Peter Meijer, Hillary Scholten clash over health care, ‘misleading’ claims in Congressional debate

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Republican Peter Meijer and Democrat Hillary Scholten, who are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Justin Amash in Congress, spared over health care and “misleading” campaign advertisements in a debate Thursday night but found common ground on the need for a second coronavirus stimulus package.

One of the biggest topics of the debate, broadcast on WOOD-TV, was the Affordable Care Act.

Scholten, who worked at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration, criticized Meijer for pledging to support a repeal of the health care law if elected. Meijer has signed a pledge from the conservative group, Campaign for Liberty, that stated he would “support legislation to fully repeal ObamaCare and oppose efforts to give the federal government more control of health care.”

“A million people in Michigan would lose their health care coverage without this law,” said Scholten, 38. “It is so crucial that we fight with everything we can to expand access. We’re in the middle of global pandemic.”

On Thursday, Meijer said he would not “support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act without making sure there was a workable replacement that protected pre-existing conditions and expanded access.”

“The Affordable Care Act has failed in that first word — to be affordable,” said Meijer, a 32-year-old U.S. Army veteran. “It has just incentivized companies to profit off of taxpayer dollars rather than encouraging them to compete off of value and quality.”

Scholten and Meijer are locked in what appears to be a close race to replace Amash, who was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in 2010 but is not running for reelection.

The district encompasses Grand Rapids, a large portion of Kent County, part of Montcalm County, as well as Ionia, Barry and Calhoun counties.

The West Michigan region leans conservative, and a Democrat hasn’t represented Grand Rapids in Congress since 1976. But Democrats say they’re well positioned for victory in November, pointing to changing demographics in the district and big fundraising numbers brought in by Scholten.

Elsewhere in the hour-long debate, Scholten and Meijer spoke about the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice, environmental pollution and “misleading” statements and campaign advertisements.

Meijer pushed back against Scholten, after she — while answering a question about pollution and the environment — said Meijer “owns stock in a major coal mining corporation that has put PFAS chemicals into our waterways and has personally profited from that.” Scholten did not identify the company she was referring to.

“My opponent consistently accuses me of putting profits ahead of people,” Meijer said. “I did not profit when I went to Iraq to serve my country. I did not profit when I went to Afghanistan as a conflict analyst. I didn’t profit in the humanitarian aid sector either, and I’m not running for Congress to profit.”

Scholten, in reply, said “we honor your service as a veteran” but “we have to know where the obligations of our elected officials lie.” She pointed to her recent pledge to divest from individual stocks, saying she did so to ensure “people know I’m putting the needs of our constituents first.” Scholten has said she owns about $400,000 in mutual funds.

Meijer, whose family founded the Meijer retail chain, Meijer, has assets of at least $60 million, according to a personal financial disclosure form covering the period of January 2019 through April 2020. The total includes trusts, life insurance policies and stocks that he either controls or is the beneficiary of.

Meijer has declined to commit to divesting from any stocks he owns but says he would put his holdings in a blind trust. On Thursday, he said the only stock that “I personally hold today is five shares in John Deer that my grandfather Jim gave me when I was born.”

While there were plenty of areas of contrast between Meijer and Scholten, they both said they would support a second stimulus package, agreed on the need for more bipartisan cooperation in Washington, and told viewers that adding term limits for U.S. House members was a bad idea.

“We absolutely do need another stimulus,” Scholten said. “But we can’t just be handing out a blank check and running up our federal deficit. If you want frugal, targeted spending, send a Dutch mom from West Michigan to Congress to get it done.”

Meijer said “I think it’s unwise to put what that direct dollar figure would be right now before understanding where are the key areas we need to be supporting. He said he supports providing “direct cash payments to Americans to give that cushion to help folks get through these hard times.”

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