Democrats drew blood on fellow Democrats during the second 2020 presidential debate Wednesday night, leaving wounds that might not be heal in time for the general election against President Trump.
Seeking to dethrone Joseph Biden as the front-runner during the Democratic debate, many candidates, especially Kamala Harris, criticized the former vice president.
The first moment of tension came early on when Harris went after Biden as she laid out her plan to achieve “Medicare for All” in 10 years. The plan seeks to achieve universal health care growing Medicare with the help of private insurers.
Responding to criticism from the Biden campaign her plan is a “have-it-every-which-way” approach, Harris said, “They’re probably confused because they’ve not read it.”
“The reality is that I have been spending time in this campaign listening to American families, listening to experts, listening to health care providers, and what I came away with is a very clear understanding that I needed to create a plan that was responsive to the needs of the American people, responsive to their needs understanding that insurance companies have been jacking up the prices for far too long, that American families have to be held down by deductibles and co-pays and premiums that can cause them bankruptcy,” Harris said.
Biden responded with his own criticism, saying Harris “has had several plans for far” and “any time someone tells you you’re going to get something good in 10 years, you should wonder why it takes 10 years.”
“If you noticed, there is no talk about the fact that the plan in 10 years will cost $3 trillion,” Biden said. “You will lose your employer-based insurance. And in fact, you know, this is the single most important issue facing the public. And to be very blunt and to be very straightforward, you can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan.”
Harris defended her plan, saying he’s “just simply inaccurate in what you’re describing” because her plan will “bring health care to all Americans under a Medicare for All system.” In contrast, Biden’s plan, Harris said, leaves out almost 10 millions Americans.
One key moment came when moderator Jake Tapper asked Harris whether she supports banning employer based health insurance. Harris essentially dodged the question.
“My plan does not offer anything that is illegal,” Harris said. “What it does is it separates the employer from healthcare, meaning that where you work will not be the kind of healthcare you get will not be a function of where you work.”
When pressed by Tapper, Harris complained “we cannot keep with the Republican talking points on this,” saying under her plan employers cannot dictate the insurance employees get.
“Private insurance companies and private carriers, if they comply by our rules and play by our rules, will be able to offer those employees healthcare coverage under a private Medicare plan or they can have the option of a public Medicare plan,” Harris said. “But it is misleading to suggest that employees want what their employer is offering only. They want choice and my plan gives that to them.”
Harris also took Biden to task for having supported the Hyde Amendment, a federal law that bars federal funds for abortions. Earlier this year, under pressure from pro-choice groups, Biden reversed his position and came out against the Hyde Amendment.
“This directly impacted so many women in our country and I personally prosecuted rape cases and child molestation cases; and the experience that those women have, those children have and that they would then be denied the resources,” Harris said. “I think this unacceptable.”
Harris didn’t mention the Hyde Amendment has exemptions in the case of rape and incest to allow federal funds for abortions.
Biden responded he reversed his position because “once I wrote the legislation, making sure that every single woman would in fact be have an opportunity to have healthcare paid for by the federal government…that could no longer stand.”
“I support a woman’s right to choose,” Biden said. “I support it’s a constitutional right. I’ve supported it and I will continue to support it and I will, in fact, move as president to see to it that the Congress legislates that that is the laws as well.”
Cory Booker went after Biden for having campaigned on having his name on “every crime bill, major and minor” since the 1970s.
“Those are your words, not mine,” Booker said. “And this is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws. And you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire. We have got to have far more bold action on criminal justice reform.”
Biden responded by saying the crimes bills were “passed overwhelmingly,” saying he worked at other times to ease federal penalties with respect to drug use.
Booker, however, wouldn’t back down and alluded to his support for the First Step Act signed by Trump.
“And if you want to compare records, and, frankly, I’m shocked that you do, I am happy to do that,” Booker said. “Because all the problems that he is talking about, that he created, I actually led the bill that got passed into law that reverses the damage that your bills that you were, frankly — to correct you, Mr. Vice President — you were bragging, calling it the Biden crime bill, up until 2015.”
But candidates on stage also went after Harris, who after Biden is the leading contender for the Democratic nomination.
A key moment came when Tulsi Gabbard went after Harris for her work as a prosecutor in California.
“The bottom line is, Sen. Harris, when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not,” Gabbard said. “And worse yet, in the case of those who were on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so. There is no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor owe — you owe them an apology.”
Gabbard listed off a number of things Harris did as prosecutor, drawing particular attention to Harris refusing to allow evidence in court that would exonerate an allegedly innocent person on death row.
One item Gabbard omitted from her list was Harris as attorney general seeking to block gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates. As the cases proceeded, Harris worked as part to reach agreement enabling the prisoners to have the procedure.
“As the elected attorney general of California, I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done,” Harris replied.
“And I am proud of that work,” Harris said. “And I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor, but actually doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform.”
It should be noted Gabbard herself has anti-gay past. In 2004 as a Hawaii state legislator, she opposed civil unions and called LGBT advocates “homosexual extremists.” Gabbard has since apologized and now supports LGBT rights.
Gabbard also criticized Harris for having a health plan written by former Secretary of Health & Human Services, who now works for Medicare Advantage. Harris said Sebelius only endorsed her plan. (According to Politico, Sebelius “was consulted” in drafting the Harris policy.)
No questions on LGBT issues were asked during either night of the Democratic debate in Detroit, nor did any candidates mentioned LGBT issues on their own accord.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBT media watchdog GLAAD, criticized the moderators for ignoring the LGBT community.
“Questions about LGBTQ people weren’t included during either night of this week’s #DemDebate,” Ellis said in a statement. “This is unacceptable especially as the Trump administration continues to attack the lives of LGBTQ people. @glaad won’t let the media ignore LGBTQ issues in 2020 like they did in 2016.”