CHAMPAIGN — Republican Congressman Rodney Davis and his Democratic challenger, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, talked about healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice and a lot more, in a one-hour debate broadcast live Monday night at 7 p.m., on WILL Radio and TV, and WCIA’s X -49 channel. The debate can be viewed at illinois newsroom.org and the Illinois Public Media YouTube channel.
The debate, which WILL and WCIA co-sponsored with the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, was heavily seasoned with talking points. Both Davis and Dirksen Londrigan have collected plenty of them, some dating back to their previous 13th District election contest in 2018. That’s when Dirksen Londrigan first established a major theme of her campaign: framing a call for access to healthcare in the context of her son’s battle with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
“And I know every day of my life that if we had not access to good medical care, I would be a mom of two and not three,” said Dirksen Londrigan. “And if we hadn’t had good insurance, it would have bankrupt(ed) our family. So making sure that everyone has access to affordable quality care is my number one concern.”
Another Dirksen Londrigan talking point is mentioning Congressman Davis’ vote for a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act three years ago. Or 11 votes, as the Springfield Democrat described it during the debate. Davis said all but one of those votes were procedural ones that did not affect the final outcome. And they were in service of a Republican replacement bill, the 2017 American Health Care Act, which he says would have preserved a key provision of the ACA.
“The one vote that counted protected preexisting condition coverage for every single American, because it’s personal to me. My wife’s a 21-year cancer survivor. And every single time Betsy Londrigan and her Corporate PAC-funded allies like Big Pharma come after me and say that I want to get rid of pre-existing conditions, that’s an attack on my wife, an attack on my family.”
The Republican majority that was then in the House passed the American Health Care Act over GOP opposition, but the bill stalled in the Senate, where Republicans could not come together on it, or any other healthcare measure. But Davis has defended the bill as a viable alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
According to FactCheck.org, that replacement bill would have still guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, but would have allowed insurance companies to charge some people with those conditions higher premiums.
As the debate continued, Dirksen Londrigan persisted in bringing up the charge that Davis had voted to eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions, leading the Republican to use one of his rebuttal periods to respond.
“This is personal for me and my family,” said Davis. “My wife has a genetic form of cancer that could affect my kids. There’s absolutely no way that I’m going to support a plan that’s not going to include pre-existing condition coverage. Quit lying.”
“And yet you did,” commented Dirksen Londrigan softly at the end of Davis’ rebuttal.
Linking his own healthcare proposals to his wife’s battle with cancer is one of Davis’ major campaign themes. Another is promoting bipartisanship. The Taylorville Republican said a lack of bipartisan planning was the real reason for the Trump administration’s slow progress against the coronavirus.
“Not one time in my seven and a half years as your congressman, has anybody come to me and said, we need to address a national stockpile issue, we need to work on pandemic response,” said Davis. “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.
In Dirksen Londrigan’s view, the failure belonged to the Trump administration, which she says failed to coordinate with state efforts.
“Well, with no national plan in place, states were pitted against one another, frantically trying to figure out where they could get protective gear for their essential workers, where they could get testing, how they could build it,” said Dirksen Londrigan. “We have do better, and we can do better, and we should have done better.”
Dirksen Londrigan says the federal government needs to take a more active role in fighting the coronavirus, and can look to the University of Illinois as an example.
“They worked together,” said Dirksen Londrigan. “They unified. They have testing, tracing, their own COVID protocols. This is how we get students back to school, how we get workers back to work, and how we get our economy reopened.”
Dirksen Londrigan says Illinois is a leader in mandating the wearing of face masks and encouraging other practices to limit the spread of COVID-19. She supports a national mask mandate, which would have the federal government taking the lead in enforcing the wearing of face masks in public.
Davis says he opposes a national mask mandate, and that he thinks decisions on the pandemic should be made at the state and local level. The Republican lawmaker said he wore masks and followed other safety measures over the summer, but was still infected with COVID-19 (Davis’ symptoms were mild). Davis said while he encourages people to follow CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, the virus can still get through despite them.
Dirksen Londrigan said the nation could also do better in the area of police reform and racial justice. The Democrat called for more police training to handle interactions with people with mental illness or addiction problems, but also so officers could identify and avoid implicit racial bias in their actions.
“We have to address the message, though, that has been brought up by the protests, because it’s so important,” said Dirksen Londrigan. “It’s about knowing and seeing that racism exists in every corner of our society.”
Davis said he believes problems with police misconduct towards people of color would have been addressed by a Republican bill that Democrats quashed in the Senate.
“There is a role for Congress to play, which is why I co-sponsored a companion bill of Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate,” said Davis. “And it’s my opponent’s supporters, Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth that voted not to even allow that bill to be debated. Many of the issues that she just brought up would have been addressed by passing that bill.”
Davis and Dirksen Londrigan debated from podiums placed six feet apart in the WCIA studio in Champaign, where the debate took place. Davis had pushed back against earlier plans to have the candidates appear from separate remote locations, insisting that the two of them meet in person. They were joined in the studio by moderator Brian Mackey, sitting at a desk several feet away. The reporters asking questions at the debate were linked in from remote locations in Decatur and Springfield.
Davis and Dirksen Londrigan are scheduled to meet for another debate next week in Normal.