Casey, Barletta duel over guns, immigration, economy

Marc Levy
Associated Press
U.S. Sen.Bob Casey, D-PA, right, and Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, left, are prepped by floor manager Patty Cobb before their second debate, Friday Oct. 26, 2018, in the studio of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. Casey, 58, of Scranton, is seeking a third six-year term. Barletta, 62, of Hazleton, is in his fourth term in Congress. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH – The second and final debate in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race drew Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and his Republican challenger into several sharp exchanges over guns, immigration and the economy, as U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta looks to gain ground in polls showing him trailing.

Casey repeatedly referred to Barletta as a “typical Washington politician.” On the question of the economy, Barletta repeatedly challenged Casey to explain why President Donald Trump might not be responsible for what he calls “the greatest economy in our lifetime.”

Early in the debate, Barletta turned a question on raising the minimum wage to the economy, after Casey contended that Trump had inherited a fast-growing economy and made a plug for a large middle-class tax cut.

Barletta insisted this year’s economic growth is because of Trump’s tax-cutting bill and rollback of regulations, and challenged Casey to explain how a policy under President Barack Obama could have contributed to it.

“I don’t know what policy it was in eight years that could have caused that, that waited, hibernated for eight years and all of a sudden showed its head when our administration came into power,” Barletta said.

Casey countered that Obama and a Democratic Congress dragged the country out of recession and back to health, cutting the unemployment rate in half under Obama, without help from Republicans. For Barletta to suggest “this idea, that somehow the magic was created, starting in January 2017, is a big lie and everyone knows it.”

Pressed for an answer on an Obama economic policy, Casey cited the 2009 recovery act that the Democratic Congress passed during Obama’s presidency.

In any case, Barletta’s contention that the economy is the greatest ever is overstating the extent of U.S. economic gains. In fact , the economy is nowhere close to historic bests.

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The hour-long debate taped at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh was broadcast Friday night.

Casey, 58, of Scranton, is seeking a third six-year term in Nov. 6’s election. Barletta, 62, is a fourth-term congressman from Hazelton.

Barletta has badly lagged Casey in fundraising and polls, making it a low-profile race in a state Trump won in 2016 while control of the Senate is being waged in perhaps a dozen other states.

Casey is a critic of Trump, while Barletta is endorsed by the president.

On immigration, Barletta was asked to explain comments he made earlier in the campaign in favor of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy separating parent and child migrants crossing the southwest border.

No one wants to see parents and children separated, Barletta responded, and quickly turned his answer to an attack on Casey.

Barletta called the slow-moving migrant caravan bound for the United States an “invasion” and said they are coming because Casey and other Democrats support a “catch-and-release” policy that lets in migrants and helps them hide in sanctuary cities.

“What you just heard was a Washington politician who’s had eight years in the majority in the House and they’ve done nothing on immigration because they don’t want to solve the problem,” Casey said. “They want to use this issue to divide people.”

Immigration bills failed in both the House and Senate this year.

On “catch-and-release,” Casey has said a federal pilot program for asylum-seekers using monitoring strategies showed more than 90 percent of families came back for hearings. In the meantime, a federal court settlement forbids the government from keeping migrant children and families in custody beyond 20 days.

Casey has opposed GOP bills to punish sanctuary cities, such as Philadelphia, which are jurisdictions that resist turning over immigrants living in the country illegally to federal authorities. Casey suggested that bipartisan immigration legislation that passed the Senate in 2013 is a blueprint to solving immigration problems.

It died in the House, and Barletta’s only plan is to deport 11 million people living illegally in the country, Casey said.

“Senator, you’re not part of the problem with illegal immigration, you are the problem,” Barletta said. “That’s amazing that you’re talking about a bill four years ago when you just voted this year” against competing GOP immigration measures.

On guns, Casey moderated his stance after the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and supports banning assault-style weapons, limiting high-capacity magazines and requiring background checks for online gun sales and purchases.

Pressed repeatedly by the moderator on his stances, Barletta said he supports banning bump stocks and expanding background checks. Barletta said he opposes limits on magazines and suggested that an overly broad definition of assault-style weapons would infringe on the right to own a firearm.

“If you’re talking about a handgun with a detachable magazine … then my answer is no,” Barletta said.

Casey called it “totally consistent with the Second Amendment.”