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The debate allowed candidates to show how support for Medicare for All and humanity at the U.S. border are key issues in 2020. With guests Kimberly Moffit and Jeet Heer, hosted by Marc Steiner

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MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner.

We are going to continue our coverage here of last night’s Democratic debate, debate number one. And I’m glad you’re with us for this. And we’re here with Jeet Heer who is the National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation. And Dr. Kimberly Moffitt, who is a Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where she’s Chair of Language, Literacy & Culture. They’re both great authors and writers and join us here today. And now we’re going to focus in on two other issues that I think are at the heart of a lot of the divide in America over what policy should be and where we should go. And that’s health care and immigration. So let’s go there and see where we think this takes us. I think these two issues may go to the heart of the divide not just inside the Democratic Party, but in America itself. But let’s start with health care.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR If Medicare for All is enacted, there are more than 600,000 union members here in Michigan who would be forced to give up their private health care plans. Now, I understand that it would provide universal coverage, but can you guarantee those union members that the benefits under Medicare for All will be as good as the benefits that their representatives — their union reps fought hard to negotiate?

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) Well two things, they will be better because Medicare for All is comprehensive. It covers all health care needs.

CONGRESSMAN TIM RYAN (D-OH) You don’t know that. You don’t know that, Bernie.


CONGRESSMAN TIM RYAN (D-OH) You don’t know that, Bernie.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR We’ll come to you in a second, Congressman.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) Second of all — I do know and I wrote the damn bill. [applause].

JOHN DELANEY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-MD) The data is clear, Medicare does not cover the cost of health care. It covers 80% of the costs of health care in this country and private insurance covers 120%. So if you start underpaying all the health care providers, you’re gonna create a two-tier market where wealthy people buy their health care with cash and the people who are forced— like my dad, the union electrician— will have that health care plan taken away from him.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy. And previously, he has called the idea “political suicide” that will just get President Trump reelected. What do you say to Congressman Delaney?

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) You’re wrong. [applause] Five minutes away from here, John, is a country called Canada. They guarantee health care to every man, woman and child as a human right. They spend half of what we spend. And by the way, when you end up in a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all. Health care is a human right, not a privilege. I believe that. I will fight for that. [applause]

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) So this is what I think we need to get done. We need the public option. That’s what Barack Obama wanted and it would bring health care costs down for everyone. And by the way, I just don’t buy this. I’ve heard some of these candidates say that it’s somehow not moral if you — not moral to not have that public option. Well, Senator Sanders was actually on a public option bill last year and that was, Bernie, the Medicaid public option bill that Senator Schatz introduced. Clearly, this is the easiest way to move forward quickly and I want to get things done.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) What I am talking about and others up here are talking about is no deductibles and no copayments. And, Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. At the end of the day, and by the way [applause]. And by the way, by the way, the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program.


MARC STEINER [laughs] So I thought this was really interesting and it was actually interesting in your magazine, Jeet, The Nation. Don Guttenplan, who’s your editor wrote a really interesting piece, as you did, as well after the debates in which he actually took Bernie Sanders on saying, as much as he likes Bernie Sanders, he doesn’t quite get it because where he lived in England for years or where people live in Canada, private insurance still exists. And people who fought for their benefits in unions want their benefits because they’re really good benefits. And so this. And combine that with almost everyone on that panel — talked about a public option, most of them saying to lead to Medicare for all, so they can begin to create it. So what about this argument and where this might go and what the American people really want to hear, Jeet?

JEET HEER Yes. I mean, it is the case that you can have single payer combined with private insurance as is in Canada and most of Europe. I think Bernie’s point and he might be wrong about this, but I think it’s really like a political one. That if you actually want to fix American health care, you have to take on these very powerful interests of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical. And they’re the ones that have really profited. And it is absolutely the case that per capita, the United States spends twice as much on health care as almost any other country, comparable country, but without getting full universal coverage. So I mean, on the other hand, the public option which was like on the left-wing of the Democratic Party in 2008 has now become — that’s the centrist positions.


DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT That’s right. That’s right.

JEET HEER And so the real marker is how the party has changed.

MARC STEINER And how many of the American people have changed.


DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Right. Well and I think the ACA did that for us, right? That it took Obama a while to be able to get that in place, but once it did, even with a lot of the backlash that came with it, people understood what it meant. That there were opportunities for them to have access to health care that they possibly didn’t have before or that they had little of. And so now it has shifted a bit where individuals are singing, so this could be a direction for us to go to make sure I don’t go bankrupt trying to suffer through a health challenge while I’m in the hospital. But in fact, I have support from my government through taxes.

MARC STEINER And people who want to talk about the left in this country and the power of progressive movements that are happening in this country, which are having a significant role in this election. When you look at the history of this country, unless you overthrow capitalism tomorrow morning, it’s been a history of pushing the envelope and incrementalism. You know, I mean, it took a war to end slavery. It took another war in the 60s to end segregation, and we’re still fighting the battle against racism in this country, which we’ll talk about later.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT And always will.

MARC STEINER And it’s the same thing with health care. I mean, so you’re seeing this battle lining up and this could become a huge battle in the next four years if one of those folks we just saw wins.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Well, it would be a major battle if, again, the Democratic Party decides to make it core to who they are in this next election. Because if you notice, it’s not at the forefront for Trump. It’s not a major topic for him. He’s inverted all of our attention to the border and paying attention to immigration. And so no one’s thinking about their health care right now. But if the Democrats continue to make this an issue that they then are able to run on, it easily could be where we see the biggest divide between Americans.

MARC STEINER So let me play this other clip here before we move on to immigration, which I’m glad you brought that up because it will be the next thing we’ll talk about. But this is a woman who’s running for president who often gets to the heart of the matter, Marianne Williamson.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON And the Democratic Party need to understand that we should be the party that talks not just about symptoms, but also about causes. When we’re talking about health care, we need to talk about more than just the health care plan. We need to realize we have a sickness care rather than a health care system. We need to be the party talking about why so many of our chemical policies and our food policies and our agricultural policies and our environmental policies and even our economic policies are leading to people getting sick to begin with.

MARC STEINER Whenever you think of Marianne Williamson, she in many ways, she gets to the heart of these issues and he just gets under them and goes, “this is what’s underneath all of this. Deal with it.”


JEET HEER That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. No, I thought on that. And also, as we’ll talk about on race, she really articulated it because I think she understands that these are not issues that are really a matter of policy. And I think too many Democrats fall in that trap saying, well we have policy X or policy Y and the Republicans have that. But really, these are issues of values. Does everyone deserve health care or not? You know, is there debt owed from slavery and a century or more of segregation? These are the — she’s I think it’s exactly right that you have to first articulate the values and then you win the policies.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yeah. I mean, she’s a spiritual leader. So she’s going to talk about those things that connect to our morals and values and ethics. But I also think she’s dealing with this. I mean, I read someone this morning who referred to her as she’s on point, makes the right points, but she’s a bit kooky. Whereas she’s seen as that because she’s saying things that most people aren’t saying. And she is saying we have to get to the heart of understanding why we’re here in the first place in order to address and fix. And the idea that she then is bringing up issues around trauma, around you know experiences that we have had, our lived experiences that we’ve had that keep us from moving forward and growing and evolving, she’s saying to us are things that we must as a nation deal with in order to move forward.

And I think last night she kept talking about healing. You know, like we’ve got to do this work in order to heal, in order to move forward. I would expect those very words to come from a spiritual leader. And I think as a nation that claims to be based on Judeo-Christian values, that that would be something that resonated very well with that population. However, it does come across in a way that feels not quite definitive and clear, but feels a bit too hip-ish or hippie-ish for a number of voters.

MARC STEINER Hippie-ish. Yes, hippie-ish.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT [laughs] Yes. I’m okay with hippies, but it is hippie-ish.

MARC STEINER But she did get under it.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Oh, absolutely.

MARC STEINER And she gets under this in a really interesting way. It was also interesting how they chose to ignore her most of the evening, completely ignore her for most of the evening.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT So she had — it’s interesting because Marianne Williamson had the best quips of the evening with many of the points that she raised. And not just quips, but the real information that we need to be talking about and hearing I think she brings to the table. Again, for myself personally, I will say that I don’t think America is ready for someone like her, but I do think what she does and does very well is she plants the seeds, puts it out there for us, and it allows other leaders who are at this table to start picking up on.

MARC STEINER She couldn’t even win for Governor of California probably, but I think, you know—

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Maybe more psychedelic drugs.

MARC STEINER Before we go to immigration. [laughs] Jeet, we have to jump into immigration. You have a thought here before we do. You want to add anything?

JEET HEER No, I think that’s exactly right. She’s a spiritual leader but I do think that I would like to hear the other Democrats talking, using and picking up some of her language because I think it is very effectively language.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT But she did though. She did. She was the first and only candidate to mention reparations in the very first debate.

MARC STEINER We’re going to end this one and in the next segment, we’re getting to reparations. We’ll lead with that. So, but let’s take a look at this piece which is another piece that is dividing America and Democrats who are trying to figure out how to respond to this, which is immigration.

MARC STEINER So let’s look at this clip.

DANA BASH, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Just to clarify, would you decriminalize illegal border crossings?

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) The point is not about criminalization. That has given Donald Trump the tool to break families apart.

DANA BASH, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Thank you. Your response?

GOVERNOR STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT) But you are playing into Donald Trump’s hands. The challenge isn’t that it’s a criminal offense to cross the border. The challenge is that Donald Trump is president and using this to rip families apart.

MARC STEINER So here we go. This is a very critical issue I think it’s going to be in this election because Trump has made it a critical issue in this election, as they were trying to say. And I’m glad to see the Democrats when they’re in their debate, finally saying it’s not an issue of criminalization or noncriminalization. That’s not—They were forced into that and bit the bait, but they didn’t buy it this time I think. But what about this? I mean this, they clearly were divided on some levels about where they want to take all this, but it is an issue that America is deeply divided on. I mean look at all the polls and polls are saying we have to help the people that are here, but they don’t want open borders. And there are those of us who are saying look, we are creating, we created this mess by our policies in Latin America, and we have to address it and this is a nation of immigrants sans the Indigenous people who were here before anybody else got here. But so what about this debate and how they handled this last night? Jeet, you want to start?

Yeah. I thought in the exchange we just saw, what’s interesting is, is the problem the system or is the problem Trump? I think the moderate position there is the people are saying, well, the problem is that we have this bad man Trump who’s in power. And we get rid of the bad man, and everything will be well. But I think the more radical critique and even more accurate critique is that, you know, Trump is in power, but he is able to do really horrible things like family separation because the system is flawed. And you have to — the next president can’t just be like well, I’ll be a good person and not do the bad things that Trump does. He has to fix the system that allows Trump to do — that would allow Trump or any future president to do that.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT And we’ve been dealing with this. This isn’t a new issue for us. We’ve been dealing with immigration. It only pops up in waves depending on the status of our economy where we become very insulated and don’t want to support or help others when we feel like we ourselves are suffering via our economy. And so I do think this is going to be a key issue in the next election. And it will be the one that shows very distinctly the difference between the Democrats and Republicans because you do have one party that wants to be inclusive. I mean, Klobushar’s comment last night where she says “immigrants don’t diminish America. They are America.” You know, I mean, comments like that would not be heard from Trump. And it’s clear that that is because we are creating a distinction between the two parties to say that one believes that these are criminal acts in terms of people coming and trying to take from us, while another party is saying what can we do to be supportive of one another?

MARC STEINER Right. And I think that when Sanders talked — I believe it was Sanders or no, was it Warren — that talked about women and children do not walk a thousand miles to the border because they are trying to break the law or be criminal. They’re running from oppression.


MARC STEINER And I think — but so, I’m curious very quickly as we close this part of the conversation, how do think this is going to play in the election? I mean, as I said earlier, this is something that divides America. People are very torn about immigration in the United States. No matter how the three of us may feel about people who are fleeing here and what our role should be, how do you think what you saw last night defines what’s going to happen before November 2020?

JEET HEER Well, I think one of the things that we have to really be clear about is that Trump’s attempt to demonize immigration has not succeeded for him politically. You will  remember in the midterms right before it was all about the caravan. And he sent troops the border and the Republicans were worked up in a real way. And so, and all the polling shows that actually immigration has become more popular under Trump. And that for the first time, there’s more people saying we should take more immigrants than less in polling. So I actually think that the Democrats need to stay strong on this because I think that Trump represents the sort of rump white minority that is afraid of a changing America, but most Americans are not there. And that the more inclusive vision is the one that can win.


MARC STEINER Very well said, Jeet. I think that’s a really important point. I think that somehow that message over and over again, what you just said and the way you said it, is very critical.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yeah. That the browning of America is scary for a segment of this population, of the US population. And so, immigration represents that. Regardless of what we understand about who’s coming across the northern border, the focus is very much on the southern border. And those individuals all appear to be brown. And that becomes a problem for a segment of the US population. But I also think if the US or the Democrats decide to stay strong on this issue, being able to elevate the conversations about separating families, mothers from children, children as young as two weeks old, that that imagery is going to touch even those who are evangelicals that believe that immigration or the process of crossing the border illegally is problematic.

MARC STEINER And we heard the news this morning, it’s continuing. At least 900 children, under the age of five most of them, have been separated from their families, which is just an obscenity I think. We’re here. You heard Dr. Kimberly Moffitt and Jeet Heer. And we’re covering last night’s Democratic debate and in the next segment, we are going to leap into the questions of race and the green economy. And I want to thank you all for watching us. Let us know what you think. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Check out the next segment.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.