Thursday’s debate round saw a few more confrontations than the first night, including one between Senator Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden.
In an emotional exchange, Harris challenged Biden’s stance on busing to desegregate public schools during the 1970s, telling the former vice president that she was bused as a child two decades after the Brown v Board decision to end the separate but equal policy in the US education system.
Harris told Biden on Thursday that she did not believe he was a racist, but that his recollection of working with segregationist senators a generation ago in discussing partisan gridlock in Washington today was “hurtful”.
Biden said Harris was misrepresenting his position. Harris asked Biden, “Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?”
Biden said he didn’t oppose busing but federal intervention in the issue. Harris shot back: “There are moments in history where states fail to support the civil rights of people.”
Joining Harris and Biden on the stage were Senators Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders, Representative Eric Swalwell, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, former Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper, entrepreneur Marianne Williamson and startup investor Andrew Yang.
Like Wednesday, Thursday’s 2020 Democratic debate round covered a wide range of issues including healthcare, immigration, climate change and women’s rights.
Only two of the 10 candidates on Thursday raised their hands when asked who supported abolishing private health insurance.
Sanders and Harris both signalled their support for Medicare for All and eliminating private insurance.
Sanders has long championed a Medicare-style system to cover its healthcare services.
The question was also asked on Wednesday to the first 10 debate candidates. Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were the only two to raise their hands.
Biden said the best way to ensure all Americans have coverage is to build on Obamacare rather than to pass Medicare For All.
Buttigieg said all people should have the option to access “Medicare for all who want it”.
Bennet said Sanders that “healthcare is a right” for all citizens, but he questioned Sanders’ Medicare for All plan that would extend coverage to everyone in the country, saying the US wasn’t ready for it.
Sanders acknowledged that his proposals for sweeping government programmes would require middle-class residents to pay more taxes. But he said they’d still spend less on healthcare under his system than they do today through the private insurance system.
All but one Democratic candidate on stage on Thursday said they would make irregular border crossings a civil, not, criminal offence.
Bennet was the only one of 10 candidates to not raise his hand when asked if he would seek to decriminalise irregular border crossings.
Buttigieg said he would end the felony criminalisation because it was “dead wrong”, and called Republicans who “cloak” themselves “in faith” hypocrites for letting children languish in cages.
Biden promised a “surge” of aid and relief workers to the border to release children from the enclosures and reunite them with their families. He also said he would invest in Central America.
Asked about the Obama administration’s deportation of three million migrants, Biden said the president that he served under “did a heck of a job” and that it would be wrong to compare him to President Donald Trump.
“The idea that he’s in court with his Justice Department saying, children in cages do not need a bed, do not need a blanket, do not need a toothbrush – that is outrageous,” Biden said.
Obama’s administration detained large numbers of unaccompanied children inside chain-link fences in 2014. Some of the images that circulated online of children in cages during the height of Trump’s family separations controversy were from 2014 when Obama was in office.
Harris promised Thursday to use her first day in office to help undocumented individuals brought to the country as children become citizens. She declared she’d use “the microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand” to be a voice for real reform on the issue.
Sanders promised to repeal “every damn thing” Trump has done on immigration.
All 10 candidates said their proposals for government health insurance would include coverage for undocumented immigrants.
Biden and Buttigieg argued that not discriminating against covering all immigrants was humane, fiscally responsible and a matter of public health.
Buttigieg said even undocumented immigrants paid sales taxes, indirect or direct property taxes and, in many cases, payroll taxes.
Several Democratic presidential candidates declared the climate crisis an existential threat and promising sweeping government action to combat dangers of a warming planet.
But they’re offered few specifics, and only former Hickenlooper named climate change as the first issue he’d tackle on Day One of his presidency.
Biden said he’d prioritise rebuilding world alliances committed to reducing emissions.
Sanders said taking on the fossil fuel industry was the key to reducing carbon pollution.
Harris said she supported a Green New Deal, a reference to proposals some Democrats are pushing on Capitol Hill.
For only the second time in history, more than one woman appeared on a presidential debate stage.
Rather than waiting for their turn to speak, Harris and Gillibrand repeatedly made their voices heard.
Gillibrand cut off Bennet to make a point and gave a fiery defence of women’s reproductive rights.
“Women’s reproductive rights are under assault by President Trump and the Republican Party,” she said.
“It is mind-boggling to me that we are debating this on this stage in 2019 among Democrats whether women should have access to reproductive rights,” she added. “I think we have to stop playing defence and start playing offence.”
Sanders said if the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade, the high court decision that legalised abortion, women would have access to the procedure if he became president through his healthcare plan, Medicare For All.
Several states have passed abortion bans and restrictions in recent months. Conservatives are hoping the laws will make their way to the Supreme Court, where a new conservative majority could reverse Roe v Wade.
Sanders said Medicare For All “guarantees every woman in this country the right to have an abortion if she wants it”.
He also said he would only nominate justices who support Roe v Wade, and he believed justices could be rotated to other courts to “bring in new blood” to the Supreme Court.
On the foreign policy front, the 10 Democrats were asked how they’d repair frayed foreign ties if they were picked to replace Trump.
Biden, Harris and Swalwell said that they would reach out first to NATO alliance members to reinforce those ties.
Sanders urged a focus on the United Nations, while Williamson and Bennet said they’d call European allies.
Hickenlooper and Yang said they’d address China, while Gillibrand would engage with Iran and work towards stabilising the Middle East.
Buttigieg said all US international relationships should change because by the end of Trump’s term, the country “likely will have pissed off other allies”.
Even though Trump was thousands of kilometres away at the G-20 summit in Japan, the US president took to Twitter during the debate.
He said that he “passed a TV set” and saw the Democrats debating.
Trump tweeted: “All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!?”
He then added: “That’s the end of that race!”
Senators Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Tim Ryan, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Representatives Beto O’Rourke and John Delaney and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro took the stage Wednesday night in Miami, Florida.
Aside from technical difficulties, Wednesday’s round offered few major surprises, but some heated exchanges, as the candidates sought to appeal to voters by highlighting individual platforms and points of divergence.