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Roskam and Casten debate abortion, guns — and Trump

Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Rep. Peter Roskam on Thursday tried to paint political newcomer Sean Casten as a liberal President Donald Trump of sorts — accusing the Democratic challenger of being a bully with words and tweets.

The Republican incumbent has been accused of voting in lockstep with the Trump Administration, but on Thursday, Roskam tried to turn the tables.

“What you’ve heard in a litany of descriptions of what I’ve brought out about my opponent and how he characterizes people, how he ridicules people, how he demeans people — I think is really Trump-like,” Roskam said.

But Casten — who called Trump the “worst president of our generation” — fought back by arguing that the west suburban 6th Congressional District should be represented by someone who supports abortion rights and the middle class and opposes Trump.

Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Guns, abortion, taxes, immigration and accessibility took center stage in the first televised debate in the hotly contested congressional race.

And the 45th president was a recurring theme.

During the debate, Roskam rated Trump as “good on the economy, bad on other issues.”

“When it comes time to standing up against the administration on things, I’ve been consistently doing that, reflecting the interests of our constituencies,” Roskam said.

Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Casten, a clean energy businessman, said Roskam’s support for Trump matters to constituents: “When I talk to the voters, the last thing they want to talk about is Trump. … I think this election is about facts and character.”

Roskam said he has advocated for tax reduction and regulatory changes with the Trump administration.

“I think President Trump is the worst president of our generation,” Casten said. “Every day he’s in the office is a risk to our country.”

Sean Casten debates Rep. Peter Roskam at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Sean Casten debates Rep. Peter Roskam at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

The debate, moderated by political editor Mike Flannery and broadcast on Fox-32 Chicago, was held at the Union League Club of Chicago — which isn’t in the district the two are fighting to represent. The debate was sponsored by the TV station and the public affairs group The Lincoln Forum.

Both candidates participated in a debate on WBBM-AM radio earlier this month, and Roskam told reporters Thursday that his campaign is “working schedules” on the next one, despite Casten’s repeated claims that Roskam isn’t an accessible candidate.

Outside the historic building, Casten supporters from Indivisible Chicago and Planned Parenthood of Illinois, among other groups, held signs with slogans such as “Hands off our healthcare,” and “We need money for healthcare not tax cuts for billionaires.” Roskam supporters chanted “Roskam” on the other side of the street.

Sean Casten, right, debates Illinois 6th District Rep. Peter Roskam at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Sean Casten, right, debates Illinois 6th District Rep. Peter Roskam at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Roskam has been forced to defend his record on Trump policies, and he’s fighting to keep his seat in a district that saw Democrat Hillary Clinton win by 7 percentage points during the 2016 presidential election. Casten — who beat out six other Democrats in the primary — is hoping a “blue wave” will give him enough momentum, and cash, to surge his campaign forward.

Roskam said he has a “capacity to bring people together.”

The two went back and forth on issues they staunchly disagree on. Casten likened abortion to a “medical procedure like a gall bladder surgery,” while Roskam argued taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for procedures they don’t support.

“I’m not going to be defensive about being pro-life,” Roskam said, while Casten said the issue is “entirely a matter of choice.” He spoke of the importance of accessibility to contraception and for women to have safe abortions.

Roskam’s campaign handed reporters a list of “Trump-esque tweets” he said Casten had sent out, and that’s a theme he circled back to during the debate and after.

“He channels the same type of ridicule that Donald Trump is using on Twitter,” Roskam told reporters after the debate. “I thought it was interesting he said tweets don’t matter and yet, clearly they do.”

Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Rep. Peter Roskam participates in a debate with his Democratic challenger, Sean Casten at Union League Club of Chicago on July 26, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Roskam was referring to a tweet Casten sent out that said the congressman cut a children’s health insurance program. Casten admitted the mistake and said he deleted it: “Tweets don’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things,” he said.

Asked about his distaste for town hall meetings, Roskam said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin too shunned them during Obamacare debates, saying they’re “stunts.” Roskam claims he’s met with more than “20,000 individuals or groups” and has had 475 meetings in his district.

“But there’s a criticism that you don’t hold town hall meetings,” Flannery said.

“Yeah, fair enough,” Roskam responded.