Ten of the 25 candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took to the stage of the historic Fox Theatre in Detroit Tuesday night in a prime-time event that largely focused on policy.
In the more than two-and-a-half-hour event hosted by CNN and moderated by the network’s Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, and Don Lemon, candidates debated a wide range of topics that included health care, immigration, student debt, the economy, and foreign policy.
Here are the highlights.
Progressives vs. the Moderates
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) stood together and held their ground against attacks from the moderate candidates on stage who labeled the progressive senators’ proposals unrealistic and impractical.
Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) laid into the two senators right off the bat, calling out each senator by name in his opening statement and criticizing “Medicare-for-All” and the Green New Deal as “bad policy.”
“Folks, we have a choice,” Delaney said in his first comments of the night. “We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us, with bad policies like Medicare for all, free everything, and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get Trump reelected.”
Sanders and Warren immediately responded in a back-and-forth that set the tone of the evening as a policy-focused event showcasing the ideological divisions across the candidates.
“You’re wrong,” Sanders said to Delaney when asked by Tapper to respond to Delaney’s criticism about Medicare for All as an unworkable and unwinnable proposal for Democrats. “Five minutes away from here, John, is a country called Canada. They guarantee health care to every man, woman and child as a human right. They spend half of what we spend and, by the way, when you end up in a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all.”
Other candidates also went after the senators’ proposal for socializing health care. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper said the law would strip health care from 180 million Americans. Hickenlooper also criticized the Democratic proposals for a Green New Deal, calling it a “disaster at the ballot box.”
“You may as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump,” Hickenlooper said.
Bernie Sanders: ‘I Wrote The D-mn Bill’
While defending Medicare for All, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan piled on to the criticism being hurled at the plan from the other moderates on stage.
When Sanders claimed his plan would be better for union workers satisfied with their current health care plans, Ryan interjected, “You don’t know that, Bernie!”
“I do know that. I wrote the d-mn bill,” Sanders responded.
Tim Ryan: ‘You Don’t Have To Yell,’ Bernie
In another exchange with Sanders on moving the country to non-petroleum-based energy, Ryan called the Vermont senator’s plan to end gas-powered car sales by the year 2040 unrealistic. Sanders fired back.
“I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas,” Sanders blurted out on stage. “Republicans are not afraid of big ideas. They could give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations, they can bail out the crooks on Wall Street, so please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry!”
To which Ryan responded, “You don’t have to yell.”
“All I’m saying is we have to invent our way out of this thing, and if we’re waiting for 2040 for a ban to come in on gasoline vehicles, we’re screwed,” Ryan explained.
Sanders Imitates Hickenlooper Raising His Arms
During a heated back and forth between Hickenlooper and Sanders, Hickenlooper mocked Sanders, telling the senator to “Throw your hands up!”
“Alright!” Sanders replied, doing exactly what was asked.
“Oh ho! I can do it!” Hickenlooper responded, unexpectedly taking up his own offer also.
Favorite moment of the night – when Hickenlooper tells Sanders to throw his hands up: pic.twitter.com/gB2DaZlsLf
— Samantha-Jo Roth (@SamanthaJoRoth) July 31, 2019
Warren: Why Are You Even Running For President?
A frustrated Warren lashed out at Delaney after several rounds of sparring with the moderate congressman who has repeatedly called for Democrats during the debate and throughout the race to put the brakes on chasing socialist policies.
After Delaney referred to progressive proposals as “impossible promises” and “fairy tale economics” again, Warren had enough.
“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 said.
Warren repeatedly argued that the moderates on stage attacking her and Sanders were using Republican talking points and ought to get behind their leftist ideas.
Warren Admonishes The Crowd
One of the first Massachusetts senator’s stand-out moments of the night came at the beginning, when she admonished the crowd for chuckling as she shared the sad story of a patient who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease during the discussion on health care.
“This isn’t funny,” Warren told the crowd as she described a family whose insurance did not provide enough coverage for overwhelming medical bills. “This is somebody who has health insurance and is dying and every month has about $9,000 in medical bills his insurance company won’t cover.”
Ending Penalties for Illegal Border Crossings
Multiple candidates on stage confirmed their positions on decriminalizing border crossings, similar to Democrats’ conversation during the second night of last month’s debates in Miami.
When asked directly whether she supported making it no longer a crime to cross the border without authorization, Warren, who was present on the first night of June’s Democratic debates and therefore missed the conversation on the topic, answered, “Yes.”
Warren’s clarification on the issue joins multiple other candidates in the race who rapidly adopted the position after 2020 rival and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro made it a part of his presidential platform earlier this year.
Williamson: A ‘Dark Psychic Force’ in the White House
Self-help author Marianne Williamson repeated her criticism of other Democrats in the race, saying that simply having complex plans will not steer the party to victory against Trump in 2020. She spoke of a “dark psychic force” that Democrats had to deal with to win.
“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days,” she said.
Williamson’s moment in the debate came as the spiritual guru was speaking about race in the context of the Flint water crisis. Her signature issue in the campaign has been her support for current taxpayers giving money to African-Americans for the practice of slavery that ended more than 150 years ago.
During the debate, Williamson broke down the numbers behind her support for providing up to $500 billion to African-Americans who weren’t alive when the barbaric practice was legal in the United States.
“If you did the math of the 40 acres and a mule, given that there was 4 million to 5 million slaves at the end of the Civil War, four to five — and they were all promised 40 acres and a mule for every family of four, if you did the math today, it would be trillions of dollars. And I believe that anything less than $100 billion is an insult,” she said, apparently forgetting her promise to not talk about policy and plans.
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who ran an unsuccessful Senate bid against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) last fall, also spoke in support of reparations, pledging to sign U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D-Tx.) reparations bill.
Buttigieg: Don’t Worry What Republicans Are Going To Say
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg addressed concerns voiced by others on stage about what Republicans will say about Democrats drifting further to the left, arguing the Republicans will label Democrats “crazy socialists” no matter what they say.
“It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say,” Buttigieg said. “If it’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.”
Don Lemon Labels Donald Trump a Bigot
Moderator and CNN prime-time host Lemon asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) how to address voters who care more about the economy than “Trump’s bigotry.”
“Senator Klobuchar, what do you say to those Trump voters who prioritize the economy over the president’s bigotry?” Lemon asked.
“Well, first of all, there are people that voted for Donald Trump before that aren’t racist; they just wanted a better shake in the economy. And so I would appeal to them,” Klobuchar said.
The Minnesota senator made clear, however, at the beginning of the debate that she still thought of many of the president’s comments as racist.
“I have had it with the racist attacks,” Klobuchar said in her opening statement.
Read the full transcript of Tuesday night’s Democratic debate here.