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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The first debate in the special election for the 18th Congressional District took place Monday.

Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb answered questions from KDKA-TV’s Ken Rice, Lynne Hayes-Freeland, and political editor Jon Delano.

KDKA’s Jon Delano reports —


The debate began with a discussion about the recent high school shooting in Florida, which left 17 people dead.

Both candidates have been on record suggesting mental health is the real issue, not guns. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans told the Pew Research Center assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips should be banned.

“I’ve always been for, and I have bills going through the legislature right now, for strengthening our gun laws and also holding people accountable,” Saccone said. “We have to focus on the mental illness. We have to focus on the underlying problems with our society … I’ve always been for sensible [gun] regulations and laws.

“I recognize there is great passion. I’d like to see a background check system that works,” Lamb said. “We’ve seen too many of these shootings happen because somebody fell through the cracks. It’s going to take people who are willing to reach across the aisle, who are willing to stay late and who are willing to spend some money to fix this thing and I don’t believe my opponent is willing to do so.”

On the qualifications of the candidates and why voters should send them to Washington, D.C.:

“I have never been part of the swamp. I have always been there cleaning up the swamp in Harrisburg. Most of my bills have passed unanimously or nearly unanimously,” Saccone said. “I have a record of doing what I say and my opponent has no record. A candidate can say anything he wants. How many times have you been disappointed by people who say they are going to do something, get into office and don’t do it. I’ve actually done what I said and I have the record to prove it.”

“Most people that I’ve met, they tell me they want a representative that works for them. I learned a lot when I was in the Marine Corps about working for and serving our people. The lesson I really learned was that you leave no one behind. Too many people in western Pennsylvania feel today that they’re being left behind in a political system where the extremes on both sides are locked in a constant struggle with each other. There’s nothing, but gridlock in Washington, D.C.,” Lamb said.

WATCH THE DEBATE HERE:

On the issue of medical marijuana:

“The experts [at Congressional hearings] told us that the science says the medical marijuana is not helping in the way that they think. In many ways, if they’re young people, it could actually hurt them. That’s why I voted no on that bill,” Saccone said.

“I don’t believe that any child or parent should be afraid of prosecution if they are following the advice of their doctor. That’s what’s happening here. Many doctors have told me that these oils that come from cannabis are every useful and they’re often much cheaper than more expensive prescription drugs. So, I would like to see the research continue, well regulated sale and distribution of these drugs.

On President Donald Trump’s tax cuts:

“I’ve always been for middle class tax cuts. What I’m not happy about is that I think people’s health insurance premiums are now going to go up and we’ve added $1.5 trillion to the national debt. We didn’t need to add a penny to our debt to have the tax cut for our working and middle class people. We now know that 85-90 percent of that $1.5 trillion went to the one percent, people who earn $700,000-$800,000 a year and to our largest corporations. I don’t think that was right,” Lamb said.

“The important thing about this tax cut is it is so popular among the people in the 18th District. As I go around, small businesses, employees – it’s not the crumbs that Nancy Pelosi and her crew on the left say that it is. These people are very happy to have the bonuses that they received,” Saccone said. “The standard deduction being doubled. Many people won’t even need an accountant to do their taxes anymore.”

Lisa Washington’s Report:

On what the candidates’ first bill would be in office:

“I’d be in favor of a bill to take on and tackle the heroin epidemic that’s killing people all over western Pennsylvania,” Lamb said. “This is about saving our people. It’s an issue that is complex and we will need bipartisan agreement to do it. We’re going to have to be willing to make some investment.”

“I do have a heart for veterans,” Saccone said. “At the state level we do a pretty good job. Everything from getting 100 percent disabled veterans property tax exemptions to getting a veteran on the Civil Services Commission so we can get veterans jobs and promoting our veterans’ court system. At the federal level, we have some problems. We need to fix the federal VA system…I want to go down there and help make sure they get the care that they deserve, that they’ve earned,” Saccone said.

On the Russia investigation and indictments being filed against 13 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 presidential election:

“As I’ve traveled around the 18th Congressional District and as I’ve served in the state legislature, literally not one person has asked me about the Russia investigation,” Saccone said. “I’m glad to see Mueller came out and had his indictments and basically vindicated the president.”

“If what Mueller said is true and there’s been indictments of people trying to meddle in our affairs then we need to look into that. Obviously we need to investigate that, but that’s not the whole story. The whole story has been about accusing the president of colluding with the Russians and that hasn’t been substantiated.”

“I have no evidence that they are meddling in this race. My concern is that we might not know if they were because I don’t think Congress has taken this threat as seriously as it deserves,” Lamb said. “I believe we need new legislation and new funding to make sure our cyber defenses are better tomorrow than they are today.”

“It’s true that our people are very focused on economics on healthcare on Social Security, but we are all interested in making sure we protect the cornerstone of our democracy, which are free and fair elections,” Lamb said.

KDKA’s Jon Delano reports —


On the issue of abortion rights:

“This isn’t a matter of religious faith. This is a matter of helping our most helpless constituents, those that don’t have a voice,” Saccone said. “Those babies have no voice. More than half of those babies are women and they are pronounced a death sentence without any due process, without having anyone speak up for them. I believe that’s an obligation of government to stand up for those innocent people.”

“I do believe life begins at conception. I’ve always believed that and I believe it in all cases. However, I also believe in the separation of church and state. What we’re running for here is congress, not cardinal. I don’t believe that my personal religious beliefs should dictate the legal rights of women all over this country,” Lamb said. “I would not outlaw a woman’s right to choose.”

On President Donald Trump’s moral compass:

“I’ve always been for giving all of our employees a safe zone to work in. They should feel empowered to come forth if they feel there’s anything going wrong in the office,” Saccone said. “I don’t know what totally the president’s morality is, but I do know that since he’s been in office he has stood strongly for faith and our beliefs.”

On morality in leadership:

“We have to set an example. I learned early in my career as a prosecutor that you have to listen to victims when they tell you they have been through a horrible tragedy, especially when it’s rape and sexual assault,” Lamb said. “I think Mr. Saccone and I agree that people need due process no matter the accusation. I believe that’s true for everyone.”

On raising minimum wage:

“I’ve always believed that minimum wage should be market driven. It’s not up to the government to set winners and losers and to increase or decrease the minimum wage,” Saccone said. “The market will work if we let it work. The problem is when the government gets involved in that and starts interfering with that, it distorts the whole economy…I wouldn’t abolish it, I would leave it as it is right now, but I’m not for raising the minimum wage.”

“I think that too many people are working too hard and not earning enough whether they’re earning the minimum wage or even a little bit above that,” Lamb said. “I would support an increase in the minimum wage I think it’s been too long. I don’t know what the exact number is and I don’t necessarily think it should be the same everywhere. What I think we should do is hold hearings in Washington where we hear from experts.”

“I think $15 sounds high based on what I’ve been told by many small business owners in our area. I would rather see something that was agreed on by both sides.”

Closing Statements:

Rick Saccone:

“If you watch the news, you know the world is in turmoil, our country is in turmoil – all the more reason that we need to send the most qualified and experienced person to Washington, D.C. I have experience in a number of key areas, including academia, diplomacy, business, the military and government – five key areas over 40 years of life experience that I bring those skillsets to bear at this time in my life to go to Washington to address some of the pressing problems facing our nation.”

“I think I’ve demonstrated over the years I’ve been able to reach across the aisle to work in a bipartisan fashion to get many things done. As I said before, most of my bills pass either unanimously or nearly unanimously, meaning I’ve been able to convince people on the other side of the aisle to vote for my ideas. I’m battle-tested and ready to serve, I’m asking you for your vote.”

Conor Lamb:

“I’ve been so struck by how many people are really investing in our politics again, in our public life. These are the things that have made America great. I’ve been so impressed by how many people who are willing to come out in the cold, knock on doors put up yard signs, make phones calls, do the true grunt work of democracy. This is what it takes in a system when outside money and dark money floods into our campaigns here in western Pennsylvania in support of people like my opponent. They don’t tell the truth in their advertising. They want to buy this election that way.

“I would keep the promises that we made to the people that made this country. I don’t believe my opponent would. When we talk about experience, what matters is how he voted. Time and again, he’ll tell you he voted for you, but he’s voted against you. He’s part of the same crowd in Harrisburg that shutdown the government there, just like the people in D.C. who have shutdown the government and led to the gridlock none of us want… I would be honored to serve every one of you, Democrat, Republican or Independent alike and no matter who you are, I hope you come to the polls on March 13.”