The 2020 race for the White House is in full swing as ten Democratic candidates took the stage in downtown Detroit, Michigan at the Fox Theater for CNN's first of two debates for the Democrats. Twenty candidates were divided into two groups by a random draw broadcast on CNN earlier this month. The format agreed by the campaigns include a 60-second opening statement for each candidate, followed by a 60-second response to questions posed by the debate's hosts, CNN's Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper.
Candidates appearing tonight at the Fox Theater include:
- Marianne Williamson
- Tim Ryan
- Amy Klobuchar
- Pete Buttigieg
- Bernie Sanders
- Elizabeth Warren
- Beto O'Rourke
- John Hickenlooper
- John Delaney
- Steve Bullock
If you're curious about the candidates and need help figuring out which candidate is which, you can click here for a primer on each candidate appearing Tuesday.
The night began with an honor guard and Detroit-based choir Perfecting Church Choir led by Pastor Marvin Winans, national anthem. Most of the candidates held their hand over their heard with the exception of former congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH). A fact that did not go unnoticed by Twitter.
Following a 60-second opening statement from each candidate, the first question of the night was directed to Sen. Bernie Sanders about healthcare and his proposal for a Universal Healthcare system that would replace the current U.S. healthcare system. Sanders was challenged by one of his fellow candidates, John Delaney about his plan and how it would be political suicide for Democrats to push for a Universal Healthcare system. Delaney cited previous progressive Democrats who'd run and failed in the past.
The senator from Vermont went on to make the case for Medicare for All even as Rep. Tim Ryan challenged Sanders on the numbers, saying he wasn't clear.
"You don’t know that Bernie," Ryan said, shaking his head.
“I do know that, I wrote that damn bill," Sanders replied to applause from the audience.
Candidates were also asked how they would change the American healthcare system for the better, whether through the current system of Employer-Sponsored Insurance, a Public Option, the Affordable Care Act, or Medicare For All. Each candidate lobbied for their healthcare plan and how affordable access was possible.
The debate turned to immigration and the argument between securing the borders and whether immigration should be decriminalized. Senator Elizabeth Warren reiterated her position that the U.S. needed a sane immigration policy, one that didn't involve separating the children of immigrants from their parents.
"The problem is that right now, the decriminalization statute is what giving Donald Trump and the opportunity to take them away from their parents," said Warren. "It's what gives him the ability to lock up people at our borders. We need to continue to have border security, and we can do that. But what we can't do is not live our values."
When pressed by CNN's Dana Bash on whether Warren would decriminalize border crossings, Warren re-affirmed her belief that she would.
Mayor Buttigieg offered a more tempered response than the progressive candidates.
"We can argue over the finer points of which parts should be handled by civil law and criminal law," said Buttigieg. Later he added, "If fraud is involved, that's suitable for the criminal statute. If not, it should be handled under civil law."
The subject turned to the topic of mass shootings with three recent mass shootings, including one in Gilroy, California that left three people dead and 12 more injured. The candidates were asked to defend their approach to gun control.
Buttigieg offered a personal anecdote, while highlighting his relative youth against the field, saying his was the first generation to see mass shootings in schools.
"High school is hard enough without worrying whether you’re going to get shot," he said. "We know what to do, and it has not happened."
Buttigieg cited polices such as universal background checks.
Sen. Sanders cited his rating from the NRA as proof of his commitment to reducing mass shootings in the U.S.
"Nobody up here is going to tell you that we have a magical solution to the crisis," Sanders said. "I have a D- voting from the NRA. As president, I suspect I will have an F record."
CNN took its first break for the night about an hour into the debate. When they returned, Tapper challenged Gov. Hickenlooper about an ad he ran on Facebook warning voters about moving too far to the left being the quickest way to lose the election to Donald Trump.
The candidates argued over whether a vision of big ideas like free college and universal healthcare will not appeal to moderate voters the party needs to defeat President Trump.
At one point, Congressman Delaney blasted some of the more progressive candidates like Sens. Sanders and Warren for proposing policies that would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.
"I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for," Warren shot back to applause. "I don't get it."
CNN's Dana Bash shifted the conversation to climate change, citing a survey that revealed that Democratic voters' number one concern. The question went to Congressman Delaney, who has gone on record as not supporting the "Green New Deal" as a way to defeat the climate crisis.
The Green New Deal is a collection of progressive ideas that include goals such as meeting all of the country's power demand in the U.S. with renewable energy, smart power grids, energy efficiency and many more designed to fight global climate change.
During the discussion, Buttigieg took the opportunity to use his time in Afghanistan to point out the debate they're having about climate change is completely theoretical, unless Democrats are able to defeat Trump in 2020.
"Nominate me and get to see the president of the United States next to me, an American war veteran, and explain why he chose to pretend to be disabled when it was his chance to serve," Buttigieg said.
Race and Trump's recent comments against four congresswomen of color and Rep. Elijiah Cummings the city of Baltimore were also raised by the CNN hosts during the debate. The candidates on stage united in condemning Trump's comments. When Warren was asked what she would do as president to combat the rise of white supremacy, she immediately said we needed to call it what it really was.
“We need to call out white supremacy for what it is, domestic terrorism," Warren said to big applause from the audience.
The subject then turned to reparations and whether the U.S. owed money to those people who are descended from slaves. Author Marrianne Williamson said her policy to offer $200 billion to $500 billion in reparations to the descendants of African slaves in the U.S. was "political feasible."
"It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal. All that a country is a collection of people. People heal when there's deep truth telling. We need to recognize when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with. That great injustice has had to do with the fact that there was 250 years of slavery, followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism," she said.
When CNN returned from its second break of the night, Buttigieg was challenged by the moderators on his promise to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan within his first year of office.
"I thought I was one of the last troops leaving Afghanistan," said Buttigieg. "When I thought I was turning out the lights years ago. Every time I see news about somebody being killed in Afghanistan, I think about what it was like to hear an explosion and wonder whether it was somebody I knew or served with. Friend or roommate. Colleague. We're close to the day when we will wake up to the news of a casualty in Afghanistan who was not born on 9/11."
Buttigieg went on to propose a sunset clause for any military authorization by Congress.
"I was sent into the war by a congressional authorization as well as a president. We need to talk not only about the need for a president committed to ending endless war. The fact that Congress has been asleep at the switch. And on my watch I will propose that any authorization for the use of military force have a three-year sunset and have to be renewed."
Each candidate were given 60 seconds for their closing statement and each one seized their last few moments to make their case to the American people on why they were running for President of the United States. While many of the candidates took shots at Trump and stressed the need for a Democratic nominee who could go on to defeat the president, others cited their records and stuck to the issues they believed voters thought were important.
Tomorrow (Thursday, July 31), another ten Democratic candidates for president randomly selected by CNN will air between 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET. The candidates scheduled include:
- Michael Bennet
- Kirsten Gillibrand
- Julián Castro
- Cory Booker
- Joe Biden
- Kamala Harris
- Andrew Yang
- Tulsi Gabbard
- Jay Inslee
- Bill de Blasio
You can get a primer on all twenty candidates appearing in this week's debates on CNN here.
Photos: Getty Images