On Nov. 20, amid a week dominated by impeachment news, ten Democratic candidates for president gathered for a fifth time to debate the issues and make their case for the nomination. Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren each offered policies that fit a broad liberal vision to improve Americans’ quality of life, while former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders also took the opportunity to make strong points on important issues. Below is a breakdown of the best policy answers for each issue raised during the debate.
Strongest answer: Elizabeth Warren
After a marathon day of impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill, it was no surprise to see the topic open the debate. In addition to reiterating her support for impeachment and removal, Warren emphasized that she would not give ambassadorial posts to big campaign donors, an effective jab at U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who donated $1 million to President Donald Trump.
Strongest answer: Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren
Sanders’ criticisms of the American health care system are correct: its cruelty and dysfunction are intolerable in any nation, let alone one as materially wealthy as the U.S. However, his single-payer health insurance plan lacks support in the public, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. This issue is too important to gamble on an all-or-nothing proposal that risks costing a Democratic government its chance at meaningful reform. Biden and Warren showed they understood the need for workable policy by proposing more moderate solutions that would provide immediate relief, though Warren went a step further and proposed a full single-payer system in year three of her presidency.
Strongest answer: Kamala Harris
Paid family leave is among the most impactful policies a Democratic administration could implement. In defending her proposal for six months leave over the three proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Harris emphasized that as Americans, especially working women, have children later in life, they often need to balance raising a child with taking care of their own aging parents. A generous policy would help alleviate those burdens and give working Americans the support they need to build families.
Best answer: Cory Booker
You don’t need to go far from campus to find evidence of America’s growing housing crisis; affordable housing is a key priority for the Athens-Clarke County Commission. Booker proposed a tax credit to renters who spend more than a third of their income on rent, while also advocating for giving legal representation to people facing eviction. These policies, in tandem with efforts to dramatically expand the construction of affordable housing, would lessen the burden of rent without imposing distortionary price controls and prevent landlords from using the court system as a cudgel against tenants.
Strongest answer: Bernie Sanders
When asked about the need to build a climate policy that would survive beyond their presidencies, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, entrepreneur Tom Steyer and Biden each offered a slew of important measures to reduce fossil fuel subsidies, invest in clean energy and create jobs in the renewable energy sector. Sanders discussed policies too, but he also took the opportunity to re-emphasize the urgency of the climate crisis. The effects of climate change are happening now, so a national response needs to embody the urgency that this issue demands.
Strongest answer: Joe Biden and Cory Booker
Foreign policy is an area where the president has significant impact, so the distinctions between the candidates on this front have important consequences. Not only did Biden advocate for diplomatically isolating Saudi Arabia in response to the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ongoing war in Yemen, he also directly named China’s concentration camps for Uighur Muslims as a reason to put pressure on Beijing. Booker discussed the need to show strength in the face of China’s human rights abuses, condemning the brutal repression of student activists in Hong Kong. Additionally, he emphasized the need for the U.S. to live up to its own values by protecting human rights along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Strongest answer: Elizabeth Warren
Warren was asked a difficult question about her willingness to oppose Democratic anti-abortion politicians in red states, and did not fully answer it. Notably, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who was reelected on Nov. 16, signed into law a stridently anti-abortion heartbeat law. It’s an uncomfortable discussion for a party that’s moving in a more strictly pro-choice direction, but Warren gave a vigorous defense of a liberal abortion policy, noting that abortion restrictions tend to fall harsher on working-class women than the wealthy.