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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

McMorris Rodgers, Wilson square off Thursday afternoon in first congressional debate

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, bottom left, appears in a virtual debate with Dave Wilson, top right, hosted by Spokane Rotary Club 21 on Thursday in Spokane.  (S-R)

In their first pitch to Eastern Washington voters during a virtual forum Thursday, the candidates for Congress offered different paths for the way out of the challenges posed by the global pandemic.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, seeking her ninth term on Capitol Hill, said the government and economy were well-positioned to rebound from the shutdown if government would promote problem-solving and provide more guidance for local economies to restart. Dave Wilson, the Democrat seeking to unseat the longtime lawmaker, said she and her party have been complicit in backing a president that has made the pandemic worse by his actions and continues to divide the country.

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

McMorris Rodgers, in the debate hosted by Rotary Club 21 of Spokane and aired in conjunction with The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club, said the key to reopening an economy derailed by the onset of the virus was providing small business owners guidelines and legal protections to turn the lights back on after a shutdown of more than six months .

“I want to get us to a place where we can open up in a safe and responsible way, open up our businesses, open up our schools,” McMorris Rodgers said. “But we have to get more protections in place.”

The congresswoman said the early response from the state to the outbreak in March had been an illustration of the political parties working together to make good health decisions, but criticized Gov. Jay Inslee for not providing more detailed guidelines faster for businesses, especially smaller ones, to open their doors.

Wilson gave the state high marks for “erring on the side of caution” in its reopening plans. He said that what both families and businesses need now is an additional assistance package from the federal government, noting that the congresswoman voted against a package brought forth by House Democrats.

“The real answer is that the federal government should have had a coordinated response,” Wilson said. “To leave it up to 50 different governments is negligence, in my mind.”

The congresswoman defended her vote on the assistance package, which has stalled after passage in the House of Representatives on a largely partisan vote, because it did not include the protections against businesses in lawsuits that might be brought as a result of the pandemic.

Wilson said he viewed McMorris Rodgers not as an “enemy,” but as a political opponent. He said Republican lawmakers have had their chances to reign in a president he likened to “the schoolyard bully” in the recent debate and have failed to do so.

“He constantly stirs the pot, he has divided this country like no other president has even come close to doing,” Wilson said of Trump.

McMorris Rodgers defended the president’s actions early during the pandemic, including a ban on travel to China. She also said he’d pushed through better trade deals for the American people, citing passage of the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement that received bipartisan support in Congress after the addition of several provisions sought by Democrats.

“I’m also proud that this administration has been tough on China,” she said. “China lies, steals and cheats to get ahead.”

Though it’s the U.S. Senate that will confirm a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the candidates disagreed on the approach Senate Republicans have taken in the nomination process. Wilson, echoing many Democrats, said the push to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the bench before the November election represented hypocrisy by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who held a seat open for months prior to the 2016 election despite a nomination from then-President Barack Obama.

“People then were outraged that he would hold something up like that, but he made the case – I didn’t agree with it – that it was an election year, and the new president should get that choice,” Wilson said.

But McMorris Rodgers said there was nothing hypocritical or unprecedented about the path taken by Senate Republicans. McConnell has said what makes this year different is that the party in control of the Senate is also in control of the White House.

“This is the president and the Senate upholding their Constitutional responsibility,” she said.

Fundraising totals from July through October are due to the Federal Election Committee by the middle of October. In July, just a few weeks after he’d entered the race, Wilson reported a little less than $30,000 in fundraising, while McMorris Rodgers’ fundraising total was a little less than $3 million.

Two more events are scheduled between McMorris Rodgers and Wilson before the Nov. 3 general election. The second is a virtual forum hosted by the Lewis and Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce scheduled for Oct. 13. The third will be filmed at KSPS-TV in Spokane on Oct. 19.