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Sen. Donnelly On Health Care, Supporting Trump, & More Ahead Of Election

Indiana’s US Senate race is one of the most critical in the country this year as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of Congress.

Hoosier Democrat Joe Donnelly hopes to fend off challenges from Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton.

Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith talks with Donnelly about the race’s most-debated issues.

More US Senate election coverage at indianapublicmedia.org/election

Brandon Smith: You’ve talked, both in ads and in person – in the debates – a lot about your willingness to support President Trump. How much do you worry, though, that that kind of message turns off the Democratic base?

Joe Donnelly: Well, my base is the people of Indiana. I don’t go to Washington as a Democrat, as a Republican – I go as our senator to do what’s right for our state. So, when the president is right, I’m with him, like I have been 62 percent of the time on legislation, 77 percent of the time on judges. So, for instance, on Right to Try legislation I was with the president. On opioids legislation, we actually have a piece of legislation on his desk right now and so we worked together on that as well.

Smith: Notably, however, one of the votes you did not side with President Trump on is a recent one that’s generated a bit of attention, which is obviously Judge Kavanaugh. Talk to me about that decision-making process in the context of, you were running for re-election; we’re a month away as the vote was taking place.

Donnelly: But even while I’m running for re-election, my first job is to do what’s right for the people of Indiana and to do what’s right for our country. With Judge Kavanaugh, I used the same process I used when I voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first pick. And Judge Kavanaugh – when you saw his testimony before the committee, I had very grave concerns about his impartiality and about his judicial temperament.

Smith: When you talk about working for Hoosiers, though, do you think a majority of people in Indiana wanted Brett Kavanaugh on the court?

Donnelly: The exact number, I don’t know one way or the other. Perhaps it leaned that way. But my job isn’t just to be a fax machine. My job is to do what’s right for our country while taking all of the information from our state as well.

Read More: Senate Candidates Spar Over Health Care, Taxes, Trump In First Debate

Smith: I can’t think of too many Republicans in Indiana who’ve lost by railing against Obamacare. Are you concerned that Obamacare, even now, is still unpopular with Hoosiers and therefore your position on it will be unpopular with Hoosiers?

Donnelly: Well, I think what you need to do is ask any family in our state who has someone with a pre-existing condition. But here’s the interesting thing with this. Mike Braun has said he’s for pre-existing conditions. But he supports a lawsuit that would take it away if the lawsuit is successful. He supported a Senate bill that would’ve taken away coverage for pre-existing conditions. And so he says one thing but his actions show something completely different.

Read More: Climate Change Most Popular Question Topic For Senate Candidates

Smith: I want to talk a little bit about tariffs. There are Hoosiers who really like this idea of tariffs – I think, of course, about the steelworkers. And others, particularly farmers, who really don’t like how this has played out. How do you, as a policymaker, balance those two competing interests?

Donnelly: Because I don’t believe they’re intertwined. We can do two things at the same time. This situation with the steelworkers is not new. I’ve testified before the International Trade Court on a number of occasions on behalf of our steelworkers in northwest Indiana. I’ll have their back every time. But fixing that should not result in the next step being $200 billion in tariffs on our farmers. And I met with the president personally and said ‘Mr. President, look. These tariffs are a dagger aimed at the heart of our farmers.’ And I urged him to find an off ramp.

Read More: Donnelly Family Business Uses Import Practices He Criticizes 

Smith: I can’t imagine it’s a super popular position to vote against tax cuts for Hoosiers, but that’s what you did in voting against the tax reform package. How do you justify that vote to the average Hoosier?

Donnelly: How do I justify it? So, it would be like the parents going out on a shopping spree and giving the kids in the house the bill. No parent would ever do that. That’s what this tax bill was. I’m not in the business of piling up huge debt for our kids in order to give huge tax breaks to the very, very richest people in our country.

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