In a televised debate Tuesday night, the two remaining candidates vying for the GOP nomination for outgoing U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s seat said the 2020 election was stolen, supported an abortion ban with no exceptions and clashed over aid to Ukraine.
U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK2) and former Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) are locked in a battle to succeed Inhofe, who is retiring after nearly 30 years in office and who endorsed his Senate chief of staff, Luke Holland, in the June 28 primary.
Despite the endorsement, Holland’s campaign never generated much momentum, and Mullin and Shannon finished first and second among six candidates in the primary, picking up 43 percent and 17 percent of the vote, respectively. They will now compete in a runoff on Aug. 23, and the winner will face Democrat Kendra Horn in the Nov. 8 general election.
Abortion positions veer far right
In the 60-minute debate, which was hosted and broadcast by News 9 and News on 6, both candidates took far-right positions on abortion when asked about the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on that subject. Both Shannon and Mullin favor a national ban on abortion, and neither candidate said exceptions should be made when the mother’s life is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest.
The candidates’ remarks came on the same evening that 59 percent of voters in neighboring Kansas rejected a constitutional change that would have allowed its Legislature to pass laws banning abortion altogether in that state.
Mullin, who has six children, praised recent abortion restrictions signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
“Absolutely I would,” Mullin said when asked if he would favor a national ban on abortion. “Someone is going to love that baby. You know, with the father of three adopted children, I can tell you there is no difference between those we chose to bring into the family and those that came natural. We love all six of them equally. My fight is to make sure we protect every single baby out there. I commend our Oklahoma state legislators for having such a strong law. I’m excited that we’re going to actually end killing babies in Oklahoma. But babies in California and babies in Massachusetts are just as important.”
Mullin also said he opposes any exceptions to an abortion ban, even if the life of the mother is at risk. He appeared to imply his own wife would opt against getting an abortion even if her life were in immediate danger.
“When it comes to the death of the mother or the child, I can tell you without question where my wife would be on this,” Mullin said. “There’s no way my wife would sit and say that my life is more important than my child. Just like I would lay my life down for my child in a heartbeat, my wife would do the same.”
Shannon also said he opposes any exceptions to abortion bans, adding that there is still work to be done in further restricting access to abortion services.
“The challenge is we’re still going to have babies that are losing their life,” he said. “I don’t make a distinction between babies that are born or unborn. To me, they are all God’s children and deserve our protection. I don’t know that a federal ban would even be possible without a constitutional amendment, and I would support a constitutional amendment to support life.”
Candidates: 2020 election stolen from Trump
Mullin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, said there is no way he will ever believe President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, despite numerous court rulings against Trump and the debunking of election-tampering theories championed by Trump and his supporters.
“It’s going to be very hard to convince me that Joe Biden received more votes than any other president in history,” Mullin said. “It is absolutely absurd to think that is even possible. Donald Trump is loved. If you travel across the country, people love him. They’re excited about him. When he turns out, people turn out. More and more, we’re finding more details out from different states who are doing a deep dive and are saying this election had a lot more irregularities than we thought.”
Shannon said Democrats cheated to win the 2020 election and falsely claimed Hillary Clinton contested the 2016 election.
“When we look at what happened on Jan. 6, and even going before that with the election of 2020, there’s no question that the Democrats cheated,” Shannon said. “When you start using universal mail-in ballots, when you start moving dates of when the election ballots are due — we know if you move the ballots in the middle of the election you’re cheating, and that’s exactly what happened. Just as if when the Russian collusion charges were charged, when Hillary refused to concede the race, she actually made the precedence [sic] of saying that the election was stolen. So yes, the election actually was stolen. I believe that wholeheartedly.”
Clinton conceded the 2016 presidential race to Trump on Nov. 9, 2016, one day after the election.
Mullin, Shannon mostly punt on inflation legislation
Both candidates were asked to talk about specific legislation they would introduce to reduce inflation if elected to the Senate. Neither candidate directly answered the question, but they did offer ideas.
Mullin, who founded a plumbing company, said he would cut regulations for businesses.
“This is why you need true citizen legislators in Washington D.C.,” Mullin said. “Someone that actually understands what regulation does to a business. When you have Washington D.C. come out and say they have a plan — ‘We have a plan to lower inflation,’ ‘We have a plan to create jobs’ — what they are saying is they want to make government bigger. Businessmen like myself, true citizen legislators, we understand what regulation costs. If you’re going to do something about inflation, roll back the cost of doing business.”
Shannon called for permanent tax cuts and expansion of domestic energy production.
“I can’t name just one bill that I would introduce,” he said. “No. 1, we need to make the Trump tax cuts permanent in this country. We need to give business people and families in America some decisions about how they are going to keep their money and not have Washington take more. The second point is we need to have real American drilling. We were not just energy independent, we were energy dominant under President Trump. Third and most importantly, we’ve got to do our part to secure our border.”
Ukraine a rare area of disagreement
With both candidates working hard to tout their conservative credentials, there were virtually no areas of disagreement between two the during Tuesday’s debate, except when it came to the United States’ efforts to help Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Shannon opposes any aid to Ukraine and chided Mullin for voting in favor of providing aid earlier this year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
“Listen, I certainly believe that America has to lead, and I think that Russia should be contained, and I certainly think there should be efforts uniting our allies to do that,” he said. “But the problem is just sending $40 billion, and, by the way, it’s now up to $53 billion, we sent that money over while our president of the United States is actually pleading around the world for people to ship in baby food as humanitarian aid because we can’t feed our own children. It was a mistake to do it then, and it’s a mistake to do it now.”
In his answer, Mullin said Shannon didn’t read the aid bill passed by Congress and which Mullin voted for. He then appeared to attack Shannon by describing his own political career.
“The problem is when you have politicians who have been in office for, I don’t know, over 10 years, and now they’re seeking another office, you have individuals who make a political decision,” Mullin said. “Because we make decisions based on two things. The way you are raised and our life experiences. If my opponent would actually read the bill, he would understand that not one penny actually went directly to Ukraine.”
Mullin was elected to Congress in 2012. He announced he would not seek reelection for his fifth term in the wake of Inhofe’s retirement. Shannon served eight years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives before unsuccessfully running for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He now serves as CEO of Chickasaw Community Bank.
Candidates talk McGirt vs. Oklahoma
Both candidates are members of tribal nations. Mullin is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Shannon is a Chickasaw Nation citizen.
Candidates were asked if the federal government should revisit past treaties with tribes in the wake of the McGirt vs. Oklahoma decision.
Mullin said the only way to do that would be to have all parties in total agreement. He said it’s not an area where Congress should be asserting itself.
“The only way you’re going to re-open these treaties is if the tribes and the state and the government all agree,” he said. “For Congress just to put their will into this, and they don’t live in Indian Country, where I’ve lived my entire life, that’s not the role. If we’re going to make decisions on that treaty, that needs to be all parties agreeing to something. But I absolutely disagree with re-opening it right now. Now if you’re going to refer this to McGirt, if that is the reason you’re moving down that road, then McGirt needs to be handled because the state and the tribes come together and they agree on an issue — they agree on something that they’re going to ask Congress to move forward, because McGirt affects everybody.”
Shannon said it’s time for the state and the tribes to start talking again.
“The Constitution is pretty clear that it is Congress who has the ultimate decision about the fates of tribes in America,” Shannon said. “I don’t believe that the treaties have created the challenges that we see right now. The challenges that we see right now in Oklahoma as it relates to the tribes and the state getting along is because they’re not even talking at the present time. We’ve got to get them in the room, and they’re going to have to come up with solutions. And it has to be an Oklahoma-first solution.”