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“Most Important Issue for Most People”: Split on Healthcare Continues to Define 2020 Race

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Image Credit: Powers Imagery/NBC News/MSNBC

Healthcare continues to be a central issue of the Democratic nomination fight, with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren repeating their calls for Medicare for All on the debate stage Wednesday night while their rivals proposed more incremental approaches.

We continue our roundtable discussion on Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Nevada. Our guests are Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine, and a columnist for; journalist and activist Raquel Willis, executive editor of Out magazine, who has endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren for president; Ana María Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group that has endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders; Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston, now president of the Victory Fund, which works to increase the number of openly LGBTQ officials in government and has endorsed Pete Buttigieg for president.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, as we’re looking at that debate in Nevada last night. Yes, the Democratic debate in Las Vegas, where the six leading Democratic candidates faced off in one of the most contentious debates of the long primary season. This is Senator Elizabeth Warren criticizing her opponents’ healthcare plans.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Mayor Buttigieg really has a slogan that was thought up by his consultants to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to afford their healthcare. It’s not a plan; it’s a PowerPoint. And Amy’s plan is even less. It’s like a Post-It note: “Insert Plan Here.” Bernie has started very much — has a good start, but instead of expanding and bringing in more people to help, instead, his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work. And then his own advisers say, “Eh, probably won’t happen anyway.”

AMY GOODMAN: And this is a moderator, well, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, questioning Bernie Sanders.

CHUCK TODD: There are some Democrats who like you a lot but worry that this plan, Medicare for All, is going to take away private insurance and that it goes too far. Are they right?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: No. Let me be very clear. Two points. For a hundred years, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, this country has been talking about the need to guarantee healthcare for all people. And yet, today, despite spending twice as much per capita, Chuck, twice as much as any other major country on Earth, we got 87 million who are uninsured or underinsured. We got over 60,000 people who die every year because they don’t get to a doctor on time. We’re getting ripped off outrageously by the greed and corruption of the pharmaceutical industry, which in some cases charges us 10 times more for the same drugs because of their price fixing. Five hundred thousand people go bankrupt every year because they can’t afford medical bills.

So let me be very clear to my good friends in the Culinary Workers Union, a great union: I will never sign a bill that will reduce the healthcare benefits they have. We will only expand it for them, for every union in the America and for the working class of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is MSNBC moderator Chuck Todd questioning Senator Sanders. Oh, that was what we just heard. We’re going to go now to Ana María Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. That’s the progressive advocacy group that has endorsed Senator Sanders. Ana María, respond to the debate last night, and particularly talk about healthcare.

ANA MARÍA ARCHILA: Well, healthcare continues to be the most important issue for most people in this country. I knocked on doors in New Hampshire leading up to the primaries there. I knocked on doors in Nevada just a few days ago. And every person I spoke to said that healthcare was their number one issue. I met a young woman, Puerto Rican woman in New Hampshire, who told me that she pays $11,000 in premiums. She makes around $35,000 a year. And then she has to pay $5,000 deductible. And the health insurance that she has does not cover the things she needs.

What Senator Sanders has committed to do is to make sure that everyone in this country can access healthcare without having to pay anything at the point of service, that all of us are going to contribute something to make sure that everyone can go to the doctor, that no one goes bankrupt because they have an illness, that no one has to choose between paying their rent and paying their healthcare. This is the most important issue for people across this country. And a commitment, a clear-eyed commitment, to Medicare for All is the only way to make sure that we stop having this morally bankrupt system that prioritizes profit for insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies over the lives of people.

There was a study recently published by Yale University that documents how Medicare for All will save over $400 million a year for people in this country, and 60,000 lives. The debate that is happening inside the Democratic Party about healthcare is actually about — it’s not just about healthcare; it’s about what kind of democracy we have, what role does government play in people’s lives. Bernie says the role that government should play is one of making sure that people have everything they need to live with dignity — healthcare, access to college without having to be burdened by debt forever, access to housing, the ability to take care of their families. And what centrist Democrats and billionaires like Mike Bloomberg say is, “No, we need to — the party should focus on still continuing to prioritize the needs of the 1%.” And that is not what people want. And that’s why millions and millions of people in this country are excited by Bernie Sanders’ campaign and see themselves reflected in his platform and see in him someone they can trust, someone who they believe, because he has been very consistent for decades about the kinds of politics that he believes our country and our people deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to also ask you, Ana María Archila, who’s just back from Nevada, then you’re heading to go back there right away —


AMY GOODMAN: — about this questioning of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

VANESSA HAUC: Senator Klobuchar, you’re running on your Washington experience. But last week in a Telemundo interview, you could not name the president of Mexico or discuss any of his policies. Last night, you defended yourself, saying, quote, “This isn’t Jeopardy!” But my question to you is: Shouldn’t our next president know more about one of our largest trading partners?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Of course. Of course. And I don’t think that that momentary forgetfulness actually reflects what I know about Mexico and how much I care about it. And I first want to say greetings to President López Obrador. Secondly, I — what I meant by the game of Jeopardy! is that I think we could all come up with things. You know, how many members are there in the Israeli Knesset? One hundred twenty. Who is the president of Honduras?

VANESSA HAUC: Senator Klobuchar —


PETE BUTTIGIEG: I wouldn’t liken this to trivia. I actually didn’t know how many members were in the Knesset, so you got me there.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, there you go.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: But you’re staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade. You’re literally in part of the committee that’s overseeing these things, and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Are you — are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete? I said —

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I’m saying that you shouldn’t trivialize that knowledge.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: — I made an error. People sometimes forget names. I am the one that has — number one, has the experience based on passing over 100 bills.

VANESSA HAUC: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: If I could respond? This was a pretty big allegation.

VANESSA HAUC: Quickly, please.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: He’s basically saying that I don’t have the experience to be president of the United States. I have passed over 100 bills as the lead Democrat since being in the U.S. Senate. I am the one, not you, that has won statewide in congressional district after congressional district. And I will say, when you tried in Indiana, Pete, to run, what happened to you? You lost by over 20 points to someone who later lost to my friend Joe Donnelly. So don’t tell me about experience. What unites us here is we want to win.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: And I think we should put a proven winner in charge of the ticket.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: This is a race for —

VANESSA HAUC: A quick response, Mayor Buttigieg.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: This is a race for president. If winning a race for Senate in Minnesota translated directly to becoming president, I would have grown up under the presidency of Walter Mondale. This is different. … This is important.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Can I just defend Senator Klobuchar for a minute? This is not right. I understand that she forgot a name. It happens. It happens to everybody on this stage. Look, you want to ask about whether or not you understand trade policy with Mexico, have at it. And if you get it wrong, man, you ought to be held accountable for that. You want to ask about the economy and you get it wrong, you ought to be held accountable. You want to ask about a thousand different issues and you get it wrong, you ought to be held accountable. But let’s just be clear: Missing a name all by itself does not indicate that you do not understand what’s going on. And I just think this is unfair.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Senator Elizabeth Warren; before that, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and, of course, Senator Amy Klobuchar. Ana María Archila, your response to her forgetting? Also, Tom Steyer, the billionaire presidential candidate, also said he could not remember AMLO’s name.

ANA MARÍA ARCHILA: I mean, listen, we’re not talking about a country far away from here. We’re talking about the biggest neighbor, the country that — with whom we have been negotiating border policy, the country from where most immigrants in this country come from. You have to know the name of the president of Mexico. You have to know who he is and what he stands for. López Obrador represents a whole transformation of Mexican politics. You cannot run for president and not know the basic facts. I understand people forget things in a moment. It did not seem like Senator Klobuchar had much to say about who López Obrador is or what he represents.

It also speaks to the lack of attention to international policy, to border policy, to migration policy in all of these debates. We saw one question on immigration, the very last question. Only Senator Klobuchar was asked, and she was allowed to speak for several minutes on just platitudes about DREAMers, when, in reality, my community, immigrant communities, have been under attack in this administration relentlessly. People have been separated from their children at the border. People have been terrorized all over the country. There is a steady attack against local elected officials that are trying to protect residents of cities, in sanctuary cities. And the debate last night was basically just allowing Amy Klobuchar, who just a few days before made really disparaging and silly, pandering jokes in her conversation with the culinary workers — to allow her to just speak about DREAMers without talking about the importance of undoing the immigration enforcement system that’s hurting families and terrorizing communities, without asking her or any of the other candidates about how they will use their executive power to protect immigrants, to abolish ICE, to break up Border Patrol, to stop deportations. There was so much more to discuss, and the debate, again, like many of the other debates, did not go there.

AMY GOODMAN: As you said, there was only one question on immigration, but there were protesters —

ANA MARÍA ARCHILA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: — who interrupted Vice President Biden at the end, as they chanted “You deported 3 million people,” “No kids in cages,” “Don’t look away.”

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