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Politics, Elections and Government

One Week Before The Election, Kansas Congressional Candidates Finally Debate

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Incumbent Congressman Kevin Yoder and his opponent Sharice Davids faced off in their first debate Tuesday at WDAF-TV studios in Kansas City.

Incumbent Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder and his challenger, Democrat Sharice Davids, faced off in a debate on Tuesday afternoon, just a week ahead of the midterm election. 

Both are vying for a seat in the Kansas 3rd congressional district, and Tuesday's debate was the first time the candidates had met in person. Yoder called attention to this in his opening statement, accusing Davids of skipping debates.

"I've done three of them by myself," he said.

In response, Davids told the media after the debate it was "political gamesmanship," and called out Yoder's delay in agreeing to Tuesday's debate.

Yoder arrived with a fresh endorsement from President Donald Trump Tuesday

The questions, asked by journalists from the Kansas City Star, KCPT and Fox 4 News, touched on immigration, health care, Trump and other topics. 

When asked which government program or service was "performing so poorly it should be eliminated," Yoder named the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I think one of the most destructive agencies out there is the EPA," he said. "What the EPA has attempted to do in their efforts to attack Americans and drive up their cost of doing business hurts the economy and is what caused part of the slow recession."

Davids said she was "floored" by that.

"When I think about where we should be spending less money, certainly it's not in protecting our environment," she said. "But I do think there are some regulatory inefficiencies we need to be addressing."

After the debate, Yoder said he didn't want to eliminate the EPA, but he told KCUR the EPA needs a "better balancing act." He said EPA regulations are increasing energy costs and hurting working-class families, pointing specifically to the Clean Power Plan, which the administration wants to toss out.

Davids cited the recently released U.N. Climate Report to argue there's an "urgent" need to take action on climate change. 

Immigration has been a hot-button issue for both candidates, and Yoder seemed to take every opportunity he had to draw attention to a comment Davids made, on the podcast Millenial Politics, in support of abolishing ICE.

Asked whether Congress should move to end birthright citizenship, as Trump told Axios he hopes to do, Yoder skirted the question and answered that the root cause is a "failure to secure our borders."

"My opponent, who's running on a platform of open borders and abolishing ICE, defunding our immigration enforcement, would leave our borders open," he said.

Davids later walked back her comments on ICE, and reiterated Tuesday that she supports "bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform," before saying Trump's plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order is unconstitutional, and an example of why Congress needs to be a check on the executive branch.

"Representative Yoder has failed at that," Davids said.

Protections for LGBTQ individuals also came up in the debate, after the New York Times reported last week that the Trump administration may redefine gender

Davids, who would become the first openly gay person to represent Kansas in Congress if elected, said LGBTQ persons should be a protected class.

"What we've seen this past year from this current administration, back-tracking on some of the protections for LGBT folks, is very troubling," she said.

Yoder said he agreed, and decried discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but he didn't endorse specific legislation that would realize those protections. After the debate, however, he said he would support that kind of legislation, and told KCUR he doesn't agree with the Trump administration's reported move to redefine gender.

So far in the race, polls have shown Davids in the lead over Yoder. FiveThirtyEight has the district leaning Democrat, forecasting a greater than 80 percent likelihood Davids will win

KCUR news intern Celisa Calacal contributed to this report. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope

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