So-called ‘moderates’ try, but fail, to knock off Warren, Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren embrace after the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates | AP

DETROIT—So-called Democratic Party “moderates,” including John Delaney, John Hickenlooper and Tim Ryan, tried to knock off Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the July 30 candidates’ debate in Detroit. They failed.

Led by former Maryland Rep. Delaney, the former Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper and current Ohio Rep. Ryan, the trailing hopefuls among the ten on stage in Detroit repeatedly declared that Vermont Independent Sanders and Massachusetts Democrat Warren were too “liberal,” i.e., progressive, to beat right-wing GOP President Donald Trump next year.

“We can go down the road Sanders and Warren want to take us – the Green New Deal and Medicare For All – and Donald Trump will win the White House. My platform is about real solutions, not impossible promises,” Delaney declared.

“Not one of the 40 new Democrats” in the U.S. House “share the policies of the frontrunners,” said Hickenlooper, gesturing at the two senators. “I created the #1 state economy in the country” in Colorado “and without massive government expenditures.”

Hickenlooper’s statement was wrong, as the most progressive of the 63 new Democrats share the two senators’ ideas, but nobody called him on it. Instead, the two senators went on the offense.

Warren shot back that Democrats will beat Trump only if they’re the party of big ideas, and detailed many of them, including repealing the Trump tax cut and diverting that saved money to pre-K education, paying child care workers a living wage and forgiving college student debt.

And Sanders kept campaigning for his biggest issue, Medicare For All, even after both Ryan and Delaney declared that union members would not want to give up their health insurance in favor of his government-run single-payer system. When Delaney said Medicare For All would give Trump the White House, Sanders bluntly shot back, “You’re wrong.”

The senator replied that, despite higher taxes to pay for it, the middle class would come out ahead without the deductibles, co-pays and denials the health insurers now foist on consumers. “Health care is a human right that applies to all people in this country.”

Consumers also wouldn’t have to pay high prices for prescription drugs, he said, because the government would set the prices Big Pharma must take – just like in Canada, across the river from Detroit.

“Giant corporations and billionaires are going to pay more” for health care, “and the middle class will pay less,” balancing out the taxes versus the end of the insurers, said Warren, who also backs Medicare For All. Delaney shot back that Medicare For All would close hospitals, due to inadequate payments.

Williamson, who has never held public office – she ran unsuccessfully for a California congressional seat several years ago – made one key point about health care the others overlooked. “We need to talk not about symptoms, but about the cause” of problems people face getting health care and paying for it, she said. “We don’t have a health care system, but a sick care system.”

The Detroit debate on July 30 was the first such encounter of the second round of discussions. Besides Sanders, Warren, Delaney, Ryan and Hickenlooper, the others on stage were South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, author Marianne Williamson, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The second Detroit debate, on July 31, will include the other co-leaders, former Vice President Joseph Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris, along with Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Washington Gov. Mike Inslee and others.

Health care wasn’t the only issue, but it consumed much of the debate. Others included gun control, energy and the environment and immigration.

Klobuchar was particularly vehement on that issue. “There is the will in Congress to pass the bill” for comprehensive immigration reform, including legalizing the Dreamers, she said. It would “give a clear path to citizenship” to undocumented people.

By contrast, Trump wants “to use them” – immigrants – “as political pawns. “If a mother and child break immigration rules” by seeking asylum in the U.S. from violence and war in their home countries “they are not criminals,” Sanders added. Warren agreed, but Trump makes them criminals, the hopefuls said.

The biggest disagreement on immigration came from Bullock, in his first debate appearance with the others. Taking a double shot at Sanders and others, he criticized the senator’s Medicare For All and his declaration that it would cover everyone, including undocumented people.

In a compromise Democratic President Barack Obama yielded, the nine-year-old Affordable Care Act specifically bars undocumented people from using the ACA’s exchanges for health care.

“If you decriminalize entry” into the U.S. “and give health care to everyone, you’ll have multiples of the hundreds of thousands” who now come northwards monthly from Central America, seeking asylum in the U.S, the Montanan said.

“You are playing into Donald Trump’s hands,” he told the progressives. “A sane immigration system needs a sane leader.” “What you’re saying is ‘Ignore the wall,’” Warren shot back. “Seeking refuge and seeking asylum is not a crime.”

In a pre-debate statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the contestants what the federation believes workers were listening for.

“America’s working people, even with all our differences, are united by a common dream. We don’t measure success by election results. Our pursuit of happiness is defined by working hard to live well, passing something better on to our children and retiring with dignity and security,” he said.

“Yet day after day, year after year and decade after decade, we have suffered countless injustices…countless insults to our dignity…all so the wealthiest CEOs could get even wealthier. Our economic rules have cheated us, and too often, our leaders have failed us. That must stop now.”

“We’re ready to do everything in our power to elect a leader who will make our cause their own.

“We’ll be listening for a candidate who will use the presidency to make our country work for working people…a candidate who will defend and strengthen our right to join a union…a candidate who will finally bring the era of corporate government to an end. We’re not settling for anything less.”

Despite their jousting, the hopefuls agreed on one goal: Ousting Trump from the Oval Office.

“Donald Trump disgraces the office every day,” said Warren, before becoming the only hopeful on the stage to promise she would support whomever the Democrats nominate next year. “We have to beat Donald Trump,” said Klobuchar, referencing, again, her union background as daughter of a Newspaper Guild member and a Teacher (AFT).

Trump “is part of a rigged system,” Warren added. “We need to be the party that fights for a democracy and an economy that works for everyone.” Ryan, despite his jabs at Warren and Sanders over health insurance, agreed with her on that point.

But she also was confident she’ll be the nominee, by building a mass grass-roots movement – which she has – centered around the big ideas the party needs to take to the voters.

“We have got to take on Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia, and start a revolution for all,” Sanders declared.

And Bullock made the point that unlike all the others, he’s won races for governor in a “red state” and could do so nationwide. Trump carried Montana by 20 percentage points in 2016 and the Democrats never seriously contested it. Two years before that, the AFL-CIO put what few resources it gave the Montana state fed into re-electing Bullock, writing off other races.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.