On February 25, 2020, seven candidates convened in Charleston, South Carolina for the 10th Democratic presidential debate ahead of the state’s Democratic primary (February 29) and Super Tuesday (March 3). A total of 14 states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia), as well as American Samoa and Democrats abroad, will vote on Super Tuesday and award 1,357 delegates (34 percent of total delegates).
To qualify for the debates, candidates had to have (1) at least one pledged delegate from Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada; or (2) at least 10 percent in at least four qualifying polls (national or South Carolina polls) or at least 12 percent in two qualifying South Carolina polls. Hosted by CBS News, the event was moderated by CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell, CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King, Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett and 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker.
A brief summary of key remarks relating to health care and public health follows:
Medicare for All
As expected, Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) – the frontrunner with 45 Democratic delegates – was repeatedly attacked by the other candidates on several issues, including how he plans to pay for a single-payer health care system. When asked to “do the math” on his Medicare for all plan – which he recently estimated would cost about $30 trillion over 10 years – Sen. Sanders again pointed to the recent study published in the Lancet that projected a single-payer health care system would save more than $450 billion (13 percent) annually in national health care expenditures. He briefly described a 7.5 percent payroll tax paid by employers as one option to finance Medicare for all. In response, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) said “the math does not add up” and noted that Sen. Sanders’ Medicare for all plan would cost nearly $60 trillion, three times the national economy. She then emphasized making available an “affordable, nonprofit public option,” improving long-term care, and lowering prescription drug prices.
The discussion on Medicare for all concluded with several candidates questioning the electability of Sen. Sanders. For example, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg implied Sen. Sanders, as the Democratic presidential nominee, would negatively impact down-ballot races.
When asked how she would ensure health care access in rural areas, Sen. Klobuchar explained that she would allow emergency hospitals to have the same designation as Critical Access Hospitals. This proposal appears to be modeled after the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act (S. 1130 – 115th Congress) that she introduced, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), in 2017. Sen. Klobuchar also proposed addressing the shortage of home health care workers and nursing assistants, providing incentives on loan paybacks to encourage people to pursue health care careers, and implementing comprehensive immigration reform to allow doctors from other countries to stay and practice in rural areas.
Sen. Sanders said he would increase funding for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps, as proposed in the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act of 2019 (S. 962 / H.R. 1943) – which he introduced along with Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC).
Sen. Klobuchar did not directly respond to the question on whether she would close borders to American exposed to coronavirus in order to prevent an outbreak. Instead, she criticized President Trump’s budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noting that he has not addressed the nation on the topic. Sen. Klobuchar then said she would better coordinate efforts throughout her presidency in order to be ready for the next pandemic; have better relationships with allies; and invest in education. She also advised viewers to check the CDC website for coronavirus updates.
Former Vice President Biden said he would set up an office on pandemic diseases, similar to the one that coordinated the Ebola response; increase CDC and NIH budget; and get “on the phone with China,” insisting that U.S. health officials be on the ground to support response efforts.
Sen. Sanders criticized the President for saying that “coronavirus is going to end in two months.” He then said he would make sure the CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and infectious departments are fully funded, as well as work with and expand the World Health Organization (WHO).
When former Mayor Mike Bloomberg was asked whether he would push for a ban on trans fats from restaurants and try to ban large sugary drinks, as he did in New York City, he indicated that he would not pursue those policies if elected. He then emphasized his public health policies would focus on the “science.” In closing, former Mayor Bloomberg noted that his nutrition policies contributed to higher life expectancy in New York City, which was “three years greater than the national average.” Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would invest $50 billion in the NIH for research on obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
When asked about her policy to ensure affordable housing and education equity for minimum wage workers, Sen. Klobuchar said she would address the backlog of Section 8 applicants; create incentives for affordable housing to be built; provide financial assistance for housing; and build a coalition to address both urban and rural housing issues. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) said her housing plan would deal with the effects of redlining.
Former Vice President Biden highlighted his record on addressing gun violence, including a 10-year ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He called out Sen. Sanders for voting to provide immunity to gun manufacturers from lawsuits involving their firearms or ammunition. Sen. Sanders called it a “bad vote,” and noted his current “D- record” from the National Rifle Association (NRA). He then said he would expand background checks and end the “gun show loophole.”
Sen. Warren pointed to the filibuster as the reason gun violence legislation has not passed. She emphasized the need to eliminate the filibuster and go with the majority in order to pass such legislation. Former Mayor Bloomberg touted the success of “Moms Demand Action” – the volunteer arm of his organization, Everytown for Gun Safety – in putting background checks in 20 states.
The next Democratic presidential debate, co-hosted by CNN and Univision, is on March 15 in Phoenix, Arizona, which precedes nominating contests in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio.