While many Texans might have been tuning into the NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, others were tuning into ABC for the third Democratic presidential debate being held at Texas Southern University (TSU) in Houston.
The previous two debates had been split over two nights each because of a large field of candidates, but last night’s stage was narrowed down to a smaller field of ten:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
- California Sen. Kamala Harris
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
- Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
Near the beginning of the evening, as lightning caused a delay in the football game, sparks were also flying in TSU’s Health and PE center. Democratic candidates once again had sharp disagreements over healthcare.
“Thus far, my distinguished friend, the senator on my left,” Former Vice President Joe Biden said looking at Warren, “has not indicated how she pays for [her healthcare plan].”
“And the senator has, in fact,” Biden said turning to Sanders, “come forward and said how he’s going to pay for it, but it gets him about halfway there.”
Sanders argued for his “Medicare for All” bill, a $32 trillion taxpayer-funded plan that would dramatically raise taxes and force nearly 150 million Americans to drop their existing employer-provided health insurance to enroll in a government program.
“I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders exclaimed, contending his bill would cost less than the “status quo” under Obamacare.
Some of the other candidates disagreed with Sanders and Warren, taking the so-called moderate position of Biden.
“While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” said Klobuchar. “And on page eight – on page eight of the bill, it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. And that means that 149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance.”
“The problem, Senator Sanders, with that ‘damn bill’ that you wrote,” retorted Buttigieg, “is that it doesn’t trust the American people.” The mayor said he thinks there should be “Medicare for all who want it.”
O’Rourke continued arguing for his “Medicare for America” plan, which would gradually move every American into a government-provided, taxpayer-funded healthcare system and according to some experts, would also abolish private health insurance.
Aside from heated arguments over healthcare, the night did not feature too many divisive discussions for the presidential contenders.
However, while the candidates largely agreed on banning so-called “assault weapons,” Biden cautioned Harris and others about promising to issue executive orders.
The California senator said that it was not enough “that we would wait for this Congress, which has just done nothing, to act.”
“Let’s be constitutional,” Biden responded, noting that the president could not just say, “By the way, you can’t own the following weapons.”
Regarding the El Paso shooting, Harris said she had been asked if she thought Trump was responsible for what happened. “Well, look, I mean, obviously, he didn’t pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”
On the issue of gun control, O’Rourke had his own controversial line, abiding by his confiscatory proposal for a so-called mandatory buyback: “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
Another notable moment came when Biden received criticism for his role in the Obama administration’s immigration policy. Asked if he would say that the administration made a mistake in conducting deportations, Biden refused to give a clear answer.
“What Latinos should look at is — comparing this president to the president we have is outrageous, number one. We didn’t lock people up in cages. We didn’t separate families. We didn’t do all of those things,” Biden responded.
It has been well documented that many of the viral images condemning the Trump administration for alleged abuse of detained illegal immigrants were actually taken during the Obama administration.
Moderator Jorge Ramos of Univision continued to press Biden on his immigration record, asking if the record-setting deportations during the Obama administration were a mistake.
“The president did the best thing that was able to be done at the time,” Biden responded. “I’m the vice president of the United States.”
Castro did not miss the opportunity. “My problem with Vice President Biden…is every time something good about Barack Obama comes up, he says, oh I was there, I was there, I was there, that’s me too, and then every time somebody questions part of the administration that [they] were both part of, he says, well, that was the president.”
Biden has continued to lead in the polls among the primary contenders, including in Texas. In the most recent Quinnipiac survey, the former vice president garners 28 percent support from Texas Democrats, well ahead of Texans O’Rourke and Castro, who lag at 12 and 3 percent respectively.
And despite a few hits from his competitors last night, it did not appear any candidate performed well enough to overtake Biden’s continued front-runner status.
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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.