Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has declined to debate his Democratic opponent in November’s election, but the staunchly conservative Texan challenged TV personality Geraldo Rivera to a debate during a Thursday interview about border security on Fox News.
Rivera quickly accepted, and Patrick said the details were being worked out.
Democratic rival Mike Collier, who has been pressing to debate Patrick without success, was less than pleased, calling the Rivera challenge a stunt and dismissing Patrick as a “clown.”
In Thursday’s TV interview, Patrick argued that the slaying of college student Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa — a crime charged to a farmworker who law enforcement officials say was in the country illegally — pointed to the glaring need for stricter immigration security and for President Donald Trump’s wall along the border with Mexico.
Patrick also sharply criticized those who oppose tighter immigration controls, saying they have Tibbetts’ blood on their hands.
“The CNNs, the MSNBCs, most of print media in this country, the Democrats — they are all accomplices in the death of this young girl,” Patrick said.
“Even Geraldo Rivera — and I’ve never met the guy, I seem to like him, it seems like he’s got a good heart — you know, I saw him here on Fox saying, ‘Well I feel badly about this, but.’ There is no ‘but,’ and I’ll be happy to debate Geraldo Rivera anytime, anyplace, anywhere on this issue,” Patrick said. “We have to secure this border and protect the lives of American citizens.”
Rivera, host of a Fox program, took to Twitter to accept the challenge and to criticize Patrick and other unnamed politicians for using Tibbetts’ death for a “fear-mongering” attack on immigrants.
“Enough jingo rhetoric to gain votes rather than heal this wound and fix this problem,” Rivera wrote. “Politicians like Dan Patrick don’t want a fix. They want an issue to divide and distract Americans.”
Rivera said Tibbetts’ death was being used to promote the “false notion that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately committing violent crimes,” and he cited research by the Pew Foundation indicating that “those immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens.”
“Dan Patrick claims outrageously that I’m effectively an accomplice to horrifying murder of Mollie Tibbetts because I beg compassion and mercy for undocumented immigrants. How dare he make so false an allegation?” Rivera concluded.
No Texas debate
Patrick said he was willing to fly to New York on Sept. 4 or 5 to debate Rivera — an offer that came one month after his campaign spokesman said Patrick saw no need to debate Collier before November’s election.
“There isn’t anyone in the Lone Star State who isn’t absolutely clear about where Dan Patrick stands on the issues. He told us what he was going to do, then he did it,” spokesman Allen Blakemore said in late July. “That’s why Dan Patrick has the overwhelming support of the conservative majority in Texas.”
On Thursday, Collier accused his GOP opponent of ignoring a separate offer from the Fox affiliate in Houston to air a Patrick-Collier debate.
“Texans see right past this clown,” Collier said in a written statement. “Dan is so scared of facing Texas voters, he refuses to debate the issues in the state where he holds office and against his actual opponent, me.
“If Dan Patrick had an ounce of respect for Texas voters, he would agree to the debate that has already been offered to each of us by Fox. Agreeing to debate a TV personality instead of his opponent shows a blatant disregard for the people he serves. Hey Dan, don’t spit in your constituents’ faces and tell them it’s raining,” Collier said.
Tibbetts’ death renewed a national debate over immigration and border security after law enforcement officials said the man who confessed to her murder, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, was in the country illegally. Although Rivera’s lawyer said he had the proper papers to work in the U.S., federal immigration officials said there was no record that Rivera was in the country legally.
Patrick rips McConnell
In Thursday’s Fox News interview, Patrick also ripped into Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for adhering to Senate rules requiring 60 votes to move legislation, allowing Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to block GOP-favored changes to immigration laws.
“I’m tired of Mitch McConnell not changing the rules to bypass Chuck Schumer and the Democrats. It’s time for the Republicans who are in the majority to follow the president’s lead, fund the wall and secure this border,” he said.
Patrick then suggested a role model for McConnell to emulate: Patrick, who as a new lieutenant governor in 2015 pushed to change a Texas Senate rule that required 21 votes to move legislation. The new Patrick-approved rule required only 19 votes, letting the Senate’s 20 Republicans vote on bills without support from Democrats.
The change, he said, laid the groundwork for a 2017 law banning so-called sanctuary cities by requiring local officials to comply with federal immigration agents’ detention requests for jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.
“In Texas, we had a few knucklehead Republicans and liberal Democrats who blocked us from banning sanctuary cities when I was a senator. On day one, when I became lieutenant governor in 2015, we changed the rules in the Senate so that wouldn’t happen,” he said.