Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and Democratic challenger Christina Finello faced off in their first debate last Tuesday. They are vying for the First Congressional District seat in this year’s general election.
Bucks County Community College Professor Bill Pezza acted as moderator. He offered each candidate two minutes to respond to each question in alternating order, with a one minute rebuttal. At times, Pezza would give each candidate more time to focus on specific topics.
Many of the answers from both candidates focused on Fitzpatrick’s voting record. While Finello argued Fitzpatrick voted in lockstep with President Trump, the Congressman touted his ranking from Georgetown University as the most independent member of the House of Representatives.
In a changeup from past years, Pezza offered each candidate the chance to ask a question of their opponent.
Pezza offered Fitzpatrick the opportunity to ask a question of Finello first.
“Can you name me one of my colleagues, Democrat or Republican, who has a more independent voting record than I do,” questioned Fitzpatrick.
“No, because you just said that you were ranked the number one most independent Congressman. But that is merely a ranking,” said Finello. “I take issue with the fact that your record really belies that fact.”
She claimed when it mattered most, Fitzpatrick was not as independent.
Pezza then offered the same opportunity to Finello.
“Why is it that you do not avail yourself of your constituents with a real town hall,” asked Finello. She clarified “real town hall” to mean an in-person, pre-pandemic meeting where anyone can ask questions of the Congressman.
“I think we can answer that by saying we have very different definitions of what a town hall is,” said Fitzpatrick. “I think what you’re defining as a town hall is a cattle call in a gymnasium where people just show up and scream at each other. And it’s mass chaos and nobody is able to answer any questions.”
Fitzpatrick went on to say he has made himself “incredibly accessible” and joked that half the district has his personal cell phone number. The Congressman added he has done numerous unfiltered question and answer sessions for high schools, environmental groups, and other groups.
Below are the first three topics from Tuesday’s debate. In keeping with the format, responses appear in the order candidates answered.
The full debate livestream is available here.
1. Pandemic – Public Health
Fitzpatrick: “I think it’s pretty clear we could have done a lot better on all levels – federal, state, and local. Across the board.”
The Congressman said there was a lot to learn from the novel coronavirus. He said the country should approach it in the same way it did for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“In 9/11, right afterwards we came together as a country. We got through it and then after we got through that awful situation our country endured, we formed the 9/11 commission. They came up with over 40 recommendations.”
Fitzpatrick said the country should take the same “Never Again” attitude towards COVID-19. He cited three bipartisan pieces of legislation to prevent the same situation from repeating.
Finello: “Our first priority needs to be to protect the health and safety of our community.”
Finello said the focus should be listening to experts. She criticized President Trump’s rhetoric on the coronavirus.
“Trump and Republicans in Congress like my opponent desperately tried to shift the blame for their party’s failures to take this virus seriously.”
Finello added Fitzpatrick voted in “lockstep” with the president. She said the country should have focused on testing, contact tracing, and manufacturing personal protective equipment.
2. COVID-19 Vaccine
Finello again said the impetus was listening to health experts and “not playing political games.” She said the vaccine should be made quickly but not used as a political tool.
Fitzpatrick agreed, saying “we should follow the science.” He added Operation Wrap Speed is pursuing a vaccine at record pace because more resources including funding and scientists are working on the project. Fitzpatrick then said the Right To Try legislation he sponsored is playing a factor as well to help people get the treatments they need.
3. Black Lives Matter, Police, Law & Order
Fitzpatrick touted his time as a career law enforcement official as an FBI agent, then turned to his vote supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. He said he supports the police but acknowledged the need for reforms.
Fitzpatrick then credited the police chiefs throughout Bucks County for “stepping up” and providing recommendations. He said the county should serve as an example and called local police officers “phenomenal.”
Finello said she does not support defunding the police. She cited endorsements from the two sheriffs of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
Finello then said it’s important to make sure other agencies like mental health and social services also get funding. She said these agencies should take up cases police officers are not trained to handle.
In the response time, Fitzpatrick questioned why Finello criticized the Defund Cities That Defund the Police Act. Fitzpatrick introduced the bill, which has bipartisan support. If passed into law, it would prevent cities that defund their police departments from securing certain federal grants.
Finello responded she did not believe taking away money from cities would be a solution.