2020 Dems debate healthcare, immigration, and criminal justice in Houston



Ballotpedia's Daily Presidential News Briefing

September 13, 2019: Ten 2020 Democratic candidates debated healthcare, immigration, criminal justice, and other issues in Houston. Tom Steyer released an impeachment ad against Donald Trump.

     Each Friday, we’ll highlight a presidential candidate’s key campaign staffer.
Daily Presidential News Briefing - Staffer Spotlight - Michael Glassner

Michael Glassner is a Republican strategist and longtime Bob Dole aide with extensive experience in management. Glassner graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in political science in 1985.

Previous campaign work:

  • 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign, deputy campaign manager
  • 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, director of vice presidential operations
  • 2000 George Bush presidential campaign, Iowa advisor
  • 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign, senior political advisor
  • 1992 Bob Dole U.S. Senate campaign, campaign manager
  • 1988 Bob Dole presidential campaign, executive assistant to the candidate

Other experience:

  • 2008 – present: C&M Transcontinental, president
  • 2014-2015: American Israel Public Affairs Committee, regional political director for the southwest
  • 2001-2008: IDT Corporation, senior vice president for external affairs
  • 1998-2001: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, chief of staff to the chairman
  • 1998-2001: The International Commission on Missing Persons, senior advisor to the chairman
  • 1986-2001: Staff of U.S. Senator Bob Dole

What he says about Trump:

“Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump had absolutely no interest in the conventional approach followed by all establishment politicians, as this president has always been his own best strategist…President Trump took a calculated gamble with his unorthodox reelection strategy, and the bet is paying off — huge!”

Notable Quotes of the Day

“A 10-person debate is difficult to pull off, and ABC deserves credit for producing an event that liberated the participants from the tyranny of overly strict timing. The less frantic pace of the discussion meant the candidates did not feel the need to interrupt the moderators and each other, which made this a more watchable debate than some. Does it change anything? Doubtful. Was it a decent debate? Yes.”

– Alan Schroeder, professor at Northeastern University

“This was not a debate that will live in history. One reason is the awful format. Sit the candidates around a table, four or five at a time, with a trained facilitator, and have conversations about subjects that matter—such as the climate crisis that ABC apparently felt wasn’t critical enough to discuss except in passing.”

– Larry Sabato, Center for Politics founder

Debate Night

Ten Democratic presidential candidates debated Thursday night in Houston, Texas. The candidates discussed Medicare for All, criminal justice, international trade agreements, gun violence, military strategy in Afghanistan, education, and climate change. Joe Biden had the most speaking time at 17.4 minutes. Andrew Yang spoke the least at 7.9 minutes. Here are the highlights:

  • Joe Biden emphasized the cost of other candidates’ healthcare plans and questioned how Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would pay for their proposals. He said his healthcare proposal would allow people to keep private insurance, with out-of-pocket expenses capped at $1,000. Biden said that criminal justice needed to focus on rehabilitation and that non-violent offenders should not be in jail. He said he was the only candidate to beat the NRA nationally and that buyback programs should be used on assault-style weapons. Biden defended the Obama administration’s immigration policies, saying children were not locked up and families were not separated. He said he would increase asylum processing. On trade, Biden said the issue with China was not the trade deficit but intellectual property theft and World Trade Organization violations. He said Afghanistan is comprised of three separate regions and cannot be put together as one country. On education, Biden said funding for poor schools should be tripled from $15 billion to $45 billion and that home conditions and learning should be improved. When asked about resilience, Biden discussed losing his wife and daughter when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. 
  • Cory Booker said the party needed to unite to defeat Donald Trump. He said that while he supported Medicare for All, progress on healthcare should not be sacrificed on the altar of purity. He said there is systemic racism and environmental injustice and called for the creation of a White House Office on Hate Crimes. Booker said clemency should be given to 17,000 people who are serving time for non-violent drug-related offenses and that prison sentences are too long. He advocated a gun licensing program and said there needs to be more courageous empathy to effect change. Booker said the United States needed to strengthen its relationship with allies like Canada, Germany, and France. On climate change, Booker said he opposed corporate consolidation in factory farming. He also said discussions of the military should include improving conditions for veterans. Booker said education needed a holistic solution that includes raising teachers’ salaries and combating poverty. When asked about resilience, Booker pointed to his experience working with tenant leaders in Newark in 2002.
  • Pete Buttigieg said his healthcare proposal, Medicare for All Who Want It, would give people the opportunity to see that the public alternative was better than private insurance. He criticized the tone of the debate when Joe Biden and Julián Castro argued over healthcare. To address systemic racism, Buttigieg proposed investing in black entrepreneurs and historically black colleges and universities. He said individuals who supported Donald Trump’s immigration policies were supporting racism. Buttigieg called for community renewal visas and city-issued municipal IDs. On trade, Buttigieg said Trump’s policies were making American leadership absent on the world stage. He said that under his administration, authorizations for the use of military force would have a built-in three-year sunset. On education, Buttigieg said teachers needed to be respected and paid more. When asked about resilience, Buttigieg pointed to his experience serving in the military as a gay soldier under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and acknowledging his sexuality when running for re-election as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. 
  • Julián Castro said the Democratic Party needed to build a young and diverse coalition to win. He said Joe Biden’s healthcare plan would leave 10 million people uninsured and said Biden forgot what he said earlier in the debate about whether individuals would be automatically enrolled in Biden’s plan. Castro said his plan would automatically enroll individuals into the system and allow them to hold onto private health insurance if they chose to. He said he was the first candidate to put forward a police reform plan. On immigration, Castro said Biden wanted to take credit for Barack Obama’s successes but didn’t want to be accountable for the critiques of the administration. Castro said he would not give up on DACA and that he would push for immigration legislation in his first 100 days in office. He said the United States should use leverage in trade negotiations to improve human rights in other countries and called for a Marshall Plan for Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. On education, he said schools were segregated because neighborhoods were segregated and that there needed to be more transparency and accountability from charter schools. When asked about resilience, Castro pointed to his resignation from a law firm to cast a city council vote against a former client’s development plan that he did not believe provided sufficient environmental protections.
  • Kamala Harris directed her opening statement at Donald Trump, saying he would have been indicted but for the Department of Justice policy against charging sitting presidents with crimes. She said her Medicare for All proposal gave people a choice between a private and public plan and that Trump needed to be defeated because his administration was trying to get rid of protections for individuals with preexisting conditions. Harris discussed her record as a prosecutor and said she would shut down for-profit prisons on her first day in office. She also said she would take executive action to ban the import of AR-15 weapons. On trade, Harris said she was not a protectionist Democrat. She said China needed to be held accountable for intellectual property theft and substandard products. She also said the United States needed to work with China on the issue of North Korea. She said as attorney general of California, she took on fossil fuel companies. On education, Harris said she would invest in historically black colleges and universities to produce more black teachers. When asked about resilience, Harris pointed to her experience running for district attorney and attorney general as a black woman. 
  • Amy Klobuchar emphasized her Midwestern roots and said she wanted to be a president for all of America rather than half of the country. She said she supported creating a public option but opposed Bernie Sanders’ healthcare bill because it would eliminate private insurance. She also said she worked with Sanders on a legislative amendment to allow less expensive drugs to come into the United States from places like Canada. Klobuchar said that when she served as county attorney, she fought for justice for murdered black children, increased prosecution of white-collar crimes, and diversified the office. She said she would move forward on the Second Step Act, which would reduce sentences for non-violent offenders in local and state jails. Klobuchar said she supported what she called an “assault weapons” ban, magazine limitations, universal background checks, and closing certain gun-related loopholes. Klobuchar criticized the Trump administration’s tariff policy, saying it was harming farmers and could bankrupt the country. On climate change, Klobuchar said she would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, bring back the Clean Power rules, and reestablish gas mileage standards. When asked about resilience, Klobuchar discussed her fight for extended hospital stays for new mothers before she entered public office.
  • Beto O’Rourke said in his opening statement that the El Paso shooter was inspired to kill by Donald Trump and that the current state of politics incentivized fighting and making differences without distinctions. While discussing the racial wealth gap, O’Rourke said he would sign a reparations bill to address systemic racism. He said he supported a mandatory buyback of AR-15 and AK-47 rifles. On immigration, O’Rourke said American policy should be written in the image of diverse cities like Houston. He said that no child should be caged, there needed to be accountability for the deaths of seven individuals in immigration custody, and Dreamers should immediately be made U.S. citizens. O’Rourke called for zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, pre-disaster mitigation grants to vulnerable communities, renewable wind and solar energy technology, and regenerative agriculture. When asked about resilience, O’Rourke pointed to the survivors of the El Paso shooting.
  • Bernie Sanders  said the country was moving toward an oligarchic society and that he would challenge those in power. He defended the $30 trillion cost of his Medicare for All proposal, saying that the status quo would cost $50 trillion. He said his system would prevent people from going bankrupt because of a cancer diagnosis. Sanders said he opposed ending the filibuster and would instead use a budget reconciliation law to pass legislation on guns, Medicare, and climate change. He criticized NAFTA and said that wage stagnation was partly due to bad trade policies. Sanders said a difference between him and Joe Biden was Sanders’ vote against the use of military force in Iraq. He called Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a tyrant and said his definition of democratic socialism was reflected in Scandinavia and not Venezuela. On education, Sanders said every teacher should make at least $60,000 each year. When asked about resilience, Sanders pointed to his earlier unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate and governor in Vermont. Sanders was the fourth-most active participant, speaking for 13.7 minutes.
  • Elizabeth Warren said she would partly pay for her Medicare for All proposal through a wealth tax on the richest individuals and corporations. She said families needed to consider the total cost of healthcare rather than their tax bill. She said her plan would prevent individuals from having to argue with insurance companies and having coverage denied. Warren said gun legislation cannot be passed until systemic issues of corruption are addressed. On immigration, Warren said she wanted to expand legal immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and their families. She also said there was a border crisis because Central America needed more assistance. On trade, Warren said human rights activists should be at the negotiating table for trade deals. Warren said troops in Afghanistan need to return home and that some problems abroad should be solved through diplomatic and economic solutions. She also endorsed Jay Inslee’s climate change plan. On education, she said there should be universal childcare and universal pre-K for children under five. When asked about resilience, Warren pointed to her journey to law school after being dismissed from her teaching job because she was pregnant. 
  • Andrew Yang announced he would give $1,000 per month to 10 families who visited his campaign website as a demonstration of his Freedom Dividend proposal. He said health needed to be incentivized over revenue in the American healthcare system and pointed to the Cleveland Clinic as an example. Yang said he would return the level of immigration to what it was under the Obama administration. On trade, Yang said he would not immediately repeal tariffs against China. He also said he signed a pledge to end forever wars and that he did not believe the United States was good at rebuilding other countries. On education, Yang said student outcomes that are determined outside of the school, including student stress levels and income, could be better addressed by giving money directly to families and neighborhoods. When asked about resilience, Yang pointed to his experiences as an entrepreneur.  


  • Michael Bennet will campaign in Iowa Friday and Saturday, with stops in Keokuk and Grinnell.
  • Biden tweeted a video highlighting Barack Obama’s presidency and the Affordable Care Act.
  • Bill de Blasio will begin a three-day campaign visit to South Carolina Saturday.
  • Essence News featured Booker campaigning in South Carolina in its new series, 24 Hours With.
  • Steve Bullock will participate in the Caucus for Kids Facebook Live event in Iowa Friday.
  • Castro spoke about decriminalizing migration, creating a climate refugee class, homelessness, and animal protection in an interview on The Ezra Klein Show.
  • John Delaney spoke about his appeal to centrist voters on Cheddar.
  • Tulsi Gabbard is holding town halls across Iowa for three days beginning Friday.
  • Wayne Messam presided over a budget hearing in Miramar Thursday.
  • Tim Ryan began a three-day tour of New Hampshire Thursday, including stops in Concord and Manchester.
  • Joe Sestak finished up his six-day tour of New Hampshire Thursday.
  • Tom Steyer launched a six-figure ad campaign on Fox and Friends calling for Trump’s impeachment.
  • Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey endorsed Warren Thursday.
  • Marianne Williamson will campaign in Los Angeles over the weekend, appearing at the Project Angel Food 30th Anniversary Gala Saturday and a private fundraiser Sunday.


  • Donald Trump spoke at the House Republican Conference member retreat in Baltimore Thursday night.
  • In an interview on Cheddar NewsJoe Walsh said that if he loses the Republican nomination, he will not vote for Trump.

What We’re Reading

Flashback: September 13, 2015 

Hillary Clinton spoke about her family at the Foundry United Methodist Church’s bicentennial celebration.