Outside the famed Union League Club in downtown Chicago on Thursday night, protesters waved signs and chanted for their candidates.
Inside, Republican Rep. Peter Roskam and Democratic businessman Sean Casten sparred in the first televised debate of a race for the sprawling 6th Congressional District – a battleground that could determine control of the House in November.
Moderated by Fox 32 political editor Mike Flannery, Roskam and Casten began their debate with a summary of their views on President Donald Trump: “How’s he doing as president?”
Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, characterized Trump’s work in office as “middling.”
“Good on the economy, jumbling on other issues,” Roskam said, “but when it comes time to standing up against the administration on things, I’ve been consistent on doing that, reflecting the interests of our constituency.”
To Casten, Trump is putting the country in danger.
“I think President Trump is the worst president of our generation,” Casten said. “Every day he is in the office is a risk to our country and to the global order that we fought to create after World War II. The problem, though, is not Trump. The problem is a Congress that is not fulfilling its obligation to act as a check and balance on the president.”
A burning hot center of the debate was Trump’s controversial $1.5 trillion tax cut plan that Congress sped into law in December.
The topic offered a moment for Casten to use Roskam’s voting record –
94.4 percent in line with Trump, according to election predictor Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog – as a referendum on his opponent’s time in office.
Businesses, Casten said, are supposed to make sure their revenues cover their expenditures.
“Donald Trump doesn’t have that history,” Casten said of the tax plan.
The Democrat has argued it will enrich the wealthy and swell corporate profits while leaving ordinary people with comparatively modest tax cuts and, eventually, tax hikes.
“He runs his businesses into the ground,” Casten said.
Roskam attacked Casten as a supporter of higher taxes as a mechanism to bail the country out of debt.
An audience member from Inverness asked the candidates how they would address a gloomy economic forecast featured in a recent Forbes article: Houses in the 6th District will lose value, and it will become more expensive to run local governments as a result of Trump’s tax plan.
Roskam denied that the claim held up as truth.
“What we’re seeing is robust economic activity,” he said. “The state of Illinois now has more money that’s come in as a result of this. The types of businesses that we’re talking about are now expanding.”
Roskam shared an anecdote about visiting McHenry County and meeting a mother and daughter who run a child care business.
“I asked, ‘How is business?’ and they said, ‘Business is booming,’ ” Roskam said. “I said, ‘Why?’ And they said, ‘Because of the tax bill.’ So what we’re seeing is economic activity. We’re seeing taxes go down.”
Casten pointed to an analysis from the National Association of Realtors that said at the higher and lower ends of the tax regime, the tax incentive to own versus rent has been eliminated.
“A gentleman I met in Downers Grove who has a business that buys and rehabs apartments has retuned his business to say this is a great time to be buying properties and then renting them, because it’s supply-demand, right?” Casten said.
If you reduce the incentive to own, he said, you will increase the incentive to rent.