Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren met Monday night for their second debate of the top-tier Massachusetts race — in a knock-down, drag-out fight filled with attacks and vitriol.
The bitter exchanges between the two reached a crescendo, as the audience of several thousand at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell booed and applauded.
During an exchange on unemployment benefits and President Obama’s jobs proposals, Warren attempted to interrupt Brown on a key point. Brown retaliated: “Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom. Please let me respond.”
As with their first debate a week and half ago, the evening began with continued questions about Elizabeth Warren’s claimed Native American heritage.
“You know, I have answered this question many, many times,” Warren said. “And it starts with the fact that from the day I was born until the day my mother died, she told me about how I am, who we are, who my brothers are, who my family is. And I have never used the information about our Native American heritage to get any advantage — Not to apply to college, not to apply to law school, and not to get hired for any job. I was listed in a directory — I listed myself as Native American. I was listed there. It’s part of who I am.”
But Brown persisted in casting doubt on Warren’s honesty, saying that she has failed a test of trustworthiness
“She has also said that as time goes on, I cannot change of who I am. That is the nature of her commercials, I can’t change who I am,” Brown said. “But as we noticed throughout her life — up until she was 38 years old, she was white. And then she self-reported as she referenced, and she changed her nationality to Native American. And as she was being considered for recruitment as a result of that directory, she was being recruited to Ivy League schools. At the pinnacle for success, when she became tenured at Harvard, she then changed back to being white. So when she says she can’t change who she is, she did it twice.”
Warren replied by pointing out that Boston Globe investigated the story, and found that according to everyone who had hired her — including former Reagan-era Solicitor General Charles Fried, who said he has voted for Brown — this was not a factor or something they were aware of.
Later on, Brown was asked whether he would work closely with Mitt Romney as president — a key question in this deeply Democratic state, precisely because Romney is highly unlikely to carry it despite his having served as governor.
“Listen, he’s out campaigning all over the country, I’m here in Massachusetts. I’m running in Massachusetts,” Brown said. “And while I said he will handle of the economic issues as well, we certainly need to start focusing on his economic issues — because as you know we’re in a $16 trillion national debt we have runaway deficits each and every year. We need to have good people down there to focus in a bipartisan matter. We don’t need rock-throwers, we don’t need people who’re gonna leave ‘blood and teeth in the streets’ as Professor Warren said. We need people who’re gonna work together to find common-sense solutions.”
The candidates were then asked with whom they could work on the other side of the party aisle. And Warren, seemingly off the top of her head, gave an interesting answer: “I think probably Richard Lugar would be one that comes to mind.” It was then pointed out that Lugar will not be there next year, though it was not directly stated that this was because he lost his Republican primary in large part due to having sometimes worked with Democrats.
“That is a problem,” Warren said, instead saying that she could work with others on key issues, such as reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and cited her own work on the bipartisan commission that reported on the cause and effects of the 2008 financial crisis. “But at the end of the day, the reason I’m in this race is not about partisanship. It’s about working families. I will work with anyone — Democrat, Republican, independent, Libertarian, vegetarian — if they will work for America’s families.”
Brown then went on to castigate Warren for failing to mention someone she could work with — and in his own honor roll of bipartisan senators, he himself named Lugar, as well as Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican who is also retiring this year, albeit of her own free will.
“With regard to working with any person on opposite side of the aisle, she couldn’t reference one person, except someone who’s retiring — a truly bipartisan gentleman, Sen. Lugar. I have a history since day one,” Brown said, citing his votes soon after he took office for Obama administration initiatives and that he has only voted with his party 54 percent of the time. “Very few members of the Democratic Party right now do it. Thank goodness we have people like me and others like me. Sen. Snowe, Sen. Collins, Sen. Lugar. There are other people down there who can actually get things done.”
During the same exchange, Brown also said he would be “undecided” on whether to support Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for leader: “When it comes to dealing with the majority or minority leader, I’ve already let it be very clearly known to Mitch McConnell that I’m completely disgusted as to what is going on down there. And he has a lot of work to do to earn my vote, because I don’t work for him or Harry Reid. That’s the beauty of being independent. When I go in, I can vote however I want. You’ve seen it. You have evidence of it.”
Warren fired back at Brown’s claims of independence.
“When Sen. Brown talks here in Massachusetts about how very bipartisan he is and how very independent he is, he’s sure not saying the same thing when he goes around the country raising money in this Senate campaign,” Warren said, to a rowdy applause. “He goes around this country and what he says to people around this country is that they should contribute to his campaign, because if he is reelected, that increases the odds that the Republicans will control the Senate and that he can block President Obama’s agenda. So let’s just be honest about what’s going on here.”
In another key moment, Brown was asked who would be his model Justice of the Supreme Court. And he then proceeded to name four different people, in a right-to-left order, with pauses in between.
“Let me see here, that’s a great question. I think Justice Scalia is a very good judge,” Brown said, as boos broke out in the hall at the name of the court’s most right-wing member. “Justice Kennedy is obviously very good. And Justice Roberts, Justice Sotomayor, I think they are qualified people who actually do a very good job.”
Moderator David Gregory pointed out that there some big differences from Scalia to Sotomayor.
“Well that’s the beauty of being an independent, David,” Brown said, to which Gregory asked him to pick one. “Well I don’t need to pick one. We have plenty of justices up there, and I’m proud of the ones we have.”
Warren gave a much simpler answer, naming the former dean of Harvard Law School: “I think it would probably be Elena Kagan.”