Second Democratic Presidential Debate Was Heavy on Squabbling, Lighter on LGBTQ Issues

Pundits say Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris were the standouts.

Last night, NBC/MSNBC hosted the second Democratic presidential debate, where ten candidates vied for precious time, including by shouting over each other on numerous occasions.

What was less prominent, despite the presence of both a gay candidate on the debate stage, in South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and a lesbian moderator behind the desk, in Rachel Maddow, were LGBTQ issues.

Democratic debate night 2 moderators
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The Trump administration has targeted the LGBTQ community, and there is an epidemic of anti-trans violence, but there wasn’t a single question asked on the topic, other than getting a brief mention when Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about diversity.

“You said on the day you launched your campaign that voters should focus on what people stand for, not a candidate’s race or age or sexual orientation,” said co-moderator Chuck Todd. “Many Democrats are very excited by the diversity of this field on this stage and on last night’s stage and the perspective that diversity brings to this contest and to these issues.”

“Are you telling Democratic voters that diversity shouldn’t matter when they make this decision?” he asked.

bernie sanders, kamala harris
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“No, absolutely not. Unlike the Republican Party, we encourage diversity, we believe in diversity. That’s what America is about,” Sanders responded.

“But in addition to diversity, in terms of having more women, more people from the LGBT community, we also have to do something else. And that is, we have to ask ourselves a simple question, in that how come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she made 45 years ago, and that in the last 30 years, the top 1 percent has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth?”

LGBTQ identity was raised again during one of the night’s most discussed exchanges, between Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden, in which Harris challenged Biden on his remarks regarding working with segregationist senators.

Harris pointed out that Biden worked with them to oppose busing, and that she “was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools.”

“The bottom line here is, look, everything I have done in my career—I ran because of civil rights, I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights, and those civil rights, by the way, include not just only African Americans, but the LGBT community,” Biden said.

He added that she was bused into a different school district due to the local government’s decision, and argued he hadn’t opposed busing, but rather allowing the federal government to step in and ensure desegregation took place.

“That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act,” Harris said, pushing back. “That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA, because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”

Democratic debate night 2 Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris
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The Equality Act would add LGBTQ protections to existing civil rights law. It recently passed in the House of Representatives for the first time in history, but is being blocked in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump has also come out in opposition of the legislation through a spokesperson.

Buttigieg took a moment during his closing remarks to be visible, noting that he “has experienced being in a marriage that exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The general consensus among pundits is that Harris won the night, handling questions, as well as her opponents, with directness and a commanding presence that helped her rise above the noise. At one point, in one of her best lines of the night, she called for an end to the crosstalk, saying, “America does not want a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on the table.”

Democratic debate night 2 Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders
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Buttigieg is being called the next most impressive candidate. His biggest moment of the night came when he addressed the police shooting death of a black man in South Bend, Indiana.

“Because I couldn’t get it done,” he said, when asked why the police department fails to reflect the racial makeup of the city.

“I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back.”

Charlotte Clymer, a spokesperson for HRC, said she “couldn’t stop thinking” about his answer, and that it showed leadership skills.

Biden is seen as the debate’s biggest loser. He was the night’s favorite target, which is typically the case of the front runner. In addition to taking heat for his remarks about working across the aisle with segregationists, he was knocked back on his heels by questions about the Obama administration’s immigration policy.

The next Democratic debate will be hosted by CNN on July 30 and 31, in Detroit.

Highlights from the second debate follow.

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