Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington's 5th Congressional District debated her Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas at Washington State University Wednesday night.
McMorris Rodgers has held her seat since 2005, and she held the party line on topics from marijuana regulation to the Affordable Care Act.
The moderator, Cornell Clayton of WSU's Foley Institute, asked McMorris Rodgers if she supports Donald Trump’s immigration policies. She said she supports development a guest worker program, but believes the U.S. needs to secure its borders and not accept Syrian refugees.
"We need to be first taking steps that are going to ensure that we are safe as a country," McMorris Rodgers said, "that our policies ensure that we are safe as Americans and then start fixing a broken immigration system."
Her challenger for the second time in a row, Pakootas, is also former chair and CEO of the Colville Confederated Tribes.
"We do have a broken immigration system and it’s been broken for hundreds of years, actually," Pakootas said.
He said the solution is not deporting or barring immigrants, and that he disagrees with Trump's policies.
When asked if the federal government follow Washington’s lead and decriminalize marijuana, Pakootas said he supports the declassification of the drug as a Schedule I narcotic. He said he’s never done any drugs and is unsure about legalizing it recreationally, but he saw marijuana help a sick family member who had become lethargic on prescription drugs.
"My father-in-law was terminally ill and he heard about the medical marijuana and decided to try it," Pakootas said. "So, I just happened to have a brother that used to smoke marijuana, who he called." Pakootas joked that his brother became his father-in-law’s "best friend," and, on a serious note, credited marijuana with alleviating his father-in-law’s pain and lethargy.
McMorris Rodgers said marijuana should be studied in scientific research, but she disagrees with its decriminalization.
"As a mom, I have serious concerns about access of marijuana to children," McMorris Rodgers said. "We can conduct research without having to change the (Schedule I) designation and, in fact, I believe that we need to do more research and better understand what the impact of making this action is going to be before we change that federal law."
Affordable Care Act
The candidates were asked what parts of the Affordable Care Act need to be amended.
"I think what needs to come back into the Affordable Care Act is the public option and the ability to negotiate for lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies," Pakootas said.
"Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable," McMorris Rodgers said. She supports some provisions of the Act, like barring exclusions based on pre-existing conditions, and letting young adults stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old. But, she said, "I would like to see the individual mandate repealed, the employer mandate repealed, the regulations on the states repealed, so we can open up a marketplace here."
McMorris Rodgers beat Pakootas in 2014 with 60 percent of the vote. The two are scheduled to debate again in Walla Walla October 25th.