Americans sat down to watch another night of debates from the remaining 10 candidates in Detroit, Mich., including former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the polls, and front runner Senator Kamala Harris.
Here’s what we learned from the second night of the second Democratic Debate:
1. Biden may not lead the polls if he keeps performing like this
Last month in Miami, Biden was taken to task by Harris on his stance against busing decades ago while he was a senator. Biden had said he was against integrating inner city schools by busing children from poorer, black neighborhoods to majority-white schools. It became evident, though Biden was relying on his years of experience in Washington, that could also be his downfall.
Biden was once again a target for other Democrats on the stage and for good reason: As Barack Obama’s Vice President, American voters are comfortable with him, even if they do not fully support him, giving him the top spot in polls. Harris, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Senator Cory Booker – the three top-polling candidates besides Biden – seemed to stick together and attacked Biden on his voting inconsistencies instead of each other.
In a particularly terse exchange, Gillibrand confronted Biden on the question of equal pay. “What did you mean when you said when a woman works outside the home, it’s resulting in ‘the deterioration of family,’” Gillibrand asked Biden, referencing a 1981 op-ed had written.
Biden faltered a bit and then said Gillibrand had praised his voting record on women’s issues in the past, noting: “I don’t know what’s happened except that you’re now running for president.” There was some cross-talk but Biden still did not clearly answer the question.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro perhaps had the most telling exchange of the night with Biden, though. The pair clashed on the issue of immigration. Many have criticized the Obama administration for its own mass deportations, though it did not institute family separation as Trump is fond of saying. Castro, from Texas, has made reform a central issue of his platform and said to Biden: “One of us has learned the lessons of the past, and one of us hasn’t.”
2. Harris’ record as a prosecutor will continue to be an issue for her
Biden was not the only one attacked on stage as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard went for Harris and the spectre over her campaign – her record as a prosecutor and attorney general of California.
Polling at close to 1%, Gabbard went after Harris on the question of criminal justice reform. She noted Harris “put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana…she kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.”
Additionally Harris has come under fire from opponents on not allowing the death penalty to be legally challenged in the state, not seeking the death penalty when a police officer was killed, but also jailing parents – often black and poor – when their children were truant from school in San Francisco.
Harris retorted she was “proud” of her work in reforming a broken system of criminal justice. She also slammed Gabbard in post-debate interviews, calling the Hawaii Congresswoman an “apologist” for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Harris noted: “I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously.”
3. Once again, the mechanics of Medicare For All splits Democrats
Healthcare dominated the second night of the debate as it did the first. Just like the first night, it also served as a point of distinction between the two wings of the Democratic party and these 20 candidates.
Biden was clear he did not want to push for a full Medicare For All system like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had done the previous night. His plan is to “build on Obamacare” and give people the option to join a government healthcare plan or keep existing private insurance.
Others like Senator Michael Bennet took a page from Republicans, arguing that Medicare For All was not being presented accurately to the public because the cost of it was being downplayed by Sanders.
The party’s candidates have now clearly been separated into those who stand for universal healthcare and those who do not. Given how important this issue is to voters, it will likely be the first real test to thin the field of candidates.
4. There is still a need for a climate debate
With Washington state Governor Jay Inslee on the stage, the second night of the debate was sure to have more of a focus on climate change. Inslee has become the ‘climate candidate’ for his focus on the Green New Deal and several other policy points centered around combating global warming and curbing carbon emissions. He has also been leading the charge on pushing the Democratic National Convention on hosting a full climate-only debate in addition to the town halls which will be sponsored by television networks.
The Green New Deal, the proposed legislation to overhaul the economy with an emphasis on green jobs training and renewable energy, again served as a point to distinguish among moderate/centrists Democrats and progressives, like Warren and Sanders who championed it during their time on stage.
On the second night, it was Gillibrand who joined Inslee to push for the proposal while she embraced a bit of Warren’s ‘why can’t we?-ism’ from the night before. “When John F. Kennedy said, ‘I want to put a man on the moon in the next 10 years, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard,’ he knew it was going to be a measure of our innovation, our success, our ability to galvanize worldwide competition,” she said.
“He wanted to have a space race with Russia. Why not have a green energy race with China? Why not rebuild our infrastructure? Why not actually invest in the green jobs? That’s what the Green New Deal is about,” Gillibrand noted.
Inslee went on the offensive as well, attacking Biden’s plan which the governor says does not wean the country off of fossil fuels in the 12 years climate scientists have said we have to make a real change. While Biden did say he would rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change which Trump has repeatedly railed against Inslee explained “middle-ground solutions like the vice president has proposed … are not going to save us. Too little, too late is too dangerous.”