U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D) says he knows he is the biggest target in Arkansas’ 2014 election cycle.
“I’m on every endangered species list in Washington,” the state’s senior senator said Sunday morning on KARK Ch. 4′ s Capitol View. Pryor fielded nearly 20 minutes worth of on-the-record questions, including gun control, health care reform, immigration, Dodd-Frank, and his re-election bid.
Pryor said he thinks he will have to raise more than $10 million for his re-election bid, and he’s already spending some of that money 18 months out to defend his record against two early independent expenditure groups.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been running a TV ad critical of Pryor’s vote on gun control legislation. A group called Senate Conservatives Action has been running ads tying Pryor’s voting record to Pres. Barack Obama, who is politically unpopular in Arkansas.
“Of course, part of their strategy is to just spend, spend, spend and make us run out of money. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to be smart about it,” Pryor said.
As he had been doing for weeks, Pryor said his support for the Grassley amendment versus the Manchin-Toomey background check bill was more in line with Arkansas voters and would do more to reform gun violence in America.
“I think Grassley is a much stronger piece of legislation. I think it has real teeth,” he said. “We have a background checks system on the books today and we’ve had it for a long time. This fixes a lot of the problems in the background check system. It deals with mental health issues. It actually for the first time ever would require all federal and state agencies to put information into the database and that’s not required right now.”
But some Democrats and liberal voters are not buying the Pryor vote for Grassley over Manchin-Toomey. Pryor said some do, however.
“Once they realize that I had [voted for] Grassley and they look at what’s it actually does, they go, ‘I get it. I see why you voted for that,'” Pryor said.
Recent polling shows support for expanded background checks, which Pryor claims the Grassley amendment would also strengthen. A poll released last week by the Democratic-leaning PPP polling firm indicated that by a 40-34% margin, overall voters would be more likely to support Pryor if he voted in the future for an expanded background check bill. Among independent voters, however, only 28% would be more likely to support him versus 45% who said they would be less likely to support him under that scenario.
“I didn’t vote for this because of polls. I didn’t know how it would poll. I knew it would be controversial because you’ve got strong personalities on both sides and you’ve got lots of money on both sides. I think the polling is interesting. I think it does kind of reflect where Arkansas is on this. Most Arkansans are independent-minded,” said Pryor, who added that he does not see a future vote on the issue coming back for a Senate vote.
The state Republican Party has pointed out that Pryor voted for an assault weapons ban and expanded background check bill in 2004, the Feinstein amendment, and that his opposition to Manchin-Toomey this year was an “election year conversion.”
Pryor said the Arkansas GOP is off-base and unfair, if not outright lying.
“The state Republican Party, they’re going to criticize me for anything and everything. If there’s nothing for them to criticize me for, they’re going to make it up. That’s just the way they are,” he said. “They don’t try to play fair, they don’t want to play fair. They’re just going to put stuff out every single day. My advice to the voting public would be if here’s something from the state Republican Party to check the facts because more times than not, they’re not accurate.”
The next red-hot issue in Washington, D.C. is likely to be a vote on immigration reform. A bipartisan measure has advanced from a Senate committee and is expected to come to a Senate floor vote within the next two weeks.
Pryor said he supports immigration reform, but is still studying the bill.
“I want to look at everything they’ve done – it came out of the committee with a hundred amendments on it, so we’re trying to sort that out right now to get the right bill so we understand what’s there – but the truth is, I would like to support immigration reform. We should have done this ten years ago,” he said.
When asked if he supported a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, Pryor said he sees a possible path.
“I think what we would do there is if it’s like they had it structured before – in the draft bill – I think I can support that,” Pryor said.
HEALTH CARE, BANKING REFORMS
Pryor has come under fire from a conservative group airing ads starring Tea Party activists, who claim the senator “left” them and has voted with Obama on 95% of his legislative agenda.
Pryor said has never supported him and probably never will. Still, he defended his controversial votes on Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, which has been criticized by the banking community as burdensome.
When asked if he still stands by his vote on Obamacare, Pryor said yes.
“I do. I think it was the right vote, I think it was good for Arkansas,” he said. “In fact, you can look at what the Republican state legislature just did here a few weeks ago and that is they voted to implement Obamacare here in Arkansas through the Medicaid expansion.”
Pryor contends that Gov. Mike Beebe, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and the medical community passed “a big expansion to Medicaid” that will help nearly 500,000 Arkansans get better health care. He says the original Obamacare bill allowed that to happen. He also said he would not vote against repealing it, but confessed that there are still some improvements that could be made.
“I think in the end, it was a good vote, but let me say one last thing about it: it was big, it was complicated. There’s no doubt, there’s no doubt we didn’t get it all right. I can promise you that if we got 80% of it right, we did something. We still need to go in and work on that 20% and I’ve already supported efforts to change some of that. I’ll support efforts now. I’ve supported efforts in the past. I’ll support efforts in the future to get it right.”
On the Dodd-Frank banking reform act, Pryor said recent economic data – improving bank profits and a strengthening economy – support his vote for the bill.
“Having healthy community banks, healthy banks around the state is a sign that the economy is healthy and that things are growing and going in the right direction,” he said. Pryor also added that more work needed to be done to reform “too big to fail” banks.
Pryor said the Senate missed a chance to tackle debt reduction and a reversal of deficit spending when it did not act on the Simpson-Bowles debt/deficit reduction plan.
He said Washington, D.C. partisan politics deserves the blame.
“On the debt and deficit, I do think all of us should take the blame: Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate and the President. I think we missed a good opportunity when Simpson-Bowles came out with their debt reduction efforts,” Pryor said.
“We’re in a red versus blue world right now. People put on their red jerseys, they put on their blue jerseys and they fight, fight, fight. And they don’t want to talk to each other, they don’t want to work with each other, they don’t want to get it done. The first thing they want to do is take a big issue like this and they want to blame the other side because they want to win in the next election. It’s dead-end politics,” he said.
You can view his entire interview below.
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