In the Democrats’ first presidential primary debate Wednesday night, the candidates each hit on the need for change, but showed differences about how they would achieve such change and on how far such change should go.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, asked whether her economic policies — i.e., free college, free child care, cancellation of student debt — would seem “risky” to the “71 percent of Americans” who say the economy is doing well, responded that the economy may be working for some, but not for all.
“It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top. It’s doing great for giant drug companies; it’s just not doing great for people trying to get a prescription filled,” Warren said.
“It’s doing great for people who want to invest in private prisons, just not for the African Americans and Latinx whose families are torn apart, whose lives are destroyed and whose communities are ruined. … When you’ve got a government, when you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption pure and simple. … We need to make structural changes.”
But candidate John Delaney, a former congressman representing a district in Maryland, later offered up a much more centrist view, opining that to win in 2020, Democrats must be seen as the party of “getting things done” rather than of changing things that aren’t necessarily broken.
“We need real solutions, not impossible promises,” said Delaney, who touted his experience as an entrepreneur.
In another exchange about affordable health care, a number of candidates on one side, including Warren, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, said they were for Medicare for all, full stop; while those on the other side said they supported a combination of Medicare for all and options for private insurance like the kind provided for many by their employers.
Saying he was not for ending private insurance, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) said, “I think choice is fundamental.”
De Blasio interrupted O’Rourke: “Private insurance is not working for tens of millions of Americans. … How can you defend a system that’s not working?”
Delaney then also broke in: “Some people like their private health insurance. … I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken,” adding that hospitals would be at risk of closing if every bill that came in was paid at the current Medicare rate.
The five candidates were joined onstage Wednesday by five other Democratic hopefuls on what was the first of two nights on which Democratic hopefuls were set to make their case for why they should be president. The 10 candidates were: former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii); Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio); Booker; de Blasio; Delaney, O’Rourke and Warren.
It wasn’t until the second half of the two-hour debate that attention was turned specifically to black and Latino voters and voters in the LGBTQ community.
Responding to a moderator’s question about why LGBTQ voters should trust her despite her apology regarding past stances and statements on gay rights, Gabbard said folks should understand that she grew up in a socially conservative home and no longer held the same views she did when she was younger, saying she supports the Equality Act.
Booker pounced on that statement, saying it wasn’t enough.
“Civil rights is someplace to begin, but in the African American civil rights community, another place to focus on was to stop the lynching of African Americans,” Booker said. “We do not talk enough about trans Americans, especially African American trans Americans, and the incredibly high rates of murder right now. We don’t talk enough about how many children, about 30 percent of LGBTQ kids, who do not go to school because of fear. It’s not enough to be on the Equality Act; I’m an original co-sponsor. We need to have a president that will fight to protect LGBTQ Americans every single day.”
From there, moderators moved on to ask candidates what specifically they had done for black and Latino voters.
Klobuchar, when asked directly, spoke of expanding economic opportunity “for all,” citing her intention to focus on improving child care, retirement, public schools that work, health care and criminal-justice reform.
Castro, asked to respond to whether Klobuchar’s type of economic justice was enough to energize Latino voters, highlighted the need “to recognize racial and social justice.”
Recounting a recent visit to Charleston, S.C., where white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black parishioners at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Castro referenced Roof and then said the names of recent black and Latino victims of police brutality.
“He [Roof] was apprehended by police without incident. But what about Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and LaQuan McDonald and Sandra Bland and Pamela Turner and Antonio Arce,” Castro said to applause. “I’m proud that I’m the only candidate so far that has put forward legislation that would reform our policing system in America and make sure no matter what the color of your skin you are treated the same, including Latinos who are mistreated too often times by police.”
Part 2 of the Democratic presidential primary debate will air Thursday.