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Boxer and Fiorina spar over rights of those on the no-fly list

October 18, 2010 |  5:09 pm

Five months after the subject arose in a primary debate, the federal no-fly list remains a key topic in the U.S. Senate race in California, if Monday is any indication.

Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer stood outside a private terminal at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, comparing her work on an anti-terrorism law allowing trained pilots to be armed in the cockpit to a position espoused in May by Republican challenger Carly Fiorina.

The election, Boxer said, "is a choice between someone who is working to keep our airlines safe and working to keep guns out the hands of terrorists, versus someone who believes that those on the suspected terrorist no-fly list should be able to buy a gun –- any gun." 

During her morning event in San Bernardino, Fiorina dismissed Boxer’s recent focus on gun control— including Fiorina’s opposition to the 1994 assault weapons ban — as a “desperate attempt” to distract voters from the real issues that concern them, including the dismal economy and need for job creation.

The Republican candidate sidestepped a question about her support for allowing people on the federal government’s no-fly list to purchase firearms.

"Barbara Boxer knows perfectly well the difference between the terrorist watch list and the no-fly list, and if she doesn’t know the difference, then that’s really a problem," Fiorina said. "It was Barbara Boxer who voted to give constitutional rights to terrorists. So I think Barbara Boxer’s record on national security is pretty consistent and fairly weak."

The debate between Boxer and Fiorina over the no-fly list emerged after a May primary debate in Los Angeles at which the moderator asked Fiorina and her then-opponents whether people on the “no-fly watch list” should “be allowed to purchase a gun.”

Fiorina said they should: “The no-fly list has been, unfortunately, way too large, and I know people who have been on it who have been stopped and if we permit anyone who is on that no-fly list to have their 2nd Amendment rights taken away from them, that’s a terrible problem,” she said. 

During a subsequent debate with Boxer in September in Moraga, Fiorina asserted that her sister-in-law, a friend’s husband and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts had all been on the no-fly list, which she added “isn’t particularly well managed.”

But Fiorina was mistaken at least in part, according to the Transportation Security Administration. A myth-fact document on the TSA website states that Kennedy was never on the no-fly list –- and was among many individuals who have been misidentified as being on the list, most often because their name closely matched that of someone on the watch list.

Though Fiorina has said “the no-fly list and the terrorist watch list are quite different things,” the no-fly list is actually a very small subset of the Terrorist Screening Database, a list of known or suspected terrorists maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center that is often described as the terrorist watch list.

Although about 420,000 individuals are on the terrorist watch list, fewer than 10,000 people are on the no-fly list, a senior counterterrorism official said Monday in a telephone interview. More than 95% of the people on the no-fly list are not U.S. citizens, the official said, and anyone on the no-fly list is prohibited from boarding a commercial aircraft.

Fiorina’s spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that the Republican candidate was concerned about the thousands of people who have been misidentified as being on one of the lists through screening procedures.

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive said Monday that Boxer should be concerned less with guns and more about the skyrocketing unemployment rate statewide and, specifically, in areas such as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where unemployment hovers between 14% and 16%.

Fiorina held a news conference at a shuttered Mitsubishi dealership in San Bernardino’s Auto Mall, just off the 215 Freeway, to blast Boxer’s economic record in Washington and, specifically, her support for the federal stimulus package.

“She believes that the way to get jobs growing, the way to get the economy going, is to spend more taxpayer money, bail out companies if necessary –- that didn’t work real well –- regulate more, tax more and spend more,’’ Fiorina said.

She called the February 2009 stimulus package a “failure’’ and as proof cited the unemployment rate in San Bernardino County, which has increased from 11.7% when the stimulus legislation was approved to  more than 14.2% in August.

To rescue the economy, Fiorina said Congress should extend the Bush-era tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, which she said gave much-needed tax relief to small and family-owned businesses. Those tax breaks are set to expire at year’s end.

-- Maeve Reston in Burbank and Phil Willon in San Bernardino

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