In their first big chance to address the nation at large, 10 Democratic presidential candidates got a chance to say some of what they wanted, but for much less time than they would have liked.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee got a chance to talk about climate change, his signature issue, even though he didn’t directly answer the climate change question put to him by moderator Rachel Maddow.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren got to to talk about details of plans she has to improve the nation’s health care, economy and gun violence.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker got a chance to tell debate viewers several times that he lives in a low-income neighborhood in Newark.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar got to lace her criticism of Donald Trump with bits of down home Midwest humor, saying his promise to lower drug prices was “all foam and no beer.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro got to give parts of their answers in Spanish.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney got a chance to say the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of helping working people rather than rich elites.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard got a chance to mention her military service with two tours of duty in Iraq and tell Ryan he didn’t know what he was talking about when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, or for that matter, how to relate to war at all.
The first of two 10-candidate debates probably produced no clear winner or definite losers, but it did establish Warren as a front-runner to be reckoned with. She got the first question, and gave the last closing statement. She defended her call for Medicare for All proposal against rivals who want to create a public option for health care but combine it with private insurance offered by employers.
Even people who are satisfied with their private plans face rising premiums, rising copays and the prospect of fighting with their insurance company over denial of coverage, she said. “Health care is a basic human right,” she said, although so did several others.
Known for discussing specific plans to address difficult problems on the campaign trail, Warren was asked at one point if she has a plan for dealing with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell if she becomes president and he remains Senate majority leader. “I do,” she replied, pausing for the audience to laugh.
The plan, however, centered around emphasizing the nation is a democracy and “the will of the people matters.” She’d keep voters energized after the election to make that will clear.
After each candidate got to field one question and provide a 60-second answer – not everyone paid close attention to the time limits – Inslee and other lesser-known candidates on the wings struggled to interject comments into questions being fielded by the higher-polling candidates in the middle.
Inslee was trying to offer thoughts on how to deal with the prospect of dealing as president with a Republican-controlled Senate when moderator Maddow interrupted him to say he was getting the next question and it was one he was going to like, because it was on climate change.
He smiled in anticipation. Maddow asked him to be specific and explain how he would save Miami, one of the cities most at risk from climate change because of rising sea levels, and the location of the debate.
After saying the way to thwart McConnell was to do away with the Senate filibuster, Inslee launched into his stump speech that warns this is the last generation with a chance to do something about climate change and mentioned Washington state’s passage of a bill to move toward 100 percent clean energy later this century. He was the only candidate who was willing to make fighting climate change their first priority as president, and, if elected, to put the nation in position to lead the world in that fight.
But nothing specific to Miami.
Inslee and other candidates have lobbied for a debate solely on climate change, but the Democratic National Committee, which set the rules for Wednesday’s debate and a similar debate with 10 different candidates Thursday night, has rejected that request.
The issue got a few minutes of attention Wednesday.
After Inslee, O’Rourke said he’d fight climate change by bringing people together and having everyone do all they can. Castro dismissed a question about who should pay for moving people from areas that will be most affected by climate change by countering that wasn’t the vast majority of people who would be affected by the issue and saying if elected he’d have the country rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Ryan said the country could fight climate change if Democrats went back to being a working-class, blue-collar party. Delaney said he’d introduce a carbon tax but make sure the people who were paying knew how they were benefiting from the money it raised.
Then it was on to a question on LGBTQ rights. When all candidates were asked later to name the biggest threat the nation faces, some said climate change or included it with another danger like nuclear proliferation.
Inslee, however, said the biggest threat was “Donald Trump.”
In discussing health care plans, Inslee drew not-too-veiled criticism for suggesting he has the best record on protecting abortion rights.
“It should not be an option in the United States of America for any insurance company to deny a woman coverage for their exercise of their right of choice,” he said to applause. “And I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive health in health insurance. … And I respect everybody’s goals and plans here, but we do have one candidate that’s actually advanced the ball.”
That didn’t sit well with Klobuchar: “I just want to say there are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”
The most pointed exchange of the night may have involved Gabbard, who described the administration as having a “chicken hawk cabinet,” and Ryan over a question on the Taliban claiming responsibility for killing two Americans and a way to get out of the war in Afghanistan.
The military “must remain engaged to the extent they need to be” in Afghanistan, Ryan said.
Telling the parents of the two people killed in Afghanistan that their deaths were because the military has to stay engaged is unacceptable, Gabbard said. The country needs a president who knows the cost of war, she added.
“The Taliban was there long before we came in; they’ll be there long after we’ve left,” Gabbard said.
When the United States didn’t engage the Taliban, “they started flying planes into our buildings,” Ryan said.
“The Taliban didn’t attack us on Sept. 11. Al-Qaida did,” Gabbard said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.