Answers, insults, fact checks in final debate between Casten, Roskam

Ask a question in a fast-moving final debate between 6th District U.S. Congressional candidates Peter Roskam and Sean Casten and be prepared for an answer, an insult and a talking point all in one.

Republican incumbent Roskam and Democratic challenger Casten took turns quickly shifting the focus Monday night of moderator and NBC 5 Political Editor Carol Marin's questions to the points each wanted to make.

During the roughly 22-minute debate as part of the WTTW show “Chicago Tonight,” the candidates took on tariffs and foreign relations, health care and taxes, whether bipartisanship is possible and whether climate change is a major concern.

Yet some of their most sly posturing — as both campaigns traded fact checks on Twitter and tossed out news releases while the debate streamed live online — came when Marin asked about Saudi Arabia.

The nation is of particular importance in the wake of the Oct. 2 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist and a former Saudi royal insider who became a critic.

Some lawmakers are beginning to call for repercussions for the Saudi government, so Marin asked Roskam and Casten how the U.S. should respond to the journalist's killing.

Roskam got the first crack and said the U.S. needs to be “very aggressive” in its pressure on the Saudi government, letting leaders know there are consequences for “shameful” actions.

Then Casten took the question and spun it into what seemed to be one of his main points for the night: values.

“We are at our best as a country when we lead with our values overseas,” Casten said. “One of our values has always been a free press. We are not a credible player on that stage right now.”

Casten said President Donald Trump's recent remarks praising Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter and “encouraging his supporters to attack reporters” diminish the nation's credibility.

“His party and Mr. Roskam are unwilling or unable to call him out,” Casten said about Trump. “And when we don't express our own values internally, we aren't a credible actor on the world stage. And I think we're seeing the rise of despotism and authoritarianism overseas, to some degree, because we are not the model that the world needs to see.”

Roskam twice pointed out “there's a lot to criticize” about Trump and said he has called out the president on things such as “bad tariff policy.” He twice mentioned how actions such as his criticism of Trump earned him the endorsement of the Daily Herald editorial board.

But Roskam said Casten shouldn't be throwing stones about conduct and demeanor. Roskam brought up a recent Wall Street Journal story that paints Casten as willing to use “any means necessary” to gain a majority and win in the hard-fought 6th District, which spans from Naperville to Tower Lakes and includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

The story says Casten answered a question about who inspires him by referring to Dan Savage. The article called Savage a “sex columnist.” Casten called him “a voice for the LGBT community.” Roskam said Casten “bound himself to some people who were advocating political blackmail and political slander.”

“He should distance himself from these people,” Roskam said.

But Casten wasn't finished lampooning the six-term incumbent who has held the 6th District seat since 2007.

“You've run a campaign that's modeled on Donald Trump's. You've spent millions of dollars on playground insults. You've spent millions of dollars lying about your own record and mine,” Casten said. “Let us bring the dignity of the office to where we are. And we are at a moment where we do need leaders that will call out the president.”

Voters in the 6th District will choose their next congressional leader Nov. 6.

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