In the one and only debate before Louisiana’s runoff election, set for Dec. 6, Sen. Mary Landrieu and her GOP challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy sparred over which candidate has committed the greater crime.
While Landrieu made the case that Cassidy has padded his own payroll at the expense of the poor patients who he was supposed to help as a part-time professor of medicine at LSU, Cassidy batted back that Landrieu caused greater harm with her use of taxpayer funds to charter flights to campaign events.
“My opponent has told us he is a doctor for the poor, but he is not a doctor for the poor, he’s a doctor for himself,” said Landrieu, who sought to distinguish her misuse of taxpayer funds on campaign related expenses – a mishap revealed earlier this year, which Landrieu has since corrected by reimbursing the misspent funds – as a book-keeping error compared to what she said was an intentional lack of record-keeping on Cassidy’s part.
“One was a book-keeping error, which I took full responsibility and turned over a complete set of records … and the other is a situation of a congressman whose take $20,000 a year in addition to his Congressional salary, and it may be even more than that if they paid for his medical malpractice insurance, without reporting it properly, without handing over any records.”
Landrieu, who is widely considered the underdog headed into Saturday’s election, repeatedly called on Cassidy to release the full records of his 63 months working at LSU to supplement the 16 months of time sheets that were made public in a surprise document release a week ago. But Cassidy said Landrieu is the one who needs to be more forthcoming with voters.
“If what Sen. Landrieu wants is transparency, then I’ll ask the question: When I treat patients in the public hospital system, clearly those patients benefit. When she takes chartered jets on taxpayer dime to campaign events, who is it that benefits?” Cassidy said.
Just hours before the debate began Monday night, LSU announced that it would conduct “a review” of Cassidy’s employment with the university.
“Based on concerns that have surfaced in the news media, we will review any information we have regarding Dr. Bill Cassidy's employment with LSU, just as we would any other employee,” LSU Director of Media Relations Ernie Ballard told ABC News in a statement.
Cassidy, who has been on a leave of absence from LSU since April, defended his work as a part-time professor in the debate and called the allegations that he was paid for work he didn’t do “false.”
“These charges are false and my direct supervisor and I have made numerous statements regarding this,” Cassidy said. “The work I’ve done working with LSU, teaching medical students, actually benefits the poor and uninsured. There’s an irony here: Sen. Landrieu justifies her vote for Obamacare, it would not have passed without her, by saying she’s for the poor and uninsured, even though demonstrably Obamacare has hurt the economic prospects of the poor.”
Another heated exchange in the debate was on whether race relations have improved in the United States over the last several decades.
While Landrieu cited Ferguson as a recent example of race relations having “deteriorated a bit” in the country, Cassidy disagreed and said there has been progress. Cassidy then went on to criticize Landrieu for an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in the days before November’s election, during which she said that President Obama’s unpopularity in the South is attributable, in part, to the color of his skin. She also cited the president’s energy policies as a reason for his unpopularity.
“Sen. Landrieu made statement that somehow Barack Obama wasn’t being viewed favorably because we have a history of racism in the South,” Cassidy said. “I think just because you disagree with the president doesn’t make you a racist. And I will point out that when Landrieu said by implication that we’re racist and sexist, she’s been elected to public office since I was in college, so I think we’ve made progress.”
Landrieu fired back, saying that Cassidy was misconstruing her comments and pivoted back to the allegations against Cassidy’s position at LSU.
“One of the problems that Bill Cassidy has is he makes things up as he goes along,” Landrieu said. “He’s made up this story about him being a doctor for the poor when he’s padding his own payroll and he’s made up the statement that I’ve said that anyone was a racist. Do you know what I said? I said the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans, and it’s also been a region that’s not quickly recognized the leadership of women. I will make no apology for something that is a historical fact.”
Cassidy then attempted to follow up, but Landrieu quickly silenced him. “Excuse me Bill, that is what I said,” and went on to remind Cassidy that she also discussed Obama’s energy policies in the interview. “I am not the only one tired of listening to his rhetoric.”
When asked what he would want to do if elected to Congress, Cassidy said that repealing Obamacare would be one of his top priorities.
But when asked if there are some aspects of the Affordable Care Act worth keeping, Cassidy said the measure that allows adult children to stay on the parents’ healthcare plan until age 26 should stay – and claimed the GOP deserves credit for that particular idea. “The provision for someone who’s 26 and younger to stay on their parents was actually a Republican idea,” Cassidy postured.
But Landrieu quipped that fighting the Affordable Care Act will be the least of Cassidy’s concerns if he is elected. “If he is [elected] he’ll be doing a lot more than fighting President Obama. He’ll be fighting subpoenas, because he padded his payroll,” Landrieu said.