CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus again highlighted contrasts between U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Corky Messner in their third and final debate Tuesday night.
Messner, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump during his primary campaign, praised what he called the president’s “courageous decision to stop travel from China” in early February to prevent the spread of the virus.
But Trump didn’t ban travel from China; he restricted it. More than 27,000 Americans returned from mainland China in the first month after the restrictions took effect, and U.S. officials lost track of more than 1,600 of them who were supposed to be monitored for virus exposure.
“It wasn’t a very effective travel ban. What we need is an effective response to this coronavirus, and we haven’t seen it from this president, and my opponent continues to support this president’s response to the coronavirus,” Shaheen said during the WMUR-TV debate.
The candidates then briefly talked over each other, with Messner calling Shaheen “un-American.”
“You wanted to keep Americans out of this country. What kind of senator is that?” he said.
Shaheen rebutted, “I wanted them to quarantine to make sure they weren’t bringing coronavirus back to the United States.”
With negotiations continuing in Washington on a huge COVID-19 relief bill, Messner again criticized Shaheen for opposing a Republican bill weeks ago.
“Right now there could be more money for small businesses, right now there could be money for enhanced unemployment, and the Senate could be negotiating these other things,” he said. “This idea of allowing people to suffer for six weeks because of inside-the-Beltway negotiations and holding out while people in New Hampshire are suffering; that’s why we need new leadership in the Senate.”
But Shaheen countered that blame lies with Senate leadership from Messner’s party — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“It’s unfortunate that Mitch McConnell took six weeks from the time the Heroes Act got to the Senate before he was even willing to consider a bill in the Senate,” she said. “The bill that Mitch McConnell put on the floor at the end of July doesn’t provide the help that people need. We have a hospital in New Hampshire that just went bankrupt this week. ... We have got to help hospitals and schools and businesses and everyone that is hurting as a result of this pandemic, and Mitch McConnell has not been willing to come to the table.”
As a final question, the candidates were asked to describe one person who had “truly touched” them during the campaign. Messner described someone offering him help; Shaheen described offering help to others.
“I was in Portsmouth and a woman drove the whole way from Claremont to Portsmouth to see me,” Messner said. “She said to me, simply, ’I wanted to come meet you. I want you know that I’m praying for you and we have a prayer group in Claremont praying for you.”
Shaheen, meanwhile, described meeting a woman in Berlin who credited the senator and her staff with saving her life.
“She needed health care and she couldn’t get it, and we had helped to put her in touch with that health care,” she said. “The Affordable Care Act is so important to so many people in New Hampshire; we can’t let that get overturned.”