Democratic presidential hopefuls former Vice President Joe Biden and US Senator from California Kamala Harris speak during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Former Vice President Joe Biden faced heavy scrutiny during night two of the second Democratic debate in Detroit on Wednesday. But he wasn’t the only top tier candidate to come under fire. Sen. Kamala Harris, who shot up in the polls after the first debate, also faced withering attacks from her rivals on the stage.
Here are the top moments from Wednesday’s debate.
‘Go easy on me, kid’
Harris, D-Calif., didn’t go easy on Biden during the first debates in Miami last month.
The two rivals sparred over Biden’s record on race, after Harris recounted being bused to integrate a Berkeley, California, school in the 1970s — and critiqued Biden for opposing busing as a method of desegregation in the period.
On Wednesday, Biden hoped for a different outcome. As candidates made their way to the stage before the debate got started, the Delaware Democrat asked Harris to “go easy on me, kid.”
In his opening statement minutes later, Biden predicted that Harris might not follow his advice.
“I think Democrats are expecting some engagement here, and I expect we will get it,” he said.
Harris and Biden spar over health care
Senator Kamala Harris points at former Vice President Joe Biden on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Biden tried to put Harris on the defensive about the “Medicare for All” plan she unveiled earlier this week.
“The senator’s had several plans so far and anytime someone tells you you’re going to get something good in 10 years you should wonder why it takes 10 years,” Biden said. “There’s no talk about the fact that the plan, in 10 years will cost $3 trillion.”
He added that under the plan, private insurers will be able to remain. “This is the single most important issue facing the public,” Biden said. “You can’t beat President Trump with double talk on this plan.”
Harris responded that Biden’s description of her plan was “simply inaccurate.”
“Under our plan we will ensure that everyone has access to healthcare,” Harris said. “Your plan by contrast leaves out almost 10 million Americans … be reflective and understand that the people of America want access to health care and do not want costs to be their barrier to getting it.”
Biden remained firm on the detriment of the cost of Harris’s plan and the impact it would have on middle class taxes. He also said it would eliminate employer-based insurance.
“The cost of doing nothing is far too expensive,” Harris responded. “We are now paying $3 trillion dollars a year for healthcare in America. Over the next ten years, it’s probably going to be $6 trillion. We must act.”
Hecklers interrupt de Blasio
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took heat over his refusal to fire the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man whose 2014 death has become one of the cases at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Justice Department announced earlier this month that it would not bring charges against that officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who allegedly put Garner in a choke-hold.
Hecklers interrupted the debate chanting “fire Pantaleo.”
A number of Democratic candidates weighed in, saying they would have acted differently than de Blasio.
“He should be fired. He should be fired now,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. said. “If I was the mayor, I’d fire him.”
Housing Secretary Julian Castro said “that police officer should be off the street.”
A tweet sent by the de Blasio campaign during the debate read: “To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago — good for you. That’s how change is made.”
Asked about why the city did not fire Pantaleo, de Blasio said the Garner family would get justice within 30 days. Pantaleo could still face internal discipline, though de Blasio did not specify what he was referring to.
De Blasio challenges Biden on deportations
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
De Blasio accused former Biden of dodging questions on deportations that took place under the Obama administration.
“You were vice president of the United States. I didn’t hear whether you tried to stop them or not. You using your power, your influence in the White House,” de Blasio said. “Did you think it was a good idea or did you think it was something that needed to be stopped?”
Biden defended the former president, reminding de Blasio that President Barack Obama “talked about a comprehensive plan which he lay before the Congress saying that we should find a pathway to citizenship for people.”
He said that Obama suggested the U.S. increase the number of people it allows to enter the country.
“He also pointed out that we should go to the source of the problem and fix it where people were leaving in the first place,” Biden said. “So to compare him to Donald Trump, I think is absolutely bizarre.
Protesters in the audience also pushed Biden on deportations. Earlier in the debate, they could be heard chanting “three million deportations!” over Biden’s response to a question about the high deportation rates under the Obama administration.
About three million people were deported from the United States under Obama. Asked about the mass deportations during the first debate last month, Biden said, “President Obama, I think, did a heck of a job.”
Booker slams Biden for relying on Obama legacy
Senator Cory Booker (L) speaks next to former Vice President Joe Biden on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., pushed back on Biden’s invocations of Obama.
“First of all Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not,” Booker said.
Booker’s attack came after the exchange between de Blasio and Biden about Obama-era deportations. Biden declined to say whether he had weighed in on the Obama administration’s deportation policies. But, he said, Obama had worked to “fundamentally change the system.”
Biden also invoked Obama to defend his record on race and immigration.
“Everyone is talking about how terrible I am on these issues. Barack Obama knew exactly who I was,” Biden said.
Gabbard accuses Harris of marijuana hypocrisy
Democratic presidential hopeful US Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district Tulsi Gabbard delivers her opening statement during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, took on Harris’ record as a prosecutor, a subject that has fueled critiques from progressives.
“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said. “She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep the tax bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.”
But Harris said that as attorney general of California, she worked to reform the system.
“I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches, or be in a legislative body and give speeches on a floor, but actually do the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform,” she said.
Gabbard fired back that when Harris was “in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not.”
Gabbard added: “And worse yet, in the case of those who were on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so.”
Harris has already come under scrutiny for a 2010 scandal that led a judge to throw out more than 1,000 drug-related cases because of her office’s failure to disclose evidence to defendants.
Harris cites Fed rate cuts to hit Trump on trade
Trade had a brief moment at the debate. Harris said that Trump’s trade policies were responsible for the Federal Reserve’s decision to lower its benchmark rate on Wednesday, the first time it had cut rates since the 2008 financial crisis.
“[Federal Reserve Chairman] Jerome Powell just dropped the interest rates and he admitted why, because of the so-called trade policy this president has that has been nothing more than the Trump trade tax that has resulted in American families spending as much as $1.4 billion dollars more a month on everything from shampoo to washing machines,” Harris said. “He betrayed the American people.”
Powell said during a news conference Wednesday that the ongoing trade conflict was among the reasons for lowering rates, but didn’t say it was the main reason.
— CNBC’s Elizabeth Myong contributed to this report.