Democrats fight over health care, immigration at debate
August 1, 2019
From left, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen.
Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., former Housing and Urban
Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory
Booker, D-N.J., former Vice President Joe Biden,
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Andrew Yang, Rep.
Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are
introduced before the second of two Democratic
presidential primary debates hosted by CNN
Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in
ideological divisions gripping the Democratic Party
intensified on Wednesday as presidential candidates
waged an acrimonious battle over health care,
immigration and race that tested the strength of early
front-runner Joe Biden's candidacy.
The former vice president was repeatedly forced to
defend his decades-old political record against pointed
attacks from his younger, diverse rivals, who charged
that Biden's eight-year relationship with President
Barack Obama was not reason enough to earn the
The attacks on Biden in the second presidential debate
were most vivid coming from California Sen. Kamala
Harris, who declared that his willingness to work with
segregationists in the U.S. Senate during the 1970s
could have had dramatic consequences on the surge of
minority candidates in political office. And, she said,
it could have prevented her and fellow presidential
candidate Cory Booker, both of whom are black, from
"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 Barack
Obama would not have been in a position to nominate"
Biden to become vice president, she said.
When pressed, Biden repeatedly leaned on his
relationship with Obama.
"We're talking about things that occurred a long, long
time ago," Biden said. "Everybody's talking about how
terrible I am on these issues. Barack Obama knew who I
The dynamic showcased the challenges ahead for Biden and
his party as Democrats seek to rebuild the young and
multiracial coalition that helped Obama win two
presidential elections. Those differences were debated
on a broad menu of issues including health care,
immigration and women's reproductive rights.
But it was the discussion of race that marked an
escalating rift shaping the Democratic primary. At the
same time, polls show that Biden has far more support
from minority voters than his challengers, especially in
the crucial early voting state of South Carolina.
Booker, who at times adopted the position of peacemaker,
also took Biden to task over criminal justice issues and
his role in passing a crime bill while a Delaware
senator in the 1990s. When Biden fought back by
criticizing Booker's tenure as mayor of Newark, New
Jersey, before becoming a New Jersey senator, Booker
shot back: "You're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you
don't even know the flavor."
In Detroit, a city where Democrats desperately need
strong minority turnout to beat Trump next year, Biden,
76, repeatedly clashed with the two black candidates in
the race, as well as the only candidate of Mexican
heritage, all of whom are more than two decades his
junior. Biden emphasized his work as vice president to
help the auto industry and the city repair its bankrupt
For Democrats, the internal fight, while common to
almost every primary cycle, is one many would rather
avoid, favoring instead a focus on defeating Trump.
Several candidates said they thought Trump should be
impeached and others called him a racist.
"The first thing I am going to do is Clorox the Oval
Office," New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.
Biden's struggling 2020 competitors see no better way to
undermine his candidacy than raising questions about his
commitment to black voters and women.
Anticipating a rough night, Biden greeted Harris onstage
by quipping, "Go easy on me, kid."
She did not and he often responded in kind.
Biden charged that Harris' health care plan would cost
taxpayers $3 trillion even after two terms in office and
would force middle-class taxes to go up, not down. He
said that would put Democrats at a disadvantage against
"You can't beat President Trump with double talk on this
plan," he said.
Harris slapped back that Biden was inaccurate.
"The cost of doing nothing is far too expensive," Harris
said. She added: "Your plan does not cover everyone in
For the first time in the months-old Democratic contest,
Harris faced pointed attacks on her plan to provide
universal health care. Harris faced criticism from all
sides this week after releasing a competing plan that
envisions a role for private insurance with strict
government rules, but she wants to transition to a
single-payer government-backed system within 10 years.
And she was also challenged for her record as a
prosecutor and California's attorney general, notably by
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
There were also tense exchanges on immigration that
pitted Biden against former Obama housing secretary
Juliαn Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race.
Biden suggested that some of his rivals favor
immigration laws that are far too forgiving. Castro, for
example, would decriminalize illegal border crossings.
"People should have to get in line. That's the problem,"
Castro shot back: "It looks like one of us has learned
the lessons of the past and one has not."
Biden did have a defender of sorts in Sen. Michael
Bennet of Colorado, who derided the cost and impact of
"Medicare for All" on middle-class families and those
with private health insurance.
While the first primary votes won't come for six more
months, there is a sense of urgency for the lower-tier
candidates to break out. More than half the field could
be blocked from the next round of debates altogether
and possibly pushed out of the race if they fail to
reach new polling and fundraising thresholds implemented
by the Democratic National Committee.
The dire stakes have forced many Democrats to turn
against one another in recent weeks. But their common
focus was how they characterized Trump's impact on
One of them, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, was
"We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the
White House," he said.
AP FACT CHECK: Persistent
distortions on migrants, economy
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala
Harris, D-Calif., participate in the second of two
Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by
CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in
WASHINGTON Some of the
Democratic presidential contenders dug in their heels
with unsupported rhetoric about immigration, the economy
and more in the final debate before the stage shrinks.
Several persisted in their distorted depiction of caged
migrant children as a singular cruelty of President
Donald Trump. Others glossed over the intricacies of
complex issues, at times dismissing pointed questions as
a "Republican talking point" and not answering. Trump
accurately called them out on their kids-in-cages
rhetoric while falsely claiming migrant family
separations came from the Obama era and he ended it.
Ten candidates debated in Detroit on Wednesday, as did
10 the night before. After this, it becomes harder to
qualify for the debates ahead and some won't make the
A look at some of their claims, Trump's counterpunch,
and how they compare with the facts:
KAMALA HARRIS, senator from California: "We've got a
person who has put babies in cages and separated
children from their parents."
MICHAEL BENNET, senator from Colorado, in a message
directed at Trump: "Kids belong in classrooms not
TRUMP tweet: "The cages for kids were built by the Obama
Administration in 2014. He had the policy of child
separation. I ended it even as I realized that more
families would then come to the Border!"
THE FACTS: There's deception on both sides here.
Family separations as a matter of routine came about
because of Trump's "zero tolerance" enforcement policy.
President Barack Obama had no such policy and Trump's
repeated attempts to pin one on him flies in the face of
reality. Trump only ended or suspended what Trump
had started, and that was after a judge ordered that the
practice be sharply curtailed and as an international
Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union now says in
a legal challenge that more than 900 children were
separated from their parents at the border in the year
after the judge's order.
The Obama administration also separated migrant children
from families when a child's safety appeared at risk
with the adults or in other limited circumstances. But
the ACLU says children have been removed after the
judge's order for minor transgressions by the adults,
like traffic offenses, or for unfounded suspicions of
Trump is correct in noting that the "cages" chain-link
enclosures inside border facilities where migrants have
been temporarily housed, separated by sex and age were
built and used by the Obama administration. The Trump
administration has used them, too.
BILL DE BLASIO, mayor of New York City, on why he hasn't
fired the police officer who used a chokehold on Eric
Garner: "For the first time, we are not waiting on the
federal Justice Department which told the city of New
York that we could not proceed because the Justice
Department was pursuing their prosecution and years went
by and a lot of pain accrued."
THE FACTS: This is false. The Justice Department did not
stop the city from moving forward on the matter. The New
York Police Department decided to delay disciplinary
proceedings for Officer Daniel Pantaleo on its own
While local officials sometimes defer their
investigation as federal prosecutors conduct criminal
probes, there was no requirement for the police
department to wait for the federal civil rights
investigation in weighing a decision about whether to
The Justice Department announced this month that it
would not bring any charges in connection with Garner's
death. Pantaleo faced an internal departmental trial and
a departmental judge hasn't officially rendered a
recommendation yet on whether he should be fired or
The police commissioner, who reports to de Blasio, could
act at any time to fire Pantaleo.
CORY BOOKER, senator from New Jersey, on decriminalizing
illegal entry at the border: "Doing it through the civil
courts means you won't need these awful detention
centers that I've been to."
THE FACTS: Not exactly. It's true that there could be
reduced immigration detention at the border if there
were no criminal charge for illegal entry. But border
officers would still need to process people coming over
the border and that could lead to temporary holding,
such as the so-called cages that Democrats call
Also, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses
detention to hold people awaiting deportation who have
been accused or convicted of more serious crimes,
including those who have green cards or other legal
For example, in December 2018, ICE detained 47,486
people, according to an analysis at Syracuse University.
Of those, 29,753 had no conviction, and those people
probably would not be in detention if illegal entry were
a civil issue.
But 6,186 had serious crime convictions, 2,237 had other
convictions and 9,310 had minor violations and those
people could still be held, according to the analysis.
HARRIS: "Autoworkers we expect, perhaps, hundreds of
thousands will be out of jobs by the end of the year."
THE FACTS: This dire prediction is faulty. The auto
industry is not facing the imminent risk of such a
That might have happened as a worst-case scenario if
Trump had followed through on threats to enact new
tariffs and policies that would have hurt the auto
industry. But he didn't.
Harris has been citing the Center for Automotive
Research's 2018 study , which examined hypothetical job
losses across all U.S. industries touched by the auto
business not just the nation's nearly 1 million
autoworkers if Trump introduced certain tariffs and
The study gave a wide range of possible job losses, from
82,000 to 750,000. The findings were later revised in
February to a worst-case scenario of 367,000 across all
industries by the end of this year. Those hypothetical
job losses would be spread across car and parts makers,
dealers, restaurants, retail stores and any business
that benefits from the auto industry.
Impact on the auto industry was further minimized when
the Trump administration lifted tariffs on steels and
aluminum products coming from Canada and Mexico.
The industry has added thousands of jobs since a crisis
in 2009 that sent General Motors and Chrysler into
After a record sales year of 17.55 million in 2016
demand has fallen to an expected 16.8 million new
vehicle sales this year. But the industry is still
posting strong numbers and is not heading off a cliff.
HARRIS: "Right now in America, we have seniors who every
day - millions of seniors - are going into the Medicare
THE FACTS: It's more like 10,000 people a day who turn
65 and become eligible for Medicare, which offers
coverage for hospitalization, doctor visits,
prescription drugs and other services.
Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including
disabled people of any age.
JOE BIDEN: "We should put some of these insurance
executives who totally oppose my plan in jail for the 9
billion opioids they sell out there."
THE FACTS: The former vice president must have meant
drug company executives, since insurance companies pay
for medications they don't sell them.