- On Thursday night, 10 Democratic 2020 presidential candidates took the stage in Miami for night two of the first round of primary debates.
- The candidates included four of the frontrunners: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
- At the outset, numerous candidates attacked Sanders over his support for democratic socialism and “Medicare for All.”
- Harris was the breakout star of the night, cementing her status as a force in the primary campaign and putting the pressure on Biden, the leading contender in early polling.
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On Thursday night, 10 Democratic 2020 presidential candidates took the stage in Miami for night two of the first round of primary debates.
While Biden and Sanders were attacked by their competitors over their long records in politics and had overall disappointing performances given their stature as frontrunners, Harris seemed to bolster her status, establishing her credibility and putting Biden on the defensive over his record on race.
Sanders faced criticism on healthcare from fellow Democrats
Numerous candidates attacked Sanders early over his support for democratic socialism and “Medicare for All.”
In response to a question from the NBC moderators, Sanders acknowledged at the outset that he would need to raise taxes on the middle class to fund Medicare for All, though he said Americans would benefit overall from cheaper and more available healthcare.
Almost immediately, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a moderate who introduced a federal public option for government healthcare called Medicare X, denounced Medicare for All as unrealistic and said his plan was the “fastest way” to get to universal healthcare coverage.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also jumped into the discussion to express her support for a public option for government healthcare at a price adjust for what people could afford to buy in to.
“I feel very strongly families ought to have this choice – there are millions of people who don’t have health insurance because they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid,” Bennet said.
Sanders hit back, saying, “Under our plan, people can go to any hospital or any doctor we want.” He added, as he often says in his stump speech, that most other developed nations – including Canada – offered universal healthcare. Bennet retorted that Canada’s population was less than one-tenth that of the US.
Later in the night, Sanders stumbled a few more times, facing further criticism and opposition from Rep. Eric Swalwell over his commitment to gun control and awkwardly accusing the moderator Rachel Maddow of mischaracterizing a direct quote from an interview he gave.
Harris broke through – and put the spotlight on Biden’s record on race
Harris, the California senator who previously served as the state’s attorney general, had several breakthrough moments that cemented her status as a force in the campaign and put the pressure on Biden, the leading contender in early polling.
Early in the debate, Harris helped defuse a chaotic shouting match among multiple candidates with the line, “Americans don’t want a food fight – they want to know how to get food on the table.”
Later in the debate, Harris confronted Biden about his past camaraderie with pro-segregation US senators and opposition to busing in the 1970s.
Harris, who is African American and Indian American, told Biden that “I do not believe you are a racist” but that “it’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
Biden, perhaps unsuccessfully, sought to deflect Harris’ criticisms by arguing he did not oppose busing but rather federal involvement in it.
Throughout the debate, Harris used a variety of human-centered illustrations to bring her answers and policy positions to life. She powerfully evoked images of parents waiting outside an emergency room wondering whether they could afford a child’s care or making the difficult choice to travel to the United States with the goal of securing a better life for their children.
Harris simultaneously commanded positive attention for herself and her policy positions, won out in a confrontation with the Democratic frontrunner, and was not herself attacked or confronted on her policy positions from fellow Democrats, making her a clear winner of the second night of debates.
All candidates said they’d support government healthcare coverage for unauthorised immigrants
In a historical first for a Democratic presidential primary, all 10 candidates onstage endorsed government healthcare coverage for immigrants living in the country illegally, a major policy shift for the party on both immigrant rights and healthcare.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said, “Our country is healthier when everybody is healthier.”
“We are talking about something people are given a chance to buy into,” Buttigieg continued. “In the same way there are undocumented immigrants in my community who pay sales taxes and pay property taxes directly or indirectly.”
Buttigieg confidently defended his record after a rough week at home
Buttigieg was directly asked about a major issue in South Bend, where a white police fatally shot a black man who the officer said had attacked him with a knife – though his body camera was turned off – leading to significant backlash from community activists against Buttigieg’s leadership and handling of the situation.
Buttigieg addressed the topic head-on, calling the situation “a mess.” He added: “We are hurting. I could walk you through all of the things we have done as a community, all of the steps we took from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. When I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back.”
Earlier in the night, Buttigieg gave a strong answer invoking religion and his Christian faith explaining why he supported repealing the provision of US immigration law that classifies crossing the border without authorization as a misdemeanour, allowing migrant children to be separated from their parents.
“For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language,” Buttigieg said.
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