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Warren, Diehl clash over guns, immigration in final debate

Watch: Warren, Diehl hold final debate

NEEDHAM — Senator Elizabeth Warren and Republican challenger Geoff Diehl clashed Tuesday in their final televised debate before Election Day, bitterly tangling over immigration, gun control, and — as expected — President Trump.

The two used the showdown at WCVB-TV studios to underline familiar attacks and open new, sharper-edged criticisms as the calendar barrels toward Tuesday’s election.

Warren reprised her efforts to link Trump and Diehl, who cochaired the president’s Massachusetts campaign in 2016. The Cambridge Democrat ran through a lengthy list of controversial proposals and comments Trump has made, painting Diehl as a lap-dog who “stood by” each time.

“This is a time when we have leadership that’s trying to turn Americans against Americans,” she said in response to a question about whether Trump’s rhetoric was inflaming tensions amid recent hate crimes. “That’s not who we are.”

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Diehl, a Whitman state representative, hit back, saying it was in fact Warren’s rhetoric that “pushes people the wrong way,” part of a hard-line attack that began in the debate’s opening moments.

Warren “wants you to believe that open borders, sanctuary cities, and the abolishment of ICE won’t put your families at risk,” Diehl said, referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “But the fact is, her immigration ideas encourage drug trafficking, human tracking, and MS-13 gang violence.”

The back-and-forth never fully cooled down from there.

Amid a clash on gun control, Warren charged that the National Rifle Association was holding the Republican-led Congress “hostage,” and said federal law is ripe for changes such as strengthening background checks.

“I’m willing to compromise,” Warren said.

When the question turned to Diehl, he said Massachusetts has “pretty effective” gun laws, and initially shifted the focus to immigration. But when pressed again, Diehl said he supported passing a national reciprocity law, which he claimed could apply aspects of Massachusetts’ strong gun control laws to other states.

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But reciprocity bills have drawn intense criticism, including in December when the House passed conceal carry reciprocity legislation. The NRA backed the measure, calling it its “highest legislative priority in Congress,” but Massachusetts officials said it could mean there will be more guns in the streets.

Warren scoffed at Diehl’s framing of the legislation.

“The idea that someone is going to agree around the country to Massachusetts’ stronger gun laws when we can’t get a single bill through the United States Senate right now that has even the tiniest bit of background check that prevents terrorists from owning guns, is just, it’s not sensible,” Warren said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and opponent Geoff Diehl held their final debate Tuesday at the WCVB-TV (Channel 5) studios.Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

Hosted by WCVB-TV (Channel 5), The Boston Globe, the University of Massachusetts, and two Western Massachusetts news stations, the debate was the last of three between Diehl and Warren.

And like the ones before it, it also centered regularly on Trump, with Warren repeatedly reminding voters of Diehl’s support of the president and Diehl framing the senator as only interested in challenging Trump in 2020.

Massachusetts voters have indicated they’re cool to a Warren presidential run, with 68 percent saying in a recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll that they don’t think she should seek the presidency.

But it doesn’t appear to have seriously dented her chances at reelection: Warren had a 22-point lead over Diehl in the same survey.

Asked directly if she would pledge to finish her six-year Senate term if reelected, Warren demurred, noting she would take a “hard look” at running for president after the midterm elections.

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“I guarantee this: No matter what I do, I will work for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Warren said.

Diehl, who pledged that he would serve the full six years, smiled.

“Ironically,” he said, “my opponent and President Trump do have something in common: Neither wants to be senator for Massachusetts but both want to be president.”

The candidates were also asked whether they agree with Trump’s plan to pursue an executive order ending birthright citizenship for children born to noncitizens on American soil.

“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits. It’s ridiculous,” the president said in an Axios interview. “And it has to end.”

But Warren said that’s not a change Trump can make unilaterally.

“That’s in the Constitution,” she said, referencing the 14th Amendment. “So, no I don’t agree with the president. He doesn’t get to erase parts of the Constitution that he doesn’t like.”

Diehl said he “can actually read what’s in the Constitution” and pulled a paper from his pocket, though he didn’t actually read from it, citing time constraints.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Diehl indicated he supports Trump’s goal, and said those who are already citizens should be subject to “grandfathering.”

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“The president’s going to try to get the discussion going. Whether he can or can’t do it, we’ll find out very soon,” Diehl said.

Diehl said he supports President Trump’s goal to eliminate birthright citizenship.Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

In a lightning round, Diehl and Warren both weighed in on divisive state ballot questions that will be put to voters on Tuesday.

Warren said she’s voting in favor of Question 1, which would set strict limits on the number of patients assigned to nurses working in hospitals, and was written and is backed by a major nurses union. Diehl said he’s voting no on that initiative, the position backed by hospitals — and the majority of likely voters, according to polls.

On Question 3, Diehl said he’s voting to repeal the state’s transgender public accommodations law — a “no” vote.

Warren said she’s voting yes on 3 to keep the law, a position, polls have found, is shared by the vast majority of voters.

Both candidates graded Governor Charlie Baker who is also on the ballot next week. Warren gave him a “C.” Diehl gave him a “B.”

But it wasn’t long before the debate veered back toward Washington, D.C., Trump, and the testy exchanges that have defined their race.

“You’re just doing Donald Trump’s work for him,” Warren said to Diehl.

“Senator Warren, the obstructionist, is part of the political poison in Washington,” Diehl said in his closing statement. “The fact is Elizabeth Warren cares most about Elizabeth Warren.”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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