Democratic state Rep. Ilhan Omar and her Republican challenger, Jennifer Zielinski, met Tuesday for their only debate during the campaign for an open Minneapolis-area U.S. House seat.
Omar, the front-runner to replace U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in the heavily Democratic Fifth District, repeated that if elected she would vote to impeach President Donald Trump, if given the chance.
“This is a president really that has put his interests and his financial interests above the country and the nation’s interests, and so there are multiple things the president has done to qualify for him to get impeached,” Omar said in the debate in Minnesota Public Radio’s St. Paul studio.
She added that it is important to make changes at the ballot box to “make sure no one associated with this presidency is in power.”
Zielinski, a Republican activist who works in health care, said she did not always agree with Trump and insisted she would represent the interests of the district. It has been a safely Democratic seat since 1962.
“When President Donald Trump does something I agree with and works for the district, I will support him,” Zielinski said. “When he doesn’t, I will be the first one calling him out on that.”
Omar also said she supports a single-payer health care system. Zielinski vowed not to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a proper replacement ready “to protect those who are on Medicaid and on Medicare.” She said she “definitely” wanted to see pre-existing conditions still covered as part of any new plan.
In a discussion about Congress’ 2017 tax bill, Omar said she would rather have seen federal lawmakers cancel student debt. Zielinski said she would have supported the measure. She said she hopes the tax cuts, estimated to have cost about $2.2 trillion, will pay for themselves and sees reining in spending by government agencies as a way to help.
Omar described the bill as a break for the wealthy at the expense of wage growth for working people.
“I think it is really important when we’re talking about fiscal responsibility that we are balancing the budget in ways that really benefit the working people and Americans,” Omar said.
The two seemed to back scientific consensus on the existence and causes of climate change but disagreed on how to lessen the effects of the crisis and adapt to changes already underway.
Zielinski said she would encourage businesses to “organically” lead the way in reducing humanity’s effect on the Earth. Omar pointed to the response as a stark difference between the candidates and added, “We have to recognize it is the businesses and these corporations that are causing the kind of impact on the environment right now.”
Zielinski, 35, of Minneapolis, also raised recent allegations by a Republican state lawmaker that Omar misused campaign funds to pay her divorce lawyer, for airfare to Estonia and to a political rally in Boston.
“You know, it’s really disappointing because I think someone who is running for office should know there is a difference between a violation and an allegation,” Omar countered. “And the truth is, I have never really been cited for any campaign violation. There is a complaint, the board has an opportunity to look at it and I have an opportunity to respond once questions are risen from the board. That has not happened yet.”
Omar, 36, called the complainant, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, “sad” and “overzealous” and suggested his complaint was a politically motivated effort to “smear and discredit my candidacy.”
She told moderator Tom Crann that there was no investigation underway by the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Drazkowski has made public a letter from the board ordering an investigation into one of the complaints.