U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who have rarely differed on issues during their race for the 7th congressional district, offered different stances Wednesday in their final televised debate on criminal justice, police protests and funding for a proposed border wall.
During the roughly 30-minute debate on Greater Boston, Capuano and Pressley avoided addressing each other directly and personal attacks, choosing instead to focus on their individual records and experiences.
Pressley, a Boston city councilor-at-large with Chicago roots, launched her campaign against Capuano around the phrase “Change Can’t Wait” — though she has publicly acknowledged that when it comes to voting in Congress, she would not differ much from her opponent.
But tension rose when she criticized Capuano for expressing a willingness to compromise on an omnibus immigration bill, which included funding for what she called “Trump’s hate wall” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the southern border.
“That was not a clean DREAM Act,” she told moderator Jim Braude. “I will sit at the table and compromise and work with anyone in the name of progress, but there are things I’m unwilling to compromise and to negotiate on and that is the rights of women, of immigrants, of workers and the LGBTQIA community.”
Capuano countered, saying that almost every Democrat voted for a comprehensive immigration bill that had some money for a border wall.
“It’s great to be perfect, but Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren, Sen. [Edward] Markey, Sen. [Bernie] Sanders all voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that had we had an opportunity to vote for in the House, I would have voted [for]," he said. "It would have saved a lot of hassle for people in temporary protective status, DREAMers and the mothers and children being separated at the border.”
Asked about recent controversial comments made by Sen. Warren, who was speaking at a university in New Orleans where she described the criminal justice system as “racist,” Pressley and Capuano found solidarity with Warren’s statement, though Capuano offered a caveat.
"I think it's more than just intentional racism, I think it's institutional racism,” Capuano said, lauding local officials for their efforts to address criminal justice reform. “But I want to be real clear: I think most people in the criminal justice system are trying to do the right thing and trying to get it right.”
Referring to the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated as “modern day slavery," Pressley touted her efforts on Boston City Council to reform the system and called for bail and sentencing reform to be part of the solution.
When the topic turned to the National Football League where players are taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, there were some notable differences as well.
While in support of the players’ right to protest, Capuano said “I personally think if you’re going to raise an issue like that, you should do it in a way that’s actually going to bring people in,” adding that he thought that particular action “divided America.” Capuano, however, said he agreed with the concept of protest, which was started with former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick.
Pressley said she supports both the cause and the tactic, adding “it is necessary that we are disruptive right now and making people feel uncomfortable.”
Capuano, the former mayor of Somerville and 20-year incumbent in the U.S. House of Representatives, has touted his long record in Congress and has pointed to the federal funds he’s had allocated to the district, including for MBTA improvements.
Over the course of her campaign, Pressley has pointed to the wealth disparity in the district, which includes parts of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Chelsea. She says remedying this is one of the changes that can’t wait.
Among Capuano’s priorities if re-elected would be defending immigrant communities, pushing for comprehensive gun control, and resisting Trump.
Wednesday was the last day to register to vote in the Massachusetts primary election, which will be held Sept. 4.