Notes on the Eighth Democratic Debate

Editor’s Note: Incumbent President Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican candidate on March 17, 2020. Former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic candidate on April 8, 2020, when Senator Bernie Sanders, the last remaining democratic opponent, suspended his campaign.

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Courtesy of npr.org

Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar (not pictured), Tom Steyer (not pictured, and Andrew Yang (not pictured) duke it out during the February 7th Democratic Debate.

Mika Misawa, Staff Writer

At the time of the eight Democratic debate, February 7th, 2020, the Democratic candidate field was still large although 21 of its original 28 runners had dropped out. With the nominating convention scheduled to start in early July and more state primaries set to begin soon, Democrats are watching these debates looking for their future president.

Rolling off the messy Iowa caucus on Tuesday, February 3rd and anticipating the New Hampshire primary coming up on the 11th, seven Democratic candidates— former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and philanthropist Tom Steyer— took the stage at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Much like previous debates, participants stressed overall party unity against Trump while also attempting to distinguish themselves from their fellow candidates—most commonly, over methodology and experience. 

In the wake of the partisan Senate impeachment trial results, debaters unified against the president with key moments such as Sanders calling Trump a liar as well as asserting that no matter who won the candidacy, the party would be behind him or her, and Buttigieg labeling the Republican investigations into Hunter Biden a “dishonorable distraction.” Tom Steyer constantly reminded everyone that the real goal was beating Trump. He emphasized gaining support “across the spectrum of Democratic voters,” specifically African Americans and Latinos, and increasing voter turnout among Democrats. Yang added that Donald Trump is not the cause, but “a symptom of a disease that has been building up in our communities for years and decades” and that the candidates’ goals should center around “curing” problems like unemployment due to automation. Amity among the candidates was also apparent when Biden offered Sanders an embrace when former Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton’s negative comments on Sanders’ ability to work with others in Congress was brought up. Sanders and Klobuchar also had a friendly moment over the “Klobuchar-Sanders” or “Sanders-Klobuchar” amendment, although Klobuchar concluded that a candidate with the capability of gaining Republican support would be more effective in passing legislation.

The moderates—including Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden—brought up concerns about the progressive wing’s ability to gain the support of independent and moderate Republican voters, mostly targeting Sanders. 

Healthcare

Despite overall agreement over improving the healthcare system to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, the way to achieve this goal was where candidates diverged. Biden, challenging Sanders’ Medicare for All Bill, and Sanders, opposing Biden’s plan of maintaining the current system, disagreed on costs, each claiming the other’s to be more expensive than their own. Klobuchar also brought up the lack of support Medicare for All has among congressional Democrats as well as its effect of forcing “149 million Americans off their current health insurance.” To answer concerns that their policies would alienate independent and Republican voters, Sanders and Warren, another proponent for Medicare-for-All, stressed that their policies appealed to all voters regardless of political party because they would address problems that cannot be fixed by maintaining the current system. Warren said her plan addressing the cost of prescription drugs would reach all voters asserting “we [the Democrats] are the people on the side of those who need healthcare across the country.” Sanders also claimed the insurance and drug companies were hindering people’s access to quality healthcare and his bill proposes the elimination of such private insurance. Both rallied under the cry for re-establishing an incorrupt government for the people and not the rich and powerful, with Sanders insisting “this country belongs to all of us, not a handful of special interests.” 

Buttigieg’s Experience

With Buttigieg’s success in Iowa, other candidates aimed to stifle that lead by calling out his inexperience with executive power. Klobuchar confronted his remark that the Senate impeachment trial was exhausting and unnecessary, saying that it reflected on his inability to make difficult decisions regardless of popular opinion. She pointed out the similarity between Buttigieg and the current president’s newcomer status. Buttigieg argued that his exhaustion of the current divisions and dysfunction in government reflect those of the public and said he believes he would provide a new perspective more representative of the ordinary people.

Foreign Policy

On foreign policy, candidates disagreed with President Trump’s handling of a multiplicity of issues from the air strike on Iranian general Qasem Soleimani to war in Afghanistan and to climate change. They also agreed on the importance of working with foreign leaders of allied countries to stop the spread of terrorism and fight against climate change. Both Steyer and Sanders stressed the use of diplomacy rather than the military to settle international disputes.

The Opioid Crisis

The issue opening part two of the debate was the opioid crisis. Targets of this question, Buttigieg, Yang, and Klobuchar, all agreed on increasing access to overdose and addiction treatment facilities and holding drug companies accountable for the current crisis. Additionally, Klobuchar announced her plan to pay for the cost of these treatment facilities using the federal settlement against the opioid manufacturers and a tax on opioids.

Gun Control

Another top issue opening the second half was gun control. Sanders and Biden argued about the history regarding their views on gun legislation. Sanders defended his past stance against background checks saying he was representing his state’s opinion, and attributed his view change on the populace’s changing view in light of the gun violence problem visible today. Biden, in contrast, brought up his history of aiding the enactment of the first assault weapons ban despite coming from a major gun owner state, twice beating the NRA, and supporting the Brady Bill that was opposed by Sanders. Warren stated America has a gun violence issue that include the mass shootings at schools and churches but also single shootings in communities of color, suicide, and domestic violence against women. She sees gun violence as a public health emergency, and her solution was getting rid of the influence of the gun industry in Washington.

The Supreme Court and Abortion

Regarding the Supreme Court and abortion, all candidates agreed to not pick appointees that are against a woman’s right to choose, justifying this view with various principles. Biden believes the right to choose is an unenumerated right protected under the 9th Amendment while Klobuchar argued the precedent was set by Roe v. Wade. Warren and Sanders also upheld the historic court case, but went further saying it should be codified through legislation as well. Buttigieg voiced his unique plan to reform the Supreme Court by increasing its numbers and eliminating the partisanship affecting the current process of choosing appointees. Biden argued against this proposal saying increasing the number of justices would lead to an abuse of power by whichever party assumes control.

The Criminal Justice System

On criminal justice, Buttigieg responded to criticism regarding the rise in black arrests during his mayoral term by blaming systemic racism. Warren picked up on his inadequate response calling for race-conscious laws in education, employment, and entrepreneurship to combat the racism inherent in our society. Yang countered Warren’s proposal saying “you can’t regulate away racism,” and instead proposed providing minorities with income, giving them buying power. Steyer called for reparations. Sanders said he wants to fix the racist, or “broken” system by investing in education for minority youths, ending the war on drugs, and ending private prisons as well as cash bail. As the debate turned more toward the issue of race, Klobuchar brought up voter restriction laws affecting minorities, and Steyer called for a commission on race to talk about America’s history regarding race relations saying, “out of narrative comes policy.”

Climate Change

Climate change, a sorely under-represented topic in the Democratic debates so far, was brought up with the recently signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. While Sanders, who did not sign it, and Steyer argued the agreement did not do enough to combat climate change, Klobuchar and Warren defended the deal as being a needed compromise that helped workers.

Child Poverty

The final question wrapping up the eighth democratic debate for the 2020 presidential nomination focused on child poverty, asking the candidates to comment on America’s current handling of the issue and their solutions. Yang said he believes in putting real money in the hands of Americans in order to “disentangle economic value and human value.” Buttigieg expressed his concern of a current lack of focus on most Americans, saying he would “measure the performance of our economy— not by the Dow Jones, but by the income growth of the 90%.” Warren criticized the practice of promising change and not delivering, saying she plans to “invest in our future” with a 2-cent wealth tax paying for early childhood education, universal childcare, and universal pre-K, as well as raising wages for child-care workers and preschool teachers. Biden called for a greater focus on kids, saying “they are all our children”, and proposed providing training in vocational trades for all those not going on to college. Sanders attributes the child poverty issue as part of an overall issue regarding the current system: the influence of special interest groups. He believes it is “time to change our national priorities” in order to support the working class. Klobuchar claimed she can bring an empathy to the White House that is currently lacking, saying “I know you and I’ll fight for you.” Steyer finished this debate saying the current administration misunderstands prosperity and does not work for the people, arguing for “a new conception, a new dream of America” and to “make it happen.”

Note: The RNC has cancelled further 2020 presidential debates, holding only a total of three debates and President Trump has declined to show at any of them. As of March 7, 2020, only Bill Weld remains as a Republican challenger to incumbent, President Donald Trump.