Speaking before members of one of the largest Muslim organizations in America, Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock and Democratic business owner LuAnn Bennett made their case for why they should be elected to Congress from Virginia’s 10th congressional district.
In a town hall format Oct. 21, each candidate answered a series of questions from a panel of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) members and some of the more than 400 people in attendance at the organization’s Sterling center. This was likely to be the candidates’ final appearance together before the Nov. 8 election.
Comstock, as she has throughout the campaign, focused much of her time on her accomplishments in government and the community. She talked about her relationship with ADAMS, commending the center’s work with a local health clinic, food bank and job fair.
“I’ve come to learn and know so much from everyone here in the community,” Comstock said.
Bennett spoke more specifically about her policy positions, many of which appealed to the predominantly Muslim crowd. She said she supported allowing more Syrian crisis refuges than the current 10,000 already permitted into the country.
“We can’t close our borders,” Bennett said. “We can’t turn our back on our values.”
Her response received loud applause from the audience. The issue has been of particular importance for many of the nearly 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. In 2015, Comstock supported the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which paused the refugee program for both Syrian and Iraqi refugees until the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence unanimously certified that an applicant didn’t pose a threat to national security or the safety of the American people.
Bennett also said she supported the Black Lives Matters movement and progressive increases to a $15 minimum wage. Both positions received vocal support from the crowd at ADAMS.
Questions were tailored toward each candidate. Comstock fielded two on Metro, where she reaffirmed her support for the expansion into Loudoun County and touted her fight to maintain $75 million in funding against Republican opposition. She also said her vote against Metro funding while a member of the Virginia House of Delegates was because of larger budget concerns, and that she is working for increased funding and safety enhancements in the future.
When asked about House Resolution 569, an act sponsored by fellow first term congressman Don Byer (VA-8th) condemning violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims in the United States, Comstock said she was not familiar with it but is always open to listening to the community.
Comstock gave similar assurance during a question about how police and people of all communities could better work as partners. She said she had worked with the FBI to better promote the accomplishments of ADAMS and other Muslims in law enforcement and policing.
In a similar question, Bennett said Muslims are often viewed through the lens of national security issues. She said she supported Community Oriented Policing Services programs as well as increased diversity in law enforcement hiring.
On immigration reform, Bennett said she supported a comprehensive approach, as well as the 2013 bill passed by the Senate that has stalled in the House. Comstock said the current system is broken and rejected calls by some to ban all Muslims from entering the country. She said she supports allowing H1B visa that permit immigrants with skills and backgrounds in fields like technology and healthcare to come to the country if sponsored by an employer.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for, at times, a complete ban of Muslims from entering the country and/or “extreme vetting.” After months distancing herself from the GOP nominee by not formally endorsing him, Comstock officially repudiated Trump earlier this month following the release of a video where he made lewd comments about women.
On Oct. 13, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, released a poll of Muslims that showed 72 percent supported Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The poll showed Trump with 4 percent support.
The same poll showed 62 percent of respondents said that the Republican Party was unfriendly toward Muslims (compared to 51 percent in 2012), while 2 percent said that the Democratic Party was unfriendly (compared to 6 percent in 2012).
The candidates each began their respective town hall sessions touting recent endorsements from Super PACs. Comstock announced she had been supported by Emerge USA while Bennett announced her support from American Muslim Women.