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Dolores Huerta & Cornel West Respond to Democratic Debate as Biden & Harris Face Harsh Scrutiny

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Ten presidential hopefuls took the stage Wednesday evening for the second night of a Democratic debate in Detroit. During the night, former Vice President Joe Biden defended his record after facing numerous attacks on his record on criminal justice, the Iraq War, immigration and women’s rights. Senator Kamala Harris also faced criticism over her record as California attorney general. We speak to the legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta, who is co-chair of Kamala Harris’s campaign, and Harvard professor Cornel West, who has endorsed Bernie Sanders.

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ten presidential hopefuls took the stage Wednesday evening for a second night of a Democratic debate in Detroit. During the night, former Vice President Joe Biden defended his record after facing numerous attacks on his record on criminal justice, the Iraq War, immigration and women’s rights.

JOE BIDEN: Everybody’s talking about how terrible I am on these issues. Barack Obama knew exactly who I was. He had—he had 10 lawyers do a background check on everything about me, on civil rights, on civil liberties. And he chose me, and he said it was the best decision he made. I’ll take his judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand received some of the loudest applause of the night when she outlined what she would do first as president.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: The first thing that I’m going to do when I’m president is I’m going to Clorox the Oval Office. The second thing I’m going to do is I will reengage on global climate change. And I will not only sign the Paris global climate accords, but I will lead a worldwide conversation about the urgency of this crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Much of the debate focused on domestic policy, but Hawaii Congressmember Tulsi Gabbard made a link between U.S. wars overseas and deteriorating infrastructure at home.

REP. TULSI GABBARD: I’m speaking the truth to people all across this country about the fact that people in Flint, Michigan, are still being left behind, still being poisoned by the water in their system, because every single month we are spending $4 billion on a continuing war in Afghanistan—$4 billion every single month—rather than ending that war, bringing our troops home and using those precious resources into serving the needs of the people here in this country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: There were no questions about Iran during the debate, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to raise the issue.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: We’re on a march to war in Iran right now, and we blew by it.

DON LEMON: Please, Mayor, the rules. Please follow the rules.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I respect the rules, but we have to stop—

DON LEMON: Mayor—Mayor, thank you very much.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: —this march to war in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: The first portion of the debate focused heavily on healthcare. This is CNN moderator Dana Bash.

DANA BASH: I want to start the debate with one of the top priorities for Democratic voters, and that is healthcare. Senator Harris, this week you released a new healthcare plan, which would preserve private insurance and take 10 years to phase in. Vice President Biden’s campaign calls your plan, quote, “a have-it-every-which-way approach” and says it’s just part of a “confusing pattern of equivocating about” your healthcare stance. What do you say to that?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Well, they’re probably confused because they have not read it. But the reality is that I have been spending time in this campaign listening to American families, listening to experts, listening to healthcare providers. And what I came away with is a very clear understanding that I needed to create a plan that was responsive to the needs of the American people.

JOE BIDEN: The senator has had several plans so far. And anytime someone tells you you’re going to get something good in 10 years, you should wonder why it takes 10 years. If you noticed, there’s no talk about the fact that the plan, in 10 years, will cost $3 trillion. You will lose your employer-based insurance. And, in fact, you know, this is the single most important issue facing the public. And to be very blunt and to be very straightforward, you can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan.

DANA BASH: Your response, Senator Harris?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Absolutely. Unfortunately, Vice President Biden, you’re just simply inaccurate in what you’re describing. The reality is that our plan will bring healthcare to all Americans under a Medicare for All system. Our plan will allow people to start signing up on the first day. Babies will be born into our plan. And right now, 4 million babies almost are born every day in America—or, every year in America. Under our plan, we will ensure that everyone has access to healthcare. Your plan, by contrast, leaves out almost 10 million Americans.

JOE BIDEN: The plan, no matter how you cut it, costs $3 trillion when it is in fact employed, number one, 10 years from now, after two terms of the senator being president—after her time. Secondly, it will require middle-class taxes to go up, not down. Thirdly, it will eliminate employer-based insurance. And fourthly, what happens in the meantime?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I’d like to respond. First of all, the cost of doing nothing is far too expensive. Second, we are now paying $3 trillion a year for healthcare in America. Over the next 10 years, it’s probably going to be $6 trillion. We must act.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two guests. Dr. Cornel West is professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University. He was at the debate the last two nights in Detroit, also standing outside in large rallies. He’s endorsed Bernie Sanders. And in Sacramento, California, we’re joined by legendary labor leader, renowned civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. She’s the president and founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing, also co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez. Dolores Huerta is California co-chair for Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign, along with Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We’ll have a very interesting hour, playing highlights of the debate and getting both of your responses. Dolores Huerta, let’s begin with you in Sacramento. Your thoughts on the debate over these last two nights, the second of the series, as 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls spar to become the president of the United States?

DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I just have to say that as a woman of color, to me, it is really gratifying to see that some of these subjects, such as racism, the issues of police issues, that they’re finally being debated. These were issues that we’ve had in our country for, you know, a hundred years, but nobody ever spoke to them or about them. And to see that they are now, you might say, priorities in terms of the debates and other conversations that are taking place right now, I think that is important, because we’re not going to be able to solve any of these issues, especially racism, unless we start talking about them, bringing them out, making sure that people can debate about them, not only the reasons, but also what we have to do to eliminate these divisive issues that we have in our country. And so, I believe that all of the conversations that are being held right now with the debates are much more progressive, the issues, than they were, say, during the last elections.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Cornel West, your response to the debate? I mean, you suggested that there was too much of an obsession with former Vice President Joe Biden, and also that there were far too many people on the stage.

CORNEL WEST: Yeah. I mean, I think that what we actually witnessed in the last two days is the ways in which the Democratic establishment, this kind of last gasp of the old neoliberal project within the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, is moving toward a state of panic. The real vitality and vibrancy was actually seen the first night, with my dear brother Bernie Sanders and sister Elizabeth Warren. And as much as I salute Sister Dolores in my beloved hometown of Sacramento, that Sister Harris, Senator Harris, is trying to play it both ways: She’s a neoliberal, certain parts; she wants to be progressive in other ways. But it’s going to be the consistency, the vibrancy and those who actually have the vision.

And so, the old Democratic establishment is beginning now to recognize the crisis that it’s been in for a long time. And it was both sad as well as fascinating. It was sad because when you really look at the condition of the country, the empire—in deep decline and decay, levels of poverty, militarism running amok, neofascism escalating with Trump, middle class, working class devastated—the last thing you need is incremental small talk, that you’re getting more and more out of the establishment. And so, I hope that the Democratic Party can meet the challenge. But in the past, it’s had a tremendous difficulty meeting the challenge when it comes to poor and working people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion. We are joined by longtime civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, founder, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. And we’re joined by Professor Cornel West. Interestingly, Dolores is in the hometown of Professor West in Sacramento.

CORNEL WEST: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And Dr. West is in Detroit at the major site of these debates. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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“You Owe Them an Apology”: Tulsi Gabbard Slams Kamala Harris on Her Record as California AG

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