DETROIT (JTA) — Democratic candidates for the party’s presidential nomination united in condemning President Donald Trump’s record on race.
Much of the first night on Tuesday of the latest round of debates focused on differences between the two leading progressives on the stage, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and an array of moderates seeking to break through.
Questions about Trump’s recent attacks on lawmakers of color briefly united the stage.
“We need to call out white supremacy for what it is: Domestic terrorism — and that poses a threat to America,” said Warren, who accused Trump of advancing racism through his rhetoric and his economic policies.
Marianne Williamson, a self-help author who is Jewish, got one of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening when she called for at least $200 billion in reparations for slavery, as well as a public accounting of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
“People heal when there is some deep truth-telling,” she said.
Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests when he ran for the nomination in 2016, pushed back hard at the moderates who said his favored programs — particularly “Medicare for all,” which would extend the free health care available to the elderly to the entire population — were unrealistic.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, interrupted Sanders as the senator listed benefits he foresaw under a “Medicare for all” plan. “You can’t know that,” said Ryan.
“I do know that, I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders said to laughter and applause, in a line that quickly went viral on social media.
Another Sanders moment came when former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared to mock Sanders’ reputation for broad gestures. Saying Sanders’ policies were “extreme,” Hickenlooper said, “Go ahead, throw your hands up.”
Sanders said “I will!” and complied.
The CNN moderators paid little attention to foreign policy. Jake Tapper asked Sanders what distinguished him from Trump on foreign policy, considering both men had used precisely the same phrase, that the United States “cannot be the policeman for the world.”
“Trump is a pathological liar, I tell the truth,” Sanders replied, noting that the Trump administration has at times eschewed diplomacy for tough talk and was advancing a massive defense spending bill.
“What we need is a foreign policy that focuses on diplomacy ending conflicts by people sitting at a table and not killing each other,” Sanders said, adding that he would apply that strategy in the Middle East.
Warren faulted Trump for pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, blaming the decision for what she said was Iran edging closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
Another 10 candidates are slated to appear on the debate stage on Wednesday, among them leading moderates Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Ron Kampeas writes for the JTA international news agency and wire service.