Candidates for Iowa House District 2 face off in first debate

On Thursday night, House candidates for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District — Rita Hart and Marianette Miller-Meeks — faced each other in a debate, tackling issues relating to COVID-19 and health-care policy.


Katie Goodale

Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks (left) speaks with a member of UISG during the Hawkeye Caucus at the State Capitol in Des Moines on April 9, 2019. Iowa State Senator Rita Hart (right) speaks with supporters during her meet and greet at Yotopia on June 30, 2019.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Candidates for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District talked COVID-19 response and health care, among other issues, during an Iowa Press debate held in an empty auditorium on Thursday evening. 

The debate featured Republican candidate Marianette Miller-Meeks, a state senator, and Democratic candidate Rita Hart, a former state senator and 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor. Miller-Meeks is an ophthalmologist and the former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Throughout their campaigns, the candidates have often criticized the other’s health-care policy, with both parties accusing the opposing candidate of threatening protections for pre-existing conditions. Both candidates avoided committing directly to their respective party’s platform on health care.

While she didn’t take a hard stance on whether the Affordable Care Act should be overturned — something President Trump hopes will happen after oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court — Miller-Meeks said Congress should prepare a bipartisan plan that protects pre-existing conditions to replace the ACA.

Hart said that the solution to the health-care crisis needs to be solved in a bipartisan fashion so that things can get done in an effective, sustainable way. She didn’t commit to or rule out adding a public option for health insurance, a centerpiece of Joe Biden’s plan. 

She said that it is troubling that many Republicans have tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which she said would take the country backward, and that she’s open to any plan that will build on current conditions. She said she wants to increase transparency on health-care bills so that people are actually paying for the service they received. 

Ads from Republican groups have targeted Hart’s support for a 2018 bill that allowed the Iowa Farm Bureau to offer health care to its members, but the bill didn’t have protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans in the Legislature overwhelmingly supported the measure. 

When asked if she regrets voting yes on the bill, Hart said that she voted in favor of her constituents and what they wanted and needed. She said the bill helped lower health care prices for farmers that didn’t qualify for federal health-care subsidies.

“I think it’s hypocritical that I’m being attacked for that vote. That was a bill that was put out by a Republican controlled legislature, a Republican bill, it’s certainly not a bill that I thought was the right solution, but it helped constituents that were asking for it in my district,” Hart said. 

The Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement that Miller-Meeks proved to Iowans in District 2 that she is a tough leader and has the experience to get results for Iowans. 

“She is committed to rebuilding our economy safely, expanding access to quality, affordable health care, and protecting those with pre-existing conditions,” Kaufmann said. “On the other hand, Rita Hart’s shady campaign is being bankrolled by D.C. Swamp lobbyists and backroom dealmakers. Radical environmental groups, who advocate for policies that would decimate Iowa’s agriculture industry, are controlling her anti-Iowa agenda.”

Candidates were asked about their stances on the coronavirus, preventative measures, and relief effort. They offered proposals on a coronavirus response and the need for a second stimulus package, which Congress hasn’t passed after party leaders failed to reach an agreement.

Both candidates agreed that a second federal-relief package should be issued to Americans and continue to cover unemployment, but neither mentioned a specific dollar amount. 

Miller-Meeks said businesses should be encouraged to bring people back to work while keeping workers’ health in mind. 

“We need to have unemployment coverage at the same time as we’re trying to get people back to work safely, soundly, and in a way that they can feel secure that their health is not at risk,” she said.

Hart said the first relief package showed that Democrats and Republicans could come together to deliver relief to Americans, and that a second package should have been agreed upon by now. 

“We need to be transparent and actually hold people accountable so that relief money actually goes to the people who need it most,” Hart said. 

While both candidates agree that Iowans should wear masks, Miller-Meeks said she doesn’t think there should be a federal mask mandate, while Hart does. 

To prevent future virus outbreaks from being as devastating as COVID-19, Miller-Meeks advocated for every county having its own public health department. She also said the government needs to revisit the National Strategic Stockpile and work with businesses and suppliers to make sure there is always enough personal protective equipment. 

Hart said the country needs to listen to scientists. She agreed that the government needs to make sure to have enough PPE and said that everyone, American citizens and government officials, need to be educated on the issue. 

The Hart campaign released a statement after the debate, claiming “Rita Hart Decisively Wins Debate in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.” The Miller-Meeks campaign did not release a statement on Sept. 24 after the debate.

“Iowa voters saw a clear contrast on the debate stage this evening: Rita Hart’s commitment to working with anyone to create good paying jobs, support Iowa’s rural economy and protect our health care,” said Hart campaign manager Zach Meuiner. “While Mariannette Miller-Meeks spoke with glee about the Affordable Care Act being struck down, reiterated support for cutting Medicare, and doubled down on attacks on the Post Office.”


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