Ryan, Vance Spar in TV Debate

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance engaged in largely familiar lines of attack during their first faceoff before the Nov. 8 general election.

Ryan, a 20-year member of the U.S House of Representatives representing the Mahoning Valley, and Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the memoir “Hillbilly Elegy, are vying to succeed U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who chose not to seek reelection.

During the approximately hour-long debate, which was hosted by WJW in Cleveland and carried on Nexstar stations across Ohio including WYFX in Youngstown and streamed online, Joe Toohey of WJW in Cleveland and Colleen Marshall of WCMH in Columbus took the candidates through a series of topics ranging from the economy and foreign policy to abortion, LGBTQ rights and support for law enforcement.

Vance said that spending under the administration of President Joe Biden has “thrown fuel on the fire of the inflation problem” and that the president and his allies have “completely gone to war against America’s energy sector

“You can’t do both of those things at the same time. They’re each bad ideas. But when you do both of them at the same time, you’re going to get record inflation, which is exactly what you expect to get,” he said. “I think people deserve to go to the grocery store without completely breaking the bank. Tim Ryan has voted with these policies 100% of the time. Every single time he gets an opportunity to stand up for Ohioans, he chooses to bend the knee to his own party.”

Ryan defended support the infrastructure bill, which Portman helped draft, that Ryan said would create 600,000 jobs in Ohio. And he defended voting for the CHIPS Act, which he credited with encouraging semiconductor manufacturer Intel to invest in Ohio. “That’s going to ripple throughout this entire economy,” he said.

“The problem we’re having now with inflation is our supply chains all went to China, and guys like [Vance] have made a lot of money off that,” he said. “And that is exactly why the supply chains are locked up.”

Ryan, who characterized Vance’s position on abortion as “extreme,” called the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year overturning Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion, “the largest governmental overreach of our lifetime, a complete violation of personal freedom and liberty of women in this state.”

Having earlier in his career described himself opposing abortion, he said he had had “very personal conversations” with women who had required abortions for various reasons.

“I just came to realize through the course of these conversations that the government has no place in this matter, that this needs to be left to the woman, it needs to be left to the doctor to make these decisions,” he said. “Isn’t this what we want from our leaders, people who listen, people who learn from experiences and then maybe have a change of position?”

Vance, who said he grew up “in a poor family in a poor community,” said he knew young women who had abortions when he was growing up.

“And one of the things that always struck me is it felt like a lot of those young women didn’t have options,” he continued. They lacked the health care that they needed and felt like having a baby at that point in their lives would ruin their careers or their personal lives. “We’ve got to fix that.”

Vance also said he believed “some minimum national standard” for abortion was appropriate, although he did not say specifically whether he supported U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal to ban abortion after the 15th week.

Differences between the Democrat and Republican also came to the fore on LGBTQ rights. Portman is a co-sponsor of the Marriage Equality Act, which Ryan voted for in the House

“I don’t think it’s actually about gay marriage,” Vance said. “Look, gay marriage is the law of the land and I’m not trying to do anything to change that. But if you look at the specific bill that’s being proposed, it wouldn’t just codify something that’s already enacted in law. It would actually make it easier for both the government and a lot of private parties to sue religious organizations if those religious organizations don’t comply with the dictates of the federal government.”

Ryan, in outlining his support for the act, pointed to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence to the majority opinion in the case overturning Roe that called into question protections for marriage equality and contraception access.  “This is what I’m trying to explain to Ohioans, that JD Vance is extreme on these issues,” he said.

That segued into a question as to whether the candidates supported a litmus test for Supreme Court justices.

“I just want justices who interpret the constitution,” Vance said.

Ryan said he would have a litmus test on Roe and other reproductive rights as well as same sex marriage. “We can’t keep going down this road of taking away rights” he said. 

When the questioning turned to border security, Ryan acknowledged he recently expressed support for continued construction of parts of a border wall, which he previously characterized as a “vanity project” of former president Donald Trump. While having “a wall from sea to shining sea doesn’t make any sense,” he supports putting a barrier in places that can prevent people from coming over, but such barriers also can be dug under, he said.

That’s why Ryan said he backs increased border patrol funding, why he started the border technology caucus to prevent fentanyl from coming into the country, and why he supports a “comprehensive approach” to address illegal immigration. When asked, he said he disagreed with Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent statement that the U.S. border was secure.

Vance pointed to the personal effect illegal immigration has had on his family, noting his mother’s struggles with addiction for much of his childhood. The “poison” that was coming into the country 15 years ago, fortunately, was not nearly as dangerous as what is coming into the country today.  

“Tim Ryan has done nothing to stop the flow of fentanyl. He talks about wanting to support a stronger border. He talks about wanting to be bipartisan and get things done. Well, Tim has been in Congress for 20 years and the border problem has got worse and worse and worse,” Vance said.

Ryan reiterated the claim made in several of his ads that Vance started a “fake nonprofit” that he has said mainly served Vance’s political ambitions and employed as a representative a political operative with ties to Purdue pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin.

Vance shot back that Ryan’s campaign had accepted “pharmaceutical blood money [from] the very same corporations that caused this poison to come into our country.”

Ryan responded that he doesn’t vote with the pharmaceutical industry.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, we passed a Medicare reform provision that, for the first time in decades, we will be able to negotiate down drug prices,” Ryan said. “Big Pharma didn’t like that — fought it tooth and nail. I voted against them.” He also pointed to passing legislation that limited prescription drug costs for seniors in Medicare to $2,000 annually and how much seniors are charged for insulin.

Ryan also charged Vance with misrepresenting his position on natural gas, and said he has been a natural gas proponent since he joined Congress. He said he wants to streamline the permitting process to lower costs for businesses and to export natural gas to Europe. 

“We have two natural gas power plants in my congressional district that I helped us get in,” he added

Additionally, Ryan said that he has sported tariffs on China throughout his career and one of his first bills was to penalize the manipulation of Chinese currency. Tariffs on Chinese steel he supported led to Vallourec’s investment of more than $1 billion into a new steel mill [in Youngstown], he recalled.

Vance also said Ryan, who repeatedly criticized him for foreign investments that took jobs from Ohio and for leaving the state, has spent 20 years in Washington and “has never actually had to employ people” and “has never actually created a single job.” Vance said he took “a big risk by getting out of Silicon Valley and starting a business here in Ohio,” he said.

“Tim Ryan represents a congressional district that has lost 50,000 jobs just in his time in office,” he remarked.  

The two also clashed over a discussion of threats to democracy. Ryan said Vance raised money for people involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and associates with people who have denied the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“Those people who stormed the Capitol, are a threat to our democracy. Those people who say that the election was fraudulent are a threat to our democracy,” Ryan said. “If we lose the foundational element of this country — our vote, our elections — then we lose everything. And we got very close to that on Jan. 6.”

Ryan also called out Vance for failing to stand up to members of his own party. In particular, he pointed to Vance shaking Trump’s hand at the stage of his Youngstown rally last month after Trump said all Vance does is “kiss my a– to get my support.”

Vance responded that he was “not going to take lectures on dignity and self respect from a guy caught on video kissing up to Chuck Schumer and begging him for a promotion to his next job,” and said Ryan consistently votes with Democrats, despite his ads suggesting otherwise. He also said he found it interesting that Ryan was “so preoccupied with this at a time when people can’t afford groceries” and called on focusing on “the significant issues right now.”

The two candidates found one point of agreement during the debate. Both said they would accept the election results of the Senate race.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.