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McMorris Rodgers, Hill share similarities, differences in Thursday debate

KSPS screenshot
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Natasha Hill debated Thursday at KSPS Public Television.

The nine-term Republican congressional member and her challenger discussed issues in a KSPS Public Television debate.

The two candidates for Washington’s Fifth Congressional District held a rare debate at KSPS Public Television in Spokane Thursday night. The incumbent, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and her Democratic challenger Natasha Hill addressed issues from abortion to aid for Ukraine to claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

“I don’t believe the election was stolen,” McMorris Rodgers said. “What I have concerns about and I have articulated is that election procedure was changed in several states leading up to the election under the public health emergency. Individuals, not state legislators, not the elected representatives of the people, changed election procedure, and I believe that it was appropriate for the courts to review those questions.”

McMorris Rodgers’ Democratic opponent, Spokane attorney Natasha Hill, says the congresswoman should have taken a more forceful stand against people who continue to protest the 2020 election.

“What we really need and what we haven’t had, unfortunately, is a representative to stand up and contest these fraud claims and big lie,” Hill said. “We now have auditors running here in the state of Washington claiming that it could be happening here too, although I am hard pressed to get that articulated in a way that I can even follow and understand. The reality is is that’s what a representative does. You stand up for what’s right.”

On other issues, President Biden said this week that he would ask Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion. It’s a position Hill supports. She said women’s medical decisions should be made by doctors and patients.

“We cannot have politicians substituting their own personal ideas and beliefs for medical professionals and individuals who are in the best position to make decisions about what happens to their own bodies,” she said.

McMorris Rodgers didn’t say whether she would vote for a federal ban on abortion, but she says she has a long record of supporting limits on the procedure.

“Protecting life after 20 weeks. A bill to ban partial birth abortion. I’ve always stood for no taxpayer support of abortions. I believe we should be fostering an environment where no woman feels like an abortion is her only option,” she said.

On international issues, the candidates agreed that the Biden administration’s move to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan was poorly executed and left the remaining Afghans in a difficult position.

On aid to Ukraine, Hill said she supports the U.S. sending money and armaments, calling Russia a threat to American democracy. But she said the aid should be one part of an overall strategy. McMorris Rodgers agreed.

“I supported the $40 billion to Ukraine. I believe in Ukraine’s fight for self determination and independence,” McMorris said. “I am appalled that President Putin has gone into Ukraine and I believe we have an obligation to protect Ukraine.”

But, she said, Congress must provide oversight to ensure Ukrainian aid is well spent, but she says the administration should not have a blank check for this.

The two sparred over energy policy. To assertions that the Biden administration is to blame for high inflation and high gas prices, Hill said she believes oil and gas companies are raising prices to inflate their profits and accused McMorris Rodgers of enabling them. She said the U.S. should have been more prepared in case supplies of gasoline decreased.

“We are behind the gun. We should have been investing in alternative energy 18 years ago when you were elected,” Hill said.

McMorris Rodgers has complained in her TV ads, as have other Northwest Republicans, that the Biden administration has put the kibosh on the development of domestic energy supplies.

“The rush to renewables, as promoted by my competitor here and the Democrats, is not the future that I would like,” McMorris Rodgers countered.

She said California, a state that has made aggressive moves to adopt renewable energy sources, recently had to buy surplus power from the Northwest so it could avoid rolling blackouts.

“A future that is built upon supply chains that are controlled by China, the wind machines and solar panels, electric vehicles, is not the future I want,” she said.

The two agreed on the need for more oversight of social media companies to provide more protection of the privacy of individual users. Hill says the federal government needs to catch up to rapidly-advancing technology to ensure that the regulations are timely. McMorris Rodgers says the government needs to reconsider whether companies such as Facebook and Twitter should continue to have the legal protections they now enjoy. She also wants to probe allegations that platforms such as Twitter have suppressed speech from conservatives.

Hill pushed back on that.

“We have a First Amendment right to be protected, but if your speech is inciting violence and is hate speech and platforms want to regulate against that because they don’t want their businesses to be used to further promote and divide that extremism,” then they should be allowed to remove users who won’t follow the platform’s rules, she said.

On issues of regional interest, both Hill and McMorris Rodgers expressed concern about the new medical records system by the Veterans Administration. The system has had persistent problems since it was introduced at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA hospital two years ago. The VA has announced it won’t introduce the system at other Northwest facilities until well into 2023.

McMorris Rodgers reiterated her support for retaining four Lower Snake River dams, counter to a Biden administration that removing the structures is an essential element in a strategy to improving the viability of migrating salmon populations. She said the dams are critically important economically for the region, vital for generating electricity and for transporting goods to and from the Pacific Ocean. Hill, while not calling for removing the dams, said future decisions about fish runs must take into account the interests of everyone in the Northwest, not just economic interests.

You can hear the full debate here or listen Thursday (10/27) at noon on KPBX or Thursday at 6 pm on KSFC.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.