Moderators didn’t ask about abortion or LGBT issues
Published 3:46 PM EDT Sep 13, 2019
The third Democratic presidential debate was nearly three hours long, and featured 10 primary candidates who battled it out over how far left the party should go.
On the whole, candidates spent the most time talking about health care (over 20 minutes, according to The New York Times’ tracker). They also spoke at length on gun control, civil rights and education (all at about 12 minutes of speaking time).
But there were a few important policy topics that ABC and Univision moderators did not ask about during the marathon affair, and some critics argue that we heard talking points that were only repeats of previous debates. Others took issue with some questions they felt should not have been asked at all.
Could that time have been better spent? Here are some key issues not asked about at the debate:
Pro-abortion rights activists, including some candidates, noticed the absence of discussion on reproductive rights despite a heavy focus on health care.
The word “abortion” was not uttered once in Thursday’s debate, by either moderator or candidate.
California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, tweeted their disapproval within minutes of the debate’s close.
“Three hours, not one question on abortion—with women’s rights under attack across our country,” O’Rourke said.
In the last several months, conservative-leaning states have passed sweeping anti-abortion legislation. Attempts at bans after certain points in a pregnancy in Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas and Ohio have been tied up in court battles.
President Donald Trump’s administration also enacted a rule that bars federal Title X funding from going to organizations that provide abortions or referrals for abortions, a move that led to Planned Parenthood’s exit from the funding program.
Harris has stated that she would reverse the Title X “gag rule” on her first day in office as president.
At the first round of Democratic debates in June, candidates tried to prove their commitment to reproductive rights issues.
“I don’t believe only in reproductive freedom, I believe in reproductive justice,” former Obama cabinet official Julián Castro said at the time.
The candidates broadly have similar goals when it comes to abortion. They all want it to be legal, but have varying ideas on late-term restrictions.
Voters might have benefited from hearing Vice President Joe Biden further clarify what has been an evolving stance on abortion. And Castro could have followed up on his June flub when he mistakenly said that transgender women would benefit from access to abortion (He later clarified that he meant trans men and gender-nonconforming people).
More on the economy
The economy is a subject that is interwoven with other policy issues, like health care and climate change, topics that candidates spoke about at length last night. But moderators did not choose the economy as a specific focus.
Yet the economy is perhaps Trump’s strongest re-election platform. He’s touted what he sees as the “greatest economy in the history of our Country” with low unemployment rates.
As Democrats spoke on the debate stage, Trump was speaking to House Republicans at a retreat, where he said he was working on plan to cut middle-income taxes.
Americans have said they anticipate the oncoming of another economic recession. A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 60% of Americans had this fear.
Some candidates invoked talk of job creation, a living wage and taxes in their opening statements, but did not find much of an opportunity to expand on those and more topics related to the economy.
In a larger back-and-forth on health care, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were questioned about how their universal health insurance plans would affect taxes on the middle class in order to see lower health care costs.
And job creation was touched upon briefly in relation to clean energy and climate change measures. Candidates were asked about Trump’s tariffs and trade war with China.
“We’ve got a guy in the White House who has been erratic on trade policy. He conducts trade policy by tweet, frankly born out of his fragile ego,” Harris said of Trump’s actions on trade with China.
No mention was made of plans for affordable housing, the gender wage gap, the national debt, unemployment rates and other election issues.
Though some candidates will participate in a town hall discussion on LGBT issues hosted by CNN in October, the topic did not come up in the debate forum where candidates had the opportunity to address one another.
Notably, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the only openly LGBT person in the race, shared a story about the adversity he has faced as a gay man.
And the candidates have all come out strongly against Trump administration actions on LGBT policy issues.
Many have pledged to reverse Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. They all strongly support the Equality Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination against gender identity and sexual orientation. And they have been outspoken against Trump rollbacks on certain Obama-era protections against discrimination.
The debate stage would have been a good forum to flesh out those policies, advocates said.
“The Trump Administration has spent the last three years rolling back rights for LGBTQ and other marginalized communities, and it’s imperative that LGBTQ people and the issues affecting our lives and our families not be overlooked in this Presidential election,” said the president of LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, in a statement. “Next week’s LGBTQ Forum in Iowa will correct the pattern we have seen in the first round of debates that have left LGBTQ people largely out of the conversation.”
GLAAD will be co-sponsoring another presidential forum on LGBT issues on Sept. 20.
What was asked instead?
Debate watchers were quick to point out what they saw as frivolous questions by the debate moderators last night.
Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked Sen. Cory Booker about veganism.
“You are a vegan since 2014,” Ramos asked, in a question about how eating less meat might affect the environment. “So should more Americans, including those here in Texas and in Iowa follow your diet?”
“You know, first of all, I want to say no. Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish: No,” Booker responded to laughter from the audience.
The debate’s closing question by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos sounded more like a job interview question than a policy question: “What’s the most significant professional setback you’ve had to face? How did you recover from it? And what did you learn from it?”