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As Democratic Field Gets Whiter, DNC Should “Press Pause” & Fix Process Shutting Out People of Color

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Within a day of President Trump’s impeachment, the Democratic presidential candidates held their final debate of the year at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. On the stage were Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, billionaire Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. Amna Nawaz, the first Pakistani American and first Muslim American to moderate a presidential primary debate, questioned Yang about being the only nonwhite candidate on the stage. We get response from Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Within a day of President Trump’s impeachment, the Democratic presidential candidates held their final debate of the year at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The debate was almost put on hold when the candidates vowed to boycott it if a labor dispute between a food workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 11, and the company Sodexo was not resolved. Negotiators announced on Tuesday they had reached a tentative contract agreement.

With the lead-off presidential caucuses in Iowa just six-and-a-half weeks away, candidates traded barbs and jokes, such as this exchange after moderator Tim Alberta of Politico asked them to respond to former President Obama, who recently said women were better leaders, and old men needed to get out of the way. Alberta noted Senator Bernie Sanders was the oldest candidate on the stage and then had this exchange with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

TIM ALBERTA: Senator Warren, you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. I’d like you to weigh in, as well.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining Senators Warren and Sanders on stage were Senator Amy Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, billionaire Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. This is Amna Nawaz, the first Pakistani American and first Muslim American to moderate a presidential primary debate, questioning Yang about being the only nonwhite candidate on the stage.

AMNA NAWAZ: The Democratic Party relies on black, Hispanic and Asian voters, but you are the only candidate of color on the stage tonight, and the entire field remains overwhelmingly white. What message do you think this sends to voters of color?

ANDREW YANG: It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight. I miss Kamala. I miss Cory, though I think Cory will be back. I grew up the son of immigrants, and I had many racial epithets used against me as a kid. But black and Latinos have something much more powerful working against them than words: They have numbers. The average net worth of a black household is only 10% that of a white household; for Latinos, it’s 12%. If you are a black woman, you’re 320% more likely to die from complications in childbirth. These are the numbers that define race in our country. And the question is: Why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage? Fewer than 5% of Americans donate to political campaigns. You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Today we host a roundtable discussion on the debate and the issues that came up, including immigration, climate, even for the first time the rights of transgender women of color. We’ll also look at who and what was left out, and who was and was not on the stage.

We begin in Washington, D.C., with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Kristen Clarke, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your response, overall, to the debate last night, and then this specific point, which was who was not on the stage: candidates of color — Kamala Harris has pulled out of the race, and, of course, then Cory Booker and Julián Castro, who are both still presidential candidates, excluded from this debate?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Yeah, the elephant in the room last night during the debate was the fact that virtually all of the candidates of color have been wiped out by the rules, the restrictions and the norms governing this process, but for Yang. I think that this is a moment that requires us to press pause and have a conversation about money in politics, about racially polarized voting patterns in our country. We’ve never had a woman serve as president, but we’ve also never had a person — we also deserve to have a process that yields a person of color on the ticket. And, you know, it is very clear that white, privileged candidates with tremendous amounts of personal wealth enjoy an unnatural advantage in this process.

I was glad to see some of the interviewers force a conversation about this very issue. There was a moment where the question was presented to Bernie Sanders, who started to divert a bit and talk about climate change, and the interviewer said, “No, I’m asking you a very explicit question about race.” So, we need to make sure that as the slate becomes whiter, that we’re still forcing the conversation about race and racism in our country and really pushing these candidates to articulate their position on issues that matter to African Americans in this country. At the end of the day, if we want energized turnout and participation among African Americans and Latinos, we have to make sure that the issues that matter to our communities are not wiped out from this debate. We need to make sure that this debate is not whitewashed at the end of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: So, 2020 presidential candidate New Jersey Senator Cory Booker may not have been invited on the debate stage last night, but he did use the debate to run his first televised campaign ad. It ran on cable in 22 markets, including in the four states that vote in February — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — as well as in Washington, New York and Los Angeles, the host city for the debate. The 30-second spot is part of a $500,000 digital and television ad buy. This is part of it.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: How long are these things? Thirty seconds? Are you sure we can afford this?

You’re only going to see this ad once, because I’m not a billionaire. I won’t be on tonight’s debate stage, but that’s OK, because I’m going to win this election anyway. This election isn’t about who can spend the most or who slings the most mud. It’s about the people. It’s about all of us standing together, fighting together, not just to beat Donald Trump, but to bring about the transformative change we need. Go to CoryBooker.com. Join us. I’m Cory Booker, and I approve this message.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Kristen Clarke, you got to pay to play. He had to pay to get into that debate. He was the commercial in between the floor debate.

KRISTEN CLARKE: Yeah. And, hey, Yang said that he thinks that Senator Booker will be back. I think it’s very clear that he’s not going away. He’s finding alternative ways to get his voice out there. But again, it really forces us to take a step back and say, “Why is it that this debate stage is becoming whiter and more male?” And I think it should force us to take a step back and think about the rules, the norms, the restrictions, the undue influence of money, privilege and power, and how that’s locking out voices of color from this process. I’m happy that Senator Booker is finding ways to connect with the electorate and get his message out there. But as we go into a new decade, into 2020, and think about what it will take to build a true multiracial democracy in our country, we have to be deeply concerned about the fact that this stage, as broad as it was, is getting whiter and more male by the day.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, last month, I co-moderated the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, and I asked presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren about the role of the order of the primaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking about racial injustice, do you think the order of the primary states should change? You have Iowa and New Hampshire … two of the whitest states in the country, and then we move to South Carolina with a very significant population of people of color, and it means the candidates spend so much of their time catering to those first two states. Overall, do you think that should change?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Look, I’m just a player in the game on this one.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Elizabeth Warren responding last month in a presidential forum we held in South Carolina. I wanted to bring Erika Andiola into the debate. Erika works with the group RAICES, an immigrant rights group. Can you respond to this issue of the two — two of the whitest states determining — two of the whitest states being the first two primary and caucuses?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, absolutely, it doesn’t help the case for people of color, in many ways. We saw — I mean, you know, your other guest also is really speaking to the fact that the more and more that we advance through time in the debates, the more people of color are left out. I definitely missed Julián Castro last night. I missed Cory Booker. And, you know, in some ways I disagree a lot with Kamala Harris, but in some ways it’s also important to see women of color in there. And it was not great to see that sometimes some candidates were asked about issues especially about either race or immigration — criminal justice reform didn’t come out as much — and either, you know, they changed the topic many times or just the topic doesn’t come up at all.

So, it has a huge impact on how they’re trying to cater to the first states. And most of them spend most of their time in Iowa right now, where there’s — there is a community. There is, you know, a Latino community. There is a very small community of people of color, compared to Nevada and other states. But it makes a difference in the way that they are really talking about the issues. And probably by the beginning of the year, they’re not going to talk too much about immigration or other issues that people of color care about.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, we spoke to the head of the Texas Democratic Party, who said that he has been trying to hold a presidential forum in Texas, and the candidates just keep saying — and this is particularly significant because of how long the lead-up to the first primaries and caucuses are — that these candidates say, “No, we’ve got to do the first states.” And, of course, Julián Castro has called for a change in the order.

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