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Abigail Spanberger: 'This election is about the future of our country'

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Posted at 11:10 AM, Oct 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 16:42:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA07) joined CBS 6 News at 7 to answer questions from Bill Fitzgerald ahead of Election Day.

Spanberger is being challenged by Nick Freitas, a Republican delegate for Virginia's 7th Congressional District seat.

The 7th District includes Chesterfield, Henrico, Spotsylvania, Culpepper, Louisa, Orange, Powhatan, Goochland, Amelia, and Nottoway.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The transcripts below were created by a computer program and reviewed by a human prior to publishing. Spelling, grammar, and content errors will be corrected when they are discovered.

CBS 6 News at 7 interview transcript:

Bill Fitzgerald

Three weeks from tomorrow, the polls will be closing at this hour on this year's elections. It is time to meet the candidates. I'm joined tonight by Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger. She is running for re-election to Virginia's 7th district against challenger Republican delegate Nick Freitas. Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.

Abigail Spanberger

Thank you so much for having me.

Bill Fitzgerald

It's a pleasure. Tell us, what is this election about?

Abigail Spanberger

This election is about the future of our country. It's about the future of our healthcare system, our ability to reopen the economy, and get our country back on track. Get this virus under control and ensure that people who have been impacted by it, small business owners, individuals who have faced in unemployment, and certainly those who have been sick or lost family members. That we can get this virus under control and return to a level of normalcy in our businesses in our schools and in our communities.

Bill Fitzgerald

Well, and to that end, recently, the House passed a stimulus bill that was never taken up by the Senate, because the Republican leader said it was too costly. Given the fact that we have this trillion plus now annual deficit to say nothing of the overall debt load that's growing. Can the country afford another big bill?

Abigail Spanberger

Well, so the bill that you mentioned, specifically, I voted against that bill. It was a partisan bill put forth by my fellow Democrats, not negotiated with Republicans, never meant to be law, and most importantly, never meant to actually deliver relief to the American people. But now, in this time of ongoing challenge, this is a time to make investments in our country, leading economists, including chairmen of the Federal Reserves, that we have to continue investing in our own recovery, and that comes in making sure that we avoid a housing crisis, that we ensure that people are not unable to pay their rent or their mortgage, and making sure that our small businesses are able to survive this pandemic so that when they can open normally and fully to full capacity, that they still have doors open.

Bill Fitzgerald

That's right. Fed chair Jerome Powell, last week, all but begging Congress to get a deal done, saying it's gonna last quite a long time, this sort of depressed state of the economy. What about small businesses, including restaurants? They're still getting hammered by these shutdowns associated with the pandemic. Why does it seem like bigger corporations or box stores, that things that are deemed essential, doing as well as ever, but meantime, the small business, smaller, fewer customers, you would think safer, why are they still getting hammered and what can be done?

Abigail Spanberger

So what I've been hearing from small business owners, and particularly within the restaurant industry, is that these customers continue to be nervous to come back, you know, apart and in addition to the regulations about capacity sizes, and this is one of the reasons why I've worked with Democrats and Republicans. When it was clear that negotiations had broken down within House leadership and Senate leadership in the White House, I worked with a bipartisan group of legislators, 25 Democrats, 25 Republicans to create a framework that includes the programs that matter to people and small business owners, and that is an extended use of the PPP program, the Paycheck Protection Program, which one small business owner here in Central Virginia told me was a lifeline for his business. I'm going to continue working and fighting for a next relief package, because as you mentioned, we haven't returned to normal. It continues to be a challenge for many small businesses across our country and they need relief.

Bill Fitzgerald

Now we're getting a lot of calls and emails to the news station about that as well. Exit polling showed health care was a huge issue a crucial issue in your first election two years ago. Republicans, including President Trump, have criticized Obamacare, saying that premiums have skyrocketed. What can you do to make sure that premiums don't keep rising drastically? Whatever happens in the Supreme Court next month?

Abigail Spanberger

Well, the most important thing here is to stabilize our current health care system. What has been a challenge has been listening to some of my colleagues across the aisle and including my challengers say that we should do away with the ACA without any other plan. The ACA is the only law of the land that protects people with pre existing conditions. It's the only law of the land that ensures that those who have faced significant illness are not touched by lifetime caps and coverage. It's the only law of the land that ensures that young people can stay on their parent's insurance until they're 26. And what we need to do is create a public option allowing for additional competition allowing for additional options for those within our communities to be able to get their health care. And Another thing we need to do something we've already voted on the house, which is allow Medicare to negotiate its prescription drug prices, we passed a bill in the House that would have savings at half a trillion dollars. And the great thing about this bill is not only would it impact those who are on Medicare, but per the legislation that we passed with bipartisan support. It would provide those negotiated rates make them available to private insurers, because one of the biggest components from the individual experience, the number one thing I hear about from people across our district, the people I represent is the cost of prescription drugs and the impact that that cost has on their lives. And this is a great first step, one that the house took passed with bipartisan support, and one that I hope we'll be able to pursue again in the future.

Bill Fitzgerald

All right, well, we look forward to hearing more about those details. Thank you, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger running for re-election in the 7th. Normally we would be joining you from Facebook at the bottom of the hour, but because of conflicts, we'll do that next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. We will have Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger on our CBS 6 Facebook feed. Thank you, Congresswoman, we appreciate you.

Facebook Live Q&A transcript:

Bill Fitzgerald

Thank you for joining us on CBS 6's Facebook page. We're joined by Representative Abigail Spanberger, Democrat from the 7th district, who is in the race this time around against delegate Nick Freitas, the Republican from Culpeper. Congresswoman, we interviewed you here on the set of this of the 7:00 o'clock show nine days ago. But we were unable to connect for this Facebook session. So we kind of apologize for the nine day hiatus, hopefully we can kind of pick up where we left off. But how are you doing tonight?

Abigail Spanberger

I'm doing I'm doing just fine. Thank you very much. I hope you all are doing well and staying safe.
Yes. Well, thank you for joining us, we appreciate it. So while we start booting up some of the questions from Facebook. I wanted to ask you, something we sort of glanced on before about infrastructure came up in the debate last night with Del. Freitas. Infrastructure projects seemed to be the way to put Americans back to work, especially when the economy has taken a hit like it has in the pandemic. If President Trump is reelected, is that something you could see working on to get something done? And or maybe it should have already happened? And maybe that means it might not happen?
Well, I think that it absolutely needs to happen. It being a large infrastructure project. And for precisely the reasons that you mentioned, putting people back to work, investing in our economy, investing in our country. But also because across the board, our infrastructure has a D+ rating where the United States of America, our bridges, and our roads should not be crumbling. And it's important, especially when we look at large scale structures, like our electrical grid, ensuring that we are resilient and efficient is beneficial from an economic standpoint, but also, from a resiliency standpoint, long term. I've spoken with trucking companies in the district, and they've talked about the wear and tear, that it occurs from an economic standpoint on their business, because of infrastructure needs, with our with our road systems across the country. But to get at the heart of your question, which is when we could potentially move forward on this. You know, we were supposed to be working towards an infrastructure bill this spring. That was pretty much across the board what the White House was talking about what the Congress was talking about. And then of course, the pandemic hit. Over the summer, we did pass a bill, Moving America Forward, which is a large comprehensive infrastructure investment bill. It passed out of the House of Representatives, we do not anticipate it will get a vote in the Senate. But I think it leaves us with a good starting point. So whoever is in the White House in the new year, the need to get Americans back to work, the needs to invest in our country, particularly at a time when you know rates are low, it's important for us to make wise investments in our future, we can borrow at low rates and put that money back into our country back into employment, and making long term choices about upgrading our nation's infrastructure, making investments in more resilient and efficient infrastructure. And then, of course, my favorite talking point when we're talking about infrastructure is the internet infrastructure and broadband connectivity. Across the 10 counties that I represent. broadband connectivity continues to be a challenge. It's an it's an economic issue, an educational issue, a health care issue. And our bill did include a large investment in infrastructure, particularly broadband infrastructure. And I look forward to continuing to advocate for that perspective, which is broadband connectivity and broadband infrastructure is vital infrastructure, just as roads and electrical grids are as well.
Especially now with all the virtual learning that is going on. Now, obviously, that's going to require a number of bipartisan partners or I should say, you know, partners across the aisle, Republicans. Is it important in your district, which is a Republican leaning district, that you not necessarily present yourself as you 'Hey, I'm a Democrat. I'm a Democrat. I'm a Democrat,' that it's important to demonstrate that bipartisan attitude. Well, I would argue it's an it should be important in every district, because the way we govern is by coming together and building coalitions. And by having the intention, intentional focus of trying to find areas where we can create common ground and build bipartisanship. You know, I am a Democrat. But I love working across the aisle. I have been ranked the most bipartisan member of the Virginia delegation out of the house in the Senate. I'm a member of a bipartisan group called the Problem Solvers Caucus. We're 25 Democrats, 25 Republicans, you know, across the ideological spectrum, but our focus and our desire to be a part of this group and you have to join with a member the other party, so two by two Noah's Ark style, the purpose and the focus of this organization is for us to talk with each other, understand the perspectives that that may come from different political ideas, ideologies and perspectives, but joined together. The 50 of us, Democrats and Republicans, together represent millions of Americans. And our focus is on trying to find that common ground, linking up and and passing legislation together. And the legislation that I have had signed into law focused on border security, protecting children from sexually from the distribution of sexually exploitive imagery, and a bill focus on 5G technology. It's all been bipartisan work. And that's that's how we get things going. That's how we get things moving. And, you know, particularly now in particularly in this Congress, when we have a Democratic majority House and a Republican majority Senate, and a Republican in the White House, we have to find those areas of agreement. It's been my focus. It's also why the US Chamber of Commerce awarded me with their Hamilton Jefferson award for bipartisanship, because, you know, it's frankly, how we are supposed to be governing, we're supposed to have the push and pull of ideas. And then we find and build out coalition's in order to get legislation, not only across the finish line, but legislation that will actually be long lasting, that meets the needs of a whole wide perspective of Americans. Certainly that perspective is representative in my district. But I would argue across the country as well.

Bill Fitzgerald

Last night in the debate, it came up that you the question was asked the greatest national security threat facing us right now and China, both of you mentioned China and Iran and Russia, not necessarily glancingly. But in terms of this election, are you concerned about Russian interference in the way that it was documented in 2016? How, how secure are we, before we even get into counting the ballots and the security of the of the vote that I'm actually gonna go make right now? How confident are you that our security services have a handle on potential bad actors acting at the behest of say the Kremlin?

Abigail Spanberger

Well, just to clarify, my opponent was a bit glancing towards Russia talking about its its interest regionally. To not equivocate at all, Russia is a major national security threat, they continue to attack the foundation of our democracy, and aggress against us in a unique way. And unfortunately, we as a country, with this White House, have not faced that threat with the same aggression, that their efforts against the foundation of our democracy, I would argue with demand. And so the threats that Russia continues to pose Russia, and this is per the FBI and the director of the FBI, Russia continues a campaign of disinformation aimed at dividing the American population, aimed at sowing disinformation, aimed at creating confusion around the election, and aimed at either depending upon who their targets are pushing people out of the political sphere, creating disinterest in political engagement, and creating anger and division within our community. And that's an attack on the very fabric of American society. And that is being facilitated and managed by a foreign adversary nation. They know what they're doing. This is, I mean, this is historical Soviet work. And I'm a former CIA case officer, I used to work these issues. It is clear as day what Russia continues to do, and we need to stand up to them. In terms of what it means for this election, those attacks, those assaults on the American population population continue. Right now they are occurring per the FBI, they are occurring right now. What I do have faith in is the faith of the American people. I have faith that when we have every eligible voter who is registered, come out and vote, we will be able to stand up for the democracy that is ours to ensure that our votes are cast, driven by the ideals of this country, the values of this country, which is that every day forward should be a better day than the one before it. And in terms of the actual infrastructure. As of right now, there are no reports of Russian efforts to change ballots or to change tabulations, but this is why it's so incredibly important that we have paper ballots across the country that in the event that there is ever a doubt cast on what those tabulations may be that we have those paper ballots backups. We have that here in Virginia, but it's vitally important that every state meet that same standard. Especially because there were reports of several states, the IRA or the Big Bear or whatever the names are of the outfits in Russia trying to penetrate various state voting databases but nothing happened but it almost seemed as if it were a test you know, hey, we got in we got out didn't leave a trace, or I guess they left a trace but... In 2016, we know that they did it in multiple places in Florida, where they penetrated the network. But there was no evidence that they had actually endeavored to change anything. So whether or not that's meant to taunt us and demonstrate their strength, or whether or not that's meant to be, you know, a trial balloon for what they might be able to do in the future. It's incredibly important that we understand the risk and and stand up to any sort of adversary that would seek to harm the very foundation of our nation, which is our free and fair elections.

Bill Fitzgerald

Candace has been here very patiently listening to me blabber on. But she's got some of the Facebook questions. And so, what's the latest question now?

Candace Burns

So, I'm here looking over as people are watching the interview on Facebook. We had a few questions about internet and Rep. Spanberger. I know you spoke about broadband infrastructure and legislation that you helped introduce. But if you could specifically talk about especially because it's so important with COVID-19, the plans for rural communities and what's happening. If you could give some details about what that legislation is and how it would help those communities?

Abigail Spanberger

Absolutely. Well, first, I want to mention that the Commonwealth of Virginia has a program the Body Program that is a grant program at the state level that's doing fantastic things across the Commonwealth. And that's being driven by the governor's office. But at a federal level, I have done a variety of things. First and foremost, I want to state that at the beginning, when I was first sworn in, we hosted a large broadband summit in Louisa County, and we had people from across the district attend. We had farmers there we had schooled children there, we had members of local school boards and board of supervisors across our 10 communities or 10 counties, retirees who are interested in this issue, small business owners who wanted to talk about broadband connectivity and what it means to them. We brought in experts to talk about the scope of the problem, understanding the scope of the problem, what grant dollars are available for communities. I reflect back very often on that event, because so many of the stories that I heard at that event and it across my town halls are the stories that drive my work on this. We have in our district, grandparents who drive their grandchildren to county libraries two counties away so that they can do their homework every other Friday, and this is outside of the pandemic. We've got small business owners in Goochland County, who sit on a friend's couch once a week, and do their billing for their small business. And these are the ways that people adapted before COVID. And because of COVID, when businesses, when McDonald's were shut down and libraries were shut down, and you can't go to your friend's house for dinner and tap out some emails in the evening. We we became so acutely aware of the challenges that are facing the community. I have been consistently working on this and last year, I led an effort to increase funding to a program called the Reconnect Program. So the Reconnect Program is a federal grant program that partners with communities communities apply for these dollars. And based on the scope and the size of the project can receive federal dollars directly to those communities in order to enable their internet connectivity and projects. Notably, last year I led the effort to increase dollars in the end, we will work to protect them. And in fact, just this past February, there was a $28 million grant that went to Central Virginia, including four of the counties in our district. And this is the vital step forward, but it isn't enough. So I will continue to advocate for reconnect dollars because the program does provide such a great opportunity for communities that have the level of organization and engagement to apply for those dollars. But the other bill that I have been wholly supportive of has been a bill. As a member of the Rural Broadband Task Force, we introduced a bill called the Accessible Affordable Internet For All Act. And this bill is a large scale historic investment in our nation's broadband infrastructure. And it passed over the summer with bipartisan support as part of our larger infrastructure package that I was talking to Bill about. And this bill would provide funding for coast to coast investment in broadband internet, that would be done through public and private partnerships and grant dollars that would go out to states and localities. This is vitally, vitally important. Because across our Commonwealth and certainly across the country, the divide is significant and it will take the same level of intentionality that led us to connect communities, rural communities to electricity last century, that it will take that same level of focus in order to bring internet connectivity there. Notably, there's another program called the E-rate program that I've been advocating for additional funding and fewer restrictions for that program. This is a program that allows for schools and public libraries to have access to internet infrastructure and to bring internet to schools and rural communities. But currently at this time, when so many children are at school at home, the definition of what a school is changed significantly. So, I've been working on efforts to get E-rate expanded in terms of where those dollars can be spent to ensure that schoolchildren and their teachers are able to utilize those funds to be able to get internet at home via hotspots and mobile devices that enable them to get internet at home.

Candace Burns

All right, and Patricia Ricci wrote in and said that she has pre-existing conditions, and she's worried about insurance companies and even Medicare denying her coverage right now. Can you talk about your efforts to help people in her position?

Abigail Spanberger

So Patricia's comments are, are something that I hear about every day. The need to ensure that those who have a pre-existing condition cannot be denied health insurance, and cannot be denied coverage and cannot be charged exorbitant rates, this is a primary focus of mine. And it has to be because at this point in time, the Trump administration continues to fight to undo the ACA, which is the law of the land that protects people with pre existing conditions. There will be a hearing in the Supreme Court that will determine the constitutionality of this law, the ACA, the law that protects people with pre existing conditions like Patricia, that ensures that nobody reaches a lifetime cap in coverage. It used to be that people who had had recurrent cases of cancer would have to go line item by line item through their bills from the hospital just in case it came back again. So they wouldn't hit that lifetime cap of coverage. That fear is something no Americans should know. The ACA is what allows young people to stay on their parent's insurance until they're 26 years old. And so it's very popular these provisions, but yet we continue to see attacks on this program, on this law, excuse me. Notably, my opponent has called the ACA, a cancer and has vowed to do away with it. And we've seen for years at this point, lawmakers who would who would continue to attack the ACA seek to repeal and replace it, but there's no replacement. It's been years and there's no replacement. So for Patricia, for anyone who has a pre-existing condition, we continue to fight to make our current health care system stronger. But certainly to protect the ACA and the provisions that it provides to people like Patricia, that's protections for pre-existing conditions, and ensuring that you'll never hit a lifetime cap in your coverage.
And if Patricia is on Medicare, is there a danger that even on Medicare, that pre-existing conditions could be denied? Or is it just Medicare has its various structures that exist independent of whether the ACA is the law of the land or not?
Well, so and the way Medicare will be most impacted is there's a doughnut hole with Medicare that the ACA closed up. So on average, the average person who's on Medicare saved one started saving $2200 with the introduction of the ACA, and so those savings would go away. But with her pre-existing condition on Medicare, while millions of Americans might be impacted, Medicare in its current state unless there's continued attacks on that, on that program as well, would continue to be okay.

Candace Burns

A lot of questions about the Second Amendment and specifically Kenny Butler wants to know, do you support stricter gun laws for law abiding citizens and stricter sentences for criminals that violate the gun laws? What's your position?

Abigail Spanberger

So, I support the Second Amendment. I support the rights of responsible gun owners to have and maintain their firearms. I am a former law enforcement officer. I used to carry a firearm every day. I grew up in a house with guns, and in a family with sportsmen. What I support is extending the same law across the board when it comes to firearms purchases. So notably, if you were to walk into a Cabela's or a Walmart, you fill out a piece of paper, that's your background check to ensure that you're not a domestic abuser, you're not a violent felon, and that you are not a prohibited buyer. Because under US law, there are some individuals who are not permitted to purchase firearms, as I mentioned, domestic abusers, those with a violent felony history. But state to state location to location, there are ways to get around those rules. If you purchase a firearm, at someplace other than a federally licensed point of sale. That point of sale, that store, be at a gun show, be out of the back of a car, may not be bound by that same standard. And so the laws in place that says certain people are prohibited from buying a firearm, we should apply that standard across the board. That's why I support what's known as universal background checks. It's not changing the standard it's actually applying that standard across the board. I also support what are known as red flag laws or gun violence restraining orders. And what that means is that when someone's in a point of crisis, like we saw in Parkland, so frequently after the Parkland shooting, we heard people talking about and reporting on the fact that the family and and other people had reported to law enforcement had reported to the FBI that they thought there might be something wrong with the man who would go on to murder students in a school. And law enforcement looked into it, but there was no steps they could legally take. So what gun violence restraining orders do is when there is a point of possible crisis, when there is reason to be concerned, law enforcement can go in with due process, go before a judge and restrain someone's firearm. So this is allowing in a time of crisis for someone to temporarily have their firearms removed and restrained from their, from their possession. In the same way that we would ensure that their constitutional rights are absolutely respected. It is the same process here. But notably, in states that have red flag laws, there are fewer rates of suicide by firearm, lower rates of domestic partners, typically, a girlfriend or wife who's killed by firearm and lower rates of police officers who are shot because when someone is in a point of crisis, they turn the firearm on themselves on those closest to them and on the officers who are responding to the circumstance. And so many states across the country have red flag laws in place because they make our community safer. And certainly they allow for law enforcement to take action when someone is in a point of crisis.

Candace Burns

Barbara Stora asks, what type of covert relief package would you like to see come out of Washington?

Abigail Spanberger

So I've been working to get a COVID relief package for quite some time. I am thoroughly disappointed that we are now in October and have not had a fifth COVID release package. We had four come out relatively quickly. We negotiated them in the House and the Senate. In conversations with the White House, knowing that when we voted on them, they would quickly pass both houses be signed into law and actually deliver relief to the American people. Over the summer when conversations and negotiations stopped. I worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers the Problem Solvers Caucus to create a framework of the programs that are necessary. And so to answer Barbara's question, the programs that are necessary are the programs that I hear about and the need for from constituents. That's extended unemployment, because there continue to be so many people across our district who remain unemployed and are struggling to make ends meet. That includes direct payments to individuals because it is incredibly important that we avoid a housing crisis and ensure that people can make their rent or their mortgage payment. It includes support to our small businesses. Small businesses across the district are struggling and in particular, our restaurant in our hospitality industry has been very, very hard hit. And that's why I want to see continued support to the PPP program, so that small businesses can continue to get the support that they need to weather this storm. And we need to ensure that we're investing and providing support to vaccination efforts and contact tracing and testing. Because the way to get our economy back open the way to get our schools back open again, the way to get our businesses back on the path towards recovery is to ensure that we can test across the country and that we have quick response tests and that we conduct contact tracing. So that not only are we getting this virus under control, keeping people safe and saving lives, but we're also restoring consumer confidence and ensuring that people know they will be safe when they go out.

Bill Fitzgerald

We have just enough time left for one question at this point. But touching on the vaccine. You mentioned last night in the debate that if the FDA had approved the vaccine that you would take it, are you confident now that the the FDA is free from any undue influence in terms of expediting or approving various drug treatments, let alone a vaccine?

Abigail Spanberger

I think there's reason to have concerns certainly the way that we have witnessed that there hasn't been direct access to scientists from the media that we have witnessed that the President in particular will often contradict what has been stated by scientists and some of the most important elements of the advice that scientists and public health researchers have tried to provide, wear a mask, stay six feet apart. You know the basic things that we can do to keep ourselves safe. But I do believe that the FDA, when going through the process, will have a vaccine that is safe. I trust the scientists who are developing it. And I think it's important to note that one of the elements in terms of fast tracking of vaccine that the administration has undertaken. And and I say this as a positive compliment, is that they have ensured that multiple efforts have gone on concurrently. And so one of the one of the changes from what we would typically see in a circumstance that isn't so emergent is that there are so many efforts at developing vaccines happening concurrently. And so I think the American people should rest assured that at the end of the day, despite the unwillingness at times of this administration, or particularly the president, to be very forthright with the American people about the full scope and the devastation of this virus, and the need to wear masks in public and protect ourselves. I believe that we can rest assured that the scientists and the career public health officials at FDA at NIH are doing incredible, incredible work. And so when FDA says there is a vaccine that is ready to be released, I will trust it, and I will take it and I recently spoke to a constituent who's participating in one of the vaccine trials. And he was telling me a bit about his experience, which certainly gives me additional faith in the process. And so I hope that when we get to a vaccine that is cleared, Americans will feel safe to go ahead and take it. Knowing that it's an incredibly important thing to do so that we can continue to ensure that we are defeating this virus and on our path towards a full recovery as a community and as an economy.

Bill Fitzgerald

All right, well, thank you so much for your time tonight. It's been illuminating as always. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger in Virginia 7th district. And thank you to all the Facebook fans who asked some of those great questions.

RELATED: 7th District Congressional candidate Del. Nick Freitas answers your questions

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