WASHINGTON – The division between leftists and moderates in the United States’ Democratic Party was evident on Tuesday during the second debate between their candidates for the US presidential elections, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren advocating a progressive agenda to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.
Instead of an expected confrontation between Sanders and Warren, the night’s most popular candidates, the progressive senators joined forces against a group of moderates who have been lagging far behind them in the polls.
“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 about her moderate colleagues, whom she accused of using the arguments of Republicans.
“I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas,” added Sanders, referring to the huge tax breaks given by Trump.
The debate, which took place in Detroit, Michigan, and organized by CNN, initially revolved around the healthcare system, where Sanders and Warren were the only ones defending a fully public model known as “Medicare for All,” which contemplates suppression of private insurers.
“Why do we have to be so extreme?” argued former Congressman John Delaney, presenting himself as the only candidate with experience in healthcare business. “With all due respect, I don’t think my colleagues understand the business.”
“It’s not a business!” replied Sanders, defending health care as a “human right,” access to which, he promised, would be free for all, including US citizens and undocumented immigrants, if he was elected to the White House.
At that point, Congressman Tim Ryan sided with Delaney, claiming Sanders’ proposal would incentivize undocumented immigration and said these people should bear own their healthcare costs.
The healthcare standoff was replicated, albeit with less tension, over the issue of immigration, where everyone agreed to mark Trump as the common enemy but differed on other issues.
“We’ve got 100,000 people showing up at the border right now. If we decriminalize entry, if we give health care to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock, confronting Sanders and Warren.
“If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals,” Sanders responded.
With the division between two sections of the Democratic Party evident, Ryan brought out the fear of centrists – that a leftist candidate had no chance of winning the presidential election against Trump.
“We’ve talked about decriminalizing the border, and we’ve talked about giving free health care to undocumented workers when so many Americans are struggling to pay for their health care. I quite frankly don’t think that that is an agenda that we can move forward on and win,” he said.
Warren responded to that statement with: “I remember when people said Barack Obama couldn’t get elected. Shoot, I remember when people said Donald Trump couldn’t get elected. But here’s where we are.”
“I get it,” she added. “There is a lot at stake, and people are scared. But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in just because we’re too scared to do anything else. And we can’t ask other people to vote for a candidate we don’t believe in.”
Warren defended carrying out “big, structural change” that would “give people a reason to show up and vote.”
During the debate, which ran for two-and-a-half hours, the candidates also discussed issues such as gun regulation, student debt, wealth taxes, the climate crisis and, to a lesser extent, foreign policy.
Besides Sanders, Warren, Delaney, Ryan and Bullock, other participants in the debate included South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former congresswoman Beto O’Rourke and writer Marianne Williamson.
On Wednesday, another 10 candidates – featuring other favorites Senator Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden, who clashed in the first round – will participate in the second part of the debate.