Meub, Sanders clash over debate schedule

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders was set to talk about farm issues Monday when his Republican opponent tried to steal the limelight. GOP candidate Bill Meub says Sanders has ducked debates, a charge Sanders emphatically denies. Meub went to Sanders’ office and challenged the incumbent to face him on the issues.

VPR’s John Dillon was there.

(Dillon) Sanders had just started his news conference on the dairy economy when Meub burst in.

(Meub) “I have not been able to get any dialog with Congressman Sanders. It’s time for a debate.”

(Dillon) Sanders was not happy about the intrusion. He asked an aide to show Meub the door.

(Sanders) “We are dealing about the agricultural crisis in the state-“
(Meub) “And I think it would be appropriate. I think you and I ought to be having debates.”
(Sanders) “I think we have scheduled at least six debates, but right now-“
(Meub) “I’m sorry-“
(Sanders, shouting) “This is not a debate!”
(Meub) “I want to have about 8 debates in the next few weeks-”
(Sanders) “Oh, you may have what you want. I have scheduled at least six debates. Thank you very much.”
(Meub) “You used to say you’d debate 10 or 15 times. Live by your words Congressman Sanders!”
(Sanders) “Excuse me! Thank you very much! This is an embarrassment. We’re talking here with the Farm Bureau about an agricultural crisis and you come barging in. You should really know better….”

(Dillon) Outside on the street, Meub held his own impromptu news conference. He says there are only four debates scheduled, and all those are late in the campaign.

(Meub) “We should be talking about Iraq. We should be talking about Social Security, the business climate. He’s running away. He’s using a rose garden approach.”

(Dillon) Sanders says his schedule is tight because Congress will probably stay in session through the middle of October. But he says Meub’s claims are bogus, since they’ve agreed to at least seven debates. Sanders says Meub’s tactics are a campaign ploy.

(Sanders) “It’s insulting to agriculture in the state of Vermont, to the farmers, to the people who are here, just to come in and get his picture on television. And it bothers me. But bottom line is, I like debating. We are stuck in Washington much longer than I thought. But I am disturbed by the infantile behavior I saw today.”

(Dillon) Sanders appeared at the news conference with two dairy farmers and the head of the Vermont Farm Bureau. The congressman says he wants to learn why milk prices paid to farmers have fallen sharply, while the prices paid by consumers have stayed about the same. Sanders says he’s asked the major supermarkets and milk processors to meet with farmers and consumers to look into this issue.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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