A second set of 10 Democrats who think they should be president got scrappy Thursday night, sparring over the best way to improve health care, solve the immigration crisis on the southern border and who is part of the right generation to lead the nation.
They fought to stand out on the stage with 10 lecterns and frequently talked over each other. Early in the debate, former Vice President Joe Biden, at 76 one of the oldest on stage, traded barbs with California Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of the youngest at 38, over whose generation should “carry the torch” for improving the economic prospects of most Americans. California Sen. Kamala Harris broke in with a sharp rebuke:
“Hey, guys. You wanna know what America does not want to witness? A food fight. They want to know how they’re going to put food on the table,” Harris said.
But she would later mix it up with Biden over fighting racism and discrimination, criticizing him for working with senators known for supporting segregation and even working with them to fight busing. As a young girl in Oakland, she said she was bused to a better school.
Biden accused her of misrepresenting his position, saying he never praised racists and only favored locally controlled busing rules, not national mandates. There are times when the federal government must step in, she replied, because “states fail.”
Biden made frequent references to his eight years as vice president, sometimes referring to the Obama-Biden administration.
Harris talked about her experience as a prosecutor and former attorney general of California, making her someone who can “prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders emphasized a series of programs he said will help the poor and working class, including Medicare for All and free college tuition, along with taking on Wall Street and the insurance, pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg countered that he’d push for “Medicare for All Who Want It,” allowing those who are on a health care plan they like to keep it, along with free college for low- and middle-income students but having the wealthy pay for at least part of their tuition.
New York Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand made a pitch for cleaner elections by getting special interest money out of politics and described herself as the person who will take up fights that no one else will.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper warned Democrats against going as far as Sanders with proposals Republicans will label as socialist, but to stick with progressive policies.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said they should work to build a broad coalition to build a new America.
Former tech executive Andrew Yang pushed a plan for every adult who makes less than $100,000 per year to receive $1,000 per month from the federal government, paid for with a value-added tax, as a way to stimulate the economy.
Swalwell emphasized the need for a new generation of leadership and called for the nation to ban and buy back the millions of semi-automatic military-style rifles in private hands.
Self-help author Marianne Williamson said she would beat Trump, not with insider politics but with an understanding that he was elected by harnessing voters’ fear, and that she was going to harness love.
They split among those who believe America should go quickly to a nationalized health care program based on Medicare to those who said it should eventually get there and those who would take a slower route that would eventually have a nationalized plan and those who thought a public health plan could coexist with private health insurance.
Biden said the way to get to universal health coverage is to expand Obamacare. Sanders countered that the nation should go immediately to a government-run system and dismissed critics who say it would be unworkable or unaffordable.
“Every other major country on Earth has figured out how to make it work,” he said.
They promised to protect a woman’s right to choose abortion and have access to other forms of reproductive health care.
Sanders said he would make support for Roe v. Wade a litmus test for judges he would appoint.
Gillibrand said reproductive rights are under such a serious assault that she would not compromise with Republicans on them.
“It’s time to stop playing defense and start playing offense,” she said.
They criticized the Trump administration’s policies on detaining asylum-seekers at the southern border.
Harris said her first act on immigration as president would be to restore DACA protections and extend freedom from deportation to their families.
Hickenlooper said he’d reform the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, reunite families and make sure they had access to food, shelter and medical care.
Williamson said separating children from their parents at the border should be treated as a government crime.
“It is kidnapping. This is collective child abuse,” she said.
In discussing problems of race and the criminal justice system, Buttigieg was asked why his city, which is 26% black, has a police force that is only 6% black.
“Because we couldn’t get it done,” he replied. They tried many steps but couldn’t “move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism,” he said.
In discussing how to fight climate change, Swalwell said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation with new ideas. Williamson countered: “Just because we have old bodies doesn’t mean we have old ideas.”
Harris said climate change is the wrong term.
“It’s a climate crisis, an existential threat to us as a species.”
Biden called for 50,000 recharging stations for electric vehicles by 2030 and promised to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.
Hickenlooper said that while carbon dioxide is a problem, methane gas is a larger one. He wants to create a network of elected officials to seek solutions.
The candidates frequently went beyond their 60-second limits for answers to questions or 30-second follow-ups. They often ignored specific questions to give general answers and seemed to take a cue from Wednesday’s debate in which candidates who interrupted and talked over moderators got more time.
Even when asked for a one-word answer of which world leader they would call first to repair America’s standing in the world, only Hickenlooper and Yang, who said China, and Gillibrand, who said Iran, could stick to one.
Biden and Harris said NATO. Sanders said the United Nations. Swalwell said he’d “break up with Russia and make up with NATO.” Bennet said European allies and Latin American leaders.
Buttigieg said he couldn’t say because it would depend on which country Trump will have made angry between now and then.
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