Democrat and former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest squared off with Tom Ridge, a republican and the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, at the annual Only at GW debate Sunday.
The debate was moderated by CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent and GW alumna Dana Bash. Earnest and Ridge debated on Obamacare, the proposed border wall and the complicated process for compromise between parties.
Here are some highlights from the event.
1. Working towards compromise
The debate began with the two speakers discussing how the major political parties could work together.
“I don’t think ‘compromise’ should be an attack word,” Ridge said. “The Constitution is a series of compromises and those who put their arms in a warm embrace around the Constitution ‘ought to read it.”
Both Earnest and Ridge went on to discuss how the current political climate came to be. Earnest said he believed it became most noticeable after Obama’s election in 2008.
“We saw Congressional Republicans engage in a specific strategy to put opposition to Barack Obama above all else,” he said.
Ridge, on the other hand, said that the disagreement was the result of concerns over the effectiveness of policies like the stimulus program.
“There was legitimate debate about whether paying people to install windows and weatherization was really the kind of stimulus you needed,” he said.
2. Debating the border wall
The debate then moved to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and the threat by the administration to cause a partial shutdown of the government if Congress fails to fund the wall in the next spending bill. Ridge said Trump’s advisers should redirect their focus to other issues of concern more relevant to the average American.
“Mr. President, you want to do Obamacare this week, you want to do taxes this week,” Ridge said. “Let’s not get it all torn asunder by focusing one this one small item, important to you, but not so much for the average American and for the government to keep functioning.”
Earnest said the fact that Trump demanded the federal government help fund the wall hurt his argument.
“I feel like I would be particularly challenged to make an argument that made sense to shut down the government over funding for a wall that I had spent the last two years saying that somebody else was going to pay for,” Earnest said.
3. Defending Obamacare
The conversation then moved to Obamacare and the political figures discussed its effectiveness. Although Ridge said that Republican leadership failed to provide an alternative to the bill, Earnest defended it.
Earnest said that Obamacare reflected the free market ethos that Republicans value.
“Obamacare is actually centered on a Republican idea,” Earnest said. “This idea of free markets, competition and fostering that kind of competition to drive down prices to benefit the consumer.”
Freshman Emma Young said that the debate was a good break from the combative discourse of the past few months.
“It was certainly a relief to not see them arguing the whole time,” she said.