During an IBC Bank San Antonio Conversations luncheon Monday, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) stated that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is fit for the presidency.
The visiting senators said the same about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and agreed that both should be more open about their histories heading into the Nov. 8 general election.
In the event held at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel, Texas Tribune CEO and moderator Evan Smith inquired about the three senators’ thoughts on Trump, as well as issues such as health care, immigration, and race relations.
Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Trump may have avoided paying federal income taxes for the past 18 years, thus sparking the latest controversy for the renowned businessman and television personality.
While Cornyn did not endorse a candidate during the GOP primaries, he has since pledged support for Trump’s presidential campaign. On Monday, he said anyone running for public office should strive for transparency and accountability, but declined to delve into specifics on Trump’s tax controversy.
“I’ve tried my best to stay out of the middle of the presidential election and day-to-day activities because, frankly, I wouldn’t be able to get anything else done,” said Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator. “So I’m going to let Mr. Trump answer for his own tax situation.”
Gardner said Trump would do well to release his taxes and answer questions and added that neither Trump nor Clinton have been shining examples of transparency.
Moran said he’d prefer presidential campaigns to focus on national issues rather than the candidates’ personalities or parts of their histories.
“This campaign should be about America, the United States, his views and policies compared with the other candidates for president,” Moran said, adding that personal attacks are distractions alluring only to the media. “I certainly think the objective for Americans in making a decision on who to vote for, is to determine the policy decisions that need to be made in this country.”
Smith asked the senators about U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to publicly say whether he feels Trump is fit for the presidency following his endorsement of the Republican candidate. None of the senators gave a “yes” or “no” answer.
Instead, all three senators agreed that both Trump and Clinton may be qualified to be president, but also acknowledged Smith’s point that both frontrunners are the least popular U.S. presidential candidates in modern times.
“These are the choices made by the parties, this is a process,” said Cornyn, adding that he would rather focus on what impact Clinton or Trump would make if elected president. “I care about the federal judiciary, I care about the cabinet officials who will head administrative agencies that oversee regulations, which frankly under the current administration have strangled the economy.”
Turning the conversation to health care, Smith noted many Republicans’ insistence on repealing the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. He asked the visiting senators what they would replace Obamacare with if the current federal health care insurance law were to be repealed.
“Hopefully with something that’s more affordable than Obamacare,” Cornyn said. He added that President Obama’s quest to make health care more affordable yielded the opposite effect and that “people who buy health insurance are finding themselves with deductibles that practically make them self-insured.”
After years of growth since the law went into effect in 2010, several major insurers have left the Obamacare marketplace, thus limiting the options for consumers. Clinton has pledged to tweak the system and incentivize states that refuse Medicaid expansion, while Trump has promised to scale back the program.
The senators agreed that Obamacare has also negatively impacted businesses, whose growth, they said, is hindered by the law’s regulations and costs.
Smith asked Gardner what options would look like for people who have grown accustomed to the benefits of Obamacare such as keeping their children on their insurance or circumventing pre-existing health condition rules. Gardner said he thinks more people feel harmed by the law as providers are dropping out of the exchange.
“In Colorado, over 750,000 people have had their insurance claims canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” he explained. “Colorado, like Texas, has seen a dramatic increase in terms of its premiums.”
Gardner added that there should be other ways to bring about affordable health care without adversely impacting the population at large.
“Among the goals of any new plan of cutting costs of health care would be the care based on pre-existing health conditions,” Moran said. Policy should not be damaging to the whole nation or be “more hurtful than helpful,” he added.
Talking immigration reform, the senators said both Democrats and Republicans should halt divisive rhetoric on the issue and admit there is no one overnight, quick fix.
Gardner said U.S. communities are stronger because of the people immigrating around the world. He pointed out that of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., nearly half came into the country legally but have overstayed their visas. The system has been ill-equipped to accommodate their transition, he added.
He advocated for a bipartisan, incremental approach to immigration-related matters such as shoring up border security and fixing the visa system. When Smith asked Gardner point-blank whether there should be a wall built along the Mexico/U.S. border, Gardner said he would not be inclined to endorse the wall that Trump has suggested, but that the federal government and affected state governments should look at all viable options.
“We need to handle this on a step-by-step basis,” Cornyn said after explaining that border security can be improved by a variety of steps short of erecting a wall.
Despite the divisiveness on the issue, Cornyn sees most Americans as being able to comprehend and approach immigration reform in a level-headed manner.
“The American people are some of the most compassionate people in the world,” he said. “We naturalize almost 1 million people each year.”
Moran weighed in by saying that effective immigration reform would not be in the form of a singular law passed by Congress: “I think Congress tries to pass way too many pieces of legislation with multi-thousands of pages that give unintended consequences that we’d have to explain (when) something didn’t go as intended.”
On the topic of the recent spate of publicized police-involved shootings, the three senators agreed that there is no one thing that the federal government can do to improve race relations.
Such conversations should take place at the local level, Cornyn said, and the focus should be on potential remedies such as reforming sentencing guidelines as part of a larger criminal justice overhaul.
Top image: Donald Trump looks behind his shoulder before he calls Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz to the podium to speak during a trip to Laredo, Texas in 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.