Candidates in two closely contested suburban Atlanta U.S. House districts continued to clash Tuesday over their views on health care, the pandemic response and the size of government.
Those disagreements were aired in two debates sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club. One was between 6th Congressional District incumbent Lucy McBath, a Democrat, and Republican Karen Handel, the woman McBath unseated in a narrow 2018 victory. Slightly less sharp was a debate between candidates in the neighboring 7th District, where Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is trying to claim an open seat after falling just short of beating Republican incumbent Rob Woodall in 2018. With Woodall stepping down, Republican Rich McCormick is trying to hold the seat for his party.
Both races are among the most competitive in the nation, with Democrats gaining ground in what was once reliably Republican turf. The 6th District, Georgia’s most affluent, stretches across parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. The rapidly diversifying 7th District includes parts of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.
McBath labeled Handel as a threat to health care access, saying it’s not a “privilege” but a “right as an American.”
“Your record on health care is absolutely dismal,” McBath told Handel. “You have supported bills that would drive up the cost of health care for people that have pre-existing conditions, not only their treatment, their care and prescription drugs.”
Handel said that portrayal was unfair, and said McBath herself could have done more in Congress to protect people from suffering insurance consequences because of earlier disease or infirmity.
Handel attacked McBath, saying it was the Democrats’ fault that Congress hadn’t been able to approve a new bill for COVID-19 relief
“There is nothing preventing Democrats like you and Speaker Pelosi from getting to the table on that COVID relief package. You don’t want to pass it because you want to pack it full of controversial proposals,” Handel said. “You could get it done if you had the will.”
McBath, though, said she was “proud that the House is still trying to work with the Senate” on additional spending.
McBath sidestepped a question from Handel asking whether McBath would favor adding more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. She instead criticized Republicans for pushing through the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
″I’m very concerned about Judge Barrett’s policy agenda, wanting to possibly dismantle the Affordable Care Act that millions of Americans are dependent on, and also her stance on choice,” McBath said, saying she wanted to protect abortion rights.
For her part, Handel said “it’s no secret I’m pro life” and backed Barrett’s confirmation. “A president is elected for four years, not three-and-a-half years or three years and nine months,” Handel said.
The attacks were somewhat less sharp in the 7th District debate, where Bourdeaux continued to argue for expanded health care and blamed Republicans for mismanaging the COVID-19 outbreak, while McCormick again argued that the district needs a low-tax, low-regulation approach.
“Politicians and regulations are not the solution to the problems that most of the time were created by government to begin with,” McCormick said. Why would we turn back to the government to solve something that they created in the first place?”
Bourdeaux, though, argued that was the wrong approach when it left people without health insurance or relied on the goodwill of individuals instead of systemic efforts to reform how police departments interact with nonwhite communities.
The sharpest attacks in the debate came over whether McCormick , an emergency room physician, was personally downplaying the danger of COVID-19.
“He is showing up at events not wearing a mask that are in close quarters,” Bourdeaux said. “He is not following CDC guidelines, and this is part of the problem.”
McCormick took offense, saying that by working in the emergency room he has been willing to run the risk of contracting COVID-19. He said his decision to not wear a mask is not too high a risk.
“We are talking about mostly young, healthy people who are asymptomatic,” McCormick said.