U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise faced his three Democratic challengers this week in the first and thus far only debate of the fall congressional election, defending President Donald Trump’s controversial tariffs and explaining Scalise's ongoing opposition to new gun laws even after being shot and seriously wounded.

Scalise, the Republican incumbent in Louisiana’s First Congressional District, debated three challengers — Lee Ann Dugas, Jim Francis and Tammy Savoie, all Democrats — for an hour Monday at Loyola Law School before the Alliance for Good Government.

Two other candidates have also filed to run against Scalise, but Howard Kearney, a Libertarian, arrived late and gave only a closing statement, and Ferd Jones, running as an independent, did not show at all.

Based on fundraising and endorsements, Savoie and Francis are competing for the mantle of Democratic frontrunner to challenge the well-funded Scalise.

As of June 30, the most recent federal reporting deadline, Francis had raised $25,000 in contributions and Savoie $22,000. Dugas reported raising none. Scalise had a $1.9 million war chest, much of which he uses to support other GOP candidates.

Savoie has garnered endorsements from the state Democratic party as well as party chapters in St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Lafourche parishes, while Francis was endorsed by the Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee.

On Monday night, questions from audience members from Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes ran the gamut of national issues, such as immigration, the national debt, health care reform and voting rights.

On most topics the answers fell into fairly predictable partisan boxes: The Democrats vowed to protect the Affordable Care Act and blamed Trump’s tax cuts for increasing the national debt, while Scalise praised the tax cuts for spurring growth and blamed Obamacare for high insurance premiums.

Trump’s tariffs on international goods, however, have made trade policy an unusually high-profile national issue this year, and the alliance members asked the four candidates how they viewed those tariffs. Democrats were critical, with Francis questioning the data used to calculate trade deficits and Dugas arguing that the tariffs will increase costs on farmers.

“Grain and seeds are going to go to rot,” Dugas said.

Experts have said that Trump’s tariffs on steel could impact Louisiana shipbuilders, and China’s retaliatory tariffs on agriculture could hurt Louisiana soybean and rice farmers, Savoie noted.

“Trade works. Tariffs don’t,” Savoie said. “Louisiana can’t afford to send Steve back to Congress, because he has supported these tariffs.”

Scalise, however, countered that he remains a staunch supporter of free trade and said he was glad, for example, that Trump is renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, because he didn’t want the United States to withdraw from it.

On the other hand, Scalise said, some of the United States’ trading partners are enjoying trade agreements that benefit them more than America, so he supports Trump’s actions to level the playing field.

The candidates had more nuanced stances on gun control, an unpopular issue in a district with many rural areas, but one complicated by the fact that Scalise barely survived a shooting last year against Republican congressmen practicing for a softball game near Washington, D.C.

Dugas, a military veteran, said she still owns guns and hunts, just as she grew up doing. The country needs better enforcement of existing gun laws, she said, including a 50-state database — run by prosecutors and medical examiners — of people who have been barred from owning guns.

Savoie noted her own support for the Second Amendment as a 38-year veteran of the military, but she also agreed that Congress should do more to restrict violent offenders — including those convicted of domestic violence — from owning guns.

“Eighty-four percent of the country supports universal background checks with no loopholes, so we could do that tomorrow,” Savoie said.

Francis tied gun violence to health care, and said that the Affordable Care Act should have received more bipartisan support merely for its increase in mental health coverage. Meanwhile, he criticized Scalise and the Republican-dominated Congress for failing to take steps such as requiring biometric locks on guns or reducing the size of ammunition clips.

“I believe our current representative should do more than send thoughts and prayers,” Francis said.

“When I was shot, the prayers were incredibly important,” Scalise retorted. “When there is a tragedy, a lot of us think it is important to pray for the victims.”

In addition to praying for the victims, policy makers should also find the facts, Scalise said.

He said there were widespread calls for a ban on “bump stocks” after the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas — even though few people had even heard of bump stocks prior to the tragedy. It is impossible to take every tool away from potential mass shooters through the use of congressional bans, he said.