From Kamala Harris on abortion rights to Julián Castro on police violence as gun violence, the 2020 Democratic candidates delivered some memorable responses on Tuesday.
That the issue has come up so little in past debates is “outrageous,” the California senator said, in one of the most moving moments of Tuesday’s three-hour debate.
“There are states that have passed laws that will virtually prevent women from having access to reproductive health care, and it is not an exaggeration to say women will die,” Harris said. “Poor women, women of color will die because these Republican legislatures in these various states who are out of touch with America are telling women what to do with their bodies.”
Harris’s response was echoed by Sen. Cory Booker soon after, noting that two Planned Parenthood clinics had recently closed in Ohio, where the debate was being held. “We are seeing all over this country women’s reproductive rights under attack,” he said. “God bless Kamala. Women should not be the only ones taking up this cause and this fight.”
Harris’s shift of the conversation — and Booker’s follow-up — were among the most attention-grabbing moments of Tuesday’s latest round of Democratic debates. But they weren’t the only ones. From Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on taxing the wealthy to Andrew Yang on universal basic income, here are some of the most significant and substantive responses of the night.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren defend the wealth tax — and hit their competitors on defending billionaires
When the debate moderators brought up income inequality, Sen. Bernie Sanders smiled.
The question was designed as yet another progressive policy litmus test, and that puts him and Sen. Elizabeth Warren center stage.
Both have proposed “wealth taxes” to address rampant inequality in the United States. Warren sells it as a “two-cent tax” on the 75,000 wealthiest families in the country: She’s proposing a 2 percent tax on household assets above $50 million and 3 percent for households with assets worth more than $1 billion. Sanders has come out with his own version of the proposal, one that starts with a 1 percent tax on wealth above $32 million and slowly increases the tax rate on the larger the sum of assets.
Taxing the ultra-rich has become increasingly popular in Democratic circles. This is in part a reaction to the drastic Trump tax cuts, which have not led to the kind of middle-class income growth that was promised. But few have called for going as far as Warren and Sanders.
The moderators asked Sanders: “Is the goal of your plan to tax billionaires out of existence?”
Here’s what Sanders said:
When you have a half a million Americans sleeping out on the street today, when you have 87 people — 87 million people uninsured or underinsured, when you have hundreds of thousands of kids who cannot afford to go to college and millions struggling with the oppressive burden of student debt, and then you also have three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, that is a moral and economic outrage. And the truth is, we cannot afford to continue this level of income and wealth inequality. And we cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working families of this country for 45 years. So if you are asking me, do I think we should demand that the wealthy start paying — the wealthiest top 1 percent — start paying their fair share of taxes so we can create a nation and a government that works for all of us, yes, that’s exactly what I believe.
This question sparked a debate about whether a wealth tax was the best method to address inequality. Beto O’Rourke called instead for an earned income tax credit, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would repeal the recent cuts to the corporate tax rate (which Sanders has also supported in addition to his wealth tax).
Warren got a chance to respond:
I think this is about our values as a country. Show me your budget, show me your tax plans, and we’ll know what your values are. And right now in America the top 1/10th of 1 percent have so much wealth, understand this, that if we put a 2 cent tax on their 50 millionth and first dollar and on every dollar after that, we would have enough money to provide universal childcare for every baby in this country age zero to five. Universal pre-k for every child, raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America, provide for universal tuition-free college, put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities … And cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the people who have it. My question is not why do Bernie and I support a wealth tax, it’s why does everyone else on the stage think it’s more important to protect billionaires than it is to invest in an entire generation.
— Tara Golshan
Julián Castro points out that police violence is gun violence
Amid back-and-forth about gun laws among multiple candidate, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro invoked an often-overlooked potential consequence of the prospect of mandatory gun buybacks: it could mean police officers going door to door to collect people’s firearms. That’s an aspect that can be particularly distasteful to communities of color, which disproportionately bear the weight of police scrutiny — and violence.
“In the places I grew up in, we weren’t exactly looking for another reason for the cops to come banging on the door,” Castro said. He brought up the weekend shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman who was shot in her home by a white police officer performing a welfare check. The officer has been charged with murder.
“I am not going to give these police officers another reason to go door to door in certain communities, because police violence is also gun violence, and we need to address that,” Castro said. According to data from Twitter, Castro’s remark was the most tweeted-about moment of the night.
In June, Castro rolled out a sweeping plan to reform policing; he was the first one to do so of the 2020 Democrats. Among his proposals are putting an end to overly aggressive and biased policing and holding the police accountable for misconduct.
I grew up in neighborhoods where it wasn’t uncommon to hear gunshots at night. I can remember ducking in the back seat of a car as a freshman in high school across the street from my school, a public school, because folks were shooting at each other. Let me answer voluntary versus mandatory [gun buybacks]. There are two problems with mandatory buybacks. Number one, folks can’t define it, and if you’re not going door to door, it’s not really mandatory.
But also, in the places I grew up in, we weren’t exactly looking for another reason for cops to come banging on the door, and you all saw a couple days ago what happened to Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth. A cop showed up at 2 in the morning at her house when she was playing video games with her nephew, he didn’t even announce himself, and within four seconds he shot her and killed her through her own window. She was in her own home. I am not going to give these police officers another reason to go door to door in certain communities because police violence is also gun violence and we need to address that.
— Emily Stewart
Andrew Yang makes the case for UBI
After Bernie Sanders said he’ll respond to automation-induced job loss by giving Americans a federal jobs guarantee, Andrew Yang insisted he had a better idea: universal basic income — the idea that the government should dispense a regular stipend to every single citizen, no strings attached.
Yang has promised that if he becomes president, the government will send a check for $1,000 per month ($12,000 annually) to every American adult above age 18. He calls it the “Freedom Dividend.”
On Tuesday night, he successfully played up two of the appeals of UBI: its simplicity and its directness. His emphasis on putting money straight in people’s pockets — and trusting them to know how best to spend it — helped him stand out, and may have made his proposal more palatable to a broadly individualistic American electorate.
What was most interesting was the way Yang made the case that a UBI is better than a Sanders-style jobs guarantee. He noted it’s important not only that people have jobs, but that they’re able to pursue the work that’s right for them. Here’s what he said:
I am for the spirit of a federal jobs guarantee, but you have to look at how it would actually materialize in practice. What are the jobs? Who manages you? What if you don’t like your job? What if you’re not good at your job? The fact is most Americans do not want to work for the federal government. And saying that that is the vision of the economy of the 21st century to me is not a vision that most Americans would embrace.
Also Senator Sanders’s description of a federal jobs guarantee does not take into the account the work of people like my wife, who’s at home with our two boys, one of whom is autistic. We have a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month, it actually recognizes the work that is happening in our families and our communities. It helps all Americans transition. Because the fact is, and you know this in Ohio, if you rely upon the federal government to target its resources, you wind up with failed retraining programs and jobs that no one wants. When we put the money into our hands, we can build a trickle-up economy — from our people, our families and our communities up. It will enable us to do the kind of work that we want to do. This is the sort of positive vision in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution that we have to embrace as a party.
— Sigal Samuel
Kamala Harris turns the conversation toward reproductive rights
At the third presidential debate in September, reproductive rights weren’t mentioned at all. Sen. Kamala Harris objected at the time, tweeting that the debate “was three hours long and not one question about abortion or reproductive rights.”
This time, she took matters into her own hands. During a discussion about taxes under Medicare for All (something that’s gotten a lot of attention at previous debates, to say the least), Harris turned the conversation to another aspect of health care: abortion. Here’s what she said:
This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today. And it’s outrageous. There are states that have passed laws that will virtually prevent women from having access to reproductive health care, and it is not an exaggeration to say women will die. Poor women, women of color will die because these Republican legislatures in these various states who are out of touch with America are telling women what to do with their bodies. Women are the majority of the population in this country. People need to keep their hands off of women’s bodies and let women make the decisions about their own lives.
Harris is one of several Democratic presidential candidates with robust plans for maintaining and expanding abortion access around the country, even as Republican-controlled state legislatures pass near-total bans and other restrictions on reproductive care. But they haven’t had much of a chance to talk about them at the previous debates. Harris brought up the oversight, making the point that abortion “is a significant health care issue in America today.”
— Anna North
Pete Buttigieg dismantles Trump’s Syria strategy — and makes the case for American leadership
Trump abandoned America’s Kurdish allies when he made the abrupt decision to withdraw US forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to invade. In the seven days since, Turkey’s incursion has unleashed a humanitarian crisis, created an opening for ISIS, and reshuffled alliances in the Syrian war, leaving the US with no leverage in Syria and again badly damaging American credibility with allies.
So it’s no surprise Syria came up in Tuesday’s debate. Democrats have largely embraced the stance of ending America’s “forever wars” in the Middle East, but here they were confronted with the complicated reality of what can happen when America does leave.
Buttigieg’s foreign policy plan straddles that line too: It calls for limiting America’s endless engagement overseas, including “repealing and replacing” the 2011 Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was intended for al-Qaeda after 9/11, but has ultimately given presidents broad authority to go after terrorism everywhere. But Buttigieg has also said that the US should continue to provide “security assistance” to those fighting terrorists — which sounds a lot like what he the US was doing in Syria, up until last week.
His response to Tuesday night’s question, however, was a clear, forceful takedown of Trump’s Syria policy and an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership.
In doing so, he touted his own military service, showed off his foreign policy credentials (not bad for a small-town mayor!), and probably got the attention of a lot of people who worry that another four years of Trump will irrevocably damage US standing in the world:
Well, respectfully, congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong. The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.
Look, I didn’t think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place. I think we need to get out of Afghanistan, but it’s also the case that a small number of specialized, special operations forces and intelligence capabilities were the only thing that stood between that part of Syria and what we’re seeing now, which is the beginning of a genocide and the resurgence of ISIS.
Meanwhile, soldiers in the field are reporting that, for the first time, they feel ashamed — ashamed of what their country has done. We saw the spectacle, the horrifying sight of a woman with the lifeless body of her child in her arms asking what the hell happened to American leadership.
When I was deployed, I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the fact that the flag on my shoulder represented a country known to keep its word. And our allies knew it. And our enemies knew that. You take that away, you are taking away what makes America America. It makes the troops and the world a much more dangerous place.
— Jen Kirby
Elizabeth Warren takes credit where it’s due on the CFPB
In terms of executive experience, the most important piece of Sen. Warren’s resumé is her work in championing Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And on Tuesday evening, she reminded voters of that.
Warren first conceived of the agency as a Harvard professor in 2007. After the financial crisis, she went to Washington, DC to help get it codified into the Dodd-Frank reform bill, and she spent nearly a year setting the consumer agency up.
It’s one of the central arguments for her candidacy, though it’s not one she makes often: she has experience in executive branch, and she understands the levers of power, including when it comes to regulation. The Massachusetts Democrat jumped at the opportunity to point that out. “I know what we can do by executive authority, and I will use it,” Warren said.
So you started this question with how you got something done. Following the financial crash of 2008, I had an idea for a consumer agency that would keep giant banks from cheating people. And all of the Washington insiders and strategic geniuses said, don’t even try because you will never get it passed. And sure enough, the big banks fought us. The Republicans fought us. Some of the Democrats fought us. But we got that agency passed into law. It has now forced big banks to return more than $12 billion directly to people they cheated. I served in the Obama administration. I know what we can do by executive authority, and I will use it. In Congress, on the first day, I will pass my anti-corruption bill, which will beat back the influence of money and repeal the filibuster. And the third, we want to get something done in America, we have to get out there and fight for the things that touch people’s lives.
Vice President Joe Biden interjected to note that he had backed the CFPB and helped it to gain support in Congress — to which Warren responded with a dig redirecting credit, too, thanking former President Barack Obama for championing the agency.
She then brought it back to her fight to get the bureau in place. “Understand this: it was … dream big, fight hard,” she said. “People told me, ‘Go for something little, go for something small, go for something that the big corporations will be able to accept.’ I said no. Let’s go for an agency that will make structural change in our economy.”
— Emily Stewart
Cory Booker brings home his message of love
Author and activist Marianne Williamson wasn’t on stage on Tuesday, but there is another candidate also running on a message of love: Sen. Cory Booker. And in his last response of the evening, the New Jersey Democrat returned to that theme that is a core part of his candidacy.
“I believe in the values of rugged individualism and self-reliance, but think about our history. Rugged individualism didn’t get us to the moon, it didn’t beat the Nazis, it didn’t map the human genome, it didn’t beat Jim Crow,” he said.
He noted that among his fellow primary contenders are an openly gay man and a black woman, the result of a common struggle and a common purpose. It might have come off as a little sappy, but it was also moving.
“You cannot love your country unless you love your fellow country men and women,” Booker said. “Love is not sentimentality, it’s not anemic. Love is struggle, love is sacrifice.”
Well look, I have so many, I don’t even know where to count. I was the mayor of a large city with a Republican governor. He and I had to form a friendship even though I can write a dissertation on our disagreements. When I got to the United States Senate, I went there with the purpose of making friendships across the aisle. I go to bible study in Chairman Inhofe’s office. He and I passed legislation together to help homeless and foster kids. I went out to try to invite every one of my Republican colleagues to dinner. And let me again say, finding a dinner in a restaurant agreeing on one with Ted Cruz was a very difficult thing. I’m a vegan, and he’s a meat-eating Texan. But I’ll tell you this right now. This is the moment in America that this is our test. The spirit of our country –– I believe in the values of rugged individualism and self-reliance.
But think about our history. Rugged individualism didn’t get us to the moon. It didn’t beat the Nazis. It didn’t map the human genome. It didn’t beat Jim Crow. Everything we did in this country big and –– and vice president we have done so many big things. The fact that there’s an openly gay man. A black woman. All of us on this stage are because we in the past are all inheritors of a legacy of common struggle and common purpose. This election is not a referendum on one guy in one office. It’s a referendum on who we are and who we must be to each other. The next leader is going to have to be one amongst us Democrats that can unite us all. Not throw elbows at other Democrats that are unfair. Because the preparation is being the leader that can revive civic grace in our country, teach us a more courageous empathy and remind America that patriotism is love of country. And you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow country men and women. And love is not sentimentality, it’s not anemic. Love is struggle. Love is sacrifice. Love is the words of our founders who said at the end of the Declaration of Independence that if we’re ever going to make it as a nation we must mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. I’m running for president to restore that sacred honor. And if you believe in that like I do, please join me by going to coreybooker.com.
— Emily Stewart
Author: Emily Stewart