In recent months, Congress has had to respond to several urgent and pressing issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic response is on the top of the list. With cases continuing to rise, prompting states to scale back on reopening efforts, Congress has been working on efforts to both curb infection and aid those negatively affected by the pandemic, including business owners and unemployed workers.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, the incumbent, who was elected in 2014, has held the seat for three terms. In the primary, he will face five challengers from four political parties.

He is running against Tracy Wright, a Republican efficiency consultant from Grand Coulee; Sarena Sloot, a Republican nurse practitioner from Kennewick; Doug McKinley, a Democrat and attorney from Richland; Evan "Ev" Jones, an airline employee from Richland who is an independent; and Ryan Cooper, a Libertarian and newspaper kiosk salesperson from Pasco. Sloot was not available to answer questions before publication.

Primary ballots are due on Aug. 4. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to the general election in November. 

Newhouse raised $611,481, according to a report that covers contributions from Jan. 1 to March 31 of this year. Sloot was second with donations of $3,526. 

How should the U.S. and Congress best respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

Cooper: In June, the federal government reached a terrible milestone, spending almost a trillion dollars in one month. As bad as this coronavirus is, if we drown in debt, there will be no money for anything else. But if we’re going to give coronavirus help, we should give it to people directly. The Paycheck Protection Program loans went to a lot of organizations that were not small businesses. It’s not the role of the government to bail everyone out. If you want to give help to citizens, you can’t do it long-term, and you can’t make it a permanent thing.

Jones: We have public officials in our community here in the Tri-Cities that have been spreading misinformation and countering science-based protocols. I would be out there, putting out the facts. I would be working with local officials to see if something is not working. If you look at Central Washington, we have a poor performance on flattening the curve. It is a reality that Gov. Jay Inslee’s program has been one size for all. I would urge more flexibility to try something else to improve.

McKinley: If you had an intensive lockdown for three weeks, then the number of new cases would drop significantly. That’s what other Western democracies did. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The economy isn’t just going to bounce back on magical wishes. It’s going to bounce back when consumers think the virus has been contained. The longer it drags on with these half-hearted efforts, the longer we’ll deal with these numbers of daily infections.

ELECTION 2020: Complete coverage

ELECTION 2020: Complete coverage

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Newhouse: We need to continue with what we’re doing. That’s providing a bridge, for employers, for workers, for families to get over this crisis we find ourselves in. We have another package in the works. I think we’ll have to re-look at some of the available aid and make sure we provide the resources people need until we’re opening up the country back up in a more consistent way.

Wright: First of all, I would reduce the workweek to four six-hour shifts, or 24 hours total. We can have more shifts that would allow for more social distancing. I’m opposed to mask mandates. I don’t like top-down rules. I think we need to have bottom-up rules. It should be the individual business’s call. If a business serves food and doesn’t require a mask, but a customer isn’t comfortable, the business owner can bring out the food to the customer and wear a mask for that moment. I think business owners will do that because they want to keep customers. A business can also require a mask, and it can go either way. They should just let the rules be known outside the building.

How should Congress respond to the adverse economic effects of the pandemic?

Cooper: The economy will recover; we just need to get out of these lockdowns, and we need to get back to regular life. There is a risk every day. Every activity you do has a risk. People should wear masks, but should the government mandate it? No. We can encourage good behavior, like hand washing. But the government can’t make you wash your hands. This is common sense.

Let’s look at tax reform. We want the government to do everything, but we don’t want to pay the taxes, and that’s not sustainable. To stimulate the economy, let people have more money, reduce taxes as low as possible.

Jones: I’d put together a coalition that would start with infrastructure renewal in the rural, small, and inland communities that have been ignored for far too long. When you go into small cities, small rural areas, you see boarded up downtowns, you see communities where young skilled people are leaving because there’s nothing to do. We can fix this by focusing on smart city design and economic development in the small cities. Rural communities have been the engine of progress that spreads out to the coasts. If we can make it so that small and mid-size businesses get their products to market, you’re going to see the economy just blossom.

McKinley: I think the economy had problems that predated the pandemic. When I was a child, I was born in the 1960s, American productivity was broadly shared with its workers. What happened around the 1980s is that wage growth flatlined while productivity kept going up as we kept figuring out how to do more with less. In the late 1990s to the present day, a few key items, higher education, health care, and housing, saw aggressive inflation. The result is you have a bunch of wage earners whose pay was flatlined or declining, and the cost in certain areas of the economy flipped them upside down. They went from being able to own a house or put a child through college to a circumstance where they couldn’t do that without taking out huge amounts of debt. All our economic policies can be changed so that we give workers a larger share of the gross domestic product they’re producing.

Newhouse: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a struggle for many of the industries important to Central Washington, such as agriculture. I want to work as hard as I can to make sure those challenges are met, and the federal government is as helpful as possible in making sure there are options for agricultural producers. I will work hard to make sure markets are open, and the supply chains are as seamless as possible. We’re going to see a lot of changes in how work is carried out. We need to make sure the workforce can respond to the needs of the new economy we’re going to be seeing.

Congress needs to keep a watchful eye out in making sure we’re responsible to the needs as they present themselves. It’s going to be key for Congress to act as quickly as possible.

Wright: I would give $75,000 for each U.S. citizen and quit bailing out the banks and big companies. That is what I would do immediately. I would guarantee that it would stimulate the economy. This would allow people to leave jobs with low wages and force those employers to give reasonable wages. It would enable young people to start businesses in places like Grand Coulee, where I live. We desperately need young people in Central Washington to start up new businesses. I don’t know anyone where $75,000 wouldn’t make a difference in their lives.

Reach Mai Hoang at or Twitter @maiphoang