Rep. Andy Harris (R) and his Democratic challenger, Heather Mizeur, engaged in a rollicking debate in Cecil County on Wednesday, trading blows in the first — and likely only — one-on-one encounter that voters in the 1st congressional district will get.
Mizeur said Harris, a six-term incumbent, has been an ineffective legislator — “a lot of talk and no action” — and asserted that he has been a divisive force in U.S. politics. She accused him of shifting his views on abortion on the eve of the election to moderate his image. And she blasted him for participating in a meeting with President Trump and other Republican lawmakers in late 2020.
“You were one of 10 members of Congress, sitting in the Trump White House… having conversations about how to overthrow a democratically elected (president),” Mizeur charged. “That makes you unfit to serve.”
Harris refused to say what was discussed at the meeting, only that he took great pride in being a son of immigrants who was invited to the Oval Office. According to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, the then-president and his senior officials discussed a plan to “encourage members of the public to fight the outcome on January 6.”
Pressed by reporters after the debate, Harris declined to discuss the meeting in detail, for fear of providing fodder for the Jan. 6 committee. “We did not plot an insurrection,” he said. Harris pushed back on a reporter’s use of the word “insurrection.” He called the bloody, hours-long battle at the Capitol “a protest gone awry.”
Harris portrayed Mizeur, a former state legislator from Montgomery County, as a tax-approving liberal who would advocate for more federal spending. He said Mizeur would back Nancy Pelosi for speaker if Democrats retain the House of Representatives. A Republican takeover, he pledged, would result in safer streets and a more secure Southern border, with less fentanyl and fewer “illegal aliens” entering the country.
He added that Republicans would cut inflation by boosting energy production.
Harris rejected Mizeur’s claims that he has been ineffective or out of touch with the1st District, which includes all of the Eastern Shore and a section of northern Maryland. “She was a highly-paid federal lobbyist. She doesn’t say that, because she wants you to think she’s a farmer,” he said, his voice dripping with contempt.
“I’m exceedingly effective on the Appropriations Committee,” he added. “Ask any of the seafood processors… [and] the people in the tourism industry who depend upon H2-B workers.”
Mizeur said Harris has been so lax in responding to the needs of his constituents that she has begun doing “case work” to connect people with the help they need. Harris rolled his eyes as she spoke. She said that because he opposed President Biden’s infrastructure bill, the Eastern Shore has to rely on Maryland’s Democratic U.S. senators for funding.
Wednesday’s debate was sponsored by Cecil TV, a community broadcasting outlet, and will be available on the station’s web page, cecil.tv. It was held in the Milburn Stone Theater at Cecil College. Approximately 80 people viewed the debate in person. Several attendees cheered Harris’ answer on immigration, earning a scolding from the moderator.
Harris at first declined to debate Mizeur because the station did not invite Libertarian Daniel Thibeault. After an invitation was extended and accepted, Harris agreed to participate. Ironically, Thibeault was a no-show on Wednesday. That meant that the two combatants talked at one another across an empty chair meant for Thibeault.
For reasons that weren’t immediately clear, Harris was selected to go first on every question. As a result, Mizeur got the last word on each of the six topics they were asked to discuss.
A battle over abortion
Mizeur appeared genuinely stunned when Harris declared himself to be a defender of a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for instances of rape, incest and the health of the mother. She accused him of pivoting from what she called his “real” stance on the issue.
“Your position has been the most extreme that it can be,” she said. “You’ve advocated a national ban with no exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother — a total ban. … You are hiding what your true, extreme position is here.”
Harris said he’s a cosponsor of legislation put forward by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would allow abortions up to 15 weeks. He said Democrats — if given the chance — would allow abortions for “sex selection” up to the day of delivery. “I’m sorry. That’s the extreme position,” he said.
Mizeur called Harris’ statement “an absolute offensive outrage to every woman in the state of Maryland.” In a statement to Maryland Matters after the debate, the Mizeur campaign noted that Harris signed on as an original co-sponsor of the “Life at Conception Act” in early 2021. The measure would extend constitutional protections to “each human being at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization…” He added his name to the House version of the Graham bill six weeks ago.
Although Mizeur has raised more money than Harris, the contours of the largely rural 1st District favor him. A member of the influential Appropriations Committee, he entered the closing weeks of the campaign with more cash on hand.
Aware of the hurdles she faces, Mizeur cast herself in the debate as a “bipartisan consensus-builder.” Her campaign has distributed photos of her with Larry Hogan, the state’s popular Republican governor who has stayed neutral in the contest.
Both candidates acknowledged the need to reduce inflation and gain control of the U.S./Mexico border.
Harris blamed inflation on government spending and mocked his rival’s “34-page plan” for improving the economy. Mizeur accused energy companies of price-gouging. Perhaps remarkably, the lawmaker said the Pentagon is “more interested in whether or not you fund transgender surgery than whether you fund a missile system to counter the Chinese hypersonic threat.”
The pair are scheduled to participate in a community forum on Thursday, the first day of early voting.