After months–or in some cases, years–of anticipation, the first 2020 Democratic Primary Debates have arrived. Ten candidates took the debate stage in Miami tonight for the first debate, while another ten will face off Thursday night.
The primary field is not only the largest in history with 25 candidates, but also the most diverse; it features six women and six people of color (one of whom is both), as well as the first openly gay candidate in American history.
Below is our live coverage of night one of debate, where we covered what candidates’ promises and policies would mean for Virginia. We’ll back Thursday for night two.
Candidates sparred on whether “Medicare for all” plans would require getting rid of private health insurance.
Only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio raised their hands when asked if they’d support getting rid of private health insurance plans.
On the other side of the spectrum, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney advocated for keeping private insurance. Klobuchar called for adding a “public option” to Medicare.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 54% of Virginians in 2017 had private health insurance, 12% were on Medicaid and 14% on Medicare. Virginia expanded Medicaid to an estimated 400,000 Virginians this year, but regulations requiring enrollees to work could kick tens of thousands off the program.
Warren called gun deaths a public health crisis, and said we need to “treat this like the virus that is killing our children,” pointing out deaths that regularly occur outside of mass shootings. Booker highlighted how he faces gun violence every day in his Newark neighborhood, and said he’s tired of hearing about “thoughts and prayers.”
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) also spoke out in support of trauma based-care in schools to help children deal with trauma and bullying. He called for having a mental health counselor in every school.
In Virginia, 12 people were killed in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31 in a roughly ten-minute span. That’s more time than state lawmakers spent debating a bill in January that would have banned the extended-capacity magazine the shooter used to fire as many bullets as possible without having to reload.
Virginia has among the loosest gun laws in the United States, earning the state a “D” grade from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
According to a June 2017 poll from Quinnipiac, 91% of Virginians support requiring background checks for all gun buyers (private sales are still not subject to background checks). A more recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 60% of Virginians support stricter gun laws overall.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Former Housing secretary Julian Castro, both Texans, disagreed on how to reform the nation’s immigration system. They differed on “Section 1325,” which sets forth criminal offenses relating to (1) improper entry into the United States by an alien, (2) entry into marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws, and (3) establishing a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading immigration laws.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he supported reinstating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and addressing the root causes of the migration crisis by investing in Honduras and Guatemala. Over 10,000 DACA recipients live in Virginia. Earlier this year, Democratic-sponsored proposals in Virginia’s General Assembly to extend in-state tuition rates to DACA students died in both chambers.
Klobuchar also highlighted the economic impact of immigrants, saying they “do not diminish America, they are America.”
Immigrants have helped buoy the state economy in Virginia. According to the American Immigration Council, immigrant-led households in Virginia paid $6.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.7 billion in state and local taxes in 2014. Undocumented immigrants in Virginia paid an estimated $256 million in state and local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $356 million if they could receive legal status. DACA recipients in Virginia paid an estimated $34.7 million in state and local taxes in 2016.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington has centered his candidacy around fighting climate change, and during the debate he highlighted the urgency of fighting climate change, saying the next administration might be the “last chance” to do so.
Virginia faces a unique threat from climate change.
According to a 2015 report by the Georgetown Climate Center, sea levels along Virginia’s coastline are rising faster than in the past, and population centers near the coast face increasing flood risks from rising sea levels and destructive storm surges escalated by climate change.
Scientists expect Virginia will experience two feet of sea-level rise by 2045, meaning coastal communities will likely face floods that dwarf all historical precedent. The Hampton Roads area, home to 1.7 million people, is at particular risk, and is the second-most vulnerable area in the country to rising seas, behind only New Orleans.
O’Rourke spoke about freeing ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels and investing in renewable and sustainable agriculture. A recent study commissioned by the city found that sea levels could rise by 3 feet between 2065 and 2085, which would cost Virginia Beach $271 million per year unless the city intervenes.
Earlier in the debate, Warren said we need to go “tenfold” on research and development for green energy moving forward, but that technology needs to be manufactured in the U.S.
According to an analysis from E2, a nonpartisan business group, almost every state in America saw an increase in clean energy jobs in 2018, resulting in a 3.6% growth in employment and 110,000 new net jobs.
There are 3.26 million clean energy jobs across the country and roughly 335,000 of these are in solar. In Virginia alone, there are nearly 4,000 solar jobs and as of the 4th quarter of 2018, Virginia had seen nearly $1 billion in solar investment across the state.
Inslee earned applause with this line: “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump.”
Plenty of Democratic candidates agree. O’Rourke reiterated his call for impeachment proceedings to begin against Trump. Warren, Booker, Castro and Ryan also back an impeachment inquiry. In Virginia, only Rep. Don Beyer has supported starting official impeachment proceedings.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was asked about her past controversial views on LGBTQ individuals, but highlighted how those views have changed and she now serves on the Equality Caucus.
She also spoke about the need to address the discrimination faced by LGBTQ individuals. In Virginia this year, Republicans killed four bills that would have explicitly banned housing and employment discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians. Under federal law, housing and employment discrimination is illegal based on factors like race and gender, but not sexual orientation.
When asked whether the economy is working, Warren pointed out that success isn’t experienced equally. “It’s doing great for giant drug companies, it’s not doing great for people who are trying to get a prescription filled.”
Just last month, Axios reported that the chief executives of 177 healthcare companies collectively earned more than $2.6 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, according to one estimate from Pew Charitable Trusts, Americans spent $535 billion on prescription drug costs in 2018, a 50% increase since 2010.
Former Congressman John Delaney called for a “living wage.” Virginia’s minimum wage is currently $7.25, among the lowest in the country. Republicans blocked four Democratic attempts to raise the minimum wage this year.
Castro said he would push for the ratification of the Equal Rights amendment. Virginia opted not to pass the ERA in 2019, which means women still do not have the same guaranteed equal legal rights as men.
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