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Senators Chris Coons and Marco Rubio face off in Senate Project debate, moderated by CBS News' Ed O'Keefe

Sens. Chris Coons and Marco Rubio debate
Sens. Chris Coons and Marco Rubio debate over China, climate change and more 01:27:29

The fourth installment of The Senate Project debate series — which brings together senators from different ends of the political spectrum for civil, substantive discussion and debate aimed at finding potential areas of bipartisan compromise and common ground — featured Senators Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, and Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida. 

The debate was moderated by CBS News senior White House and political correspondent Ed O'Keefe. 

The first part of the debate focused on China, with both senators agreeing the nation is a critical threat to the U.S. 

Rubio said the relationship with China is not comparable to the Cold War with the Soviet Union because China seeks "to replace every institution created after the Second World War that the U.S. has led on a global scale." 

"They seek to become the dominant military power in the Indo-Pacific region, but they want to also be able to project power all over the world," he said. 

Coons agreed that U.S.-China relations are "something else," but said there are a few ways "in which it seems eerily reminiscent" of the Cold War.

"This is somewhat similar to our contest with the Soviet Union," Coons said. "A contest of two very different systems, with different understandings of individual rights and liberty, and where our greatest strength is our global network of alliances. Our alliances were critical to our success in the Cold War." 

Rubio noted there are countries that don't want to be forced to pick between the U.S. and China, and will try to leverage both sides. 

"That existed somewhat in the Cold War, but I think it's going to be really pronounced in this new era," he said. 

Both senators also agreed that the war in Ukraine is of interest to the U.S., but differed on the scale. Rubio said he supports Ukraine, especially given that China, in his view, supports Putin, but said there have to be limits to the United States' support. 

"I think there really needs to be a strategic view of this that guides what we give them and how much we are able to spend," Rubio said.

Coons said that on a scale of 1-10, although it's difficult to say, he would put the importance of supporting Ukraine at an "eight or nine."

"I think the signal it sends, we are more likely to see a conclusion to this war when Putin concludes he can't wait us out and that we are determined," Coons said. 

Regarding Monday's prisoner swap with Iran, Rubio criticized the deal and previous prisoner swaps, saying, "Now you've put a price tag on the head of Americans."

Coons said he was confident the guardrails set up to prevent Iran from using the humanitarian funds that were unfrozen as part of the deal for unapproved purposes would hold. Rubio, however, said that while he was hopeful the money would only be used for humanitarian purposes, "but I don't think we should be counting on it."

The senators also discussed climate change, with Coons saying it is the "defining issue for our world."

Rubio said he has nothing against "green energy" but said some are "selling this mythology that somehow renewables can replace hydrocarbon, and nuclear, and hydroelectric energy. It cannot. Not anytime in the foreseeable future." Rubio noted that even if the U.S. were to cut its emissions drastically, other developing nations such as China and India would continue producing coal-fired plants to continue growing their economies.

Coons pushed for high tariffs on items like steel and glass that come from countries that are not manufacturing those products in an energy-efficient way. This, he said, will also help protect American manufacturing jobs because it will be cheaper to buy American steel or glass that was manufactured in compliance with the country's energy standards than to import the heavily tariffed goods. Coons also argued that this would force other nations to reduce their emissions in order to avoid such tariffs and continue doing business with the U.S. 

The Senate Project debate was held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Senate Project is a partnership between the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate.

"It's a pleasure to participate in The Senate Project debate series. I look forward to debating Senator Rubio and having the opportunity to discuss a number of issues, including China and where we can find bipartisan common ground," Sen. Coons said in a news release. 

"America remains the greatest country in the history of the world, but everyone knows we face some serious challenges — challenges that cannot be solved by talking points and soundbites," said Sen. Rubio. "Republicans and Democrats will never agree on every problem or every solution, but that should not prevent us from working together to get things done where we can for the American people. That is especially true when it comes to issues like China's continued assault on our economy, communities, and national security." 

Senators Chris Coons and Marco Rubio
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), left, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), right. Getty Images

"The Senate is the world's greatest deliberative body, but in recent years the fierce debate, followed by searching for common ground has often been missing," said former senator and Bipartisan Policy Center co-founder Tom Daschle. "After making that point several years ago, I could not be more thrilled with The Senate Project series, which seeks a thoughtful debate and honest discussion on some of America's leading issues, and when possible, areas of comity.  I look forward to this fourth in a series of debates with two respected members of the United States Senate."

The Senate Project and its founding partners say their approach is inspired by the political bridge-building of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and the late Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, who worked through party and political differences to forge consensus on landmark healthcare reform legislation and other bipartisan bills. 

"Too often, there is more attention on what divides the nation than on what unites it. The Senate Project is intended to show the American people that civil discourse, compromise, and bipartisanship are possible," said Bruce A. Percelay, chairman of the board of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. 

"By facilitating these robust discussions between senators from different backgrounds and perspectives, we hope to inspire a new generation of lawmakers to prioritize collaboration and the common good over partisan divide," said Matt Sandgren, executive director of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation. 

Rubio, who was first elected to the Senate in 2010, is the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence; ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues; and a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Committee on Foreign Relations, and Special Committee on Aging.

Coons, who won his Senate seat in a 2010 special election, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs and the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, and a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. He is also chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

You can learn more about The Senate Project debate series at

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