Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat candidate MJ Hegar discussed issues such as COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement Friday night during the United States Senate debate.
The first debate was held in-person and moderated by KXAN anchors Robert Hadlock and Sally Hernandez and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers Jr. In Cornyn’s bid for a fourth term, he is currently leading Hegar by eight percentage points, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.
The moderators asked Hegar what should be prioritized during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hegar said government officials can open businesses as much as they want to, but there will not be customers there until the public health crisis becomes the leading issue.
“I used to wait tables. I was a bartender. I have been laid off from a job,” Hegar said. “I think it’s so critical that we have people in a position to make (decisions regarding COVID-19) who have actually faced these challenges. I believe we can’t attack the economic crisis until we get the public health crisis under control.”
Cornyn said the virus will never be under control without a vaccine, and Texans need to focus on the economy regardless of the pandemic.
Moderators asked about appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Cornyn said Democrats and the Senate Judiciary Committee are attacking Barrett because of her Catholic faith.
“She is a supremely qualified candidate,” Cornyn said. “I am happy to be a part of that judiciary committee that is going to hear her in testimony. Frankly, America will be able to hear her testimony and judge for themselves.”
Hegar said there should be as much urgency to push for issues such as universal background checks and COVID-19 relief as there is to confirm Barrett.
“Right now, we are in the middle of an election where people have already cast ballots,” Hegar said. “Where is this urgency around getting (COVID-19) relief? I believe we should be getting back to a time … when judges used to have to say how nonpartisan and unbiased they were to be able to get confirmed.”
The moderators asked if Cornyn supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Cornyn said Texans must support “our men and women in blue because they are the line between us and danger.”
"I support all African American lives,” Cornyn said. “When our police officer steps across the line, like in the George Floyd murder, they need to be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but I support law enforcement because they are who keep our community safe.”
Hegar said the country has a problem with systemic racism, and she supports Black Lives Matter and policing reform.
“I take serious offense to anyone who says I do not support law enforcement,” Hegar said. “I believe we need to support transparency and accountability, reform-minded leaders and the police unions who are calling for reform as well.”