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Debate inflames Democratic civil war on health care and more

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker speaks Wednesday

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker speaks Wednesday night while former Vice President Joe Biden listens during the second of the two-night Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.  Credit: Getty Images/debate

Surprise target: Obama

With 10 different contenders on stage Wednesday, the second night of the second Democratic debate brought a resumption and intensification of the party's ideological civil war.

Front-runner Joe Biden came out fighting against "Medicare for all" ideas, particularly the version of it offered by Kamala Harris, his chief tormentor in the first debate in June. Biden said Harris' plan will be too costly and require middle-class taxes to go up while ending employer-based insurance. She said Biden’s plan would fail to insure 10 million Americans. “The cost of doing nothing is simply too expensive … we must act,” Harris said. 

One of the sharpest attacks on Biden was about the immigration policies of President Barack Obama, whose legacy is a foundation of Biden's campaign.

Bill de Blasio and Julián Castro pointed to a surge in deportations of undocumented immigrants during the Obama administration. "Did you say those deportations were a good idea? Or did you go to the president and say 'this is a mistake, we shouldn't do it,' " de Blasio challenged. Biden's non-answer, "I was vice president. I am not the president. I keep my recommendations in private."

Of Castro, who served in Obama's Cabinet running HUD, Biden snapped: “I never heard him talk about any of this when he was Secretary.” Castro's comeback: "It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past, and one of us has not.” Cory Booker joined the pile-on: “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not," Booker said to Biden.

But Biden went there again as his foes hit him again over his record dating back to the 1970s on integration and the 1990s on crime bills blamed for "mass incarceration" of racial minorities. "We're talking about things that occurred a long, long time ago. Everyone is talking about how terrible I am on these issues,” Biden said. ”Barack Obama chose me and said it was the best decision he ever made. I’ll stick with his judgment.” 

As they argued, as did Tuesday's group, over how far left the party can go in 2020 without blowing their chances to beat Donald Trump, they were unified in contempt for him. Castro called him a "racist." Washington Gov. Jay Inslee labeled him a "white nationalist." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand got laughs from the Detroit audience by declaring, "The first thing I'm going to do as president is I am going to Clorox the Oval Office."  For in-depth coverage, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez with Michael Gormley.

Moments and momentum

Newsday's Emily Ngo collected the top quotes from the candidates. The Associated Press ran fact-checks. CNN posted video highlights. It will take a little while to sort out which if any of the 20 candidates got momentum from their performances, who is sinking and who remains stuck in the bottom tier. 

When the third Democratic debate is held Sept. 12-13 in Houston and shown on ABC and Univision, there will be fewer candidates. Only seven have qualified so far. More than half the field could be shut out — and possibly pushed out of the race — if they fail to reach new polling and fundraising thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee, according to the AP.

Garner case haunts de Blasio

Mayor De Blasio is frequently absent from New York City in pursuit of his presidential dream, but the city keeps catching up with him.

With Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren having the night off, de Blasio tried to be the loudest voice onstage from the party's progressive wing. But that credential came under attack as protesters in the audience and then rival candidates went after him for not firing Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

Booker’s account tweeted after the interruption: “To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago — good for you." Castro said of Pantaleo, “He knew what he was doing. He was killing Eric Garner and he has not been brought to justice.” Gillibrand said, "He should be fired now." 

De Blasio pointed at the Justice Department, saying he was asked to hold off until it decided not to prosecute. De Blasio also blamed federal funding cuts for issues with unsafe lead levels in public housing.

Trump seeks health cures

While the Democratic 2020 contenders are arguing over the best ways to expand health care coverage, Trump is finding it uncomfortable that he is more identified with efforts to reduce it. Those efforts include the failed bills to repeal Obamacare and the ongoing court battle to overturn it.

On Wednesday, Trump said he will create a way for Americans to legally and safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada for the first time. The announcement came just days after Democrat Bernie Sanders accompanied a busload of diabetics to Ontario to buy cheaper insulin.

The Washington Post reports White House advisers are scrambling to roll out new health care measures every two to three weeks until the 2020 election. Even as they attack the "Medicare for all" idea, the push to come up with other initiatives reflects the administration’s sense of vulnerability on an issue that Democrats successfully used in 2018 to win control of the House.

But it will be hard for Trump to deliver quick results. The Canada plan, for example, has to go through time-consuming regulatory approval and later could face court challenges from drugmakers, The Associated Press explained. It's not known how Canada would react to the impact that a surge of U.S. demand would have on its suppliers and consumers.

The Post notes that many Republicans in Congress rely heavily on donations from the pharmaceutical industry and are reluctant to sour those relationships. There also is long-standing GOP aversion to government interference in the marketplace.

Donald's debate verdict: All losers

Trump said he would watch the first installment of the Democratic debate Tuesday night, but he didn't live-tweet it. He kept it brief in a one-tweet-hits-all post on Wednesday morning:

"If I hadn’t won the 2016 Election, we would be in a Great Recession/Depression right now. The people I saw on stage last night, & you can add in Sleepy Joe, Harris, & the rest, will lead us into an economic sinkhole the likes of which we have never seen before. With me, only up!

Janison: Great leap sideways

The latest round of trade talks with China ended with no deal and tariffs still in place, along with the billions in farm subsidies from the Trump administration propping up U.S. farmers.

Newsday's Dan Janison  summarizes the White House spin thusly: Progress is being made, and if it isn't, all is well anyway, since we're winning the trade war. 

Trump this week offered a preemptive alibi for failed talks: that China is waiting to see if he's beaten in 2020 by a Democrat who would be an easier mark. But analysts say some prospective Trump opponents such as Elizabeth Warren could take a harder line than Trump, and that the longer the fight goes on, the less likely that the U.S.-Chinese economic relationship will be as vibrant as before.

Behind the Trump-Epstein breakup

Trump has said he had a falling-out and cut off contact with  pedophile  Jeffrey Epstein about 15 years ago, but hasn't said why. The Washington Post may have found the answer.

The two men, who often partied together in the years before Epstein's first arrest on sex charges, battled in 2004 over who would get to buy an oceanfront Palm Beach manse that was being sold out of bankruptcy. The trustee, Joseph Luzinski, recalled how they tried to undermine each other.

“It was something like, Donald saying, ‘You don’t want to do a deal with him, he doesn’t have the money,’ while Epstein was saying: ‘Donald is all talk. He doesn’t have the money,’ ” Luzinski said. “They both really wanted it.”

Trump got it for $41.35 million. Four years after he bought the Gosman mansion, Trump sold it Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million.

'Least racist person' strikes again

Trump will surely insist that his attack Wednesday on a CNN host who is black had nothing to do with race. The tweets said this:

"CNN’s Don Lemon, the dumbest man on television, insinuated last night while asking a debate 'question' that I was a racist, when in fact I am 'the least racist person in the world.' Perhaps someone should explain to Don that he is supposed to be neutral, unbiased & fair … or is he too dumb (stupid} to understand that."

It's at least the third time Trump lobbed the "dumbest man" insult at Lemon. He did it last year after a Lemon interview with LeBron James, who had criticized Trump as divisive for his "shithole countries" slur. "He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do," that Trump tweet also said.

Lemon's competitor on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell, offered perspective: Trump used to call me 'the dumbest man on television.'" (That was in 2012.) "Why did he switch to Don? What could it possibly be about Don that gives Trump the irresistible urge to call him dumb? What could it be?" 

What else is happening:

  • The first night of CNN's Democratic debate drew 8.7 million viewers, a sharp drop from the 15.3 million that watched the opener of the NBC-hosted debate in June.
  • Trump on Wednesday ordered top Navy officials to rescind medals "ridiculously" awarded to the prosecutors who unsuccessfully tried Navy SEAL team leader Eddie Gallagher for murder. Trump and some of his friends from Fox considered the charges unfair.
  • The Fed under Jerome Powell cut interest rates by a quarter-point Wednesday — too little to satisfy Trump. "As usual, Powell let us down," the president tweeted. He said Powell should have signaled that "this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle" to keep pace with China and the EU.
  • The Trump administration imposed financial sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as part of its escalating campaign of pressure. Zarif tweeted: “It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran.”
  • The administration is considering ending Temporary Protected Status for about 7,000 other Syrians living in the U.S. — a move that would force them to find a new legal status, leave the U.S. or even deportation to war-ravaged Syria, ABC News reported.

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