Perdue, Ossoff trade insults over court pick and COVID-19 response

U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff swapped barbs during the first debate held Monday in the closely watched Senate race. Screenshot of Atlanta Press Club debate

Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff clashed on the federal government’s response to the pandemic, the Supreme Court justice nomination process and other issues during the first debate in one of Georgia’s closely watched Senate races.

Perdue, the business executive who is seeking a second term, quickly went to work trying to paint Ossoff as a “rubber stamp” for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer when it comes to talk of expanding the nation’s highest court – although Ossoff says he opposes adding more seats to the bench.

Ossoff, a media executive and investigative journalist, immediately responded with his own criticism of Perdue as an out-of-touch politician who is only out for himself and who downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sen. Perdue, look up from your notes and answer the question,” Ossoff said at one point. “Do you believe President Trump has done everything in his power to protect the people of Georgia during this pandemic?”

“I absolutely do, Jon, and I’ll tell you this, had the Democrats been involved we’d have anarchy like we have in Portland, in Chicago, in California,” Perdue retorted. “You guys are trying to divide the country right now when we’re in a moment of crisis.”

Perdue accused Ossoff of wanting to defund the police. Ossoff framed Perdue as wanting to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. The two continued to trade insults throughout the hour-long debate, forcing the moderator to play referee at times.

The tense debate is a sign of what is at stake. Recent polls give the incumbent GOP senator a slight edge in a race that could help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, although the most recent poll – from Public Policy Polling – shows Ossoff with a 1-point advantage that is within the margin of error. Shane Hazel, the Libertarian candidate in the race who also participated in Monday’s debate, had 4% support in the same poll.

“If you’re tired of what you’re seeing here between politicians, you’ve got a choice,” Hazel said at the debate. “I believe it is time to end the empire which is the bureaucratic nightmare which we all face in our daily lives from the time we get out of our federally approved mattress till the time we get back into it at the very end of the day.”

The race is one of a pair of Senate contests on the November ballot, with 20 candidates battling in a separate special election to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the seat late last year after Isakson resigned because of his failing health.

Both Ossoff and Perdue’s campaigns quickly declared their candidate the winner in the Atlanta Press Club’s Loudermilk-Young debate series on Georgia Public Broadcasting. The debates will continue Tuesday with the candidates in Georgia’s hotly contested 6th and 7th congressional districts and the Georgia Public Service Commission. The candidates in the special U.S. Senate election will be featured next Monday.

The leading candidates were asked Monday about the Senate’s handling of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on the same day her confirmation hearings started. Perdue has co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that would limit the court to nine justices.

“I think judicial reform is a prerogative of Congress, and what I don’t support is adding a seat to the Supreme Court because we don’t like the policy positions of a justice that has been confirmed,” Ossoff said. “But let’s remember that four years ago, Sen. Perdue was adamant – he gave impassioned floor speeches on the floor of the Senate that no confirmation of a Supreme Court justice should proceed in a presidential election year.”

Perdue said the 2016 scenario – where the Senate held up the confirmation of then President Barack Obama’s court pick – was “totally different than it is today.” The difference? The same party now controls the White House and Senate.

“Jon Ossoff will say anything to hide his radical, socialist agenda,” Perdue said. “He will be nothing but a rubber stamp when Chuck Schumer wants to pack that court – trust me on that.”