MIAMI, Florida (KETK) – Democratic candidates faced off in a second night of debates from Miami Thursday, with a second group of 10 candidates answering questions about the policies they would put forward if elected.
The night was rather more raucous than Wednesday night’s debates, with candidates freely disregarding time limits for speaking, talking over one another and even challenging each other directly.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California took on former Vice President Joe Biden, who has expressed desire to work even with those who disagree with him and bolstered his argument by reflecting on his past work with segregationist senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris, who is African American and Indian.
But she said she found his way of speaking of working with such men “hurtful.”
The exchange came during a sharp discussion of race about midway through the debate when Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, was asked why, when more than a quarter of his city’s population is black, less than 10% of the police force there is made up black officers.
“Because I couldn’t get it done,” Buttigieg answered.
The question came after several difficult days of close scrutiny of Buttigieg’s record on race following a police shooting of a black man in South Bend. Buttigieg has been criticized for his handling of that shooting, of his chilly relations with the black residents of his city, and for his firing several years ago of the city’s black police chief.
“I could walk you through all the things we’ve done as a community, all the steps we took from bias training to deescalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan,” Buttigieg said, referring to the man killed by police.
The debate asked the candidates for their views on a number of topics, including:
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont repeated his pledge to make public university and college education tuition-free and to eliminate student debt, which has ballooned in recent years to become one of the leading causes of debt among Americans.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said he believes in free college for children of low-income families, but not for everyone. He said college needs to be more affordable for all, though. He also said not going to college, but choosing trade or vocational schools, should be more affordable as well.
Biden pledged to repeal President Trump’s tax bill, passed in 2017, which cut corporate tax rates permanently and has been forecast to increase the deficit by as much as $2 trillion over the coming decades.
Harris echoed that pledge and proposed changing the tax code to benefit families making less than $100,000 a year.
Harris won loud cheers and applause from the audience when she said no American should have to work more than 1 job to pay the bills and feed and clothe their families.
Healthcare reform has become a fundamental tenet of the Democratic Party, and all candidates at Thursday night’s debate agreed that America’s healthcare system is broken. Between the costs of hospitals, drugs and insurance premiums and deductibles, the candidates spoke of Americans unable to afford care or too afraid of the costs to get care.
All candidates agreed that the country needs a new system, though they differed on the particulars.
Sanders reiterated his familiar call for Medicare for All, which would virtually eradicate private insurance.
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, though, has said that Medicare for All would cost far too much. Instead, he proposes what he calls Medicare X, a plan that leaves intact existing sources of health insurance and adds in the option of allowing all Americans to buy a public health insurance plan. The plan would pay doctors the same prices that Medicare currently does, and it would allow patients to be seen at the offices and hospitals that Medicare has in network.
The border and immigration, as expected, were prominent issues in the debate. All the candidates expressed their determination to end the current policy of separating families who come into this country without papers, whether they are seeking asylum at ports of entry or seeking to enter the country illegally.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper likened separation to kidnapping by the federal government.
He said he would not have believed it if “you had told me at any time in my life that this country would sanction federal agents taking children from the arms of their parents and put them in cages and put them up for adoption. In Colorado, we call that kidnapping.”
Nine out of the 10 candidates on stage said they believe crossing the border without papers should be a civil rather than criminal offense. Only Bennet differed with that view, though his views otherwise reflected the current thinking of the Democratic Party as a whole.
Aside from that difference, the candidates were generally united on their belief that a pathway to citizenship for those already in this country must be secured, that Dreamers must be protected and given a way to citizenship, and that immigration reform is imperative.
Several candidates also said the U.S. must work to improve conditions in the countries from where the migrants are coming – especially Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – and to help solve the problems of violence and poverty in those countries that are driving their people here.
Guns and Gun Violence:
Candidates also were asked questions on gun violence and what they would do to prevent or at least decrease it.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has been a fierce proponent of changing gun laws in this country with an emphasis on banning assault-type rifles and buying them back. He reiterated that point in the debate.
“Keep your pistols, keep your rifles, keep your shotguns,” he said. “But we can take the most dangerous weapons from the most dangerous people.”
Swalwell, who is the father of a toddler and a 1-month-old infant, said he will approach the issue as a parent, as part of a generation “who sends our children to school and we look at what they’re wearing, in case we have to remember it to identify them later, a generation who has seen a thousand black children killed in our streets, a generation who goes to the theater and actually looks at where the emergency exits are.
“We don’t have to live this way,” said Swalwell. “We must be a country that loves our children more than we love our guns.”
Biden, who spent more than 30 years in the Senate before serving as vice president under President Barack Obama, touted his legislative history in gun reform. He was in the Senate when the Brady Bill passed, following the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and the grievous wounding of James Brady, and spearheaded the assault weapons ban, which lasted from 1994-2004.
He said he still supports an assault weapons ban and, if elected, would work to pass a law mandating that every gun sold in this country going forward would be equipped with smart technology, which would prevent that weapon from firing without a biometric match from the person attempting to pull the trigger.
Advocates of that technology say it would prevent the accidental shootings that kill many children in this country each year and would prevent stolen firearms from being used by those who steal them.
Both the NRA and gun manufacturers have opposed making smart technology on guns mandatory.
The candidates were united in their belief that climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. and the world today. Harris called it a “climate crisis” and committed to rejoining the Paris Accords.
Buttigieg, mayor of a Midwestern town, said rural America should be involved in the fight against climate change because it is being affected as much as California and Florida. In his time as mayor, he said, he has activated the emergency operations center of his city twice in less than two years.
“The first time was for a 1,000-year flood, and the second time was for a 500-year flood,” he said.
He called for a “Pittsburgh Summit” in which the federal government should engage local and regional leaders for their ideas on how to reverse the effects of climate change.
In a sharp difference with other Democratic contenders, Hickenlooper said, as he has before, that “socialism is not the answer” in a jab at the Green New Deal proposed by progressive Democrats. Instead, he called for involving the oil and gas industry in finding solutions to a problem that, he said, is “10 or 12 years from causing irreparable damage” to the planet.
He also touted success in Colorado, where coal plants have been closed in favor of wind and solar farms, where a charging network for electric vehicles is being developed, and where methane regulations have been put into place.