Dec 6, 2020
Jon Ossoff Georgia Senate Debate Transcript, David Perdue Declines to Participate
Georgia Senate candidate Jon Ossoff participated in a runoff debate alone on December 6, as Sen. David Perdue declined to participate. Ossoff said Perdue is “not here because he’s afraid he may incriminate himself in this debate.” Read the transcript of the debate event here.
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Russ Spencer: (00:00)
-tuning in, welcome. I’m Russ Spencer, evening anchor for FOX 5 in Atlanta, and you are watching the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series. We are broadcasting from the studio of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, and we welcome viewers from across the state and the country. This is the runoff debate for the US Senate seat currently held by Senator David Perdue of Georgia. The candidates are, in alphabetical order, Democrat Jon Ossoff. He is CEO of Insight TWI, a media production company that investigates corruption, organized crime, and war crimes for international news organizations.
Russ Spencer: (00:34)
Republican David Perdue has served in the US Senate since 2015. Before his election, he sat on the board of five major corporations and co-founded Perdue Partners, a global trading company. Senator Perdue declined to participate in this debate and is represented by an empty podium.
Russ Spencer: (00:51)
Now let’s meet our panel. Greg Bluestein is a political reporter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Lisa Rayam is Host and Senior Producer of NPR’s Morning Edition on WABE in Atlanta.
Russ Spencer: (01:04)
Well, let’s get started. The topics were not shared with Mr. Ossoff before the debate. The debate will be divided into three rounds. Each round, he will have 60 seconds to answer his question. To start the debate, Mr. Ossoff will be asked two questions by each of the panelists. Greg, you get the first question.
Greg Bluestein: (01:22)
Yeah. Mr. Ossoff, thanks for being here. The state is experiencing another coronavirus surge, and over the weekend, Georgia set a single-day record for new cases of the disease. What should the federal government be doing right now to contain the virus, and if public health experts support a new lockdown, would you endorse the idea?
Jon Ossoff: (01:38)
Good afternoon, Greg. Thank you for the question. Thank you to the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Public Broadcasting for hosting us. This is a time of incredible pain and difficulty for so many Americans. We’ve lost more than a quarter of a million Americans to this virus. Lives have been turned upside down, jobs, businesses, homes, and livelihoods lost. At the root of our government’s failure to respond properly to this virus has been a disregard for public health expertise.
Jon Ossoff: (02:10)
So I will be listening carefully in the US Senate to the advice of the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based right here in Georgia, and I will be working to make sure that they have the resources they need to contain the spread of this virus, that our hospital systems, our clinics, our school systems, doctors and nurses like my wife, Alisha, who got sick in July fighting this virus, helping save lives, they have been the heroes. Politicians have let us down. We need to take our cues from the public health experts.
Greg Bluestein: (02:41)
A quick followup, if they do call for a new lockdown, would you be supportive of it?
Jon Ossoff: (02:45)
I will take my cues from the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and let me be very clear on this. I will listen to the public health experts, and if they recommend that more aggressive mitigation measures are necessary to save lives, it would be foolish for politicians to ignore their advice. The reason that our country has lagged the entire world at the efficacy of our response to this virus, the reason that we are losing thousands of people per day to this virus is because of the arrogance of politicians like David Perdue, so arrogant that he disregarded public health expertise and so arrogant that he’s not with us here today to answer questions.
Jon Ossoff: (03:27)
So if I might, my message for the people of our state at this moment of crisis is your senator feels entitled to your vote. Your senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent, because he believes he shouldn’t have to. He believes this Senate seat belongs to him. The Senate seat belongs to the people. With early voting beginning on December 14th, I want to urge everybody to make a plan to vote. David Perdue has been getting rich in office, and instead of taking public health expertise and guidance from the CDC and getting that to the people and implementing it in policy, he was buying up shares in manufacturers of vaccines and medical equipment, and he’s not here because he’s afraid he may incriminate himself in this debate.
Russ Spencer: (04:14)
Lisa, it’s your turn to ask a question.
Lisa Rayam: (04:16)
Mr. Ossoff, with that said, an investigation into Senator Perdue allegedly dumping stocks at the start of the pandemic did not result in any charges, but you still call him a crook. He denies that, and the back and forth continues. Many think your focus now should be more on how Georgians are dealing with the loss of financial security, their 401ks, their stock, their homes. So if elected, how are you planning to specifically help Georgians?
Jon Ossoff: (04:45)
Well, in order to address this crisis, as we listen to public health expertise in order to contain the spread of the virus, we have got to rush direct financial relief to families and businesses. I mean, it is absolutely astonishing that the United States Senate since midsummer has not passed any additional direct economic relief for the American people. They should be in emergency session right now, Lisa, getting help to people who are struggling, families who can’t make the house payment, the car payment, afford prescriptions. Someone’s lost their job, small businesses suffering.
Jon Ossoff: (05:25)
I think about Marilyn Crimes, a young woman impressed in Georgia. She runs Mom’s Kitchen. It’s a family business. They have been struggling for months. Had to close down their main dining room, had to shut down their catering business, and where is Congress? Where is David Perdue?
Jon Ossoff: (05:41)
To the question about the senator’s financial misconduct, here’s why I think it’s so relevant. First of all, it is a matter of ethics and wrongdoing, and whether or not, respectfully, Lisa, our senator has yet been indicted for a federal crime, his blatant abuse of his power and privilege to enrich himself is disgraceful. But even more disgraceful is that while he has been enriching himself in office and buying shares in vaccine producers and medical equipment, he’s been blocking relief for ordinary people who are suffering.
Russ Spencer: (06:14)
But you concede his point that he has been cleared by the SEC, the Department of Justice, right?
Jon Ossoff: (06:19)
I don’t concede that point whatsoever. I haven’t seen one shred of evidence that David Perdue has presented that any federal agency has cleared him. What I observe is that he has not yet been indicted for obvious financial misconduct, and Senator Perdue, if you’re watching, if you have any evidence, documentation that federal investigators have cleared you, have exonerated you, as you claim, you should present it.
Jon Ossoff: (06:45)
But see, Russ, this is why David Perdue is not here today. He can’t defend the indefensible. What he is doing is rubbing it in our noses that he’s been using his office to enrich himself and that he’s getting away with it. The standard for our elected officials must be higher than merely evading prosecution. Lisa, picking up on the point you made, all year, Senator Perdue has been telling the public and members of the press that he doesn’t control his own stock portfolio, that he doesn’t order his own stock trades, but they empaneled a federal grand jury subpoenaing banking documents that found he does order his own stock trades.
Jon Ossoff: (07:25)
So for all of the families here in Georgia who right now have credit cards maxed out, the small business owners who are worried they may have to be evicted from their premises, who are operating at 20 or 30% capacity, the families that desperately need direct financial relief, our senator was enriching himself in office, and he opposed even the first round of $1,200 stimulus checks. I mean, that’s like a cartoonish abuse of power, to enrich oneself while opposing relief for people who need it.
Lisa Rayam: (07:59)
So if you head to Washington, what would a solid stimulus aid package look like?
Jon Ossoff: (08:05)
I think it’s very clear. I think it’s been clear for months. Point one, stimulus checks directly for the people. I mentioned Senator Perdue opposed even the first round of stimulus checks. Those should have been sent eight months ago. They should be sent tomorrow. Direct relief for small businesses. The PPP program has not been reauthorized since the summertime. It needs to be reauthorized. It needs to be expanded, and checks need to be put in place to make sure that larger firms are not exploiting that program and small and black-owned businesses are not being denied access to it. We need to get significant financial support to our public health infrastructure, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to clinics and hospitals, the US public health service, to nursing homes and hospice facilities.
Jon Ossoff: (08:54)
We need to invest in a longer term economic recovery, because this short-term direct relief will help relieve some of the immediate pain, but we need a significant infrastructure and jobs package to invest in long-term economic recovery. I just want to reemphasize again, early voting begins on December 14th. You know who has been hit the hardest by this virus has been George’s black community. Where the death and the suffering and the financial distress have been so acute, where is Senator Perdue for the African-American community here in Georgia? Where is Senator Perdue for those who are suffering and need relief? He’s been on his private island, trading stocks. We need to make a plan to vote with early voting beginning on December 14th.
Russ Spencer: (09:38)
All right. I want to get in Greg’s second question. Before I do, I want to say that I misspoke at the outset. You have 90 seconds for your answers, which has not been an issue so far, but proceed, Greg.
Greg Bluestein: (09:47)
Yeah, I want to ask a followup.
Jon Ossoff: (09:48)
Greg Bluestein: (09:49)
President Elect Biden has said his top priority is getting a generous stimulus package through Congress. You’ve called for direct stimulus checks to jumpstart the economy. But what should those payments look like, and what limits should be imposed to ensure that they don’t go to people who shouldn’t merit getting them?
Jon Ossoff: (10:05)
I think we shouldn’t get bogged down in the details. I think that we should rush immediate direct financial relief to the American people, and it should have been done months ago. This is another reason that this election is so important. We all remember what happened when Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, did everything in his power to obstruct President Obama at every turn, purely out of spite and partisanship. Paralysis like that is untenable in a crisis such as this one. If we don’t win these two Senate races, they’re going to try to do to the Biden-Harris administration exactly what they tried to do to President Barack Obama. It will be gridlock, government shutdowns, bitter partisanship, obstructionism as far as the eye can see.
Jon Ossoff: (11:03)
People need help now. They needed help eight months ago. Our senator has been absent, is absent, doesn’t think he needs to be here, answering questions, doesn’t think he needs to be in Washington, passing relief for the people. Our senator, who told us that COVID-19 was no deadlier than the flu, will be obstructing the efforts of this incoming administration to get relief to people and contain the spread of this virus. It’s why we have to make a plan to vote, and I’m going to keep saying it all night, that early voting begins on December 4th.
Russ Spencer: (11:38)
Mr. Ossoff, thank you. That concludes the first portion of the debate. For those just tuning in, this is one of two runoff debates for Georgia’s US Senate seats. This is normally the round where candidates question each other. Since Senator Perdue declined to participate, Jon Ossoff, you may now ask the question that you would have asked him and answer that question yourself. You have 90 seconds.
Jon Ossoff: (12:01)
I appreciate that. Well, it’s a strange situation to be asking a question of a sitting United States senator who is not here to debate as he asks for the votes of the people to be reelected. Senator Perdue I suppose doesn’t feel that he can handle himself in debate or perhaps is concerned that he may incriminate himself in debate, both of which, in my opinion, are disqualifying for a US senator seeking reelection.
Jon Ossoff: (12:37)
He may not wish to be asked questions, for example, about his trades in Regions Bank while he championed legislation to benefit the firm or his trading of defense contractor stocks, while he directed taxpayer dollars to them. But whatever the reason that Senator Perdue is not with us today, I think what I would ask him is why he continues to oppose $1,200 stimulus checks for the American people at this moment of crisis, why he fought against them in the first place, and why he isn’t in Washington right now, championing direct financial relief, stimulus checks directly for an American people who are suffering. If I had the opportunity to ask the senator a question, if the senator were not too much of a coward to debate in public, then that’s what I would ask him.
Russ Spencer: (13:27)
All right. Thank you. That concludes our second round in this runoff debate between candidates for US Senate in Georgia. Republican Senator David Perdue declined to participate and is represented, as you see, by an empty podium. The panel will now ask questions to Mr. Ossoff until we run out of time. Greg, you get the first question.
Greg Bluestein: (13:44)
Yeah. I want to switch gears a little bit. You’ve talked about new investment in clean energy to address climate change, but how would you pay for your proposals?
Jon Ossoff: (13:53)
Well, Congress would appropriate the funds necessary to support massive investment in clean energy infrastructure. Look, we have got to protect our planet. Georgia is already suffering from the effects of climate change, Hurricane Michael, which wiped out our orchards, coastal cities that are having to pay huge sums to prepare themselves for worsening tropical storms, for flooding events, for high-wind events. I think it’s young people in particular who recognize that the threat to our planet must be addressed, and the solution is clear. Congress must make massive investments in clean energy as part of an overall infrastructure and jobs program necessary to recover from this current financial crisis.
Jon Ossoff: (14:42)
We can make Georgia the leading producer of clean energy in the American South. We can make America the number one producer of clean energy in the world, and we should. We can reclaim America’s place as the world’s leading innovator, and at the same time, we can reduce carbon emissions. We can listen to scientists. Just as the politicians have disregarded the science on COVID-19, they’ve been ignoring the science on climate change. Young people are mobilizing to vote, because young people recognize that the future of our planet is at stake. So for the whole TikTok family out there, make a plan to vote, with early voting beginning on December 14th.
Russ Spencer: (15:22)
All right. Lisa, your turn to ask a question.
Lisa Rayam: (15:24)
Mr. Ossoff, I’d like to talk about immigration.
Jon Ossoff: (15:25)
Lisa Rayam: (15:26)
Immigration issues, DACA recently have received a lot of attention during the Trump administration. Your mother was an immigrant. There are thousands of immigrants here in Georgia and here in the Atlanta area that are living in a gray area, for so many different reasons. If elected, what will you do in Washington that will specifically help those here at home?
Jon Ossoff: (15:48)
Well, we’ve got to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and I know it’s something that candidates and elected officials have been saying and talking about for a decade and a half. It’s what we need, comprehensive immigration reform, which provides a path to legal status for the undocumented who otherwise follow the law, which secures our borders.
Jon Ossoff: (16:08)
By the way, border security does not mean border brutality. Senator Perdue is complicit in a policy of ripping babies from their mothers at our southern border. My business investigates war crimes and violations of human rights. If that happened in an area of active armed conflict, it would be a war crime.
Jon Ossoff: (16:39)
My mother came to this country, as you mentioned, as an immigrant alone, when she was 23 years old, because she believed that America represented hope, opportunity, inclusion. We do need secure borders. We also need to keep our soul as a people and uphold our commitments to basic human rights. We can have an immigration policy that puts American workers first, that provides that path to legal status, that protects Dreamers, secures our borders, and doesn’t violate the human rights of innocent people seeking a better life or fleeing persecution.
Russ Spencer: (17:17)
Greg Bluestein: (17:18)
More money has been spent on this race in the past five or so weeks than any other in Georgia history. You’ve pledged to the overhaul campaign finance system if elected, but like the other Senate candidates, you’re raising lots of money from outside the state and getting help from outside groups. How do you reconcile those competing facts, and what sort of campaign finance limits should be in place right now?
Jon Ossoff: (17:38)
Well, look, the number one impediment to getting things done for the people is corruption in our political system. We were just discussing climate change and environmental policy. Why is it that it’s so difficult? Despite there being overwhelming support from people of all political backgrounds, despite there being a scientific consensus on the climate, why is it so difficult to take action?
Jon Ossoff: (18:02)
The problem isn’t even Democrats versus Republicans. The problem is the power of the fossil fuel industry, which exploits our corrupt campaign finance system to buy the allegiance of politicians like David Perdue, because the same senator who’s not with us here today, who hasn’t held a single public town hall meeting in six years, he openly sells access for corporate PAC checks. He sells four meetings a year and a retreat on a private island for a $7,500 corporate PAC check, and those oil and gas companies, which don’t want action on the climate, buy his time and by his votes.
Jon Ossoff: (18:44)
Let’s take healthcare. Why is it that we can’t pass legislation to make prescription drugs affordable, to get everybody covered with great insurance? Why does David Perdue and politicians like him, they’re a dime a dozen, vote to rip care away from people with preexisting conditions? It’s because of corruption, the power of the insurance companies, and the answer is to ban dark money, overturn Citizens United, and get rid of corporate PACS and stop lobbyists from being able to make political contributions.
Russ Spencer: (19:13)
Lisa, your turn to ask a question.
Lisa Rayam: (19:14)
Mr. Ossoff, you referred to the presidential election and specifically here in Georgia. I think what we’ve learned, a lot of people have learned from this election cycle is that there is a clear divide in this country and here in Georgia. How would you play a specific role in restoring the faith lost in democracy?
Jon Ossoff: (19:33)
That’s a great question, Lisa, and it’s perfectly following the previous question, because when we think about the Trump presidency and what Donald Trump represented, that kind of leadership really only grows when there’s already been a destruction of faith in our political institutions, in our political system.
Jon Ossoff: (19:57)
For decades now, working people in this country have been forced into financial precarity. Wages for the middle class have been declining. Congress refuses to raise the minimum wage to $15, factories closing because of trade deals that are written not to help ordinary people, but to help folks like David Perdue, who bragged about how he spent most of his career outsourcing jobs, deliver more money to their shareholders. The growth of corporate power in our political system has meant that ordinary working people are cut out of a deal, and this corruption is not a problem that taints just one political party. It’s a problem that taints the entire political system.
Jon Ossoff: (20:44)
We don’t have to live in a country where can just barely make ends meet, where wages decline for 40 years, where the possibility of a bad diagnosis raises the specter of bankruptcy. We can deliver government that works for the people, all people, health, jobs, and justice for the people. That’s why folks need to make a plan to vote, with early voting starting on December 14th.
Russ Spencer: (21:12)
All right. Greg Bluestein, you have the final question in this round.
Greg Bluestein: (21:15)
Yeah. The movement for racial justice awakened many Georgians to persistent issues of inequality, but Washington’s gridlocked. So what can you actually do from the US Senate, even if Democrats have control of the Chamber next year to help solve it?
Jon Ossoff: (21:29)
Criminal justice reform is one of the urgent moral issues of our time. Our constitution already guarantees equal protection under the law, but when Ahmaud Arbery is shot to death in broad daylight in the street, on camera in Glenn County, Georgia and because he is a young black man local authorities look the other way, that makes a mockery of equal protection under the law. Let me just be really candid about this. Growing up as a white man in Georgia, I have never known what it means to fear I could lose my life or face false accusation or miscarriage of justice just because of who I am. But I do know that that is a daily fear for black people across this country.
Jon Ossoff: (22:15)
Congressman Lewis, when I worked for him, he taught me about the power of the people to fight for justice, and now it’s time for all of us, we, the people, to fight for justice. We can pass a new Civil Rights Act to advance criminal justice reform. We can establish national standards for the use of force. We can ensure true accountability for police brutality and for racial profiling. We can make equal justice under the law a reality in America by passing a new Civil Rights Act, but only if we vote. I’ve been saying it all night, because in some ways, it’s the most important message of the evening. Make a plan to vote with early voting beginning December 14th so we can secure equal justice for all.
Russ Spencer: (23:03)
That is all the time we have for questions. Lisa Rayam, Greg Bluestein, thank you very much for your part in this. Mr. Ossoff, you have 90 seconds for a closing statement.
Jon Ossoff: (23:12)
I appreciate it. I appreciate you all for putting this together and doing a great job moderating the discussion. I regret that someone who is supposed to be a public servant didn’t join us. I truly regret that we haven’t had the opportunity to debate the issues, because the people deserve it. Look, people expect me to come to a debate like this and criticize David Perdue, but it shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for George’s senior US senator to believe he shouldn’t have to debate at a moment like this in our history.
Jon Ossoff: (23:47)
But ultimately, this is so much bigger than David Perdue. This is about what kind of country America can become. We are living at a moment of difficulty, of tragedy, but also of limitless opportunity. We can pass legislation to secure equal justice for all under the law. We can get out of this health crisis by empowering doctors and scientists. We can rush short-term financial relief to working families and businesses, and then we can pass an infrastructure and jobs package to create economic opportunity that benefits all communities. We can raise the minimum wage to $15. We can make Georgia the leading producer of clean energy and tackle the climate crisis.
Jon Ossoff: (24:34)
We have the chance to do all of these things. We should feel excited about that, optimistic about America’s future. But to get any of that done, we’ve got to vote. So I humbly ask for the opportunity to serve this state. I may not always vote the way you want me to, but you can rest assured I will come to forums like this one and answer questions in open, unlike this man, because that’s what you deserve from someone who serves you. Thank you so much for having me.
Russ Spencer: (25:02)
Thank you for your closing statement, and thank you for being here tonight. We appreciate it very much, and that concludes our program. We’d like to remind voters that election day is Tuesday, January 5th. Absentee voting has already begun in Georgia, and early voting in Georgia begins on December 14th. That’s a week from tomorrow. Thanks to John Ossoff and the panel for participating in this program, and thanks to the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Public Broadcasting for arranging this debate. I’m Russ Spencer with FOX 5 in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us for the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series. Have a good night. We’ll be back here at seven o’clock with the next debate.