The proverbial divide between Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21) and Democratic challenger Wendy Davis was widened even further — at least in proximity, if not ideologically — at Tuesday night’s debate as Roy appeared in-studio while Davis attended virtually.
The catalyst for Davis’ decision, the coronavirus pandemic, became an immediate and constant theme in the debate.
Davis criticized Roy’s decision to attend in person, saying it “exemplif[ies] the differences in our ability to lead this community through the pandemic and beyond.”
She further hit Roy for his rhetoric on the pandemic, alleging that he’s called it a hoax. Davis and her proponents point to an interview Roy did with talk radio host Steve Deace wherein he referred to the rampant “fear” spread by the government and media as a hoax.
The San Antonio Express-News ran a story alleging the same “hoax” claim Davis echoed and later had to retract it.
That fear, Roy went on to say, “Is costing lives, economic activity, jobs, [hurting] mental health, and undermining our national security and health of our nation.” Texas’ unemployment ballooned as high as 13 percent after government-mandated closures, but gradually made its way back down below seven percent.
Suicides, already high before the pandemic, have increased even further after the financial crisis and widespread isolation became an inescapable part of life.
Back in March, Roy penned an op-ed titled “Americans Need a Date Certain” in which he stressed the need for “decisive action” and called on the government to “get out of our way.” Roy’s emphasis was placed on the secondary causalties of the lockdown orders and how they, too, must be considered.
Davis then hit Roy for allegedly “contradicting ‘experts’” on positions such as school reopenings. Roy is in favor of allowing schools to resume in-person instruction, while Davis sees the option as unsafe.
Texas’ Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) database shows a 0.5 percent positive rate among students and staff, as of the end of September. Texas schools have opened at varied times for in-person instruction with some still operating remotely.
The other big topic of the night was law enforcement and police reform. Roy hammered Davis for her support of police department defunding. The issue has flared up over the course of 2020 after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Mass protests, some of which progressed into riots, spread across the country demanding reform within America’s police departments.
One example is Austin, part of which lies within the 21st Congressional District. The Austin City Council voted to eliminate or reallocate $150 million from the police department’s budget. That move occurred while the issues stemming from Austin’s homelessness problem have permeated and, reported recently, the city’s murder rate jumped 43 percent.
Davis maintains that reforms need to be made. “We can make sure our police have the resources they need, but we can also recategorize and decriminalize certain behaviors, [and] provide resources to our community so they can deal with drug abuse, mental health, and homelessness outside the criminal justice system.”
Just before the debate, President Trump tweeted that he had ordered the abandonment of next-stage coronavirus relief legislation discussions with congressional Democrats.
Asked about this, Roy focused first on further enabling relief for America’s small businesses — something he has focused on more than almost any other congressional member when, back in May, his bill to reform and retool the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) passed nearly unanimously. He then hit Democrats for “playing politics with a $2 trillion bill full of goodies.”
Davis responded by asserting the virus must be curtailed before businesses can reopen and students go back to school. She further added that the $1,200 stimulus checks “are keeping families afloat right now” and should be reallotted.
She also accused Roy of voting against an extension of PPP money which was part of the $3.4 trillion phase IV bill House Democrats passed. He countered by saying the vote was against the omnibus-like bill that included, among other things, $1.13 trillion in funding to bail out local and state governments — many of which are flush with debt.
“We should’ve put a clean bill on the floor and 17 Democrats joined us on a discharge petition [for the bill],” Roy added, asserting Davis would have joined Pelosi on that vote.
Then asked about whether a federal mask mandate should be implemented, Davis agreed but qualified it by saying “for federal buildings.” She then declared her opposition to “opening everything wide,” referring to allowing businesses to reopen.
Roy followed by mentioning the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a coalition made up of thousands of infectious disease epidemiologists who released a letter advising that society move back toward living life “normally” again, citing mental health and the physical impacts of the shutdowns.
Early on in the pandemic, Roy announced his “Protect our Seniors,” which lays out a strategy similar to the Barrington Declaration.
She has accused Roy of supporting “herd immunity” — which she calls a “fringe theory” — or the prospect of general population-wide immunity to a disease once a certain percentage of individuals are immune to contagion. In the debate, Davis qualified that accusation adding “without a vaccine.”
Roy’s first remarks on coronavirus came on February 18 when Lackland Air Force base took infected individuals from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in which he tweeted: “As more Corona victims are identified in Texas, I am seeking more answers from [the U.S. Department of Defense], [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] about why civilian hospitals are being exposed, what precautions are being taken, & demand more engagement with the [City of San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, & Governor Greg Abbott.”
On March 13, Davis issued a statement, her first on the topic, criticizing the federal government’s response to the pandemic. “As the virus continues to spread, Washington’s paralysis is putting people’s lives at risk. It is beyond outrageous that simple tests are unavailable weeks into this crisis…thanks in part to the dangerously shortsighted decisions to hollow out key agencies tasked with getting America ready for exactly this kind of emergency.”
Another major issue was the open seat on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and the suggestion of “court-packing” by some within the Democratic Party. Davis sidestepped the court-packing question and instead focused on the looming Obamacare case that SCOTUS will consider shortly after the election.
Davis criticized Roy for his opposition to Obamacare, calling him “an architect of trying to decimate [Obamacare].” Roy has been outspokenly opposed to Obamacare, notably for what he sees as an unconstitutional mandate levied by the federal government, but also for its centralization of the process.
One of his proposals to supplant the mostly top-down healthcare system Obamacare implemented are, essentially, strengthened healthcare savings accounts. He is also a proponent of moving away from the laborious insurance-focused system currently employed in favor of direct care.
Roy, however, expressed his opposition to court-packing, calling it a brash reaction to proper institutional procedure, and further lauded Amy Coney Barrett as the nominee.
Additionally, the border, transportation and infrastructure, and guns were all discussed.
Cook Political Report rates TX-21 as a “Toss Up” and millions of dollars have already flooded the district trying gain the pivotal electoral inches necessary to either preserve the longtime red district, or flip it entirely for the first time in 45 years.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.