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The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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BridgeUSA at NU hosts debate between College Democrats and Republicans

Pavan Acharya/The Daily Northwestern
Two students — a Democrat and a Republican — debated one another on each topic. NUCR and YAF members represented students from the Republican side.

This fall, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will likely square off in a series of debates ahead of the 2024 general election. 

But on Tuesday night, Northwestern Democrats and Republicans had the chance to discuss some of the top issues this election cycle in their own debate.

NU College Democrats, NU College Republicans and the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom all participated in Tuesday’s event, which was hosted by NU’s chapter — founded last academic year — of BridgeUSA, a multipartisan youth organization.

“The idea is that we hear both sides out and there’s some form of relationship-building and listening to both sides,” said Weinberg sophomore Katherine Mezzalingua, BridgeUSA at NU’s co-president. “We don’t need to agree. It’s just the willingness to listen that is important.”

About 150 students gathered at Harris Hall to attend the debate, which centered on three core topics: abortion, gun control and immigration. Two students — a Democrat and a Republican — debated one another on each topic. College Republicans and YAF members represented students from the Republican side.


The debate between Weinberg senior and former College Republicans President Agustin Bayer and Weinberg sophomore and College Democrats’ co-President Clark Mahoney on abortion drew more verbal responses from the crowd than any other topic discussed.

Though Bayer argued that abortions were equivalent to murder, Mahoney said denying the practice to women and child-bearing people violated basic human rights. Mahoney added that denying abortion access in the U.S. is against the will of the American people.

A May 2023 Gallup Poll found that 61% of Americans were opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision undid a constitutional right to an abortion and left the states to decide the issue.

Throughout the debate on abortion, Bayer referred to a fetus as a baby and argued that abortion-rights stances were “anti-science.” He also compared abortion to slavery, citing both as examples of a “moral evil.”

“Our question tonight is whether it is morally acceptable to kill an innocent child,” Bayer said. “I believe it cannot be so.”

In response, Mahoney said the belief that a fetus is a baby is an opinion that should not be forced on all Americans through an abortion ban. He added that abortion bans with exceptions for specific circumstances — like when the life of a mother is in danger — still take a healthcare choice away from women and cause harm.

While Mahoney gave a nonspecific answer on proposed policy related to abortion, Bayer advocated for a change to the U.S. Constitution that would ban abortions with exceptions for when the life of the mother is in danger.

Gun control

Weinberg junior and NUCR executive board member Jeanine Yuen represented the Republicans while Weinberg sophomore and NU College Democrats’ co-President Adam Durr represented the Democrats.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, the number of mass shootings per year in the U.S. more than doubled  — from 273 to 647 — between 2014 to 2022. The number of school shootings has also increased during this time period.

Both Yuen and Durr agreed that the rise in mass shootings is a problem, but differed in how to address the increase.

Durr proposed comprehensive gun control legislation, arguing that the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S. was largely attributable to a high rate of gun ownership. There are about 120.5 civilian guns per 100 people in the U.S., the highest in the world and more than double the rate of second-place Yemen. 

“If guns made us safer, we would be the safest country in the world,” Durr said.

Yuen, however, argued against increasing gun control measures nationwide. She said existing laws aimed at preventing criminals or mentally unfit individuals from obtaining guns are sufficient.

Any additional forms of gun control would be a “superficial solution,” Yuen added, and would infringe upon a Second Amendment right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has expanded the Second Amendment right to bear arms in recent years. In 2022, the Court ruled 6-to-3 that Americans have a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public, without having to demonstrate a “special need.”


Participants discussed immigration policy, with Communication freshman and NU College Democrats’ Programming Director Aditi Adve repping the Democrats and McCormick sophomore Caleb Nunes — an op-Ed contributor for The Daily — taking the stage for the Republicans.

Nunes advocated for a more restrictive immigration system that accepts immigrants in “dire circumstances.” He criticized both Biden and Trump’s immigration policies and said they failed to enforce laws requiring that undocumented immigrants be detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Adve expressed a different sentiment, calling for a more efficient immigration policy to allow more people to enter the U.S. legally. She added that the U.S. should support immigrants who are essential workers by increasing the federal minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 and hasn’t increased since 2009.

While Tuesday’s debate between student Republicans and Democrats was the first of its kind in recent years, Weinberg senior and debate moderator Edward Dowd said it would not be the last.

“In the past, we’ve seen (NU) Democrats and Republicans do their own thing, but they’ve never really come together before,” Dowd said. “So just trying to get people a taste of what could come. That is what BridgeUSA is all about.”

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