2020 Presidential Election: The Second Democratic Primary Debate: Night 2

By Rebecca Johnson

The second night of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 election was headlined by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and former vice president Joe Biden.

While night two of the second debate was interrupted with chanting hecklers and filled with personal attacks, there was also more policy discussion than the previous evening. Below are some of the more memorable moments.

Go easy on me, kid
Those are the first words Biden spoke on the debate stage, addressing them to Harris as they were introduced.

The two candidates previously shared the debate stage in June, when Harris brought up Biden’s record on race and comments he made about working with segregationists in the Senate. During the introductions, Biden seemed to reference the tough exchange with Harris, greeting her with “Go easy on me, kid”, a remark some found objectionable. In contrast, Harris greeted Booker with a hug and called him “buddy”.

There feeling that Biden referring to a politician like Harris as “kid” is patronizing at worst and tone-deaf at best, took to social media to express their objections.

“I honestly can’t get over Joe Biden calling Kamala Harris ‘kid’. It was intentionally minimizing. It was designed to make her look petty and small, to put her in her place” one person tweeted. Another explained, “Sigh. Joe Biden, you can’t just tell a grown woman “go easy on me, kid.” That’s why you got the formal handshake and Cory Booker got the kiss and hug from Kamala Harris. The senator is FULLY grown.” And yet another person wondered in a tweet, “Did Joe Biden just lose the debate during the introductions?”

Biden’s words didn’t seem to shake Harris or have any impact. Further into the debate, the candidates sparred over their respective healthcare plans and Harris effectively defended her plan against claims by Biden.

Protesters Speak Up
The debate last Wednesday included protesters chanting loudly, at times so loud the candidate’s stopped speaking.

The first chants of the night to “fire Pantaleo” began during the introductory statement of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and carried over into Booker’s opening comments. Pantaleo refers to New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo who placed Stanten Island resident Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold on July 17, 2014.

Later, while Biden was speaking about Immigration, a chant of “three million deportations” broke out, referencing the estimated number of deportations during the Obama administration.

On the Issues
Biden faced sharp criticism on deportations from both Booker and de Blasio, who questioned Biden more than once about whether he’d ever used his influence with former President Barack Obama to stop deportations. Biden’s countered by raising Obama’s work to help immigrants and cited his executive actions making it possible for young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States on renewable work and student visas.

De Blasio tried again with the same question and Biden eventually responded, “I was vice president. I am not the president. I keep my recommendation to him private.”

When Booker was asked to respond, he said, “Well, a couple of things. First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”

Criminal justice reform had a real moment for the first time in this Democratic primary. Biden took heat from Booker when the senator drew a sharp contrast between the two of them, accusing Biden of not being sufficiently forward-oriented and having a poor track record on criminal justice issues, like Biden’s support of the 1994 crime bill, which has been blamed for overly harsh convictions and sentences unfairly targeting minorities.

At one point, after Biden accidentally referred to Booker as “the future president”, Biden did attempt to go on the offensive against Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, with an allegation about the Newark Police Department participating in stop-and-frisk. Booker quickly fired back, “You’re dipping into the Kool-aid and you don’t even know what flavor it is,” arguing the police department he assumed charge of came with a catalog of challenges.

Booker, a lead sponsor of criminal justice legislation signed into law during the current administration, said he was “shocked” Biden would want to compare records on criminal justice reform.

Harris spoke on the topic of criminal justice too, revisiting her issue with Biden’s record on desegregating public busing, her biggest moment of the first Democratic primary debate in June.

The former vice president also got some jabs in and seemed prepared to respond more aggressively, as he promised would be the case before this debate.

Biden and Harris argued over the senator’s health care plan as soon as the introductions were made.

Harris, faced criticism for a lack of clarity on her plan for single payer healthcare, which is in opposition to a public option plan offered by Biden and other moderates. Biden was eager to press her on clarity, saying “The senator’s had several plans so far.” Biden also noted, “You can’t beat Trump with double talk.”

Another moderate, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, argued forcefully with Harris citing the Medicare for All cost of $32 trillion and said he doesn’t see a need to make employer-offered health plans “illegal.” While Harris didn’t address the cost, she did say it’s not true that employer health plans would be illegal. Bennet continued to insist Medicare for All would ban private plans.

Bennet calls Harris his “friend” then subtly accuses her of dishonesty.

The Mueller Report was briefly discussed after being completely omitted on night one of this Democratic primary debate. The question came after Harris’ statement about directing her Justice Department to prosecute President Donald Trump, should she become President.

While it gave candidates a chance to reiterate calls for impeachment, it didn’t shine much light between them on the conviction that Mueller brought Trump’s crimes and misconduct to the forefront in his 440 page report.

Where the Candidates Stand Now
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the big winner in the second round of Democratic presidential debates, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll following the debates. However, former vice president Joe Biden keeps his hold on first place with 32 percent of Democrats and democratic-leaning voters indicating he is their front-runner.

The poll of 807 registered Democrats and those who lean Democratic was conducted Aug. 1–5 and had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s policy-heavy presentation and former Vice President Joseph Biden’s ability to handle the heat from all corners put them on top,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.

Warren has 21 percent among respondents, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) at 14 percent and Kamala Harris (D-CA) with 7 percent. Compared to the results of a July 29 Quinnipiac survey, Biden is down 2 percent, Warren gained 6 percent, Sanders is up 3 percent, and Harris fell 5 percent.

Malloy quipped, “Biden survives, Warren thrives and Harris dives as debate number two shakes up the primary.”

Cory Booker (D-NJ) stood at 2 percent in the most recent poll, tied for sixth place with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas. There are four candidates with 1 percent each and 14 candidates polling at less than 1 percent each. “Take a snapshot now, because for most of the contenders registering 1 percentage point or less, there will likely be no debate number 3,” Malloy said.

Editor’s note: The next Democratic candidate debate will very likely see far fewer candidates on September 12 (and 13th if needed). The New York Times reports that only 8 of the twenty candidates that met during the CNN debate have qualified for the third debate hosted by ABC and Univision but perhaps most notably, the debate will be held 11 hours from El Paso, in Houston, TX.

Rebecca Johnson is a copywriter, content creator, and website developer. She is a married mother of one who serves as vice-president of a nonprofit board, dabbles in genealogy research, and fosters rescue pets.