Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi of New York delivered a master class Thursday on revealing the negative implications of his Republican rival's abortion stance during their first and final debate.
Suozzi is facing off against Republican Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County lawmaker, in a special election next Tuesday for New York’s 3rd District, the seat formerly held by George Santos. In 2020, Joe Biden won the district by 8 percentage points, only for it to flip red in 2022, when Santos secured the seat by nearly 8 points.
The debate exchange between Suozzi and Pilip on abortion rights was likely a preview of how many debates on the issue will play out in the larger 2024 election cycle. It was also particularly notable for the distinctions Suozzi extracted about Pilip's personal beliefs versus the way she intends to govern and whether she would vote for a national abortion ban or a law restoring Roe v. Wade at the federal level.
During this interaction, Suozzi endured a mountain of stonewalling from his rival, who pointedly accused Suozzi of lying about her position and stridently asserted that she believed "every woman" should be able to make their own decisions about abortion.
"I chose to be a mother of seven children. That was my choice," Pilip said. "I'm not going to force my belief to any woman. Therefore, I'm not going to support national abortion ban. Therefore, I'm not going to risk women's right."
Pilip then sought to put Suozzi on defense, telling him he should apologize to her and the public for lying about her position. She also made her gender and personal experience as a mother central to shaming Suozzi, as a man, for allegedly inaccurately portraying her position.
"How dare you lie like this," she said. "I will never, never going to put women's rights and risk women's health care."
Suozzi made eye contact throughout. As soon Pilip finished, he responded, "Are you saying you're pro-choice?"
"Every woman should have that right …," Pilip began to respond.
"That's about laws," Suozzi interrupted.
Pilip replied, "It is a personal decision, a personal choice. Every woman should have that choice."
"So you're pro-choice," said Suozzi.
Pilip again accused him of lying and offered, "Now you have the opportunity to fix it!"
Suozzi opted to stick with his line of questioning on whether Pilip was “pro-choice,” which had begun to irk Pilip. And finally, she conceded to being personally "pro-life." Electorally speaking, being pro-choice would be a nonstarter with her base, and she could not concede those votes.
Once more, Pilip accused Suozzi of playing politics with her position, physically encroaching on his space. Suozzi retreated a bit and cracked a joke to avoid any appearance of escalation. But once she finished, Suozzi redirected, "It's called governing. There are laws in place that Congress members are responsible for. Will you codify Roe v. Wade?"
Pilip dodged, saying she wouldn't support a national abortion ban. And Suozzi then stated her political stances, one by one, noting that she has said she would not vote to codify Roe, and that she believes the Supreme Court made the right decision in overturning Roe, thereby returning the issue to the states. He noted that abortion has now been banned in many states, asking her again, "Would you vote to make Roe v. Wade the law of the land?"
"You sound like you're saying you're pro-choice," he continued, "but then you say you're pro-life. When it comes to the laws, you say you're not going to tell people what to do, but you support the Supreme Court decision ... and you said you will not vote to make Roe v. Wade the law of the land."
The debate moderator eventually stepped in, asking Pilip, "What is the specific piece of legislation that you would support to back the platform you've laid out here?" And Pilip yet again dodged, repeating that abortion is a personal choice and that she would not support a national abortion ban, but she did not commit to restoring Roe.
Pilip came in with a strategy of putting Suozzi on defense as a man who had allegedly misrepresented her stance on abortion. It's a strategy that might have worked if Suozzi had taken the bait. But he did not. Instead, he teased out her personal position, then drew a distinction between declining to support a national abortion ban versus proactively casting a vote to restore abortion access nationwide.
The debate over reproductive freedom has gotten considerably more complex, but Suozzi did a solid job of overcoming his GOP rival's bluster in order to clarify the policy implications of electing her to Congress: Pilip would not codify Roe into federal law.
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