In one of the most closely watched contests of the mid-term elections, Congressman Peter King and challenger Liuba Grechen Shirley faced off in a debate that was at times spirited and provocative at Plainedge High School in Massapequa on Oct. 18.
The two, vying for election to New York’s 2nd congressional district, answered questions and probed and tested each other’s respective positions during the hour-long debate, which was hosted by Fios1 News.
Moderator Richard French introduced the candidates. Grechen Shirley, a Democrat of Amityville, opened the debate by saying she is not a politician but a Long Islander who is running for Congress. She has had enough of career politicians and millionaires making “really bad decisions for the rest of us” and promised to “fight for the working families in the 2nd Congressional District,” she said.
King, a Republican of Seaford, has represented Long Island in Congress for 13 terms. He said he has gone out of his way for the people in his district. “I get the job done,” he said.
On the subject of Healthcare, King said he was not in favor of scrapping the Affordable Care Act (ACA) entirely, but neither did he support single-payer universal coverage. According to King, in Canada it takes 11 weeks to receive an MRI. “We have the best healthcare system in the world,” he said. “We have to modify. I’m not going to throw it out … I want to remain the United States of America.” King said he did not use the government-paid health care that is available to him as a member of Congress.
Grechen Shirley disagreed and spoke of the benefits of an improved and expanded Medicare. Under a “Medicare for All” plan, the average family would save $5,000, she said. “It is a simple matter of do we value the lives of Americans, or do we value the profits of corporate executives,” she said.
Asked about U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and the recent death in captivity of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Grechen Shirley said the U.S. cannot support a country that murders journalists. Saudi Arabia needs to be held accountable, she said. King said we should try to work out a relationship with the country, but that the death of Khashoggi cannot go unpunished. He said he would prefer not to cut ties with the kingdom but would do so if necessary.
In one of the many flash points in the debate, candidates were questioned about their views on immigration. Gretchen-Shirley said she had been told by King’s aides than the congressman opposed Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants. King countered by saying he had always supported TPS. He added that he nevertheless strongly supported President Trump’s proposed wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Grechen Shirley said she does not support disbanding ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) but believes the agency can be divided into two parts. The part that go after transnational gangs, drug cartels and child traffickers needs to be secured and strengthened, she said. The other part that Gretchen Shirley alleged is “ripping breast-feeding babies away from their mothers and handcuffing their mothers” needs to be reformed. She added that the people at the top of ICE have called for reform, because the separation of mothers from their children is making it difficult for ICE agents to do their jobs going after gangs and traffickers. And she favored supporting DACA (Deferred Action for Children Act).
“ICE does a phenomenal job,” King said in response, adding that ICE had nothing to do with taking children away from their mothers, which was responsibility of the U.S. Border Patrol. He said the split in ICE that Grechen Shirley spoke of was strictly a jurisdictional matter. “Not one person in ICE on either side ever criticized the other,” he said.
The candidates also exchanged views on issues including Roe v. Wade; the special prosecutor investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; the budget deficit; and gun control. The audience appeared to favor Grechen Shirley on issues such as a woman’s right to choose and King on labor issues. Both jeers and cheers were heard during King’s comments on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation hearings, and the audience became very vocal during Grechen Shirley’s comments in opposition to the arming of teachers.
Grechen Shirley, an Amityville native, has two children and is a first-time political candidate. She is has worked in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and is the founder of New York’s 2nd District Democrats. She received her bachelor’s degree in politics and Russian and an MBA from New York University.
This is King’s 13th term in Congress. He is a member of the Homeland Security Committee and serves on the Financial Services Committee. He is a former Town of Hempstead councilman and Nassau County comptroller. The Manhattan native received his bachelor’s degree from St. Francis College in Brooklyn and his J.D. from the University of Notre Dame in Southbend, Ind.