Aug. 1 (UPI) — The second group of 10 candidates participating in the second round of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates Wednesday night was split distinctly on healthcare and immigration.
Candidates were once again fiercely divided on whether the United States should adopt a Medicare for All model, in which all Americans are provided with a government healthcare plan, or a plan that allows people to retain their private insurance.
Former Vice President Joe Biden began the debate clashing with California Sen. Kamala Harris, as he called for a plan that builds on the American Care Act, or Obamacare, policy put in place while he was in office while Harris pushed a version of Medicare for All with a role for private insurance.
Biden said his plan would cost $750 billion, compared to Harris $3 trillion 10-year plan, and would limit insurance co-pay to $1,000.
“Obamacare is working,” he said. “The way to build this and get to it immediately is to build on Obamacare. Go back and take back all the things that Trump took away, provide a public option … or if they’re on Medicaid they’d automatically be in the plan.”
Harris described the highlights of her plan as expanding choice by retaining the option for people to pay for a private health plan but preventing employers from dictating their employee’s health care.
“Responsive to the needs of American families there will be a public plan under my plan for Medicare and a private plan under my plan for Medicare, because the bottom line is this — we must agree that healthcare must be a right and not just a privilege to people that can afford it,” she said.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet agreed with Biden’s sentiments and expressed concerns that a Medicare for All plan would ban employer-based insurance and pass costs on to taxpayers.
“I believe we should finish the job that we started with the Affordable Care Act, with a public option that gives everybody in this audience the chance to pick for their family whether they want private insurance or public insurance,” he said.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio described the idea that many Americans want to keep their current insurance plans as a myth.
“There’s tens of millions of Americans who don’t even have health insurance and tens of millions more that have health insurance they can barely make work because of the co-pays the deductibles, the premiums and the out of pocket expenses,” he said.
Tensions flare over decriminalizing border crossings
Former Housing and Urban secretary Julian Castro reiterated his plan to decriminalize illegal immigration as a means of eliminating detention centers and border separations.
“The only way that we’re going to guarantee that we don’t have family separations in this country again is to repeal section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act. That’s the law that this president, this administration, is using to incarcerate migrant parents and physically separate them from their children,” he said.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand emphasized that the majority of people crossing the border illegally are not criminals and that the current administration is using the current law as a “crutch” to detain women and children attempting to enter the country.
“I don’t think that we should have a law on the books that can be so misused,” she said. “It should be a civil violation and we should make sure that we treat people humanely.”
Castro’s proposal was met by strong opposition from Biden, who was interrupted by protesters shouting “3 million deportations” in reference to immigration policy under the Obama administration.
Biden said that crossing the border illegally is a crime and that people who do so should be able to be sent back to their country of origin.
“We’re in a circumstance where if in fact you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all those people around the world, who in fact want the same thing, to come to the United States and make their case? That they have to wait in line?” Biden said.
New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker dismissed the idea that decriminalizing illegal border crossings would mean the United States would “just let” people into the country.
“An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing, if you do it in the civil courts or if you do it in the criminal courts,” he said. “But the criminal courts is what is giving Donald Trump the ability to truly violate the human rights of people coming to our country.”
Candidates call for swift and powerful action on climate change
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made environmental action the center of his campaign, made the case that climate change is an all-encompassing issue.
“Climate change is not a singular issue,” he said. “It is all the issues that we Democrats care about. It is health, it is national security, it is our economy.”
Inslee also directly called out Biden’s hesitation when asked about eliminating the use of fossil fuels, calling for an end to coal use within 10 years.
“We cannot work this out. The time is up,” Inslee said. “Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in 10 years and we need a president to it or it won’t get done. Get off coal. Save this country and the planet.”
Several candidates said that they would rejoin the Paris climate accords upon becoming president, but Booker said that action would not be enough.
“Nobody should get applause for rejoining the Paris climate accords. That is kindergarten,” Booker said. “We have to go to far advance to make sure that everything from our trade deals, everything from the billions of dollars that we spend to foreign aid, everything must be sublimated to the challenge and the crisis which is existential, which is dealing with the climate threat.”
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard described the climate debate as personal having grown up on “the most remote island chain in the world.”
“This is why as a member of Congress — long before there ever was a Green New Deal — I introduced the most ambitious climate change legislation ever in Congress called the Off Fossil Fuels Act that actually laid out an actionable plan to take us from where we are today to transition off of fossil fuels and invest in green renewable energy, invest in workforce training, invest in the kind of infrastructure that we need to deal with the problems and the challenges that climate change is posing to us today,” she said.
Businessman Andrew Yang called for a more global approach to climate issues, while also encouraging a focus on responding to what he framed as an impending climate disaster.
“We are too late. We are 10 years too late,” said Yang. “We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground.”