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18th District Congressional candidates detail where they stand on issues in TV debate |

18th District Congressional candidates detail where they stand on issues in TV debate

Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.
Wes Venteicher
Conor Lamb
Wes Venteicher
Rick Saccone

Republican Rick Saccone reiterated his support for President Trump while Democrat Conor Lamb detailed some of his differences with his party’s leadership in a debate Monday between the congressional candidates.

The half-hour debate, taped Monday afternoon, was scheduled to air at 7 p.m. on KDKA-TV, a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh. The candidates are competing in a March 13 special election in the Republican-leaning 18th Congressional District in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Moderators grilled Saccone, 60, a state House representative from Elizabeth, on his relationship with Trump, asking Saccone about the president’s moral compass and pushing him to name any positions he has taken that differ from the president’s.

Saccone said he wouldn’t comment on the president’s morality but said his agenda aligns with the president’s on cutting spending, cutting taxes, repealing and replacing Obamacare, taking care of veterans, expanding the military, tightening border security, opposing abortion, enhancing second amendment rights and supporting nominations of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices.

He quipped that his only disagreement with Trump is that the president is a Patriots fan, while he favors the Steelers.

On a question about his alignment with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Saccone said, “so far Paul Ryan is following the agenda. As long as he’s on that agenda — if he’s against one of those agenda items, then him and I will disagree.”

Lamb said regional voters are tired of national politics. Republican PACs have been trying to tie Lamb, 33, a former federal prosecutor, to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in attack ads even though Lamb has said he wouldn’t vote for her as the party’s leader in the U.S. House.

“They want someone to represent them,” he said, adding that he would be happy to work with the president on issues affecting the region but that he wouldn’t “write a blank check for anyone.”

Asked to detail his differences with his party’s leaders, Lamb said he supports safe natural gas drilling, opposes a ban on high-capacity magazines for guns and opposes a Medicare-for-all approach to health care, favoring improvements to the Affordable Care Act.

Lamb said that as a Catholic he personally believes that life begins at conception but that he would be a pro-choice lawmaker.

“I don’t believe that my personal religious beliefs should dictate the legal rights of women all over this country,” he said.

Saccone, who is pro-life, said that as a legislator he voted for tighter restrictions on abortion providers that have contributed to some of the clinics closing.

“This isn’t a matter of religious faith, this is a matter of protecting our most helpless constituents, those that don’t have a voice,” Saccone said.

Lamb said he supports middle-class tax cuts but opposed the recently passed tax reform plan, calling it a giveaway to corporations and saying he would have favored a plan that wouldn’t raise the national debt by an estimated $1.5 trillion.

Saccone said he supports the tax reform plan and said it benefits small business owners. In response to a question about whether Republicans should still care about the deficit, he said yes, adding that he thought economic growth could help shrink the $1.5 trillion cost.

Lamb pledged to support Medicare and Medicaid while Saccone said the programs need reform.

Saccone said he opposes raising the minimum wage, saying that if left alone, the market would raise wages.

Lamb said he supports an increase in the minimum wage that he said should vary regionally. He said $15 per hour was too high based on his talks with regional business owners, suggesting that around $10 per hour would be a better starting point.

Saccone and Lamb are competing for the 18th Congressional District seat that represents parts of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties. Former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, resigned the seat in October after reports that he had asked a woman with whom he was having an affair to consider an abortion.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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