Rep. Peter King and his Democratic challenger Liuba Grechen Shirley sparred Thursday night on divisive political and social issues in their first televised debate.
Grechen Shirley, 37, a progressive activist from Amityville, touted herself as an economic development expert and said King, a Republican from Seaford, has been in office since she was 12 and had “become complacent.”
King, 74, highlighted his bipartisan record and lengthy tenure as “good experience” to represent the district given his strong advocacy on behalf of Long Islanders and New Yorkers. He listed some of his accomplishments, including securing money to provide health care for 9/11 first responders and superstorm Sandy recovery.
“I don’t know any congressman ever on Long Island who’s done more for his district, more for Long Island, than I have,” King said.
The hourlong FiOS-sponsored debate was held at Plainedge High School in North Massapequa.
Grechen Shirley spent much of the debate criticizing King’s record and the policies of President Donald Trump.
“I am not a politician. I’m a Long Islander,” she said. “I have had enough of career politicians and millionaires making really bad decisions for the rest of us. I have fought to make sure that working families have the opportunities that they need to succeed.”
She criticized King for his vote last year to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act and his inability to prevent House Republicans from passing tax cuts that reduced the state and local deduction for property taxes to $10,000.
“I have talked to people who cannot pay their grocery bill and buy their prescription medicine in the same week,” she said. “I know what it’s like to argue with your insurance company.”
King defended his legislative work and credited Republicans for the improving national economy
“I’m proud of my record,” King said. “Many of the things that she complains about, we’ve had eight years of Barack Obama. Right now, the economy’s doing much better.”
The two also clashed on a number of social issues roiling the country.
On abortion, King said he is against it and believed the legal reasoning underpinning the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, was flawed.
Grechen Shirley challenged King directly on the issue.
“I would like to know Mr. King,” she said, “why you do not trust women to make the best decisions for our bodies?”
On the handling of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, which involved allegations of sexual assault against the nominee, King said it was “atrocious and outrageous” for Democrats in the Senate to “presume him guilty before there was any evidence at all.”
He called Democrats hypocritical for caring more about the victims of Trump’s travel ban than the rights of Kavanaugh.
“People . . . were so worried because people coming in from Sudan were denied their rights to the airport,” King said. “They didn’t give a damn about the rights of Judge Kavanaugh up there.”
The debate was interrupted a number of times, including by outbursts from teachers who told Grechen Shirley they wouldn’t mind being armed; a man who shouted he had been blocked from King's Facebook page; and a woman in a pink-knit hat symbolic of women’s issues protesting interruptions against Grechen Shirley.
The two also sparred on the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Grechen Shirley said she doesn’t support its abolition but added that there was a part of ICE that “is ripping breast-feeding babies away from their mothers and handcuffing their mothers.”
That part needs reform, she said.
King said that Border Patrol was responsible for taking children from their mothers.
“If you’re going to go to Congress and you want to be dismantling ICE on a false premise, you’re making a terrible mistake, and it will result in blood being spread because of that.”
Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized an audience member’s comment about being blocked from a Facebook page.