The second night of the first Democratic primary debate saw 10 candidates criticize President Donald Trump and spar over racial issues, the scope of healthcare policies and the universality of government assistance programs.
The debate on Thursday night came a day after the first batch of the 10 presidential hopefuls squared off in an event hosted by television network NBC in Miami, as the party decided to divide the field of 20 candidates into two groups of 10, reports Efe news.
Thursday’s stage featured former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, California Representative Eric Swalwell, activist and author Marianne Williamson and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
The common denominator between all candidates was a withering criticism of Trump’s actions in his time in office, as well as their rejection of the tax cut package passed by the Republican-dominated Congress in 2017 that primarily benefited the wealthiest segments of the American society and is estimated to carry a loss of $1.5 trillion to US coffers.
Another target of their ire was Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose decision to refuse confirmation of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 was widely seen among Democrats as a prime example of extreme partisanship and obstruction.
Biden faced challenges from a new generation of presidential hopefuls who took aim at his decades-long record as a Delaware senator and questioned whether the party’s Obama-era policies have gone far enough in achieving progressive goals, Dow Jones reported.
The arguments pivoted over the role of government in healthcare and other issues – and whether the party should embrace aspects of democratic socialism, a position repeatedly pushed by Sanders, who was standing at Biden’s left.
In the sharpest exchange of the night, Harris, who is black and also of Indian descent, directly told Biden that while she didn’t believe he was a racist, it was hurtful to hear him warmly recall working with two deceased segregationist senators.
She also questioned his opposition to federally ordered busing to integrate schools during the 1970s.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day,” Harris said. “That little girl was me.”
Biden sought to defend his record, saying he was only against “busing ordered by the Department of Education” but didn’t oppose local integration efforts, and tried to put his comments about former Senate colleagues in context.
“It’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board,” Biden responded forcefully. “I did not praise racists.”
Biden, the party’s front-runner who is seeking the presidency for the third time, drew criticism last week when he referred to the two racist Southern senators when speaking of a time when the Senate could achieve “civility”.
Two of Biden’s chief rivals, Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who appeared in Wednesday night’s debate, have advocated for steep tax increases for the wealthy and corporations to fund their sweeping plans for an expansive health-care system, college affordability and safeguards against climate change.
Sanders was pressed on whether he would raise taxes on middle-class earners to pay for his comprehensive proposals to provide universal health care and free college.
“Yes, they will pay more in taxes,” he acknowledged, “but less in health care for what they will get.”
Hickenlooper, a one-time brewpub owner, warned that the democratic socialism embraced by Sanders and some of the hopefuls could hurt the party.
Bennet joined in, warning that Sanders’ plan would ban all but “cosmetic” private insurance.
He added his plan would allow Americans to go to the healthcare provider of their choice.
In another exchange, when the candidates were asked if their healthcare plans would cover undocumented immigrants, all 10 raised their hands.
Biden, 76, was confronted by his fellow Democrats from the outset, including by 38-year-old Swalwell, who urged him to “pass the torch” and allow younger Democrats to lead the party.
The age contrast also was apparent as Biden stood next to 37-year-old Buttigieg, who noted that he was still dealing with six figures worth of student debt.
The two rounds of debates were held ahead of Sunday’s second-quarter fundraising deadline, which may yield more clarity on the candidates’ viability as their totals trickle out ahead of a July 15 reporting deadline.