Name as it appears on the ballot: Cal Cunningham
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: CalForNC.com
Occupation & employer: U.S. Army Reserve (2002-present); Law Offices of J. Calvin Cunningham (2010-present); WasteZero (2013-present)
Years lived in North Carolina: I have been a resident of North Carolina my whole life.
1) What are the three biggest issues facing the country right now? If elected, what would be your three top legislative priorities? Please explain why.
I believe the three most important issues facing the nation are the cost of and access to health care, economic opportunity, and climate change.
- Cost of health care and access: I will fight to strengthen and extend coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and will stand up against all attempts to roll back protections for people with pre-existing conditions and other benefits of this law. I also believe we need to create a public health insurance option to increase access to care, and do more to support rural hospitals, and address doctor shortages. I will also oppose any efforts to cut Medicare benefits.
- Economy opportunity: I will fight to rein in the cost of higher education, raise the minimum wage, and make sure there is equal pay for equal work. I will also oppose tax policies that shower benefits on the wealthiest at the expense of everyone else, and support efforts to help working families and lift those who need it out of poverty by expanding both the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit so they benefit more families.
- Climate change: North Carolina has seen the effects of climate change firsthand through the historic storms and flooding that have ravaged our state, which is why I believe this is one of the most urgent issues facing us. We need to invest in a clean energy economy that will create good-paying jobs, reduce carbon pollution, and make North Carolina a leader. I will also fight to protect North Carolina’s beautiful natural resources including by opposing offshore drilling.
In addition to the three issues articulated above, one of my first actions in the Senate will be filing a bill to overturn Citizens United and tackle the corruption that is preventing us from making progress on those issues. That means reforming our political system so it serves those who send Senators to Washington, not special interests.
2) Given how polarized—and paralyzed—Congress seems to be, why do you believe you would be effective at advancing those priorities? What in your background as a public official or private citizen should give us faith that you can help break through the gridlock?
Growing up in the small town of Lexington, the church youth group leaders who took me on service projects to Appalachia taught me what it meant to serve. On the family brickyard, the fellows I stacked brick with taught me the value of hard work and a dollar. At the foot of my father, a small town lawyer who took on his neighbors’ causes as his own, I was taught that often justice requires a fight. And with the Army at Fort Bragg and abroad, the paratroopers, Reservists and special operators I served with taught me a deeper form of patriotism and honor.
In each of those experiences, we weren’t concerned about where someone was raised or the label on their voter registration card. It was about looking out for each other and doing our best to lift each other up. Those are North Carolina values.
I’m running for Senate to put North Carolina first, and for me, that means going out into our communities and listening to thoughts and concerns from folks all across our state. The best ideas for change come from roundtables, one-on-one conversations, and public exchanges of ideas — not special interests in Washington. I believe that by listening to one another and sharing each others’ life experiences, all Americans can come to better respect our neighbors, and find solutions to the biggest problems we face — solutions that we can all get behind. That’s what I’ll do if I serve North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
3) As we write this, the Senate is holding a trial over the impeachment of Donald Trump. Based on the evidence you have heard thus far, would you vote to convict Trump on charges of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress and remove him from the presidency? Why or why not? Please explain.
As a prosecutor trained to listen to the facts, I’m appalled the Senate did not hear from witnesses or request documents. As a North Carolinian who aspires to represent our state in the Senate, I’m appalled by its members’ abdication of their duty — in particular Senator Thom Tillis, who raised his hand and swore to be an impartial juror yet announced his judgment months ago and voted to block witnesses and documents.North Carolinians know what a fair trial looks like and that’s not what we just witnessed. However flawed the Senate proceedings, the time has now come to render judgment on the question in front of us.
Our country owes gratitude to the brave men and women who came forward to testify in the House at great risk to themselves, to share serious, uncontradicted evidence that Donald Trump abused the office of president for personal political gain, and, when caught, then obstructed Congress’s investigation into his wrongdoing.
After considering the evidence and the constitutional arguments on both sides, if I were a member of the U.S. Senate I would vote to convict Donald Trump.
4) Days ago, news reports surfaced that former national security adviser John Bolton says Trump told him that aid to Ukraine was directly linked to an investigation into his political adversaries. Democrats want to subpoena him to testify. Trump and some Republicans, including Thom Tillis, have countered that the House should have called witnesses during its inquiry and doing so now is not the Senate’s job. Do you believe the Senate should seek out more documents and testimony before reaching a verdict?
Yes. North Carolinians know what a fair trial looks like and it includes documents and firsthand witnesses. If Senator Tillis was serious about a fair trial, that’s what he would have pursued.
5) The president recently claimed that Republicans will protect pre-existing conditions, yet his Department of Justice is right now pursuing a case to wipe out the Affordable Care Act, including the pre-existing-conditions protections. Some Democratic presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, are campaigning on a pledge to end private insurance and enact a single-payer, Medicare-for-all-type system, while others want to keep the ACA and add to it a public option. Given political realities, what do you believe is the best path forward on health care?
I will fight to strengthen and extend coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and will stand up against all attempts to roll back protections for people with pre-existing conditions and other benefits of this law. We must also build on the Affordable Care Act by creating a public health insurance option to increase access to care, and ensuring no one loses their employer-sponsored coverage who wants to keep it.
Moreover, it is long past time that North Carolina expand Medicaid, which would cover more than 600,000 North Carolinians — and it is important to note that as Speaker of the House in North Carolina, Thom Tillis passed the law preventing Governor Cooper from doing so. I’m proud to be endorsed by the North Carolina AFL-CIO and other labor organizations in part for my commitment on health care.
6) The administration has rolled back a number of regulations aimed at mitigating climate pollution and pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Several leading Democrats have embraced (as a framework) a Green New Deal that would reorient the economy around sustainable energy. Given that climate scientists believe the world has a short window to avert global catastrophe, what steps do you believe the next Congress should take to address the climate crisis?
North Carolina has seen the effects of climate change firsthand through the historic storms and flooding that have ravaged our state. We’ve also seen coal ash spills, drinking water tainted by PFAs like GenX, and rapid loss of open space. We understand uniquely the urgent need to address threats to our environment like the climate crisis.
If I earn North Carolinians’ support, I will take this issue head on in the U.S. Senate, just like I did in the State Senate here in North Carolina, when we worked together to pass the landmark Clean Smokestacks bill that reduced emissions across our state.
We should work to move to 100 percent carbon neutral by 2050 and reduce carbon emissions — and let’s take our cues from places like North Carolina, which has led the way on growing the solar industry. We should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. We need to support efforts to train workers for the green energy jobs of the future. And we should invest in research and development to be at the forefront of creating new technologies. Those are a few top priorities, but I am open to other efforts, including efforts to ensure North Carolinians can be a leader in this fight.
I am also proud to be endorsed by the League of Conservation voters for my commitment to our environment and addressing climate change.
7) As of 2019, nearly 45 million Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt, which experts say is preventing young people from buying homes, starting businesses, or starting families. Some Democrats have proposed forgiving all or some student loan debt and/or making some or all college free. What steps do you believe Congress should take, if any, to address student-loan debt and the cost of college education?
In the Senate, I will lead the fight to lower the cost of college, and expand access to community college and technical training. I support efforts to allow students to refinance student loans, fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, expand Pell Grants, and eliminate cost as a barrier to community college access. As a member of the Army Reserve, I’m also committed to ensuring that veterans can access and have time to use the educational benefits available to them and their families.
North Carolina also has a proud tradition of strong public universities and our Historically Black Colleges and Universities are a critical part of our higher education system, so I will work to ensure the federal government increases investment and support for these important institutions.
8) President Trump’s signature legislative achievement is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a regressive, deficit-funded tax overhaul that largely benefited the wealthy while, experts say, producing a positive but small effect on GDP. Given the rising deficit (see no. 9), do you believe the TCJA should be repealed? Do you believe Congress pass more tax cuts? If so, how should they be targeted? Or do you think Congress should raise taxes? What form of tax hikes would you prefer: Capital gains? A wealth tax? Income tax? Something else? Please explain.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, supported by Senator Thom Tillis is fueling the growing income and wealth inequality in our country by overwhelmingly benefiting the largest corporations and the ultra-wealthy while leaving middle-class and poor families further behind.
While Senator Tillis joined Republicans in claiming these tax cuts would “pay for themselves,” we know that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the tax bill has added $2 trillion to our national debt and resulted in big payouts for CEOs and shareholders without trickling down to workers.
So when I think about how we can use our tax system to grow the economy, here are my priorities:
- We ought to replace the temporary tax cuts put forth in the 2017 tax bill with permanent policies that benefit working families and help lift families out of poverty like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and making them refundable.
- We need to address tax loopholes and other policies that benefit corporations and the wealthy, and instead focus on providing tax benefits to corporations that play by the rules and invest in their workers.
- We need to invest in innovation and hiring workers through research and development tax credits, and other deductions that allow small businesses to deduct the costs of running a business.
- We should also invest in communities by supporting the New Markets Tax Credit, which helps community developers invest in low-income communities.
I’m proud to have the endorsement of groups like the North Carolina AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, Carolinas Electrical Workers Association, and the Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina in part for my commitment to expanding our middle class.
9) The Congressional Budget Office says that the deficit will exceed $1 trillion in 2020, though the economy has been growing for a decade. To what degree does the deficit concern you? What steps do you believe Congress should take to reduce the deficit, if any? Would you be willing to cut Medicare or Social Security? If you believe Congress should spend more on climate change or health care, do you worry about expanding the deficit further? If you believe Congress should cut taxes, how would you pay for it?
A federal budget, like any family budget, is a reflection of priorities and it is clear there is significant need to realign our government spending and tax code in order to invest in domestic programs that have been neglected for far too long, and to help lift up families who need it the most, instead of giving savings to massive corporations. Here are a few of my priorities in regards to federal spending:
- While the GOP tax law supported by Senator Tillis could have been an opportunity to raise revenue for priorities like infrastructure, instead, it added $2 trillion to our national debt in order to reward corporations and the ultra-wealthy. I believe one of the best ways our country can start to realign our priorities is by addressing tax loopholes and other breaks that benefit corporations and the wealthy, and use those savings to help North Carolina families through efforts like expanding the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits.
- I support allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies which importantly will help lower costs for consumers, but would also save taxpayer dollars.
- I oppose moves like President Trump’s use of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to propose defense spending in excess of federal budget caps, which even his own OMB Director has called a “gimmick.”
- And I oppose any efforts to reduce the deficit on the backs of aging Americans who have paid into Medicare and Social Security over their entire lives. I’m proud to be endorsed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare for that commitment.
10) In January, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, though its status is in legal limbo. Supporters argue that the five states that have rescinded their previous ratification of the amendment had no right to do so, and that a ratification-deadline provision is unconstitutional. The first question is likely headed to federal courts, but ERA supporters say they’ll ask Congress to rescind the deadline. Do you support the ERA? If elected, would you vote to rescind the deadline Congress set almost 50 years ago?
Yes, I support ratification of the ERA and would support the Senate resolution removing the deadline originally assigned to the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972.
11) In the last year, several states have passed laws challenging Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, including some that would effectively ban abortion. What do you believe Congress can or should do to protect abortion rights?
It’s simple — a woman’s choice is a woman’s right and there is no place for a politician in a conversation between a woman and her doctor. In the Senate, I will always defend Roe v. Wade against partisan attacks, and will look to confirm judges who will uphold Roe as law. I’ll always fight to ensure women have access to reproductive care, and he will strongly oppose partisan efforts in Washington to attack and defund Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services to thousands of North Carolinians.
12) Last year, after Congress refused to grant President Trump funds to build a border wall, the president declared a national emergency and diverted funding from the military toward that purpose. Do you believe such a declaration was justified and a wall is necessary? More broadly, do you believe the president’s immigration policies have been beneficial?
As an Army veteran, I take the safety and security of North Carolinians seriously, including border security. I also know we can keep America safe without compromising America’s values to be a leader to the world when it comes to freedom and liberty.
While I don’t support President Trump’s efforts to divert money from our military bases, including $80 million from here in North Carolina, to build a wall along the entirety of the southern border, I do believe that the smartest and most cost effective way to secure our border is through a strategic mixture of physical barriers, technology, and manpower.
More broadly, we must pass comprehensive immigration reform that fixes our broken system and modernizes it for the economy of today, grows North Carolina’s economy, protects DREAMers, and provides a fair pathway to citizenship. Instead of separating families and caging children, we should be investing in the necessary technology and trained staff to secure our borders. What we need are leaders with the courage to reject the politics of fear and work across party lines to pass comprehensive reform.
13) In January, the president ordered a military strike that killed an Iranian commander inside of Iraq, leading to the Iraqi Parliament calling for the expulsion of American troops from Iraq, ratcheting up tensions with Iran, and straining U.S. alliances with some European allies. Do you believe the president had an obligation to inform Congress before such a strike? Do you believe the decision to launch an attack on the Iranian general was wise?
General Soleimani was a terrorist and murderer of U.S. troops, including when I was deployed to Iraq with the Army, so there is justice in his death.
The challenge we’ve grappled with for years in Iraq and across the Middle East is how to pursue our national security without strengthening enemy hardliners, drawing our country deeper into war and putting U.S. troops or diplomats in danger. In striking the balance, it has been important to exercise restraint, even against clear enemies.
Since this targeted killing was carried out without Congressional authorization, we need to see the facts and hear the justification for why the action was taken when it was, and how we mitigate the very high risk that we are precipitating a serious regional conflict. In short, what is the national security strategy this strike is advancing and how will we keep Americans at home and abroad safe?
Generally, I believe that before authorizing military force, the President must make his case to Congress and the American people. Congress needs to reassert its role in conducting military operations. The Senate ought to follow the House’s lead in repealing the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), and repeal and replace the post-9/11 AUMF that has been used to approve a widening array of military operations.
14) In general, what are your views on American foreign policy under the Trump administration? Do you believe it has been beneficial, or have Trump’s decisions—including exiting the Iran and Paris agreements and enacting tariffs on China and other countries—harmed America’s national interests?
As someone who has served with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and who comes from a long line of veterans, I understand the consequences that a reckless and nationalist foreign policy can have on our national security and the military personnel and families who are called to support those prerogatives. In short, decisions of war and peace will always be very personal to me and must always be “smart” in pursuit of our objectives.
As a person who has enforced and taught U.S. and coalition combatants to use force in accordance with international law and our national principles, I am a firm believer that we are strongest on the world stage when we live out those values: human rights and dignity, proportionality and restraint and remaining focused on narrow military objectives, while protecting civilians and non-combatants.
Our way of life and our sovereignty require that we maintain a leadership role in the community of nations and that we always seek to validate our actions by conducting ourselves in accordance with international laws and norms, in concert and coordination with allies. “Going it alone” must always be a last resort, in defense of our most vital national interests. Rather, in pursuing our national security objectives we should use all of the instruments of national power: diplomatic, economic, information and military; and we must recognize that the use of force can detract from security, as easily as it can contribute to our security.
There is nothing more important than ensuring the safety of our nation and I believe that starts with smart diplomacy, not bluster and aggression. We should be working with our global allies to advocate for human rights and combat climate change. For our adversaries like North Korea, Iran and Russia, I believe we should use economic pressure and steady diplomacy to advance the interests of our nation and promote peace and stability.
In regard to the specific foreign policy decisions referenced in your question:
- PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT: As stated before, the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.
- JCPOA: I support reengaging with the Iranians under the framework established by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) negotiated by the United States and our European allies, while retaining the right to sanction Iran for malicious non-nuclear activities like terrorism.
- TARIFFS: It’s clear that decades of unfair trade deals have allowed our trading partners to get away with unfair practices that hurt North Carolina workers, including furniture and textile workers in my home town of Lexington. We need to revisit our trade policies to guard against the outsourcing of North Carolina jobs, as well as strengthen labor and environmental protections and make sure they can be enforced. At the same time, I believe we need to defend North Carolina’s farms against reckless tariffs that harm their livelihood. We can, and should, address our trade challenges by leveraging existing alliances to bring bad actors, like China to the table to negotiate, instead of pursuing unilateral actions that disregard our international alliances.
15) Polls indicate that a narrow majority of Americans approve of President Trump’s handling of the economy, though a broad majority also disapproves of his performance generally. This is often attributed to the president’s crass language, mendaciousness, and erratic behavior, both on Twitter and in rallies. Regardless of whether you support the president’s policies, do you believe he is a good role model or an honorable person?
The North Carolinians I know and meet as I travel the state are both more honorable and better role models for our next generation than the President has demonstrated himself to be. They are teachers and servicemembers with a hunger to serve. They are social workers or elected officials who understand how we can use the tools of government to do the most good. And they are faith leaders who seek to heal and bridge divides instead of using fear to divide.