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Conor Lamb, Keith Rothfus vie for undecided voters in TV debate

October 13, 2018

President Trump-backed Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus emphasized Monday that he does not agree with “everything that this president has done” while rival Rep. Conor Lamb distanced himself from Democrats who have called for Trump’s impeachment.

“We make decisions based on evidence. None of us have seen any evidence related to the impeachment of anyone,” Lamb said during a pretaped televised debate in Pittsburgh broadcast Monday night on KDKA-TV. “So I’ve been told there are those in my party who are already calling for it, and I think they’re wrong.

“There is an investigation taking place by the special counsel (Robert Mueller) ... and people are quick to talk about the president, we have no idea if the president’s even involved in that investigation. We need to let that play out.”

Rothfus, 56, a Republican from Sewickley, and Lamb, 34, a Democrat from Mt. Lebanon, are facing each other in the Nov. 6 general election to represent the new 17th Congressional District, which covers suburban parts of northern Allegheny County along with all of Beaver County and part of Butler County.

When pressed about his lack of public criticism over false and inflammatory statements made by Trump, Rothfus replied, “I speak for myself. I don’t run to the cameras and criticize everything the president would be saying because that, frankly, would be a full-time job.”

He also said he is concerned about spending Trump is proposing and criticized his own party for not taking a firmer stance against what he called “big spending.”

The candidates clashed over issues such as how to continue to grow the economy and improve health care; whether to close loopholes that allow people to get guns without background checks; and how to keep Social Security from going bankrupt.

They had similar opinions when it came to the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court; both said they were appalled by the nomination process but that they saw no reason to continue investigating allegations of sexual assault while Kavanaugh was in high school.

In a nod to this region’s atypical political tendencies, Lamb said, “I’m a Western Pennsylvania Democrat.”

Lamb took issue with the notion that Trump supporters shouldn’t vote for Lamb under the presumption he’d be a rubber-stamp for the Democratic agenda: “The Democrats that you’re talking about don’t expect that from me,” Lamb said.

Among topics debated Monday night:

The economy

Rothfus touted the federal tax bill as a major boost to an economy already exhibiting some of the best signs in years.

Lamb argued that by primarily benefiting the top 1 percent, the federal tax bill “has weakened our ability to do things to promote wage growth.”

Social Security

To fund Social Security -- which experts say could run out of money to keep up with payments in as few as 14 years -- Rothfus said the nation needs to turn to encouraging more legal immigration and attracting talent from other countries.

“It’s grow, grow and grow,” Rothfus said of the best possible fix involving getting more people paying into the system.

Lamb said his biggest fear is a GOP push to slash Social Security as well as Medicare programs in order to account for “trillions of dollars” being added to the federal debt.

Gun control

Lamb pressed for advancing legislation to close loopholes that enable people to buy guns without background checks, such as at gun shows or via online sales, but stopped short of calling for further types of gun reforms or limitations.

“We haven’t even been able to get the basics right,” Lamb said. “We need a well-functioning background check system that will apply to all firearms.”

Rothfus did not say he would support more background checks.

“We have to make sure that we’re not going to criminalize the behavior of law-abiding citizens .. who may want to freely exchange a gun -- if two brothers want to do it, or two cousins,” Rothfus said.

The newly drawn Pennsylvania 17th District -- deemed either a toss-up or leaning Democratic by analysts -- is among 12 congressional district races Heritage Action, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s political action and advocacy arm, has targeted in its campaign to retain a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rothfus, a three-term incumbent, has been endorsed by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

One recent poll showed Lamb, who narrowly won a special election in the former 18th District in March, edging ahead of Rothfus in the new district where Democrats have a 69,000 registration edge.

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