Monday 17 October 2016

Ruiz, Stone clash on Iran, healthcare

The Iran nuclear deal and healthcare policy took center stage when the candidates for California's 36th Congressional District debated Sunday.

While the exchanges between incumbent Democrat Rep. Raul Ruiz and Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone started out somewhat sedate and even pleasant -- Ruiz thanked Stone for his patriotism, entrepreneurship and public service during opening statements -- the candidates toughened their stances as the 90-minute face-off went on.

One of the most heated exchanges came when the candidates were allowed to ask each other one question. Stone called Ruiz one of Iran’s best friends and asked what he would say to the families of people who had been put to death by the Iranian regime for being gay, lesbian, Christian or Jewish.

“Were going to go after Iran,” Ruiz said. “Iran is not a friend of the United States. Iran should not be trusted.”

Stone said Ruiz’s support of the Iran nuclear deal was the reason he got into the race. He referenced statements Ruiz made before the deal went to Congress, asserting he would not vote for a deal that left Iran with the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

“You determine for yourself, did he keep his promise?” Stone asked. “I say he didn’t.”

Ruiz and other Democratic lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to continue “building on the recently announced political framework,” but Ruiz said he never publicly made promises about how he would cast his vote. He also said the current commander in chief of the Israel Defense Forces supported the deal, saying it made Iran a lot less likely to build a nuclear weapon now, and more difficult for the regime to build one in the future.

READ MORE: Ruiz, Stone have heated exchange on Iran nuclear deal

The candidates did find some common ground on issues that traditionally have divided Republicans and Democrats, but the agreements weren’t without caveats.

Both said they supported universal background checks for gun buyers. But Stone, unlike his opponent, said he did not support lifting the federal ban on gun-violence research.

“We don’t need more research,” he said. “Criminals are going to do criminal activities.”

Ruiz rebuked him, saying he believed any policy needs to be research based.

“This is not an ideological conversation,” he said. “This is a pragmatic conversation. People are dying out there.”

The two also found some limited common ground on immigration, with each saying they supported strengthening the border and providing a pathway to citizenship for those already in the country. They differed on accepting Syrian refugees.

Ruiz said the screening process for refugees needed to be more stringent, but that the U.S. should continue to welcome Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war. He also chided Stone for not being more sympathetic to the plight of refugees, as his grandparents came to the United States from Europe, fleeing the Nazis.

Stone pointed out that some of his family had died in the Holocaust, and added he didn’t think they would be supportive of Ruiz’s vote to support the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted economic sanctions on the country in exchange for promises it would reduce enriched uranium reserves, pause enrichment, limit installation of centrifuges at enrichment facilities and allow international inspections.

“We’re always the beacon of hope,” Stone said of the United States. “But we have a $20 trillion deficit. We can’t afford it.”

The two also found some limited common ground on immigration, with each saying they supported strengthening the border and providing a pathway to citizenship for those already in the country. They differed on accepting Syrian refugees.

Ruiz said the screening process for refugees needed to be more stringent, but that the U.S. should continue to welcome Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war. He also chided Stone for not being more sympathetic to the plight of refugees, as his grandparents came to the United States from Europe, fleeing the Nazis.

Stone pointed out that some of his family had died in the Holocaust, and added he didn’t think they would be supportive of Ruiz’s vote to support the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted economic sanctions on the country in exchange for promises it would reduce enriched uranium reserves, pause enrichment, limit installation of centrifuges at enrichment facilities and allow international inspections.

“We’re always the beacon of hope,” Stone said of the United States. “But we have a $20 trillion deficit. We can’t afford it.”

The debate picked up more rhetoric from the presidential race as it moved into its last half hour. The candidates were asked about how best to combat the rising cost of prescription drugs, but segued into personal attacks about salaries.

Stone chided Ruiz for accepting his Congressional wages after he previously said he would not take his salary if Congress didn’t pass a budget. Stone said he would donate his Congressional pay to local non-profits if elected.

Ruiz called this statement a “cheap election ploy” from a “career politician.” Stone rebuffed him, saying Ruiz was the career politician, beholden to special interests.

The two also butted heads on shutting down the government. Ruiz said the most recent shutdown was one of the worst moments of his career. In contrast, Stone said he would gladly shut the government down if that’s what it took to stop Congress from raising the debt ceiling again.

One of the few moments of accord came toward the end of the debate, when the candidates were asked if they had aspirations for higher office. Both said they currently didn’t have any plans for higher office and agreed they couldn’t predict where they would be in two years.

“I’m looking forward to getting through November 8th and getting back to work,” Ruiz said.

Corinne Kennedy covers the west valley for The Desert Sun. She can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @CorinneSKennedy or at 760-778-4625.




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