Candidates discuss Medicare, race relations in second round of debates


Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS

Candidates listen as the national anthem plays before the second night of debates in Detroit. The presidential hopefuls discussed a range of issues like healthcare, race and climate change.

Sophia Scanlan and Wilson Chapman

Wednesday night brought to a close the second pair of Democratic debates ahead of the 2020 primaries. The debate featured the remaining 10 candidates, including frontrunners Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former Vice President Joe Biden, who met for a rematch after squaring off in the last round.

The debate welcomed a variety of other candidates as well, including national politicians like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), statewide leaders like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and even tech executive Andrew Yang, who has no political experience.

Throughout the evening, the candidates discussed a plethora of topics ranging from immigration reform to tax cuts to foreign policy, often battling each other over the intricacies of their proposals or plans of action.

The contenders also touched on four issues particularly relevant to the Northwestern and Evanston communities — healthcare, race, climate change and gender.

The debate began with an extended discussion about healthcare, which has been a main platform for many candidates in the race.

Much of the conversation centered around a divide among Medicare policies. Although all candidates agreed on expanding healthcare coverage, they disagreed on how to carry out these changes. For example, Biden wants to build on the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, by adding a public option and increasing subsidies for purchasing plans.

Harris sparred with Biden on the healthcare plan; earlier this week, she had released information for her Medicare plan, which would transition to a national health insurance plan in 10 years but would allow people to sign up for a private option. Under Harris’ plan, the middle class would be exempt from paying extra taxes for the coverage, while high-income households would face while high-income households would face an income-based premium.

“The bottom line is this: We must agree that access to health care must be a right and not just a privilege of those who can afford it,” she said.

None of the candidates on stage Wednesday had medicare proposals as ambitious as the ones proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Tuesday, whose plans would eliminate privatized healthcare and insurance.

Harris’ plan has been criticized by both moderate Democrats and Medicare for All progressives for different reasons. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said it would ban an entire industry, while Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) noted that one of the chief supporters of Harris’ plan is former Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has ties to the private insurance industry.

During the conversation, Booker made the point that the Democratic party needs to be united on the issue of healthcare and stop arguing over intricacies. Booker said they need to focus on combating Republicans who are trying to repeal the healthcare the country already has instead of squabbling on specific policies.

Race relations
Race was another contentious topic in the debate. The first mention of it came in the opening minutes — and not from the candidates themselves.

Just after New York mayor Bill de Blasio gave his opening statement, a group in the audience began chanting “Fire (Daniel) Pantaleo,” in reference to the New York police officer who killed Eric Garner using an illegal chokehold in 2014.

Though de Blasio didn’t give a definitive explanation as to why Pantaleo remains employed, several candidates attacked his lack of action and discussed how they would ameliorate race relations in the country.

Yang proposed revisiting the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro suggested imposing a national use of force standard for police officers and Booker called for more criminal justice reform.

Harris reminded the audience about her requiring of California police officers to wear body cameras, and she once again tried to distinguish herself from Biden on his record with race.

“Had those segregationists their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate… and Barack Obama would not have been in the position to nominate (Biden) to the title he now holds,” she said. “And so, on that issue, we could not be more apart, which is that the vice president has still failed to acknowledge that it was wrong to take the position that he took at that time.”

Inslee said he hopes to fix the school-to-prison pipeline throughout the country.

He added that he approached the question of fixing race relations in the U.S. “with humility.”

“I have not experienced what many Americans have,” Inslee said. “I’ve never been a black teenager pulled over in a white neighborhood. I’ve never been a woman talked over in a meeting. I’ve never been an LGBT (community member) subject to a slur. And so I have believed I have an added responsibility, a double responsibility, to deal with racial disparity.”

Climate change
Although all of the candidates in the race have spoken about climate change being a pressing concern, the moderators noted that only Inslee has made environmental policy his preeminent platform; when Inslee started running, environmental policy was the only issue he focused on.

During the debate, Inslee criticized Biden in particular for being slow to respond to climate change, after Biden said he would “work it out” by slowly eliminating coal. Inslee stressed how urgent climate change was, and said there is no time to act cautiously. He pointed out how his plan was backed by leading climate activists, and criticized middle-ground approaches to combating combating climate change.

“We cannot work this out. The time is up,” Inslee said. “Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in 10 years and we need a president to do it or it won’t get done. Get off coal. Save this country and the planet.”

Other candidates made similar promises about climate change. Gabbard mentioned her work in Congress introducing the Off Fossil Fuels Act. Gillibrand said the second thing she would do if she becomes president – after Cloroxing the oval office – is signing the Paris Climate Accords. Booker went further, arguing that the Paris Climate Accords is the bare minimum.

“Nobody should get applause for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord,” Booker said. “That is kindergarten.”

Yang made the most dire forecast, saying that although the party needs to begin doing everything it can, it is far too late to reverse the effects of climate change, and Democrats need to start taking precaution for inevitable catastrophes.

“We are too late. We are 10 years too late,” Yang said. “We need to start moving people to higher ground.”

The treatment of women
A final topic of Wednesday night’s debate centered around America’s treatment of women — specifically, their pay and reproductive rights.

Yang opened the conversation by offering to pay women a monthly dividend of $1,000 in an effort to provide them with economic freedom to “improve their own situations.” Harris said she’d fine companies 1 percent of the previous year’s profit for every differential between what they pay men versus women.

“That will get everyone’s attention,” she said.

Gillibrand, however, didn’t think that closing the pay gap would solve the mistreatment of women in America.

“We have to have a broader conversation about whether we value women and whether we want to make sure women have every opportunity in the workplace,” she said, before calling out Biden for possible demeaning language he used in a 1981 op-ed in Salisbury, Maryland’s The Daily Times to describe women’s roles.

Biden responded, saying he championed women’s rights in all its forms, having written the Violence Against Women Act and helped create the It’s on Us campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

“I was deeply involved on all these things,” he said. “I’m passionate about the concern making sure women are treated equally.”

The next debates are set to take place on September 12 — and possibly September 13 — at Texas Southern University in Houston. Candidates will qualify by receiving at least 2 percent in four DNC-approved polls and at least 130,000 donors, including at least 400 in 20 or more states, by August 28.

So far, Booker, Biden, Harris, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), Sanders and Warren have met both requirements.

Read more about Tuesday night’s debate here.

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Twitter: @sophia_scanlan

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Twitter: @wilsonchapman6