By KATHY McCORMACK, Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster and Republican challenger Robert Burns frequently took jabs and interrupted one another over COVID funding, drug addiction treatment, and abortion rights during their first debate Friday for New Hampshire‘s 2nd Congressional District seat.
When asked if he would have voted in Congress for any of the COVID relief or stimulus money, Burns said possibly, but there needed to be more oversight because “there was way too much money that was just lost to corporations that never existed.” He also said many companies are suffering now because of reckless government spending.
“My opponent here talks about the need for the federal government to help build businesses .. I built my business without the help of the federal government,” said Burns, who runs a quality control and pharmaceutical safety company in Bedford.
“That’s not true when you consider the Paycheck Protection loan that you took,” Kuster said.
Burns responded, “That was 10 years later, with $25,000. I built my business without government assistance.”
In responding to a question about high drug overdose deaths, Kuster expressed her support for suboxone medication to treat opioid addiction, saying it is helping her own brother. She said she wants to increase access to treatment. Burns said statistics have shown that isn’t true, and accused her campaign of being funded by its manufacturers.
“That’s not the case,” Kuster said.
On the subject of abortion rights, Burns, who says he is pro-life and supported the overturn of Roe v. Wade, was asked to clarify his proposal to form “panels” that would require a second and third opinion when a woman, in his words, is “being forced to have an abortion.”
Burns said “probably misspoke a little bit” in his use of the word “panel” and said he was referring to the mental health of the mother, who should be given guidance by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Kuster, who supports the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect the right to access abortion care nationwide after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, was asked how far into a pregnancy does she believe abortion should be allowed.
“I support viability” in Roe v. Wade, she said. In response to a statement about Republicans saying Democrats support abortion up until the day of delivery, she said, “that’s absolutely absurd, and it’s a Fox News talking point.”
Viability is generally defined at about 24 weeks in a pregnancy.
Kuster said that Burns would support a national abortion ban at conception, but Burns has been saying he’d support a ban at 12 weeks, and now he’d a support a 15-week ban.
“That’s not the bill coming to the floor there,” Kuster said. “Eighty percent of the Republican caucus have already signed on to the Life at Conception Act.”
When asked if there are any circumstances in which she would support sending troops to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, Kuster said she has not supported American boots on the ground there. She said the U.S. could assist Ukraine with drones. When asked how the U.S. should respond if the Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons in the conflict, she said the steps the U.S. has taken in diplomacy “are making a difference.”
Burns said he is in favor of sending Ukraine food and medical aid. “I don’t think we need to be sending them unfettered weapons and cash that we have no idea where it’s going,” he said. “These weapons are ending up back on the black market.”
When asked if there’s a major issue where they would break with their party, Burns said that he would work toward Medicare for all, which would establish a universal single-payer health care system in the United States. Kuster said she had to push hard with the rest of New Hampshire’s delegation to reopen the Canadian border during the pandemic.
“Thank your for that, by the way,” Burns said.
Kuster is seeking her sixth term. Burns first ran for the seat in 2018, losing the nomination to Steve Negron, who later lost to Kuster.
Burns, who was selected by Donald Trump as one of his delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention, recently was endorsed by Trump.
The debate was sponsored by New Hampshire Public Radio, New Hampshire Bulletin and New Hampshire PBS.
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