America’s momentum prior to the coronavirus pandemic should give the country hope that we can solve its problems, Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is pitching in her search for a ninth term in Congress.
Her opponent, Dave Wilson, hopes to tie the congresswoman to what he sees as failures by President Donald Trump that go beyond the pandemic, and that a coming election in which voters demand change could boost what he admits is a long-shot bid.
McMorris Rodgers said in an interview she was emboldened to run again following a tough 2018 campaign against former state Majority Leader Lisa Brown. Spending on that race topped $10 million and the congresswoman called on conservative heavy hitters, including Vice President Mike Pence and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, in a race she ultimately won by double digits.
“I think the battle of 2018 really forced me to dig deep about what I was fighting for and what I believed as an American, and what I believed as a representative,” said McMorris Rodgers, 51.
This year’s race has seen significantly less spending, due in part to Wilson’s late entry into the race. He filed for the primary on the last possible day this spring and became the likely Democratic challenger to McMorris Rodgers only after Chris Armitage announced he was dropping out hours after primary ballots began hitting mailboxes in July.
“We had a Democrat on the ballot that I didn’t think was electable,” said Wilson, 65. “I thought there was a pretty good chance Cathy would be vulnerable because of Trump. I felt I could not sit by and do nothing.”
Wilson said he’s now concerned about the peaceful transition of power, given the president’s recent comments that he may not accept the outcome of the November election if he loses. McMorris Rodgers, who is serving as an honorary chair of the president’s reelection in Washington, said in September that supporters of both parties should accept the election outcome.
The response to the coronavirus was initially what encouraged Wilson, who had run for the seat twice as an independent, to jump in to the campaign. He noted that Trump eliminated a pandemic preparedness office set up under the previous administration and referenced the reporting of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in charging that the president publicly misled the American people about the danger of the virus early in the year.
“We squandered February and March,” Wilson said. “It got us a shortage of tests. It got us a shortage of (personal protective equipment).”
In a recent debate, McMorris Rodgers gave the president “a good grade for taking action very quickly” on the pandemic, citing his China travel ban. In an interview, she said Congress worked quickly to provide assistance to businesses and ensure access to testing. She praised the president’s work toward creating a vaccine.
“I want to see America working with other countries to create this vaccine,” she said. “I believe America has the highest standards of safety, and our process is going to result in the best outcome.”
The congresswoman also said she preferred private-public partnerships to tackle other major issues, including climate change. McMorris Rodgers said the longer and more intense fire seasons in the West are due more to lax forest management than human-caused climate change, and that the work on the Colville National Forest pairing the private lumber firm Vaagen Bros. with the federal government to help thin acres of overgrown and diseased timber is a model of a public-private partnership intended to reduce wildfires.
“I get frustrated when some will point to climate change, and then not support the forest management reforms that are making a real, concrete, direct impact on these larger, more catastrophic fires,” McMorris Rodgers said.
Wilson said Republicans have refused to see the warning signs of an encroaching warmer, drier climate and take necessary action.
“We’ve got our head in the sand, at least on one side of the aisle,” Wilson said. “Because it’s out in the future, it’s easy to downplay and it’s easy to criticize my side of the aisle as extremist.”
Wilson also accused the GOP and McMorris Rodgers of voting dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and several of its popular provisions.
McMorris Rodgers has said that the 2017 replacement bill backed by Republicans, which came within a couple votes of passing the U.S. Senate, would have given states more flexibility in making certain requirements of insurers. The bill would have required the states to set up high-risk pools available to those with preexisting conditions at an affordable rate, but critics and several independent reviews questioned whether those pools would provide the same affordable coverage to those patients available under the existing health law.
McMorris Rodgers has continued to tout her legislative experience to voters as a reason to send her back to Congress. Her campaign notes that she has been a sponsor on 37 bills that have been approved by the House of Representatives, 10 of which have been signed into law.
Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review
One measure she has co-sponsored is a Republican-backed bill, offered by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, that would use the Congressional power of the purse to push law enforcement agencies to end the practice of chokeholds except in cases when deadly force is authorized.
The congresswoman does not, however, support legislation that would end qualified immunity for police officers in civil lawsuits. Those pushing for tougher law enforcement reform say that legal provision tilts the legal scales in favor of police when misconduct is challenged in the courts.
“I do believe when there’s misconduct, that we should hold those individuals accountable,” McMorris Rodgers said. “But I believe local law enforcement is a very tough job, and they need to be able to do their job.”
Wilson said he, too, believes in bipartisanship, which produces better legislation. But his argument continues to be that the leader of the Republican Party is a divisive figure who will prevent progress and likely stoke civil unrest after the election.
“There are examples in the past of people in Congress standing up to their own president,” Wilson said. “The difference is Trump is such a bully and exacts so much retribution, he’s got these people terrified.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.