Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, left, and incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz participated in a debate Tuesday in San Antonio. MARJORIE KAMYS COTERA/BOB DAEMMRICH
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who trails Sen. Ted Cruz in the polls of a senate race that has garnered national attention, turned markedly more aggressive, while the two clashed on topics ranging from the judicial confirmation of Bret Kavanaugh and the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court to trade wars and border security Tuesday night in San Antonio.
WATCH | Rebroadcast of Cruz-O’Rourke debate in San Antonio
When the candidates, appearing in their second and likely final debate, were asked about a statement made by Texas-based Exxon-Mobile that the risk of climate change is clear and warrants action, Cruz’s response led to one of the more heated exchanges of the night.
“Far too many Democrats approach this issue, not as a matter of science,” he said. “I think we should follow the science and follow the evidence. But instead, what they approach it as (is) a matter of government power. They want the power to control the economy.”
And Cruz said that ideology has had led to O’Rourke voting in favor of a $10 tax on every barrel of oil — a claim O’Rourke had already denied.
“He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke said. “It’s why the president called him ‘Lyin’ Ted’ and its why the nickname stuck. Because it’s true. Look, the climate is changing and man-made climate change is a fact.”
READ | Tweets from Texas Station Collaborative reporters during the debate
On the topic of healthcare, O’Rourke said he would expand Medicaid in Texas, introduce Medicare as an option on the health exchange and introduce a plan to create universal health care — a campaign promise Cruz said would raise the national debt by over $32 trillion dollars.
“Congressman O’Rourke’s plan would require tripling your taxes,” Cruz said. “He said you could do it with five points on the corporate rate, that doesn’t even pass elementary school math.”
O’Rouke fired back at Cruz when both were asked if the Trump administration’s tariffs threaten the growth of the Texas economy.
While Cruz said he actually agreed with O’Rourke’s stance against raising tariffs, he said their difference was his ability to work with President Trump rather than fighting against the administration and creating a “partisan circus.”
O’Rourke replied: “Really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the U.S. Senate. Listen, if you have this special relationship with President Trump, then where are the results of that? The tariffs that the president has levied, the trade wars that he has entered this country into is hurting no state more than it is hurting Texas.”
When the topic shifted to abortion, Cruz characterized O’Rourke’s position as “extreme and disconnected.”
“The people of Texas — I will say especially the Hispanic community — we don’t want to see taxpayer-funded, Medicaid-funded abortions and late-term abortions,” Cruz said.
And because of their”massive divide” in philosophy, Cruz said O’Rourke is out of touch with the attitudes of most Texans.
“He wants to see like Hillary Clinton promised, to appoint left-wing judicial activists who impose their own policy preferences from the bench,” Cruz said. “I don’t think that’s what the people of Texas want.”
O’Rourke responded that he simply wanted justices that believed in civil rights.
“I will only vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice who believes in a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own body, and who has the health care access to be able to do so,” he said.
Cruz and O’Rourke were also asked about the appointment of Bret Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and whether or not the country should prepare for changes to the abortion law.
Cruz replied: “I believe every child is a gift from God, the question of what will happen at the Supreme Court on Roe vs. Wade or anything else, we’ll have to see when cases are decided.”
Said O’Rourke: “Sen. Cruz has a very troubling record when it comes to judicial nominations and confirmations. He supported the nomination of a judge, Jeff Mateer, who described transgendered children as part of Satan’s plan. He supported the nomination of a judge who never tried a case before.”
On the topic of border security, Cruz said O’Rourke’s stance would be a threat to national security.
“Congressman O’Rourke not only opposes a wall, but he has said we have too many fences and walls already on the border,” Cruz said. “He wants to tear down the ones we have.”
The El Paso Democrat said the U.S. should shift its focus to beefing up ports of entry.
“Having a better idea of who and what comes into our country demonstrably makes us safer,” O’Rourke said.
Cruz and O’Rourke also addressed the victims of Hurricane Harvey. O’Rourke was asked about his vote against a bill that would’ve provided tax relief for victims.
“I’ve voted for more than $136 billion in aid to support those communities who’ve been hit by natural disasters, including Harvey,” he said. “And in the specific bill that you’ve asked about, the tax relief was not as great as we have seen for those who’ve been through other natural disasters.
“I thought we could get a better deal. But I am there for those communities each and every single day.”
Cruz simply touted his own record.
“In the Senate, I helped lead the effort to pass three major disaster relief bills.”
He added that one bill he co-authored with Sen. John Cornyn secured $5 billion in tax relief for Harvey victims and had widespread bipartisan support in Congress.
O’Rourke is scheduled to participate in a live CNN town hall on Thursday. Cruz rejected the network’s invitation to do a competing event.
Meanwhile, Trump — a Cruz adversary during the 2016 presidential campaign — has endorsed Cruz and will hold a rally in Houston for him on Monday, the first day of early voting.
Election Day is Nov. 6.
Ryan Poppe, Rachel Osier Lindley, Dan Katz and Fernando Ortiz contributed to this report by the Texas Station Collaborative, an initiative that connects the newsrooms of Texas’ four largest public radio stations: Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, KERA in North Texas, KUT in Austin, and Houston Public Media.