In their battle to represent Maryland’s District 6 in the next Congress, Democratic incumbent John Delaney and Republican challenger Amie Hoeber don’t see eye to eye on issues ranging from gun control to health care insurance—and, particularly, last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. But, at the same time, neither has adhered strictly to the current orthodoxy of their respective political parties.
In winning an eight-way Republican primary last spring, Hoeber was the sole GOP contender to speak out in favor of abortion rights—a stance on which she took heat from some hard-core conservatives in her party. “I think the federal government should simply stay out of it. I feel that way about the abortion issue, I feel that way about gay marriage,” Hoeber said in a recent interview. While saying she is personally opposed to abortion, she added, “I feel these are individual choices, and the federal government should not say one way or another.”
The abortion issue is a relatively rare matter of accord between Hoeber and Delaney, who also supports “reproductive freedom for women” while saying, as a Catholic, he is personally opposes the procedure. More broadly, Hoeber’s abortion stance speaks to something of a libertarian streak in Hoeber who, at 74, is making her first bid for elected office—and is skeptical of having the federal government involved in most matters “The federal government is not the most efficient way to provide anything, except for defense,” she declared.
For his part, Delaney, 53, has brought to Congress a philosophy more centrist than many of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. In the past year, he has parted company with other Maryland House Democrats on issues ranging from trade to limitations on Middle Eastern refugees.
“I’m probably viewed as more pro-defense than most Democrats, more pro-business than most Democrats,” Delaney said in an interview. While terming himself “fairly liberal” on matters involving social and environmental policy, he added, “I also tend to be more supportive than most Democrats of our national security and military.”
Nonetheless, national security and homeland security policy has produced some of the sharpest exchanges to date in the battle to represent a district that extends from Potomac and Gaithersburg nearly 200 miles west to the edge of Maryland’s Panhandle.
Hoeber, who has spent five decades working on defense policy—the last half of that as a national security consultant—has called the eight years of the Obama administration “a true disaster” with regard to such matters. “I am an expert in national security. I think Congress has a major role to play in that and, as an expert, I believe I can do a far better job than our current congressman—who has voted the wrong way on every national security issue in my view,” Hoeber recently asserted while speaking to a group of voters.
Of late, sniping between the candidates has ranged from border security to chemical weapons control. “We need to get our borders under control before we can begin to deal with the immigration problem,” Hoeber declared during a subsequent interview, accusing Delaney of voting against an amendment to a defense bill this year that would have provided border security officials with Humvees and night vision goggles. Delaney responded by criticizing the proposal as “a dangerous partisan amendment which gave individual states dramatically increased ability to fly military attack predator drones capable of using Hellfire missiles over U.S. soil.”
Delaney then counterattacked by going after Hoeber’s national security record, which he said had been “consistently wrong”—citing Hoeber’s Senate testimony two decades ago against the Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1997. “If Amie Hoeber had her way, we never would have entered into this treaty, 90 percent of the chemical weapons stockpile would not have been destroyed and United States troops would be at greater risk of being hit with chemical weapons,” Delaney declared. He was alluding to findings last year by the international group charged with implementing the treaty that 90 percent of the world’s “declared stockpile of…chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed.”
In turn, Hoeber called Delaney “absolutely wrong about the chemical weapons being destroyed,” saying that all U.S. chemical weapons and “most” Russian chemical weapons had been destroyed through a program she designed and implemented as a deputy undersecretary of the Army in the Reagan administration during the 1980s—prior to the Chemical Weapons Convention. She called the latter treaty “absolutely unverifiable—it has not been signed by some countries, and even some countries that have signed it have violated it.” Declared Hoeber, “That treaty did not stop the use of chemical weapons. I believed at the time I testified against it that it would not—and I stand by my testimony.”
Such is the substance and tenor of the debate in Maryland’s most competitive race for elected office this fall, and it’s likely to escalate in the two months remaining until Election Day. What follows is a rundown of the differences between Delaney, seeking to retain the House seat he first won in 2012, and Hoeber, a fellow Potomac resident, on a number of the hot-button issues of the 2016 campaign:
Common Core education standards
While originally developed by governors and chief education officers in 48 states to set standards in language literacy and mathematics, the so-called Common Core curriculum has become a flashpoint among conservatives critical of the increased federal role in education. Calling herself a “strong opponent of Common Core being run at the federal level,” Hoeber believes the federal Department of Education can be “majorly trimmed,” adding, “I want to go back to much more local control of schools, something with which my opponent disagrees. He would expand federal control of education to the pre-kindergarten level, way beyond where it is today.”
Delaney is a supporter of national Common Core standards, arguing, “It actually matters what the educational product is in Louisiana as compared to Maryland, because we’re a global technologically interconnected economy.” But he dismissed as “utter misrepresentation” Hoeber’s suggestion that legislation he has sponsored to provide federal block grants to states to expand pre-kindergarten education would mean expanded federal control. Delaney said states would have the option of whether to accept the money, while adding that most criticism of his plan is coming from the political left—because the block grants could be used for vouchers at pre-K programs run by private schools and churches. “The last thing I’m doing is forcing [the states] to have a federal curriculum,” he said. “I’m saying the states should run the program.”
Hoeber is generally opposed to further restrictions on the sale and ownership of firearms. “If the objective is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, why does one assume passing a law will prevent people who break the law from doing anything?” she asked, echoing an argument frequently voiced by gun rights advocates. She also opposes a proposal by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to do away with exemptions to legal liability for gun manufacturers. “Do we have liability for Ford Automotive if you hit someone with a Ford car? There’s a parallel there,” she said.
Delaney, however, reiterated the contention of gun control advocates and a number of law school professors that, thanks to a 2005 law, gun manufacturers “have certain protections where they are given status that other U.S. manufacturers don’t enjoy,” adding, “So, yeah, I would be in favor of leveling the playing field.” Unlike some congressional colleagues, Delaney does not favor limits on the number of guns an individual can own. But he complained that “very few people who purchase guns in America are subject to any background checks. And that is a loophole that a majority of Americans believe—and a majority of [National Rifle Association] members believe, by the way—is not appropriate.”
Delaney said he would have voted for 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation, authored by a bipartisan group of eight senators, that passed by a wide margin in the then-Democratic-controlled Senate—but was never brought before the Republican-controlled U.S. House. “There are things about that agreement not to like,” Delaney said, “but it fundamentally did the things we needed to do.” One of its provisions included a path to legal status for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The ability of these immigrants to apply for permanent resident status was conditioned on several “triggers,” including steps to secure the U.S. southern border and full implementation of measures intended to verify the citizenship status of those who seek employment.
Hoeber, asked about calls by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, said, “I don’t think that can happen.” She said “we need to…figure out how you handle the immigrants who have been here six months versus the immigrants who have been here 20 years.” Hoeber added, “If they pay their taxes, learn English and truly are assimilated, we need to be able to figure out some way to accommodate them. But that’s different from handling of the illegal immigrants who have come in in the recent past, and been disruptive.”
She also said “we need to figure out what to do with the multiple sanctuary areas”; Montgomery County is one of about 300 jurisdictions nationwide with policies not to cooperate in the prosecution and deportation of undocumented immigrants. She praised the work of Sheriff Charles Jenkins in neighboring Frederick County, who she noted has “rounded up and deported several thousand illegal immigrant in the not too distant past.” Hoeber said Jenkins believes “it’s cut down the crime in Frederick considerably. He feels this can be done on a more or less local basis and, if it is done in a concerted fashion, it will make a difference.”
Delaney was the only Democratic member of the House from Maryland to support giving President Obama expedited authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal involving countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. The controversial agreement, likely to come before Congress later this year or next year for final approval, is strongly backed by Obama, but opposed by both Clinton and Trump. “I think this is a good deal for the country, and, particularly, I think it’s a good deal for Maryland,” Delaney said. “I’m actually very disappointed in my colleagues for not supporting it as Marylanders. But it’s an example of where I’m willing to break with my party.” He contended the agreement will be “hugely positive” for the 6th District by benefitting agriculture in western Maryland and technology firms along the I-270 corridor in Montgomery County.
Although the bulk of the TPP support in Congress is coming from Republicans, Hoeber remains “skeptical,” saying, “If you look at what happened with [the North American Free Trade Agreement], my district lost jobs as a result of NAFTA.” She said she had not had the opportunity to research whether the TPP would have a similar impact, “but I certainly think that needs to be examined carefully. I would not support it if it cost my district jobs.” While Delaney said “I anticipate voting for the agreement” pending a review of final details, Hoeber said she has not reached a decision on how she would vote if elected and the agreement comes before Congress after January.
Iran nuclear deal
After publicly agonizing over how to vote on the deal negotiated by the Obama administration in an effort to block Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, Delaney voted to approve the agreement a year ago when it came before the House. He has since been under repeated attack by Hoeber for that vote. Hoeber is vowing that, if elected to Congress in November, she would push for the United States to back out of the deal—on the basis that it is an agreement, not a treaty.
“I don’t think the agreement is slowing them down in any serious fashion,” she said of Iran. While acknowledging that “they have fewer centrifuges spinning today than they did before the agreement,” Hoeber said the country still has “about 5,000 spinning today, as compared to about 6,000 before the agreement…They are still in charge of the verification regime in that they can take the samples at their national security sites and submit them to the [International Atomic Energy Agency]. I don’t think that’s an adequate verification regime.” Asked what she would do to restrain Iran if the agreement were repealed, she said: “I would go back to trying to get some sanctions. I would go back to trying to get as much international cooperation [as possible].”
Delaney termed the agreement “imperfect” and said that had he been in the White House, he would have “sent it back to the negotiating table.” In deciding to vote for it, he cited support for the agreement among major U.S. allies, and that “it definitively gets Iran to sign an agreement that they will never pursue nuclear weapons, it immediately and materially degrades their capability [and] it materially pushes off the time it would take to actually develop a weapon.” All of that, he said, made the agreement “worthy of voting for.” While acknowledging that “obviously, you can’t trust” the Iranians, he added, “I think the inspection regime we have, together with our intelligence capabilities and the intelligence capabilities of our allies, will put us in a position to know what they’re doing as it relates to their nuclear program.”
Hoeber said that had she been in Congress in 2003, she would have voted in favor of sending U.S. troops to Iraq “because of 9/11.” She also said the United States was “too quick” in withdrawing troops from Iraq “because we didn’t have a plan as to how to support the country after we pulled out.” While she has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration on this front, she acknowledged in an interview that “pieces” of the blame belong to the Bush administration that preceded it and negotiated the timetable for a withdrawal. “The U.S. has not done a good job in any administration since Reagan that I am aware of in terms of overthrowing a dictator and then being able to assist that country in creating a viable government,” she said. “If we don’t have a way to stabilize afterward, it’s not clear to me that overthrowing them makes sense.”
Delaney said “it’s hard to know” how he would have voted in 2003 on sending troops to Iraq if he were in Congress “because it’s impossible to remove all the factors that we know now”—a reference to the since-discredited claims that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. “What is still to this day utterly shocking about that decision is that it was made based on a statement of facts that was obviously not true,” he said. “You could argue that the invasion of Iraq was one of the most immoral things this country has ever done. You could argue that the decision to invade another country that was not posing a risk to our nation is a very significant violation of our values.”
Delaney said “the bigger issue to really focus on right now” is the situation in Syria, where half the population has been displaced—“the equivalent of 160 million Americans being displaced,” as he put it. “I think that has been the most significant foreign policy failure that we’ve had in recent years,” said Delaney, who described himself as “slightly more hawkish” than the Obama administration on this front. He said he has advocated imposing a no-fly zone in Syria and more aggressively providing aid to rebel forces; he also split from other Maryland Democrats late last year in supporting Republican-sponsored legislation to expand background checks on Syrian and Iraqi refugees. While American intervention in Iran was seen as an “overreaction,” Delaney said, in Syria “we continue not to respond to the crisis with the appropriateness it deserves.”
Delaney and Hoeber come down on different sides of this issue, but agree that the debate over the future of the nation’s healthcare system is more complicated than often acknowledged. Hoeber said she “would like to” repeal Obamacare—the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010— “but the problem there is that a simple repeal is not a solution. The Obamacare process has destroyed the medical system that existed before it came about. You can’t simply do away with it, and think you’re going to go back to what it was, because that’s not possible.” She said that “we need to determine what we want a medical provision process to be in this country, and that’s going to be a longer political process.” Asked about the apparent success of Obamacare in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by an estimated 16 million, Hoeber said, “I’m not sure it will continue to go down under Obamacare.” She cited the recent exit of several major insurance companies from exchanges, or risk pools, in several states.
Had he been in Congress in 2010, Delaney said he would have voted for the Affordable Care Act because “on balance, it was a good piece of legislation.” But, he added, “The problem with the Affordable Care Act is that Congress should not do something big and transformative…and not sign up for 10 years of fixes, because you can’t presume you get it right. We basically unleashed a huge piece of legislation, and we can’t fix it. And that’s just a tragedy for the American people.”
Delaney attributed the problem to political gridlock, while putting much of the blame on the Republicans who control Congress. “You could do a lot of things to make it better,” he said of Obamacare. “But Congress, because the Republicans want to repeal it and the Democrats have basically been forced into a position to say it’s perfect, can’t fix it….It’s too good a political issue for the Republicans.”