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U.S. Senate candidates debate taxes, guns, civility

Oct. 8, 2018 Updated Mon., Oct. 8, 2018 at 6:47 p.m.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., right, shakes hands with her Republican challenger, Susan Hutchison,  following a debate Monday at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., right, shakes hands with her Republican challenger, Susan Hutchison, following a debate Monday at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

TACOMA – Washington’s junior senator and her Republican opponent clashed on tax policy, guns and the recent Supreme Court confirmation process in their first debate of the 2018 campaign.

Appearing at Pacific Lutheran University in a forum sponsored by the Washington Debate Coalition, three-term incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell portrayed herself as a Democrat who can work with Republicans on issues ranging from veterans health care to money for fighting wildfires.

Susan Hutchison, a former Seattle television journalist and former state GOP chairwoman, contended that Cantwell was out of touch with the state and and voters are “in desperate need of change.”

Hutchison would be “a rubber stamp for the Trump agenda,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell has “become a professional D.C. politician beholden to the swamp,” Hutchison said.

Asked about the tax cuts pushed through Congress by the Trump administration, Hutchison said Congress should make the individual reductions permanent, and consider even further cuts. The economy has added some 4 million jobs, which give people dignity and hope, she said.

“There’s no denying people have more money in their pockets,” she said.

Cantwell said the tax cuts could actually end up costing some Washington residents more, because they removed deductions for state sales taxes. The increased deficit also has some Republicans talking about privatizing Social Security. She would consider working on a way to get permanent tax cuts for the middle class.

Cantwell said she’d support raising the age for the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, along with banning bump stocks and developing a more thorough universal background check. She disagreed with the suggestion that gun control laws hurt women who have been victims of crime and want to protect themselves. Asked if military style semi-automatic “assault” rifles should be banned, her answer was succinct: “Yes.”

Hutchison said if 18-year-olds can serve in the military they should be able to purchase a semi-automatic rifle, and gun controls tend to punish people who obey the law rather than the people who don’t. Her family stores their firearms safely at home, and the law should not prevent women who have been victims of crime from keeping a gun by their bed if they want. She wouldn’t support an assault weapon ban, contending “a hammer can be an assault weapon.”

The challenger was critical of the recent confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, and blamed Democrats for what she called “a national disgrace.”

“They exploited (Christine Blasey Ford’s) suffering,” Hutchison said. “They took away her rights to privacy.”

The incumbent said it was important to stand up for victims of sexual assault. Asked whether the actions of teenagers should be held against them decades later, Cantwell said Kavanaugh was facing a job interview, and every high-level federal job involves an FBI background check.

“But we didn’t have a full investigation,” she said.

Cantwell defended her vote for the Affordable Care Act, which improved access to health care and covered more people while banning denials for pre-existing conditions. She said she would fight Republican efforts to roll back the pre-existing condition requirements and called GOP efforts to allow companies to offer stripped-down plans “junk insurance.”

Hutchison said the ACA, which she called Obamacare, raised the cost of health care and the only way to lower the cost is through “the free market system.” She contended Obamacare was designed by Democrats to fail.

“What they were working toward was socialized medicine,” Hutchison said.

Cantwell said U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan long enough to get “a political solution.” Hutchison said she wouldn’t vote to approve money for keeping the troops there without an exit strategy, but added she trusts the president and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Hutchison said the United States should build a wall along the Mexican border as part of legislation to allow so-called Dreamers to stay in the country. Cantwell called the wall a waste of money and said she’d support a stand-alone bill on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Both candidates talked about restoring civility in politics, with Cantwell saying senators need to work across the aisle more and use science and good information. Hutchison put the blame for the current rancor on Democrats.

“If you disagree with Democrats on anything, their mob will come after you,” she said.

When one of the moderators pointed out that Hutchison, then the state GOP chairwoman, called Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a traitor during the 2016 Republican National Convention, she replied she was speaking for the people in the convention hall for his refusal to endorse Donald Trump.

“It was a small thing and if I saw Ted Cruz today, he and I would shake hands and be friends,” she said.

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