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John Curtis faces brunt of attacks from GOP Senate candidates during Monday debate

By Carlene Coombs - Daily Herald | Jun 11, 2024
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U.S. Rep. John Curtis, left, reacts to a statement made by Trent Staggs, right, following the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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Brad Wilson speaks during the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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Jason Walton speaks during the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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U.S. Rep. John Curtis speaks during the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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Trent Staggs speaks during the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

Four Republicans running for Sen. Mitt Romney's U.S. Senate seat took to the debate stage Monday night to discuss Donald Trump, the national debt, health care and more.

Rep. John Curtis faced a handful of attacks from other candidates, especially from former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson and Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs.

During Staggs' closing statement, the mayor claimed that Curtis had traded in a specific company the "same day" the company received a grant from the federal government. Staggs did not provide evidence of his claim when taking questions from reporters after the debate.

"On March 4 of 2020, Abbott Laboratories was awarded a federal grant. On that same day, John Curtis purchased stock in that company," Staggs said in his closing statement, right before the broadcast was to end. "This is the problem in Congress. At a time when somebody should be looking out for their constituents, they end up looking out for their own profit."

Curtis, who had already given his closing statement, interjected after Staggs finished and asked the moderator for time to respond.

"You wait until I have no response," Curtis said. "You've accused me of a felony here tonight. You better have very good evidence and I'd like to challenge you to produce that evidence that somehow I've committed a felony and if that's how you're going to work in the Senate, the people of Utah will be very disappointed."

After the debate, Curtis did not shake Staggs' hand and was heard saying "cheap shot" to Staggs as he walked past him.

While taking questions from reporters afterward, Staggs said he never said Curtis was involved in insider trading or accused him of a felony.

"Look, I did not accuse him of a felony," Staggs said to reporters. "This is the problem, that it's allowed in Congress to go ahead and trade stocks in that way. I think it's a problem, don't you?"

A 2020 filing report shows Curtis reported a transaction from Abbott Laboratories of between $1,001 and $15,000 at the end of March 2020.

A poll conducted by HarrisX for the Deseret News shows Curtis leading the race, with 34% of respondents saying they support the congressman. Staggs received 16% in the poll, Wilson 12% and Jason Walton 4%, with 33% of respondents being undecided.

Donald Trump and election results

A majority of the candidates pledged their support to former President Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate and expressed anger or disappointment regarding a New York jury recently convicting the former president of 34 felonies.

Staggs used the question as an opportunity to jab at Curtis for not explicitly saying that he has endorsed Trump for president.

"I know there's some ambiguity as to whether John Curtis has even endorsed President Trump, but I have and I'll be able to go back there on day one and work with President Trump like nobody else," he said.

Curtis rebutted, saying he's the only candidate on the stage who has experience working with Trump, noting he supported The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Trump pushed forward.

"I've said I will support the Republican nominee for president and that's very simple," Curtis said.

Walton said the New York trial was the federal government being "weaponized" by a current president against a political opponent.

"Donald Trump has been the most attacked and maligned, persecuted president or presidential candidate in the history of the United States of America," Walton said.

Wilson said he thinks it's "very important we elect Trump this year," specifically pointing to tax cuts that were passed in 2017 and are set to expire.

When asked if they would accept the presidential election results later this year, Staggs didn't answer yes or no, instead saying there was evidence of fraud last election and it's "something we have to take a look at." Wilson said he won't accept election results if there is proven fraud.

Walton and Curtis both said yes, with Curtis adding that elections are a state issue, not federal, and they are constitutionally required to accept the states' results.

Access to birth control and IVF

Candidates gave varied answers when asked if they would protect access to birth control and in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

Staggs gave a short answer, saying that he would protect access to such health care. Both Walton and Wilson stated the issue was beyond the scope of the federal government and should be left up to the states.

"The federal government needs to just be out of this issue completely," Walton said, adding these "personal issues" should be handled at the local and state level.

Curtis said yes, he would protect IVF, but added that he would need "more details" when it comes to legislation protecting contraception before making a pledge.

"The line between birth control, contraceptives and abortion sometimes grows very thin, and I would need a whole lot more details before I was going to commit," he said.

Last week, a measure that would have prevented states from restricting access to birth control failed to pass the U.S. Senate, according to The Washington Post.

In February, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos were considered people under state law, according to the Alabama Reflector, temporarily halting IVF services until the state Legislature passed a bill allowing the treatments within the state.

The national debt and economy

Candidates continually referenced the nation's economy and growing national debt, with lowering the debt being a constant talking point for Walton.

"We're saddling our children with generational debt," Walton said. "It is a horrible thing to be doing. And it's also the reason why I got in the race."

All candidates agreed they wouldn't support raising taxes as a way to offset debt and would look for places to cut spending.

Staggs lobbied for eliminating the Department of Education, ending funding to the United Nations and cutting staff within the Department of Defense as ways to reduce spending.

Walton said career politicians are "addicted to spending" and the country needs businessmen like himself in office to tackle financial issues.

Curtis said the "one thing I won't support is increasing taxes" and advocated for finding ways to reform social service programs like Social Security, such as adjusting the eligibility age.

Wilson turned to his experience as the state house speaker, saying he would bring the "Utah model" to the Senate to control the debt and spending.

Immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border

Immigration has become a hot topic this election year and Monday night's debate was no exception.

Walton claimed President Joe Biden was "business partners" with Mexican drug cartels and was purposely allowing undocumented immigrants into the country in the hopes of boosting the Democrat vote.

"With the cartels, I think, in my opinion, it's a gross example of the Bidens -- Joe Biden and the Democrats -- wanting votes because they perceive that the people who are illegal immigrants, the majority will be Democrats," he told reporters after.

Last week, Biden signed an executive order to temporarily close asylum requests if the average daily amount exceeds 2,500, which already has been reached. The temporary closure can be lifted when the number reduces to 1,500, according to NBC News.

All of the candidates supported reimplementing the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" policy, with Wilson and Staggs saying they supported building a wall along the Southern border.

Wilson commented on a statement made by Curtis in 2017 that the idea of a border wall carries "pent-up racism," referring to an interview the representative did with The Salt Lake Tribune after he ran campaign ads calling to build a wall, with those ads later being removed.

"John Curtis said that building the wall was pent-up racism," Wilson said. "I don't believe that's the case. I think building a wall is like having a good fence with a good neighbor."

Curtis rebutted, saying if all that Wilson could come up with was a quote from seven years ago that was taken out of context, then he "feels pretty good about that."

In addition to supporting a border wall and Remain in Mexico, Staggs called to cut off benefits to undocumented immigrants and called the influx of immigration an "invasion."

Mail-in ballots for the primary election already have been sent to voters and need to be postmarked by June 24 or be placed in a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. June 25.

In-person voting will be held at the Weber Center, located at 2380 Washington Blvd., June 18-21 from noon to 6 p.m. and on Election Day, June 25, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ballot drop boxes are located at all of Weber County's city offices, its county libraries, the Weber Center parking lot and also on campus at Weber State University. Drop boxes are open 24 hours a day and will close promptly at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

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