Rep. Celeste Maloy, Colby Jenkins clash over congressional spending votes

Utah’s 2nd Congressional District debate between Colby Jenkins and Congresswoman Celeste Maloy at the KUED studios at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday.

Utah’s 2nd Congressional District debate between Colby Jenkins and Congresswoman Celeste Maloy at the KUED studios at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Celeste Maloy defended her brief congressional tenure during a Republican primary election debate Monday, while challenger Colby Jenkins tried to paint the first-term congresswoman as "ceding" to Democrats in Congress.

Jenkins was often light on specifics in response to the series of questions from moderator and radio talk show host Rod Arquette, instead repeating calls for the return of Donald Trump as president next year. He accused Maloy of giving in to the "Joe Biden-Chuck Schumer policy agenda" so frequently he acknowledged he was starting to "sound like a broken record."

But Maloy was quick to defend her votes in favor of several recent spending packages and called Jenkins "naive," noting the deals were negotiated by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana — who she said is the "most conservative speaker of the House we've had in my lifetime."

"When you have a really narrow margin," Maloy said — like the razor-slim majority Republicans currently hold in the House — "it requires taking really tough votes."

While she said she won't compromise on principle, compromise can be a "great thing when talking about matters of degree." Maloy cast herself as someone willing to "have a real conversation" on issues, which she said keeps her at the negotiating table.

"When you're unbending, you're not invited to the table," she said.

"That's called surrender, that's not called compromise," Jenkins shot back, referring to Maloy's bipartisan budget votes.

He blamed that attitude on the growing national debt, and drew a distinction between compromise and negotiation.

"I will negotiate all day, I will reach across the aisle to build relationships of trust," he said. "But I will not compromise on the Constitution."


Aside from federal spending, the candidates spent a significant amount of time debating immigration and the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Jenkins again used the opportunity to attack Maloy's voting record — noting that the recent spending package included up to $500 million in foreign aid to boost security along the Jordanian border.

Jenkins also blamed the current administration's policies for the surge at the border and said he believes Trump would do a better job.

"It begins with leadership," he said when asked how he would address the border. "I will vote for and support President Trump and the Trump administration."

He added that the former president needs elected leaders "who will not undermine him, who will not send our taxpayer dollars to fund other borders."

Maloy said Jenkins was presenting a "false equivalency" between the foreign aid and border security and said the funds to Jordan are meant to bolster security in the Middle East, given the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

When Iran fired a series of drones and cruise missiles toward Israel in April, she said, Jordan played a key role in shooting many of them down.

"Supporting Jordan and their border is called leadership," she said.

She agreed that "President Trump has the political will" to "control our border," but said Congress needs to tackle comprehensive immigration reform, something she believes can only happen once the border is secure.

Singles and doubles vs. grand slams

Arquette asked both candidates how they would address bills they mostly agree with, even if there are components they don't like. He drew an analogy to baseball, saying lawmakers can take an incremental approach by stringing singles and doubles together, or swinging for the fences in an effort to hit grand slams.

"I'm not very athletic, but even I know it's better to hit a grand slam. I also know that you can't hit a grand slam every day," Maloy said. "Conservatives want a grand slam and are passing up on singles and doubles."

She said she would prefer that lawmakers vote on single-subject bills, but said the reality in divided government is "you have to take some tough votes," then explain to constituents what the wins are — "and, by the way, that's called leadership," she added.

Jenkins said "Democrats have been hitting singles and doubles and scoring for the last three and a half years," but only because Republicans in the House were willing to compromise with them — again pointing to Maloy's spending votes.

"When you're hitting (singles and doubles) for the wrong team ... that's called surrender," he said.

Maloy was first elected to her 2nd Congressional District seat last fall and is seeking her first full term in office.

Jenkins, a veteran and colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, hopes to unseat Maloy and has earned the backing of Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Jenkins won support from a majority of GOP delegates at the nominating convention last month, but Maloy won enough votes to force a primary on June 25.

The 2nd Congressional District debate was the first of six debates hosted by the Utah Debate Commission this week and held at PBS Utah, in the Eccles Broadcast Center on the University of Utah campus.

GOP candidates for the 1st Congressional District also went head to head Monday afternoon, and four Republicans in the race for U.S. Senate sparred Monday evening. provided livestreams of each debate and KSL-TV broadcast the GOP Senate debate.


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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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