Axne, Young spar over COVID-19 response shortly after President Trump leaves hospital

Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (rear, left) debates former Congressman David Young at Iowa PBS on Oct. 5, 2020. (Screenshot from Iowa PBS)

A couple of hours after COVID-positive President Trump returned to the White House, the candidates for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District got in a heated debate over the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, and her opponent, former GOP Congressman David Young, squared off in an “Iowa Press” debate moderated by long-time Iowa journalist David Yepsen on Iowa PBS. Axne narrowly defeated Young two years ago.

Young and Axne were asked if the president’s hospitalization with COVID-19 would change the national debate over how to fight the pandemic with no vaccine in place and many people declining to wear masks and keep their distance from others.

David Young is a Republican running in Iowa’s 3rd congressional District. (Photo courtesy of the David Young campaign)

As he prepared to leave the hospital early Monday evening with his chief physician indicating he wasn’t fully recovered, Trump said Americans should not fear the virus.

The candidates had differing views on that.

“I think you should respect (the virus), but not necessarily fear it,” Young said. “We have to tackle it head on.”

That means “making sure we are getting out from under the hand of China” and arranging for independent equipment and medicine supplies, Young said.

Young went farther than Trump, a fellow Republican, in noting the risk of severe illness or death from the virus.

“Listen, this is a real thing. It has killed a volunteer of mine,” Young said. “I’ve had former staffers get this as well. We have to open up the economy, and grow the economy and make sure that we are taking the precautions that we need.”

Axne accused Young of following Trump’s public playbook of downplaying the risks from the pandemic while encouraging the reopening of businesses and schools.

“I certain hope so,” Axne said about the prospect that positive tests for President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will change the debate how to handle the pandemic.

Head shot of Cindy Axne
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne is a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

“Unfortunately, the president hasn’t done what he’s needed to do to make sure that our country is safe,” Axne said. “And as a matter of fact, my former congressman sitting next to me here is buying into that. He says it’s a personal responsibility.”

Axne spoke directly to Young: “I think you said it’s irresponsible to not take this seriously, and that it killed one of your team members, but yet you’re out in public without wearing a mask. Science has proven that if you wear a mask, we slow the transmission dramatically. Had we done this ages ago, we would be in a lot different place in this country. We certainly could have sent children back to school.”

Axne said essential workers, many of them low-income, have been most affected by the pandemic. “We need to put things in place to make sure that we protect them,” Axne said.

In response, Young said, “There are photos out there, Cindy, excuse me, congresswoman, (of you) not wearing a mask. I think you should wear a mask sometimes, not all the time, you may forget sometimes. That is true of many Iowans.

“The question is whether we take this seriously. I do,” Young said, adding that he wants to see more funding for personal protective equipment.

Axne defeated Young by 7,709 votes in 2018. She lost every county in the southwestern Iowa district but Polk, where she won by 30,000 votes to clinch the win. 

A Monmouth University poll in August showed Axne up by 11 percentage points this time around. And she outraised Young about 2-to-1 in the early part of the campaign. 

In the most recent reporting period, Axne showed she had raised $3.9 million to Young’s $1.98 million.

As the rematch has rolled on, the candidates have sparred over health care, the Paris climate agreement, and allegiance to party leaders.