The liberal left faced off against more moderate Democrats in day 1 of the second presidential debate Tuesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren being accused of espousing unrealistic and extreme ideas.
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Candidates mostly agreed on some of the main proposals popular among Democrats:
- Providing universal health care
- Reversing President Donald Trump's hardline immigration policies
- Addressing climate change and moving away from a permanent dependency on fossil fuels
But lines were drawn over the details and how far to take proposals, such as:
- Eliminating the private insurance industry
- Decriminalizing illegal immigration
- Providing reparations for slavery
A DEBATE OVER HOW TO IMPLEMENT UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE
From moderate to liberal, the Democratic candidates agreed that the Democratic nominee should support universal health care, but the divisions in the party over how to get there were displayed.
Sanders and Warren became frequent targets over their universal health care plans that called for eliminating private insurers in favor of a government-run, single-payer health care system. The senators denied accusations that their plan would increase taxes and costs for the middle class, arguing the complex private insurance market was doing that already.
"I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for," Warren said.
"I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas," Sanders said.
More moderate candidates on the stage, however, such as John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, argued that the United States could implement free health care for all without tossing out the private market, and accused Sanders and Warren of trying to cost Americans their health insurance plans.
"They're running on telling half the country that their health care is illegal," Delaney said.
DIVISIONS OVER IMMIGRATION REFORM
The divisions over how far to the left the Democratic nominee should take the party were evident in the various positions the candidates shared on what rights immigrants crossing the border should have.
Some candidates argued for:
- Decriminalizing crossing the border
- Decriminalizing crossing the border and give immigrants crossing benefits like free health care
- Not doing either, but giving immigrants additional help, such as hearing more asylum cases.
Warren, Sanders, and other more liberal Democrats said they supported decriminalizing crossing the border, while Sanders argued for also giving them access to free health care.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was one of the candidates who rejected that, saying the U.S. could reform immigration without having to decriminalize border crossings or provide health care.
The Democrats were split over trade deals and the student debt crisis. Delaney was one of the candidates who denounced Trump while praising trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The effectiveness of some of the deals has entered national debate since 2016 as Trump has railed against them.
The liberal section of the debate stage, meanwhile — particularly Warren, who has often lambasted big business — painted them as only beneficial to corporations.
Several candidates also put the brakes on the proposal that Sanders popularized in his last presidential bid: eliminating all student loan debt. Neither South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg nor former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke got on-board with that idea in all cases. Buttigieg, for example, advocated for eliminating student debt in predatory cases, which he said for-profit colleges have perpetuated.
Overall, the moderate candidates like Ryan and Delaney said Warren and Sanders have espoused unrealistic progressive plans, and contended that a Democratic nominee pushing such policies would lose the general election to Trump.
"We can go down the road that Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren want to take us, which is with bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything and impossible promises," Delaney said. "It will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected."
A second group of 10 that features the early front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as California Sen. Kamala Harris, both of whom clashed in the last debate, will convene Wednesday night:
- Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado
- Joe Biden, former vice president
- Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey
- Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary
- Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City
- Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii
- Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York
- Kamala Harris, senator from California
- Jay Inslee, Washington governor
- Andrew Yang, entrepreneur
Voters won't head to the polls in the Democratic primary for about another six months, but this second debate is seen as do-or-die for many candidates' campaigns. It is possible that not even half of the 20 candidates who qualified for the second debate will make it on the stage in September, as the rules for the third debate will make it harder for some of the lower-polling candidates to qualify.
The polling and fundraising thresholds will both be higher for the third Democratic debate, and candidates will have to meet both thresholds instead of just one.
To qualify for the third debate, candidates must receive 2 percent or more in at least four qualified polls. They must also receive donations from at least 130,000 donors, and from 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.
As of July 12, according to FiveThirtyEight, only five candidates met both thresholds so far: Biden, Harris, Sanders, Warren, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The deadline for the candidates to hit both thresholds is August 28, so candidates will hope their debate performance will give them a polling bump — like Harris received after the first debate — and generate more interest and donations to reach the third debate threshold.
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Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.