Miami (USA) / The first cluster of Democratic candidates vying to be the party’s nominee in the 2020 presidential election faced off for the opening debate on Wednesday night in Miami, where they addressed hot-button issues such as the ongoing immigration crisis at the United States’ southern border, various economic concerns and the looming threat of climate change.
There are currently almost two dozen candidates in the race to be chosen in next year’s Democratic National Convention as the party’s standard-bearer and rival to incumbent President Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election for a second term in the ballot scheduled to be held on Nov. 3, 2020.
The large field of candidates led the party to split the first debate, hosted by television network NBC, into two separate events held on consecutive nights, with 10 contenders taking part in each. A handful of hopefuls did not meet the DNC’s polling and fundraising criteria to qualify.
The debate on Wednesday night included Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Texas Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The immigration crisis unfolding at the border between the United States and Mexico dominated the debate, which saw a split between those who called for a swift end to the criminalization of undocumented migrants crossing the border and those advocating for more moderate reform.
Castro, a former member of ex-president Barack Obama’s cabinet (2014-2017) and the only Hispanic person on the stage, argued for the repeal of Section 1325 of the United States Code – part of the Immigration and Nationality Act – that has allowed the Trump administration to implement its “zero tolerance” policy towards undocumented migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.
He said border crossings should be treated as civil violations rather than federal offenses, and vowed to sign an executive order to repeal measures such as the so-called metering policy that “prompted Oscar and Valeria to make that risky swim across the river.”
The former HUD secretary was referring to Salvadoran Oscar Alberto Martinez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, whose intertwined dead bodies were found on Monday lying on the banks of the Rio Grande river after trying to cross into Texas. They were captured in a photo that grabbed headlines and turned into a symbol of the humanitarian crisis that is getting worse by the day.
Castro confronted O’Rourke, who said he was not in favor of removing the provision, citing the possibility that it would provide a free pass to human- and drug-traffickers, an argument rejected by Castro and Ryan, who said the same law had other sections to deal with such criminals.
Booker promised that on his first day in office, he would reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy to protect undocumented minors. “When people come to this country, they do not leave their human rights at the border,” he said.
De Blasio, on the other hand, said that American citizens should be told that immigrants were not the cause of the problems they were facing.
There was a clear contrast between the moderate and progressive wings of the party when it came to addressing the challenges facing the US economy.
Warren – who played a crucial role in creating the now-crippled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – and Booker both jumped at the early chance to tout their antitrust bona fides.
Asked about Warren’s plan to break up tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, Booker declared his general opposition to corporate consolidation, adding that he would single out companies that pay nothing in taxes and appoint judges who would uphold antitrust laws.
“We’ve had the laws out there for a long time to be able to fight back,” Warren said. “What’s been missing is courage in Washington to take on the giants.”
One of the defining moments of the debate was when the candidates were asked to raise their hand if they would support eliminating private health insurance. Warren and de Blasio were the only ones to do so.
“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” Warren said, referring to Sanders, one of her leading rivals for the nomination. “I understand there are a lot of politicians who say it’s just not possible. What they’re telling you is that they just won’t fight for it.”
O’Rourke said he would not support eliminating private insurance. “No, I think the choice is fundamental,” he said, a stance that was questioned by de Blasio, who said private insurance wasn’t working for tens of millions of Americans struggling to afford co-pays, deductibles, premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
A big challenge for Democrats hoping to remove Trump from the White House in 2020 is the country’s presently strong economy. The candidates indicated they would make economic inequality a rallying cry.
“Who is this economy really working for?” Warren asked. “It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top.”
Klobuchar said: “We know that not everyone is sharing in this prosperity and Donald Trump just sits in the White House and gloats about what’s going on when you have so many people that are having trouble affording college and affording their premiums.”
And even as he dodged a question about whether he would support a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent for income over $10 million, O’Rourke said: “This economy has got to work for everyone and right now we know it isn’t.”
Inslee, whose presidential platform primarily revolves around climate policy, used his home state of Washington as the blueprint to tackle the threat of global warming by promoting renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“The first thing I’d do is sign an executive order to again commit ourselves to the Paris Agreement,” said Castro in reference to the 2015 climate deal signed by every country in the world except Syria and the US, who withdrew from it two years ago on Trump’s orders.
Delaney, on the other hand, opted for a bipartisan bill imposing a carbon tax.
The next debate, scheduled for Thursday night, is set to feature other candidates including former Vice-President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – considered two of the frontrunners – as well as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
They will be joined by former Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett, the former governor of the same state, John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, activist Marianne Williamson and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang. (June 26, 2019, EFE/Practica Español)