Medicare for all versus both public and private options, the border crisis, green energy, corporate responsibility and people left behind by an improving economy took center stage during the first debate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday, June 26.
It was the first of two nights when 10 candidates faced each other on the same Miami stage, all of them hoping to make the White House blue again. Ten more debated on the same stage the following night.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington won smiles of approval from all of them for his answer to the question of who or what was America’s greatest geopolitical threat.
“The biggest threat to the security of the United States,” Inslee said, as the audience burst into applause, “is Donald Trump. And there’s no question about it.”
The debate was televised from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, hosted by NBC and broadcast live on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, and livestreamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Five of the candidates — Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, and Inslee — gave answers that supported their personal political visions.
For example, Warren, who focuses on the economy, answered a question about health insurance with an attack on corporations.
“Look at the business model of an insurance company,” Warren said. “It’s to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums and pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care. That leaves families with rising premiums, rising copays, and fighting with insurance companies to try to get the health care that their doctors say that they and their children need.”
Booker often made issues within the African American community the center of his answers, for example replying to a question about corporations by saying a strong stock market doesn’t help the neighborhood where he lives.
“I live in a low-income black and brown community,” Booker said. “The indicators that are being used, from GDP to Wall Street’s rankings, [are] not helping people in my community.”
Castro focused on immigration and challenged all the other candidates to decriminalize those who slip across the U.S. border without papers. Inslee related everything to the environment. Ryan related most issues to his home state, Ohio.
“I’ve had family members that have to unbolt a machine from the factory floor, put it in a box, and ship it to China,” Ryan said, answering a question about climate change. “The area where I come from in northeast Ohio, this issue we’re talking about here, it’s been going on 40 years….
“We need an industrial policy saying we’re going to dominate building electric vehicles. There’s going to be 30 million made in the next 10 years. I want half of them made in the United States. I want to dominate the solar industry and manufacture those here in the United States.”
Five other candidates — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and former U.S Representatives Beto O’Rourke and John Delaney, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City — seemed to concentrate more on answering particular questions, without an overarching political view.
The most contentious exchange may have been over immigration. Moderator Jose Diaz-Balart brought up the subject of Immigration, relating the story of Oscar Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria, whose picture lying dead on the banks of the Rio Grande had been viewed widely on the internet and in media around the world the day before.
According to media reports, after the family had been turned away by border officials, they tried to swim across the river to the U.S. The father and daughter died with the girl tucked under his shirt, showing how they tried to stay attached in the rough currents.
For all of the candidates, this story demonstrated inhumane treatment of immigrants trying to live in America.
“It should also piss us all off,” Castro said, to loud applause.
All of the candidates had a say on the topic, an all agreed that immigration was urgent. But they had different plans.
Secretary Castro raised the subject of U.S. law — in particular, Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes illegal entry into the U.S. a crime punishable by fines and prison. He said it should be repealed, so that immigrants who crossed with peaceful intentions would not be imprisoned or turned away.
“I want to challenge every single candidate on this stage to support the repeal of Section 1325,” said Castro, after noting that fellow candidates Booker, Warren, Inslee and Ryan had already agreed.
This ignited a dispute between Castro and O’Rourke, both Texans.
O’Rourke said he would implement “a family case management program” and then rewrite immigration laws.
“We would not detain any family fleeing violence — in fact, fleeing the deadliest countries on the face of the planet today,” O’Rourke said.
But he did not say he would repeal the law.
“I’m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws,” O’Rourke said. “And if you do that, I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to follow our laws when they come to this country.”
Klobuchar challenged the notion that immigrants are a problem in America. Rather, they have a positive effect, she said.
“They are America,” Klobuchar said. “Seventy of our Fortune 500 companies are headed by people that came from other countries. Twenty-five percent of our U.S. Nobel laureates were born in other countries.
“We have a situation right now where we need workers in our fields and in our factories,” she said. “We need their ideas.”
Nothing but applause was heard as Klobuchar finished speaking, just as the timer stopped.
Healthcare also brought sharp disagreement among the candidates, in particular over whether private insurance should be kept at all or discarded in favor of a single, government-run, “Medicare for all”-type of plan.
Candidates Booker, Castro, De Blasio, Gabbard, Ryan and Warren all said they supported some version of Medicare for all.
Delaney, O’Rourke, Inslee and Klobuchar had different ideas.
Klobuchar said people should be able to choose whether they want private insurance or not. Saying that Sanders’ single-payer health plan would take four years to go fully into effect, Klobuchar said it would be best to keep private insurance in addition to the so-called “public option” — a government health plan. That, she said, would be a “bold approach.”
“I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years, which is exactly what this bill says,” Klobuchar said.
O’Rourke said he formerly supported single-payer insurance but now worried it would take too long to implement. He said that while campaigning, he had met a 27-year-old with untreated diabetes and glaucoma.
Delaney agreed and said private insurance has worked for many Americans.
“I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken,” said Delaney. “Doesn’t that make sense? …We should give everyone in this country health care as a basic human right for free, full stop. But we should also give them the option to buy private insurance.”’
New York’s Mayor de Blasio countered that private insurance has not been helping.
“Wait, wait, wait…,” de Blasio said, interrupting. “Private insurance is not working for tens of millions of Americans when you talk about the co-pays, the deductibles, the premiums, the out-of-pocket expenses. It’s not working. How can you defend a system that’s not working?”
Warren focused on corporate profits, and was the only candidate to mention what the insurance industry charges to manage American’s care.
“The insurance companies last year alone sucked $23 billion in profits out of the healthcare system — $23 billion,” said the Massachusetts senator.
Most candidates brought up the issue of climate change when talking about the economy. Many said they would push for new “greener, cleaner” manufacturing jobs. Inslee, whose main campaign focus is on climate change, had a lot to say.
We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last that can do something about it.” the governor of the state of Washington. “Our towns are burning, our fields are flooding, Miami is inundated and we have to understand this is a climate crisis, an emergency.
“This is our last chance… to do something about it,” he said.
Warren said new research programs would help the environment and the economy at the same time.
“There’s going to be a worldwide need for green technology — ways to clean up the air and clean up the water,” Warren said. “And we can be the ones to provide that.”
Ryan said that would help the manufacturing industry and provide jobs to the middle class.
“The bottom 60% hasn’t seen a raise since 1980,” said the congressman from Ohio. “Meanwhile the top 1% controls 90% of the wealth.
“We need an industrial policy saying we are going to dominate building electric vehicles,” he said. “There is gonna be $30 billion made in the next 10 years and I want half of them made in the United States. I want to dominate the solar panel industry.”
Even though climate change was brought up in the debate, there was no mention at all of the Green New Deal, would help cut carbon emissions.
Also memorable Wednesday night was a heated exchange between two of the less-known representatives, Ryan and Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard, which sparked when the topic of Afghanistan was raised in light of the Taliban’s claim that it had killed two Americans that day.
Ryan supported a continued U.S. military presence there.
“We must have our military engaged to the extent they need to be…,” Ryan said. “Because these flare-ups distract us from the real problems in the country. If we’re getting drones shot down for $130 million, because the president is distracted, that’s $130 million that we could be spending in places like Youngstown, Ohio, or Flint, Mich., or rebuilding.”
Gabbard, who fought in Iraq in the Army National Guard, interrupted.
“Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan?” Gabbard asked. “‘Well, we just have to be engaged?’ As a soldier, I will tell you, that answer is unacceptable.”
The crowd in the auditorium erupted in applause. Back-and-forth exchanges followed.
Ryan said the U.S. needed to be cautious with the Taliban.
“If the United States isn’t engaged, the Taliban will grow…,” Ryan said. “And they will have bigger, bolder terrorist acts. We have got to have some presence there.”
Gabbard replied that history has shown an American presence in Afghanistan wouldn’t work.
“We cannot keep U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we’re going to somehow squash this Taliban that’s been there, that every other country that’s tried has failed,” Gabbard said.
Ryan then mentioned the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“When we weren’t in there, they started flying planes into our buildings,” Ryan said. “So I’m just saying right now” — the audience began to boo — “we have an obligation.”
Gabbard quickly responded.
“The Taliban didn’t attack us on 9/11,” Gabbard said. “Al-Qaeda did.”
The audience cheered but Ryan kept going.
“The Taliban was protecting those people who were plotting against us,” Ryan said. “All I’m saying is, if we want to go into elections, and we want to say that we’ve got to withdraw from the world, that’s what President Trump is saying. We can’t. I would love us to.”
The Spanish language was something else that attracted attention at Wednesday’s debate. It was used by three candidates, and seemed to be encouraged by moderator Diaz-Balart, who is also a news anchor for the Spanish-language Telemundo network.
O’Rourke was the first to start speaking in Spanish, while answering a question about the tax rate for high earners.
“Necesitamos incluir cada persona en esta economía, pero sí creemos hacer eso, necesitamos incluir cada tipo de persona en nuestro democra, cada votar — votante — necesita el representacio y cada voz necesita ser escuchada,” Rourke said, at first confusing the word “vote” with “voter.”
In English, that meant, “We need to include each person in this economy but if we want to do that, we need to include each type of person in our democracy, each voter needs the representation, and every voice needs to be heard.”
He finished his answer in English.
“Right now, we have a system that favors those who can pay for access and outcomes,” said the congressman from El Paso.
Diaz-Balart, who can be seen on both Telemundo and NBC Nightly News, asked Booker what he would do the first day of presidency with the situation of migrants who are crowded at the border.
The senator from New Jersey responded in Spanish.
“El situation ahorita es inaceptable, el presidente a atacado, demonizado, los inmigrantes. Es inaceptable y voy cambiar esto,” Booker said, using perfect grammar but with a thick American accent.
That meant, “The situation right now is unacceptable — this president has attacked, demonized, the immigrants. It’s unacceptable and I will change this.”
He went on to the finish his answer in English, discussing ICE policies.
Diaz-Balart then asked the same question in Spanish to O’Rourke.
“Vamos a tratar cada persona con el respeto y dignidad que merecen, con los derecho humanos que merecen,” O’Rourke replied.
That meant, “We are going to treat each person with the respect and dignity that they deserve, with the human rights that they deserve.”
Julian Castro, who grew up in San Antonio, Texas, was the only Latino candidate, and he spoke Spanish, too.
“Me llamo Julian Castro, y estoy postulando por president de los Estados Unidos” — My name is Julian Castro and I am running for president, he said in Spanish that was perfectly accented and grammatical.
“The very fact that I can say that tonight shows the progress that we have in this country,” Castro said.
Even though the candidates had difficulty speaking Spanish, they seemed to be trying to appeal to the Latino audiences.