AUSTIN (Border Report) — Long-time Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn debated his Democratic opponent, MJ Hegar, on Friday night during their first debate before the Nov. 3 elections, and the pair squared off over immigration and border issues that are affecting Texans.
During the hour-long Senate debate, hosted by Nexstar Media at Austin’s Bullock Texas State History Museum, Hegar and Cornyn also discussed Congress’ failure to pass an additional coronavirus stimulus bill; whether they would support a national mandate on wearing facial masks; whether school children should be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to classrooms; racial inequities; mail-in balloting; climate change; and whether appointing a new Supreme Court justice before the election would “pack the court.”
Toward the end of the hour, the candidates responded to questions about the Trump administration’s remain in Mexico policy, formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols program, and the 700 asylum-seekers who are living in Matamoros, Mexico, at an outdoor tent encampment as they await their asylum proceedings, and await border travel restrictions to be lifted.
Cornyn supports the policy and said it is necessary at this time for public safety due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Hegar countered by saying that Cornyn supported MPP before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S.
“We should offer them the same respect,” Hegar responded. “I think we need to treat asylum seekers the same way we treat others around the world.”
Cornyn said he supports “strong border security” and twice accused Hegar of not respecting Border Patrol agents.
“MJ has said the Border Patrol doing their job enforcing laws Congress passes, they are the moral equivalent of the Communist Chinese who are oppressing the Uighur minority,” said Cornyn, later adding, “… She doesn’t respect border security officials or our police and that’s wrong.”
Hegar, 44, a decorated Air Force veteran, a few times during the debate said Cornyn “needs to stop lying about me.”
In response to him bringing up disrespecting border agents a second time, Hegar noted she has worked on the Counterdrug Task Force and said “it’s offensive that he would think I would disrespect people I worked with.”
Hegar referenced immigration in her opening statement, saying: “Texas is at the forefront of the economic, health care, and of the immigration crisis — all made worse by this fumbled pandemic.”
Hegar, who served in Afghanistan flying combat and rescue missions, came out tough in the debate but when asked why she should be elected with no previous experience as an elected official, she responded: “Experience is really important and we need to elect people with the right experience.” She went on to say that “black and brown communities across the state know they are not being served by the current leadership.”
Cornyn, 68, is seeking his fourth term. He serves on the Judiciary Committee and is former Majority Whip. He said he was excited to hold immediate hearings on President Donald Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
A poll out Friday by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune found Cornyn was leading Hegar by 8 percentage points. The poll found 50% of likely voters in Texas prefer the Republican incumbent, while 42% favor Hegar. This is up substantially from a poll in late July by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee found Cornyn was barely leading at the time.
Cornyn told Hegar he was “worried about the people who were bankrolling her campaign, including Hollywood.”
This week, the Texas Democratic Party announced historic six-figure advertising buys targeting black and Latino voters, including many along the border. The print and radio advertisements, targeting voters in this race, were being circulated in Del Rio, Eagle Pass, El Paso, and the South Texas communities of Harlingen, Weslaco, Brownville and McAllen.
Early voting begins on Tuesday and runs through Oct. 30.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.