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 Detroit.

DETROIT  —  The 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 Democratic nomination.

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 becoming senators.

"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 was."

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 finances.

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 Trump.

"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 America."

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," Biden said.

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 American life.

One of them, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, was particularly blunt.

"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 Detroit.

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 cut.

A look at some of their claims, Trump's counterpunch, and how they compare with the facts:

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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 cages."

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 uproar grew.

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 wrongdoing.

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.

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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 accord.

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 fire Pantaleo.

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 disciplined.

The police commissioner, who reports to de Blasio, could act at any time to fire Pantaleo.

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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 inhumane.

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 status.

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.

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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 collapse.

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 policies.

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 bankruptcy protection.

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.

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HARRIS: "Right now in America, we have seniors who every day - millions of seniors - are going into the Medicare system."

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.

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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.

 

Associated Press

 

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