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Becchi, Sherrill Spar Over COVID, Trump In 11th District debate


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This story was originally published on the independent news site MorristownGreen.com and is reprinted here with permission.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill  (D-NJ11) and GOP challenger Rosemary Becchi clashed over COVID-19, Donald Trump, gun reforms and law enforcement Sunday in their first virtual debate.

“What I don’t want to do is keep our families on lockdown, or our economy,” said Becchi, a tax attorney from Short Hills. “We’ve got to find ways to open back up safely and securely.”

Sherrill, the first Democrat to represent the 11th Congressional District in 34 years, said the nation first must get the pandemic under control–which she said President Trump has failed to do.

“We can’t get businesses open, we can’t get kids back to school if we don’t handle the global health crisis,” said Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and Navy helicopter pilot who lives in Montclair.

Both candidates agreed it’s important to follow health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sherrill said Becchi has not been masking up on the campaign trail, and questioned President Trump’s judgment for returning to rallies so soon after his coronavirus diagnosis.

Hosted by New Jersey Globe, the hour-long debate drew about 2,000 viewers. Becchi went after Sherrill’s record, but the tone was much more civil than the presidential debate earlier this month.

The challenger contended Sherrill was in lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and had not fulfilled a campaign promise to follow a moderate path. Sherrill would not commit on whether she would continue supporting Pelosi as speaker.

Sherrill’s “very partisan approach” had not served the District, and particularly veterans, well, Becchi said.

“I think you deserve somebody that will put the people over the politics, and that’s not what you have,” Becchi said. “When I’m in Washington, I will put the people over the politics.”

Sherrill rapped Becchi, a former advisor and attorney for the IRS and tax counsel for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, for her Washington lobbying to help Exxon Mobil skirt environmental regulations, and for supporting a 2017 tax bill that capped state and local property tax deductions at $10,000.

“She’s continued throughout her career to lobby against the regulations that keep New Jersey families safe while I’ve quite frankly spent my entire career serving the people of this country and of New Jersey,” said Sherrill, who seeks her second term.

Becchi, who initially announced she was running in the 7th District, said she has lobbied for lower taxes and fewer regulations.

The 11th District spans parts of Morris, Essex, Sussex and Passaic counties. Trump edged Hillary Clinton by one point in 2016.

The candidates differed over Trump’s foreign policy, the Affordable Care Act and qualified immunity for police officers against lawsuits by defendants.

Sherrill said Trump has taken far too long to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan; he’s cozied up to dictators and damaged relations with allies with his “chaotic” foreign policy.

Becchi said she supports Trump’s policies and believes he has been working to remove the soldiers.

Becchi contended Sherrill wants to defund police and take away citizens’ guns. Sherrill, who does not support defunding police, chided her opponent for an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

Debate moderator David Wildstein said this campaign is only the fifth congressional race in New Jersey history with a woman representing each major party.

The candidates agreed that Congress needs more female voices.

“I wholeheartedly support the idea of getting more women elected from both parties because I think it’s really important that we hear all perspectives,” said Becchi, 48, a mother of three who said she is Pro-Life.

“I think it’s critically important that we raise up the voices of young women and that we have that seat at the table,” said Sherrill, 48, a mother of four, who is Pro-Choice and supports restoring cuts to Planned Parenthood.

The candidates will face off again this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, at 7:30 pm, at a virtual debate hosted by NJ Insider.

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