Sen. Maria Cantwell and challenger Susan Hutchison.
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Sen. Maria Cantwell and challenger Susan Hutchison.
Credit: U.S. Senate, KUOW photo/David Hyde

Cantwell, Hutchison slug it out in debate

Trade, immigration and semi-automatic rifles...

All topics that set the candidates apart in a debate Monday between Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell and Republican challenger Susan Hutchison.

The two spoke to a packed audience, including many students, at Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma on Monday afternoon.

Cantwell said if she’s reelected to a fourth term, she’ll continue to base her decisions on “information and science.” 

Hutchison, the former chair of the Washington State Republican Party, gave a spirited defense of President Donald Trump’s policies, including a border wall and tax cuts.  

Hutchison blamed Democrats for deteriorating standards of civility in politics.

“We’re seeing that those polls changed after those Kavanaugh hearings because we don’t want to be ruled by the mob,” she said, alluding to the polling that showed new energy from Republican voters in the wake of the chaotic confirmation process.

Moderator Brandi Kruse asked Hutchison if it was “civil” to call Senator Ted Cruz “a traitor” at the Republican National Convention in 2016. Hutchison said she was speaking for everyone in the coliseum at that moment, but that “it was a small thing and if I saw Ted Cruz today he and I would shake hands and be friends.”

Cantwell said she’s tried to maintain civility by collaborating with Republicans on issues including homelessness and funding to address wildfires. “But you have to come to a table and be willing to collaborate and base it on good science.”

We’re seeing that those polls changed after those Kavanaugh hearings because we don’t want to be ruled by the mob. Susan HUTCHISON

Audience members voted to have the candidates answer questions on gun policy. Cantwell said she supports raising the age to buy semiautomatic rifles to 21, as Initiative 1639 would require in Washington if it passes.

Cantwell said recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the scope of the Second Amendment don’t mean “that the United States Senate can’t do something to better protect our students at schools or like the incident that happened at a Mukilteo house party” in 2016 in which three people were killed and one was injured. Cantwell said she also favors universal background checks for gun sales.

Hutchison said she would not support raising the minimum age to buy semiautomatic rifles. “I do believe an 18-year-old who can go to war and carry a gun should have the right as a law-abiding citizen and under the protections of the Second Amendment to own a gun,” she said.

Cantwell said she supports safe storage requirements. Hutchison said her husband and sons own weapons for bird-hunting and have taken gun safety courses. “We definitely of course have our guns in safes,” she said.

But she said laws that curtail gun owners’ rights put people at risk. “We do have the right to defend ourselves. And an awful lot of these gun laws hurt women,” she said.  

On health care Cantwell said the Affordable Care Act has kept people from falling into debt over medical emergencies. “We’ve reduced I think in half the number of people who have had medical-related bankruptcies and cut drastically the number of people who don’t have insurance now that we have the Affordable Care Act.”

She said she’ll continue to support coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

We’ve reduced I think in half the number of people who have had medical-related bankruptcies ... now that we have the Affordable Care Act. SEN. MARIA CANTWELL

Hutchison made clear she’s opposed to any government role in providing health care. “The only way to lower the cost of medical care is the free-market system,” she said. Hutchison said the Affordable Care Act is financially unsustainable because uninsured people “all went under Medicaid” and “in this state we are going to be paying a mighty price in the years to come.”

On trade, Cantwell said Trump must stop using tariffs as his first action in trade disputes.

"It is hard for us to gain access in Asia, in India, in Mexico and in other places because of these huge tariffs,” she said. “And so we have now gotten into a trade war that is costing us, in an ag economy, a lot of money."

Hutchison, the former chairman of the state GOP, supports the tariffs.

"Now the president is going after the big cheese, China, to help fix the trade disparities that have really hurt our farmers over the decades,” she said. “The farmers are willing to experience a little short-term pain for a long-term gain."

Immigration was a key concern for audience members.

Bob Irish of Puyallup said he’s a supporter of President Trump, and was glad to hear Hutchison echo the president’s call for more security at the U.S.-Mexico border. He said, “I really think we need a wall to stop illegal immigration,” something Hutchison also endorsed.

Irish said he’s seen negative consequences of illegal immigration in his business manufacturing wood pallets.

High school student Jose Beltran said he’s included under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He said he has more confidence in Cantwell to help “Dreamers” stay in the U.S. “It seems like she has more of an open mind, like whatever is faster and a good solution she’s with it,” he said.

The program was intended to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation. Last year, the Trump administration announced it was ending the program.  

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