Beth LeBlanc, Leonard N. Fleming and Jonathan Oosting The Detroit News
Published 1:43 AM EDT Aug 1, 2019
Coverage from the Democratic debate Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.
Candidates bow out with big plans
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off closing statements of the second night of debates in Detroit among the 10 candidates, repeating his call for the Democratic party to take a stand on big, bold policy.
“We’re going to tax the hell out of the wealthy,” he said. “And when we do that, Donald Trump, right on cue, will call us socialists,” but Trump, he said, is a socialist as well for the rich.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee doubled down on his promises to tackle climate change as president, promising to prioritize the issue so that immediate action is taken.
“For decades, we have kicked the can down the road with climate change, and now under Donald Trump, we face a looming catastrophe,” he said. “But it is not too late.”
National leaders have failed us, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said, and have contributed to increasingly tense relations with foreign countries that have put the country on the brink of nuclear war from which there is no shelter.
“This is the war monger’s hoax,” Gabbard said. “There is no shelter; it is all a lie.”
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, referencing his Detroit roots, expressed his admiration for the city and its “kind of defiant love that I find in a lot of American cities.”
“That is the American dream and so many of us have stories like that, but the dream of our country is under threat,” Booker said.
To defeat the “predator in the White House,” Sen. Kamala Harris of California said, Americans need someone who will “prosecute the case against four more years … and let me tell you, we’ve got a long rap sheet.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden expressed his confidence in voters and the country’s ability to turn a corner after the Trump presidency but spoke of the 2020 election with a sense of urgency.
“We are in a battle for the soul of America. Four more years of Donald Trump will go down as an aberration,” Biden said.
Biden takes heat on women’s issues
Former Vice President Joe Biden became a target once again, but this time by a different markswoman.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand grilled Biden over an old op-ed in which he indicated opposition to a woman working outside the home.
“What did you mean when you said when a woman works outside the home it contributes to the ‘deterioration of the family’?” she asked.
Biden pushed back, noting he wrote the Violence Against Women Act and raised three children on his own for several years. He noted Gillibrand had accompanied him at times to tout pro-woman policies.
“I don’t know what’s happened except you’re now running for president,” he said.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California capitalized on a Biden repartee and asked him why he changed his tune and withdrew his support for the Hyde Amendment only after deciding to run for president.
“Do you now say that you have evolved and say that you regret that?” she said.
Biden said he only withdrew his support for the Hyde Amendment after he was sure there was full federal funding for reproductive rights.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee brought the conversation back to other issues affecting women, such as unequal pay.
“In professions and careers where women have been more than the majority, they’ve been almost always underpaid,” Inslee said.
Candidates weigh big ideas against practical fixes
With more focus on former Vice President Joe Biden, he was asked about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s statement Tuesday regarding Democrats responsibility to use big ideas to solve major problems. She said the problems the country was facing couldn’t be solved “with small ideas and spinelessness” and that structural change is needed.
Some candidates have been wary of progressive ideas that may win the base in a primary but lose independents in the general election.
On the question of whether his proposals weren’t ambitious enough, Biden argued that they were sufficient “because we did it.”
His role as vice president under President Barack Obama was to help revitalize cities like Detroit and help to bail out General Motors, a move that saved “tens of thousands of jobs here in this state.”
He also helped Detroit get out of bankruptcy, he said, by investing in transportation and other investments. “The point is we’ve made significant investments in this state,” he said.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s way to beat Trump? She has been listening to people who said the president has broken promises on “no bad trade deals.”
Inslee commands in climate change discussion
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee took the reigns of a conversation on climate change, which he has made the chief issue in his campaign. Inslee criticized former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan as “too little too late.”
“We have to act now,” Inslee said. “Climate change is not a singular issue. It is all the issues we Democrats care about.”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang agreed with Inslee, noting the “tough truth” candidates must acknowledge is they’re too late on climate change.
“Even if we were to curb our emissions dramatically, the earth is still going to get warmer,” he said.
Biden said he would make large investments in environmental fixes and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.
“We have to also engage the world while we’re doing it,” he said. “We have to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand echoed the effort to engage global partners in the climate change fight, noting it would be her second act as president, but said she would first “Chlorox the oval office.”
Busing cruises back into debate
The debate turned to federally mandated busing and pitted Sen. Kamala Harris of California against former Vice President Joe Biden again. Harris denied her stance was similar to the vice president’s.
“That is simply false,” she said. “When Vice President Biden was in the United States Senate working with segregationist to oppose busing” to integrate schools … “had I been in the United States Senate at that time, I would have been completely on the other side of the aisle. Now let’s be clear about this, I would not be a member of the United States Senate.”
Harris said Biden won’t acknowledge it was wrong to take his position.
Biden then took aim at Harris’ time as the attorney general of California, saying Los Angeles and San Francisco had “two of the most segregated school districts in the country” and “I didn’t see a single solitary time where she brought a case against them to desegregate.”
Then he accused her of abusing people’s rights, leading to a federal judge to free 1,000 of them. “If you doubt me, Google a thousand prisoners free Kamala Harris.”
Harris responded by saying, “that is simply not true.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii then slammed Harris about her record as attorney general and prosecutor in San Francisco.
Harris said she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor, but Gabbard said “I’m deeply concerned about this record. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when asked about if she ever smoked marijuana.”
Then Harris, Gabbard said, blocked evidence to free an innocent man from death row.
Candidates go toe-to-toe on criminal justice reform
Doubling down on his social media critiques of Joe Biden’s criminal justice record, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey accused the former vice president of supporting the war-on-drug policies that clogged the criminal justice system with people most in need of help.
Biden fired back, criticizing Booker’s record as mayor of Newark and his failure to follow through on promises to stop police officers’ stop-and-frisk practices.
Booker accused Biden of failing to understand the situation: “You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor,” Booker said.
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro turned the attack on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his failure to fire the officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an issue that prompted the earlier protests in Fox Theatre during the candidates’ introductory remarks.
“That police officer should be off the street,” Castro said.
As the debate devolved into finger-pointing over criminal justice records, entrepreneur Andrew Yang tried to rally the troops on stage by noting any one of the 10 would have a better record on criminal justice than President Donald Trump.
“We should not be tearing people down,” Yang said. “We have to focus on beating Donald Trump in 2020.”
Candidates spar on illegal border crossings
In a give and take that was again interrupted by protesters, Democratic candidates exchanged barbs regarding immigration policy and past records on the issue.
Candidates repeatedly questioned former Vice President Joe Biden about deportations that occurred under former President Barack Obama, but Biden refused to divulge his position on that policy. He noted that Obama improved the fates of immigrants and Dreamers, increased the number of immigrants allowed into the country and efforts to address the problems pushing immigrants into the U.S.
“To compare him with Donald Trump, I think is absolutely bizarre,” Biden said of Obama.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey was among those pressing Biden on his position, but he also cautioned against “playing into Republicans’ hands.” The criminal enforcement of illegal crossings allowed the separation of families, he said, while a civil process may allow for a more humane process.
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, when asked about immigration and family separation, warned against playing into Republican talking points.
“Open borders is a right-wing talking point, and frankly, I’m disappointed that some folks, including some folks on this stage, have taken the bait,” Castro said. “The only thing that we are going to guarantee that we don’t have family separations in this country again is to repeal” the section of the Immigration Nationality Act, “a law the Trump administration is using incarcerate migrant parents and then separate them from their children.”
The topic brought out the passion in U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Bennet disagreed that America should decriminalize its border. He mentioned his mother was an immigrant and that she was separated from her parents during the Holocaust in Poland.
Harris, a former prosecutor in California, said it shouldn’t be a crime to cross the border. She blamed the Trump administration for misusing the law to hurt children and families.
“These children have not committed crimes and should not be treated like criminals,” Harris said to loud applause.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York added to the conversation and said “it should be a civil violation” and that Trump is “using it as a crutch to lock up women and children to separate mothers and babies, put them behind bars.”
“It should be a civil violation, and we should treat children humanely,” she said, adding there shouldn’t be a law on the books that “can be so misused.”
Do public health care options save families enough money?
To underscore concerns about access to health care, entrepreneur Andrew Yang said his wife’s first concern when he told her he was running for president was, “What are we going to do about health care?”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee advocated for a continued public option for Americans as well as better access for all types of care.
“It is time to give people adequate mental health care in this country,” Inslee said.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado argued against plans floated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, noting the cost Americans would have to bear in tax increases to fund the plan.
“Don’t try to distract from the truth,” he said.
But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed back on Bennet’s concerns, arguing that Americans were paying the equivalent of a tax increase in copays and premiums.
“I don’t understand why Democrats on this stage are fear-mongering on universal health care,” he said. “… Why are we not going to be the party that does something bold?”
Former Vice President Joe Biden called the new plans “a bunch of malarkey” and doubled down on his confidence in the nation’s current plan.
“No one has to keep their private insurance,” Biden said. “They can buy into this plan.”
Candidates spar on effective health care
The first question of the debate came to Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who was asked to respond to her health care plan idea and criticism of it by Vice President Biden. And the battle began quickly.
Her retort: “They are probably confused because they have not read it.”
Biden fired back and said the senator has had “several plans” and that “this is the most single issue facing the public.”
“You can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan,” Biden barked.
Harris said Biden was inaccurate with his analysis and then aimed fire at him saying, “your plan leaves out 10 million Americans.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio then countered and criticized both and said the current health care insurance options aren’t working for people: “There are tens of millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance.”
“Obamacare is working,” said Biden, in response to a question over criticism that Democrats are defending an ineffective health care system.
The key is to build on to the current plan, he said. “Take back all the things that Trump took away, provide a public option, meaning every single person in America would be able to buy into the option if they didn’t like their plan.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York swung the debate back to the party’s joint opposition to Republican policy on health care.
“Let’s not forget what the Republicans are doing,” Gillibrand said. “The Republicans and Trump, they’re whole goal is to take away your health care.”
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey echoed those concerns about division within the Democratic party, causing them to lose focus on their join opposition to Republicans.
“The person who is enjoying this debate most right now is Donald Trump,” he said.
Protesters interrupt candidates minutes into debate
Democratic presidential candidates weren’t 20 minutes into the debate when protesters interrupted their introductory remarks, their chanting causing U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to halt his remarks.
The first up to speak in Wednesday’s debate, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio touted his record of decreased crime, free early childhood education and an increased minimum wage. He took the first swipe at former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, criticizing them for plans that weren’t ambitious enough.
For the last four decades, “working people have taken it on the chin in this country,” de Blasio said, before promising “we will tax the hell out of the wealthy” to make a better country.
An attendee began chanting “Fire Pantaleo!” while de Blasio was speaking
The mayor is under fire for declining to support demands by Eric Garner’s family for the police department to dismiss New York Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Garner died at the hands of the officer, sparking national outcry.
Multiple joined in the chant “fire Pantaleo!” while Booker was speaking. The outcry caused a moment of silence among the candidates. Neither candidate, nor moderators addressed the situation.
A person was seen being taken out in handcuffs.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York gave a message of optimism about the Democratic party’s chances in 2020 and beyond.
“Beating Donald Trump, definitely not impossible,” she said. “We need a nominee who will take on the big fight and win. We need a nominee who doesn’t know the meaning of impossible.”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang in his opening remarks promised $1,000 a month to Americans and a more secure economy for workers.
“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” Yang said.
Biden said he was likely to clash with some of the candidates Wednesday, but noted he was also on stage to “restore the soul of America.”
“Mr. President, this is America,” said Biden, referring to his colleagues on stage. “We are strong and great because of this diversity.”
Biden to Harris: ‘Go easy on me, kid’
The second night of Democratic presidential debates is underway at the Fox Theatre.
Candidates took the stage in Detroit for a second match that is expected to pit front runners U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California against former Vice President Joe Biden.
As candidates took the stage, Biden greeted Harris, who he clashed with in the first debate, with a smile and a plea: “Go easy on me, kid,” he said.
Alongside the eight other candidates who streamed into the Fox shortly before the big event were protesters and supporters who resumed their positions for the second day running around a segment of Woodward Avenue dominated by CNN stages, media and press trucks, and large marquees advertising the big event.
Harris and Biden are joined on stage with U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; businessman Andrew Yang; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The first night of the debates Tuesday pitted centrist Democrats against those pushing the party further left on issues such as health care and immigration.
Michigan leaders have urged candidates and moderators to address issues that affect the Midwest, noting President Donald Trump’s success here in the 2016 election came with a message that emphasized better-paying jobs, a renewed pride in America and an investment in manufacturing.
“These candidates need to talk in simple English, lose the gobbledygook and talk to the workers about how they care about them, and what they’re going to do to help them,” said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.
Gilchrist launches Night 2 of Dem debates
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist kicked off the second night of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit with a speech that emphasized Democrats’ successes in Michigan in 2018.
After boasting about November’s “pink wave” that placed female Democrats in the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state, Gilchrist received a standing ovation for his role as the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor.
“To all of the political pundits that said that Michigan was a red state … we proved them wrong in 2018, and we are going to prove them wrong again in 2020,” he said.
Gilchrist criticized a government that rewarded the “extremely wealthy” and lacked empathy for those working two or three jobs in an attempt to make ends meet.
Acknowledging the ideological differences in the Democratic party, Gilchrist said “what we can all agree on is that these ideas are about moving our nation forward.”
“There is no better place to hold this important discussion about the future of this country than in my hometown of Detroit,” he said.
El-Sayed applauds Warren, Sanders
Abdul El-Sayed knows something about political debates from his 2018 gubernatorial primary run against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
As he walked into the Fox Theatre for Wednesday’s debate, El-Sayed expressed pleasure with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s performances the previous night and their roles “pulling up the progressive wing of the party.”
“I’d say that Joe Biden is anything but a frontrunner on the other side,” he said. “And I think what we’re seeing right now is a conversation where this whole Democratic party is. And I think if we’re centering the conversations in this city and this state are having at their dinner tables, then they always focus on how do we provide people with better access to health care, how do we have an honest conversation about race, how are we dealing with inequality as it stands but as a system.”
El-Sayed said his hope for Wednesday’s debate is that “we don’t get bogged down in a conversation about personalities but that we center it on the ideals that have to be discussed to pull people up.”
Dingell to candidates: ‘Lose the gobbledygook’
The road to the White House leads through the heartland of America and Democratic presidential candidates would be well-served to address issues that matter to that region Wednesday night, said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.
“These candidates need to talk in simple English, lose the gobbledygook and talk to the workers about how they care about them, and what they’re going to do to help them,” Dingell said from the spin room floor at Hockeytown Café ahead of Wednesday’s debate.
The first night of the debate Tuesday could have used more of a discussion about Midwest jobs and manufacturing, Dingell said. Discussions on health care should be simplified, she said, so that people understand how a candidate’s given plan will help them afford medicine.
“Tabletop issues” are the ones that Midwest voters are hungry to hear about, whether it’s affording a home in a safe neighborhood or the opportunity for their children to get a quality education, Dingell said.
“We have people that are worried about their pensions,” Dingell said. “They’ve worked a lifetime for their wage increases, and now they don’t know if they’re going to have a safe and secure retirement.”
When asked about the divide Tuesday night between centrist candidates and those pushing further left, Dingell said there is room for diversity under the Democratic party’s “big tent.”
“What makes the team strong is that you have the same values where you bring those different perspectives,” Dingell said. “We as a team have got to all row in the same direction so that we win next year.”
Biden invites Flint mayor, Detroit NAACP president
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony are expected at the Wednesday night debate as invited guests of former Vice President Joe Biden, an early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
The Biden campaign released its eight-person guest list about three hours before the debate. It includes Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and two contests winners from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Kildee: Flint not just a ‘convenient anecdote’
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, was making the rounds near the debate stage Wednesday afternoon and using media interviews to urge candidates to talk more about Flint in the second night of the Democratic presidential debate.
Tuesday night’s debate touched on “trade and failed industrial policy, racial injustice and inequality, economic disparity, infrastructure, drinking water, and about two minutes on Flint,” Kildee told The Detroit News. “It’s an hour away, and it’s an hour these candidates know fairly well because they all come to Flint to do an event or a photo op.”
Kildee made a similar case on CNN earlier Wednesday, discussing the Flint water crisis and arguing that the city’s struggles epitomize many of the failed policies Democratic presidential candidates are now railing against.
“You don’t want to see Flint become this convenient anecdote, but not (part of) a conversation that is really about the direction this country is going,” he told The News. “Because I think it should be.”
Flint activist weighs Harris, Williamson appreciation
A long line of people waited in the afternoon heat roughly four hours before the start of debates to get their seats inside the Fox Theatre for the second night of the Democratic presidential debates.
Among them was Flint activist Arthur Woodson, who described himself as a big Kamala Harris fan who was impressed by spiritual author Marianne Williamson in the Tuesday night debate.
“Out of all the candidates up there last night, she was the only one that didn’t sell pipe dreams,” Woodson said Wednesday as he waited in line for the Fox Theatre to watch the debate in person for the second night in a row. “She was more realistic. She was a people person.”
Williamson turned heads Tuesday night when she called the Flint water crisis the “tip of the iceberg” for infrastructure and environmental issues that disproportionally impact communities of color.
“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this President is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days,” she said of the debate itself.
Woodson, who got access to the debate through U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, said he was happy to hear Flint come up in the Tuesday night debate and welcomes the attention from candidates. But he said he is tired of them simply dropping into his city for “photo ops.”
He wants to know how Democratic candidates will work with Republicans to actually increase infrastructure funding rather than simply describing their own plans to do so.
“If you don’t get the House and the Senate and executive branch, you’re trying to sell me false dreams,” he said, noting the GOP controls the Senate. “How are you going to go to the Republicans and sell what you’re trying to sell? How are you going to get them to help us?”
What to know about Detroit’s Democratic presidential debates
Meet the candidates
Will Harris-Biden clash resurface in Detroit debate?
After Tuesday night’s debate pitted moderates against progressive Democrats, another 10 presidential candidates will take the stage Wednesday in Detroit to prove they’re ready to lead the nation.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California and former Vice President Joe Biden will headline the second night of the Democratic presidential debates in Detroit. The 8-10 p.m. forum at the Fox Theatre will be moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash, Don Lemon and Jake Tapper.
Joining Harris and Biden will be U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; businessman Andrew Yang; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The first 10 candidates entered the stage swinging Tuesday on issues ranging from universal health care to immigration to gun control.
The topics tended to separate the more moderate candidates from those pushing the conversation further left, generating arguments about the advisability of pushing the bolder left-wing policies at the expense of possibly losing independent voters in the 2020 general election against Republican President Donald Trump.
The friction could linger Wednesday, especially since Harris attack Biden in the June debate in Miami on the former vice president’s civil rights record.
Michigan leaders have urged candidates and moderators to discuss issues that affect average Americans in the Midwest, such as roads, manufacturing, clean water, good jobs and access to high-quality education.
While there were some references Tuesday to the economic issues facing the Midwest, and Detroit in particular, the candidates and moderators largely focused on national policy related to immigration, health care, gun violence, civil rights and climate change.
Catch up on night 1 of the Democratic debates
Moderate Democrats hit Sanders, Warren in first Detroit debate
Expert: Sanders, Warren continue streak as primary leaders
Michigan moments: Five times the state took center stage in first debate
Fact check: Examining claims from 2020 Democratic debate
Debate drama: Tim Ryan didn’t place his hand on his heart during the national anthem
Visitors in awe of Fox Theatre during Dem debates
Trump: Tweeting is ‘my only form of defense’ against media
Bernie and Cardi B meet in Detroit, plus other candidate visits around town
GOP to Dem candidates: Michigan needs Trump’s new trade deal
Howes: A different Detroit greets Democratic presidential wanna-bes
Woodward in Detroit closed Tuesday, Wednesday nights for debates
Notable moments from the candidates
Real courage and a backbone are necessary to beat President Donald Trump, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren emphasized. »
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders condemned the country’s “dysfunctional” health care system and defended a plan he authored that some challengers attacked as bad policy. »
Best-selling author Marianne Williamson said the problems in the United States run much deeper than all the issues debated Tuesday, and that some of her competitors were part of the problem. »
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he brought good news and bad in his closing statement for the debate. »
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke said he would support reparations for African-Americans if elected. »
Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan emphasized economic issues as he occasionally tangled with progressive Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the first of two Detroit debates. »
Reaching the American people and working to improve life for ordinary citizens could be the path for Democrats to reclaim areas Donald Trump won in 2016, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock argued. »
Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney received a lot of air time as he sparred with U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren about the future of the party. »
Amy Klobuchar said she has a better chance of winning the presidency with her proposal for a public health plan option than with her U.S. Senate colleague Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. »
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper emphasized his moderate stances on health care to immigration in fiery exchanges with left-leaning Democratic presidential front runners. »
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