Candidates for 1st District debate health care, immigration

CONCORD (AP) – With less than a week before the primary, the 11 Democratic congressional hopefuls in New Hampshire’s 1st District mostly agreed in a televised debate on the need for tougher gun control, expanded health care and the end to the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.

The hourlong debate this week was a much more cordial affair compared to forums when several candidates took aim at perceived front-runners Executive Councilor Chris Pappas and Marine veteran Maura Sullivan. During the debate, Sullivan was asked by a panelist about receiving most of her campaign contributions from out of state and Pappas about his independence given that he has received endorsements from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

Neither directly answered the questions and said they welcomed the support they were getting.

The debate kicked off with a question over whether the candidates wanted to do away with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Democrats further to the left have called for the end of ICE amid the Trump administration’s more aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration.

Several said they supported either doing away with it or at least reforming it so the United States becomes more welcoming to immigrants.

“We need to reconfigure ICE,” said Levi Sanders, son of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “It is essential. It is unacceptable that you have mothers and fathers having their babies ripped out of their arms. We cannot have children thrown in cages.”

But Terence O’Rourke, an Army veteran who also served in Iraq, said abolishing ICE would go too far.

“It is an absolutely essential part of our national security apparatus that keeps us safe every day,” he said of ICE. “If you have a problem with the way ICE is operating right now, your problem is with Donald Trump. It’s not with ICE. The idea that we are going to get rid of ICE is to me frankly ridiculous.”

The candidates largely came out in favor of more gun control, with Sullivan and Pappas among those calling for a ban on assault weapons. Former Strafford County attorney and Somersworth Mayor Lincoln Soldati said he would support a 48-72 waiting period for purchasing a gun — which he said would significantly reduce the numbers of suicides.

They mostly supported free college tuition and single-payer government health insurance, ideas that were pushed by Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential race. Levi Sanders has made Medicare available to all Americans regardless of age a key campaign theme and he challenged Pappas whom he said has not supported the idea.

Pappas sidestepped the question over whether he supported the single payer system. Instead, he responded that he wanted to “fight tooth and nail to stop the sabotage effort on the Affordable Care Act which is going to roll back coverage for tens of millions of Americans.”

While President Trump wasn’t central to the debate, he wasn’t far away either. Asked if they would impeach Trump if elected, several demurred saying they wanted to see the findings from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and potential coordination with Trump’s campaign.

But Soldati said he was ready to impeach Trump, whom he called a “threat to America and our Democracy.”

“We are talking about the president not being above the law,” he said. “The fact is there has been evidence in the public record to substantiate a call for an impeach inquiry.”

They were also asked if they would want to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, should Democrats gain control after the midterm elections. The candidates seemed divided, with several saying it premature to consider the question and those like Sullivan who said the time for her to go.

“What’s happening in our country right now is so much bigger than any one person,” she said. “We need new leadership in the country. We need new leadership in the Democratic Party. We need new leadership in the Republican Party. We need new leadership across the board.”

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