If you think last night’s Democratic debate is going to be the zippier of the two, you are sadly mistaken—Tuesday’s session with Sanders and Warren was actually more fun than Wednesday’s dull dustup. It is nine against one, with everyone punching at front-runner Joe Biden, who manages for over two and a half hours to duck and dodge, but hardly inspire. In his opening remarks, Bill DeBlasio attacks both Harris and Biden: “Joe Biden told wealthy donors that nothing fundamentally would change if he were president. Kamala Harris said she’s not trying to restructure society. Well, I am.” The rest of the opening speeches range from Michael Bennet, who says that kids belong in classrooms, not cages; to Joaquin Castro, who mentions being inspired by “our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico” but doesn’t explain why; to Andrew Yang, who says he wants to give every adult American $1000 a month for life (he will repeat this dazzling proposal in response to practically every question); to Cory Booker, who says we desperately need to heal as a nation and is almost drowned out by protesters; to Kamala Harris, who says we must “collectively…look in a mirror and ask a question, that question being ‘Who are we?’” to big boy Joe Biden, who addresses Donald Trump directly: “So, Mr. President, let’s get something straight: We love it. We are not leaving it. We are here to stay. And we’re certainly not going to leave it to you.”
As with Tuesday night, the first question is about health care, and once again, there are endless combinations of private and public options on the table. Harris and Biden get into a spat about how much her plan, which phases in over 10 years, will cost. Biden scoffs that you can’t beat President Trump with double talk. DeBlasio screams that it’s a mythology that “all these folks are in love with their health plans.” Bennet wants employer-based insurance and says the Harris plan bans employer insurance; Harris accuses him of using Republican talking points. DeBlasio reminds everyone that this should be the party that stands for universal health care.
Time to move on to immigration, which devolves quickly into who is in favor of making crossing the border illegally a non-crime, or maybe just a civil offense. Harris describes the conditions she witnessed when she visited a detention center in Florida holding 2700 children. Biden says he still thinks immigrants should get in line. Castro says one of us has learned the lessons of the past, and one hasn’t. Jay Inslee observes that we have a white nationalist in the White House. Booker says we are butchering our values. DeBlasio picks a fight with Biden over deportations during the Obama administration: “Vice President Biden, I didn’t hear your response when the issue came up of all those deportations.… Do you think it was a good idea, or do you think it was something that needed to be stopped?” Biden doesn’t really answer.
Next up is criminal justice, and as anyone who is keeping half an eye on this will have predicated, Booker attacks Biden for the draconian crime bill of 1994. Biden turns around and blasts Booker on the Newark police department when Booker was mayor of that city. Then Booker offers a what is meant to be a memorable line but comes off as pretty wacky: “Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community, you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid, and you don’t even know the flavor.” Castro brings up the police officer who killed Eric Garner on Staten Island; “That police officer should be off the street.” DeBlasio answers that “there’s finally going to be justice. I have confidence in that, in the next 30 days, in New York.” Biden repeats, ad nauseam, that Barack picked him, so there. Then—surprise—in a night thin on bombshells, Tulsi Gabbard attacks Harris from the left, claiming that as attorney general in California, Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.” Harris doesn’t offer a detailed rejoinder to these charges, but says she stands on her record.
Can it only be 9:38? The panel is discussing climate change, and there is pretty much general agreement, though Inslee bristles when Biden says “we would work it out” regarding the elimination of fossil fuels. Inslee responds heatedly, “We cannot work this out. The time is up. Our house is on fire.” Booker says he agrees with Inslee. Harris offers that she likes the Green New Deal, and Kirsten Gillibrand states that she is a co-sponsor of that legislation and that when she is president, the first thing she is going to do is Clorox the Oval Office.
Just when you feel you need a sniff of Clorox to revive you, you snap back to life—ok, sort of—as the subject of how to energize the progressive base comes up. This is really a question for Warren and Sanders, but since they’re not here tonight, the others have to take a stab at it. Biden says he knows how to do it because—Obama picked him! Booker says, face it, we lost Michigan because of voter suppression. The discussion drifts to women, and how they’re underpaid and ripped off, and Yang says he will give each of them $1000 a month! Harris has a plan to hold corporations responsible for equal pay and fine them if they don’t comply; Gillibrand attacks Biden for some op-ed he wrote decades ago that she claims said women belong at home.
It is 10:12, which, you realize with a sinking heart, means you have at least a half-hour before closing statements. Booker announces that when he is president, he won’t conduct foreign policy by tweet. Biden admits he made a mistake voting for the Iraq War and adds that he voted against the surge. Gabbard, the only military veteran on the stage, says, “The problem is that this current president is continuing to betray us.” At 10:21, DeBlasio is yelling about the looming prospect of war in Iran; Harris states that she’s seen people go to prison for far less than what the president is accused of; Booker insists that we should begin impeachment proceedings, “the politics of this be damned.”
You thought this moment would never come, but finally, it is time: closing statements. Harris alleges that there’s a predator in the White House, Biden says we are in a battle for the soul of America, and Booker sums up the dilemma facing Democrats and the nation: “We have a real crisis in our country, and the crisis is Donald Trump, but not only Donald Trump.”