U.S. Representative Kim Schrier, D‑Washington, an Issaquah pediatrician before going to Congress, took along a physician’s reassuring bedside manner to her first and only debate with Republican challenger Matt Larkin.
The debate, at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, saw Schrier stress bipartisan work in a polarized Washington, D.C., themes designed to appeal in a “swing” Eighth Congressional District. Larkin pounded at themes of omnipresent television spots being run by Republicans’ House leadership, that Schrier votes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden almost all the time.
Citing rising rates of crime and drug abuse, Larkin voted to “roll up my sleeves on day one and get things under control” if elected. Schrier countered: “He is not rolling up his sleeves to work together. He is rolling up his sleeves to do battle.”
The debate took place hours after an invasion at the House Speaker’s San Francisco home by an intruder who assaulted her spouse Paul Pelosi with a hammer. He was looking for the Speaker. “This (assault) is emblematic at what is wrong with this country, so much hate, so much vitriol,” said Schrier.
Larkin offered his “hearts and prayers” for the Pelosi family.
He agreed on the country’s harsh political climate, but sought to spread the blame, echoing almost word for word comments that Schrier had just made moments before: “Look, I think we need to tone down the volume right now.”
Larkin added: “We have rhetoric out of control and both parties are to blame.”
But Schrier argued there is one central source of blame. Donald Trump “has the biggest megaphone in the country,” she said, and is using it for “tugging at the underpinnings of democracy (which risks) democracy falling apart.”
The Eighth District’s residents drive long distances – Stevens, Blewett and Snoqualmie Passes are in the district – and the candidates were asked to discuss gas prices.
Larkin blamed the Biden-Harris administration for allegedly discouraging new oil exploration and pipeline construction.
Schrier argued that gas and oil companies (like Shell) are making record profits and it is Congress’ job to “crack down” on price gouging.
“Price gouging is not the issue when it comes to energy,” retorted Larkin.
Larkin struggled on several fronts. He told The Herald of Everett this week that the state’s minimum wage, set to go to $15.74 in January, should be closer to the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, which Republicans in Washington, D.C., refuse to raise. Should we heed Larkin’s counsel, asked Schrier, “at a time when Americans are having trouble affording everything.”
Asked how he would cut the budget, Larkin said he would be “looking at everything, line by line.” He tried to put distance from the speculation that Republicans, if they run Congress next year, will hold the budget hostage for cuts in social programs. “I’m not going to cut veterans benefits, period,” said Larkin. “I am not going to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
Schrier is the only pediatrician in the House. She is diabetic and has made drug prices a major item of concern. Congress and the Biden-Harris administration have delivered. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act put a $35 cap on seniors’ monthly insulin bills – Republicans blocked a cap for all Americans – and gave Medicare authority to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma.
Larkin said America has developed the best medicines in the world and cited the case of a family member brought back from severe illness.
“Mr. Larkin, even the best medications out there won’t help you if you can’t afford them,” Schrier countered.
Larkin is in lock step with themes pushed nationally by Republicans, notably out-of-control migration at the Southern border and fentanyl flowing across that border and killing Americans. “These are scary times,” he said. “We need to enforce the laws on the books and put peoples’ feet to the fire.”
Schrier has criticized the administration, saying again during the debate that the influx at the border is “totally unacceptable.”
She argued that the administration should put in place a “humane system of immigration” in which asylum seekers get a quick decision, but the real answer will only come when comprehensive immigration reform passes Congress. A Senate-passed bill was blocked by House Republicans in 2013.
Larkin resorted to generalities on several fronts, on gas prices – “We need to do something about it” – on crime – “People are scared to go into their communities, their parks” – and even on abortion.
“I am not going back to Washington, D.C., to push an abortion ban,” he said.
Larkin voiced strong anti-abortion views in pre-August debates, taking a no-exemptions position that does not support terminating pregnancies even in cases of rape and incest. He has fudged the issue in the general election, and said last night: “Nothing is changing in Washington State,” despite the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overruled Roe v. Wade and opened the door to a nationwide abortion ban as well as the prospect of a ban on contraception.
Schrier brought up legislation, introduced recently by Senator Lindsay Graham, R‑South Carolina, that would institute a nationwide ban after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. “Such a ban would affect us here in Washington state,” Schrier pointed out. “A national ban would override the protections in this state.”
Larkin tried to argue that Schrier’s position is “extreme,” that she supports late term abortion for any reason. “Gender selection could be a reason,” suggesting a couple wanting to terminate a pregnancy at the verge of birth when they discover it’s a girl. His comments provoked laughter from the audience.
“Mr. Larkin is making things up and talking about something no woman and physician would do,” said Schrier.
Looking at the evening, Schrier succeeded in defining herself as an independent thinker, a House member who works district issues and is “finding partners in both parties” to solve problems. She is engaging, and a veteran of ninety-eight town meetings during four years in Congress.
Larkin ran a law-and-order campaign against Attorney General Bob Ferguson in 2020. He took 43.67% of the vote, but narrowly carried the Eighth Congressional District (as did gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp). Larkin is fixated on the same theme this year, unveiling on Fox the slogan: “Make Crime Illegal Again.”
He is supported to a massive extent by national Republican money, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has boosted Schrier with spots defining Larkin as an ogre and linking him to extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene, who holds a House seat from one of the reddest parts of Georgia.
Larkin is genial and pleasant, a far cry from the strident Greene. He evinces a genuine love for the state, even while claiming he no longer recognizes it.
He has, however, failed to think through issues he will be facing if elected to represent the one U.S. House district that crosses the “Cascade Curtain.”