On the stage were seven candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; billionaire Tom Steyer; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
With President Trump’s impeachment occurring only a day before, it was naturally the first topic of the night.
Biden spoke first and set the precedent for the other candidates’ position on the vote from the Democrat-controlled House: “It was a constitutional necessity for the House to act as it did.”
Warren agreed, but added, “We need … a Democrat who is willing to get out and fight not for the wealthy and well-connected, but to fight for everyone else,” foreshadowing her later attack on Pete Buttigieg for courting funding from wealthy donors in a California “wine cave.”
Only one candidate downplayed the question of impeachment.
“It’s clear why Americans can’t agree on impeachment. We’re getting our news from different sources, and it’s making it hard for us to agree on even basic facts,” said Yang. “Americans don’t trust the media networks to tell them the truth.”
The entrepreneur expounded on his views that legacy media is dividing and deceiving the American people in a riff that served as Yang’s most memorable moment on the debate stage thus far.
“The media networks didn’t do us any favors by missing the reason why Donald Trump became our president in the first place. If you turned on cable network news today, you would think he’s our president because of some combination of Russia, racism, Facebook, Hillary Clinton, and emails all mixed together,” Yang stated. “But Americans around the country know different. We blasted away four-million manufacturing jobs that were primarily based in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri.”
“The more we act like Donald Trump is the cause of all our problems, the more Americans lose trust that we can actually see what’s going on in our communities and solve those problems,” Yang continued. “We have to stop being obsessed over impeachment.”
The topic of impeachment was rarely mentioned after the first question with debate moderator Tim Alberta from Politico driving more substantive policy questions.
Early in the debate, Sanders and Klobuchar clashed over the USMCA trade deal that passed through the House of Representatives yesterday. The deal is essentially an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and every member of the Texas delegation voted in favor of it.
Sanders said he would not support the new North American trade agreement citing concerns that it does not “stand up for workers” or address climate change.
Klobuchar said she supports it because it provides “better labor standards,” “better environmental standards,” and “a better deal when it comes to the pharmaceutical provision.”
When asked about how they would persuade voters who see a strong economy under President Trump — including a low unemployment rate and booming markets — most candidates disagreed that the economy was indeed strong and contended that the metrics demonstrating otherwise do not show the reality for the middle class.
“Well, I don’t think they really do like the economy,” said Biden. “The middle class is getting killed. The middle class is getting crushed. The working class has no way up as a consequence of that.”
“Where I live,” said Buttigieg, “people aren’t measuring the economy by how the Dow-Jones is doing. They’re measuring the economy by how they’re doing — when you’re doing the bills at the end of the month at your kitchen table, and you find that even if your wages have gone up, it’s not nearly going as fast as the cost of healthcare and housing. This economy is not working for most of us.”
Asked how she responds to economists that say her $8 trillion tax plan would stifle the economy, Warren said, “Oh, they’re just wrong.”
A good portion of the debate was spent talking about the subject of climate change.
Although Warren said that she would keep existing nuclear energy plants, she stated that she would not expand the use of it.
Yang countered that he would, saying, “I agree with the research. We need to have everything on the table in a crisis situation, which this is.”
And in a stunning moment, and one likely to stand out for many Texans, former Vice President Joe Biden said he would be willing to sacrifice economic growth and possibly hundreds of thousands of blue-collar jobs in the oil and gas industry to adopt climate change proposals.
A recent report by the Perryman Group based out of Waco reveals that the oil and gas industry supports 17 percent of all jobs in Texas. This is equal to about 2 million jobs in the Lone Star State.
In one of the most heated exchanges of the debate, Warren criticized Buttigieg for recently having a fundraising dinner at a “wine cave.”
“According to Forbes magazine, I’m literally the only person on this stage who’s not a millionaire or a billionaire,” Buttigieg shot back. “This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”
Another major sparring moment of the night was had been seen before in a previous debate: Biden and Sanders arguing about the practicality of the Vermont senator’s $30 trillion “Medicare for All” plan.
Again, Biden was opposed, saying that “you shouldn’t have Washington dictating to you that you cannot keep the plan you have.”
In a recent Texas poll, Biden was ahead in the Democratic primary by a 20-point margin, but Trump still polled ahead of all Democratic candidates.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.