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Key insights, remaining questions after Sunday’s U.S. Senate debate between Smiley and Murray

Sunday’s debate between U.S. Senate candidates Patty Murray and Tiffany Smiley was enlightening in some ways but left some questions unanswered.

Murray, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, faces political newcomer Smiley, a Republican veterans advocate from Pasco, in the November general election. There were many tense exchanges in the debate, perhaps because the race is narrowing, according to some polling.

Here are a few new insights we learned and a few remaining questions after Sunday’s debate:

Key insights

Along with some of their usual talking points, the debate offered some answers on topics they had not highlighted.

Both candidates were asked if they would support comprehensive immigration reform, which would include increasing border security as well as providing a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

Smiley’s campaign has touched on improving border security, even touting a recent visit to the southern border.

On Sunday’s debate, she again stressed a lack of proper security at the border, which she said has led to more fentanyl crossing the border and a rise in human trafficking. She said she supports keeping in place Title 42, which allows for the deportation of people who have been in a country where there is a communicable disease. It was activated during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to stop the spread at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But she also said she would support a comprehensive package that would secure the border while ensuring a pathway to legal citizenship.

“Career politicians like to use immigration as a political wedge when it comes to election time,” Smiley said. “I will actually go and secure our border and ensure there is a pathway to legal citizenship in our country.”

As a senator, Murray has said she supports comprehensive immigration reform, and Sunday’s debate was no different.

She said she wants to create a pathway to citizenship for people currently in the U.S. and those seeking asylum as well as giving proper funding for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Murray has made abortion one of the main issues this election season, saying she is the only candidate who will fight for a woman’s right to choose in the Senate.

Smiley has said she will not vote for a nationwide abortion ban. She said she thinks it should be up to the voters to decide, not the government.

As predicted, both candidates stuck to those positions throughout the debate.

Both candidates were asked about providing an exception to the Senate’s filibuster rule to expand access to abortion nationwide.

Murray said she does believe the rules of the Senate should change when it comes to making a decision about rights, such as a woman’s right to choose.

“I do not think that the rules of the Senate should preclude us from codifying them into law,” Murray said.

Smiley again she wanted to keep abortion with the will of the voters and that the filibuster should remain in place.

“The filibuster is a long-held rule in the Senate that balances the power and is good for our country,” Smiley said.

Candidates were also asked questions on local issues, such as the Hanford nuclear site.

Murray said she has worked to secure funding for Hanford cleanup for decades. She said the process of vitrification, turning radioactive and chemical waste into glass, is currently happening, though it is expensive and will take a long time.

She also acknowledged the importance of cleaning up leaking tanks and said she would fight to ensure Washington has the resources to do so.

Smiley’s answer on Hanford wasn’t as clear, but she did say cleanup of the nuclear site needs to be done in “an efficient way.” She said she would ensure cleanup of the site was fully funded.

Elisa Carlson, spokesperson for Smiley’s campaign, said Smiley’s priorities for cleanup would be to consult with experts on the best places to focus efforts and resources.

Both candidates were asked if they would support codifying same-sex and interracial marriages. A bill to do so already has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and will likely be taken up in the Senate soon.

Smiley said she would vote for a bill to do so as long as there are strong religious protections around it, though she did not say what those protections would be.

She called the bill “a distraction” from Democrats from real issues, such as crime and rising costs.

Murray said she would absolutely support codifying same-sex and interracial marriages.

Remaining questions

A number of questions remain after Sunday’s debate.

Smiley did not directly answer whether humans are contributing to climate change, though she was given two chances to do so.

“We need to protect our environment and our climate,” Smiley said in response. “We all live on this planet.”

She pointed to her agenda, which calls for immediately unleashing natural gas and oil pipelines to help lower costs for Americans.

After being asked a second time, Murray did acknowledge that humans have an impact on climate change and that she is working to lower emissions to deal with its effects.

Both candidates were asked their thoughts on the Affordable Care Act and if they wanted to do anything to change it.

Murray said she supported a number of provisions within the Affordable Care Act, such as keeping children on their parents’ health care until the age of 26 and subsidizing health care to lower costs. She did not say if there was anything specific that she would want changed but did acknowledge that she’d want those benefits extended.

After the debate, Murray’s campaign released a statement that pointed specifically to her work securing health care tax credits in the American Rescue Plan as a way that she has worked to lower costs.

Murray criticized Smiley for wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though Smiley said she did not say that.

Smiley did not choose to respond to Murray’s criticism at the time of the debate, but Carlson said in an email that Smiley does not want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, only that she wants to fix some issues that she says affect the doctor-patient relationship.

During Smiley’s response on Sunday, she pointed to her being a nurse when the Affordable Care Act passed. She said there should be transparency, accountability and lower costs for Americans’ health care.

During one of the most heated portions of the debate, the candidates talked about their thoughts on the Jan. 6 committee and Trump’s responsibility in the Jan. 6 riot.

Neither candidate answered how much responsibility they would give to Trump for the riots.

Murray said it is critical that everyone involved is held accountable for the Jan. 6 riot, though she did not specifically mention Trump. Since Jan. 6, Murray has been outspoken about Trump’s role in the insurrection and voted to convict him in February of last year.

When asked about what she would say to those who don’t believe the 2020 election results were valid, Murray said the country should not allow “brute force to take over our votes.”

Smiley said those who broke the law Jan. 6 should be held accountable to the full extent of the judicial system, but did not specifically mention Trump.

To those who do not believe the 2020 elections were valid, Smiley encouraged them to “use their voices and vote.”

Smiley said she does want to address election concerns from voters because “our elections are important to people all over our country.”

Before the Aug. 2 primary, Smiley’s website said the 2020 elections raised “serious questions about the integrity of our elections” but that statement has since been removed.

Murray criticized Smiley for not discussing gun violence in answering a question about crime.

Murray said she supports an assault weapons ban, increase background checks and additional funds for mental health.

Smiley said she wants to protect Second Amendment rights but wants weapons to be kept “out of the hands of criminals.” She did not explicitly touch on an assault weapons ban or increased background checks.

In an email Monday, Carlson said Smiley is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights but was encouraged by bipartisan legislation passed after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this year.

She said Smiley wants to focus more on increasing mental health treatment and not being soft on crime .

“That, more than assault weapons ban, will have an impact on curbing the gun violence we are seeing,” Carlson wrote.

Editor’s note: Reporter Laurel Demkovich moderated Sunday’s debate.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.