How Rep. McMorris Rodgers and Natasha Hill responded to two of our toughest debate questions

click to enlarge How Rep. McMorris Rodgers and Natasha Hill responded to two of our toughest debate questions
Daniel Walters photo
It's always helpful when Republicans wear red and Democrats wear blue

The Inlander, the Spokesman-Review and KSPS joined forces today for an hour-long debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and her challenger, Democrat Natasha Hill. Topics included everything from abortion to hydroelectric dams, funding for the war in Ukraine, and legislation to help Afghan allies immigrate to the United States.

For the most part, it was a debate heavy on substance, as the long-time Congresswoman and her attorney opponent eagerly dove into the weeds of policy.

There were, however, a few incorrect claims. No, it's not true that McMorris Rodgers joined two other congresswomen in "heckling" President Joe Biden while he was talking about veterans' issues during the State of the Union speech. (The photo of McMorris Rodgers smiling as two of her colleagues were shouting was taken during a "Build the Wall" chant after Biden talked about securing the border, not when he was talking about toxic burn pits.)

No, it's not true that every House Democrat but one voted for a bill to allow "abortion up until birth for any reason — sex, race, disability, including those with Down syndrome." (In fact, after fetal viability, the bill still allows states to restrict abortions unless a doctor concludes in good faith that a "pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.")

There are likely plenty of other claims to check, but we wanted to take a moment to show two exchanges centered around statements that both opponents had made in the past. Don't just consider the arguments they're making — consider whether they're answering the question honestly and directly.

First, let's look at a question that we've been trying to get answered ever since the days after the riot on Jan. 6, when McMorris Rodgers put out a statement that appeared to take some personal responsibility for defending Trump while turning a blind eye to some of his misdeeds. We wanted to know specifics — and whether the moment had changed her approach to Trump going forward:

After the January 6 riot at the Capitol, you wrote a message lamenting what had happened on both sides of the political discourse, including a section saying that Trump supporters like you had "turned a blind eye to arrogant, prideful and bullying behavior from the former president." Do you believe you personally turned that blind eye to Trump's behavior? And if so, how have you changed your approach to Trump in the year-and-a-half since?

I gave that statement on January 6. That was a dark day in our nation's history. It was un-American what happened at the Capitol on January 6. And President Trump, I felt that he had crossed the line.

I made a decision that day to uphold the vote of the Electoral College, to certify the vote of the Electoral College. I believe that the election — that there were questions that had been raised, that needed to be answered in order that people would have confidence in our elections. And that is where I have continued to say that we need to be willing to answer these questions.

Republicans and Democrats have concerns about election integrity and a peaceful transfer of power is contingent upon that. And I have gone to work to be a representative that will build trust in representative government.

Just, I wanted to ask about you personally — have you personally turned a blind eye to Trump's "arrogant, prideful and bullying behavior," and if so, how?


On that day, we saw — I was referring to the approach that he had taken at different times, that stirred up people in our country.

I think that the actions that happened that day were driven by people who believed that there were election procedures that had changed leading up to the November election. And that questions had not been answered.

I made the decision to uphold the Electoral College and I believe that President Biden is the legitimate president. But I also believe that in order to ensure election integrity that we need to be willing to answer questions and get to the bottom of election integrity that both Republicans and Democrats want.

I guess I still haven't gotten the question answered about, have you personally turned a blind eye to his behavior?


I made that statement. I called out the president for being arrogant at times and treating people disrespectfully. I have called him out where it was important to do so. 

We need some direct answers here, right? If you're going to turn a blind eye, and you haven't changed behavior since then, we expect that you're going to continue to do so and not own it.

What we did hear is that she did not condone some of his behavior. But she didn't call out lies, she didn't call out the disparaging, you know, of vulnerable communities, to the extent that we needed a representative to do in a region where we have so much division and extremism. You have to stand up, you cannot just sit by in silence. And to turn a blind eye when our democracy is at stake, and to perpetuate these lies up until there's a violent act?


I've been very clear that what happened on January 6 was unacceptable, I've been very good at what happened on January 6 was unacceptable. I made the statement that day. There's other examples when I have made statements when I felt like President Trump crossed the line. And I stood up for what I thought was right, and I will continue to do so.

We also pressed Hill on one of her potential vulnerabilities with a conservative electorate. The comments she made at a racial justice rally in 2020, where she not only expressed support for the message of Black Lives Matter "that the police need to be defunded,” but also had choice words for anyone who donned the police uniform.

During the 2020 racial justice protests, you said that police were "created to return people escaping from slavery back to slave masters," and also that police officers, quote, "are complicit in the worst gang this country has ever seen." What would you tell a police officer considering voting for you?

I've actually talked to several officers and I consider quite a few friends. I even had one of my D.A.R.E. officers DJ one of my events: Officer Gordon Grant. I am not unwilling to have conversations with folks. But there's got to be accountability.

None of us want to see what happened to George Floyd ever happen. Again, when an officer commits misconduct, there needs to be accountability. There also needs to be a reckoning, and a recognition of the history of law enforcement in our country. And it doesn't mean we can't fix things, doesn't mean we're gonna get rid of them. We need law enforcement for safety.

We also need other first responders and other social service programs to meet the needs in our community to keep them safe and to keep our communities safe.

So what I would say to any officer is, "Look, you know, if you look at the history, that was what started law enforcement, it was to return property that included slaves. That included other things, too. But that was part and parcel. We ended up with this hodgepodge across our nation. And what we haven't done is build systems of accountability and discipline into these agencies.

"Every agency has it. Lawyers have it. Doctors have it. We are held responsible when we engage in misconduct. I can lose my license and my ability to earn money for my family. And so it just means that nobody is above the law. And we all have to be held to the same standards."


Well, I think this is the kind of rhetoric that is making our community less safe. And Natasha has repeatedly called for the defunding of the police and she did call the police the biggest gang in this nation. That's the kind of rhetoric that is making it hard to recruit. It's impacting morale, and ultimately, leading to our community being less safe.

The men and women who put on the uniform to keep our community safe every day are a pillar in our community and the large, large majority are really helping keep us safe.

Public safety is a big concern for everybody. That part, I think we agree on across the aisle. When it comes to the history and the lack of discipline and accountability in our systems, I have not personally called for anything. I am a citizen and I'm a constituent in your district, Congresswoman, how could I call for defunding the police? I don't have the ability to do that. And the Democrats haven't done that either.

We've been allocating more money because crime has gone up since COVID. Both violent crime and property crime. But we're not addressing all the issues. Our Congresswoman just voted against funding for mental health services for students. We need substance abuse treatment programs. We need all these other things to keep our communities safe.

But I have not called for anything. Those are statements made in my individual capacity at a protest and rally on behalf of Black Lives Matter, which is not the Democratic platform or my campaign platform.

The Democrats and Natasha have called for defunding the police —

—That is not true.

Even in Congress, there are efforts to defund the police, members who are calling to defund the police. There was a bill that passed just recently calling for defunding the police. There was a bill that passed just recently that would send in mental health counselors to the scene rather than sending in a law enforcement officer.

Governor Inslee has tied the hands of law enforcement so that they cannot pursue. The Republicans are calling for — and I support — more law enforcement officers, more training. I voted for our training, I voted to give the law enforcement officers the training and support that they need to do their jobs and keep us safe.

I think we have to just draw this distinction, which is between rhetoric and facts. And the facts are not that anyone has called for defunding the police. We have allocated more funding... To blame individuals means that you're not taking responsibility for your position and your representation. And so ultimately, we have this division. We've got to move past it. We've got to be able to work together. I think everybody agrees we need accountability and transparency in all of these systems. And nobody's above that, the Republican Party is no longer the party of law and order. We saw that during the January 6th insurrection.

The whole hour-long debate aired on KSPS at 7 pm tonight.

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...