BEVERLY — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) and his Republican challenger vying to unseat him in the Sixth Congressional District, Joseph Schneider, differed on how to improve the country’s divisive political atmosphere and their positions on immigration on Wednesday night.
The pair’s only scheduled forum ahead of the Nov. 6 election became heated when Schneider challenged Moulton’s bipartisan voting record and accused him of accepting dark money for his campaign, along with repeating his challenge for the Salem Democrat to agree to more debates.
The “Talk the Vote” forum, hosted by WBZ Newsradio 1030 at Endicott College, came the same day pipe bombs were sent to homes of prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, along with CNN. Moderator Dan Rea mentioned the attacks in the discussions on political divisiveness and violence.
“Our country is at a time in history where we don’t have civil discourse. There’s deep divisions in our country,” said Moulton, adding that it’s the not the kind of country he wants for his daughter, who was born two weeks ago.
Moulton, running for a third term in Congress, said he’s found that courage is lacking in Washington, rather than intelligence. He said Congress needs new leaders who are willing to not only take on the establishment, but also their own party leaders. He said there needs to be leaders willing to stand up to President Donald Trump, but they also have to be able to work on both sides of the aisle to get things done.
Schneider said the cause of the problem is a corrupt political system that has evolved in America, which has led to hyper-partisanship. What he called a “turbulent political class” has to be eliminated, and cited his No. 1 priority as establishing term limits in Congress, which he argued is the only way to take money out of politics and “give the power back to the people.”
Although he said one term would be ideal to serve in Congress, when pressed, Schneider said a realistic number would be two terms for the Senate and six terms for the House of Representatives. Moulton has stated in the past that he was interested in exploring term limits for Congress.
Schneider spent much of the debate on the offensive, which included attacking Moulton over his partisan record. Schneider cited C-SPAN figures which showed that Moulton has only voted against the party majority on one occasion.
Moulton countered by saying Schneider’s claims that he goes “99.9 percent with the Democratic majority” were not true and that he has a good bipartisan record.
“That’s just not true. I’m the 34th most bipartisan member in Congress,” said Moulton, citing an analysis of bipartisanship completed last year that ranked him in the top 10 percent of most bipartisan members in Congress.
Schneider continued to needle Moulton, saying the Salem Democrat wants younger leaders who are going to stir the same pot and aren’t going to do anything.
“He got elected the first time around because of dark money,” Schneider said. “He votes for all the special interests.”
In response, Moulton said he beat an 18-year incumbent to get elected, adding that he’s not dirty and supports principled leaders.
Following the forum, a spokesman for Moulton said in an email to The Item that he wasn’t sure “where the dark money riff came from, but everything we take is reported through the FEC.”
The issues of immigration and abortion were also brought up.
On the latter, which was asked by an audience member in the context of conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh being elected to the Supreme Court, Moulton gave a more pointed response, saying the “government should stay out of your bedroom.” Schneider danced around the question by saying the issue of women being abused is a serious issue, before answering when pressed by Rea.
“I think the issue on abortion has already been decided by the Supreme Court (and) I think we need to follow that,” Schneider said. “I don’t think the government has any role in making decisions that people should be making for themselves.”
The candidates were also asked about how they would advise Trump on the migrant caravan, which is reportedly a massive group of Central Americans pushing toward the U.S. without papers, with many fleeing violence in their home countries and attempting to seek asylum in the states.
Moulton said the president doesn’t know what to do with the caravan and despite his promises, has not fixed immigration. He said the country needs secure borders and officials should be promoting legal immigration. But he said if people are seeking asylum, and fleeing for their lives from gang violence, they should be allowed to come, unless they are criminals.
Schneider said the immigration is not a Republican problem, but rather a Washington problem. The reality, he said, is when the Democrats had control over Congress under Obama, they did nothing. Now, he claims there have been attempts to reach a bipartisan solution, but the Democratic resistance to Republican attempts is too strong.
Both candidates have distinguished military backgrounds. Moulton, a former U.S. Marine, served four tours of duty in Iraq. Schneider, a child refugee from Romania, is a former Green Beret who was educated at West Point.