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2nd congressional debate
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2nd Congressional District candidates debate healthcare, COVID-19, Supreme Court

SALT LAKE CITY – Healthcare, the environment, and the government’s response to COVID-19 were all hot topics at the 2nd Congressional District debate Monday night. 

Monday night’s debate between incumbent Congressman Chris Stewart (R), Democratic challenger Kael Weston, and Libertarian candidate J. Robert Latham started off with a question about how the Trump Administration handled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Stewart defended the president’s actions, praising him for shutting down travel to China early, despite some calling him xenophobic. He also believes the president has speeded the vaccine process along. 

“We’re not going to develop an immunization [from COVID-19] in 10 or 12 years. We’re going to do it in eight or 10 months. We’ve driven down the mortality rate from this 60% in seven months,” Stewart said. 

Weston, however, believes the government failed Americans. 

“I believe the federal government has a hugely important role,” Weston said. “But…they’ve decimated the apolitical nature of the CDC. They’ve undercut the role of the World Health Organization, and they’ve played games with our health.” 

Latham wished the federal government had gotten out of the way and left the management of the pandemic to doctors and the free market. 

“Healthcare providers in a free society would have had testing underway early on. But it was the federal Food and Drug Administration and the CDC that said, ‘No.'” 

He also argued that politically connected companies blocked the manufacturing of more N95 masks, leading to the shortage the USA has now. 

Another contentious issue was whether to keep or repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

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Weston accused Stewart of having a high-end health insurance plan while arguing to keep the law. 

“Millions of Americans do not have the quality of care that a member of Congress has. The people that are hurting most in our district are afraid of going bankrupt if they don’t have Obamacare,” Weston said.    

Stewart hit back that he is forced to be on the healthcare exchange like most people.

“I, as a member of Congress, am on Obamacare…I know how bad it is. I know how expensive it is. I deal with that every month,” Stewart said. 

The two also sparred over whose plan would best protect those with preexisting conditions. 

Latham, meanwhile, argued for the government to get out of healthcare, pointing to the Veterans’ Administration hospital scandal a few years back as evidence of a broken system. 

“I don’t want the shortages and rationing that comes with any socialized service,” Latham said. 

The candidates also sparred over the environment and whether to make a 6th National Park in Utah. 

Stewart, who recently introduced a bill to designate part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as a National Park, said the state and local interests would help manage it. 

Weston felt it was unrealistic to have county commissioners do it, while Latham thinks a private entity like a nature conservancy would be better at managing it. 

When asked whether they would sign the Climate and Clean Air Compact that other Utah leaders have, Weston said he would. 

Stewart and Latham said they would not sign something they haven’t read yet. 

However, Stewart pointed to his record on the environment, while Latham argued against tax breaks for polluting companies.  

One of the issues candidates were passionate about was about the prospect of packing The Supreme Court. 

Both Stewart and Latham said they were “troubled” by the idea, with Stewart coming out strongly against it. 

“I think it’s absurd. I think it’s one of the most ridiculous and divisive and destructive ideas that’s ever been suggested,” Stewart said. 

Weston did not directly address the question but pointed instead to the recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. 

“This would not be an issue if this election could move forward and the will of the American people would be respected,” Weston said.  

Stewart and Weston took the most shots at each other, including this one coming about halfway through the debate.

“My opponent seems to have a low opinion of me. I didn’t realize that until tonight,” Stewart said.

“It’s just a fair one,” Weston said.

Recent polling shows Stewart with a comfortable lead over both Weston and Latham.