Democratic candidates weigh in on racial issues, clash on health care in debate
Democrats gathered in Detroit Tuesday for a pivotal presidential debate to decide, once again, how to respond to President Donald Trump while presenting their own vision for the country.
The second debate of the Democratic primary has higher stakes for a historically large field of more than 20 candidates, 10 of whom will face off each night. For several candidates, the debates will likely offer a last chance to be considered a serious contender for the party’s nomination. Tougher rules set by the Democratic National Committee are expected to winnow the field. To qualify for the next debates in September, candidates must raise money from more donors and hit higher polling thresholds — a bar more than half of the candidates are at risk of missing.
“Everything’s at stake,” said Jill Alper, a Democratic strategist who has worked on seven presidential campaigns. She had simple and direct advice for the White House hopefuls confronting questions about Trump: “protest and pivot” — and “pivot quickly” — to what they can offer American families.
The candidates on stage for night one of the CNN debate were: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, of Texas; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio; former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland; author Marianne Williamson and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Here's what happened during night one of the debate (all times Eastern)
The first heat of the Democrats' second round of presidential primary debates gets underway.
Sanders and Warren are at center stage. That gives voters on the party's left flank a chance to size up the two leading progressives in their first head-to-head matchup.
In the June debates, Warren was matched up against several trailing candidates, with Sanders and the other leading candidates debating on the second night.
The candidates are wasting no time revealing the fault lines between progressives and moderates as they open Tuesday's debate.
Warren and Sanders are using their opening statements to hammer an economic and political system they say is rigged for the wealthy and corporations.
Warren warns that Democrats can't solve problems with "small ideas and spinelessness."
Sanders notes that half of U.S. households "are living paycheck to paycheck."
But several other candidates are taking veiled shots at the two leading progressives for liberal proposals like single-payer health care.
Bullock knocks "wish-list economics." Hickenlooper says Democrats can solve problems without "expansion" of government.
After opening statements, Sanders is given the opportunity to answer the first question of the night. The subject is health care.
The Vermont senator says that Delaney's claim that Sanders' proposed health care plan is "political suicide" is wrong. Delaney and Sanders begin a back-and-forth discussion over which candidates' plan is better for the country.
Immigration is the next subject for the candidates to tackle.
Warren defended her position that making border crossings a crime is unnecessary.
"The problem is that right now, the decriminalization statute is what's giving Donald Trump the opportunity to take them away from their parents. It's what gives him the ability to lock up people at our borders. We need to continue to have border security, and we can do that. But what we can't do is not live our values."
O'Rourke stands by his refusal to call for decriminalizing crossing the border by undocumented migrants, saying he will instead overhaul immigration policy. "I expect people who come here to follow our laws."
O'Rourke says that if he is elected president, he will protect those seeking U.S. asylum and people brought to the country illegally as children.
Sanders says he doesn't consider women and children who walked thousands of miles criminals, and says Trump has demonized all immigrants.
Bullock says decriminalizing border crossings may "play into Donald Trump's hands."
The discussion moves to gun violence in America, with moderator Don Lemon asking about the recent shooting at a California food festival. Buttigieg highlights his experience being in high school during the Columbine shooting in 1999.
"I am the first generation to see school shootings. We have produced the second generation. We dare not allow there to be a third," the South Bend mayor said.
Hickenlooper called out Sanders for throwing up his hands in an awkward exchange over the Vermont senator's policies.
It started when Hickenlooper explained why he thought Sanders' policies were too extreme for the White House.
"You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump. I think we have to focus on where Donald Trump is failing," Hickenlooper said.
But Sanders didn't agree.
"Well, the truth is that every credible poll that I have seen has me beating Donald Trump, including the battleground states of Michigan, where I won the Democratic primary; Wisconsin, where I won the Democratic primary and Pennsylvania. And the reason we are going to defeat Trump and beat him badly is that he is a fraud and a phony, and we're going to expose him for what he is," he said.
That's when Hickenlooper chimed in and said, "So again, I think if we're going to force Americans to make these radical changes, they're not going to go along."
Sanders then threw up hands, prompting Hickenlooper to say, "Throw your hands up..."
Sanders snapped back, saying, "I will."
Warren is pushing Democrats not to be too timid in the 2020 presidential election.
The Massachusetts senator pushed back at criticism from moderates by questioning why anyone would run for president just "to talk about what we can't do."
Warren is defending single-payer health insurance and other "big ideas" as policy fights worth having.
She is responding to critics, including Hickenlooper, Delaney and Bullock.
Williamson describes why she thinks the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, hasn't been properly addressed yet.
She said it's all about racism and bigotry, calling racism, "part of the dark underbelly of American society.”
"We need to say it like it is: It's bigger than Flint. It's all over this country. It's particularly people of color. It's particularly people who do not have the money to fight back, and if the Democrats don't start saying it, why would those people feel they're there for us, and if those people don't feel it, they won't vote for us and Donald Trump will win."
Williamson earned applause and cheers when she mounted a defense of her plan to offer $200 billion to $500 billion in reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans.
The conversation on race in America continues as Hickenlooper says Democrats must show they can "delegate an urban agenda" for substantive changes in schools and affordable housing.
Asked how she would combat white supremacy, Warren says she would call it out as "domestic terrorism," blaming Trump for racially unequal policies in economics and education.
Tuesday's debate is the first since Trump used racist language to attack four Democratic congresswomen of color, calling on them to "go back" to their countries even though all four are U.S. citizens.
As the discussion moves toward foreign policy, Buttigieg vowed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in his first year of office.
Buttigieg went on to describe his own experience as a service member in Afghanistan. He served for six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, including a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
"I thought I was one of the last troops leaving Afghanistan," he said. "When I thought I was turning out the lights years ago. Every time I see news about somebody being killed in Afghanistan, I think about what it was like to hear an explosion and wonder whether it was somebody I knew or served with."
Buttigieg then proposed a three-year sunset clause for any authorization of military use.
Sanders says he'd work as president to strengthen the United States' standing with the United Nations and focus on diplomacy, not military action.
Sanders was asked what differentiates his aversion to the global U.S. military presence from Trump's opposition to being "policeman of the world." Sanders responded that Trump is "a pathological liar."
Sanders's stance on diplomacy was echoed by Hickenlooper.
Buttigieg, 37, the youngest candidate running for president, was asked, "Should voters take into consideration age when choosing a presidential candidate?"
"I don't care how old you are," he said. "I care about your vision."
Buttigieg mentioned New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and said, "I do think it matters that we have a new generation of leaders stepping up around the world."
"We can have great presidents at any age," he added.
Sanders, 77, agreed with the mayor.
"Pete is right. It's a question of vision. That's what it is: Whether you're young, whether you're old, whether you're in-between."
CNN contributed to this report.