In their first televised debate, the candidates for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District offered divergent views on management of the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration policy.
Republican Randy Feenstra and Democrat J.D. Scholten also disagreed about social issues like civil unions for same-sex couples during the debate, which was pre-taped and broadcast on Wednesday by WHO-TV and KCAU.
COVID-19 and policy handling
As Iowa sees a record number of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized, Feenstra said he believes Iowans need to take the pandemic seriously but he emphasized the economy must also stay open.
Feenstra said Iowans need to continue voluntary actions, such as social distancing and wearing face masks, but he said he does not support government mandates and prefers local school districts deciding whether or not they want to enforce face masks.
“It is tough and I can only hope we can find a vaccine as we move forward,” Feenstra said.
Iowa Workforce Development reported this week that more Iowans are returning to work and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is at 4.7%.
To keep the economy strong during the COVID-19 pandemic, Feenstra said he wants more Iowans to fill vacant jobs in the state by offering more work training opportunities at the high school and college levels.
Scholten said he disapproves of how Gov. Kim Reynolds and President Donald Trump, both Republicans, are handling the COVID-19 pandemic. He and said there is a lack of leadership regarding policies to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Scholten said he supports a national COVID-19 plan that can offer guidance. The first step toward stopping the spread of the virus is expanding testing, even beyond what’s offered statewide through the Test Iowa sites, he said.
For small businesses that may be struggling economically during the pandemic, Scholten said the government should provide more financial stability.
“If they’re struggling, ensure quality loans so they can get on their feet,” Scholten said.
Immigration and separating children at the border
The Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday reporting advocates have been unable to locate parents of 545 migrant children who were separated from their families in 2017 and 2018, according to CBS News. The separations happened under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” crackdown of illegal immigration into the United States.
Advocates argue they may be eligible for court-ordered reunification with their families.
When asked about the separations, Scholten said the U.S. needs to end policies that take children from their parents at the border. He said he supports immigration reform, including granting citizenship to DREAMers and creating a pathway to residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country.
“It’s just awful,” Scholten said. “It goes against our faith. It goes against our values.”
Feenstra said he wants children to be reunited with their parents, but the national priority should be border protection.
He wants to expand the H-1B visa, which allows companies to temporarily employ immigrants to work in the U.S.
However, he said current undocumented immigrants in the U.S. need to leave and then reapply to come back to the country.
”We are a rule of law,” Feenstra said. “We have to stand by the rules on the books.”
Pope Francis endorses same-sex unions
In a documentary that premiered on Wednesday, Pope Francis said he supports legislation that protect same-sex couples and their families, saying there is a need for a “civil union law,” according to National Public Radio.
Scholten said he agrees with the pope and believes more protections are needed to protect same-sex couples and their families.
Feenstra said his Christian faith encourages him to show love and humbleness, but at the same time, he said marriage should be between heterosexual couples.
He declined to answer if he disagreed with the pope.
“I believe what the Bible says, that marriage is between one and one woman,” Feenstra said.
First televised debate
Wednesday’s debate was the first television appearance by the candidates. Since winning the June primary, Feenstra declined debate invitations by Iowa Press, KCCI and KCAU.
Polls of Iowans in the district show Feenstra holds an edge over Scholten in the Republican-heavy area. In August, Monmouth University published a poll showing Feenstra with a 23-point lead over Scholten.
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted in September showed that 4th Congressional District voters only slightly preferred a Republican candidate over a Democrat, with 49% saying they wanted a Republican while 44% wanted a Democrat.