of. But unfortunately, we don’t have great public schools for everyone. In fact we have the worst outcomes in the country for minorities. We have the lowest graduation rate for Hispanics, the second lowest for African Americans, graduation rates significantly below fifty percent. That is immoral. Where is the moral outrage on that?
I’ve been involved in an inner city school in one of the toughest neighborhoods where ninety percent of our kids are Latino or African American.
And we have a hundred percent graduation rate. And we do it for sixty percent of the cost. I want to radically change the school system in the inner city so all children, regardless of zip code, have the right to a first-class education. CF: Senator Franken, a one-minute rebuttal, the issue is economic recovery.
AF: Well, in, by some measures, it’s been the slowest recovery from a recession. It was called the Great Recession for a reason. This is the worst recession that we have ever had. Uh but we’ve had fifty-four months of private sector growth in jobs. Yes, so much of the income has gone to those at the top, and that’s a big problem. CEO salaries now, in the fifties, or yeah in the sixties, the ratio of a CEO to an average worker was twenty to one. It’s now three hundred to one. We have a top-down economy. We need, you want someone who’s gonna be fighting for those in the middle and those striving to be in the middle. We need to raise the minimum wage. We need to make sure that women are paid equal for equal work. Those are things that Mr. McFadden is against.
We need six – five hundred and sixty Minnesotans – five hundred and sixty thousand Minnesotans – would benefit from refinancing student loans. We need to do that.
CF: One minute Mr. McFadden if you’d like.
MM: Al, you’ve been in Washington for the last six years. with President Obama, who you’ve supported ninety-seven percent of the time. You don’t have a plan. I just listened to it. That is not a plan.
AF: What was that number? Ninety sev –
MM: Ninety seven percent of the time.
AF: Let me write that down or I’ll forget it.
MOD to audience: Please.
MM: Ninety-nine percent of the time. I have a plan to get this country back onto the road of growth and prosperity. I’ve traveled around this great state. I’ve been to all eighty-seven counties in the last year. (To AF) Have you been to eighty-seven counties in the last year?
AF: I have had over thirteen hundred public meetings
MM: Have you done a town hall meeting since elected?
AF: I –
MM: I believe President Obama has done more town halls than you have in this state.
AF: I have done so many public meetings and with people who have a chance to ask questions. I have, I have a Minnesota breakfast in Washington every Wednesday that your son came to. (laughs) And
MM: Yknow, yknow,
AF: — at St. Thomas and they ask questions they ask .
MM: So, so –
AF: And it wasn’t surprisingly kind of hostile.
MM: Don’t listen to what he says (AF laughs), look at, look at his actions. I was at the University of Minnesota last week. We were supposed to debate. Senator Franken decided he didn’t want to debate. He showed up, spoke and left. I stayed there for an hour. I did a town hall. I took multiple multiple questions. I was there for an hour with college students. I love doing that. You gotta go out and listen to the people. People know this economy’s not working. Young people know that. That’s why I’m winning with millennials. They want jobs. I will create the jobs. I have a plan.
RW: Okay, let’s move on. Let’s turn our attention overseas for a moment. We are confronting a growing terrorist threat in ISIS. United States has led a coalition in air strikes but experts say strikes alone won’t win the battle. The administration says we will not commit ground troops. How do you propose we deal with this issue of this growing terrorist threat? Mr. McFadden.
MM: (pause) Roger, I uh, I was very happy that the President went on in front of the nation and said we’re going to do strategic bombing in Syria and Iraq. ISIS is a huge issue. They are barbarians. They need to be stopped. But I can’t tell you how frustrated I am with the complete lack of foreign policy vision from this President and Al Franken. This President went into office six years ago, I remind you, saying I’m just going to sit down with the leaders of Venezuela, north Korea and Iraq and we’ll make things work out. That’s naïve. The world is a more dangerous place today because we’ve not let leading from behind is a mistake. We had an ambassador that was killed in Benghazi, and we did nothing. And the world watched. And this President drew a red line in Syria, which was crossed. And we did nothing. And the world watched. So there should be no surprise as to what happened in the Ukraine or in Gaza or now in Syria and Iraq.
And what’s really scary are the facts that in Minnesota, we’ve become the number one recruiting area for terrorists. In Minnesota! And I’m really concerned about that. And I want to know what Al Franken has done over the last six years. Because this didn’t just happen with ISIS. This recruiting started in 2008, 2009 with al-Shabaab. And it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that Al Franken sent a letter to the attorney general. A letter! I mean after this has been going on for multiple years. That’s a day late and a dollar short as my dad used to always say. I will fight for Minnesotans, I will fight for your security, I will make this world a safer place.
RW: Thank you. Senator Franken.
AF: Uh, this is a barbaric group. And they need to be degraded and destroyed. They pose a threat not just to the region but to us. I voted to train and equip the moderate rebels in Syria. I support the bombing in Syria. The ISIS doesn’t doesn’t observe the border between Iraq and Syria. We shouldn’t either.
Ah, let’s talk about this terrorist recruiting. Ah, this is incredibly devastating to the families. There are about two handfuls about ten or twelve Minnesotans that have been recruited to Iraq and and to Syria. This is an issue right when I got there in 2009. We knew that Shabaab in Somalia was beginning to recruit from our communities. The first days that I was in office I got, I went to the FBI and got briefings on that in Washington. My first recess I got briefings from the special agent in charge in St. Paul. I have worked with the community. I have worked with law enforcement. I pressed the secretary of Homeland Security. I pressed the Director of the FBI in hearings in the judiciary hearings on this recruitment. And we diminished what was going on in terms of Shabaab. And I sent a letter yet to DOJ. They asked them to spend more resources in our community. And you know what? They answered by saying yes, we’re going to do that. And I was at a community meeting just two weeks ago with Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Ellison. And the community understood that this was really important to get those resources in.
MM: So, a couple of comments. A couple comments. Al, I’m glad you voted to support the President in the arming of Syrian rebels. I want to make sure the record is clear. This President was advised by every member of the National Security Council and his Secretary of State to arm the free Syrian rebels two years ago. And he declined to do it. He was also advised by every member of the Chief of Staff, the military army chief of staff, to keep a residual force in Iraq. And he declined to do so. This is a President that Al Franken has supported ninety-seven percent of the time. And when we talk about the terrorist recruitment in Minnesota, I’ve met with the community leaders in east African communities. And one of their biggest concerns is education. We have the worst education outcomes for minorities. The worst! Lower than fifty percent, and Al Franken sits on the Education Committee. He’s complicit. These are the root causes that need to be addressed. I’ll get ‘em addressed. I’m a problem solver.
RW: Thank you. Senator Franken.
AF: Okay, let’s be clear about something. A little over a year ago Mr. McFadden had the opportunity to weigh in on what to do in Syria after President Assad used chemical weapons. Every Republican candidate for the United States Senate was asked by Minnesota Public Radio for their views on what to do. Everyone answered except for Mr. McFadden. He refused to answer. Because it was a tough call. There are a lot of tough calls. It is easy to score political points from the bleachers. This is a serious job. You’ve gotta make, you’ve gotta make real choices in real time. Understand this. Every Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate was asked by MPR what they would do in Syria. And Mr. McFadden blinked.
CF: Thank you very much. Let’s turn back to domestic issues. Transportation. Federal rail funding hasn’t been going quite as quickly as people would like. No one needs to look further than the bridge collapse in Minneapolis of a couple of years ago to see that infrastructure, highways, bridges are crumbling here in the U.S. The question is how do you pay for it? And that’s my question for each of you gentlemen. From dredging in the Duluth harbor to making sure bridges are safe, how can we pay for — Senator Franken we’ll begin with you
AF: Well that, uh I’m very happy that we got the funding for dredging, which is so important under the WRDA bill, the Water Resources Development Bill and I fought for that. Uh, yeah, we need to pay for infrastructure. I think that the three drivers of prosperity in our economy are education, infrastructure and research and development. And the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money. Now there are certain ways that we can pay for their – there’s money there to pay for this. For example, I have voted to end the subsidies to oil and gas companies. The oil and gas companies are the most successful richest biggest companies in the history of the world. And yet they get billions of dollars a year in subsidies. You asked before about this commercial where I was attacked for voting for tax, higher taxes, forty times. One of those was I voted to end the billions of dollars of subsidies for oil and gas companies. I was attacked because that’s increasing taxes. We should not be subsidizing. We should be building roads. We should be building highways. Now, Mr. McFadden was asked at a press conference would he be for raising the gas tax, and he said yes. Then he reversed himself and made it clear. He said “Let me reiterate, I’m against it.” After meeting with advisers. There are ways to do this. But one of them is to stop subsidizing the oil and gas industry. And there are other places that we are wasting money. We are spending up to in the next thirty years a trillion dollars on upgrading our nuclear weapons arsenal. Those are weapons we will never use. I, I will, I know have rebuttals, so thank you.
CF: Mr. McFadden.
MM: Chuck, we, it’s a great question. We, we have a huge infrastructure issue in this country. Yknow I’ve just spent the last six months traveling around Minnesota. Roads need to be repaired, bridges need to repair, it is the role of the federal government to fund infrastructure. We need to dramatically overhaul how we do it. Uh, Senator Franken talked about making tough calls. You gotta make tough calls, but you also need to take responsibility for making wrong calls. And I believe that the way that we fund for infrastructure isn’t working right now. The gas tax is unsustainable because as cars continue to get more and more gas mileage, we’re gonna have less and less revenue. So we gotta find a better way to do it. It’s gotta come out of general revenues. It’s gotta be part of a dramatic overhaul of the tax code. And in order to accomplish that we gotta dramatically change the mindset in Washington D.C. It is so partisan. It’s so partisan. And no one takes responsibility. Republicans don’t take responsibility for outcomes. They say “We can’t get anything done because we can’t work with the President.” Or “We can’t work with Harry Reid.” The Democrats say “We can’t get anything done because we can’t work with the House of Representatives.” Well, this is representative democracy. It’s what we signed up for. You always have friction. You will rarely have one party rule. It’s the wisdom of our Founding Fathers of our Constitution. And I put forth that Al Franken, has proven that over the last six years, has been part of the problem, not part of the solution. He is the most partisan Senator in the Democratic Party. Despite what he says, look at what he does. He has voted one hundred and fifty-nine out of a hundred and sixty-one votes, he is number one in the Democratic Party. He is in a universe of one. He is part of the problem. He’s not part of the solution.
CF: Senator Franken.
AF: I don’t know what, how you cherry-pick those votes. I’ve taken a lot more votes than that, I can tell ya that. Uh, look, again one of the things that I was attacked by the McFadden campaign was voting to get rid of a tax break for companies that send jobs overseas. I was in Winona a couple of years ago, TRW was closing a factory. I talked to a woman there, in tears she told me how TRW made her train one of the Mexican workers who was going to replace her in the job in Mexico. And guess what. TRW gets to take a tax deduction for closing the factory, for flying those workers up there. I’m sure they’re wonderful people, the workers. I wanted to get rid of that to help pay for the things that we need, like infrastructure. I was attacked by the McFadden campaign for taking that vote.
RW: Thank you gentlemen.
MM: Um, can I get a minute.
RW: Yes, one more minute, yes.
MM: Thank you Roger. Appreciate it. Ah, just, just to be clear, this is from Open Congress, you can go on the web site, this is a ranking of how often Democratic Senators vote with the majority of the Senate Democratic caucus, it’s for the hundred and thirteenth session of Congress, which is the last session. It’s over the last two years. Al Franken is number one. There’s only one member of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate that is number one. He is the most partisan Senator in the U.S. Senate in the Democratic Party. That is a fact. So once again, I caution you. Look at reality. Look at facts, not what Al Franken says. I will go to Washington to fix things. I will roll up my sleeves. I have received the endorsement from many people from the Independence Party and the Republican Party. I even have a number of Reagan Democrats that are supporting me. I will go to Washington and build consensus. I have spent my whole life in business doing that. I look forward to fixing this country and getting us onto the path of growth and prosperity.
RW: Thank you both gentlemen. We’re nearing the end of our time together. An alert to our broadcast partners, we might run just a bit over nine o’clock. But we want to allow sufficient time for each candidate to have a closing remark. So Senator Franken, perhaps we’ll start with you, and we’ll allow two and a half minutes to each of you to wrap us up this morning.
AF: Okay, thank you, and thank you for hosting this debate, and I want to thank Mr. McFadden for for being here, and for mentioning that Franni and I are having our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary. Franni is right there. We’ve been married, tomorrow we’ll have been married thirty-nine years, many of them happy.
Audience laughter and applause
AF: Yknow we were blessed sixteen months ago with a grandson. My grandson Joe, who is named for my dad. Um he lives in Washington. My daughter and her husband live there. She works doing an after, heading up the after school programs in DC elementary schools. And one of the things I get to do, is go over after a day of work, and put my grandson to bed. And when he’s asleep in the crib I look at him and think of all the possibilities for this kid. And he, his parents love him, they’re well educated, he’s gonna do fine.
And I think about when I grew up in St. Louis Park. My dad didn’t graduate high school. My mom didn’t go to college. My dad was a printing salesman. We lived in a two-bedroom one-bath rambler. A very common post-World War II built home. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world. Because I was. I thought the world was my oyster. And it was – I could do anything I want . I want to, I think a lot of kids don’t feel that way anymore. And I want to make sure that every kid in Minnesota feels that way. That they have a shot. And that they can bet on themselves. And that they have the opportunity to get a good job and to put a roof over their family’s head and put food on the table and have access to quality healthcare. And be able to go on a vacation. And have a secure retirement, that their pension will be there. That Social Security will be there.
That’s what I want. I want Minnesotans to bet on themselves. And I know the people of Minnesota. And if we bet on ourselves, we have great innovators, we have great entrepreneurs. We have great research universities. We we can do this. Thank you.
RW: Thank you, Mr. McFadden, final words.
MM: First of all, thank you to the moderators. You’ve done a phenomenal job. I want to thank Al Franken, I really appreciate your time today. I think it’s important that Minnesotans have a chance to hear about both our visions for our country and for our state. I want to thank the audience, the audience has been great. I really appreciate you, you’ve been very respectful. And this is really an important part of the democratic process, that we’re able to come together and have discourse. And it’s sorely lacking in this country.
I’m running for the U.S. Senate because we can do better. I want to go forth and set the world on fire. I’m running for my six kids, I’m running for the Minnesotans that I’ve met around this great state who fundamentally believe that this country is not going in the right direction. They don’t believe that President Obama is leading us in the right direction. And I am running against Al Franken, who has voted with the President ninety-seven percent of the time. He’s the most partisan Senator in the Democratic Party. And there is a very clear contrast between the two of us. There’s not a lot of gray areas. Al Franken is for more government. He’s for more regulation. He’s for high-cost energy. He’s for Obamacare. He’s for the status quo in an education system that doesn’t work for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
I have a much different vision. I’m for effective and efficient government. I’m for smart regulation. I’ll get the mines open, that’s a promise. I’m for low-cost energy. I will build pipelines. I’m for a healthcare system that works for all our citizens that’s first class, that is run based here in Minnesota, not by the federal government. And I’m for radically revising the education system in the inner city. I make a promise to each and every one of you here in this room today. That as your next Senator from the great state of Minnesota, I won’t be invisible, I will not keep my head down. I will keep my head high. I will lead. I have a plan. I will be independent. I will go to Washington to do something, not to be something. I will fight for you. My name is Mike McFadden, I’m runnin for the U.S. Senate, I’d love to have your vote on November fourth. Thank you.
RW: Thank you very much.
Audience applause, cheers, whistles
RW: And so, we will leave it there, thank you audience, thank you gentlemen, thank you both for your participation this morning, we appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion on the issues. Thanks again to our partners at the Duluth News Tribune. Chuck, thanks for being here this morning. And thanks to the Civility Project for their participation and thanks to the Playhouse, enjoy the rest of your day.
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