Five democrats battled it out onstage tonight in the first Democratic debate, which was aired by CNN and moderated by Anderson Cooper. If you watched the GOP debates then you’ll be pleased to know that this particular debate was free of the displeasing antics we saw in the former and the candidates were able to (most of the time) politely discuss some major policy issues. Because I’m a political wonk, I’ve decided to share my notes with you (yes, I take notes), so if you missed watching the debate live then hopefully this will catch you up. The notes are organized by policy area and each candidate’s response is summarized in one or two sentences (if you want commentary, there are a million sites for that, too). If I missed something you think is important, please share it in the comments!
My General Observations
- O’Malley and Webb may have a bit of a Nixon problem – both display no emotion when discussing things passionately.
- Anderson Cooper kept cutting off Webb by telling him he agreed to the debate rules but had no problem letting Hillary go past her time limit.
- Clinton admitted that sometimes we change our minds about issues.
- Clinton: We need to take down the NRA.
- O’Malley: Discussed his history of passing gun control legislation and spoke passionately about the Phillips family, who lost the case against a gun ammunition company in Aurora.
- Sanders: Rural and urban are different and we need to bring people together. O’Malley vehemently disagreed because Maryland has both and he passed legislation. Sanders says state and national politics are different.
- Webb: Talked around the issue but insinuated we need guns to protect ourselves.
- Chafee: The NRA succeeds by saying Congress will take away your guns and we should bring them into the discussion.
- Clinton: Skirted the issue when asked if she underestimated them.
- Sanders: Talked about the cost of war and called Iraq the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our country. When asked when he would use force, he talked around the issue and gave a few examples but said he doesn’t believe in unilateral action.
- Webb: We need to resolve our relationship with Russia – had very strong words and feelings.
Should we have seen Benghazi coming?
- Clinton: Skirted the issue but supported President Obama’s decision given the information he had at the time, saying there’s always the potential for danger and risk and we can’t avoid sending people to dangerous places.
- O’Malley: We need to do better with our on-the-ground intelligence so that we can make better decisions and not doing so was a failing.
- Webb: President should have gotten congressional approval.
- Webb: A Vietnam War vet but supports Sanders’ legal choice to oppose Vietnam War. Pointed out that he’s uniquely positioned to be the commander in chief compared
- Sanders: I am not a pacifist. I supported war in Afghanistan and intervention in Kosovo but war should be our last resort.
What is is the biggest national security threat?
- Chafee: Middle East.
- O’Malley: Nuclear Iran and ISIL and climate change makes cascading effects worse.
- Clinton: Nuclear weapons.
- Sanders: Climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels.
- Webb: China is our long term strategic challenge; cyberwarfare is our day-to-day challenge; Middle East is our military challenge.
Clinton Email Scandal
- Clinton: Yes, it was a mistake but the ongoing attack is being led by the Republicans.
- Sanders: The American people are sick of hearing about these emails! There are bigger issues to contend with (then they shook hands).
- Chafee: American credibility is a major issue and attacked Hillary for her lack of it. When asked if Clinton wanted to respond, she said, “No” and got a long applause.
- O’Malley: Now that we’re having debates, we no longer have to be defined by the email scandal.
Race in America – #BlackLivesMatter
Voter question: Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?
- Sanders: Black lives matter. We need to combat institutional racism and reform our broken criminal justice system.
- O’Malley: Black lives matter.
- Clinton: Made a lot of proclamations but didn’t say black lives matter.
- Webb: All lives matter but espoused that he’s done the hard job (of defending blacks in America).
What will you do differently?
- Sanders: Create jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, raising the minimum wage to $15, paying equity for women, reforming trade policies and making college free.
You are part of the 1%, what will you do?
- Clinton: Bill and I didn’t grow up in the 1% and I want everyone to have the same opportunities we had.
Would you risk financial instability to stick to your values?
- Sanders: No, but it’s wrong to let the banks survive at the expense of Americans.
- O’Malley: We need to reinstate Glass-Steagall.
- Clinton: Need to empower regulators to break up big banks if they pose a risk. I have fought to reign in and stop the risk. My plan would send people to jail and give regulators the authority to go after big banks, but we also need to look at the shadow market.
- Sanders: Wall Street regulates Congress, not the other way around.
- Debate ensued.
- Sanders: The banks we bailed out are even bigger than before so we need to Break. Them. Up.
- Webb: Wall Street is not risking themselves the way they are risking the livelihoods of Americans. We need to take that into consideration when we look at regulations.
- Chafee: My vote on Glass-Steagall was one of my first when I was new and didn’t really know what I was voting for (paraphrased from the way he skirted additional questions from Cooper). Let’s go back to the tax code because that’s where the problem started.
Should taxpayers pick up the tab?
- Sanders: A college degree is now the equivalent of a high school degree 50 years ago and we thought that should be free. We should say that about college now and it will be financed by, essentially, Wall Street.
- Clinton: (With my plan) current graduates can refinance with a lower interest rate and it gives free tuition to state universities. That said, it’s important for everyone to have some part of getting it accomplished and students should work 10 hours a week to have some buy-in.
- Clinton: Enhance it for those who need it.
Immigration – Should immigrants get healthcare under the Affordable Care Act?
- Sanders: We need immigration reform and to take people out of the shadows.
- Clinton: Every child should have healthcare and undocumented immigrants should be able to buy into the exchanges but not be extended full privileges. I would go even further than President Obama and support states that include undocumented immigrants in their in-state college tuition plans.
- O’Malley: Our country is made stronger with every generation of new immigrants and I want a compassionate America and we did include undocumented immigrants in our in-state tuition plans.
- Webb: I don’t have a problem with it. I married an immigrant. We need comprehensive reform and to work on our borders.
Why did it take 18 reports to take action on veterans dying waiting for healthcare?
- Sanders: I was only chairman two years when we took action.
What are your thoughts on the PATRIOT Act?
- Chafee: Wiretapping is okay with a warrant but I’m interested in reforming Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
- Clinton: I do not regret my vote on the Act because it was necessary at the time.
- Sanders: (Only one on the stage who voted against it) – I would shut down the NSA’s wiretapping program – they are involved in our emails, websites, and telephone calls but we live in a free country and we deserve to be free.
Snowden a traitor?
- Chafee: No. Bring him home.
- Clinton: He broke the law. If he comes home, he needs to face the music.
- O’Malley: Whistleblowers don’t run and hide in Russia.
- Sanders: He educated the American people and he should be penalized for breaking the law but what he taught us should be taken into consideration.
- Webb: I’d leave it to the justice system but we do have a problem with collection of information.
Why won’t you be a 3rd term of President Obama?
- Chafee: We need a new paradigm with regards to wars and the Middle East.
- O’Malley: I would follow through on the promise to protect the main street economy and separate out the too big to fail banks, and would implement a modern day Glass-Steagall.
- Clinton: Being the first woman president would be quite a change. I would expand some of his policies but do even more.
- Webb: We need to use the congressional policies and work through issues the traditional way.
- Sanders: The power of corporate America, drug companies, media, and banks is so great that we need a political revolution to say the government will work for us, not the billionaires.
When discussing a revolution:
- Sanders: A revolution has high voter turnout, coming together in a new way, and taking on big money.
- O’Malley: We need an energy revolution.
- Webb: I don’t think a revolution is going to come and Congress won’t pay for a lot of the stuff.
Why should democrats vote for an “insider”?
- Clinton: A woman isn’t an an insider, but I’ve been fighting and know what it takes to get things done – common ground and standing my ground.
- O’Malley: I keep hearing people talk about new leadership so a resort to old names is not going to help us. I respect Hillary and Bill but we need new leadership move on.
- Clinton: Don’t vote for me because of my last name, vote for my record. I’m not campaigning because of my name but because I think I can take the fight the Republicans because we can’t let them win.
- Sanders: I’m the only candidate who is not a billionaire and doesn’t have a Super PAC.
Voter question: What will you do?
- O’Malley: We need to move to a 100% clean electric grid by 2050 and I have a plan. We put a man on the moon as a collective nation and we can collectively solve this problem.
- Webb: Discussed his past and said we’re not going to solve climate change only with our laws, then discussed China – it’s a global problem.
- Sanders: Agrees with Pope Francis – this is a moral issue. I introduced a carbon tax but nothing will happen without campaign finance because the energy lobby funds the Republican party.
- Clinton: We have to get China onboard because we can’t have an effective effort without China and India – President Obama and I hunted down the Chinese in 2009 to make an agreement that needs to go further.
Mandated Paid Family Leave
Will this hinder hiring by small businesses?
- Clinton: Interesting Fiorina says that because California has had that for years and it’s been fine – this is a Republican scare tactic and we can create the system. We shouldn’t be paralyzed by the big government refrain of the Republicans (who have no problem interfering with an women’s right to choose) and we can afford it because we’ll make the wealthy pay for it.
- Sanders: Every other major country says a new mother should stay home with their baby and this is an international embarrassment. Agreed with Clinton.
- O’Malley: We need to stop penalizing women and we would be a stronger nation economically if we have it.
- Sanders (smoked pot twice but didn’t like it): I would vote to legalize it because we imprison non-violent marijuana smokers but let corrupt CEO’s walk.
- Clinton (never smoked it): Still not prepared to take a position on legalizing recreational marijuana but supports medical marijuana. Either way, we need to stop imprisoning marijuana users.
How will you get the Republicans to compromise?
- Sanders: Republicans are obstructionists and we need millions to get together if we want change.
Which enemy are you most proud of?
- Chafee: The coal lobby.
- O’Malley: NRA.
- Clinton: NRA, health insurance/drug companies, the Iranians, and the Republicans.
- Sanders: Wall Street and pharmaceutical industry.
- Webb: Enemy soldier that through the grenade who wounded me.
- Chafee: I have no scandals and have high moral standards. I want to be a peacemaker.
- Webb: I’m willing to take on complicated, unpopular issues and work them through to find a solution.
- O’Malley: Our debate was very different from the GOP debate – no denigrating, racist comments about immigrants, no negative comments based on religion – and we are on a new threshold of American progress.
- Sanders: We have a lot of problems (child poverty, income inequality, lack of healthcare, family and parental leave) and no one can address any issue without millions of people rising up against the billionaire class but I have no Sup
- Clinton: Who has the vision, tenacity, and track record for getting things done? We’ve been knocked down and while we’re standing again we are not running. I will raise incomes for middle class and get back to the bargain that hard work will get you ahead.