'That's like not believing in gravity': Casten, Ives spar over COVID-19 relief, climate change in debate

Sean Casten (left) and Jeanne Ives are candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat.
Sean Casten (left) and Jeanne Ives are candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat.

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The Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois' 6th Congressional District seat argued about COVID-19 relief efforts, climate change and other issues over the weekend in their only televised debate.

Incumbent Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove and Republican challenger Jeanne Ives of Wheaton agreed on little during the nearly hourlong session, which aired Friday night on WGN-TV.

Long-delayed financial relief for the people and businesses struggling during the pandemic was the first issue discussed. The House has passed several new relief packages since the initial ones in March, but none have been debated by the Senate or signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Ives argued that too much money in the relief proposals would go to projects "completely unrelated to COVID relief." She also criticized what she called "massive bailouts for people" and noted that many industries have been deeply affected by the crisis.

"Are we going to bail out all of them?" asked Ives, a former state legislator who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018. "Or are we going to open up the market (and) let our private sector figure this out?"

Casten, who is seeking a second term, called the coronavirus crisis "avoidable" and said it happened because "we've politicized science."

The first relief bill bought the nation "six months of runway" that Trump has exhausted, said Casten, the former CEO of an energy recycling company. Testing and contact tracing are needed, he said.

In response, Ives said Democrats want to keep the economy shut down and noted that other states have allowed schools and businesses to reopen.

Casten was given the last word and said coronavirus cases are spiking in Wisconsin and other states where people "are not following public health measures." He pleaded that the governmental response to the issue "cannot be partisan."

Later, when asked if Congress should make a law mandating people wear masks to stop the spread of the virus, Casten pointed to the success of nations with mask mandates in beating the virus.

"We know what has to be done," Casten said. "We just have to defer to the experts and make sure we put facts and science first."

On the other hand, Ives called such a mandate "outrageous" and supported the right of people to make their own decisions.

"You are telling adults how to live their lives," she said.

Additionally, Ives denied there's "definitive proof" masks prevent spread of the virus "in every situation."

When asked about his support for stricter gun laws and a national gun buyback program, Casten expressed amazement about the recently uncovered plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as the heavily armed protesters who occupied the Michigan Capitol in May.

"In what other country in the world would somebody show up in the statehouse with guns and we wouldn't say these are either terrorists or the beginning of a military coup," he said. "Somehow we've accepted that as being American. Part of why that happens is because we live in a country with more guns than people."

Ives said the U.S. needs to enforce gun laws already on the books.

Casten and Ives also disagreed on whether climate change is man-made.

Ives said mankind isn't to blame as much as factors "in the solar system" and in the oceans, as well as volcanic activity. Casten said the science pointing to man-made climate change is clear.

"That's like not believing in gravity," Casten said of Ives' stance. "It's still real."

Rare agreement between the candidates came when both Casten and Ives said they support people voting by mail or any other available option. Both also opposed movements to defund police departments.

A video of the debate can be viewed at wgntv.com/news/watch-live-6th-congressional-district-debate-between-sean-casten-jeanne-ives.

Libertarian candidate Bill Redpath of West Dundee also is running in the Nov. 3 election. He did not participate in the debate.

The 6th District includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

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