Mills, Nolan get testy on TPP during KSTP debate

ST. PAUL--Incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., and GOP challenger Stewart Mills III met Sunday for a contentious half-hour debate televised by Twin Cities station KSTP.

ST. PAUL-Incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., and GOP challenger Stewart Mills III met Sunday for a contentious half-hour debate televised by Twin Cities station KSTP.

The event was their second debate in the 2016 campaign for the 8th U.S. Congressional District. Mills and Nolan also faced off in September for a debate at the Duluth Playhouse.

Their debate at KSTP studios in St. Paul Sunday was even more bitterly fought than the Duluth debate. As if taking their cues from the presidential debates with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the candidates engaged in multiple bouts of talking over each other and badgering their opponent.

The two sparred on allowing Syrian refugees into the country, the Affordable Care Act, and a comparison of each other's approaches to helping the Iron Range get jobs. Moderator Leah McLean was forced to try to wrangle Mills and Nolan back on topic.

Mills attempted in his opening statement to tie Nolan to Clinton. He said Nolan's values aligned more with Clinton and "the Washington D.C. elite" than the 8th District, naming issues like coal, guns, the Iran deal, and Syrian refugees.


But the most acrimonious portion of the debate came when the subject turned to Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with Asia that's drawn bipartisan opposition as a supposed job-killer. Nolan cited a third-party political ad with an audio clip which Nolan said showed Mills voicing support for "these free trade agreements."

Mills said the clip had been spliced out of context. He didn't support TPP, he said.

"Congressman, that is a lie," he told Nolan.

Nolan pointed out it was Mills' voice on the recording, asking Mills rhetorically if it was his voice.

Mills called on Nolan to demand that the full audio of Mills' comments on trade agreements be released. Nolan could turn to the camera right then and demand it, Mills said.

Nolan said it was against the law for campaigns to coordinate with third-party groups like the one that made the ad.

"What you're suggesting is illegal," Nolan said.

He also said he would be "more than happy to have them" release the full audio, but their conversation was "all on camera."


Earlier in the debate, Mills had said the U.S. economy couldn't be "hermetically sealed" inside the border and that some "really tough" aggressively negotiated trade deals were necessary.

He was in favor of creating a special agency to enforce trade deals to make sure foreign

partners didn't cheat the U.S., he said. Both candidates said they opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly known as NAFTA.

Interviewed after the debate, Nolan said him bringing up the third-party ad as an attack line was fair game.

"He said he supports free trade," he said of Mills. "Free trade is not the kind of trade he was talking about (in the debate). Free trade is, no boundaries, no tariffs, no taxes, no regulatory regimes to obstruct trade."

He pointed out Mills never denied it was his words in support of free trade in the audio clip. That Mills supports free trade and also is opposed to TPP are two things at odds, Nolan said.

Mills' exact words in audio circulated by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee don't clearly reference TPP specifically.

"I'm for free trade, and we need a free trade agreement," he said in the clip. "We need to be part of the Asia-Pacific alliance."


In an interview backstage after the debate, Mills said the clip didn't reflect his earlier comments that he opposed TPP and the U.S. should negotiate tougher trade deals, which had been spliced out.

"They should release that entire audio recording," he said.

Minimum wage and tax reform

The two also clashed on taxes, with Nolan bringing up Mills' opposition to the federal minimum wage. Mills said it was a mischaracterization to highlight just his opposition to the federal minimum wage, as he's in favor of the states setting minimum wages.

Nolan said Mills "favors tax breaks for super rich and Wall Street billionaires." Nolan was in favor of raising their taxes, he said, as he subscribed to the theory of growing the economy from the middle out rather than trickle-down economics.

Mills said he was in favor of a "fairer and flatter tax code" and that those who fall below the poverty line shouldn't pay "any income tax whatsoever."

There should also be a more limited number of deductions available, he said.

"It doesn't have to be just one or two or three or four, but it's got to be small enough where we could fill it out on the back of a postcard and send it in," he said.

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