Senate candidates spar at forum in synagogue
Menendez, Kyrillos see eye to eye on Israel, but on little else
Agreeing over support of Israel, but disagreeing on several domestic issues, the two leading candidates for United States senator from New Jersey took turns explaining their views to the Jewish community.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his challenger, State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Dist. 13), appeared separately at an Oct. 23 forum sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston.
Both spoke of the deep “friendship” between the United States and Israel before diverging on domestic issues.
“Twenty-three million are unemployed or have stopped looking for work altogether,” said Kyrillos in an opening statement. “Poverty is rising. People are wondering whether America is still a place of opportunity.”
He accused Menendez of “subscribing to the same kinds of economic policies that nearly bankrupted the state.”
Asked about Iran’s nuclear potential, Kyrillos told questioner Ken Rotter, cochair of the CRC’s government affairs committee, “The sanctions of course are essential and necessary, and my opponent has worked hard on this, but they appear to be too little too late…. Now everything is on the table.”
A half-hour later, Menendez took the podium, speaking of last year’s sanctions bill he coauthored aimed at slashing Iran’s oil revenues.
“The sanctions I offered have already seen effects,” he said, “with sharp decreases in purchases of Iranian oil and the value of its currency.”
Rotter’s cochair, Janice Schindler, asked both men what America’s role should be in the Syrian civil war.
President Bashar-el Assad “needs to go,” said Kyrillos. “He is one of the word’s great thugs, brutalizing people in the region…. We want democracy for people throughout the world, but of course we are justifiably nervous with regimes that are equally dangerous to the ones they replace.”
Menendez expressed concern about “weapons going to the most fundamentalist elements inside Syria,” and warned about overreaching in the Middle East.
“I do not want us to take our eyes off the prize of the security consequences we face as a nation and our ally Israel faces, which is Iran,” he said. “To believe we could have military intervention inside Syria as some suggest and at the same time be able to eliminate the threat Iran imposes with nuclear weapons is to clearly not understand the threat that is taking place.”
Asked whether he supports a Republican alternative to the Violence Against Women Act, which stalled after it was expanded to include gays, Native Americans, and illegal immigrants, Kyrillos demurred.
“I heard about these horror stories, I read about them,” said Kyrillos, referring to acts of domestic violence and sexual assault the legislation is meant to counter. “We must solve this.”
Menendez said he favors the inclusive protections Republican House members had stripped from the Senate-backed bill. He suggested granting visas to immigrant victims of trafficking and domestic violence “so they can stay and testify against their attackers.”
The candidates expressed opposing views of the Affordable Health Care Act. But even as he said that the controversial legislation known as Obamacare “comes at a very, very high cost to the country,” Kyrillos said, “I know there are things that are noble that are part of it…such as not denying insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions.”
Menendez said he supports the law.
Speaking about taxation, Kyrillos said he refused to sign conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge.
“I am probably one of the few Republicans in America that has not done that,” he said. “I have to be independent. I cannot have someone looking over my shoulder saying, ‘This loophole is really a tax increase.’ My pledge is to the people of the state and the Constitution of the United States. I have taken some bumps and bruises along the way, but I feel very liberated by it.”
Menendez spoke of closing tax loopholes.
“I don’t think we need to give Big Oil $24 billion of our collective money when they will make $1 trillion in profits over the next decade. I don’t think we need to give $6 billion to a handful of big agri-farmers for ethanol subsidies,” he said.
Both men were asked whether they disagreed with any views held by the presidential candidates at the top of their tickets.
“I consider myself pro-choice,” said Kyrillos. “I believe there are reasonable restrictions and constraints. I believe in parental notice” before an underage teenager can obtain an abortion. “I don’t like partial-birth abortion,” he added, “but I believe it is everybody’s choice in the way they conduct their own lives.”
Menendez said he took to the floor of the Senate to criticize President Barack Obama’s 2009 address in Cairo, when the president cited the Nazi Holocaust as justification for Israel’s existence.
“While the Holocaust may have been the defining moment in the history of the Jewish people, it was not the reason for Israel’s right to exist, which goes back millennia to Abraham and Sarah and a long history of the Jewish people in the Holy Land,” Menendez said.