During their first televised debate, the two Democrats vying to represent Massachusetts’ Seventh District saved their toughest words for President Trump and his administration, instead of each other.
US Representative Michael E. Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said Trump’s foreign policy — which has elevated relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and led to public rebukes of longtime allies like Britain and France — has made the country less safe.
“Donald Trump is the biggest threat on every issue we can think of,” Capuano said.
“I think the biggest threat to us is Donald Trump because we are losing our global standing in the world because of his erratic and chaotic policy making,” Pressley said.
Capuano, a 10-term incumbent, is facing a challenge from Pressley, the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council. The two are vying to represent a majority-minority congressional district that includes most of Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Milton, Randolph, and Somerville.
Their debate, which was filmed Thursday, airs at 11 a.m. Sunday on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record” with hosts Janet Wu and Ed Harding. The news station allowed the Globe to view a recording of the debate before it aired.
Trump came up repeatedly during the 30-minute debate, as Capuano and Pressley blasted the president and his administration on issues including foreign policy and immigration.
Capuano said that while Russia and China work to undermine US democracy, Trump is damaging longstanding relationships with allies.
“To sit there and poke an eye in your allies [who] have helped defend you, that you have stood next to for generations, is just ludicrous in this dangerous world,” Capuano said.
Pressley called Trump’s behavior “treasonous, it is traitorous, is deeply disturbing, and he is in complete denial about the influence that Russia had in our elections, which is threatening our democracy.”
Pressley, who has called for the defunding and abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policies target immigrants who are entering the United States after fleeing violence and poverty.
She said some immigrants living in the district now avoid taking their children to community health centers or picking them up from school, out of concern they’ll be arrested.
“Immigrants and refugees are living under real fear right now, palpable fear, in the Seventh Congressional District,” Pressley said.
Capuano said he has worked to stop Trump policies enforced by ICE.
“Donald Trump is the one who decided to take infants away from [their] mothers. Donald Trump is the one who . . . is trying to take temporary protected status [away] from our Haitian and El Salvadoran friends. Donald Trump is the one who has taken protection away from Dreamers,” Capuano said. “It’s his policies that have to be the focus of our attention.”
Both said they believe Trump could face impeachment after Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I hope so,” Pressley said.
”Yes, I think it might be possible,” Capuano said.
The two candidates shared many positions on questions put to them during the debate.
Both support “safe injection” sites, which would allow users to take drugs under medical supervision, in order to avoid overdosing.
They also both supported athletes’ right to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. Capuano said the athletes have a right to freedom of speech, and Pressley said “I stand in solidarity” with the protesting athletes.
Pressley said she agreed with Capuano when he said it appeared that Trump’s strategy to denuclearize North Korea wasn’t working, after news reports that the country was still manufacturing nuclear weapons.
At one point, Capuano complimented Pressley’s work on the Boston City Council and called her a friend.
The harshest exchange between the two Democrats — relatively speaking — came as Capuano highlighted his work in Congress, which he said includes votes against the Iraq War and Patriot Act, and securing funding for housing development and projects like the Green Line Extension.
Capuano said his work has won him the support of groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood.
“I think that tells you more about the work I’ve done, the priorities I have, than anything I can tell you,” Capuano said.
Pressley said in a rebuttal that having a progressive record in a “dark blue district,” part of which was once represented by John F. Kennedy, is “not necessarily a profile in courage.”
She pointed to stark economic inequality in the district, comparing differences in income and life expectancy in Cambridge versus Roxbury.
“True enough, Trump is a formidable foe, and systemic inequalities and disparities are worsening under this administration,” Pressley said. “But they existed long before that. And I want to lead, organize, and legislate to disrupt these disparate outcomes.”John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.