Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet claimed at the Democratic debate Wednesday night that Sen. Kamala Harris intends to ban employer-based health insurance.
Harris argued that her healthcare proposal, unveiled earlier this week, wouldn’t make anything “illegal.” That is true, but it would ultimately eliminate the way most Americans currently get their health insurance: through their employer.
Harris tacitly acknowledged as much, telling Bennet, “It’s time that we separate work from healthcare.”
The role of private insurance has become a flashpoint in the 2020 Democratic primary ever since Harris was asked about the issue back at a CNN town hall in January.
Anchor Jake Tapper asked then if Harris’ support for Medicare for All meant that “for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?”
Wednesday night’s Democratic primary debate saw the two highest-polling candidates on the stage, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, take fire from all sides. The second night of debates in Detroit also saw the first substantive discussion of impeachment at a debate this cycle, along with candidates deferring to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on climate and an extended argument on health care.
After the first Democratic presidential debate in Miami, Sen. Kamala Harris was widely applauded for a sharp performance that included a pointed attack on Joe Biden’s record on race.
But on Wednesday night, the former California prosecutor found herself in an unusual position: defense.
Harris, who got a big boost from a strong performance in the first round of debates in Miami, was targeted by several rivals, most notably Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who assailed her record as a prosecutor.
“She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prisons beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California,” Gabbard said. “She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
Addressing Harris directly, Gabbard said: “When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not. And worse — in the case of those on death row — innocent people? You actually blocked evidence that would have freed them.”
Harris said that she had “personally” always opposed the death penalty, but did not respond directly to Gabbard’s points. She said she was “proud” of her record as California attorney general, drawing a contrast to Gabbard’s job as a legislator.
“I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches, or be in a legislative body and give speeches on a floor, but actually doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform,” Harris said.
The final lineup for the third Democratic debate is set for a single night in Houston in two weeks on Sept. 12.
The 10 candidates certified by the Democratic National Committee to participate in the debate, hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision, are (in alphabetical order):
Former Vice President Joe Biden New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro California Sen. Kamala Harris Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
The top 10 Democratic candidates shared a single debate stage for the first time in the 2020 race, trading body blows while drawing stark contrasts on issues like health care and criminal justice reform.
*Joe Biden: The first 30 minutes of this debate -- typically the time with the highest viewership -- were Biden's best moments in his entire campaign to date. He didn't stumble as he had in previous debates and was able to show off his righteous anger side when Bernie Sanders seemed to suggest the former vice president was responsible for people getting cancer. (Worth noting: As the debate went on, Biden stumbled more.) Biden also got a bit lucky; Julián Castro's blatant attempt to make Biden's age an issue -- he kept asking the former vice president if he was "forgetting" what had been said a few minutes before. Low blow. And sort of ugly -- and likely to boomerang back on Castro (more on that below). Biden's full embrace of Obama -- all eight years, "good and bad" -- was also smart, since Obama remains a hugely popular figure in the Democratic Party especially among black voters. Overall, Biden looked strong and presidential although it wasn't perfect -- most notably in his meandering (and Trumpian) answer on the way forward on Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, however, a good night for the vice president.
*Beto O'Rourke: Supporters of the former Texas congressman have been waiting for months for the O'Rourke that showed up on Thursday night. "Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15," O'Rourke pledged when the topic turned to gun control and the recent mass shootings in Texas. And the audience went wild. Yes, O'Rourke was helped by his opponents -- including Biden and Elizabeth Warren -- taking time out to praise him for his statements on gun control. And, yes, that speaks to the fact that they don't believe he poses any threat to their chances at the nomination. Still, for a candidate who has been losing altitude for months now, O'Rourke had a night to remember.
*Barack Obama: After taking a surprising amount of incoming from some of the candidates in the July debate, the former president made a major comeback Thursday. Not only did Biden fully embrace Obama's eight years as president, the former president was praised by virtually every candidate on the stage. Which makes sense, politically. After all, Obama is the single most popular Democratic politician in the country -- by a long shot.
*Kamala Harris' opening statement: I thought a bunch of the California senator's prepared one-liners -- and she had a LOT of them -- fell flat. (Case in point: "Instead of saying 'no we can't' let's say 'yes we can.'" Oomph.) BUT Harris dedicating her entire opening statement to directly addressing Trump was smart. And her closing line -- "And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News" -- was a huge applause line in the room and likely will be replayed dozens of times over the next 24 hours.
*Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts senator wasn't bad -- she just wasn't super involved in the debate, which is weird given that she is widely seen as the strongest challenger to Biden at the moment. For a chunk of the first hour of the debate, Warren sort of disappeared. Some of that is a function of not getting questions from the moderators. But Warren also needs to find ways into conversations -- especially given how centrally located she was on the stage. When she got questions, Warren was solid, particularly when talking about teachers and her own personal narrative. But she didn't get enough questions.
*The economy: This was a looooong debate. And we know that, in election after election, voters say the state of the economy (and how they feel about it personally) has a huge impact on their vote. Which makes the fact the economy wasn't the subject of a single question in that time remarkable. And bad.