Highlights from the third Democratic debate

Last Thursday, the third Democratic debate took place in Houston, TX. 

The  stage was exclusively held by the ten highest-polling candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Corey Booker, Mr. Andrew Yang, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Secretary Julián Castro.

A wide spectrum of topics were covered on Thursday, with moderators firing off questions about health care, immigration, gun control, foreign policy, and education. 

Here are a few highlights from Thursday’s debate:

Health insurance debate

The debate kicked off with a three-way scuffle between Biden, Warren, and Sanders about health care — one of the more pivotal overarching policy debates in the primary election. 

Sanders supports a universal Medicare-for-all plan that would leave no American uninsured. His proposal would shift every American citizen onto a governmental health plan, regardless of their present coverage. Sanders said under his plan, nobody will pay more than $200 a year for prescription drugs. 

Biden opposed Sanders’s universal health insurance, instead backing the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — which passed during his tenure as vice president. Under Obamacare, or Biden’s partially revised version of it, citizens would have the option to opt-in to public coverage; otherwise, they could seek insurance from their employers if they choose. 

Biden noted that his plan will cost $740 billion — a large sum, but pennies compared to Sanders’s plan, which would amount to $30 trillion. “I want to hear tonight how we’re going to pay for it,” Biden stated.

Warren joined in on the discussion, applauding Obama for his introduction of the Affordable Care Act but emphasizing the need for revisions. 

“We all owe a huge debt to President Obama, who fundamentally transformed health care in America and committed this country to health care for every human being,” Warren said. 

A moderator asked Warren if middle-class taxes would go up to pay for the problem, and Warren slyly dodged the question, responding that “for hard-working families across the country, prices are going to go down.”

Biden, taking note of the aversion, pointed out that taxes would, in fact, go up. He expressed that the middle class will have a four percent increase on their income taxes, consequently offsetting any reduction in deductibles. 

Of the lower-polling candidates, Klobuchar directly attacked Sanders’s plan, stating, “While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill, and on page eight of the bill, it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. I don’t think that’s a bold idea. I think it’s a bad idea.”

Klobuchar, along with other candidates like Harris and Buttigieg, expressed their advocacy for Obamacare — or a revised version of it — yet they draw differences in their ideas for implementation and revision.

More concrete plans for health coverage and the costs associated will be important to watch moving forward in the campaign.

Immigration policy

All candidates who spoke during the segment surrounding immgration expressed their support for less strict immigration reform. In fact, all speaking candidates supported the creation of paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrations.

“I want to see us expand legal immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for our DREAMers, but also for their grandparents, and for their cousins, for people who have overstayed student visas, and for people who came here to work in the fields,” Warren said. “I want to have a system that is a path to citizenship that is fair and achievable.”

O’Rourke offered a similar answer, stating the need for legalizing the one million DREAMers in this country “and extend that to their parents, their sisters and their brothers, and ensure that we have a legal, safe, orderly system to come to this country and add to our greatness here.” 

Most candidates dodged the direct questions from the moderator revolving around bipartisanship and policy strategy, including: “So are you willing, for instance, to give up DACA or give up a path to citizenship or even agree to build a wall in order to legalize 10.5 million undocumented immigrants?” and “So how would you deal with the millions of immigrants who arrive legally but overstay their visas? And how would you stop hundreds of thousands of Central Americans who want to migrate to the U.S.?”

In response to the second question, for example, Warren stated, “Why do we have a crisis at the border? In no small part because we have withdrawn help from people in Central America who are suffering.

We need to restore that help. We need to help establish and re-establish the rule of law so that people don’t feel like they have to flee for their lives.”

Most candidates, including Buttigieg, Yang, Warren and O’Rourke employed a more emotional approach rather than diving into their approaches to immigration policy. 

Gun control

Gun control was arguably the most emotional topic discussed on Thursday night, especially due to the debate’s location in Texas — just miles away from the El Paso shooting that occurred last month. Not surprisingly, O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, shared his feelings on the tragedy multiple times throughout the debate.

When asked about his proposal for mandatory buybacks, O’Rourke confidently replied, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. I am, if it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield. If the high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body, because it was designed to do that, so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield and not be able to get up and kill one of your soldiers.”

Warren later addressed these comments, exclaiming that “mass shootings are terrible, but they get all the headlines.” The question we need to ask, she says, is if 90 percent of Americans want to see background checks and get assault rifles off the street, why doesn’t it happen? The answer to this, she hypothesizes, is corruption. 

Others shared their thoughts on gun control, such as Klobuchar, who believes in universal background checks for anyone wanting to purchase a gun. Booker also expressed his support for a similar policy. 

A shift in momentum?

After the debate, three of the top four candidates lost favorability among voters. Polling the same group of respondents as they did before the debate, FiveThirtyEight found that Biden, Sanders, and Harris all lost voters after their debate performances.

Harris experienced the largest loss, seeing the number of voters that would consider her dwindle from 27.7 to 25.5 percent — not a massive fall, but one that brings her within 1.5 percentage points of Buttigieg. 

Warren, on the other hand, had the best performance in this sample’s eyes. Before the debate, 44.4 percent of respondents considered voting for her; after the debate, this figure leapt to 48 percent.

Biden still leads the pack with 55.8 percent favorability, but Warren partially closed a significant gap and now falls less than eight percentage points behind Biden in the polls. 

Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Booker, Yang, and Klobuchar all received higher marks after Thursday night.

Ben Norman

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