By Dave Sorter
About the only things that U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Colin Allred, his Democratic challenger for the District 32 seat in the Nov. 6 election, agreed on during Sunday’s debate at Temple Shalom was that this year’s midterms are about more than Republicans and Democrats, and that the U.S. embassy in Israel should be in Jerusalem.
But even on that issue, they disagreed on the process by which it got there.
The candidates discussed numerous topics in their last face-to-face encounter before early voting started Monday. The debate was organized by Temple Shalom, AJC Dallas and the Jewish-Latino Alliance, with Sam Baker, host of KERA radio’s “Morning Edition,” serving as moderator.
About this year’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Sessions voiced his full support. “It was a very bold move by the president (Donald Trump), by the (then-) secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and by (United Nations Ambassador) Nikki Haley,” the 11-term incumbent said. “I have been supportive of this for years.”
While Allred agreed that “we all recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he believes the embassy move “should have been done as part of a comprehensive two-state solution that moves us closer to peace,” he said. “When you do something unilaterally in a way that can be provocative, you can see the kind of reaction it can cause.”
Both candidates also expressed opposition to the BDS movement that has spread worldwide, with Allred, a Dallas lawyer and former Baylor and NFL football player who worked in the Obama administration, also using this point to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“I oppose efforts to boycott, divest and sanction,” he said. “Israel is the only nation in the region that shares our commitment to human rights. We must continue to provide aid for Israel to defend itself.”
Said Sessions: “BDS is a realization that there are those who oppose Israel. Nikki Haley has spoken very clearly about this. I have worked repeatedly with the Jewish community, with young people, with the State of Israel and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The distance between Collin County and where we are here (North Dallas) is the distance between Israel and its enemies to the north, to the east and to the south. This is why Republicans have funded the Iron Dome.”
Sessions, in his opening statement, criticized Allred for opposing President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran.
“My opponent, in the Dallas Morning News, unequivocally opposed any effort against the Iranian nuclear deal because he felt it could unravel our agreement with North Korea,” he said. “He’s for giving billions of dollars’ worth of cash for them to do with as they would choose. He’s for the Iranians, the people who shout, ‘Death to America, Death to Israel.’ I’m for America, the Americans and for our ally, Israel.”
Allred conceded that “the Iran deal is not perfect. What it was, was a diplomatic solution to an extremely difficult problem. We had two choices: We could go down the road to diplomacy…trust, but verify…like President Trump is doing with North Korea. Now, we have given Iran the ability to pursue nuclear weapons, which would increase the threat to Israel.”
The candidates also had many differences on topics not related to Israel.
On health care, Sessions touted his health-insurance proposal, which would allow people to keep insurance purchased under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), or choose another avenue “that moves someone up. The kind of insurance someone at AT&T, or Mary Kay, or Southwest Airlines has” and would cover pre-existing conditions. There would be no mandate.
Allred said “it’s times like these I’m thankful for Google” because he learned that Sessions voted more than 50 times to repeal the ACA, including eliminating requirements for covering pre-existing conditions. He supports a single-payer system and accused Sessions of playing “cynical politics” for advocating a plan “that has never gotten a vote.”
The two also disagreed on the need for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Sessions said that “people who live on the border have unanimously asked for protection. We need to have operational control of our border.”
Allred responded, “That is the wrong solution, a waste of money, ineffective and a sign and a signal that will hurt our international standing. We do need to secure our border, through a bipartisan solution that would provide a high-tech means for security, and open a pathway to citizenship for those who are here. There are too many hardliners in Congress unwilling to work with those in their own party.”
Sessions, in response, said for the first of many times in the debate that Allred was “trying to have it both ways. He’s ignoring the men and women on the front lines begging for us to secure the border. Sixty days ago, we had two bills…both had pathways to citizenship, and not a single Democrat voted for either of them.”
The candidates also had their differences on:
• Sexual assault and the #MeToo movement in the wake of the hearings concerning Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Allred said Congress needs to take action to clean up its own house. Sessions, without mentioning the names of Kavanaugh or his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, decried the process that took place and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for keeping the accusation to herself.
• Social Security: Allred criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for intimating that the budget deficit was caused by the Trump tax cuts and would be made up for by tapping into Social Security and Medicare reserves. Sessions said his opponent was wrong, that McConnell said ways must be found to secure Social Security and Medicare, and that the tax cuts added 4 million jobs that are enriching the Social Security trust fund.
• Gun violence: Sessions said programs that address mental health and opioid abuse are the answer, while Allred said the answer is universal background checks and closing loopholes that allow people who, for example, are on the terror watch list to buy guns.
The debate was co-chaired by Adam Lampert for AJC, Edward Retta for JLA and Mike Hirsh and Larry Schoenbrun representing Temple Shalom. The co-sponsors were joined by a broad range of community partners that helped promote the debate, mostly from the Jewish and Latino communities, in addition to a number of non-Jewish houses of worship.
Early voting continues through Friday, Nov. 2, with most locations open this Saturday and Sunday. Election Day polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6.