Ten Democrats running for their party's nomination for the 2020 presidential race took the stage in Houston, Texas on Thursday, to plead their case to American voters more than four months before the first primary votes are cast on February 3rd in Iowa.
Hosted by ABC News, the debate was moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, David Muir Linsey Davis and Univision’s Jorge Ramos and took place at Houston's historically black Texas Southern University. Each candidate was allowed one minute 15 seconds to respond to questions from moderators and 45 seconds for follow-ups and questions. Candidates had one minute for their opening statements, but there was no closing statements from the candidates.
Candidates sparred over health care, foreign policy, and how they would be the best option to beat President Donald Trump next November.
The candidates who debated tonight included:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
- Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
- Sen. Kamala Harris of California
- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Andrew Yang, entrepreneur
- Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
You can click here for a full primer on each candidate.
Democrats Debate in Houston Tonight: Here's a Primer on All Ten Candidates
The debate began with the candidates given one minute for an opening statement, which mostly ended up being a shortened version of their stump speech.
Moderators called on the candidates in reverse order of polling (lowest to highest) and each one used their time to appeal to the American people and convince them they were the best person to beat President Donald Trump in 2020.
Before Thursday's debate, entrepreneur Andrew Yang had been teasing an unprecedented surprise for viewers of Thursday night's debate. The stunt turned out to be what many had predicted all along: Yang said his campaign would deliver a taste of how his signature "Freedom Dividend" policy would work. Yang asked people to go to his campaign website and submit an essay about how $1,000 over the next year would help them. The audience erupted in cheers after hearing Yang's promise, with several of the other candidates on stage, chuckling and/or speechless.
Yang has promoted his "Freedom Dividend" as part of his campaign for a Universal Basic Income for citizens across the country. The "stunt" is "fully compliant with all FEC regulations," according to Yang's campaign manager.
The conversation began with a spirited debate on healthcare that became personal at times as the candidates sought to separate their plans from one another. Each one wanted to either expand Obamacare in one form or another, or go for Medicare for All
As the candidates argued back and forth about their various positions, Senator Harris steered the conversation back to Donald Trump, reminding voters that the president had made it his priority to repeal Obamacare in his first year.
“Let’s talk about the fact that Donald Trump came into office and spent almost the entire first year of his term trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said, reminding people that Trump was still attacking President Obama's signature accomplishment through the courts.
"Fast forward to today and what is happening? Donald Trump’s Department of Justice is trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act," Harris said, referencing a lawsuit by health insurers the Supreme Court agreed to hear that the federal government owes them billions in payments from an Obamacare program designed to help companies attract sick customers in the early years of the law's implementation.
At one point, Castro challenged Biden on a point, he made a few minutes before, asking the former vice president if he'd forgotten what he'd said about people paying for their healthcare two minutes before. Mayor Pete Buttigieg jumped in to bemoan the acrimony, saying this was why people hated watching presidential debates.
"This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable," Buttigieg said. "This reminds everybody of what they can not stand about Washington — scoring points against each other, poking at each other and telling each other that you're, my plan..."
"That's called the Democratic primary election," Castro said, pushing back.
Amy Klobuchar managed to get in the last word, warning her fellow candidates on stage that "... a house divided cannot stand."
The conversation shifted to guns, with two recent mass shootings fresh in the candidate's minds, especially former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, whose hometown of El Paso saw a gunman open fire in a Walmart last month, leaving 22 people dead and 26 people wounded. Multiple candidates on stage took their time to praise O'Rourke for his response to the mass shooting in his hometown. When O'Rourke was asked if he would take away people's guns if elected president, he said "hell yes."
"I am. If it's a weapon that is designed to kill people on the battlefield ... Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AR-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore," the congressman said to applause from the audience.
“If it’s (a) weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield. If the high impact, high velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body because it was designed to do that so you would bleed to death on a battlefield, and not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers,” O’Rourke said.
Immigration was another hot topic for the ten candidates in Houston, with Mayor Pete Buttigieg calling people who supported Trump's current immigration policy, "racist."
“Anyone who supports this is supporting racism,” Buttigieg said. “The only people who actually buy into this president’s hateful rhetoric around immigrants are people who don’t know any.”
“We have an opportunity to actually get something done but we cannot allow this to continue to be the same debate with the same argument and the same clever lines often among the same people since the last reform happened in the 1980s,” Buttigieg said.
The topics shifted to climate change with moderators asking how each candidate would tackle the issue. Most if not all said they would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from. At one point, moderator Jorge Ramos asked Sen. Cory Booker, who is vegan, if he would ask Americans to adopt a meat-free diet to help combat climate change.
"You know, first of all, I want to say, no," Booker said. "Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish: No."
Booker went on to bash the problem of factory farming, saying it was "hurting our environment" and was pushing family farmers out of business. He then pivoted his answer to the plight of the homeless people and veterans across America.
At one point in the night, Sanders was given the chance to defend socialism, as he told Ramos that his version does not resemble anything like what people see in countries like Venezuela.
"In terms of democratic socialism, to equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair," Sanders said. "I agree with (what) goes on in Canada and Scandinavia, guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right. I believe that the United States should not be the only major country on earth not to provide paid family and medical leave."
The Independent senator from Vermont went on to explain his vision does not nationalize major industries, like you would see in places like Venezuela, but instead focused on beefing up social safety nets and offering workers more say in how companies are run.
"You got three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of this country. You got a handful of billionaires controlling what goes on in Wall Street, the insurance companies and in the media. Maybe, just maybe, what we should be doing is creating an economy that works for all of us, not 1%," Sanders said. "That's my understanding of democratic socialism."
For the final question of the night, moderators asked each candidate what their biggest professional setback has been so far in their life.
Biden was the first to answer, but, his initial response was interrupted by protesters. Bloomberg reports that the protesters wore shirts that read, "Defend DACA, Abolish ICE, Citizenship for All" were protesting immigration policies. Biden went on to discount any setback as a setback, and said he counted on things that were important and unimportant.
Warren said she was standing on the debate stage in Houston because she always got back up and fought back, adding that she wanted to be the fight to fix it in America. Sanders recounted a tale of growing up in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, and his father who came to American with nothing in his pockets.
Harris said she has always been told there would be setbacks, but she never listened, which is why she was standing on the debate stage and had been elected Attorney General for California.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg finished his debate by recounting the story of him coming out.
"As a military officer serving under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and as an elected official in the state of Indiana when Mike Pence was governor, at a certain point, when it came to professional setbacks, I had to wonder whether just acknowledging who I was was going to be the ultimate career ending setback," he said.
"So I just came out," Buttigieg said.
Yang talked about his first company and how it had failed miserably and owed money, calling it a "mini rise and maximum fail."
Sen. Cory Booker spoke of his time taking on the political machine in Newark, New Jersey while fighting for rent control and how they fought incredibly hard against him.
Rep. Beto O'Rourke spoke fondly about his hometown of El Paso, saying that "Everything I've learned about resilience, I've learned from my hometown of El Paso, Texas. In the face of this act of terror that was directed at our community in large part by the President of the Unites States ... we were not defeated by that nor were we defined by that."
Sen. Klobuchar said her setback and entry into politics came after her daughter was born really sick. "When our daughter was born, I had this expectation, we were going to have this perfect, perfect birth. And she was really sick ... But when she was born, they had a rule in place that you got kicked out of the hospital in 24 hours. She was in intensive care and I was kicked out. And I thought this could never happen to any other mom again. So I went to our legislature."
Finally, Julián Castro spoke about how he never expected to be on a stage running for president, "Castro is my mother's name, and my grandmother's name before her. I grew up in a single-parent household on the westside of San Antonio, going to the public schools."
That wraps tonight's coverage of the Democratic debate in Houston. The DNC has scheduled a fourth debate for Oct. 15-16 which could see the return of lower-tier candidates such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and self-help author Marianne Williamson. The qualifications allow those candidates more time to qualify for the fourth debate, which is scheduled to be held at a yet-to-be announced site.
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