Below is the full transcript of night two of the first Democratic presidential debate hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo.
Presidential candidates on stage include: Sen. Michael Bennet, Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang.
The two-hour, back-to-back prime-time live event was moderated by Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Díaz-Balart, and took place at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, Florida.
HOLT: Good evening, I’m Lester Holt, and welcome to night two of the first Democratic debate in the 2020 race of president.
GUTHRIE: Good evening, I’m Savannah Guthrie. Last night we heard from ten candidates and now 10 more take the stage.
HOLT: And again tonight, we’ll be joined in the questioning by our colleagues, Jose Diaz-Balart, Chuck Todd, and Rachel Maddow.
GUTHRIE: The candidates are in position, so let’s get started.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, round two, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Former Vice President Joe Biden. South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. California Senator Kamala Harris. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. California Congressman Eric Swalwell. Author Marianne Williamson. And former tech executive Andrew Yang.
From NBC News, “Decision 2020,” the Democratic candidates debate, live from the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami, Florida.
HOLT: And good evening. Once again, welcome to the candidates and our spirited audience here tonight in the Arsht Center and across America tonight. We continue the spirited debate about the future of the country, how to tackle our most pressing problems, and getting to the heart of the biggest issues in this Democratic primary.
GUTHRIE: Tonight, we’re going to talk about health care, immigration. We’re also going to dive into the economy, jobs, climate change, as well.
DIAZ-BALART: As the quick rules of the road, before we begin — and they may sound familiar — 20 candidates qualified for this first debate. As we said, we heard from 10 last night, and we’ll hear from 10 more tonight. The breakdown for each night was selected at random. The candidates will have 60 seconds to answer, 30 seconds for any follow-ups.
HOLT: And because of the large field of candidates, not every person is going to be able to weigh in on every topic, but over the course of the next two hours, we will hear from everyone.
GUTHRIE: And we love our audience, but we’d like to ask them to keep their reactions to a minimum. And we’re not going to hold back making sure the candidates stick to time.
So, with that business taken care of, let’s get to it. And we’re going to start today with Senator Sanders. Good evening to you.
You’ve called for big, new government benefits, like universal health care and free college. In a recent interview, you said you suspected that Americans would be, quote, “delighted” to pay more taxes for things like that. My question to you is, will taxes go up for the middle class in a Sanders administration? And if so, how do you sell that to voters?
SANDERS: Well, you’re quite right. We have a new vision for America. And at a time when we have three people in this country owning more wealth than the bottom half of America, while 500,000 people are sleeping out on the streets today, we think it is time for change, real change.
And by that, I mean that health care in my view is a human right. And we have got to pass a Medicare for all, single-payer system.
Under that system, by the way, vast majority of the people in this country will be paying significantly less for health care than they are right now.
I believe that education is the future for this country. And that is why I believe that we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free and eliminate student debt. And we do that by placing a tax on Wall Street.
Every proposal that I have brought forth is fully paid for.
GUTHRIE: Senator Sanders, I’ll give you 10 seconds just to ask the — answer the very direct question. Will you raise taxes for the middle class in a Sanders administration?
SANDERS: People who have health care under Medicare for all will have no premiums, no deductibles, no copayments, no out-of-pocket expenses. Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get.
GUTHRIE: Thank you, Senator.
GUTHRIE: Senator Bennet, we’re going to get to everybody, I promise.
BENNET: No, I’d like to say something.
GUTHRIE: But let me just — Senator Biden — promise everybody’s going to get in here, promise. Vice President Biden, Senator Sanders, as you know, has been calling for a revolution. Recently in remarks to a group of wealthy donors, as you were speaking about problem of income inequality in this country, you said we shouldn’t, quote, “demonize the rich.” You said, “Nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living would change. Nothing would fundamentally change.” What did you mean by that?
BIDEN: What I meant by that is, look, Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America.
Ordinary, middle-class Americans built America. My dad used to have an expression. He said, Joe, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s being able to look your kid in the eye and say everything is going to be OK.
Too many people who are at the middle class and poor have had the bottom fall out under this proposal. What I’m saying is that we’ve got to be straight-forward. We have to make sure we understand that to return dignity to the middle class, they have to have insurance that is covered and they can afford it. They have to make sure that we have a situation where there’s continuing education and they’re able to pay for it. And they have to make sure that they’re able to breathe air that is clean and they have water that they can drink.
Look, Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation. We do have enormous income inequality. And the one thing I agree on is we can make massive cuts in the $1.6 trillion in tax loopholes out there, and I would be going about eliminating Donald Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy.
GUTHRIE: Vice President Biden, thank you. Senator Harris…
There’s is a lot of talk in this primary about new government benefits, such as student loan cancellation, free college, health care, and more. Do you think that Democrats have a responsibility to explain how they will pay for every proposal they make along those lines?
HARRIS: Well, let me tell you something. I hear that question, but where was that question when the Republicans and Donald Trump passed a tax bill that benefits the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations in this country?
Contributing at least $1 trillion to the debt of America, which middle-class families will pay for one way or another.
Working families need support and need to be lifted up. And frankly, this economy is not working for working people. For too long, the rules have been written in the favor of the people who have the most and not in favor of the people who work the most, which I why I am proposing that we change the tax code, so for every family that is making less than $100,000 a year, they will receive a tax credit that they can collect up to $500 a month, which will make all the difference between those families being able to get through the end of the month with dignity and with support or not.
And on day one, I will repeal that tax bill that benefits the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations of America.
GUTHRIE: Senator Harris, thank you.
Governor Hickenlooper, let me get you in on this. You’ve warned that Democrats will lose in 2020 if they “embrace socialism,” as you put it. You were booed at the California Democratic convention when you said that. Only one candidate on this stage, Senator Sanders, identifies himself as a democratic socialist. What are the policies or positions of your opponents that you think are veering towards “socialism”?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think that the bottom line is, if we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists.
And if you look at the Green New Deal, which I admire the sense of urgency and how important it is to do climate change — I’m a scientist — but we can’t promise every American a government job. If we want to get universal health care coverage, I believe that health care is a right and not a privilege, but you can’t expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million people, many of whom don’t want to give it up.
In Colorado, we brought businesses and nonprofits together, and we got near universal health care coverage. We were the first state in America to bring the environmental community and the oil and gas industry to address — aggressively address methane emissions. And we were also the first place to expand reproductive rights on a scale basis, and we reduced teen pregnancy by 54 percent.
We’ve done the big progressive things that people said couldn’t be done. I’ve done what pretty much everyone else up here is still talking about doing.
GUTHRIE: Governor, thank you.
Senator Sanders, I’ll give you a chance to…
… to weigh in here. What is your response to those who say nominating a “socialist” would re-elect Donald Trump?
SANDERS: Well, I think the responses that the polls — last poll I saw had us 10 points ahead of Donald Trump because the American people understand that Trump is a phony, that Trump is a pathological liar and a racist, and that he lied to the American people during his campaign.
He said he was going to stand up for working families. Well, President Trump, you’re not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off their health care that they have and that 83 percent of your tax benefits go to the top 1 percent. That’s how we beat Trump: We expose him for the fraud that he is.
GUTHRIE: Senator Gillibrand, 30 seconds.
(CORRECTED COPY – ADDS QUOTATION MARKS)
GILLIBRAND: I disagree with both their perspectives. The debate we’re having in our party right now is confusing, because the truth is there’s a big difference between capitalism on the one hand and greed on the other. And so all the things that we’re trying to change is when companies care more about profits when they do about people.
So if you’re talking about ending gun violence, it’s the greed of the NRA and the gun manufacturers that make any progress impossible. It’s the greed of the insurance companies and the drug companies, when we want to try to get health care as a right and not a privilege.
GUTHRIE: Senator Gillibrand…
GILLIBRAND: So there need not be disagreement in the party because, in truth, we want healthy capitalism.
GUTHRIE: Senator, thank you.
GILLIBRAND: We don’t want corrupted capitalism.
GUTHRIE: Thank you. I want to be fair to all the candidates. Thank you.
Senator Bennet, you have said, quote, “It’s possible to write policy proposals that have no basis in reality. You might as well call them candy.” Were you referring to any candidate or proposal in particular when you said that?
BENNET: Was that directed to me?
GUTHRIE: Yes, that was your quote.
BENNET: That sounded like me. Thank you.
GUTHRIE: It was you.
BENNET: I appreciate it. Well, look, first of all, I agree completely with Bernie about what the fundamental challenge we’re facing as a country is, 40 years of no economic growth for 90 percent of the American people; 160,000 families in the top .1 percent have the same wealth as the bottom 90 percent; and we’ve got the worst income inequality that we’ve had in 100 years.
Where I disagree is on his solution of Medicare for all. You know, I — I have proposed getting to universal health care, which we need to do. It is a right. Health care is a right. We need to get to universal health care. I believe the way to do that is by finishing the work we started with Obamacare and creating a public option that every family and every person in America can make a choice for their family about whether they want a public option, which for them would be like having Medicare for all, or whether they want to keep their private insurance.
I believe we will get there much more quickly if we do that.
GUTHRIE: But wait…
Bernie — if I could just finish, Bernie mentioned that — the taxes that we would have to pay. Because of those taxes, Vermont rejected Medicare for all.
SANDERS: Hold on.
GILLIBRAND: In Bernie’s bill — in Bernie’s bill, I wrote…
GUTHRIE: Senator, please, we are going to talk about health care at length, Senator, but for the moment, my colleague…
(UNKNOWN): Thank you very much.
GUTHRIE: … wants to continue the questions on the economy.
GILLIBRAND: I wrote the part in Senator Sanders’ bill — I wrote the part in Senator Sanders’ bill that is the transition, which merges what the two senators said.
GILLIBRAND: Because the truth is, if you have a buy-in, over a four or five-year period, you move us to single-payer more quickly.
DIAZ-BALART: Senator, we will get to this.
We will get to this.
SANDERS (?): I just…
DIAZ-BALART: Before we do, I want to say hello and good evening, Buenas Noches, to Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
BUTTIGIEG: Buenas Noches. Gracias (UNTRANSLATED) (ph).
DIAZ-BALART: (UNTRANSLATED) (ph).
Many of your colleagues on stage support free college. You do not. Why not?
BUTTIGIEG: Sure. So college affordability is personal for us. Chasten and I have six-figure student debt. I believe in reducing student debt. It’s logical to me that, if you can refinance your house, you ought to be able to refinance your student debt. I also believe in free college for low and middle-income students for whom cost could be a barrier.
I just don’t believe it makes sense to ask working-class families to subsidize even the children of billionaires. I think the children of the wealthiest Americans can pay at least a little bit of tuition. And while I want tuition costs to go down, I don’t think we can buy down every last penny for them.
Now, there’s something else that doesn’t get talked about in the college affordability debate. Yes, it needs to be more affordable in this country to go to college. It also needs to be more affordable in this country to not go to college. You should be able to live well, afford rent, be generous…
… to your church and Little League, whether you went to college or not.
YANG: Jose, I’ve got $100,000 in student loan debt myself.
DIAZ-BALART: Let me get to you in…
SWALWELL: You can’t count on the people who have been in government for the last 30 years, who were around when this problem was created, to be the ones to solve it. It’s going to be the next generation, the 40 million of us who can’t start a family, can’t take a good idea and start a business and can’t buy our first home. This is the generation that’s going to be able to solve student loan debt. This generation is ready to lead.
DIAZ-BALART: Mr. Yang, your — your signature policy is to give every adult in the United States $1,000 a month, no questions asked.
YANG: That’s right.
DIAZ-BALART: I think that’s like $3.2 trillion a year. How would do you that?
YANG: I’m sorry?
DIAZ-BALART: How would you do that.
YANG: Oh, so it’s difficult to do if you have companies like Amazon, trillion-dollar tech companies, paying literally zero in taxes while they’re closing 30 percent of our stores.
Now, we need to put the American people in position to benefit from all these innovations in other parts of the economy. And if we had a value-added tax at even half the European level, it would generate over $800 billion in new revenue, which combined with the money in our hands, it would be the trickle-up economy, from our people, families and communities up. We would spend the money and it would circulate through our regional economies and neighborhoods, creating millions of jobs, making our families stronger and healthier.
We’d save money on things like incarceration, homelessness services, emergency room health care, and just the value gains from having a stronger, healthier, mentally healthier population would increase GDP by $700 billion.
This is the move that we have to make, particularly as technology is now automating away millions of American jobs, it’s why Donald Trump is our president today that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and we are about to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call center jobs, fast food jobs, truck-driving jobs and other jobs through the economy.
DIAZ-BALART: So, Mr. Yang, if I get to understand a little bit better, Sir, you are saying $1,000 a month for everyone over 18, but a value-added tax so you can spend that $1,000 on value-added tax?
YANG: Well, the value-added tax would end up — you still would be increasing the buying power of the bottom 94 percent of Americans. You have to spend a lot of money for a mild value-added tax to eat up $12,000 a year per individual. So for the average family with two or three adults, it would be $24-36,000 a year.
DIAZ-BALART: OK. Congressman Swalwell, I want to talk a little bit about what Mr. Yang is talking about, and you just actually mentioned, that many Americans are worried about things like self-driving cars, robots, drones, artificial intelligence will cost them their jobs. What would you do to help people get the skills they need to adapt to this new world?
SWALWELL: We must always be a county where technology creates more jobs than it displaces. And I have seen the anxiety across America where the manufacturing floors go from 1,000 to 100 to one. So we have to modernize our schools, value the teachers who prepare our kids, wipe the student debt from any teacher that goes into a community that needs it, invest in America’s communities especially where places where the best exports are people who move away to get skills.
But, Jose, I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans. That candidate was then-Senator Joe Biden. Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He is still right today.
If we are going to solve the issues of automation, pass the torch. If we are going to solve the issues of climate chaos, pass the torch. If we’re going to solve the issue of student loan debt, pass the torch. If we’re going to end gun violence for families who are fearful of sending their kids to school, pass the torch.
DIAZ-BALART: Vice President, would you like to sing a torch song?
BIDEN: I would. I’m still holding on to that torch. I want to make it clear to you, look, the fact of the matter is what we have to do is make sure that everybody is prepared better to go on to educate — for an education. The fact is that that’s why I propose us focusing on schools that are in distress.
That’s why I think we should triple the amount of money we spend for Title I schools. That’s why I think we should have universal pre-K. That’s why I think every single person who graduates from high school, 65 out of 100 now need something beyond high school and we should provide for them to be able to get that education.
That’s why there should be free community college, cutting in half the cost of college. That’s why we should be in a position where we do not have anyone have to pay back a student debt when they get out if they are making less than $25,000 a year. Their debt is frozen, no interest payment until they get beyond that.
We can’t put people in a position where they aren’t able to go on and move on. And so, folks, there is a lot we can do, but we have to make continuing education available for everyone so that everyone can compete in the 21st Century. We are not doing that now.
BUTTIGIEG: As the youngest guy on the stage, I feel like I probably ought to contribute to the generational…
SANDERS: As part of Joe’s generation, let me respond.
GILLIBRAND: Before we move on from education…
DIAZ-BALART: Please, please. Senator Sanders. And then I’ll let…
SANDERS: It’s not generational. The issue is, who has the guts to take on Wall Street, to take on the fossil fuel industry, to take on the big money interests who have unbelievable influence over the economic and political life of this country?
DIAZ-BALART: Senator Harris — Senator Harris, I’m so sorry. We will allow all of you to speak. Senator Harris.
DIAZ-BALART: Senator Harris — please, we will let you all speak. Senator Harris.
HARRIS: Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table.
HARRIS: So on that point, part of the issue that is at play in America today, and we have all been traveling around the country, I certainly have, I’m meeting people who are working two and three jobs. You know, this president walks around talking about and flouting his great economy, right, my great economy, my great economy.
You ask him, well, how are you measuring this greatness of this economy of yours? And he talks about the stock market. Well, that’s fine if you own stocks. So many families in America do not. You ask him, how are you measuring the greatness of this economy of yours? And they point to the jobless numbers and the unemployment numbers.
Well, yeah, people in America are working. They’re working two and three jobs.
So when we talk about jobs, let’s be really clear. In our America, no one should have to work more than one job to have a roof over their head and food on the table.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you very much, Senator.
HOLT: Yes, you have all — you’ve all expressed an interest in talking about health care. So let’s talk about health care.
(UNKNOWN): I’d like to say something, if I might.
HOLT: And this is going to be a show of hands question. We asked a question about health care last night that spurred a lot of discussion, as you know. We’re going to do it again now. Many people watching at home have health insurance through their employer. Who here would abolish their private health insurance in favorite of a government-run plan?
Kristin Gillibrand, Senator Gillibrand?
GILLIBRAND: Yeah, so now it’s my turn.
GILLIBRAND: So this is a very important issue. So the plan that Senator Sanders and I and others support, Medicare for all, is how you get to single payer. But it has a buy-in transition period, which is really important.
In 2005, when I ran for Congress in a 2-to-1 Republican district, I actually ran on Medicare for all, and I won that 2-to-1 Republican district twice. And the way I formulated it was simple. Anyone who doesn’t have access to insurance they like, they could buy it at a percentage of income they could afford.
So that’s what we put in to the transition period for our Medicare for all plan. I believe we need to get to universal health care as a right and not a privilege to single payer. The quickest way you get there is you create competition with the insurers. God bless the insurers, if they want to compete, they can certainly try, but they’ve never put people over their profits, and I doubt they ever will.
So what will happen is people will choose Medicare, you will transition, we will get to Medicare for all, and then your step to single-payer is so short, I would make it an earned benefit, just like Social Security, so that you buy in your whole life, it is always there for you, and it’s permanent and it’s universal.
HOLT: Senator, your time is up. I want to put that same question to Mayor Buttigieg.
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, we’ve talked — look, everybody who says Medicare for all, every person in politics who allows that phrase to escape their lips has a responsibility to explain how you’re actually supposed to get from here to there.
Now, here’s how I would do it. It’s very similar. I would call it Medicare for all who want it. You take something like Medicare, a flavor of that, you make it available on the exchanges, people can buy in. And then if people like us are right, that that will be not only a more inclusive plan, but a more efficient plan than any of the corporate answers out there, then it will be a very natural glide path to the single-payer environment.
But let’s remember, even in countries that have outright socialized medicine, like England, even there, there’s still a private sector. That’s fine. It’s just that for our primary care, we can’t be relying on the tender mercies of the corporate system.
This one is very personal for me. I started out this year dealing with the terminal illness of my father. I make decisions for a living, and nothing could have prepared me for the kind of decisions our family faced.
But the thing we had going for us was that we never had to make those decisions based on whether it was going to bankrupt our family, because of Medicare. And I want every family to have that same freedom to do what is medically right, not live in financial fear.
HOLT: Your time is complete. Vice President Biden, I want to put the question to you. You were an architect — one of the architects of Obamacare. So where do we go from here?
BIDEN: Well, look, this is very personal to me. When my wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident, my two boys were very, very badly injured. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I’d not had adequate health care available to me.
And then, when my son came home from Iraq after a year, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he was given months to live. I can’t fathom what would have happened if, in fact, they said, by the way, the last six months of your life, you’re on your own. We’re cutting off. You’ve used up your time.
The fact of the matter is that the quickest, fastest way to do it is build on Obamacare, to build on what we did.
And, secondly — secondly, to make sure that everyone does have an option. Everyone, whether they have private insurance or employer insurance and no insurance, they, in fact, can buy in, in the exchange to a Medicare-like plan. And the way to do that — we can do it quickly.
Look, urgency matters. There’s people right now facing what I faced, and what we faced, without any of the help I had. We must move now. I’m against any Democrat who opposes…
HOLT: Vice president Biden…
BIDEN: … and takes down Obamacare and any Republican who wants to get rid of Obamacare.
HOLT: Let me turn to Senator Sanders. Senator Sanders, you have basically — you basically want to scrap the private health insurance system as we know it and replace it with a government-run plan. None of the states that have tried something like that, California, Vermont, New York has struggled with it, have been successful. If politicians can’t make it work in those states, how would you implement it on a national level? How does this work?
SANDERS: Lester, I find it hard to believe that every other major country on Earth, including my neighbor 50 miles north of me, Canada, somehow has figured out a way to provide health care to every man, woman, and child, and in most cases, they’re spending 50 percent per capita what we are spending.
Let’s be clear. Let us be very clear. The function of health care today from the insurance and drug company perspective is not to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way. The function of the health care system today is to make billions in profits for the insurance companies.
And last year, if you can believe it, while we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs — and I will lower prescription drugs prices in half in this country — top 10 companies made $69 billion in profit. They will spend hundreds of millions of dollars lying to the American people, telling us why we cannot have a Medicare for all single-payer program.
HOLT: Senator, Senator, I just have — I just have to follow up there. How do you implement it on a national level?
SANDERS: I’m sorry?
HOLT: How do you implement it on a national level?
HOLT: Given the fact that it’s not succeeded and other states have tried?
SANDERS: I will tell you how we’ll do it. We’ll do it the way real change has always taken place, whether it was the labor movement, the civil rights movement, or the women’s movement. We will have Medicare for all when tens of millions of people are prepared to stand up and tell the insurance companies and the drug companies that their day is gone, that health care is a human right, not something to make huge profits off of.
HOLT: Thank you.
All right, Ms. Williamson…
Ms. Williamson, this is a question for you.
HOLT: Excuse me. Excuse me. I’m addressing the question to Ms. Williamson. We’ve been talking a lot about access to health insurance. But for many Americans, their most pressing concern is the high cost of health care. How would you lower the cost of prescription drugs?
WILLIAMSON: Well, first of all, the government should never have made the deal with big pharma that they couldn’t negotiate. That was just part of the regular corruption by which multinational corporations have their way with us.
You know, I want to say that while I agree with — and I’m with Senator Bennet and others, but I agree with almost everything here — I’ll tell you one thing, it’s really nice if we’ve got all these plans, but if you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming, because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying make America great again.
We’ve got to get deeper than just these superficial fixes, as important as they are. Even if we’re just talking about the superficial fixes, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t have a health care system in the United States. We have a sickness care system in the United States. We just wait until somebody gets sick, and then we talk about who’s going pay for the treatment and how they’re going to be treated.
What we need to talk about is why so many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses, so many more compared to other countries. And that gets back into not just the health — the big pharma, not just health insurance companies, it has to do with chemical policies, it has to do with environmental policies…
HOLT: All right, Ms. Williamson, your time is expired.
WILLIAMSON: It has to do with food policies.
It has to do with drug policies. It has to do with environment policies.
HOLT: Senator Bennet, a question for you. You want to keep the system that we have in place with Obamacare and build on it. You mentioned that a moment ago. Is that enough to get us to universal coverage?
BENNET: I believe that will get us the quickest way there. And I thought the vice president was very moving about this and Mayor Pete, as well.
I had prostate cancer recently, as you may know, and it’s why I was a little late getting in the race. The same week, my kid had her appendectomy. And I feel very strongly that families ought to be able to have this choice. I think that’s what the American people want.
I believe it will get us there quickly. There are millions of people in America that do not have health insurance today because they can’t. They’re too wealthy. Wealthy? They make too much money to be on Medicaid. They can’t afford health insurance.
When Senator Sanders says that Canada is single payer, there are 35 million people in Canada. There are 330 million people in the United States, easily the number of people on a public option that — it could easily be 35 million. And for them, it would be Medicare for all, as Mayor Buttigieg says. But for others that want to keep it, they should be able to keep it. And I think that will be the fastest way to get where we need to go.
BENNET: Also, I will say — Bernie is a very honest person. He has said over and over again, unlike others that have supported this legislation, over and over again, that this will ban, make illegal all insurance except cosmetic, except insurance for — I guess that’s for plastic surgery. Everything else is banned under the Medicare for all proposal…
HOLT: Let’s go a little longer, but…
HARRIS: I’d like to add a point here.
HOLT: But I want — but obviously, Senator Sanders, you get a response.
HARRIS: I’d like to add a point here.
HOLT: Senator Sanders, just respond to that.
SANDERS: Just very briefly, you know, Mike, Medicare is the most popular…
BENNET: I agree.
SANDERS: … health insurance program in the country. People don’t like their private insurance companies. They like their doctors and hospitals. Under our plan people go to go to any doctor they want, any hospital they want. We will substantially lower the cost of health care in this country because we’ll stop the greed of the insurance companies.
HARRIS: … on this issue we have to think about how this affects real people.
HOLT: Senator Harris.
HARRIS: And the reality of how this affects real people is captured in a story that many of us heard and I will paraphrase.
There is, any night in America, a parent who has seen that their child has a temperature that is out of control, calls 911, what should I do? And they say, take the child to the Emergency Room. And so they get in their car and they drive and they are sitting in the parking lot outside of the Emergency Room looking at those sliding glass doors while they have the hand on the forehead of their child, knowing that if they walk through those sliding glass doors, even though they have insurance, they will be out a 5,000 deductible, $5,000 deductible when they walk through those doors.
That’s what insurance companies are doing in America today.
GUTHRIE: We are going to continue this discussion. I wanted to…
GUTHRIE: Candidates, please. Candidates, please.
SWALWELL: I’m one of those parents. I was just in the emergency room. And I’m telling you…
(UNKNOWN): Congressman, thank you.
SWALWELL: … we fight health insurance companies every single week.
(UNKNOWN): Thank you.
SWALWELL: We stand in line and pay expensive prescription drugs. We have to have a health care guarantee. If you are sick, you’re seen. And in America, you never go broke because of it.
GUTHRIE: OK. A lot of you have been talking tonight about these government health care plans that you have proposed in one form or another. This is a show of hands question, and hold them up for a moment so people can see. Raise your hand if your
government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants.
OK. Let me start with you, Mayor Buttigieg, why? Mayor Buttigieg, why?
BUTTIGIEG: Because our country is healthier when everybody is healthier. And, remember, we are talking about something people are given a chance to buy into, in the same way that there are undocumented immigrants in my community who pay, they pay sales taxes, they pay property taxes, directly or indirectly.
This is not about a handout. This is an insurance program. And we do ourselves no favors by having 11 million undocumented people in our country be unable to access health care.
But, of course, the real problem is we shouldn’t have 11 million undocumented people with no pathway to citizenship. It makes no sense. And the American people…
The American people agree on what to do. This is a crazy thing. If leadership consists of forming a consensus around a divisive issue, this White House has divided us around a consensus issue. The American people want a pathway to citizenship, they want protections for DREAMers. We need to clean up the lawful immigration system, like how my father immigrated to this country.
And as part of a compromise, we can do whatever common-sense measures are needed at the border, but Washington can’t deliver on something the American people want. What does that tell you about the system we are living in? It tells you it needs profound structural reform.
GUTHRIE: Mayor, thank you.
Vice President Biden, I believe you said that your health care plan would not cover undocumented immigrants. Could you explain your position?
BIDEN: I’m sorry, I beg your pardon?
GUTHRIE: I believe at the show of hands you did not raise your hand. Did you raise your hand?
BIDEN: No, I did.
GUTHRIE: OK. Sorry, sorry. So you said that they would be covered under your plan, which is different than Obamacare.
BIDEN: Yes. But here’s the thing…
GUTHRIE: Can you explain that change?
BIDEN: Yes. You cannot let, as the mayor said, you cannot let people who are sick, no matter where they come from, no matter what their status, go uncovered. You can’t do that. It’s just going to be taken care of, period. You have to. It’s the humane thing to do.
But here’s the deal, the deal is that he’s right about three things. Number one, they in fact contribute to the well-being of the country but they also, for example, they’ve increased the lifespan of Social Security because they have a job, they’re paying a Social Security tax. That’s what they’re doing. It has increased the lifespan.
They would do the same thing in terms of reducing the overall cost of health care by them being able to be treated and not wait until they are in extremis.
The other thing is, folks, look, we can deal with these insurance companies. We can deal with the insurance companies by, number one, putting insurance executives in jail for their misleading advertising, what they’re doing on opioids, what they’re doing paying doctors to prescribe.
We could be doing this by making sure everyone who is on Medicare that the government should be able to negotiate the price for whatever the drug costs are. We can do this by making sure that we’re in a position that we in fact allow people. Time’s up?
HOLT: Hold off a minute, we need to take a short break here. We have a lot more we need to talk to all of you about. So stick with us. We’re just getting started. We’ll be back with more from Miami right after this.
HOLT: Welcome back from Miami.
Jose is going to lead off the questioning in this round.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you very much.
Senator Harris, last month more than 130,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border. Many of them are being detained, including small children, in private detention centers in Florida and throughout our country. Most of the candidates on this stage say the conditions at these facilities are abhorrent.
On January 20th, 2021, if you are president, what specifically would you do with the thousands of people who try to reach the United States every day and want a better life through asylum?
HARRIS: Immediately on January 20th of 2021, I will, first of all — we cannot forget our DACA recipients, and so I’m going to start there. I will immediately, by executive action, reinstate DACA status and DACA protection to those young people.
I will further extend protection for deferral of deportation for their parents and for veterans, who we have so many who are undocumented and have served our country and fought for our democracy.
I will also immediately put in place a meaningful process for reviewing the cases for asylum. I will release children from cages. I will get rid…
… of the private detention centers.
And I will ensure that this microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way…
… that is about reflecting the values of our country and not about locking children up, separating them from their parents. And I have to just say that we have to think about this issue in terms of real people. A mother who pays a coyote to transport her child through their country of origin, through the entire country of Mexico, facing unknown peril, to come here — why would that mother do that?
I will tell you. Because she has decided for that child to remain where they are is worse.
But what does Donald Trump do? He says, “Go back to where you came from.”
That is not reflective of our America and our values, and it’s got to end.
DIAZ-BALART: Governor Hickenlooper…
Governor Hickenlooper, day one, if you are…
WILLIAMSON (?): Another thing, I…
DIAZ-BALART: Day one, at the White House, how do you respond?
WILLIAMSON: … deal with these — with these children?
DIAZ-BALART: I — let me get to you in just a second.
WILLIAMSON: I’m sorry.
DIAZ-BALART: Governor, day one, thousands of men, women and children cross the border, asking for asylum, for a better life. What do you do?
One — day one, hour one?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, certainly the images we have seen this week just compound the emotional impact that the world is judging us by. If you’d ever told me any time in my life that this country would sanction federal agents to take children from the arms of their parents, put them in cages, actually put them up for adoption — in Colorado, we call that kidnapping — I would have told you…
I would have told you it was unbelievable. And the first thing we have to do is recognize the humanitarian crisis on the border for what it is. We make sure that there are the sufficient facilities in place so that women and children are not separated from their families, that children are with their families.
We have to make sure that ICE is completely reformed and they begin looking at their job in a humanitarian way, where they’re addressing the whole needs of the people that they are engaged with along the border, and we have to make sure ultimately that we provide not just shelter, but food, clothing, and access to medical care.
DIAZ-BALART: Ms. Williamson?
WILLIAMSON: Yes. What Donald Trump has done to these children — and it’s not just in Colorado — Governor, you’re right, it is kidnapping, and it’s extremely important for us to realize that. If you forcibly take a child from their parents’ arms, you are kidnapping them.
And if you take a lot of children and you put them in a detainment center, that’s inflicting chronic trauma upon them. That’s called child abuse. This is collective child abuse.
And when this is crime — both of those things are a crime. And if your government does it, that doesn’t make it less of a crime. These are state-sponsored crimes.
WILLIAMSON: And what President — and what President Trump has done is not only attack these children, not only demonize these immigrants, he is attacking a basic principle of America’s moral core. We open our hearts to the stranger.
This is extremely important. And it’s also important for all of us. Remember, and I have great respect for everyone who is on this stage. But we’re going to talk about what to do about health care? Well, where have you been, guys? Because it’s not just a matter of a plan. And I haven’t heard anybody on this stage who has talked about American foreign policy in Latin America and how we might have in the last few decades contributed to…
DIAZ-BALART: Senator Gillibrand, what would you do as president, with a reality?
GILLIBRAND: Well, one of the worst things about President Trump that he’s done to this country is he’s torn apart the moral fabric of who we are. When he started separating children at the border from their parents, the fact that seven children have died in his custody, the fact that dozens of children have been separated from their parents and they have no plan to reunite them.
So I would do a few things. First, I would fight for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Second, I would reform how we treat asylum-seekers at the border. I would have a community-based treatment center, where we’re doing it within the communities, where asylum-seekers are given lawyers, where there’s real immigration judges, not employees of the attorney general, but appointed for life, and have a community-based system. I would fund border security.
But the worst thing President Trump has done is he’s diverted the funds away from cross-border terrorism, cross-border human trafficking, drug trafficking, and gun trafficking, and he’s given that money to the for-profit prisons. I would not be spending money in for-profit prisons to lock up children and asylum-seekers.
DIAZ-BALART: We had a very spirited debate on this stage last night on the topic of decriminalization of the border. If you’d be so kind, raise your hand if you think it should be a civil offense rather than a crime to cross the border without documentation? Can we keep the hands up so we could see them?
BUTTIGIEG: Let’s remember, that’s not just a theoretical exercise. That criminalization, that is the basis for family separation. You do away with that, it’s no longer possible. Of course it wouldn’t be possible anyway in my presidency, because it is dead wrong.
We’ve got to talk about one other thing, because the Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion. Now, our party doesn’t talk about that as much, largely for a very good reason, which was, we are committed to the separation of church and state and we stand for people of any religion and people of no religion.
But we should call out hypocrisy when we see it. And for a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.
DIAZ-BALART: Vice President — Mr. Vice President, I don’t know if you raised your hand or were just asking to speak, but would you decriminalize crossing the border without documents?
(CORRECTED COPY – REMOVES APOSTROPHE)
BIDEN: The first thing — the first thing I would do is unite families. I’d surge immediately billions of dollars worth of help to the region immediately.
Look, I talk about foreign policy. I’m the guy that got a bipartisan agreement at the very end of the campaign, at the very end of our term, to spend $740 million to deal with the problem, and that was to go to the root cause of why people are leaving in the first place. It was working.
We saw, as you know, a net decrease in the number of children who were coming. The crisis was abated. And along came this president, and he said — he immediately discontinued that.
We all talk about these things. I did it. I did it.
Seven hundred and forty — now look, second thing. Second thing we have to do. The law now requires the reuniting of those families. We would reunite those families, period. And if not, we’d put those children in a circumstance where they were safe until we could find their parents.
And lastly, the idea that he’s in court with his Justice Department saying children in cages do not need a bed, do not need a blanket, do not need a toothbrush, that is outrageous.
DIAZ-BALART: Vice President — Vice President…
BIDEN: And we’ll stop it.
DIAZ-BALART: … the Obama-Biden administration was — the Obama-Biden administration deported more than 3 million Americans. My question to you is, if an individual is living in the United States of America without documents, and that is his only offense, should that person be deported?
BIDEN: Depending if they committed a major crime, they should be deported. And the president was left in a — President Obama I think did a heck of a job. To compare him to what this guy is doing is absolutely I find immoral.
But the fact is that, look, we should not be locking people up. We should be making sure we change the circumstance, as we did, why they would leave in the first place. And those who come seeking asylum, we should immediately have the capacity to absorb them, keep them safe until they can be heard.
DIAZ-BALART: Fifteen seconds, if you could, if you wish to answer. Should someone who is here without documents, and that is his only offense, should that person be deported?
BIDEN: That person should not be the focus of deportation. We should fundamentally change the way we deal with things.
(UNKNOWN): I think it’s important…
SANDERS: I want to suggest that I agree with a lot of what Kamala just said. And that is, on day one, we take out our executive order pen and we rescind every damn thing on this issue that Trump has done.
Number two, number two, picking up on the point that Joe made, we’ve got to look at the root causes. And you have a situation where Honduras, among other things, is a failing state. Massive corruption. You’ve got gangs who are telling families that if a 10-year-old does not join that gang, that family is going to be killed.
What we have got to do on day one is invite the presidents and the leadership of Central America and Mexico together. This is a hemispheric problem that we have got to address.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you. Congressman Swalwell, what do you do?
SWALWELL: Day one?
DIAZ-BALART: No, if someone is here without documents, and that is their only offense, is that person to be deported?
SWALWELL: No. That person can be a part of this great American experience.
SWALWELL: That person can contribute. My congressional district is one of the most diverse in America, and we see the benefits when people contribute and they become a part of the community and they’re not in the shadow economy.
Day one for me, families are reunited. This president, though, for immigrants, there’s nothing he will not do to separate a family, cage a child, or erase their existence by weaponizing the census. And there is nothing that we cannot do in the courts and that I will not do as president to reverse that and to make sure that families always belong together.
DIAZ-BALART: Senator Harris?
HARRIS: Well, thank you. I will say — no, absolutely not, they should not be deported. And I actually — this was one of the very few issues with which I disagreed with the administration, with whom I always had a great relationship and a great deal of respect.
But on the secure communities issue, I was attorney general of California. I led the second-largest Department of Justice in the United States, second only to the United States Department of Justice, in a state of 40 million people.
And on this issue, I disagreed with my president, because the policy was to allow deportation of people who by ICE’s own definition were non-criminals. So as attorney general, and the chief law officer of the state of California, I issued a directive to the sheriffs of my state that they did not have to comply with detainers, and instead should make decisions based on the best interests of public safety of their community.
Because what I saw — and I was tracking it every day — I was tracking it and saw that parents, people who had not committed a crime, even by ICE’s own definition, were being deported.
And — but I have to add a point here. The problem with this kind of policy — and I know it as a prosecutor. I want a rape victim to be able to run in the middle of — to run in the middle of the street and wave down a police officer and report the crime against her. I want anybody who has been the victim of any real crime…
DIAZ-BALART: Senator, Senator…
HARRIS: … to be able to do that and not be afraid that if they do that, they will be deported, because the abuser will tell them it is they who is the criminal.
It is wrong. It is wrong.
HOLT: We’re going to turn — we’re going to turn to the issue of trade now, if we can. Last night, we asked the candidates on this stage to name the greatest geopolitical threat facing the U.S. Four of them mentioned China. U.S. businesses say China steals our intellectual property and party leaders on both sides accuse China of manipulating their currency to keep the cost of goods artificially low.
I want to ask this to Senator Bennet, to start off with. How would you stand up to China?
(CORRECTED COPY – CORRECTS “PRODUCERS”)
BENNET: Well, I think that, first of all, the biggest — the biggest threat to our national security right now is Russia, not China. And, second, on China, we’ve got — because of what they’ve done with our election.
In China, I think the president has been right to push back on China, but has done it in completely the wrong way. We should mobilize the entire rest of the world, who all have a shared interest in pushing back on China’s mercantilist trade policies, and I think we can do that.
I’d like to answer the other question before this, as well.
HOLT: You have the time…
BENNET: When I — when I — when I see these kids at the border, I see my mom, because I know she sees herself, because she was separated from her parents for years during the Holocaust in Poland. And for Donald Trump to be doing what he’s doing to children and their families at the border — I say this as somebody who wrote the immigration bill in 2013 that created a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people in this country — that had the most progressive Dream Act that’s ever been conceived, much less passed, and got 68 votes in the Senate — that had $46 billion of border security in it that was sophisticated, 21st century border security, not a medieval wall…
HOLT: Senator, your time is expired.
BENNET: … and the president has turned the border of the United States into a symbol of nativist hostility…
HOLT: Senator, thank you…
BENNET: … that the whole world is looking at, when what we should be represented by is the Statue of Liberty, which has brought my parents to this country to begin with. We need to make a change.
HOLT: Mr. Yang, let me bring you in on this, on the issue of China. You have expressed a lot of concerns about technology and taking jobs. Are you worried about China? And if so, how would you stand up against it?
YANG: Well, I just want to agree that I think Russia is our greatest geopolitical threat, because they have been hacking our democracy successfully and they’ve been laughing their asses off about it for the last couple of years. So we should focus on that before we start worrying about other threats.
Now, China, they do pirate our intellectual property. It’s a massive problem. But the tariffs and the trade war are just punishing businesses and producers and workers on both sides.
I met with a farmer in Iowa who said he spent six years building up a buying relationship in China that’s now disappeared and gone forever. And the beneficiaries have not been American workers or people in China. It’s been Southeast Asia and other producers that have then stepped into the void. So we need to crack down on Chinese malfeasance in the trade relationship, but the tariffs and the trade war are the wrong way to go.
HOLT: All right, Mayor Buttigieg…
HOLT: How would you — how would you stand up against China?
BUTTIGIEG: I mean, first of all, we’ve got to recognize that the China challenge really is a serious one. This is not something to dismiss or wave away. And if you look at what China is doing, they’re using technology for the perfection of dictatorship.
But their fundamental economic model isn’t going to change because of some tariffs. I live in the industrial Midwest. Folks who aren’t in the shadow of a factory are somewhere near a soy field where I live. And manufacturers, and especially soy farmers, are hurting.
Tariffs are taxes. And Americans are going to pay on average $800 more a year because of these tariffs. Meanwhile, China is investing so that they could soon be able to run circles around us in artificial intelligence. And this president is fixated on the China relationship as if all that mattered was the export balance on dishwashers. We’ve got a much bigger issue on our hands.
But at a moment when their authoritarian model is being held up as an alternative to ours because ours looks so chaotic compared to theirs right now because of our internal divisions, the biggest thing we’ve got to do is invest in our own domestic competitiveness. If we disinvest…
HOLT: All right, Mayor, thank you.
BUTTIGIEG: … in our own infrastructure, education, we are never going to be able to compete. And if we really want to be an alternative, a democratic alternative, we actually have to demonstrate that we care about democratic values at home and around the world.
HOLT: Thank you for your answer.
GUTHRIE: We’ve got a good debate so far. We’re going to take a quick break here, candidates. When we come back, the questioning continues with our colleagues. Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow will be here. Much more with our candidates straight ahead.
HOLT: Welcome back to the Democratic Presidential Debate from the Arsht Center in Miami.
GUTHRIE: As we continue the questioning, we want to bring in more members of our team.
DIAZ-BALART: So let’s turn it over to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.
TODD: Well, Rachel, I had a dream that we have done this before.
TODD: No. Didn’t happen.
MADDOW: This is definitely the first time.
TODD: Definitely first time.
Thank you, Lester, Savannah, and Jose.
Let’s quickly recap the rules one more time. Twenty candidates qualified for this first debate. We’ve heard from 10 of them from last night. We’re hearing from 10 more tonight. The breakdown for each night was selected at random. The candidates will have 60 seconds to answer direct questions, 30 seconds for follow-ups, if necessary.
MADDOW: Because of this large field of candidates, not every person will be able comment on everything, but the less audience reaction there is, the more time they will all get.
Over the course of the next hour we will hear from all of these candidates, but we are going to begin this hour with Mayor Buttigieg.
In the last five years, civil rights activists in our country have led a national debate over race and the criminal justice system. Your community of South Bend, Indiana, has recently been in uproar over an officer-involved shooting. The police force in South Bend is now 6 percent black in a city that is 26 percent black.
Why has that not improved over your two terms as mayor?
BUTTIGIEG: Because I couldn’t get it done. My community is in anguish right now because of an officer-involved shooting, a black man, Eric Logan, killed by a white officer. And I’m not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back. The officer said he was attacked with a knife, but he didn’t have his body camera on. It’s a mess. And we’re hurting.
And I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back.
This is an issue that is facing our community and so many communities around the country. And until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism, whatever this particular incident teaches us, we will be left with the bigger problem of the fact that there is a wall of mistrust put up one racist act at a time, not just from what’s happened in the past, but from what’s happening around the country in the present. It threatens the well-being of every community.
And I am determined to bring about a day when a white person driving a vehicle and a black person driving a vehicle, when they see a police officer approaching, feels the exact same thing…
MADDOW: Mr. Mayor…
BUTTIGIEG: … a feeling not of fear but of safety. I am determined to bring that day about.
MADDOW: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
HICKENLOOPER: Mayor Buttigieg — Mayor Buttigieg, if I could…
HICKENLOOPER: … if I could have one question, just because I think…
MADDOW: Governor, I’ll give you 30 seconds.
HICKENLOOPER: I think that the question they’re asking in South Bend and I think across the country is why has it taken so long?
We had a shooting when I first became mayor, 10 years before Ferguson. And the community came together and we created an Office of the Independent Monitor, a Civilian Oversight Commission, and we diversified the police force in two years. We actually did de-escalation training.
I think the real question that America should be asking is why, five years after Ferguson, every city doesn’t have this level of police accountability.
MADDOW: Governor Hickenlooper, thank you.
BUTTIGIEG: I’ve got to respond to that. Look, we have taken so many steps toward police accountability that, you know, the FOP just denounced me for too much accountability. We’re obviously not there yet, and I accept responsibility for that because I’m in charge.
SWALWELL: If the camera wasn’t on and that was the policy, you should fire the chief.
BUTTIGIEG: So under Indiana law, this will be investigated and there will be accountability for the officer involved.
SWALWELL: But you’re the mayor. You should fire the chief — if that’s the policy and someone died.
WILLIAMSON: All of these issues are extremely important, but they are specifics; they are symptoms. And the underlying cause has to do with deep, deep, deep realms of racial injustice, both in our criminal justice system and in our economic system. And the Democratic Party should be on the side of reparations for slavery for this very reason. I do not believe…
I do not believe that the average American is a racist, but the average American is woefully undereducated about the history of race in the United States.
MADDOW: Ms. Williamson, thank you very much…
TODD: Vice President Biden — I’m going to — we’re going to get to you…
HARRIS: As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak…
HARRIS: … on the issue of race.
MADDOW: Senator Harris…
HARRIS: And so what I will say…
MADDOW: If I could preface this, we will give you 30 seconds, because we’re going to come back to you on this again in just a moment. But go for 30 seconds.
HARRIS: OK. So on the issue of race, I couldn’t agree more that this is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully and honestly. I — there is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a coworker, who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination.
Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because she — because we were black. And I will say also that — that, in this campaign, we have also heard — and I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.
But I also believe, and it’s personal — and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.
So I will tell you that, on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly. As attorney general of California, I was very proud to put in place a requirement that all my special agents would wear body cameras and keep those cameras on.
MADDOW: Senator Harris, thank you. Vice President Biden, you have been invoked. We’re going to give you a chance to respond.
Vice President Biden?
BIDEN: It’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I did not praise racists. That is not true, number one. Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that.
I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor. I came out and I left a good law firm to become a public defender, when, in fact — when, in fact…
… when, in fact, my city was in flames because of the assassination of Dr. King, number one.
Number two, as the U.S. — excuse me, as the vice president of the United States, I worked with a man who, in fact, we worked very hard to see to it we dealt with these issues in a major, major way.
The fact is that, in terms of bussing, the bussing, I never — you would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council. That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for, that we should not be — we should be breaking down these lines.
But so the bottom line here is, look, everything I have done in my career, I ran because of civil rights, I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights, and those civil rights, by the way, include not just only African-Americans, but the LGBT community.
HARRIS: But, Vice President Biden, do you agree today — do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose bussing in America then? Do you agree?
BIDEN: I did not oppose bussing in America. What I opposed is bussing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed. I did not oppose…
HARRIS: Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.
BIDEN: Because your city council made that decision. It was a local decision.
HARRIS: So that’s where the federal government must step in.
BIDEN: The federal government…
HARRIS: That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA, because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.
BIDEN: I’ve supported the ERA from the very beginning when I ran for…
TODD: Vice President Biden, 30 seconds, because I want to bring other people into this.
BIDEN: I supported the ERA from the very beginning. I’m the guy that extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. We got to the place where we got 98 out of 98 votes in the United States Senate doing it. I’ve also argued very strongly that we, in fact, deal with the notion of denying people access to the ballot box. I agree that everybody, once they, in fact — anyway, my time is up. I’m sorry.
TODD: Thank you, Vice President.
HARRIS: All of these things have to do…
TODD: Senator Sanders, Senator Sanders, I’m going to go to you on this. You said on the day you launched your campaign that voters should focus on what people stand for, not a candidate’s race or age or sexual orientation.
Many Democrats are very excited by the diversity of this field on this stage and on last night’s stage and the perspective that diversity brings to this contest and to these issues.
TODD: Are you telling Democratic voters that diversity shouldn’t matter when they make this decision?
SANDERS: No, absolutely not. Unlike the Republican Party, we encourage diversity, we believe in diversity. That’s what America is about.
But in addition to diversity, in terms of having more women, more people from the LGBT community, we also have to do something else. And that is, we have to ask ourselves a simple question, in that how come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she made 45 years ago, and that in the last 30 years, the top 1 percent has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth?
We need a party that is diverse, but we need a party that has the guts to stand up to the powerful special interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country.
TODD: Senator Gillibrand, I want to give you 30 seconds on this.
GILLIBRAND: Well, first of all, where Bernie left off, we’ve heard a lot of good ideas on this stage tonight and a lot of plans, but the truth is, until you go to the root of the corruption, the money in politics, the fact that Washington is run by the special interests, you are never going to solve any of these problems.
I have the most comprehensive approach, that experts agree is the most transformative plan to actually take on political corruption, to get money out of politics through publicly funded elections, to have clean elections. If we do that and get money out of politics, we can guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege, we can deal with institutional racism, we can take on income inequality, and we can take on the corporate corruption that runs Washington.
BIDEN: And the first constitutional amendment to do that was introduced by me when I was young senator.
TODD: Thank you, Vice President. We want to shift topics here. Senator Bennet, the next question is for you.
On the issue of partisan gridlock, President Obama promised in 2012 that after his reelection, Republicans would want to work with Democrats, fever would break. That did not happen. Now Vice President Biden is saying the same thing, that if he is elected in 2020, both parties will want to work together.
Should voters believe that somehow if there is a Democratic president in 2021 that gridlock is going to magically disappear?
BENNET: Gridlock will not magically disappear as long as Mitch McConnell is there, first.
Second, second, second, that’s why it is so important for us to win not just the presidency, to have somebody that can run in all 50 states, but to win the Senate, as well. And that’s why we have to propose policies that can be supported, like Medicare act, so that we can build a broad coalition of Americans to overcome broken Washington, D.C. I agree with what Senator Gillibrand was saying. I share a lot of her views.
We need to end gerrymandering in Washington. We need to end political gerrymandering in Washington.
The court today said they couldn’t do anything about it. We need to overturn Citizens United. The court was the one that gave us Citizens United. And the attack on voting rights in Shelby v. Holder is something we need to deal with.
All of those things has happened since Vice President Biden was in the Senate. And we face structural problems that we have to overcome with a broad coalition. It’s the only way we can do it. We need to root out the corruption in Washington, expand people’s right to get to the polls, and I think then we can succeed.
TODD: Time’s up. Vice President Biden, 30 seconds. What — it does sound as if you haven’t seen what’s been happening in the United States Senate over the last 12 years. It didn’t happen. Why?
BIDEN: I have seen what happened. Just since we were vice president, we needed three votes to pass an $800 billion Recovery Act that kept us from going into depression. I got three votes changed.
We needed to be able to keep the government from shutting down and going bankrupt. I got Mitch McConnell to raise taxes $600 billion by raising the top rate. And as recently as after president got elected, I was able to put together a coalition of the Cures Act to have billions of dollars go into cancer research, bipartisan.
But sometimes you can’t do that. Sometimes you just have to go out and beat them. I went into 20 states, over 60 candidates, and guess what? We beat them, and we won back the Senate.
TODD: Thank you.
BENNET: Chuck, the problem with what the vice president…
TODD: Go ahead, 30 seconds.
BENNET: The problem with what…
TODD: Yeah, 30 seconds. Go ahead.
BENNET: Sometimes you do have to beat them, but — but the deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the Tea Party. It extended the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Democratic Party had been running against that for 10 years.
We lost that economic argument, because that deal extended almost all those Bush tax cuts permanently and put in place the mindless cuts that we still are dealing with today that are called the sequester. That was a great deal for Mitch McConnell.
BIDEN: Oh, come on.
BENNET: It was a terrible deal for America.
TODD: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Senator Bennet.
GILLIBRAND: And you heard…
TODD: Go ahead, 30 seconds.
GILLIBRAND: You heard from the Republicans that the reason why the Trump tax cut had to be passed is because they had to pay back their donors. You heard it. They actually said those words. So the corruption in Washington is real, and it is something that makes every one of the plans we’ve heard about over the last several months impossible.
And I have the most comprehensive approach to do it with clean elections, publicly funded elections, so we restore the power of our democracy into the hands of the voters, not into the Koch brothers.
We were talking about issues. Imagine — we’re in Florida — imagine the Parkland kids having as much power in our democracy as the Koch brothers or the NRA.
TODD: Thank you. Thank you, Senator Gillibrand.
GILLIBRAND: Imagine their voices carrying farther and wider than anyone else because their voice is needed.
TODD: Senator Gillibrand, I’m trying to get everybody in here.
GILLIBRAND: And as president, it’s the first thing I’m going to do…
TODD: Thank you.
GILLIBRAND: … because nothing else is possible, whether it’s education or health care or ending institutional racism.
TODD: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Senator Sanders, I’d like to put a different question to you. Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land since 1973. Now that there is a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, several Republican-controlled states have passed laws to severely restrict or even ban abortion. One of those laws could very well make it to the Supreme Court during your presidency, if you’re elected president. What is your plan if Roe is struck down in the court while you’re president?
SANDERS: Well, my plan, as somebody who believes for a start that a woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right, that government and politicians should not infringe on that right, we will do everything we can to defend Roe versus Wade.
Second of all, let me make a — let me make a promise here. You ask about litmus tests. My litmus test is I will never appoint any, nominate any justice to the Supreme Court unless that justice is 100 percent clear he or she will defend Roe v. Wade.
Third of all…
I do not believe in packing the court. We got a terrible 5-4 majority conservative court right now. But I do believe that constitutionally we have the power to rotate judges to other courts. And that brings in new blood into the Supreme Court and a majority, I hope, that will understand that a woman has the right to control her own body and the corporations cannot run the United States of America.
MADDOW: Hold on, I’m going to give you 10 additional seconds because the question was…
SANDERS: I’m sorry?
MADDOW: … what if the court has already overturned Roe and Roe is gone? All of the things you’ve just described would be to try to preserve Roe. If Roe is gone, what could you do as president to preserve abortion rights?
SANDERS: We will pass — well, first of all, let me tell you this. It didn’t come up here, but let’s face this, Medicare for All guarantees every woman in this country the right to have an abortion if she wants it.
MADDOW: Thank you, Senator.
GILLIBRAND: And can I address this for a second? And I want to talk directly, directly to America’s women and to the men who love them. Women’s reproductive rights are under assault by President Trump and the Republican Party. Thirty states are trying to overturn Roe v. Wade right now.
And it is mind-boggling to me that we are debating this on this stage in 2019 among Democrats whether women should have access to reproductive rights. I think we have to stop playing defense and start playing offense.
But let me tell you one thing about politics, because it goes to the corruption and the deal-making. When the door is closed and negotiations are made, there are conversations about women’s rights and compromises have been made on our backs. That’s how we got to Hyde, that’s how the Hyde Amendment was created, a compromise by leaders of both parties.
Then we have the ACA. During the ACA negotiation, I had to fight like heck with other women to make sure that contraception wasn’t sold down the river, or abortion services. And so what we need to know is imagine this one question. When we beat President Trump and Mitch McConnell walks into the Oval Office, God forbid, to do negotiations, who do you want when that door closes to be sitting behind that desk, to fight for women’s rights?
I have been the fiercest advocate for women’s reproductive freedom for over a decade. And I promise you as president when that door closes, I will guarantee women’s reproductive freedom no matter what.
MADDOW: Senator, thank you.
TODD: Thank you.
We are moving to climate. We are moving to climate, guys. Senator Harris, I’m addressing you first on this. You live in a state that has been hit by drought, wildfires, flooding. Climate change is a major concern for voters in your state, that’s pretty obvious, obviously this state as well.
Last night voters heard many of the candidates weigh in on their proposals. Explain specifically what yours is.
HARRIS: Well, first of all, I don’t even call it climate change. It’s a climate crisis. It represents an existential threat to us as a species. And the fact that we have a president of the United States who has embraced science fiction over science fact will be to our collective peril.
I visited, while the embers were smoldering, the wildfires in California. I spoke with firefighters who were in the midst of fighting a fire while their own homes were burning. And on this issue it is a critical issue that is about what we must do to confront what is immediate and before us right now.
That is why I support a Green New Deal. It is why I believe on day one and as president will re-enter us in the Paris Agreement, because we have to take these issues seriously. And, frankly, we have a president of the United States, we talked about, you asked before what is the greatest national security threat to the United States?
It’s Donald Trump.
And I’m going to tell you why. And I’m going to tell you why. Because I agree, climate change represents an existential threat. He denies the science. You want to talk about North Korea, a real threat in terms of nuclear arsenal, but what does he do? He embraces Kim Jong-un, a dictator, for the sake of a photo op.
Putin. You want to talk about Russia? He takes the word of the Russian president over the word of the American intelligence community when it comes to a threat to our democracy and our elections. These are the issues that are before us, Chuck.
TODD: I hear you. Thank you, Senator Harris.
Mayor Buttigieg, in your climate plan, if you are elected president, in your first term, how is this going to help farmers impacted by climate change in the Midwest?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, the reality is we need to begin adapting right away, but we also can’t skip a beat on preventing climate change from getting even worse. It’s why we need aggressive and ambitious measures. It’s why we need to do a carbon tax and dividend.
But I would propose we do it in a way that is rebated out to the American people in a progressive fashion so that most Americans are made more than whole.
This isn’t theoretical for us in South Bend, either. Parts of California are on fire. Right here in Florida, they’re talking about sea level rise. Well, in Indiana I had to activate the emergency operations center of our city twice in less than two years. The first time was a 1,000-year flood and the next time was a 500-year flood.
This is not just happening on the Arctic ice caps; this is happening in the middle of the country. And we’ve got to be dramatically more aggressive moving forward.
Now, here’s what very few people talk about. First of all, rural America can be part of the solution instead of being told they’re part of the problem. With the right kind of soil management and other kind of investments, rural America could be a huge part of how we get this done.
And secondly, we’ve got to look to the leadership of local communities, you know, those networks of mayors in cities from around the world…
TODD: I’m trying to stick with the time as best we can.
BUTTIGIEG: … not even waiting for our national governments to catch up. We should have a Pittsburgh summit where we bring them together, as well as rejoining the Paris…
TODD: Thank you, Mayor Buttigieg.
MADDOW: I want to bring Governor Hickenlooper into this for a moment.
Governor, you have said that oil and gas companies should be a part of the solution on climate change. Lots of your colleagues on stage tonight have talked about moving away from fossil fuels entirely. Can oil and gas companies be real partners in this fight?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I share the sense of urgency. I’m — I’m a scientist, so I — I recognize that, within 10 or 12 years of actually, you know, suffering irreversible damage, but, you know, guaranteeing everybody a government job is not going to get us there. Socialism, in that sense, is not the solution. We have to look at what really will make a difference.
In Colorado, we’re closing a couple of coal plants, replacing it with wind, solar and batteries and the monthly bills go down. We’ve gone on — we’re building a network for electric vehicles. We are working with the oil and gas industry and we’ve created the first methane regulations in the country.
Methane is 25 times worse than C02. And then we’ve got to get to that last part. I mean, the industrial — heavy industry, we haven’t seen the plans yet. If you look at the real problem, C02, the worst polluters in CO2 is China, is the United States, and then it’s concrete and its exhalation.
And beyond that, I think we’ve got to recognize that only by bringing people together, businesses, nonprofits — and we can’t demonize every business. We’ve got to bring them together to be part of this thing. Because ultimately, if we’re not able to do that…
HICKENLOOPER: … we will be doomed to failure. We have no way of doing this without bringing everyone together.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Vice President Biden…
… on the issue of how you do this, Democrats are arguing robustly among themselves about what’s the best way to tackle climate change. But if we’re honest, many Republicans, including the president, are still not sure if they believe it is even a serious problem.
So are there significant ways you can cut carbon emissions if you have to do it with no support from Congress?
BIDEN: The answer is yes. Number one, in our administration, we built the largest wind farm in the world, the largest solar energy facility in the world. We drove down the price, competitive price of both of those renewable energy — renewable sources.
I would immediately insist that we in fact build 500,000 recharging stations throughout the United States of America, working with governors, mayors and others, so that we can go to a full electric vehicle future by the year 2020 — by the year 2030.
I would make sure that we invested $400 million in new science and technology, to be the exporter not only of the green economy, but economy that can create millions of jobs. But I would immediately join the Paris Climate Accord. I would up the ante in that accord, which it calls for, because we make up 15 percent of the problem; 85 percent of the world makes up the rest. And so we have to have someone who knows how to corral the rest of the world, bring them together and get something done, like we did in our administration.
MADDOW: Senator Sanders…
… I want to give you 30 seconds to follow-up, but I’m going to hold to you 30.
SANDERS: Look, the old ways are no longer relevant. The scientists tell us we have 12 years before there is irreparable damage to this planet. This is a global issue. What the president of the United States should do is not deny the reality of climate change but tell the rest of the world that, instead of spending a trillion and a half dollars on weapons of destruction, let us get together for the common enemy, and that is to transform the world’s energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. The future of the planet rests on us doing that.
MADDOW: Thank you, Senator.
TODD: Before we go — hang on…
MADDOW: Before we leave this topic…
SWALWELL (?): Here’s the solution. Pass the torch. Pass the torch to the generation that’s going to feel the effects of climate change.
SANDERS: No, take on the fossil fuels, and that’s the solution.
MADDOW: Before we leave this topic, here’s something you all want to weigh in on.
GILLIBRAND: … to the Republican Party.
TODD: Just — just…
MADDOW: Hold one moment.
TODD: Just trust us on this. We’re going to…
WILLIAMSON: The fact that somebody has a younger body doesn’t mean you don’t have old ideas. John Kennedy — John Kennedy…
WILLIAMSON: … did not say — John Kennedy did not say — I have a plan to get a man to the moon and so we’re going to do it and I think we can all work and maybe we can get a man on the moon. John Kennedy said, by the end of this decade, we are going to put a man on the moon.
Because John Kennedy was back in the day when politics included the people and included imagination and included great dreams and included great plans.
MADDOW: Ms. Williamson…
TODD: Thank you, Ms. Williamson.
WILLIAMSON: And I have had a career not making the political plans, but I have had a career harnessing the inspiration and the motivation and the excitement of people, masses of people.
TODD: Thank you, Ms. Williamson.
WILLIAMSON: When we know that when we say…
TODD: Thank you.
WILLIAMSON: … we are going to turn from a dirty economy to a clean economy, we’re going to have a Green New Deal, we’re going to create millions of jobs, we’re going to do this within the next 12 years, because I’m not interested in just winning the next election. We are interested in our grandchildren.
TODD: Thank you, Ms. Williamson.
WILLIAMSON: Then it will happen.
TODD: All right. We got to sneak in a break in a minute, but before we go, I’m going to go down the line here and I’m asking you please for one or two words only. All right, please.
TODD: President Obama in his first year wanted to address both health care and climate. And he could only get one signature issue accomplished; it was, obviously, health care. He didn’t get to do climate change. You may only get one shot, and your first issue that you’re going to push, you get one shot that it may be the only thing you get passed, what is that first issue for your presidency.
Eric Swalwell, you’re first.
SWALWELL: For Parkland, for Orlando, for every community affected by gun violence, ending gun violence.
TODD: Senator Bennet?
BENNET: Climate change and the lack of economic mobility Bernie talks about.
TODD: Senator Gillibrand?
GILLIBRAND: Passing a family bill of rights that includes a national paid leave plan, universal pre-K, affordable daycare, and making sure that women and families can thrive in the workplace no matter who they are.
HARRIS: Oh, I like that.
TODD: That was pretty good. Senator Harris?
HARRIS: … so, passing a middle-class and working families tax cut…
TODD: That’s one.
HARRIS: … DACA, guns, and…
TODD: I’ve given you credit for the first thing you said, the tax cuts.
TODD: Senator Sanders, first thing?
SANDERS: Chuck, the premise that there’s only one or two issues out there…
TODD: I’m not saying there isn’t one or two.
SANDERS: This country faces enormous crises.
TODD: Senator Sanders…
SANDERS: We need a political revolution. People have got to stand up and take on the special interests. We can transform this country.
TODD: Vice President Biden, your first issue, Mr. Vice President?
BIDEN: I think you’re so underestimating what Barack Obama did. He’s the first man to bring together the entire world, 196 nations, to commit to deal with climate change, immediately.
So I don’t buy that. But the first thing I would do is make sure that we defeat Donald Trump, period.
TODD: OK, Mayor Buttigieg, your first priority, your first issue as president that you are going to block and tackle.
BUTTIGIEG: We’ve got to fix our democracy before it’s too late. Get that right, climate, immigration, taxes, and every other issue gets better.
TODD: Mr. Yang?
YANG: I would pass a $1,000 freedom dividend for every American adult starting at age 18, which would speed us up on climate change, because if you get the boot off of people’s throats, they’ll focus on climate change much more clearly.
TODD: OK. Governor Hickenlooper?
HICKENLOOPER: I would do a collaborative approach to climate change and I would pronounce it well before the election to make sure we don’t reelect the worst president in American history.
TODD: And Ms. Williamson, the last word.
WILLIAMSON: My first call is to the prime minister of New Zealand, who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the place where it’s the best place in the world for a child to grow up, and I would tell her, girlfriend, you are so wrong, because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.
TODD: Thank you.
WILLIAMSON: We are going to have…
TODD: You guys were close with the short — at least it was shorter responses.
MADDOW: No, they weren’t. Not at all.
TODD: All right. C-minus.
MADDOW: We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back with these candidates right after this.
MADDOW: Welcome back to the Democratic candidates’ debate in Miami. We’re going to continue the questioning now with Lester in the audience. We are? We are — a second are going to have a question from Lester in the audience. But that was just a fake-out.
TODD: Let’s go to — we’re going to go to the issue of guns. And…
MADDOW: Congressman Swalwell, among this field of candidates, you have a unique position on gun reform. You’re proposing that the government should buy back every assault weapon in America and it should be mandatory. How do you envision that working, especially in states where gun rights are a strong flash point?
SWALWELL: Keep your pistols, keep your rifles, keep your shotguns, but we can take the most dangerous weapons from the most dangerous people. We have the NRA on the ropes, because of the moms, because of the Brady Group, because of Giffords, because of March for our Lives.
But I’m the only candidate on this stage calling for a ban and buyback of every single assault weapon in America. I have seen the plans of the other candidates here. They would all leave 15 million assault weapons in our communities. They wouldn’t do a single thing to save a single life in Parkland.
I will approach this issue as a prosecutor. I’ll approach it as the only person on this stage who has voted and passed background checks. But also as a parent, of a generation who sends our children to school where we look at what they’re wearing so we can remember it in case we have to identify them later. A generation who has seen thousands of black children killed in our streets. And a generation who goes to the theater and we actually look where the fire exits are. We don’t have to live this way. We must must be a country who loves our children more than we love our guns.
MADDOW: Senator Sanders, a Vermont newspaper recently released portions of an interview you gave in 2013 in which you said: “My own view on guns is, everything being equal, states should make those decisions.”
MADDOW: Has your thinking changed since then? Do you now think there is a federal role to play?
SANDERS: No, that’s a mischaracterization of my thinking.
MADDOW: It’s a quote of you.
SANDERS: Look, we have a gun…
SANDERS: We have a gun crisis right now, 40,000 people a year are getting killed. In 1988, Rachel, when it wasn’t popular, I ran on a platform of banning assault weapons and in fact lost that race for Congress. I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA. And I believe that what we need is comprehensive gun legislation that, among other things, provides universal background, we end the gun show loophole, we end the strawman provision, and I believed in 1988 and I believe today.
SANDERS: Assault weapons are weapons from the military and that they should not be on the streets of America.
SWALWELL: Your plan leaves them on the streets. You leave 15 million on the streets.
SANDERS: We ban the sale — we ban the sale and distribution…
SWALWELL: Will you buy them back?
SANDERS: … and that’s what I’ve believed for many years.
SWALWELL: Will you buy them back?
SANDERS: If people want to buy — if the government wants to do that and people want to bring them back, yes.
SWALWELL: You are going to be the government, will you buy them back?
MADDOW: Senator Harris, we’re going to give you 30 seconds.
HARRIS: Thank you. I think your idea is a great one, Congressman Swalwell. And I’ll say that there are a lot of great ideas. The problem is Congress has not had the courage to act which is why when elected president of the United States, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to pull their act together, bring all these good ideas together, and put a bill on my desk for signature. And if they do not, I will take executive action and I will put in place…
… the most comprehensive background check policy we’ve had. I will require the ATF to take the licenses of gun dealers who violate the law. And I will ban by executive order the importation of assault weapons. Because I’m going to tell you, as a prosecutor, I have seen more autopsy photographs than I care to tell you. I have hugged more mothers who are the mothers of homicide victims. And I have attended more police officer funerals.
It is enough. It is enough. There have been plenty of good ideas from members of the United States Congress. There has been no action. As president, I will take action.
MADDOW: Mayor Buttigieg, I want to bring you in on this, Sir. A lot of discussions about assault rifles that are often shorthanded as military-style weapons. You are the only person on this stage tonight with military experience as a veteran of the Afghanistan War.
Will military families — does that inform your thinking on this view? Do you believe that military families or America’s veterans will at large have a different take on this than the other Americans who we have been talking about and who Congressman Swalwell is appealing to with his buyback program?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, of course, because we trained on some of these kinds of weapons. Look, every part of my life experience informs this, being the mayor of a city where the worst part of the job is dealing with violence. We lose as many as were lost at Parkland every two or three years in my city alone.
And this is tearing communities apart. If more guns made us safer, we would be the safest country on earth. It doesn’t work that way.
And common-sense measures like universal background checks can’t seem to get delivered by Washington, even when most Republicans, let alone most Americans, agree it’s the right thing to do. And as somebody who trained on weapons of war, I can tell you that there are weapons that have absolutely no place in American cities or neighborhoods in peacetime, ever.
MADDOW: Vice President Biden, 30 seconds.
BIDEN: A real 30 seconds?
MADDOW: A real 30 seconds.
BIDEN: OK. I’m the only person that has beaten the NRA nationally. I’m the guy that got the Brady Bill passed, the background checks, number one.
Number two, we increased that background check when — during the Obama-Biden administration. I’m also the only guy that got assault weapons banned, banned, and the number of clips in a gun banned.
And so, folks, look, and I would buy back those weapons. We already started talking about that. We tried to get it done. I think it can be done. And it should be demanded that we do it. And that’s a good expenditure of money.
And, lastly, we should have smart guns. No gun should be able to be sold unless your biometric measure could pull that trigger. It’s within our right to do that. We can do that. Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA, the gun manufacturers.
MADDOW: Mr. Vice President…
SWALWELL: But the NRA is taking orders from the gun manufacturers, that’s the problem.
TODD: All right. Lester Holt has our next question.
Lester, take it away.
HOLT: All right, Chuck. This is a question from our viewers. We put some — the suggestions that — asked maybe they could share some. Here’s one that came from Kathleen (ph) from Canby, Oregon, who writes many fear the current administration has inflicted irrevocable harm on our governing institutions and norms and the process on our reputation abroad. The question is, what do you see as important early steps in reversing the damage done? And we’ll put this one to Senator Bennet.
BENNET: Thank you very much. What an excellent question. First of all, we have to restore our democracy at home. The rest of the world is looking for us for leadership. We have a president who doesn’t believe in the rule of law, he doesn’t believe in freedom of the press, he doesn’t believe in an independent judiciary. He believes in the corruption that he’s brought to Washington, D.C. And that is what we have to change, and that’s why everybody is up here tonight, and I appreciate the fact that they’re up here for that reason.
Second, we’ve got to — we’ve got to restore the relationships that he’s destroyed with our allies, not just in Europe. He flew to the G20 last night and attacked Japan, Germany, and a third ally of ours without saying anything about North Korea or Russia.
And when you’ve got a situation where you have a president who says something happened in the Straits of Hormuz and the whole world doesn’t know whether to believe it or not, that is a huge problem when it comes to the national security of the United States of America. And we need to change that.
TODD: This is a perfect time — thank you, Senator. This is a perfect time for me to do another one of these down the line. And this is what this question is, which is, you’re going to have to — you’re likely going to have to reset a relationship between America and another country or entity if you become president because of some — perhaps because of some relationship that you just mentioned about President Trump. What is the first relationship you would like to reset as president? I’m going to go down the line, and I’ll start with Ms. Williamson.
WILLIAMSON: Well, one of my first phone calls would be to call the European leaders and say we’re back…
TODD: Thank you.
WILLIAMSON: … because I totally understand how important it is that the United States be part of the Western alliance.
TODD: OK, I want — I’m trying to get one or two words here. I hear you. Governor Hickenlooper?
HICKENLOOPER: You know, I talk about constant engagement. And I think the first person — the first country I would go to…
HICKENLOOPER: … and I understand they’ve been cheating and stealing and (inaudible) would be China…
HICKENLOOPER: … because if we’re going to do — deal with public health pandemics, if we’re doing to deal with…
TODD: Thank you.
HICKENLOOPER: … all the challenges of the globe, we’ve got to have relationships with everyone.
TODD: Mr. Yang, we’re trying to squeeze in a couple more things before we go to another break. Mr. Yang?
YANG: China. We need cooperate with them on climate change, AI, and other issues, North Korea.
TODD: Thanks for the quickness. Mayor Buttigieg?
BUTTIGIEG: We have no idea which of our most important allies he will have pissed off worse between now and then. What we know is that our relationship with the entire world needs to change.
And it starts by modelling American values at home.
TODD: OK. Mr. Vice President, I’m trying to be quick.
BIDEN: We know NATO will fall apart if he is elected four more years. It’s the single most consequential alliance in the history of the United States.
TODD: OK. Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: It’s not one country. I think it is rebuilding trust in the United Nations and understand that we can solve…
TODD: OK, got it.
SANDERS: … conflicts without war, but with diplomacy.
TODD: Senator Harris?
HARRIS: All the members of the NATO alliance.
TODD: Senator Gillibrand?
GILLIBRAND: President Trump is hell-bent on starting a war with Iran. My first act…
GILLIBRAND: … will be to engage Iran to stabilize the Middle East and make sure we do not start an unwanted, never-ending war.
TODD: Thank you. Senator Bennet, quickly.
BENNET: Our European allies and every Latin American country that’s willing to have a conversation about how to deal with the refugee crisis.
And Congressman Swalwell?
SWALWELL: My first act in foreign policy, we’re breaking up with Russia and making up with NATO.
MADDOW: Thank you all. Thank you all. We have one…
BENNET: That’s a good plan.
MADDOW: … last question for Vice President Biden tonight. You made your decades of experience in foreign policy a pillar of your campaign, but when the time came to say yes or no on one of the most consequential foreign policy decisions of the last century, you voted for the Iraq war. You have since said you regret that vote. But why should voters trust your judgment when it comes to making a decision about taking the country to war the next time?
BIDEN: Because once we — once Bush abused that power, what happened was, we got elected after that. I made sure — the president turned to me and said, Joe, get our combat troops out of Iraq. I was responsible for getting 150,000 combat troops out of Iraq, and my son was one of them.
I also think we should not have combat troops in Afghanistan. It’s long overdue. It should end.
And, thirdly, I believe that you’re not going to find anybody who has pulled together more of our alliances to deal with what is the real stateless threat out there. We cannot go it alone in terms of dealing with terrorism.
So I would eliminate the act that allowed us to go into war, and not — the AUMF, and make sure that it could only be used for what its intent was, and that is to go after terrorists, but never do it alone. That’s why we have to repair our alliances. We put together 65 countries to make sure we dealt with ISIS in Iraq and other places. That’s what I would do. That’s what I have done. And I know how to do it.
MADDOW: Senator Sanders, 30 seconds.
SANDERS: One of the differences — one of the differences that Joe and I have in our record is Joe voted for that war, I helped lead the opposition to that war, which was a total disaster.
Second of all, I helped lead the effort for the first time to utilize the War Powers Act to get the United States out of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which is the most horrific humanitarian disaster on Earth.
And thirdly, let me be very clear. I will do everything I can to prevent a war with Iran, which would be far worse than disastrous war with Iraq.
MADDOW: Senator Sanders, thank you.
TODD: All right, guys.
BIDEN: … American people.
TODD: We got — good news is, you get more time to talk, but I have to sneak in one more break.
MADDOW: We’ll be right back.
TODD: We’ll be right back with more debate.
HOLT: We are back from Miami. Now, each candidate will have a final chance to make their case to the voters, 45 seconds each. We begin with Congressman Swalwell.
SWALWELL: We can’t be a forward-looking party if we look to the past for our leadership. I’m a congressman, but also a father of a 2-year-old and an infant. When I’m not changing diapers, I’m changing Washington. Most of the time, the diapers smell better.
I went to Congress at 31, and I found a Washington that doesn’t work for people like you and me. It’s made of the rich and the disconnected. I was the first in my family to go to college and have student loan debt.
And so I have led the effort to elect the next generation of members of Congress, and we have a moment to seize. This is a can-do generation. This is the generation that will end climate chaos. This is the generation that will solve student loan debt. And this is the generation that will say enough is enough and end gun violence. This generation demands bold solutions. That’s why I’m running for president.
HOLT: Congressman, thank you.
GUTHRIE: Ms. Williamson, 45 seconds for your closing.
WILLIAMSON: I’m sorry we haven’t talked more tonight about how we’re going to beat Donald Trump. I have an idea about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not going to be beaten just by insider politics talk. He’s not going to be beaten just somebody who has plans.
He’s going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what this man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me, please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out.
So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win.
GUTHRIE: Ms. Williamson, thank you.
DIAZ-BALART: Senator Bennet?
BENNET: Thank you. Thank you. My mom and her parents came to the United States to rebuild their shattered lives, in the only country that they could. Three hundred years before that, my parents’ family came searching religious freedom here.
The ability for one generation to do better than the next is now severely at risk in the United States, especially among children living in poverty like the ones I used to work for in the Denver public schools. That’s why I’m running for president.
I’ve had two tough races in Colorado, but by bringing people together, not by making empty promises. And I believe we need to build a broad coalition of Americans to beat Donald Trump, end the corruption in Washington, and build a new era of American democracy and American opportunity.
This is going to be hard to do, but it’s what our parents would have expected, it’s what our kids deserve. I hope you join me in this effort. Thank you.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you.
TODD: Governor Hickenlooper?
HICKENLOOPER: I’m a small-business owner who brought that same scrappy spirit to big Colorado, one of the most progressive states in America. We expanded reproductive health to reduce teenage abortion by 64 percent. We were the first state to legalize marijuana, and we transformed our justice system in the process.
We passed universal background checks in a purple state. We got to near universal health care coverage. We attacked climate change with the toughest methane regulations in the country. And for the last three years, we’ve been the number-one economy in America.
You don’t need big government to do big things. I know that because I’m the one person up here who’s actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about. If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to re-elect the worst president in American history.
TODD: Thank you, Governor.
MADDOW: Senator Gillibrand, you have the floor for 45 seconds.
GILLIBRAND: Women in America — women in America are on fire. We’ve marched, we’ve organized, we’ve run for office, and we’ve won. But our rights are under attack like never before by President Trump and the Republicans who want to repeal Roe v. Wade, which is why I went to the front lines in Georgia to fight for them.
As president, I will take on the fights that no one else will. I stood up to the Pentagon and repealed “don’t ask/don’t tell.” I’ve stood up to the banks and voted against the bailout twice. I’ve stood up to Trump more than any other senator in the U.S. Senate. And I have the most comprehensive approach for getting money out of politics with publicly funded elections to deal with political corruption.
Now is not the time to play it safe. Now is not the time to be afraid of firsts. We need a president who will take on the big challenges, even if she stands alone. Join me in fighting for this.
MADDOW: Senator Gillibrand, thank you.
HOLT: Mr. Yang, you have 45 seconds for your closing.
YANG: First, I want to thank everyone who put me on this stage tonight. I am proof that our democracy still works.
Democrats and Americans around the country have one question for their nominee, and that is, who can beat Donald Trump in 2020? That is the right question. And the right candidate to beat Donald Trump will be solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected, and we’ll have a vision of a trickle-up economy that is already drawing thousands of disaffected Trump voters, conservatives, independents, and libertarians, as well as Democrats and progressives.
I am that candidate. I can build a much broader coalition to beat Donald Trump. It is not left; it is not right. It is forward. And that is where I’ll take the country in 2020.
HOLT: Mr. Yang, thank you.
GUTHRIE: Senator Harris, Senator Harris, the floor is yours.
HARRIS: Thank you. Well, I just want to leave you with a couple of things. One, we need a nominee who has the ability to prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump, and I will do that.
Second, this election is about you. This is about your hopes and your dreams and your fears and what wakes you up at 3 o’clock in the morning. And that’s why I have what I call a 3 a.m. agenda that is about everything from what we need to do to deliver health care to how you will be able to pay the bills by the end of the month.
And when I think about what our country needs, I promise you, I will be a president who leads with a sense of dignity, with honesty, speaking the truth, and giving the American family all that they need to get through the end of the month in a way that allows them to prosper. So I hope to earn your support, and please join us at kamalaharris.org.
GUTHRIE: Senator, thank you.
DIAZ-BALART: Mayor Buttigieg, 45 seconds.
BUTTIGIEG: Nothing about politics is theoretical for me. I’ve had the experience of writing a letter to my family, putting it in an envelope marked “just in case,” and leaving it where they would know where to find it in case I didn’t come back from Afghanistan.
I’ve experienced being in a marriage that exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court. And I have the experience of guiding a community where the per capita income was below $20,000 when I took office into a brighter future.
I’m running because the decisions we make in the next three or four years are going to decide how the next 30 or 40 go. And when I get to the current age of the current president in the year 2055, I want to be able to look back on these years and say my generation delivered climate solutions, racial equality, and an end to endless war.
Help me deliver that new generation to Washington before it’s too late.
TODD: Thank you.
Senator Sanders, 45 seconds, the floor is yours.
SANDERS: I suspect people all over the country who are watching this debate are saying, these are good people, they have great ideas. But how come nothing really changes? How come for the last 45 years wages have been stagnant for the middle class? How come we have the highest rate of childhood poverty? How come 45 million people still have student debt? How come three people own more wealth than the bottom half of America?
And here is the answer, nothing will change unless we have the guts to take on Wall Street, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the military-industrial complex, and the fossil fuel industry. If we don’t have the guts to take them on, we’ll continue to have plans, we’ll continue to have talk, and the rich will get richer, and everybody else will be struggling.
TODD: Thank you, Senator.
MADDOW: And lastly, we’ll hear from Vice President Biden. Sir, you have 45 seconds.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
I’m ready to lead this country because I think it’s important we restore the soul of this nation. This president has ripped it out. It’s the only president in our history who has equated racists and white supremacists with ordinary and decent people. He’s the only president who has, in fact, engaged and embraced dictators and thumbed their nose at our allies.
I’m, secondly, running for president because I think we have to restore the backbone of America, the poor and hardworking middle class people. You can’t do that without replacing them with the dignity they once had.
Last thing, we’ve got to unite the United States of America, as much as anybody says we can’t. If we do, there’s not a single thing the American people can’t do. This is the United States of America. We can do anything if we’re together, together. So God bless you all and may God protect our troops.
MADDOW: Vice President Biden, thank you.
GUTHRIE: We want to thank our candidates. We’ve had two nights of spirited debate on a range of issues. Twenty candidates in all. We want to thank all of the candidates, last night and tonight.
TODD: Seriously, it takes guts to run and stick your neck out like this. To you guys and to the 10 last night, thanks for having the guts to do it.
MADDOW: I would also like to thank the audience for completely ignoring our suggestion not to react. You made it a lot more fun.
DIAZ-BALART: Also thanks to the Democratic National Committee, and the Florida Democratic Party.
HOLT: And, of course, thank you to everyone at the Adrienne Arsht Center for hosting us here, and our terrific audience, as Chuck mentioned.
HOLT: For Savannah, Jose, Chuck, and Rachel, I’m Lester Holt. Good night, everyone, from Miami.
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