Republican Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Democrat Jason Crow sat down with 9News political people Kyle Clark and Marshall Zelinger on Tuesday for the final debate of the CO-6 race. You can watch the full 30-minute debate here, or you can read all about it below.
Since this could very well be Coffman’s final debate as an incumbent politician after 30 years in elected office, we wanted to mark the occasion with one of our world famous “Debate Diaries.”
*NOTE: When we do our “live” Debate Diaries, we normally list the most current update at the top of the page. But because we’re posting this entire Debate Diary at once, it makes more sense to write it out chronologically from the top-down. As always, unless it is in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time and/or the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome.
We’re fast-forwarding through introductions so that we can get right to the good stuff. Clark and Zelinger are seated on one side of a triangle-shaped glass table, with Coffman and Crow spread out along the hypotenuse. Coffman is wearing a navy blue suit with a light blue shirt and a festive red, white, and blue tie. Crow is wearing a dark suit with a white shirt and a navy blue tie with light blue stripes.
There are no opening statements, so Clark opens the discussion by talking about a breaking story from Tuesday evening related to missing ballots in Adams County. Clark asks if the candidates have concerns about this story or if they look at this as “just an honest mistake.”
Both Coffman and Crow hesitate for a moment, perhaps unsure if Clark is finally done talking. Each candidate talks briefly about how they are keeping an eye on the situation and watching how it develops. Since this is a late-breaking story relative to the timing of the debate, there’s really not much to discuss. That was a waste of 45 seconds.
Clark asks a question about pre-existing conditions for healthcare coverage, specifically about a Trump administration plan that would allow individual states to permit coverage plans that actually weaken protections for pre-existing conditions. Clark asks Coffman if he supports this proposal.
Coffman then says something unclear about the “MacArthur Amendment” and how he wasn’t able to vote for it but promises that he supports protections for pre-existing conditions because he introduced a bill about it when he was a state lawmaker.
“I think it’s very important, and I think it’s a right that people ought to have,” he concludes.
Clark asks Crow what he thinks of this idea to allow states to offer healthcare plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions.
“I disagree with it,” says Crow. “I think in America, nobody should go bankrupt or die because they can’t afford healthcare, or because they have a pre-existing condition.” Crow says that his wife has a pre-existing condition, which makes this a personal issue for him as well.
Then he goes right at Coffman. “My opponent has a long history of voting to gut the Affordable Care Act. He voted 17 times to repeal it entirely, including protections on pre-existing conditions. So I do not have any confidence that if Mike Coffman were to go back to Washington D.C. for the next two years that he would protect that and the other essential elements of the Affordable Care Act.”
Clark notes that Coffman “has been on both sides” of the issue in terms of whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be protected. He asks Coffman how he responds to Crow’s remarks that he isn’t confident Coffman would protect pre-existing conditions.
“Well, I certainly voted for HR-826, Guaranteed Health Coverage for Pre-Existing Conditions,” says Coffman unhelpfully. He says he has always supported protecting pre-existing conditions “in the event of any repeal” of ACA. It’s not at all clear what Coffman is talking about here, since repealing the ACA would repeal ALL of the ACA.
“Mr. Crow supports all of the Affordable Care Act,” continues Coffman. “He supported the Independent Payment Advisory Board that said that when Medicare growth rates exceeded a certain benchmark, that a 15-member unelected board of bureaucrats could then cut Medicare benefits. I think that’s wrong.”
Wow. You really nailed him with that Independent Payment Advisory Board quip! [eyeroll]
We’re staying with the healthcare theme. Zelinger asks Coffman to be specific about which Coloradans likely need to be removed from Medicaid in order to address the federal deficit problem.
“The way it was written, all traditional Medicaid programs were at a 50-50 split,” answers Coffman. “The difference between the Medicaid expansion, the new entitlement created under the Affordable Care Act, is that it’s 90% federal, 10% state. My position is that it should be treated like any other Medicaid program. A 50-50 split.”
Zelinger: “So everybody who is on Medicaid in Colorado should stay on, then?”
Coffman: “I’ve not said that anybody should get off [of Medicaid], but that the formula should change. Medicaid expansion should be treated like all other traditional Medicaid programs.”
This is classic Coffman here: Throw out a bunch of gibberish to avoid giving a direct answer to an important question. If you go back and read what Coffman just said, his response will tell you NOTHING about his stance on Medicaid expansion.
Zelinger asks Crow if he supports the “Medicare for All” program supported by Senator Bernie Sanders. Somehow the Vermont Senator manages to get mentioned in just about every candidate debate in Colorado.
“I don’t support that program,” says Crow. “Because everywhere I go throughout the district, people want more options, not less. Costs are way too high for the majority of Coloradans.” Crow says his proposal is to protect the ACA, because while it is not a perfect system, there are a number of good elements of ACA that should be defended.
“And then we need to go to a federal public option,” says Crow. “We need to have a care-based public option that folks under age 65 can buy into to increase competition and decrease costs within the individual market.”
Whether you agree with Crow or not, there’s no denying that he provided a substantive answer to this question – particularly in comparison with Coffman.
Zelinger asks how Crow proposes to pay for his version of “universal healthcare.”
“Obviously we need to have the subsidies and grants in place so that everybody can buy into that [program],” says Crow, who argues that increasing competition is the key driver for lower costs.
“Unlike my opponent, I don’t want to go to a block grant for the Medicaid expansion. He wants to do a block grant which will inevitably mean less money available to the states and rationing of care.”
Zelinger: “So you don’t foresee any new money coming from Congress to pay for this?”
Crow: “There might have to be initially, but we’ll have to see how that settles out once you add the expanded market into Medicare.”
Clark moves the discussion to immigration and the caravan moving through Central America and Mexico toward the United States.
Clark: “Mr. Coffman, would you welcome them here?”
Coffman: “First of all, let’s face the facts that this is a humanitarian crisis. That they are in fact fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.”
“I support secure borders. My opponent, and Nancy Pelosi and Jason Crow support open borders.” We have our first Nancy Pelosi reference from Coffman, though there wasn’t much enthusiasm behind his delivery.
Coffman says that we can address this problem by filling the needs for temporary, agricultural, and hospitality jobs in the United States.
Clark says that he didn’t hear an answer to the question, which is, “Would you welcome them into the sixth Congressional district? They’re not looking for seasonal work – they’re looking to come and stay here and live.”
Coffman is visibly flustered now, and his response indicates as much. “No…well, the answer is this…no. I think, my answer is that there is a different solution…uh, for it.” Coffman then says he had a meeting last week with “four mayors from El Salvador” who told him that a big part of their economy is remittances from family and friends in the United States sending money back to El Salvador. This, of course, is not new information to anyone who has paid any attention to the immigration issue in the last several decades.
Coffman just talked for the better part of two minutes and said basically nothing.
Clark keeps pressing for an answer. “You don’t think that the solution is admitting them to the United States?”
Coffman: “We are a nation of laws, and we do have to fix our broken immigration system butwehavetorecognizethelaws [he said this part extremely fast] that we have but we do have laws relative to political asylum.”
Clark: “I’m not sure we got an answer but we did hear…a bit.” He turns to Crow with a similar question. “Should we welcome them into the sixth congressional district, and more specifically, what should the U.S. government do if and when they reach the border?”
Crow: “First off, Mike Coffman just said that I support open borders. That’s just patently false.” Coffman is staring straight ahead and blinking rapidly as Crow speaks.
“Just last night we had a debate where I talked about the need for strong border security,” continues Crow. “Unlike Coffman, I don’t believe in spending $25 billion on Donald Trump’s wall.”
Crow says he would like to see the migrants in question seek asylum in Mexico. For those who do reach the U.S. border, Crow says we should treat them the same as we would treat anyone else seeking legal asylum by the legal standard that currently exists.
Clark: “Should they meet that legal requirement, you would welcome them in the 6th Congressional District?”
Moving along, Clark asks Crow if he would support impeachment proceedings against President Trump “based on what you know now.”
Crow: “I wouldn’t. I am a rule of law person….we need to be supporting due process and the rule of law.” Crow says it is inappropriate to mix a political process of impeachment with an ongoing legal investigation. “The priority of Congress has to be to protect the Mueller investigation.”
Clark asks Crow if he would support impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh “based on what you know now.”
Crow: “No, I don’t agree with that either.” Crow repeats that he wants to see facts emerge from an ethics investigation before making that commitment.
Zelinger has the next question for Coffman. He says that Coffman texted him one month before the November election saying that President Trump should step aside in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape. “Have you ever had a face-to-face conversation with President Trump?”
Coffman says he’s been in a meeting with Trump but wouldn’t say he’s had a face-to-face conversation. “The American people, uh, spoke through the election, uh, and they elected Donald Trump,” says Coffman, almost reluctantly. Coffman then repeats his line about standing up to the President when he disagrees with him.
Zelinger: “If you had a minute with him tomorrow, what would you tell him?”
Coffman: “I would tell him, uh, uh, let’s get immigration reform done. Let’s have a path to citizenship for the DREAMERs. Let’s have a path to citizenship for those under temporary protective status in the El Salvadorian community.”
Coffman now pivots. “My opponent just referenced my voting for a bill that funded the President’s border security plan. That was in exchange for a path to citizenship for the DREAMERs that was in that same bill. He [Crow] would not have voted for that. I voted for that.”
Zelinger sticks with his question and wants to know if Coffman would talk with Trump about the social issues and his general demeanor.
Coffman: “The President is not going to change. I think he has made that very clear to the American people. I don’t like his tone. I wish it were different. But the President is not going to change.” This is actually a decent answer from Coffman (if he had said nothing else), but it doesn’t hide the problem that Coffman’s words don’t match his actions in Congress.
Clark asks Crow for examples of where he would have broken with Democratic Party leadership. Crow says he is not a career politician and is not afraid to work across party lines, yada, yada, yada.
Crow then gets to some specifics, citing his opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) because it didn’t protect the environment and didn’t protect American workers in the manufacturing base.
Clark asks for another example, and Crow cites the military. He says we need to make investments into ensuring that our military forces have the resources they need to be effective after 17 years of war.
Great question here from Zelinger for Coffman: “What is the benefit of sending you back to Congress for your second decade? What are you known for?”
Coffman says he recently passed four bills and says President Trump will sign another bill he supported…though he seems a bit unclear on the details. “My bill plusses up the VA in terms of mental health counselors,” says Coffman. He then mumbles something about helping women deal with substance abuse issues and homelessness and sexual assault. Coffman finishes up with some vague talking points about supporting the military and backing immigration reform.
This is actually a very interesting moment. Coffman was asked why he should be re-elected to Congress, and his answer was to vomit out a handful of disconnected talking points with no core message or narrative. This is a very basic question — why should I vote for you? – and Coffman is fundamentally unable to give a meaningful response.
Zelinger asks Crow about his pledge to not accept PAC money and asks why he doesn’t tell outside groups that DO accept PAC money to not get involved in his race. This is not a new question for any political race, and it’s always struck us as unfair to any candidate; in our current political system, candidates have no control over what outside groups are going to do either for or against them.
Crow says he challenged Coffman to reject PAC money. Zelinger presses on why Crow doesn’t come out and reject outside groups spending on his race, and Crow has a solid response. “Because we need to do that together,” he says, gesturing toward Coffman.
Coffman jumps in here with a pre-packaged attack that doesn’t really fit within the conversation. “First of all, [Crow] does accept PAC money.” Coffman directs viewers to go to his website to see that Crow has accepted money from other organizations that DO accept PAC money, which is a completely absurd accusation. Nobody expects these candidates to dig into the finances of every organization that gives their campaign money.
Coffman asks Crow if he will return money that came from organizations that themselves accept PAC money. Crow responds by asking Coffman if he will refuse to accept PAC money directly. This is silly.
“There is only one person at this table who has accepted corporate PAC money, and that’s you [Coffman], to the tune of $2 million,” says Crow. Coffman responds by demanding Crow answer his question, then acts like he pulled off some sort of “gotcha” moment. In reality, both candidates just talked over each other and generally ignored each other’s questions.
Clark says that both candidates have accused each other of dishonesty in general.
Coffman goes first, and talks about how Crow changed his law firm bio to remove something about representing a certain client and…whatever. Who cares? If you’re talking about the wording of your opponent’s bio, you’re losing.
Nevertheless, Coffman spends a full 45 seconds mumbling about how Crow has different versions of his professional biography. Crow almost looks like he’s trying to suppress a smile.
Coffman finishes with some nonsensical diatribe about Crow not taking PAC money but taking money from people who take PAC money…eventually Clark just cuts him off.
Clark moves to Crow and asks him why he thinks Coffman is dishonest.
“You prefaced that question by talking about our military service. I honor Mike Coffman’s [military] service,” begins Crow. “I’ve been very disappointed that he hasn’t honored mine, but that’s his decision to make.” That was very strong.
Crow says that attacks Coffman has levied against him throughout the campaign have been repeatedly called false “and even shameful by local media.” He then turns to the Trump elephant in the room, reminding viewers that Coffman promised to stand up to Trump in a campaign ad in 2016. “He has failed to keep that promise, and he has to be held accountable,” says Crow.
After a surprising lack of fireworks, we move on to another question. Clark asks Coffman what he would say to an Independent voter who is considering voting against him because of President Trump and the Republican Party.
“I’ve been an independent voice,” says Coffman. He then says that the Denver Post editorial board laid out a good argument for his re-election, though he curiously doesn’t bother to explain any further.
“Jason Crow was picked by the Democrat establishment in Washington D.C. because he’s never stood up to them. He’s always followed them.” This makes no sense.
Crow’s turn to answer the same question, which is prefaced by Clark saying that it probably isn’t a good idea to get rid of all of the moderates in Congress. “Well, first off, I wouldn’t say Mike Coffman’s a moderate. Having a 96% voting record with Donald Trump? And that’s not my number – that’s the Congressional record…that’s not a moderate in my view.”
“The entire system has failed us,” says Crow.
Zelinger asks Crow to explain a statement on his website that he led the charge to get a new VA hospital in Aurora. Crow responds by talking about leading a statewide veterans committee, and about his efforts to create a white paper that was presented to make the case for a standalone VA facility.
Zelinger follows up by asking Crow if he should also take some of the blame for the VA hospital being late in construction and way above budget. Crow says that Coffman is a member of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives and failed in his oversight responsibilities.
Zelinger switches topics, mentioning that Coffman has often changed his mind on the abortion issue. “Where are you now?”
Coffman: “I’m pro-life. I believe in exceptions…rape, incest, life of the mother…” And then Coffman faceplants with an awful attempt at switching topics. “On the VA hospital, I got…um…the district was redrawn in January 2013. The new district had the VA hospital in it. Uh, I immediately recognized the problems. I led the fight to get the Army Corps of Engineers on the project. Uh, they brought it to completion. Uh, I got the cost overruns funded, although we trimmed it back some. I led the fight, uh, to make sure that the VA, uh, will never build another hospital again without someone like the Army Corps of Engineers.”
That was as painful to watch as it is to read.
We move to closing arguments, with Crow up first.
Crow talks about growing up in a working class family to pay his way through college. Says he has never been an elected official before. Talks about three combat tours as an Army Ranger. Says he is a proud parent of a five-year-old and an eight-year-old. “This election is about environmental protections, it’s about labor standards, it’s about a woman’s right to choose. It’s about immigration reform, it’s about healthcare.”
Crow drones on a bit but finishes strong.
“We will not solve these issues, and we will not stand up to Donald Trump by electing the same people like Mike Coffman to go back to Washington and do what they’ve been doing for years – and failing this community.”
Coffman now turns to face the camera with a really awkward-looking “sincere face.” His heart doesn’t seem to be in this anymore.
“What I like about this job is helping families,” says Coffman. He then launches into a labored story about how he helped a family who adopted a child from Peru that includes way too many details and becomes impossible to follow after about 15 seconds. Coffman doesn’t have time to finish his story before Clark cuts him off. We get what Coffman was trying to do here, but if you’re going to go with a detailed story like this, you should probably practice a bit more.
Coffman had 45 seconds to make a closing argument about why he should be re-elected, and he wasted all of it with a rambling tale that would make no sense to anyone who didn’t already know some of the background details. Just brutal.
Crow won this debate handily, though that almost seems to be beside the point. In fairness to Mike Coffman, it would be tough to show a lot of fire in a debate when all signs are pointing to your inevitable loss in two weeks. If you were an impartial observer here, there’s little question that Crow came off as better prepared and more energized in general. Crow’s answers were largely crisp and followed with pre-planned talking points, whereas Coffman seemed to drift in and out of the conversation with no strategic direction in mind.
In what could be his final debate as an elected official, Mike Coffman looked like the guy in the back of the bar who is pretending that he didn’t hear the “last call” but is already putting on his coat so that he can make a quick exit when the lights turn on.