DETROIT (CN) – Ten Democratic presidential candidates faced off in a frenetic debate in Detroit Tuesday night that pitted progressives against moderates in a battle over the ideals that will shape the future of the party, and, perhaps, the country.
In a lightning-round type format, the candidates addressed health care, climate change, foreign policy, guns, race, and the economy, among other issues, at the first of two debates at the historic Fox Theatre. Ten other Democratic candidates will debate there Wednesday night.
At the theater in a gentrified part of the city, where several years of concentrated private investment have paid off handsomely, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney pointed to the story of Detroit as an example of what Democrats can do when they run on “real solutions” instead of what he called “fairy tale economics.”
“This city is turning around because the government and the private sector are working well together,” Delaney said. “That has to be our model going forward.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, pushed back on the “fairy tale” and “wish list economics” remarks of her centrist opponents.
“You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
Earlier in the debate, Delaney and Warren butted heads on the issue of health care, after the former congressman said Sanders’ Medicare for All plan was “bad policy.”
“You’re wrong,” Sanders replied to applause.
He said there are 87 million uninsured people in the U.S. and the country should come together to help those who are living without access to affordable health care.
“Five minutes away from here is Canada … they spend half of what we spend,” Sanders said.
Delaney responded that the Democratic party did not have to “be the party of subtraction with elimination of private insurance companies,” which riled Warren.
“We are not about taking health care away from anyone,” Warren said. “We are Democrats.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who supports Medicare for All, said he believes Americans will “walk away from private plans,” but Marianne Williamson, D-Texas, said she was not sure such a plan could pass in Congress.
“Republicans will shut us down on health care,” she said.
Buttigieg said it doesn’t matter what the Republicans think because they will hate it no matter what.
“If we embrace a far left agenda, Republicans will call us socialist. If we embrace a conservative agenda, Republicans will call us socialist,” he said.
While the revitalized downtown area of Detroit where the debate was held spans about seven square miles, the surrounding parts of the city have struggling neighborhoods, where crime and gun violence is still common.
The issue of gun control was one that united the candidates.
Buttigieg lamented that there are now two generations of Americans for whom school shootings are normalized.
“High school is hard enough without worrying that you are going to be shot,” he said. “We know what to do and it hasn’t happened.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper boasted of his success against the National Rifle Association in his state.
“And we decided, you know, that we were going to go out and take on the N.R.A., and we passed as a purple state,” Hickenlooper said. “We passed universal background checks. We limited magazine capacity. We did the basic work that for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be able to get done in Washington.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., mocked President Donald Trump for talking about the need for universal background checks but quickly changing his tune after a meeting with the N.R.A.
“As your president I will not fold on guns,” she said.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock said he was personally impacted by gun violence when his 11-year old nephew was shot and killed on a playground.
The candidates had more varied opinions on how to best address racism in America.
Klobuchar stressed the need for economic opportunities, while Warren said her education plan would put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities and also emphasized the importance of calling out racists and racist attacks.
“We need to call out white supremacy for what it is: domestic terrorism. And it poses a threat to the United States of America,” she said.
Before the debate, a few blocks away from the theater near Grand Circus Park where a small group of Trump supporters gathered, a black man shouting “Fuck Trump” was confronted by two white men standing by their motorcycles at the curb.
“He’s your president, boy,” one of the men said. “What are you going to do about it?”
Police officers were close by to diffuse the situation.
Williamson said reparations are needed to recognize “250 years of slavery” and “175 years of domestic terrorism.”
“Anything less than $100 billion is an insult,” she said.
Sanders touted his “Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education” as an alternative to reparations, which would triple funding for Title 1 schools and pay teachers $60,000 a year.
Looking beyond the borders of America, the candidates debated foreign policy.
Sanders said he would turn to the United Nations before launching any kind of military action.
“What we need is a foreign policy that focuses on diplomacy,” he said.
Moderators asked Representative Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, if he would have met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I don’t think the president of the United States should meet with dictators,” he said.
Ryan said Trump’s meeting inappropriately gave the North Korean dictator credibility.
Representative Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, pledged to remove military troops from Afghanistan in his first term in office.
“As president, I will end those wars,” he said.
Elizabeth Warren thinks the country needs a more holistic approach to national security and international peacekeeping.
“We talk about what’s happening around the world,” she said. “We should not be asking our military to solve problems that don’t have a military solution.”
The candidates had one minute for a closing statement. Ryan said he hoped he had “captured the imagination” of debate viewers, while Pete Buttigieg spoke of his hopes of enacting a movement so far-reaching that it would reinvent the Republican Party.
The debate continues Wednesday night with 10 other candidates taking the stage, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.