Ten Democrats took the stage tonight at the historic Fox Theater in downtown Detroit, Michigan for a second night in the second series of debates. Hosted by CNN and moderated by Dana Bash, Don Lemon and Jake Tapper, the dual debates are intended to be a spirited discussion of issues between the candidate even as they battle for the attention (and donations) of the American people.
Tonight, round two candidates include:
- Sen. Michael Bennet
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
- Sen. Cory Booker
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Sen. Kamala Harris
- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
- Gov. Jay Inslee
- Mayor Bill de Blasio
The format of Wednesday night's debate was the same as it was for candidates on Tuesday. Moderators will not ask questions that require one-word answers, nor will they ask candidates to show their hands in response to questions asked. Each candidate will have 60-second opening and closing statement, and 60-seconds to respond to questions asked of them by CNN's moderators. The debate is scheduled to last for two hours, but, after Tuesday night, it's clear the candidates may try and push for more time.
Tonight is also the last time we'll see this many candidates together on a debate stage. The Democratic National Committee raised the qualifying threshold for the next round of debates scheduled in September.
Biden and Harris met on stage after they sparred last month in Miami over federally ordered busing, in which Harris personalized the issue to push back on Biden's record. As Harris approached the center of the stage, Biden could be heard saying, "Go easy on me kid," as they shook hands and she put her hand on his arm.
"How are you doing?" she asked her on-stage rival. "Are you good?"
"I'm good," Biden said with a smile.
After the rest of the candidates were introduced, they took up their positions and the debate began which each candidate's opening statements. The Democrats on-stage attempted to distinguish themselves and their policies from their fellow candidates on stage. A protester attempted to interrupt de Blasio as he neared the end of his opening statement, but the protest ended quickly and was not acknowledged by the candidates or moderators. The protesters returned during Sen. Cory Booker's opening statement, forcing him to stop while they were escorted out. The protesters were chanting "Fire Pantaleo," referring to the officer involved in the Eric Garner case in New York City where de Blasio is mayor.
The first question went to Harris asking about her healthcare plan, a version of 'Medicare for All' her campaign released this week, and whether it was a realistic, something Biden has pushed back on.
"This is the single most important issue facing the public—and to be very blunt and to be very straightforward, you can't beat President Trump with double talk on this plan," Biden told Harris. He pointed out that Harris' plan would get rid of employer-sponsored health insurance, and cost $3 trillion in ten years.
"I designed a plan responsive to the needs of American families," Harris replied.
After a spirited back and forth over healthcare and how each policy plan the candidates backed, the topic shifted to immigration. When asked if decriminalizing border crossings would send a message that the border is "effectively open to all," Castro said the discussion shouldn't be centered around Republican talking points, but rather having a humane immigration policy in general.
Castro used his time to attack Biden's position on the issue, arguing that it looked like "one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't," in a pointed reply to whether border crossings should be considered criminal.
“If you elect me as president, you’re not electing me to follow,” Castro said. “You’re electing me to lead.”
Gov. Jay Inslee got one of the bigger applause lines of the night when he began his answer about immigration with a jab at President Donald Trump saying, "We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House."
Inslee described how he's opposed Trump on immigration saying that we needed to make America what it has always been - "a place of refuge."
"We got to boost the number of people we accept. I'm proud to have been the first governor, saying send us your Syrian refugees," Inslee said. "I'm proud to have been the first governor to stand up against Donald Trump's Muslim ban. I'm proud to have sued him 21 times and beat him 21 times in a row. I'm ready for November 2020."
Other candidates pushed back against Biden's position on the issue of deportations, with de Blasio asking if he counseled President Obama on whether they were a mistake or not.
Biden refused to speak publicly about the advice he gave the president during their time together, but Booker continued the line of attack questioning the former vice president.
"Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways," Booker said, challenging Biden and his tendency to bring Obama up. "You invoke President Obama more than anyone else in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not."
Biden, the target on his back growing larger as the debate wore on, was attacked again by Booker on his record of criminal justice reform. In one particularly tense moment, the senator from New Jersey called Biden's plan an inadequate solution to the "raging crisis" in the United States. Biden, retreated to try and defend his former voting record, but Booker wasn't satisfied.
"My response is that this is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty, mental and addiction by locking people up and not lifting them up," the senator said. "And Mr. Vice President has said that since the 1970's, every major crime bill, every crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it. And sir, those are your words, not mine. And this is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws. And you can't just now come out with a plan to put out that fire. We have got to have far more bold action on criminal justice reform."
Biden, at one point referring to Booker as "the future president," said the bills Booker was talking about were passed years ago in a bipartisan fashion. The former vice president cited his attempts to get the crack powder/cocaine disparity in punishments eliminated, contrasting that with Booker's time as mayor of Newark and hiring the same person responsible for New York City's "stop and frisk" policy.
"If you want to compare records and I'm shocked that you do, I am happy to do that," Booker replied sharply.
CNN's moderators brought the topic of federally mandated busing back, the same subject Harris and Biden sparred over during last month's debate. Following the exchange, Biden said the two of them shared the same position on the issue. Harris fired back immediately.
"Had those segregationists had their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, Cory Booker would not be a member of the United States Senate and President Obama would not have been in a position to nominate him to the place he holds," Harris said.
The topic shifted to global climate change with the first question going to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made climate change a central focus for his campaign. When asked why climate change was his top priority, Inslee cited a recent U.N. report that said we were running out of time.
"We cannot work this out. The time is up," Inslee said. "Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in ten years and we need a president to do it or it won't get done. Get off coal. Save this country and the planet."
Each candidate pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, signed by nearly 200 countries, that allowed nations to set their own carbon reduction goals.
The candidates sparred over how far each one would go in combating climate change. Gillibrand, who is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, got a laugh with her shot at Trump after she was asked her position.
"So, the first thing that I'm going to do when I'm president is I'm going to Clorox the Oval Office," she said, to cheers and laughter from the audience.
Gillibrand went on to promise that the second thing she would do would be to "will reengage on global climate change, and I will not only sign the Paris Global Climate Accords, but I will lead a worldwide conversation about the urgency of this crisis."
"The greatest threat to humanity, is global climate change," Gillibrand said.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said she took the climate change debate "personal" after growing up in Hawaii where there is a culture of caring for the environment.
"First of all, this is personal. You can imagine I grew up in Hawaii, which is the most remote island chain in the world, so for us growing up there, protecting our environment was not a political issue, it’s a way of life," she said. "It’s part of our culture. It’s part of who we are."
She pointed to legislation she sponsored that went even further than the Green New Deal, called the "Off Fossil Fuels Acts" that would transition America's economy into a green economy and build badly needed infrastructure.
Gillibrand took an opportunity to hammer Biden about an op-ed he wrote years ago about women who worked outside the home.
"When the Senate was debating middle class affordability for child care he wrote an op-ed. He voted against it," Gillibrand said. "He wrote an op-ed: He believed that women working outside the home would, quote, 'create the deterioration of family.' He also said that women who were working outside the home were quote, 'avoiding responsibility.'"
Biden responded saying the quotes from the op-ed was "a long time ago" and that he wanted a tax credit for child care for middle income families.
"It would have given people making today $100,000 a year tax break for child care," Biden said. "I didn't want that. I wanted the child care to go to people making less than $100,000."
Gillibrand pressed the vice president for an answer, reminding him that he hadn't answered her question.
"What did you mean when you said when a woman works outside the home, it's resulting in, quote, 'the deterioration of family'?" she asked.
The former vice president cited his late wife and his current wife, both of whom worked outside the home and his other work on women's rights issues, such as the Violence Against Women Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act.
"Mr. Vice President, I respect you deeply. I respect you deeply. But those words are very specific," Gillibrand said. "You said women working outside the home lead to the deterioration of family."
"I never believed it," Biden replied, ending the discussion.
Toward the end of the debate, the discussions shifted to whether it was politically feasible, or even time to begin impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump. Booker took a strong stance, saying the Senate should begin immediately, citing their oath to uphold the constitution.
"When we look back in history at what happened when the president of the United States started acting more like an authoritarian leader than the leader of the free world, the question is, what will we have done, and I believe the Congress should do its job," he said to applause.
Other candidates questioned the timing of such an act and whether Trump could even use the impeachment (or lack thereof) as proof of him doing nothing wrong.
“We can’t do anything that plays into his hands,” Bennet said.
That was a sentiment Castro disagreed with, saying he really believed “we can walk and chew gum at the same time."
As the debate crossed the 2-and-a-half hour mark, candidates were given 60 seconds for their closing statements. Each person on stage reiterated their positions and priorities in their campaigns, with some attacking Trump directly and making the case that they were the best best person on stage to defeat him.
The next debate is scheduled for Sept. 12-13 and with the requirements set by the Democratic National Committee far more stringent on who will qualify. That suggests the large field of candidates could thin over the next month as people fail to qualify. The DNC will require candidates to have a minimum of 130,000 donors, with at least 40 donors coming from 20 different states or territories. Polling requirements will also be raised and candidates would have to poll at least 2% in four separate polls approved by the DNC.
Candidates must meet both requirements before they will be accepted for the debate.
Photos: Getty Images