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'Go Easy On Me, Kid': Biden, Harris, Democratic Underdogs Scrap In Detroit

Dustin Blitchok

The presence of former Vice President Joe Biden onstage Wednesday on the second night of debate among Democratic presidential candidates put the Obama administration’s policies in the spotlight in clashes over health care, immigration and criminal justice. 

Biden, who has a comfortable lead in national polls, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, with whom he sparred in the last Democratic debate over busing, quickly re-engaged during the latest forum. 

“Go easy on me, kid,” Biden, 76, said with a chuckle to Harris, 54, when the two shook hands Wednesday at Detroit's Fox Theatre.

Biden polls at an average of 32.2% support among the Democratic field, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders at 16.2% and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 14.3%, according to Real Clear Politics

Of the 10 candidates onstage at the CNN debate Wednesday, Harris is polling closest to Biden, with support from 10.8% of Democrats. 

Medicare For All Or Obamacare Expansion? 

Harris said her plan for a Medicare expansion offers both public and private options, while Biden said he would provide immediate relief for Americans by building on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. 

“It would take place immediately, it would move quickly and it would insure the vast, vast, vast majority of Americans,” the former vice president said. 

Harris’ plan would separate employers from health care, the senator said. 

“I have met so many Americans who stick to a job that they do not like, where they are not prospering, simply because they need the healthcare that that employer provides.” 

The two clashed on cost, timing and coverage. Biden said Harris’ plan would cost $30 trillion versus his $750-billion price tag and take a decade to kick in, while Harris said insurance companies made $72 billion in profits last year at a time when one in four diabetes patients cannot afford their insulin. 

In a comment notable for biotech investors, Biden raised the issue of biopharma drug development after stating that he would move to control drug prices. 

“It’s no longer chemicals. It’s about all these breakthroughs that we have, with the whole ... immune system,” he said. 

“And what we have to do now is we have to have a form that sits in HHS and says, as you develop a drug, you’ve got to come to us and decide what you can sell it for.  We will set the price. And secondly, it says that you cannot raise that price beyond the cost of inflation from this point on.” 

Crime Divides Candidates 

On July 16, Attorney General William Barr declined to press federal civil rights charges against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in connection with the death of Eric Garner, who Pantaleo appeared to put in a chokehold in a video of Garner’s arrest on Staten Island in 2014. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper why Pantaleo is still on the force.

“I know the Garner family. They've gone through extraordinary pain. They are waiting for justice and are going to get justice,” de Blasio said, adding that the Justice Department told the city not to proceed. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was more unequivocal.

“He should be fired. He should be fired now,” she said of Pantaleo. 

“But as president, I would make sure that we had a full investigation, that the report would be made public. And if I wasn’t satisfied, we would have a consent decree.” 

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Biden quarreled over each other’s track records on crime.  

“Mr. Vice President has said that, since the 1970s, every major crime bill — every crime bill, major and minor — has had his name on it.  And, sir, those are your words, not mine.” 

Biden said that when Booker became mayor of Newark, the city’s police engaged in a stop-and-frisk policy that the Justice Department deemed inappropriate. 

“You found yourself in a situation where three times as many African American kids were caught in that chain and caught up.” 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said the criminal justice system is “broken” and questioned Harris’ record as a prosecutor in California, where she served as attorney general. 

“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.” 

Harris blocked evidence that would have freed inmates on death row, Gabbard said. 

Harris said she’s opposed the death penalty for the duration of her career.

“I made a very difficult decision that was not popular to not seek the death penalty. History shows that and I am proud of those decisions.” 

Harris said she worked to reform California’s criminal justice system and supports the legalization of marijuana. 

The Best Of The Rest 

  • “Kids belong in classrooms, not cages. And they deserve something better than a bully in the White House.” -U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
  • "Instead of talking about automation and our future, including the fact that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs, hundreds of thousands right here in Michigan, we're up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality TV show. It's one reason why we elected a reality TV star as our president." -entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • “Open borders is a right-wing talking point. Frankly, I’m disappointed that some folks, including some folks on this stage, have taken the bait.” -former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro
  • “Think about this: literally the survival of humanity on this planet and civilization as we know it is in the hands of the next president. And we have to have a leader who will do what is necessary to save us.” -Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Related Links: 

420 In 2020: Every Democratic Presidential Candidate's Cannabis Position

Michael Bloomberg: Any Democratic Candidate In 2020 Is Better Than Trump

Photo courtesy of CNN. 

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