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Medicare Disputes and Court-Packing: The Fourth Democratic Presidential Debate

Tuesday night marked the fourth Democratic debate in this election thus far, which was held in Westerville, Ohio and was co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times. Here were some of the major highlights:

Winners & Losers

Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg were arguably the top winners of last night’s debate. Both never hesitated to voice their disagreements and challenge the other candidates, especially the frontrunners. They acted assertively without resorting to pettiness and managed to keep themselves in the spotlight. Considering that neither of them is leading in the polls, their stand out moments in the debate may give them a popularity boost in the near future.

While Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Vice President Joe Biden—in essence, the three frontrunners—still stood out, they appeared to be losing some of their luster compared to the newer candidates. Warren, in particular, was put on the defensive over health care, one of the most divisive issues of the debate. Sanders was not as outspoken as in previous debates.

The two non-politicians on the stage, businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, were relatively quiet throughout the debate, save for a moment when Sanders affirmed that he would tax billionaires out of existence, and Steyer (the lone billionaire on the stage) agreed with him.


The debate was moderated by CNN correspondents Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and Mark Lacey. While sparring between the candidates was not as frequent as in the last debate that CNN moderated, the moderators did encourage the candidates to argue with each other, especially during the health care section of the debate.

The moderators also gave the candidates seventy-five seconds for statements, forty-five for rebuttals, and fifteen for clarifications. As a result, the candidates often ran overtime.

The candidates often did not answer questions in a linear fashion. They would retreat to some big, general point and then try to narrow it down to the answer to the question before time ran out. Though their answers to questions were sometimes unclear, the moderators rarely pushed them to clarify.


Every candidate agreed that President Trump should be impeached. Their language was similar to the Democrats’ statements during the House Mueller testimonies: the candidates called Trump “corrupt”, stated that no one is above the law, that Trump should be held accountable for his actions and mentioned the obstruction of justice found in the Mueller report. Castro and businessman Tom Steyer also claimed that most of the American people support impeachment, which may be true. The claim that the Democrats “have no choice” but to attempt to impeach Trump was also echoed.

This is a marked shift from the previous debates, in which impeachment was mentioned very little, if at all, and certainly wasn’t the first issue of the night.

Health Care

In the past debates, the biggest sparring among the Democrats has revolved around health care. More radical Democrats are in favor of Medicare For All, which would mandate that every U.S. citizen receive government health insurance. More centrist Democrats support a “public option”, or optional government health insurance available to everyone.

Warren was asked if her Medicare For All plan would tax the middle class, and she reiterated that the costs of health care would increase for rich Americans and decrease for the middle class. The moderator said that Warren had previously endorsed Sanders’s health care plan in which he admitted that he would raise taxes on the middle class, and asked again if taxes would increase under her plan.

When Warren refused to provide a yes-or-no answer to this question, she was criticized by Buttigieg and Klobuchar, both of whom support a public health care option. Buttigieg argued for his plan, Medicare For All Who Want It (which Warren labeled “Medicare For All Who Can Afford It”) that would give people a choice as to what kind of health insurance they wanted. Klobuchar went on the offensive, saying that “at least Bernie has been honest” about raising taxes on the middle class. She also said that the “difference between a plan and a pipe dream” is whether or not a plan is feasible. This captures the main disagreement among Democrats: the choice between bold, sweeping ideas that may be harder to actually implement, and smaller, more moderate plans that are easier to pass.

Foreign Policy

While all of the candidates agreed that Trump cannot be trusted to make foreign policy decisions, they diverged on whether or not U.S. troops should be sent back to Syria. Representative Tulsi Gabbard repeatedly called for an end to the “regime change war” in Syria and that therefore she would not return troops to the region. Buttigieg supported keeping troops in Syria to preserve American allyships. Biden and Klobuchar agreed that they would also send troops back to Syria.

Steyer, former Representative Beto O’Rourke and Senator Cory Booker also specified that, in general, they wanted the U.S. to play a bigger diplomatic role on the global stage.

Assault Weapons

The candidates all demonstrated support for stricter gun control, but they conflicted over whether assault weapon ownership should be curtailed through mandatory buybacks (forcing gun owners to hand over their guns to the government) or voluntary buybacks (gun owners choosing whether to turn in their guns to the government).

O’Rourke was questioned for his mandatory buyback plan, as his website states that he will find people who don’t turn in their assault rifles. He said he believed that the people would do the right thing and brought up polls (that Democrats often cite) that show that most gun owners support gun control. Buttigieg claimed that it was unrealistic of O’Rourke to expect so much compliance with his plan. Biden agreed and added that he supported an assault rifle registry. Castro was also opposed to mandatory buybacks because of the possibility of police intervention.

Senator Kamala Harris stated that if she was President, she would impose gun control via executive orders if Congress refused to act.

Opioid Epidemic

Businessman Andrew Yang said that he would decriminalize heroin to mitigate the mass incarceration of opioid addicts.

O’Rourke, Harris, and Castro all agreed that they would send the CEOs of major pharmaceutical corporations to jail.

The Supreme Court

When Biden was asked if he would pack the Supreme Court to preserve women’s reproductive rights, he said he wouldn’t. However, Buttigieg said that he would expand the Court to fifteen judges and that the last five would be appointed only with unanimous agreement of the other ten, in order to “depoliticize” the Court. Both Buttigieg and Castro said that they also wanted term limits on Supreme Court Justices, though it’s questionable how they would make that happen.

What type of Democrat is most likely to beat Trump in 2020?

This was the overarching question of this debate and previous debates, but it was addressed directly by the candidates in the last hour. Biden, the main moderate, placed emphasis on “getting things done”, and Sanders retorted that, under such a mindset, Biden managed to get the war in Iraq and bad trade deals done. He and Warren reiterated their commitment to big, bold ideas, with Warren bringing up the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as an example. Klobuchar and O’Rourke pointed out their many wins in red areas as proof that they could get Republicans to work with them while still maintaining a progressive agenda. Booker pointed out, as he has in previous debates, how it would be more helpful to the Democratic party and cause if the Democrats didn’t attack each other. The correct answer to this question remains unknown.

The next Democratic debate will be on November 20.

Featured image screenshotted from CNN coverage

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