Donald Trump skipped the second Republican presidential debate of the 2024 race on Wednesday, declining once again to share a stage with competitors for the nomination whom he leads in the polls by double digits. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie criticized Trump for his absence, but most of the seven candidates avoided direct attacks on the front-runner. Instead, they largely aimed their fire at President Joe Biden — and each other. We air highlights from the debate, including the candidates’ remarks on the UAW strike, immigration and the economy.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We begin today’s show with the second Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 race. Seven contenders faced off Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. As with the first debate, the Republican front-runner, former President Donald Trump, did not attend. He met with workers at a nonunion auto parts factory in the battleground state of Michigan, where he attacked President Biden’s support for electric cars one day after Biden’s visit to Detroit, when he became the first sitting president in U.S. history to stand with autoworkers on the picket line. During the debate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Trump was “missing in action,” and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tried out a new nickname for Trump.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: And I want to look at that camera right now and tell you: Donald, I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself. I know you’re watching. OK? And you’re not here tonight, not because of polls and not because of your indictments; you’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on the stage and defending your record. You’re ducking these things. And let me tell you what’s going to happen: You keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore; we’re going to call you Donald Duck.
AMY GOODMAN: For much of the debate, criticism focused on Democrats as the candidates spoke over each other and over the moderators. This is former Vice President Mike Pence and Chris Christie responding to moderator Ilia Calderón of Univision.
ILIA CALDERÓN: The government will shut down if Congress does not reach a deal by the end of this week. Vice President Pence warns that politics of, quote, “Trump’s populist protégés,” like Mr. Ramaswamy, are a road to ruin for the GOP. If the government shuts down, should voters blame populist Republicans?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Voters should blame everybody who’s in Washington, D.C. They get sent down there to do the job, and they’ve been failing at doing the job for a very long time. And let’s be honest about this with the voters. You know, during the Trump administration, they added $7 trillion — $7 trillion — in national debt. And now the Biden administration has put another $5 trillion on and counting. They have failed, and they’re in the spot they’re in now because none of them are willing to tell the truth. None of them are willing to take on the difficult issues. They just want to keep kicking the can down the road. And the inflation that Nikki spoke about is absolutely right, and it’s caused by government spending. And that’s why people all across this country are suffering tonight.
And yet we don’t get any answers, because Joe Biden hides in his basement and won’t answer as to why he’s raising the debt the way he’s done. And Donald Trump hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and won’t show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us are up here to answer. He put $7 trillion on the debt. He should be in this room to answer those questions for the people you talk about who are suffering.
MIKE PENCE: Can I speak about that?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: And if the government — and if the government closes — and if the government closes —
MIKE PENCE: Can I speak about that?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: — it’s the blame — it is to the blame of everyone in Washington, D.C., who has failed to do their job and just plays to the grandstand.
ILIA CALDERÓN: Governor DeSantis, you haven’t spoken. Please.
GOV. RON DESANTIS: The people in Washington are shutting down the American dream with their reckless behavior. They borrowed. They printed. They spent. And now you’re paying more for everything. They are the reason for that. They have shut down our national sovereignty by allowing our border to be wide open. So please spare me the crocodile tears for these people. They need to change what’s going on.
And where’s Joe Biden? He’s completely missing in action from leadership. And you know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record, where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt. That set the stage for the inflation that we have now.
I could tell you this: As governor of Florida, we cut taxes. We ran surpluses. We’ve paid down over 25% of our state debt. And I vetoed wasteful spending when it came to my desk. And as your president, when they send me a bloating spending bill that’s going to cause your prices to go up, I’m going to take out this veto pen, and I am going to send it right back to them.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The economy was one of the debate’s main topics. This is the moderator Dana Perino of Fox News — she’s the former White House press spokesperson for President George W. Bush — and her fellow moderator, Fox Business host Stuart Varney, with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott responding first.
DANA PERINO: Americans want to believe a leader who says, “You can follow me. I’ve got you. Don’t worry.” President Biden is trying to do that with Bidenomics.
STUART VARNEY: And yesterday, he joined the picket lines, where autoworkers are demanding more wages and job security. Senator Scott, you recently reacted by praising Ronald Reagan for firing air traffic controllers in the 1980s, saying, “You strike, you’re fired.” Would you fire thousands of striking autoworkers today, Senator?
SEN. TIM SCOTT: Obviously, the president of the United States cannot fire anybody in the private sector. However, we should look back at the first bill in Congress under Joe Biden. The first bill had $86 billion for the union pensions, because they continue to overpromise yet underdeliver. One of the challenges that we have in the current negotiations is that they want four-day French workweeks but more money. They want more benefits working fewer hours. That is simply not going to stand. I sat in a Finance Committee hearing when a widow came before the committee who was promised pensions from the unions, $4,000 a month. Unfortunately, it had been cut to a thousand dollars a month. We must make sure that we honor the commitments that we make. And one of the ways that we do that, do not overpromise and then underdeliver and leave the taxpayers on the hook.
I’ll say this: Joe Biden should not be on the picket line; he should be on the southern border working to close our southern border, because it is unsafe, wide open and insecure, leading to the deaths of 70,000 Americans in the last 12 months because of fentanyl. It is devastating. Every county in America is now a border county, because fentanyl has devastated Americans in every single state. I will also say 6 million illegal crossings since Joe Biden has taken office, and he eliminated Title 42. The one thing he should do is finish the wall, reinstate Title 42 and get the job done.
DANA PERINO: Well, I can promise you that we are going to have a lot of questions on the border and immigration. But in the meantime, we do want to talk about the economy and jobs, and especially want to talk about this strike for just a moment more.
STUART VARNEY: Together, the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis make 336 times the number of rank-and — the number of rank-and-file workers. That’s just part of a wider income inequality trend in the country. The richest 1% now controls one-fifth of all income. Vice President Pence, last week you said you side with American workers, but you also support how these companies operate. Which is it?
MIKE PENCE: Well, thank you for the question. I want to thank Univision and Fox Business for assembling such a wonderful forum. Look, I do disagree with something Tim Scott just said. Joe Biden doesn’t belong on a picket line; he belongs on the unemployment line. I mean, look, I’m from the second leading manufacturing state in the country per capita. I was governor of the state of Indiana. We brought 12,000 factories back to America during our administration. I know something about manufacturing. And I’ve got to tell you, while — while the union bosses are talking about class warfare and talking about disparity in wages, I have to tell you, I really believe what’s driving that is Bidenomics has failed. Wages are not keeping up with inflation. Autoworkers and all American workers are feeling it, and families are struggling in this economy. And Joe Biden’s Green New Deal agenda is good for Beijing and bad for Detroit. We ought to repeal the Green New Deal, get rid of the mandates and subsidies that are driving American gasoline, automotive manufacturing into the graveyard. And beyond that also, as president of the United States, I’ll be standing with workers all across America, and I’ll be standing for the right to work of every American to join a union or not join a union as they decide.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence. During the debate, New Jersey Governor — former Governor Chris Christie also criticized President Biden’s support for teachers’ unions, prompting this exchange with Pence.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: And what we did was institute more charter schools and more Renaissance schools and more public school choice in New Jersey with innovative solutions in cities like Camden, where now we took what was the worst school district in America during my time, and we have now increased that by nearly 40% in terms of their proficiency. It can be done when you give people choice.
But let’s tell the truth to everybody about what this is. This public school system is no longer run by the public. It is run by the teachers’ unions in this country. Randi Weingarten and her crew are absolutely strangling. They are taking the worst of their members and defending them rather than advocating for our kids. And when you have the president of the United States sleeping with a member of the teachers’ union, there is no chance that you could take the stranglehold away from the teachers’ union every day. They have an advocate inside the White House every day for the worst of their teachers, not for our students to be the best they can be. A president of the United States has to take on the teachers’ union. I did it in New Jersey, and I will do it as president of the United States.
MIKE PENCE: Because, by way of full disclosure — Chris, you mentioned the president’s situation — my wife isn’t a member of the teachers’ union, but I’ve got to admit, I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years.