Although the Oct. 6 political debate at Bucks County Community College’s Epstein Campus looked different than in years’ past, with chairs separated by 10 feet and the lobby devoid of the traditional free hot dogs, the heart of the event was unchanged – informing voters about where candidates stand on major issues.
The debate between U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the incumbent Republican congressman for the 1st District, and his Democratic opponent, Christina Finello, was moderated by political science faculty member Bill Pezza and live streamed for public viewing.
Both gave opening remarks that briefly described their respective platforms. Finello, a resident of Ivyland, focused on protecting those with pre-existing conditions who she said would no longer have healthcare if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Fitzpatrick, a Levittown native, aims to continue building bridges between parties through his bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
A major topic of discussion was COVID-19. Finello accused President Donald Trump and Fitzpatrick of playing “political games” regarding the virus.
“People are dying from this. People are continuing to suffer in this district, and people are not getting the relief that they need,” she said. “Donald Trump played down the severity of this virus and so has my Republican opponent. There’s been countless instances of my opponent and his people going around without masks, and we can’t have that.”
Fitzpatrick admitted more could have been done on federal, state and local levels, but said he and his colleagues have been “working around the clock” to learn more about the novel virus and pass bipartisan legislation that would prevent it from happening again.
When asked to talk about the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, Fitzpatrick said he voted for the bipartisan CARES Act, which got much-needed funds into the community. The second round of funding, called the HEROES Act, is pending because House leadership is, according to Fitzpatrick, “putting politics over getting relief to the people.” He added that 18 Democrats voted against the act. Finello agreed that political games are taking place, but said the Republicans are leading them.
A heated discussion revolved around the Affordable Care Act, which may soon be repealed by the Supreme Court. Because Fitzpatrick voted for Trump’s tax bill, Finello claimed he also voted to “gut” the ACA. This, she said, would put decisions about women’s healthcare into the hands of the government.
In response, Fitzpatrick said Finello either didn’t know what she was talking about, or was intentionally lying to people. He said certain components of the ACA aren’t working, mainly the individual mandate that requires most citizens to have health insurance, and those who do not pay a penalty. According to him, 30 million Americans remain uninsured and find it more cost-effective to pay the fine rather than for insurance. This, he said, needs to be fixed.
“What you’re saying is not true. You have to separate the individual mandate from the ACA. I support the ACA and I voted for the tax bill,” he said.
Regarding tensions between police and communities, Fitzpatrick said he voted in favor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to reduce discriminatory policing practices. He voiced his support for law enforcement, but stressed that reform and a deep look at systemic racism is needed.
“We can and must accomplish both, but we have to do it still respecting the women and men who wear the uniform every day. I always have and always will. They have a tough job,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that he opposes the defunding of police.
Fitzpatrick called out Finello for her apparent lack of support for the police.
“I haven’t seen you once stand up for our police officers in Bucks County. Not once. I haven’t seen you condemn the riots forcefully at all,” he said. “I’ve been at multiple rallies supporting our minority communities in Bristol and Lower Makefield. But I’ve also backed our police officers.”
Finello countered that she does support the police and does not wish to defund them.
Each candidate was able to ask the other one question. Fitzpatrick, who was ranked the No. 1 independent congressman by Georgetown University, asked Finello if she could name one of his colleagues who is more bipartisan. She couldn’t.
During her turn, Finello questioned Fitzpatrick on why he doesn’t host public town halls.
“What you’re defining as a town hall is a cattle call in a gymnasium where people just show up and scream at each other. It’s mass chaos,” he said, adding that voters praise him for being accessible. “I joke that half this district has my personal cell number.”
The candidates made closing statements.
“Trump has mismanaged this pandemic and pushed us further into an economic crisis. My Republican opponent has enabled him,” said Finello. “Despite his claims, a closer look at his record shows you that he is not the independent congressman that he pretends to be. When it matters most, Brain Fitzpatrick sides with Donald Trump and corporate and special interests, instead of the hard-working families and people in the district.”
“You all hear me talk an awful lot about the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. It’s what I believe to my core,” said Fitzpatrick. “I believe that the biggest threat that we face as a nation is hyper-partisanship, the way we talk to each other, this rigid ideological demand from the left and the right. Our country is broken if we go down that path. We have to come together. That’s what I am all about and the voters know that.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com