Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Iowa Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls talk gun laws, inflation in 2nd televised debate - Admiral Mike Franken for Iowa

Iowa Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls talk gun laws, inflation in 2nd televised debate

Stephen Gruber-Miller Des Moines Register

The three Democrats competing to flip the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Chuck Grassley said the country needs to do more to crack down on hate crimes and address gun violence in the wake of a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York last weekend.

The three candidates — Abby Finkenauer, Mike Franken and Glenn Hurst — met Thursday night for an hourlong “Iowa Press” debate hosted by Iowa PBS. The trio also clashed on how to refashion the U.S. Supreme Court, curb inflation and other topics.  

The debate took place one day after early voting began for Iowa’s June 7 primary election. Democrats will choose between Finkenauer, a former U.S. representative; Franken, a retired U.S. Navy admiral; and Hurst, a doctor and Minden City Council member as their nominee for the November election.

Grassley, who is seeking his eighth term in the U.S. Senate, faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Jim Carlin of Sioux City, although he is expected to prevail.

The debate was moderated by Kay Henderson, host of “Iowa Press”; Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register; and Erin Murphy, political reporter for the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Gun violence and hate crimes

The candidates were asked about a mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York supermarket last weekend, where a white shooter targeted Black shoppers, killing 10 people and injuring three more.

Finkenauer said the federal government should pass legislation to strengthen gun background checks, put in place red flag laws to stop dangerous people from having guns and strengthen hate crime laws.

“I just want to say the white supremacy in this county and the way that we have seen the rhetoric ratchet up and the extremists getting louder and louder is absolutely horrifying,” she said. “This should not be happening in the United States of America in the year 2022, and yet here we are.”

Franken said he grew up with firearms and has used them in the military. He advocated for expanding background checks and putting in place training for gun owners similar to what’s required for U.S. military surplus firearms sales.

“There’s a hundred things that can be done and responsible gun owners in America, every one of them — every responsible one — will agree with me,” he said. “Because this is what we deserve and it’s what those that have never handled a firearm also deserve.”

Hurst said the government should act to pass new hate crime laws and “common sense gun laws.”

“We absolutely need to ban assault weapons. There’s really only one purpose for those and that is to kill large numbers of people in a short period of time,” he said. “We also need to control the access to ammunition and control the access to magazine clips or other devices like bump stocks that turn other weapons into a more automatic style weapon.”

Candidates talk Supreme Court expansion, term limits

The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. And all three candidates have previously said they would vote to codify the right to abortion.

On Thursday they were asked if they would support expanding the number of Supreme Court justices from its current nine-member makeup to 13 justices.

More:Iowa’s Democratic US Senate candidates call for protecting abortions, ending filibuster

Hurst said he would support taking the court from nine to 19 justices, with two new justices added every year until the court reached that size. He said Congress should also look at broader changes in the rules for how judges are selected.

“We shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not a justice is going to get a hearing. That can be a Senate rule,” he said. “Any appointee receives a hearing within 60 days of appointment. Win or lose, your constituents are going to know how you feel about that candidate.”

Finkenauer said she is “a big fan of term limits” and that Congress could look at limiting how long justices serve. Her flagship policy proposal is imposing term limits on Congress.

“Or we could look at having them drop down to lower courts and going back up, that type of situation,” she said. “That’s something that I think we should look at, specifically given the makeup of our Supreme Court and the fact that it has become so partisan.”

Franken, who spoke last, joked about having the most succinct answer.

“The answer’s no, we can keep it at nine,” he said. “But we should have term limits — 18 years so that it doesn’t become a partisan placement.”

Candidates cite ‘corporate greed’ as reason for inflation

The three candidates were asked whether President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan — a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief measure — contributed to the nation’s high inflation rate.

Franken said history would say whether the legislation contributed to inflation, but he pointed to supply chain difficulties and corporate profits as two causes.

“In the corporate world, they’re sitting on a fat amount of money. So some of this is also generated by corporate greed in America,” he said. “And yes, perhaps that was a lot of money but I don’t believe that is the issue associated with today’s inflationary tendencies.”

Hurst said the government needs to work to break up large monopolies and aggressively enforce antitrust laws.

“We have put far too much money in single baskets in this nation, and what we need is leadership to go to Washington, D.C. and break up antitrust,” Hurst said. “And then you’ll see that corporate greed be addressed that Mike referred to. But it’s got to be far more than just looking at inflation.”

Finkenauer also criticized corporations “that are raking in literally record profits right now.” But she said the country has long failed to improve its supply chain for goods and services.

“We have had this domestic supply chain breaking for the last 20 years and you’ve had Sen. Grassley just sitting there watching it happen for that long,” she said.

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann issued a statement after the debate criticizing the candidates.

“These candidates have no clue how to represent the people of Iowa,” he said. “Their failure to condemn the Biden Administration for skyrocketing inflation, rising gas prices, and the massive shortage of baby formula proves just how entrenched these candidates are with Joe Biden and their national party.”

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