Candidates spar over healthcare, immigration in third Democratic primary debate

By Simon Taylor || Contributing Writer


Photo courtesy of Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Ten candidates took the stage for the third televised Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday, September 12, hosted by ABC on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston. ABC reporters David Muir, George Stephanopoulos, and Linsey Davis, along with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, moderated. Based on Nielsen’s “Fast National” ratings, the debate drew 14.04 million total viewers. 

After opening statements, the debate followed the format of one minute and 15 seconds for direct responses to questions and 45 seconds for responses and rebuttals, including instances when candidates were invoked by name. Topics raised over the nearly three hours include healthcare, gun legislation, climate change, criminal justice, and education.

Flanked by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to his left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders to his right, former vice president and current front runner Joe Biden was subjected to a barrage of attacks from all sides over the issue of healthcare. During the same exchange, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro accused Biden of contracting himself only minutes earlier, seemingly attempting to raise concern over the 76-year-old’s mental acuity.

In a discussion on healthcare, Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised the notion of “Medicare for All Who Want It,” arguing that if Sander’s plan is indeed the best, the American people can be trusted to arrive at that conclusion on their own terms by wholly opting in. Warren dodged a question on whether she would raise middle-class taxes to afford Medicare for All, instead framing her answer in the context of the non-financial costs families already pay being denied necessary treatment by their current insurance providers.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke delivered a standout performance, passionately arguing for the mandatory buyback of assault rifles in the wake of the August mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso. O’Rourke’s statements were met with praise from other candidates on stage, including Biden and Warren.

During the first commercial break of the prime-time debate, ABC drew criticism on social media for the decision to air a political advertisement which depicted a photograph of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set aflame, prompting the hashtag “BoycottABC” to trend on Twitter. ABC has yet to issue a statement addressing the controversy.

As Biden prepared to deliver his closing remarks, chants of “We are DACA recipients! Our lives are at risk!” interrupted the debate, forcing the former vice president to pause until the protestors were escorted away.  According to Vox, they were from the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, or NAKASEC, wearing shirts that read, “Abolish ICE,” “Citizenship for All,” and “Defend DACA.” The chants were reportedly unplanned, with one of the involved individuals instead citing emotion as the catalyst for the demonstration, expressing that they felt compelled by the lack of conversation surrounding immigration during Thursday’s debate.

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee announced that the next debate will be held Tuesday, October 15 in Westerville, Ohio on the campus of Otterbein University, co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times. According to The Times, CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, as well as paper’s own National editor, Marc Lacey, will moderate. To be eligible, candidates must have 130,000 unique donors and register at least two percent in four qualifying pools by the end of the day October 1.

First-year Simon Taylor is a contributing writer. His email is staylor2@fandm.edu.

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