WASHINGTON -- The show was ostensibly focused on the legacy of President John F. Kennedy -- and the possibility of transformational change in politics and government.
But Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, found little common ground Wednesday as they debated health care, gay marriage and internal party politics for 30 minutes on CNN's Crossfire.
Cardin argued Democrats are hamstrung in efforts to fix the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act because Republicans insist on repealing the law at all costs. Scott countered that Democrats should have thought about that when their party, then in control of Congress, passed the law over broad GOP objection in 2010.
"The basic principles of Obamacare are sound," Cardin said. "It can be made better. The question is...will the Republicans...not just try to repeal [it], but to try to make it work better?"
Scott countered that Republicans "certainly would be happy to talk about making Obamacare a more efficient piece of legislation" but that "the best way to do that, in my opinion, is to repeal it."
The two lawmakers squared off close to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination and the show focused loosely on his legacy. But most of the time they debated current policy and politics.
Kennedy was killed in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Despite being given two opportunities during the program, Scott declined to endorse his fellow Republican and South Carolinian, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is facing primary challenges from conservative Republicans in next year's election. Graham has occasionally reached across the aisle in the Senate on issues such as immigration.
Scott was appointed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, to fill the seat left vacant by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. He is running next year to serve out the remaining two years of DeMint's term.
"So why are Republicans so concerned about every vote that they make...because they're afraid that they're going to get a challenge from the right?" Cardin asked Scott. "If you stand up for what you believe in, you're challenged."
Noting that 39 House Democrats broke with their leadership on an Obamacare vote last week, Scott countered that both parties wrestle with internal divisions.