Democratic candidates talk hot-button issues in fourth presidential debate

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 - 12:52am

Twelve candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination took the debate stage in Westerville, Ohio Tuesday night

Twelve candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination took the debate stage in Westerville, Ohio Tuesday night Buy this photo
CNN & The New York Times (NO SELL)

Hundreds of people attended the fourth Democratic Debate on Tuesday night at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. The debate was hosted by CNN and The New York Times and was moderated by CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett and New York Times national editor Marc Lacey.

The debate featured a record number of candidates, with 12 presidential hopefuls qualifying under Democratic National Committee rules. All candidates registered at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls and received donations from at least 130,000 online donors.  

This is the first debate to take place since the House of Representatives opened its impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump, which was the first topic discussed by candidates. All the candidates on stage voiced support for impeachment. Moderators challenged them to justify continued impeachment proceedings despite the upcoming election. 

Cooper began the debate by asking the candidates if President Donald Trump’s fate should be decided by the electorate at the voting booth or through an impeachment inquiry in Washington.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts responded first, emphasizing the necessity of the impeachment inquiry in light of evidence of Trump’s unconstitutional behavior.

“Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics and I think that’s the case with this impeachment inquiry,” Warren said. “Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., has called for bipartisan support of the impeachment inquiry. Buttigieg said he still supports the impeachment inquiry, which is largely supported by Democrats, with one Independent — Rep. Justin Amash of Grand Rapids — backing the effort.

“Well, it's a mistake on the part of Republicans, who enable the president whose actions are as offensive to their own supposed values as they are to the values that we all share,” Buttigieg said. “It’s also about the presidency itself, because a president 10 years or 100 years from now will look back at this moment and draw the conclusion either that no one is above the law or that a president can get away with anything.”

In response to Trump’s call for an investigation into Joe Biden’s son Hunter, Cooper asked former Vice President Joe Biden about the appropriateness of a president’s family having foreign business entanglements. 

Biden referenced his son’s statement, which was released Tuesday morning, and dismissed the importance of this topic. 

“My son did nothing wrong, I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the U.S. government by rooting out corruption in Ukraine,” Biden said. “What we have to do now is focus on Donald Trump. He doesn't want me to be the candidate. He's going after me because he knows, if I get the nomination, I will beat him like a drum.”

Another hot-button issue — and a conversation continued from the last three debates — was health care. Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont continued their joint effort in emphasizing the push for Medicare for All, while moderate candidates such as Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota criticized such proposals.

In discussing her Medicare For All plan, Warren suggested taxes would be proportionally applied to corporations and the wealthy, while not directly addressing if it would affect the middle class. In contrast, Sanders acknowledged there would be tax increases for the middle class.

“I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They’re gonna up significantly for the wealthy and for virtually everybody,” Sanders said. “The tax increase will be substantially less — substantially less — than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.”

Klobuchar argued Warren was not being honest about the true price of her health care plans. 

“At least Bernie’s being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this,” Klobuchar said. “I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.”

Klobuchar said the best way to tackle affordable healthcare is to build off Obamacare. 

“The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done.  And we can get this public option done,” Klobuchar said. “I believe the best and boldest idea here is to not trash Obamacare but to do exactly what Barack Obama wanted to do from the beginning and that's have a public option that would bring down the cost of the premium and expand the number of people covered and take on the pharmaceutical companies.”

Biden took the mention of the Affordable Care Act as an opportunity to highlight his role in the implementation of the plan. He claimed proponents of Medicare for All plan are not transparent about its costs and the long process of implementation. 

“I think it’s awfully important to be straightforward with (the American public),” Biden said. “The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years. That is more on a yearly basis than the entire federal budget.”

The group also discussed the threat of automation to American jobs, with entrepreneur Andrew Yang advocating for his cornerstone policy of a $1,000 stipend a month, known as universal basic income. He delineated his policy in contrast with Sanders’ proposal for a federal jobs guarantee. 

“Because the fact is — and you know this in Ohio — if you rely upon the federal government to target its resources, you wind up with failed retraining programs and jobs that no one wants,” Yang said. “When we put the money into our hands, we can build a trickle-up economy from our people, our families, and our communities up. It will enable us to do the kind of work that we want to do. This is the sort of positive vision in response to the fourth industrial revolution that we have to embrace as a party.”

The conversation pivoted to foreign affairs with the topic of Trump’s withdrawal of troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish military operation against U.S.-allied Kurds and allowing for a possible resurgence of ISIS. 

Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who both served in the military in the Middle East, clashed on the country’s role in the ongoing conflict in Syria. Buttigeg claimed the human death toll in Syria was not a result of the American presence.

Gabbard argued the U.S. role in Syria is only continuing to the detriment of the United States and civilian death in Syria and Yemen. She claimed the U.S. must discontinue its role in the regime change war. 

“Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war,” Gabbard said.

Buttigieg advocated for the continued role of American leadership in upholding democracy abroad and keeping its word in foreign agreements. 

“The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.”

LSA senior Haya Akbik, who is an International Studies major and comes from a Syrian background, disagreed with Gabbard’s foreign policy stances on the Middle East. She criticized  Gabbard’s connection to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of war crimes.

“Not only is she supporting a dictator and genocidal president like Assad, she is delegitimizing the entire American notion of protecting and spreading democracy by calling for an end to this regime change,” Akbik wrote in a text message interview with The Daily. “There is no regime change, there is only citizens fighting for democracy and freedom and a dictator willing to kill his own people and pay off Americans like Gabbard to keep his power.”

Akbik said agreed more with Buttigeig’s view on the situation. “Mayor Pete expressed what I think most Americans and National Security Advisors as well as the international community would recommend: keeping troops in Syria if that is what is needed to mediate an even more explosive situation with an American vacuum,” she said.

After the debate, Yang discussed engaging young voters with The Daily. He said he backed the idea of lowering the voting age.

“I think we should lower the voting age to 16, which would make every American high school a hotbed of political activity,” Yang said. “And the fact is you can pay taxes at 16 — you’re going to be on this earth for longer so you should have a say in the future.”

Presidential candidate Tom Steyer, a billionaire from California, told The Daily he appeals to young voters, noting his history of environmental activism.

“Well, I have the most aggressive climate change plan,” Steyer said. “I have 10 years of working on climate change. So as far as I’m concerned, in terms of young people, if this is your issue, I am your candidate, because there's no one else (who) will say that.”