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Feehan, Hagedorn debate Trump, tariffs and farming

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MPR News editor Mike Mulcahy, and candidates Jim Hagedorn and Dan Feehan.
MPR News editor Mike Mulcahy (left) hosts a debate between 1st Congressional District candidates Jim Hagedorn and Dan Feehan.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

Republican Jim Hagedorn and Democrat Dan Feehan went back-and-forth on healthcare, tariffs and climate change in a heated debate Friday.

The MPR News debate was the latest for the two candidates vying to take over the southern Minnesota district, which is open after incumbent DFL Rep. Tim Walz decided to run for governor.

It's one of the most-watched races in the nation, with millions already spent from outside groups and a recent visit from President Donald Trump to stump for Republican candidates.

Here are some of the big issues they tackled in the hour-long debate:

President Trump and the role of Congress

Much of the race centers around Trump, who wont the district by 15 points two years ago but has enacted trade policies in the meantime that have gotten mixed reviews.

Hagedorn, who is making his fourth run at the seat, has embraced the president in the campaign. "It just so happens that the campaign I ran in 2016 matched with President Donald Trump," he said.

But he said he had frustrations with Congress during Barack Obama's years in power, and thinks the House of Representatives needs to be a check on the administration. "Congress and the legislative branch needs to reassert its authority in many ways," he said. "Independent branches of government, checks and balances."

Feehan, an Iraq War veteran, teacher and former Pentagon official, said he's running to be an "independent voice in Washington, D.C." He said Congress is meant to be a check on the president but it has become "hyper-partisan" in the era of Trump.

"I am willing to work with the president when it benefits southern Minnesota, but you better bet that I'm also willing to stand up to him," he said.

Tariffs and trade

The two also differed on the issue of tariffs and trade policy, which could have a big impact in the farming-heaving district.

Republican Jim Hagedorn (left) and Democrat Dan Feehan.
Republican Jim Hagedorn (left) and Democrat Dan Feehan debate on MPR News Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

Hagedorn said he's not a "fan of tariffs" but he supports the president's move to try and reset trade policy with other countries. Hagedorn noted that he was raised on a grain and livestock farm near Truman.

"In the end, the president's goal, and it's my goal, is to get rid of these barriers, get rid of global markets."

Feehan was more critical of the tariffs and said he wants Congress to act as a check on the administration on trade policy. He also pushed back on Hagedorn framing himself as close to the farming community and pointed out his years as a staffer in Washington, D.C. He called him an "insider" who would serve like one.

"Washington is full of Jim Hagedorns right now," Feehan said. 

Water quality

An ongoing survey of all of Minnesota's lakes and streams found that many bodies of water in the southern Minnesota district are polluted. But Hagedorn said he doesn't "buy that premise." "They don't give farmers credit for being good stewards of the land," he said. "I think we're doing just fine."

Instead, he criticized the Environmental Protection Agency and Democratic officials for putting too many clean water regulations on farmers trying to make a living.

Feehan said the government needs to invest more in clean water infrastructure in small towns, saying farmers can't do the work alone.

Democrat candidate Dan Feehan speaks at MPR News debate.
Democrat candidate Dan Feehan speaks at the MPR News debate.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

"It has to be one in which farmers are a part of the conversation and leading the conversation," he said. "Because at the end of the day, they care as much if not more about the quality of the land and the water."

Healthcare cost crisis

The two candidates find almost no agreement on the issue of rising healthcare costs, either.

Feehan said he would like people to be able to buy into Medicare, a policy many Democratic candidates are pushing this fall. "The status quo isn't working, but we can't afford to go backwards on this," he said.

Hagedorn quickly tore into the Affordable Care Act, saying he would support repealing it and replacing it with "free market reforms."

He supports a system that allows people buy health insurance, medical care and prescription drugs at pre-tax prices.

"This will be the biggest tax cut most people will get," he said.

Tax cut bill

If they had been in Congress late last year, Hagedorn said he would have voted for the tax cut bill, the largest since the 1980s. Feehan said he would have voted against it.

Feehan said "millionaires and billionaires" benefited the most from the tax bill. "I have opposed it, because it didn't take tax reform in the right way," he said. "It's dishonest to say working people got the best deal they possibly would have had."

Hagedorn said the tax bill was good for businesses, which will use money saved in tax breaks and put it back into the economy. He also said it was good for farmers.

"There are lots of families who are collecting $1,000 or more dollars each year," Hagedorn said. "Should we have more tax reform, individual tax reform? I've also called for that."

Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn speaks at MPR News debate.
Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn speaks at the MPR News debate.
Tony Saunders | MPR News

Climate change

A recent dire report from the United Nations on the impacts of climate change drew dramatically different responses from the candidates.

Hagedorn said whether you believe in climate change "or not," he would push for more pipelines, refineries and crude oil drilling on U.S. soil to increase the nation's "energy independence."

Feehan said the report shows something farmers are already experiencing in the district: Increased rainfall and other impacts of climate change that make their job harder. "It's real and it's here," he said.

He was critical of the president for pulling out of the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions and would support a climate reform bill in Congress.

The Mexico-U.S. border wall

Hagedorn backs Trump's proposal to build a wall and increase security at the United States-Mexico border, and believes the nation in general makes it too easy for immigrants to enter the U.S. illegally and stay.

"We need a wall, we need fencing, we need every kind of security border we can so that illegal folks, drugs, everyone else, don't come to the United States unless they come through a legal process," he said.

Feehan said there are greater threats to American security than the border, including cyber and bioterrorism threats. He said farmers in the district support work programs for immigrants to fill much-needed positions.

"If our entire focus is on the wall, we are going to miss things that are a bigger threat to this country along the way."