Watch CBS News

Kelly Loeffler repeats Trump didn't lose 2020 election during Georgia Senate debate against Raphael Warnock

Georgia Senate runoff debates
Georgia Senate candidates debate voter fraud claims, COVID-19 pandemic 12:34

Senator Kelly Loeffler repeatedly refused to acknowledge that President Trump lost re-election in November, as she debated her Democratic opponent, Reverend Raphael Warnock, on Sunday ahead of twin Georgia runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.

Asked specifically about President-elect Joe Biden's victory in Georgia and whether she agreed with Mr. Trump's unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud, Loeffler sidestepped the matter. "The president has every right to every legal recourse, and that's what's taking place," Loeffler said.

The senator later alleged, without any supporting details, irregularities in the November elections and repeated Mr. Trump's right to "legal recourse" without acknowledging that the president's campaign has lost round after round of post-election court challenges, including in Georgia, which has already certified its results.

Her Democratic opponent Warnock blasted the senator for "casting doubt" on a legitimate election. "The people have spoken on the presidential election, and they're waiting on their senator to be focused on them, not the person in the White House."

However, Loeffler, again and again, tacitly admitted Mr. Trump's defeat by casting the runoffs necessary to prevent a leftward march. ″Everything is at stake in this election, the future of our country," she said, alluding to the high-stakes battle for control of the Senate.

Loeffler more than a dozen times blasted "radical liberal Raphael Warnock" and hammered the pastor as a socialist who would ensure everything from a government takeover of the U.S. healthcare system to the seizure of Americans' guns. Warnock, who is not a socialist, countered by blasting Loeffler as a self-interested, uber-wealthy politician who "lied not only on me, but on Jesus" by highlighting and, he said, misrepresenting bits and pieces of sermons he's delivered over the years.

This combination of photos shows Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate at a televised debate on Sunday, December 6, 2020, in Atlanta. CBS News

The battle between Loeffler and Warnock and a second runoff between Republican Sen. David Perdue with Democrat Jon Ossoff will determine which party controls the Senate at the outset of Biden's presidency. Republicans need one seat for a majority. Democrats need a sweep to make Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

While Loeffler dodged questions about Mr. Trump's defeat, Warnock sidestepped questions about whether he'd support expanding the Supreme Court if Democrats had the power to do so. He said was more interested in coronavirus pandemic relief, but never said explicitly whether he was opposed to adding justices to the high court.

On COVID, the two rivals confirmed their confidence in a vaccine and said they'd take it. But they drew sharp contrasts on another economic aid package. Warnock hammered Loeffler's criticisms earlier this year of some congressional aid. Loeffler blamed Democratic leaders for Congress' failure to pass a new round of aid this fall, and she said Warnock would be a rubber stamp for them in Washington.

In an earlier session Sunday, Ossoff debated an empty podium, hammering Perdue as a "coward" for skipping the debate.

Ossoff suggested Perdue, the first-term Republican whose prolific stock trading has drawn attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, left his podium vacant because he didn't want to "incriminate himself" over his personal financial activities that the challenger summed up as "cartoonish abuse of power."

"It shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for Georgia's senior U.S. senator to believe he shouldn't have to debate at a moment like this in our history," Ossoff said, criticizing Perdue for avoiding the debate as the coronavirus pandemic rages and Congress continues to be at loggerheads over a new round of economic relief.

Perdue's campaign manager responded with an email statement that said Ossoff "lost a debate against himself." The statement did not address any details of Ossoff's attacks on the senator. Another Perdue aide followed up with a statement emphasizing that "the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, DOJ and the SEC ... independently cleared Sen. Perdue of any and all wrongdoing."

The runoffs have put Georgia squarely in the national political spotlight, drawing tens of millions of dollars and a flood of field workers and volunteers from around the country.

The day before Mr. Trump's rally, Vice President Mike Pence appeared in Savannah, as former President Barack Obama headlined a virtual rally for Democrats. Mr. Biden, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, has promised to visit before the runoff, acknowledging that the outcome will shape the legislative reach of his presidency.

Republicans have embraced the national consequences, framing Ossoff and Warnock as harbingers of a socialist takeover of Washington. Neither are socialists but the GOP wants to stoke its base for a second round of voting with the fear of Democrats controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Democrats already have protected their House majority, and the Republican argument concedes Mr. Trump's loss to Mr. Biden, even if the president himself has refused to acknowledge his defeat.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.