Bennet Draws Contrasts With Harris In Second Dem Debate, Saves Real Fire For The President

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Election 2020 Debate
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Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet focused much of his ire during the second presidential debate on the current occupant of the office he’s seeking.

“I believe we have a moral obligation to beat Donald Trump. He has to be a single term president. And we can’t do anything that plays into his hands,” he said.

Still, on the second night of the debate, the CNN moderators continued to ask questions that focused less on the president than on pitting these candidates against one another. For Bennet, that meant taking on fellow Sen. Kamala Harris of California on health care and immigration.

The two sparred over Harris’ ‘Medicare for All’ plan. She wants to build on Medicare Advantage to create a system that would not be run by the government, but by private insurers. Bennet charged that Harris’ proposal would end employer-based health insurance and raise taxes “to the tune of $30 trillion dollars.”

“We need to be honest about what’s in this plan,” he argued. 

Harris parried back to “her friend” that one goal of her plan is to separate employers from health care so that the care a person gets is not a function of where they work. Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also supports Medicare for All, got into the act saying Bennet was “fear mongering.” Bennet got some support from former Vice President Joe Biden, who called the Medicare for All proposals “malarkey.”

In contrast to the more progressive proposals, Bennet touted his Medicare-X health plan, which would build on the Affordable Care Act, but also offer a public option and require the government to negotiate lower drug prices.

Harris and Bennet also squared off over immigration. Bennet believes crossing the border illegally should remain a criminal offense, while Harris argues border crossing should be handled in civil courts and that making it a crime empowers inhumane treatment of migrants. But both were united in their criticism of President Trump’s handling of the border.

“There’s not a single person on this stage, who if we were president, would ever separate a child from their parents at the border,” Bennet said. “That is what this administration has done in the American people’s name. They have turned our border into a symbol of nativist hostility. The symbol of this country before Donald Trump was president was the Statue of Liberty. That should be the symbol of the United States of America.”

Bennet’s loudest applause of the night came for his answer on how he would heal the nation’s racial divide. Drawing on his background as superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, Bennet said segregation in education remains a significant problem.

“Our schools are as segregated today as they were 50 years ago. We need a conversation about what's happening now,” he said.

Whether Bennet’s performance will give him a needed boost with donors and in the polls remains to be seen. With ten candidates on the stage, Bennet’s total speaking time was just over 10 minutes, out of the more than two and a half hour long debate. The candidates who got the most time were Biden and Harris. 

To make the stage on the third debate in September, candidates will have to achieve 2 percent or better in four polls and amass at least 130,000 donors. According to NPR, only seven candidates have qualified so far. Bennet, and his fellow Coloradan John Hickenlooper, are not currently among them.