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U.S. House candidates Haley Stevens and Lena Epstein faced off on attack ads, immigration and health care in their only debate in the race for Michigan’s 11th District.

The pre-taped debate between Stevens, a Rochester Hills Democrat, and Epstein, a Bloomfield Township Republican, on WDIV-TV’s "Flashpoint" came two days prior to the midterm elections and after competitive primaries for both candidates.

Stevens spent time at an advanced manufacturing lab in Chicago after working with the auto task force in the Barack Obama administration, which oversaw the bailout and bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors. A business co-owner, Epstein served as Michigan co-chair for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Their debate included questions on open borders, the future of health care and attack ads run against both candidates.

Epstein said her opponent campaigned on promises to “curb” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and said what’s needed instead is a serious look at the crisis in drug and human trafficking at the U.S. southern border. Stevens denied ever saying the U.S. should eliminate  ICE and said, while she supports immigration reform, she does not support the concept of open borders.

“We need to certainly provide a path to citizenship for those who are playing by the rules and paying their taxes, but we don’t do that through open borders,” Stevens said.

Asked about Trump’s proposal to eliminate birthright citizenship as guaranteed by the Constitution, Epstein said she would support citizenship for the children of immigrants who are in the country legally. 

“When it comes to individuals who are here illegally, I would not be able to support their offspring having automatic citizenship, but ultimately President Trump made the right decision in deferring this decision to the United States Supreme Court,” Epstein said. 

Stevens disagreed. “I don’t think that’s the right choice, and I don’t think the president has a right to do that.”

Even with a GOP majority, Trump has been unable to develop meaningful immigration reform or combat the increasing deficit, student loan debt or instability in the auto industry, Stevens said. Epstein defended her work on the president’s 2016 campaign and said she was pleased with the administration's work, which has included a more vigorous economy.

People in the 11th District, Epstein said, “are feeling incredibly optimistic about the economic prospects for them and their family.”

Epstein stood by attack ad claims that Stevens lied about her role as chief of staff on Obama's auto task force, citing U.S. Treasury Department records called Stevens as a special assistant.

Stevens, who brought a letter from her former boss confirming her role on the task force, denied Epstein’s claims.

“We saved those companies, we saved 200,000 Michigan jobs, we stood up for this region and everything we represent,” Stevens said.

On Trump’s China tariffs, Stevens urged stability for the auto industry and said while the United States needs “to get tough on China,” it shouldn’t do so alone.

Trump is using the tariffs as a bargaining chip with China, Epstein countered, acting on the recognition by many automotive and manufacturing professionals that “China is not playing by the rules.”

“We have been operating in a global environment that has compromised American sovereignty and it has compromised the American manufacturing industry,” Epstein said.

On health care, Epstein advocated for a market-based, consumer-centered plan that provided access to “good quality and affordable health care, including to individuals with preexisting conditions.”

Stevens fired back that one could not support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and still expect to protect those with preexisting conditions. She said Medicare-for all “is a place where we can grow and go into” but planned to focus her efforts on lowering prescription drug costs.

Tuesday’s winner will replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham. The 11th District race between the two “leans Democratic,” according to the Cook Political Report.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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