Diehl, Warren Tangle in Sharp Debate

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Geoff Diehl and Elizabeth Warren went hammer and tong after each other during a lively television debate Friday night.

Diehl right out of the gate jumped on Warren’s recent rollout of a DNA test that she says shows she is fractionally American Indian.

“With Senator Warren, I think one of the big things that’s been out there — she released a video earlier this week to try to clarify an ancestry thing. I don’t care, Senator Warren, about what your Native American heritage is or isn’t. I think it’s about integrity. And one of the issues that I think I found with that is that you had listed in a national directory your ancestry as Native American. Whether you did or did not benefit from that, it seems that maybe that was inappropriate to list yourself, and taking a minority hire position away from somebody else,” Diehl said.

Warren responded but didn’t dwell on the DNA test.

“Now, the whole notion of confidence in government has really gone to a low point. And so for me, what I’ve done, is I’ve just tried to put it all out there. I’ve put out 10 years of taxes. I’ve put out my hiring records, all the papers that anybody could find. I’ve put out my family history. Shoot, I even took a DNA test. It’s there. I am an open book,” Warren said.

Warren also pointed to a Boston Globe story that concluded that Warren did not get her job as a professor at Harvard Law School back in the early 1990s because of her claim to be a Native American.

Diehl noted that an inaccuracy in Warren’s tax returns led to a deduction she wasn’t entitled to. Warren said she has fixed the error and that it didn’t affect how much money she ended up paying the government, and she called on Diehl to release his tax returns.

The debate, moderated by Jon Keller, was broadcast by WBZ-TV Channel 4.

 

Taxes

Tax policy sharply separates Warren and Diehl. Warren opposes President Donald Trump’s tax cuts of 2017 and has said personal income tax rates and corporate tax rates should be higher than they are now. Diehl supports the Trump tax cuts.

“Eighty percent of Massachusetts residents are getting a tax cut,” Diehl said. “… The tax reform has taken the largest corporate tax rate in the world off of our backs and is allowing us to do a better job. And more companies are doing that:  investing in people.”

Warren said the Trump tax plan is emblematic of a political party that cares mostly about the rich.

“This is the basic Republican scam, and that is cut taxes for those at the top, and then make everyone else pay for it,” Warren said. “That’s what the Republicans want to do right now. And that’s the fundamental question about who this economy works for. This economy is working better and better and better for a thinner and thinner and thinner slice at the top.”

Diehl said focusing on large corporations is beside the point.

“Senator Warren wants to ignore the fact that 90 percent of businesses in the United States have 20 employees or less. She wants us to think that all corporations are these evil empires that are just trying to suck the money out of the economy,” Diehl said.

But Warren said large corporations and rich people benefited from the tax cut to the detriment of others.

“And that’s the problem. This tax cut wasn’t about 90 percent of our businesses. It was about the giant businesses. It was about the billionaires. Those are the ones who’ve walked off with the big money. And they have left everyone else left behind. Employees’ wages have not gone up because of this tax cut,” Warren said. “In fact, what’s happened because of this tax cut, is that now there’s just less money for the kinds of things we need. Republicans have come after Social Security. There’s no money to invest in education.”

“I think we’re living in two different worlds,” Diehl interjected, noting that unemployment is at a 50-year low and economic growth is higher than it has been in years.

But Warren said median salaries aren’t increasing, and are actually decreasing slightly in some industries. She described the apparent economic boom as largely fake.

“It’s like a sugar high,” Warren said.

 

Immigration and Law Enforcement

Warren and Diehl also differ on immigration and the criminal justice system, which flared up several times during the debate.

A viewer asked a question about the Democratic nominee for Suffolk County district attorney, Rachael Rollins, who has said she plans not to prosecute as crimes certain non-violent offenses such as drug distribution and malicious destruction of property.

Warren applauded Rollins’s goal.

“I think that what she’s trying to do is to say, ‘Let’s get realistic about how these low-level crimes are actually used, how they are used to try to manage people, and how in some cases they actually just make poverty a crime.’ People who can’t afford, for example, to be able to post bail and therefore end up incarcerated over what are offenses that most of the time would just be thrown out. So I want to say this:  I don’t know if she has the details right yet. I think she’s still working on it. But I think she’s doing the right thing. She’s trying to ask the right questions about our criminal justice system,” Warren said. “She’s asking what makes us safer, and what makes our communities better. And I support her in those efforts.”

Diehl said he supports criminal justice reform in Massachusetts, including drug courts that separate non-violent drug offenders from other types of criminals.

“And I understand what Rachael Rollins is talking about to an extent. However, the fact that she includes things like evading the police officers as something that she thinks should be decriminalized, is wrong,” Diehl said. “And I’m glad we’re talking about the criminal justice system, because Senator Warren very famously in Louisiana said, just about a month or so ago, that it’s the criminal justice system that is racist from front to back. I’m wearing a pin tonight from the Boston patrolmen’s association, the union that has endorsed me, has never endorsed a Republican for the U.S. Senate in their history, because they understand that I have the support of them. And Elizabeth Warren has made it clear that she has a disrespect for law enforcement that goes to the point where she actually wants to get rid of ICE,” Diehl said.

Warren said she respects and supports law enforcement officers.

“But there is a problem in the criminal justice system right now. And it is a problem based on race,” Warren said.

She noted that African-Americans are more likely to be arrested, sentenced to jail, and given long sentences than whites.

Warren hit Diehl on guns, saying they make everyone less safe, including police officers.

“But you’re endorsed by the NRA, and you don’t embrace any of those changes that we need to make our country safer,” Warren said.

“Lawful gun owners are not the problem,” Diehl responded.

He noted that the Massachusetts Senate expressed support for declaring Massachusetts a sanctuary state where police officers would be limited in cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

“And you promote open borders. You promote sanctuary status. And you want to get rid of ICE, the agency that identifies and deports those people. You’re undercutting law enforcement,” Diehl said.

Warren acknowledged that she supports “a path to citizenship” for people living in the United States illegally, but she rounded the edges on immigration policy.

“No one supports an open border,” Warren said, saying she supports strengthened border security.

Warren seemed to walk back her June 30 call for ICE to be abolished. She said ICE officials have shown lack of judgment.

“I want to see this agency reformed. Because an agency that can’t tell the difference in the risk between a 7-year-old girl, between a woman going in for brain cancer surgery, and a terrorist or a criminal, is an agency that is not working. It is not making us safer, and it sure doesn’t reflect our values,” Warren said.

As for the safety of police officers, Warren said she has met with the parents of Yarmouth police sergeant Sean Gannon, who was killed April 12 by a career criminal on Cape Cod, to work for gun control. She called for what she terms “some sensible gun reforms.”

But Diehl pointed out that Weymouth police officer Michael Chesna, who was killed July 15 by a drug dealer, was injured by a mentally unstable man with a rock and then shot to death with his own gun. He suggested Chesna may have hesitated to use his gun because of the way police officers are being treated in the United States.

“These law enforcement officers right now feel like if they use the force available to protect themselves or citizens around them, they’ll be the ones on trial and not the criminals they’re going after. The criminals that are allowed into this country through your policy,” Diehl said.

 

Donald Trump

Warren, widely believed to be running for president in 2020, often spars with the current president. She also tried to hang Donald Trump around Diehl’s neck during the debate. Trump is deeply unpopular in Massachusetts.

“My opponent, Mr. Diehl, has said that if he’s elected he will have Donald Trump’s back 100 percent of the time. Not me. I’ll be here for the people of Massachusetts,” Warren said.

Diehl didn’t back off the comment, which he made to a Republican group earlier this year, but he said it doesn’t mean he’ll always vote with the president. He cited areas of disagreement with the president, including Trump’s initial proposal to eliminate property tax deductions in income tax.

Diehl accused Warren of bringing up Trump largely because she is already looking toward her presidential bid.

 

Massachusetts Gender Identity Law

Question 3 also came up. It asks voters whether they want to retain or end a 2016 state statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations including restaurants, bars, beauty parlors, public bathrooms, and locker rooms. (A Yes vote keeps the law; a No vote repeals it.)

Supporters of the law say it provides needed protection for a vulnerable group that needs it. Opponents call the law the “Bathroom Bill,” and say it puts women and girls at risk because sex offenders can use the law as cover to gain access to spaces meant for females.

Diehl said he opposes the 2016 gender-identity law partly because existing state law already protects transgender people from discrimination.

“And this law in my opinion creates a loophole where someone, a sexual offender potentially, could come into an inappropriate area and potentially cause a problem for underage people … “ Diehl said.

If he asked questions about a biological male who identifies as a woman being in a public bathroom with his daughters, Diehl said, “I could be subject to fine or even jail time. I felt that the protections in the law, anti-discrimination protections were already in place, and that this does not protect a certain portion of our community.”

Warren hit Diehl hard on Question 3, linking Diehl to Mike Pence, the current vice president of the United States and former governor of Indiana.

“I will vote yes on 3 to continue to protect people against discrimination, and I think it’s really disgusting not to. Not only does Mr. Diehl have Donald Trump’s back a hundred percent of the time, evidently he has Vice President Pence’s back a hundred percent of the time. You know, Vice President Pence has pretty much made his name on discriminating against our LGBTQ community and stirring up hate whenever possible. This is about a provision that says, ‘Let’s roll back and say here in Massachusetts:  Somehow it’s O.K. to discriminate against one segment of our people because of their gender identity?’ No, that is not who we are in Massachusetts.”

Diehl said Warren is ignoring the details of the law.

“This law provides a loophole that someone who is a sexual predator could go into a space, a locker room, and claim that day they identify in a different way and then disrobe in front of somebody of the opposite sex. That is what this law does. It’s not about discrimination. It is about a loophole that could be exploited,” Diehl said.

Warren accused the No side on Question 3 of lying about transgender people.

“This is the kind of ugly, ugly smears, that tries to say there’s a vulnerable group, let’s keep ‘em separate, and let’s make up stories about the kind of threats they pose,” Warren said. “This is just wrong. It’s ugly, and it’s wrong. It’s what Donald Trump does. It’s what Vice President Pence does. And this is what the person who wants to be the next senator from Massachusetts does. No.”

Diehl said Warren is grandstanding for a 2020 presidential campaign.

“You know, I think Senator Warren, again, continues to talk about Donald Trump and Vice President Pence, because this is what she’s all about:  making sure that everybody knows she wants to go to the White House. She doesn’t care about your house, she cares about the White House. That’s what Senator Warren keeps trying to hammer home,” Diehl said.

Warren hit Diehl again.

“This is just ugly. Donald Trump is ugly on this topic. The vice president is ugly on this topic. And Geoff Diehl is ugly on this topic.”

Diehl said he bears no ill will toward transgender people but that the gender-identity-in-public-accommodations statute is bad law.

“You know, the president has made it clear that he supports the LGBTQ community, as well as I do. This is a law that has a flaw in it, and that’s why I’m against it,” Diehl said.

 

Friday night’s was the first debate between Warren and Diehl.

The election is Tuesday, November 6.

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