Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis and Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan debated for the first time this election cycle on Monday night in Champaign.
The candidates spent much of the hourlong debate arguing about healthcare, and other issues, including political donations, the ComEd and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan scandal, the Paycheck Protection Program, the Farm Bill and police reform. The debate was cosponsored by Illinois Public Media, WCIA-TV and the League of Women Voters of Champaign County.
What they said
According to a 2019 report from a hospital and insurance trade group, a government health insurance system that allows the public to purchase Medicare coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s open market could put more than 1,000 rural American hospitals — including 39 in Illinois — “at high risk of closure.”
Asked how she weighs that possible impact with her support for a Medicare public option proposal known as “Medicare-X,” Dirksen Londrigan said she would work “in concert with the hospitals to make sure that they can maintain their excellent standard of care.”
Dirksen Londrigan said Davis has voted 11 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no replacement and “gut Medicaid, which could shatter those 39 [rural] hospitals.” In reply, Davis referred to those votes as “procedural votes that have no impact on a replacement.”
He said the one vote that “counted” — referring to his support of the American Health Care Act in 2017, which would have replaced the Affordable Care Act — “protected pre-existing condition coverage for every single American.” (That bill passed in the House of Representatives, but came up one vote short in the Senate.)
The effect of a public buy-in plan for Medicare on rural hospitals would ultimately depend on the details of the proposal that takes effect. The report referenced during the debate explores three scenarios that would drive down rural hospital net revenue by 2.3% to 14%, assuming Medicare made no changes to hospital payment levels.
The statement that Davis voted 11 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no replacement is true. Dirksen Londrigan is referring to votes Davis cast from 2013 through 2017 that either took steps toward repealing the ACA or aimed to roll back all or part of the law. Two 2015 budget proposals that Davis supported included language ordering House committees to draft legislation to repeal the ACA. In 2016, a bill to dismantle the ACA and defund Planned Parenthood passed largely along party lines and was vetoed by President Obama shortly after. Davis was among the 241 representatives who voted, unsuccessfully, to overturn the veto. Most recently, in 2017, Davis was among 227 representatives who approved a budget resolution that would have allowed a “budget reconciliation” process to roll back major parts of the health care law, according to CNN.
Not counted among those 11 votes is Davis’ vote in support of the American Health Care Act, which would have guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions but would have provided states authority to allow insurers to charge some people with those conditions higher premiums, according to Kaiser Health News. While it may have been Davis’ intent to protect insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions under the AHCA, the Congressional Budget Office finds that if states took advantage of that provision, and others allowed under the bill, the insurance markets could blow up, leading to such high costs that people with pre-existing conditions would be unable to obtain coverage. This makes Davis’ claim that the bill would have “protected pre-existing condition coverage for every single American” false.
What they said
The candidates were asked whether they support a national mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In response, Dirksen Londrigan said: “we have to make sure that people are wearing their masks, washing their hands and socially distancing. But that’s not enough. What I’d like to see is some national leadership.” She criticized the Trump administration for lacking a “national plan” to respond to the pandemic and pointed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s coronavirus testing and mitigation efforts as an example of what a national plan could involve.
Davis said he does not support a national mask mandate, as he believes the “best decisions are made at the local level and state level.” He also echoed Dirksen Londrigan’s praise for the U of I’s testing program.
“We need to work on pandemic response. That’s got to change in the future. And that’s why I’ve introduced a bill to create a Coronavirus commission to ‘Monday morning quarterback’ this thing to death after it’s over,” Davis said.
Asked whether President Donald Trump bears responsibility for downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, Davis did not address the question directly, but said, “I’m glad that [the President and First Lady] seem to be going through this infection as asymptomatic as I did, back in August.” He noted that even with the “best testing modality system in the world at the White House, [the coronavirus] can still get through” and he called on better access to coronavirus testing for frontline workers on Capitol Hill. Dirksen Londrigan said she wants everyone to have the same level of access to rapid testing and excellent health care as both Davis and Trump.
Davis’ statement about President Trump being asymptomatic for COVID-19 is false, contradicting what Trump’s doctors have reported.
Trump has tweeted that he is “feeling well” with the help of the medical team at Walter Reed Medical Center, where he was admitted on Friday, Oct. 2 and received treatment with an anti-viral and experimental antibody drug. In a press briefing the following Sunday, Dr. Sean Conley, who is caring for the president, said Trump had a high fever and experienced two drops in his oxygen levels: once on Friday and again Saturday, according to NPR.
It is true that Davis joined a dozen colleagues in April, calling for the creation of a bipartisan commission to review the U.S.’ pandemic response. The 10-person commission would be “similar to the commission enacted after 9/11 that examined the circumstances leading up to the 2001 terrorist attacks and how government agencies handled the aftermath,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement, according to The Hill.
- WBUR: Rural Hospitals Say ‘Medicare For All’ Would End Up ‘Closing Our Doors’
- Kaiser Family Foundation: Compare Medicare-for-all and Public Plan Proposals
- Kaiser Health News: Fact Check: Who’s Right On Protections For Preexisting Conditions? It’s Complicated
- NPR: Timeline: What We Know Of President Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis, Treatment
What they said
Dirksen Londrigan says law enforcement officers need more training, specifically more implicit bias and crisis intervention training. She also said “racism exists in every corner of our society.”
Davis said he co-sponsored a bill that would accomplish much of what Londrigan said needs to be done to reform the country’s policing systems, which he said Congressional Democrats, including Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, stalled in the Senate. Additionally, Davis said “the good news is that many issues here in Illinois have already been addressed.”
Davis’ statement that many police reform issues have already been addressed in Illinois is somewhat true. According to the Illinois Police Training Act, curriculum for police officers in training must include “de-escalation tactics that would include the use of force when reasonably necessary.” The Act also requires that curriculum include training in “cultural competency, including implicit bias and racial and ethnic sensitivity.”
University of Illinois Police Training Institute director Michael Schlosser says the state requires 40 hours of scenario-based training and 32 hours of control and arrest tactics training. But there appears to be no set number of hours required specifically for bias and de-escalation training for police officers in Illinois. In fact, State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, a Downers Grove Democrat, filed a bill in February that would require both state and municipal police officers to undergo two hours of de-escalation training every month. The bill did not make it out of committee.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress introduced their own versions of police reform legislation earlier this year. It’s true that Davis co-sponsored the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, which, among other things, would have required the Department of Justice to develop and provide training on de-escalation techniques. But Democrats argued the bill put forward by the GOP did not go far enough, instead proposing their own reform bill that would have bolstered police accountability, and also ban the use of choke-holds and no-knock warrants.
- NPR: House Approves Police Reform Bill, But Issue Stalled Amid Partisan Standoff
- Illinois Newsroom: Police Reform Issues Loom Large Before Urbana City Council
- NPR Illinois: Springfield Police Reforms Get Support From City Council, Skepticism From Police
- WCBU: ISP District 8 Adopts ’10 Shared Principles’ With Peoria NAACP
THE PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM
What they said
Dirksen Lodrigan said Davis voted repeatedly against providing transparency to taxpayers with regard to how businesses that received funds through the Paycheck Protection Program — a key feature of the CARES Act legislation — had spent that money.
Davis said that transparency provisions are already included in the CARES Act legislation. He also claimed that the bill Londrigan wanted him to vote for would have “hidden Paycheck Protection loans for $2 million and under.”
News outlets and lawmakers have called for more transparency in federal relief bills. In saying Davis voted against transparency, Dirksen Londrigan appears to be referring to a bill put forward by Representative Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, that would have required the Small Business Administration to release details about recipients and lenders of the loans, but Republicans opposed it. Similar legislation was put forward by Senate Democrats, and it was also blocked by Republicans. Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris also introduced a bill in the Senate in August pushing for more transparency in the program.
Davis’ statement is somewhat misleading, because Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin initially declined to release all the names and loan amounts of businesses that benefited from the program. The Small Business Administration, which administers the PPP, did release loan-level data for the program, but the Washington Post reports that aspects of it are “incomplete and sometimes-confusing.”
The PPP has been beset by controversy since its inception, and recent reporting from The Washington Post indicates that funds from the program may have been spent in ways that were not intended by Congress. The Washington Post is also among 11 news organizations suing the Small Business Administration for records related to the PPP. The New York Times recently reported that 57 people had been charged with trying to steal more than $175 million from the program.
- The Washington Post: Fueled by Free Money, a Tiny Lender Is Snapping Up PPP Loans
- The Washington Post: Publicly traded firms paid dividends, bought their own stock after receiving PPP loans to pay employees
- The New York Times: Justice Dept. Announces Dozens of Fraud Charges in Small-Business Aid Program
COMMONWEALTH EDISON CONTROVERSY
What they said
Dirksen Londrigan did not directly respond to the question of how many campaign donations she received from groups affiliated with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was linked this summer to an ongoing $1.3 million bribery case against ComEd. Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied allegations of wrongdoing or providing a ‘quid pro quo’ in Springfield to the state’s largest utility company.
“Nobody is above the law,” Dirksen Londrigan said during Monday night’s debate. “These investigations have to be thorough, anyone proved to be involved in this bribery scheme has got to step aside immediately.”
She didn’t specify the level of involvement that would justify calls for Madigan to resign. The Democratic candidate then pointed to campaign donations made to Davis from Exelon, the parent company of ComEd.
Dirksen Londrigan’s claim that ComEd’s parent company, Exelon, is a top donor to Davis, is true. And Davis’ statement that Londrigan receives money from the Democratic Party of Illinois is also true.
Exelon Corp donated $20,176 to Rodney Davis’ 2020 re-election campaign, and was a top contributor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which gathers data from the Federal Election Commission. While Exelon is listed as a donor, it doesn’t mean the funds came directly from the corporation, but rather from the “organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families,” according to the center. Davis said during Monday’s debate that he has “never taken any donations from ComEd executives.”
He then accused Dirksen Londrigran of taking thousands of dollars directly from ComEd lobbyists, but did not provide specific details. On his campaign website, Davis links Londrigran to House Speaker Madigan through donations to her campaign from the Democratic Party of Illinois, a PAC. Over the years, ComEd has donated substantial sums of money to the Democratic Party of Illinois and other campaign funds controlled by Madigan.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE PARIS AGREEMENT
What they said
Davis said the U.S. is leading the way in addressing carbon emissions, and that the U.S. is the only major industrial country that would have met the Paris Agreement.
“World leaders and climate activists are allowing China to continue to pollute not just their country, but pollute the atmosphere at levels above the U.S., the E.U. and others combined,” Davis said. “We’re doing our part in the U.S. even though we only control about 14-15% of global emissions.”
Davis’ statement is misleading. The Paris Agreement set up a framework to lower global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The Climate Action Tracker, which tracks government climate action, considers the U.S. “critically insufficient” in limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
According to a 2019 report from the Universal Ecological Fund conducted by climate scientists, the U.S. committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025. “However, the current administration announced the United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and has cut federal regulations meant to curb emissions,” the authors wrote. They also note that four out of five of the world’s largest emitters, including the U.S., are falling short of contributing to meet the 50% reduction in global emissions needed by 2030.
According to the EPA, the U.S. contributes about 15% to global carbon dioxide emissions and is considered to be among the top six carbon dioxide emitters – along with China, the E.U., India, Russia and Japan.
Davis said that China “pollutes the atmosphere at levels above the U.S., the E.U. and others combined,” but according to the EPA, the U.S., the E.U., and others combined make up 70% of global emissions and China makes up 30%.
- EPA:Environmental Protection Agency – Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data
- National Geographic: Most countries aren’t hitting 2030 climate goals, and everyone will pay the price – National Geographic
- Climate Action Tracker
What they said
When asked about the candidates’ position on farm policy and how they would support family farms and businesses, Dirksen Londrigan emphasized issues like flooding due to climate change and soil erosion. She also argued that the version of the Farm Bill Davis voted for cut SNAP funding.
“I supported the final version of the Farm Bill,” Dirksen Londrigan said. “I didn’t support the version Congressman Davis voted for and passed, because in that first version, it cut SNAP funding. That’s food. It cut food out of the mouths of people who need it.”
Dirksen Londrigan’s statement that the first version of the Farm Bill cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is false. But while a version passed by the House of Representatives in 2018 did notexplicitly cut SNAP funding, it did call for stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients that many Republicans, including Davis, pushed for.
The tougher requirements limited who was eligible to receive federal food assistance and required those who were receiving assistance to work at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a job training program, or lose access to benefits. Republicans argued the stricter requirements were necessary to keep the program sustainable.
Ultimately, the Republican push for tougher work requirements failed, and the 2018 Farm Bill passed with bipartisan support.