Democracy & Elections

National Security Highlights from the Ninth Democratic Debate

Vishnu Kannan
Thursday, February 20, 2020, 5:15 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

On Wednesday, NBC News and MSNBC hosted the ninth debate of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, moderated by Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Hallie Jackson, Vanessa Hauc and Jon Ralston. We’ve combed through the transcript from the debate to present the national security-related exchanges. These excerpts are organized both thematically and chronologically.

A complete transcript is available from NBC News here.

Climate Change and Energy

RALSTON: I'm going to start with you, Mr. Vice President. What specific policies would you implement that would keep Las Vegas and Reno livable, but also not hurt those economies?

BIDEN: It is the existential threat humanity faces, global warming.

And what I would do is, number one, work on providing the $47 billion we have for tech and forto making sure we find answers is to find a way to transmit that wind and solar energy across the network in the United States. Invest in battery technology.

I would immediately reinstate all of the elimination ofof what Trump has eliminated in terms of the EPA. I would secondly make sure that we had 500,000 new charging stations in every new highway we built in the United States of America or repaired. I would make sure that we once again made sure that we got the mileage standards back up which would have saved over 12 billion barrels of oil, had he not walked away from it. And I would invest in rail, in rail. Rail can take hundreds of thousands, millions of cars off the road if we have high-speed rail.

RALSTON: Mayor Bloomberg, let me readlet me read what you've said about this issue. You said you want to intensify U.S. and international actions to stop the expansion of coal. How exactly are you going to do that?

BLOOMBERG: Well, already we've closed 304 out of the 530 coal-fired power plants in the United States, and we've closed 80 out of the 200 or 300 that are in Europe, Bloomberg Philanthropies, working with the Sierra Club, that's one of the things you do.

But let's just start at the beginning. If you're president, the first thing you do the first day is you rejoin the Paris Agreement. This is just ridiculous for us to drop out.

Two, America's responsibility is to be the leader in the world. And if we don't, we're the ones that are going to get hurt just as much as anybody else. And that's why I don't want to have us cut off all relationships with China, because you will never solve this problem without China and India, Western Europe, and America. That's where most of the greenhouse…(APPLAUSE AND INTERRUPTION)

I believeand you can tell my whether this is rightbut the solar array that the vice president is talking about is being closed because it's not economic, that you can put solar panels in into modern technology even more modern than that.

RALSTON: I want to let Senator Warren jump in here, just because you've said something that's really specific to Nevada. And the tension here in this state is between people who want renewable energy and people who want conservation on public lands.

Eighty-five percent of Nevada is managed by the federal government. You have said that you were going to have an executive order that would stop drilling on public lands, stop mining, which is a huge industry here. You've got to have lithium, you've got to have copper for renewable energy. How do you do that?

WARREN: So, look, I think we should stop all new drilling and mining on public lands and all offshore drilling. If we need to make exceptions because there are specific minerals that we've got to have access to, then we locate those and we do it not in a way that just is about the profits of giant industries, but in a way that is sustainable for the environment. We cannot continue to let our public lands be used for profits by those who don't care about our environment and are not making it better.

And I believe that the way that we're going to deal with this problem is that we are going to increase by tenfold our investment in science.

There's an upcoming $27 trillion market worldwide for green. And much of what is needed has not yet been invented. My proposal is, let's invent it here in the United States and then say, we invent it in the U.S., you've got to build it in the U.S.

TODD: We're going to stick to this topic. But, Senator Sanders, I'm going to move to fracking. You want a total ban on natural gas extraction, fracking, in the next five years. The industry, obviously, supports a lot of jobs around the country, including thousands in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

What do you tell [fracking] workers, it's supporting a big industry right now, sir?

SANDERS: What I tell these workers is that the scientists are telling us that if we don't act incredibly boldly within the next six, seven years, there will be irreparable damage done not just in Nevada, not just to Vermont or Massachusetts, but to the entire world.

Joe said it right: This is an existential threat. You know what that means, Chuck? That means we're fighting for the future of this planet.


And the Green New Deal that I support, by the way, will create up to 20 million good-paying jobs as we move our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

TODD: Senator Klobuchar, you're not on the same page on a total ban of fracking. You call it a transitional fuel. But scientists are sounding this alarm now. Do you take these warnings that maybe fracking is a step backwards, not a step forward, not a transition?

KLOBUCHAR: I have made it very clear that we have to review all of the permits that are out there right now for natural gas and then make decisions on each one of them and then not grant new ones until we make sure that it's safe. But it is a transitional fuel.

This is a crisis, and a lot of our plans are very similar to get to carbon neutral by 2045, 2050, something like that. But we're not going to be able to pass this unless we bring people with us.

And you can do this in a smart way. One, get back into that international climate change agreement. Two, clean power rules, bring those back. And the president can do this herself without Congress, as well as the gas mileage standard.

HAUC: Vice President Biden, you have said that you want to hold oil and gas executives accountable for their role in harming our planet. You have even suggested that you might put them in jail. Which companies are you talking about? And how far are you willing to go?

BIDEN: I'm willing to go as far as we have to. First of all, I would eliminate all the subsidies we have for oil and gas, eliminate it, period. That would save millions and millionsbillions of dollars.

On day one, when I'm elected president, I'm going to invite all of the members of the Paris Accord to Washington, D.C. They make up 85 percent of the problem. They know me. I'm used to dealing with international relations. I will get them to up the ante in a big way.

HAUC: What would you do with these companies that are responsible for the destruction of our planet?

BIDEN: What would I do with them? I would make sure they, number one, stop. Number two, if you demonstrate that they, in fact, have done things already that are bad and they've been lying, they should be able to be sued, they should be able to be held personally accountable, and they shouldand not only the company, not the stockholders, but the CEOs of those companies. They should be engaged.

And it's a little bit likelook, this is the industries we should be able to sue. We should go afterjust like we did the drug companies, just like we did with the tobacco companies.


HOLT: Mayor Bloomberg, your business is heavily invested in China. I think you mentioned that a few questions back. The number one producer in the world of carbon emissions. How far would you go to force China to reduce those emissions and tackle the climate crisis?

BLOOMBERG: Well, you're not going to go to war with them. You have to negotiate with them and try toand we've seen how well that works with tariffs that are hurting us. What you have to do is convince the Chinese that it is in their interest, as well. Their people are going to die just as our people are going to die. And we'll work together.

In all fairness, the China [sic] has slowed down. It's India that is an even bigger problem. But it is an enormous problem. Nobody's doing anything about it. We could right here in America make a big difference. We're closing the coal-fired power plants. If we could enforce some of the rules on fracking so that they don't release methane into the air and into the water, you'll make a big difference.

But we're not going to get rid of fracking for a while. And we, incidentally not just natural gas. You frack oil, as well. It is a technique, and when it's done poorly, like they're doing in too many places where the methane gets out into the air, it is very damaging. But it's a transition fuel, I think the senator said it right.

We want to go to all renewables. But that's still many years from now. And webefore I think the senator mentioned 2050 for some data. No scientist thinks the numbers for 2050 are 2050 anymore. They're 2040, 2035. The world is coming apart faster than any scientific study had predicted. We've just got to do something now.

HOLT: Mayor Buttigieg, your thoughts.

BUTTIGIEG: … Now, I've got a plan to get us carbon neutral by 2050. And I think everybody up here has a plan that more or less does the same. So the real question is, how are we going to actually get it done?

We need leadership to make this a national project that breaks down the partisan and political tug of war that prevents anything from getting done. How do you do it? Well, first of all, making sure that those jobs are available quickly.

Secondly, ensuring that we are pulling in those very sectors who have been made to feel like they're part of the problem, from farming to industry, and fund as well as urge them to do the right thing.

And then global climate diplomacy. I'm a little skeptical of the idea that convincing is going to do the trick when it comes to working with China. America has repeatedly overestimated our ability to shape Chinese ambitions. But what we can do is ensure that we use the hard tools … to enforce what has to happen…

BIDEN: And lastly I want to say, look, the idea of China, China isand their Belt and Road proposal, they're taking the dirtiest coal in the world mostly out of Mongolia and spreading it all around the world. It's clear. Make it clear when you call them to Washington in the first 100 days, if you continue, you will suffer severe consequences because the rest of the world will impose tariffs on everything you're selling because you are undercutting the entire economy.


HAUC: Our next question goes to Senator Klobuchar. About 700,000 young people known as Dreamers, or Sonadores, who were brought to this country as children, are currently protected from deportation because of a program that is now under the review by the Supreme Court. If the court sides with the Trump administration, which is eager to end this protection, what exactly is your plan to protect the Dreamers permanently?

KLOBUCHAR: To win, to beat Donald Trump. The best way to protect the Dreamers is to have a new president. There are the votes there to protect the Dreamers. And I have been working on this since I got to the United States Senate. In my first campaign, I actually had a bunch of ads run against me because I was standing up for immigrants.

And when I think of Dreamersand I try to explain it to my stateI found a 99-year-old Hispanic war veteran who was a Dreamer when he was brought over to this country. And back then, he just went to Canada for a night and came back and he was a permanent citizen, because they needed him to serve in World War II. Now, not so easy.

The Dreamers are our future. The Dreamers are so important in Nevada. And the best way we can get this done is to beat Donald Trump, but it is to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which creates a path to citizenship to so many hard-working people, will bring down the deficit by $158 billion, and will bring peace for these Dreamers.

HAUC: Mayor Pete?

BUTTIGIEG: If you're going to run based on your record of voting in Washington, then you have to own those votes, especially when it comes to immigration. You voted to confirm the head of Customs and Border Protection under Trump, who is one of the architects of the family separation policy. You voted to make English the national language. Do you know the message that sends in as multilingual a state as Nevada to immigrants?

You have been unusual among Democrats, I think the Democrat among all of the senators running for president most likely to vote for Donald Trump's judges, who we know are especially hostile to Dreamers and to the rights of immigrants.

Now, in South Bend, it was not always easy to stand up in a conservative place like Indiana on immigration. But we delivered. We created a municipal ID program so that Dreamers and others who were undocumented were able to navigate everyday life. We stood up for those rights and stood with members of our community with the message that they were as American as we are. (speaking Spanish)

HAUC: Senator Klobuchar?

KLOBUCHAR: Number one, do the math … In fact, I have opposed, not supported, two-thirds of the Trump judges, so get your numbers right. And I am in the top 10 to 15 of opposing them.

Number two, when it comes to immigration reform, the things that you are referring to, that official that you are referring to was supported by about half the Democrats, including someone in this room. And I will say this: He was highly recommended by the Obama officials. Do you know why? Because Trump had so few career people.

I did not one bit agree with these draconian policies to separate kids from their parents. And in my first 100 days, I would immediately change that.

Vishnu Kannan is special assistant to the president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Previously he was a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in Carnegie’s Technology and International Affairs Program, a researcher at Lawfare and the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and an intern at the Brookings Institution. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University where he studied International Relations, Political Theory and Economics.

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