Former Rep. Chris Stewart’s replacement will support Israel in its war to eliminate Hamas, according to responses given at the final 2nd District candidate forum before Tuesday’s general election.

Republican nominee Celeste Maloy and Democratic nominee State Sen. Kathleen Riebe championed American leadership in the world, which they said includes standing firmly with Israel, but both candidates placed conditions on that support when pressed by college students at an event hosted Thursday by the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.

In one-on-one conversations with the institute’s director, Jason Perry, the candidates also emphasized the importance of civility and cutting government spending while they clashed on their vision of federal involvement in water issues and reproductive rights.

What are Celeste Maloy and Kathleen Riebe’s foreign policy views?

When asked what role America should play on the international stage, Maloy said the U.S. is “still the world’s super power.”

“We do have a role to play in the world — I’m not an isolationist, I don’t think we should just ignore everything that’s happening in the world — but we can’t be the world’s babysitter either,” she said.

However, when it comes to Israel, Maloy repeated several times that the U.S. has a unique obligation to get involved and not “let it burn down” — both because of Israel’s top-ally status and the nature of the terrorist threat it faces.

“We have a special relationship with Israel. I think we have a responsibility to support them when they’re defending themselves. We don’t have the same relationship with every other nation in the world,” Maloy said.

In a follow-up to Maloy’s Israel comments, a University of Utah student asked at what point violence against Gazan civilians would threaten that diplomatic relationship, to which Maloy responded: “Obviously there would be some point at which we wouldn’t support them if they were committing war crimes. As far as I know, we’re not at that point yet.”

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Faced with similar questions, Riebe agreed the United States should lead with a muscular foreign policy. However, she expressed worries that internal division has prevented America from displaying a united front to the world and has “provided a vacuum for other leaders to usurp power that maybe they shouldn’t have.”

“We need to be the strong country that we are. We need to come together and be the leader we have been in the past,” Riebe said.

In response to instability across the globe, Riebe said Ukraine and Israel have the right to protect their borders, but she said it is important to strike a balance on Israel’s military operations in Gaza by not downplaying the civilian costs.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis right now,” Riebe said.

As to whether she backs calls for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Riebe tried to communicate the complexity of the situation to her student questioner.

“Trying to alleviate that with a cease-fire is something that we definitely have to think about. Problematically, though, we have a terrorist organization that has figured out ways to put their most important assets next to hospitals and schools,” Riebe said, explaining that while a cease-fire would help civilians in Gaza, it would also help Hamas.

Where do Maloy and Riebe differ on issues?

Having traveled the 2nd Congressional District extensively during their careers and their campaigns, both Maloy and Riebe said water conservation was a top issue in the state. However, they disagreed on how the federal government can help remediate the state’s water woes.

Riebe, who serves as a state senator in addition to being a full-time elementary school teacher in Salt Lake County, said she has been disappointed by what she sees as a lackluster response by the Utah Legislature to the prognosis of the Great Salt Lake.

“I feel like the state of Utah could do more and we aren’t. So, nationally we would have to jump in and try to address that,” Riebe said. “Unfortunately, I feel like this water issue is getting so dire that we’re really going to have to rely on the federal government to come in and tell us what we need to do.”

Maloy, Stewart’s former chief legal counsel who has a background in soil conservation and public lands law, argued the opposite — that Congress’s job is only to back the state’s efforts and provide monetary or regulatory assistance if requested.

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Maloy also sees a smaller role for the federal government on questions of reproductive rights.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade not only returned the question of abortion restrictions to the states, it also left open the possibility that states could someday restrict access to contraceptives, one student noted.

While Maloy said the federal government will likely act to safeguard access to contraceptives, it should do so minimally so as to not use taxpayer dollars to pay for the medication which would trample on rights of religious freedom.

“Generally, I think we’re better off when the federal government does not step in on people’s health care issues,” Maloy said.

Riebe, on the other hand, endorses a larger role for the government to ensure a standard level of abortion access in all states.

“I think there should be guardrails for where you can get reproductive health care nationwide,” Riebe said. “I don’t think we should have bans in some states and not other states.”

Where do Maloy and Riebe agree on issues?

Riebe, who has been endorsed by the House Blue Dog Coalition, said to control the country’s exploding budget deficit “everything should be on the table” for spending cuts.

“There’s a lot of changes we can make in Social Security as well as in the Department of Defense,” Riebe said. “Those have to be looked at. I would be willing to look at each one of those to see where the money is going and how we can be more efficient.” 

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Maloy agrees that spending cuts are necessary, despite their unpopularity.

Both candidates also both spoke at length about the importance of bringing civility back to Congress. 

“I’m going to be unbending when it comes to principles and policies but I’m going to do it without insulting people, and without picking fights I don’t have to have, and without trying to whip people up emotionally in a way that makes politics ugly,” Maloy said. “I think people are tired of being fed political junk food all the time.” 

The winner of Utah’s 2nd District special election will be determined in Tuesday’s general election where Maloy and Riebe will face off, along with a number of third-party candidates.

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