James, Pensler trade jabs, defend Trump in Senate GOP radio debate
For the second and perhaps final time, Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls Sandy Pensler and John James took more personal jabs at each other in a Wednesday live radio debate.
But during the one-hour broadcast on WJR's Frank Beckmann show, Pensler and James agreed to support the other against Democrat U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing in the fall.
They debated who was the better businessman and who is the least truthful in attack ads, even as Beckmann praised them for being congenial in his presence.
Both combatants began on how they both backed President Donald Trump when he downplayed Russia's interference in the 2016 election at Monday Helsinki press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a day later tried to clarify that he backed the U.S. intelligence agencies that documented Russia's meddling.
Trump "accounted for his statement," said James, a Farmington Hills businessman. Pensler, a Grosse Pointe financier, agreed it was a "minor misstep" but that sitting down with Putin was a good idea.
"Our president wakes up every single day and gets attacked. I actually know what that's like, being in a combat zone, knowing that you're going to wake up and get shot at," said James, an Iraq War Apache helicopter pilot. "I think our president is showing remarkable aplomb. And he has since accounted for his statement. I'm more content to focus on the fixes that Michiganders need."
Pensler said that when history looks back on "his misstatement, I think what we'll be seeing is, he was willing to open up dialogue with Russia and there are an amazing number of critical junctures that we have to be engaged with Russia whether we like it or not. Together we share 90 percent of the nuclear arsenal in the world. We have to be talking."
They agreed on little else.
When asked what separates the two, Pensler said "competence and experience."
"I built my own company from scratch, I didn't go into my dad's company," Pensler said in reference to James taking over his father's business. "I've had successes and failures. I understand the issues that are in front of Michiganders."
James countered that his experience "is in the real world, leading men and women in combat and creating economic opportunity in the city of Detroit."
"I understand service before self," James said, adding that he helped grow his automotive logistics business "from $35 million to $137 million" and added over 100 jobs.
"In your comment that I just took over my Dad's company, that's a bit of a condescending comment. But you are looking down not only on the family but also the American dream."
Pensler fought back: "His father was and is the chairman of the company. His brother is the CEO of the company, ... and he continues to misstate his resume which I think is wrong."
The issue of James' political donation to Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez came up, too, with James clarifying he went to "a meet-and-greet for the nonpartisan" councilwoman. Pensler has run ads criticizing James because Castaneda-Lopez supports sanctuary cities.
"You have it right now from the horse's mouth, we must defund sanctuary cities," James said. "I will protect ICE from liberals."
James gave "multiple times" to Lopez, Pensler said, rejecting James' assertion that he gave to her because the family business is in her council district. "And Raquel Lopez is the only political donation in his entire life that we can find," he said.
The debate turned to Stabenow, with Pensler saying, "we are both such huge improvements over what we have in the senate right now." He lambasted Stabenaw for never having been in the private sector.
James said Stabenow "hides behind Chuck Schumer, she's Chuck Schumer's shadow. We need to have somebody who understands what exactly the state has and has the skills set to bring better for Michigan."
Toward the end, they went right back to fighting, with James accusing Pensler of outsourcing jobs to China and Mexico "while failing to fund millions in health care and pensions." James also claimed Pensler bankrupted businesses, which Pensler denied.
"This is the same person who tears me down when I've actually grown jobs in the community and helped my family business grow," James said.
Pensler countered that he buys troubled companies "slated for closure or liquidation." And he denied shortchanging health care or pensions.
"I buy troubled companies, I have successes and failures," he said.