Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, the second in a series of debates that will continue until the 2020 primaries, featured discussion of religious hypocrisy and abortion among other matters.
Candidates were asked questions by NBC debate moderators June 27 on topics ranging from health care, immigration, and foreign policy, to race relations, climate change, and taxes.
However, candidates on Thursday barely discussed taxpayer funding of abortion, as opposed to Wednesday night’s debate when candidate Julian Castro said he supported taxpayer funding of abortion as a matter of “reproductive justice.” As president, he continued, he would ensure that all women and “trans-females” – men identifying as women – would have access to abortion and abortion coverage.
Castro later said he misspoke and meant to say that “trans-males,” or females identifying as a male who still possess a uterus, would be able to receive abortion coverage under his presidency.
Candidates discussed abortion in a brief segment where Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said that a “woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right,” and promised to not appoint any judge to the Supreme Court who was not “100 percent” committed to upholding Roe v. Wade.
“‘Medicare for All’ guarantees every women in this country the right to have an abortion if she wants it,” Sanders said of his health care policy.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) followed up by touting her own pro-abortion credentials. “I had to fight like heck” to protect contraceptive coverage and abortion services while the Affordable Care Act was being considered in Congress, she said, adding that as president, “I will guarantee women’s reproductive rights no matter what.”
Gillibrand criticized “compromise” on the issue which has brought about policies like the Hyde Amendment, an over-40-year-old bipartisan policy that bars federal Medicaid funding of most elective abortions.
After the Democratic National Committee platform in 2016 called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, that policy has come under fire by Democratic presidential candidates including by frontrunner Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) who recently reversed his long-standing support for the policy.
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List criticized the lack of questions about candidates’ public opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions.
“The strong majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, yet no Democratic contender including Joe Biden had to answer a single hard question about their extreme stance last night,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
“Democratic contenders have embraced an agenda of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand and even infanticide that is deeply unpopular with Independents and more than a third of Democrats – the voters they desperately need to win,” Dannenfelser said.
Elsewhere in the debate, during the discussion of immigration, the topic surfaced of the criminalization of immigrants crossing into the U.S. border illegally.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said she would issue an executive order to “reinstate” DACA protections for eligible persons and defer deportation for their parents and for veterans. She added that she would stop the practices of detaining immigrant children in cages and end private detention facilities.
Biden said he would unite immigrant families and send “billions of dollars worth of help to the region immediately,” regarding the surge of women and child migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.
When pressed on the deportation of “over 3 million Americans” by the Obama administration, Biden said those with “major” criminal records, but not ordinary undocumented immigrants, should be deported. He added that “we should not be locking people up”, rather harboring asylum seekers until their hearing, and should address the root causes of migration.
Sanders said that the next president should “rescind every damn thing on this issue that Trump has done” and that the “root causes” of migration should be examined.
Almost all candidates supported decriminalizing border crossings without documentation, making it a civil offense.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said this criminalization, as opposed to civil penalties, leads to practices such as the separation of families at the border. He used that issue to condemn what he called the religious hypocrisy of the Republican Party.
“The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” he said, noting that Democrats have staked out a different position because they “are committed to the separation of Church and state” and support everyone whether religious believers or not.
“We should call out hypocrisy when we see it, and for a party that associates itself with Christianity,” he said, “to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, to suggest that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
On the topic of race relations, Harris attacked Sen. Joe Biden’s (D-Del.) previous opposition to federally-mandated busing in school districts in the 1970s, as part of desegregation.
Harris interjected and said that the issue of race is not discussed enough “truthfully or honestly.”
“I do not believe you are a racist,” she said turning to Biden, but added that it was “hurtful” to hear him talk about working with segregationists and noted his opposition to federal busing for desegregation.
Biden retorted that her comments were a “mischaracterization” of his position, saying, “I did not praise racists” and “I did not oppose busing in America.” He said that he supported “breaking down these lines” on race and that he “ran [for Senate] because of civil rights,” and that civil rights – including the rights of the “LGBT community” – need to be protected today.
Harris, however, said that federal intervention on busing was required because states were obstructing civil rights. “That’s where the federal government must step in,” she said, advocating for the need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and pass the Equality Act.