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The policies behind the North Carolina U.S. Senate race

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Democratic challenger Lt. Col. Cal Cunningham discuss coronavirus, racial justice, and health care reform.
North Carolina's U.S. Senate candidates discuss coronavirus, race, and health care.
North Carolina's U.S. Senate candidates discuss coronavirus, race, and health care.(Gray DC)
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 11:27 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2020 at 7:19 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - North Carolina’s nail-biter of a senate race may determine which party controls the country’s future. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and his Democratic challenger Lt. Col. Cal Cunningham digitally connected with the Gray D.C. Bureau to discuss the issues behind their campaigns.

Coronavirus:

Sen. Thom Tillis said the latest round of Coronavirus relief should target the unemployed, those with childcare needs, and struggling businesses, as well as state and local governments destabilized by the pandemic. “How can we get resources to them, how can we get it to families that are still struggling because they were impacted by COVID,” said Tillis.

His standard is more generous than the $500-billion plan backed by his Republican colleagues in the Senate. The White House and Democrats in the House are discussing two-trillion dollars.

“I think something in excess of a trillion dollars is likely to be where we land”, said Tillis

But, despite his optimism a deal will get done, negotiations are reportedly stalled.

Tillis' Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham said that’s because Republicans prioritized picking a new Supreme Court Justice over helping Americans in need. Judge Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as the newest justice Monday.

“We are seeing, I think, a colossal failure of leadership”, Cunningham said.

Cunningham argues Republicans reacted too slowly at every point in the pandemic response. He said their latest offer falls short of America’s needs -- from housing assistance to school support, from help for those out of work to those trying to keep their businesses open.

Cunningham did not say whether accepting a half-measure is better than nothing. “I’d be working with my colleagues, other members of the Senate – Republicans included, to find those places where there is common ground”, said Cunningham.

Racial Justice:

Calls for change continue to echo across North Carolina and the country after high-profile police killings led to nationwide protests. Meanwhile, justice reform remains stalled in the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Thom Tillis supports the reforms in the JUSTICE Act.

“It was a great first step”, said Tillis.

The bill would collect more data on use of force and ‘no knock’ warrants, require better reporting of police misconduct, and offer guidance and training dollars for de-escalation.

Tillis said law enforcement officers are in the crosshairs, and it’s critical to invest in good police.

“They’re getting murdered, they’re getting shot," he said, “and we’ve got to do something to protect them, and raise the standards for their behavior, which will protect the communities.”

Democrats blocked the JUSTICE Act this summer, arguing it does not amount to real reform.

Tillis' Democratic challenger, Lt. Col. Cal Cunningham, said meaningful change needs to be bipartisan.

“Frankly that was a railroad effort”, Cunningham said of the JUSTICE Act.

Citing his experience as a military prosecutor, Cunningham agrees in principle with Tillis' calls to raise standards and investment in law enforcement.

But, along with new training, he supports banning chokeholds, reforms to the prison system, and federal policies for holding officers accountable. “Those are the building blocks for how we build a more fair, or just, criminal justice system," he said.

Both Cunningham and Tillis also see unacceptable disparities in our education, workforce, and health care systems, though they differ on how to deal with them.

Health Care:

More than a million North Carolinians are uninsured. Even for many who are covered, the cost of insurance and regular care is killing their financial well-being.

“Even beyond the stress that COVID has caused, we’ve got a health care problem that we need to fix,” said Sen. Thom Tillis.

Tillis argues the Affordable Care Act is unsustainable and blames it for the closure of rural hospitals. He and his fellow Republicans didn’t have the votes to repeal it though in 2017.

Now, Tillis said the country needs bipartisan fixes, closer cooperation between states and Medicaid, and a greater reliance on the private sector. “Getting people back to work so they can get the health care that they like on their jobs”, he said.

Tillis' Democratic challenger – Lt. Col. Cal Cunningham – said the country ought to build on the ACA. “If the private markets could solve this alone, they would have done it a generation ago,” he said.

Cunningham said the federal government should cover more of the cost of ACA plans, let anyone buy coverage through the online marketplace, and negotiate lower drug prices.

Cunningham also wants Congress to renew incentives for North Carolina to cover more low-income families through Medicaid. “In North Carolina, that could cover perhaps half of the uninsured”, said Cunningham.

The Supreme Court could radically reshape any reform plans in the Senate. It’s set to reconsider the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality in the days following the election.

Copyright 2020 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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