HOUSTON – The third Democratic presidential debate failed to address abortion and religious freedom – two primary issues for many evangelical Christians – but offered the 10 participants the opportunity to wrangle over a host of mostly domestic policy questions Thursday, Sept. 12.
The currently leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 debated health care, racism, criminal justice, immigration, foreign policy, national security, climate change and education during the three-hour event on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston. The debate – the third of a planned 12 debates – will be followed in mid-October by the next in the series.
Though no question on abortion rights was asked by the panel from ABC News and Univision, the absence of the topic was not lost on former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke. He tweeted later, “Three hours, not one question on abortion – with women’s rights under attack across our country.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, responded on Twitter, “I agree. Answer this. When does the right to healthcare begin? In utero? First trimester? 2nd trimester? 3[rd] trimester? At birth?”
The Democratic Party and its presidential candidates support abortion rights, and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have continually refused this year to permit a vote on a bill that would require health care for a child who survives an abortion.
The early portion of the Sept. 12 debate focused on health care. New Hampshire Sen. Bernie Sanders continued to defend his Medicare for All plan, while former Vice President Joe Biden said his plan builds on the health-care reform adopted while President Obama and he were in office. Others offered a variety of plans.
The issue resulted in a clash between two candidates who served in the Obama administration. Julian Castro, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said his health care plan “automatically enrolls people regardless of whether they choose to opt in or not. If you lose your job, for instance, [Biden’s] health care plan would not automatically enroll you. You would have to opt in.
“That’s a big difference. I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama, and you’re not.”
Biden rejected Castro’s portrayal of his plan and replied, “That’ll be a surprise to him.”
The debate came in the state where two recent, deadly shootings – including one in El Paso that targeted Hispanics – resulted in nearly 30 deaths.
O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, supported confiscating weapons “designed to kill people on a battlefield…. [Y]es, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, “Everyone up here favors an assault weapon ban. I personally think we should start with a voluntary buyback program.”
On racial justice, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said, “We have to come at this issue attacking systemic racism, having the courage to call it out, and having a plan to do something about it,” Booker said. “If I am president of the United States, we will create an office in the White House to deal with the problem of white supremacy and hate crimes.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he has offered “the most comprehensive vision to tackle systemic racism in every one of these areas, marshaling as many resources as went into the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe” after World War II. His proposal would address “the over-incarceration of black Americans” and present solutions such as entrepreneurship for African Americans.
Immigration remains one of the most controversial issues in the United States, and efforts in Congress to solve the problem of illegal immigration and the concerns that accompany it have continually failed.
Castro contended Democrats would solve the problem after the 2020 election. “I believe that on January 20, 2021, we’re going to have a Democratic president, we’re going to throw out [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and [Texas Sen.] John Cornyn and have a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic House, and we’re going to pass immigration reform within the first 100 days,” he said.
Booker – who was a leader in the passage last year of the First Step Act, bipartisan prison reform legislation – said evidence shows 17,000 people are “unjustly incarcerated in America.”
“Everyone on this stage should say that we are going to give clemency to these 17,000 people,” he said.
The question of whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights should trump the religious liberty and conscience rights of Christians and others did not receive a mention despite the ongoing debate over the conflict in the country.
The criteria established by the Democratic National Committee to participate in the debates are based on a candidate’s standing in the polls and his or her number of donors.
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.