With roughly a year left until the 2020 election, the top ten candidates competing for the Democratic nomination sought to stake their claim for the presidency last week, with some remaining consistent, others gaining more notice and former standouts showing noticeable signs of falter.
The third installment of the Democratic debate aired live on ABC from Houston, Texas. The venue for the debate stage on this night was Texas State University, one of the largest historically black universities in the nation.
The moderators handling the debate were ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Linsey Davis alongside journalist and Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos.
In contrast to the previous two debates, this one was held for a single night over the course of three hours and featured the ten candidates who managed to poll high enough to qualify for the debate stage.
The race’s top three candidates, former vice president Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, found themselves in a battle to maintain their momentum as California Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Businessman Andrew Yang, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar made attempts to inject some into their flagging campaigns.
After a quick reminder of the rules and regulations by each of the moderators, the debate was underway.
In usual fashion, each of the candidates began by providing a brief and broad outline of their proposals and promises.
Afterwards, Biden was prompted by debate moderator Stephanopoulos on the question of whether he felt that his two biggest rivals in the race—Sanders and Warren—were supportive of proposals that would push the Democratic party too far to the left, particularly in the case of healthcare, with Sanders and Warren both supporting proposals to replace Obamacare with Medicare for All while Biden aims to build upon the current system.
“I think we should have a debate on healthcare…I know that the former senator (Warren) says she’s for Bernie (Medicare for All), I’m for Barack (Obamacare),” said the former vice president.
“I think the way we add to it is to replace everything that was cut, add a public option, guarantee that everyone will be able to have affordable insurance… how are we going to pay for it (Medicare for All)?…I lay out how I can pay for it (Obamacare), how I can get it done and why it’s better.”
In response, Warren pushed her mantra of implementing a healthcare plan that covers people “at the lowest possible cost.”
“How do we pay for it?” Warren asked, with a quick glance at Biden. “Those at the very top—the richest individuals and the biggest corporations—are going to pay more and middle-class families are going to pay less.”
Turning his attention to Sanders, Stephanopoulos mentioned the likelihood of Medicare for All’s high cost to the federal budget and potential raise in taxes on Americans.
“Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost effective approach for providing healthcare to every man, woman and child in this country,” said the Vermont senator. ”…no one in America will pay more than $200 a year for prescription drugs because we’re going to stand up to the greed, corruption and price fixing of the pharmaceutical industry. We need a healthcare system that guarantees healthcare to all people, as every other major country does. Not a system which provides $100 billion a year in profit for the drug companies and the insurance companies.”
Making sure that his proposal to build on Obamacare wasn’t drowned out by the cheers Warren and Sanders received, Biden struck back, keying in on the potential costs that may incur under Medicare for All.
“The tax at 2% that the senator’s (Warren) talking about? That raises about $3 billion. Guess what? That leaves you about $28 billion short…there will be a deductible—in your paycheck. Someone making $60 grand with three kids, they’re going to end up paying $5,000 more, they’re going to end up paying 4% more on their income tax. That’s not a bad idea if you like it. I don’t like it.”
Midway through the first hour, the focus was turned to Harris in regard to criminal justice reform.
“You released your plan for that (criminal justice reform) just this week and it does contradict some of your prior positions,” stated Davis. “Among them, you used to oppose the legalization of marijuana—now you don’t. You used to oppose outside investigations of police shootings—now you don’t. You said that you’ve changed on these and other things because you were ‘Swimming against the current and thankfully the current has changed.’ But when you had the power, why didn’t you try to affect change then?”
After a roar of cheers and applause from the audience, Harris gave her defense.
“I made the decision that if I was going to have the ability to reform the system, I would try to do it from the inside…I created one of the first in the nation requirements that a state law enforcement agency would have to wear cameras and keep them on full-time…I created one of the first in the nation training for police officers on the issue of racial bias… my plan has been described by activists as being a bold and comprehensive plan that is about ending mass incarceration, about taking the profit out of the criminal justice system…as president of the United States—knowing the system from the inside—I’ll have the ability to be an effective leader and to get this job complete.”
Later on, the issue of gun control came up. With the location of this debate just miles away from yet another shooting that took place mere weeks ago, the topic was a noticeably touchy one for Texas native and former representative O’Rourke, who voiced a hard-line stance on banning assault rifles should he be elected president.
“In Odessa, I met the mother of a fifteen-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour, because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and there weren’t enough ambulances to get to them in time,” said O’Rourke. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AK-47, your AR-15, we’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
A key moment of the night came by way of an exchange between Biden and Castro, in which the former Housing and Urban Development secretary pounced on an opportunity to question Biden’s memory regarding his own healthcare proposals.
“Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave ten million people uncovered. He wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that, your plan would not,” said Castro.
“They do not have to buy in, they do not have to buy in,” responded Biden.
“You just said that two minutes ago,” Castro fired back. “You just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy in. Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”
Following a chorus of claps and murmurs, Castro struck again.
“His (Biden’s) healthcare plan would not automatically enroll you, you would have to opt in. My healthcare plan would. That’s a big difference. I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”
Perhaps the most viral moment of the night, once again starring Biden, was produced after the Democratic front-runner was questioned about reparations and repairing the legacy of slavery in America.
After being noted of a forty-year-old comment he made in regards to racial equality and segregation in schools, in which he said “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened three hundred years ago,” Biden offered a confusing response that revolved around bringing in social workers to teach low-income parents how to raise their children and exposing children to the sounds of record players.
Overall, much shouldn’t be expected to arise out of this debate. Biden, Sanders and Warren remain the leaders in the polls and performed the best despite Biden stumbling over many of his words (in addition to dealing with protestors during his closing statements) and the two senators stayed consistent but not exemplary in their performances.
With the other contenders slipping in the polls and seemingly doing nothing to distinguish themselves Thursday night, it’s anyone’s guess as to which of the candidates will cut their losses and hang up the banners prior to the next debate.