Democracy & Elections

National Security Highlights from the Third Democratic Primary Debate

Vishnu Kannan
Friday, September 13, 2019, 3:33 PM

On Thursday, ABC hosted the third debate of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, moderated by Linsey Davis, David Muir, Jorge Ramos and George Stephanopoulos. 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 of the debate can be found through the Washington Post.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

On Thursday, ABC hosted the third debate of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, moderated by Linsey Davis, David Muir, Jorge Ramos and George Stephanopoulos. 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 of the debate can be found through the Washington Post.

Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

MUIR: I want to turn to the deadly mass shootings here in this country…Vice President Biden, I do want to direct this to you, because we all remember Sandy Hook… At the time, there was a groundswell in this country to get something done. President Obama asked you to lead the push for gun control.

You have often pointed to your ability to reach across the aisle to get things done, but four months after Sandy Hook, a measure to require expanded background checks died on the Senate floor.

If you couldn't get it done after Sandy Hook, why should voters give you another chance?

BIDEN: Because I got it done before. I'm the only one up here that's ever beat the NRA —only one ever to beat the NRA nationally. I'm the guy that brought the Brady bill into — into focus and became law.

And so that's number one. Number two, after Sandy Hook, a number of things happened. It went from a cause to a movement…There has been a sea change. Those proposals I put forward for the president had over 50 percent of gun — of gun — of members of the NRA supporting them, and overwhelmingly the rest of the people supporting them. Now the numbers are much higher… Over 90 percent of the American people think we have to get assault weapons off the street — period. And we have to get buy-backs and get them out of their basements


MUIR: Senator Harris, you have said that you would take executive action on guns within your first 100 days...

HARRIS: Correct.

MUIR: ... including banning imports of AR-15 assault weapons.

HARRIS: That's right.

MUIR: In recent days former Vice President Biden has said about executive orders, "Some really talented people are seeking the nomination. They said 'I'm going to issue an executive order.'" Biden saying, "There's no constitutional authority to issue that executive order when they say 'I'm going to eliminate assault weapons,'" saying, "you can't do it by executive order any more than Trump can do things when he says he can do it by executive order."

Does the vice president have a point there?

BIDEN: Some things you can. Many things you can't.


HARRIS: Well, I mean, I would just say, hey, Joe, instead of saying, no, we can't, let's say yes, we can.


BIDEN: Let's be constitutional. We've got a Constitution.

MUIR: Vice President Biden, do you still stand by what you said on an executive order?

BIDEN: No, what I said was ... speak to constitutional scholars. If in fact we could say, "By the way, you can't own the following weapons, period; they cannot be sold anymore" — check with constitutional scholars. Now, you can say...

MUIR: I do want to come to Congressman O'Rourke, because I know this is personal to you. El Paso is your hometown. Some on this stage have suggested a voluntary buy-back for guns in this country.

You've gone further. You've said, quote, "Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s will have to sell them to the government, all of them." You know that critics call this confiscation. Are you proposing taking away their guns? And how would this work?

O'ROURKE: I am, if it's a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield.

If the high impact, high velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body, because it was designed to do that, so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield and not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers.

When we see that being used against children, and in Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren't enough ambulances to get to them in time, hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

And I want to say this. I'm listening to the people of this country. The day after I proposed doing that, I went to a gun show in Conway, Arkansas, to meet with those who were selling AR-15s and AK-47s and those who were buying those weapons. And you might be surprised, there was some common ground there, folks who said, I would willingly give that up, cut it to pieces, I don't need this weapon to hunt, to defend myself. It is a weapon of war.

So, let's do the right thing, but let's bring everyone in America into the conversation, Republicans, Democrats, gun-owners, and non-gun owners alike.


MUIR: I want to bring in Senator Klobuchar on this, because you've often talked about your uncle and the proud hunters back home in Minnesota. So I wanted to get your response to Congressman O'Rourke tonight. Where do you stand on mandatory gun buybacks?

KLOBUCHAR: Everyone up here favors an assault weapon ban. Everyone up here favors magazine limitations, which, by the way, would have made a huge difference if that was in place in El Paso, in that store, where all those ordinary people showed such extraordinary courage. And certainly in Dayton, Ohio, where in 30 seconds, one man guns down innocent people. The cops got there in one minute, and it still wasn't enough to save those people.

...Right now, on Mitch McConnell's desk, are three bills — universal background checks, closing the Charleston loophole and passing my bill to make sure that domestic abusers don't get AK-47s.

MUIR: Senator Booker, thank you. Senator Warren, I want to come to you next, because you have actually said in recent days that there are things you can get done with Republicans in the Senate. What can you get done on gun control?

WARREN: So let’s start by framing the problem the right way. We have a gun violence problem in this country. The mass shootings are terrible, but they get all the headlines. Children die every day on streets, in neighborhoods, on playgrounds. People die from violence, from suicide and domestic abuse. We have a gun violence problem in this country.

And we agree on many steps we could take to fix it. My view on this is, we're going to — it's not going to be one and done on this. We're going to do it, and we're going to have to do it again, and we're going to have to come back some more until we cut the number of gun deaths in this country significantly.

But here's the deal. The question we need to ask is, when we've got this much support across the country, 90 percent of Americans want to see us do—I like registration—want to see us do background checks, want to get assault weapons off the streets, why doesn't it happen? And the answer is corruption, pure and simple.


RAMOS: We've been hearing a lot about what's been happening here in Texas. Only a few weeks ago, the deadliest massacre of Latinos, Latinos, in modern U.S. history happened in this state, in El Paso. So the fear among Latinos—and you know this—is very real.

So let me start with an issue that is causing a lot of division in this country: immigration. Vice President Biden, as a presidential candidate, in 2008, you supported the border wall, saying, "Unlike most Democrats, I voted for 700 miles of fence." This is what you said.

Then you served as vice president in an administration that deported 3 million people, the most ever in U.S. history. Did you do anything to prevent those deportations? I mean, you've been asked this question before and refused to answer, so let me try once again. Are you prepared to say tonight that you and President Obama made a mistake about deportations? Why should Latinos trust you?

BIDEN: ... What I would do as president is several more things, because things have changed. I would, in fact, make sure that there is—we immediately surge to the border. All those people who are seeking asylum, they deserve to be heard. That's who we are. We're a nation who says, if you want to flee, and you're freeing oppression, you should come.

I would change the order that the president just changed, saying women who were being beaten and abused could no longer claim that as a reason for asylum.


RAMOS: Senator Warren, hundreds of children have been separated from their parents at the border. And recently, in Mississippi, we saw the largest immigration raid in a decade.

You want ICE, the agency in charge of rounding up undocumented immigrants.

So how would you deal with the millions of immigrants who arrive legally but overstay their visas? And how would you stop hundreds of thousands of Central Americans who want to migrate to the U.S.?

WARREN: I want to see us expand legal immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for our DREAMers, but also for their grandparents, and for their cousins, for people who have overstayed student visas, and for people who came here to work in the fields. I want to have a system that is a path to citizenship that is fair and achievable.

Down at the border, we've got to rework this entirely. A system right now that cannot tell the difference in the threat posed by a terrorist, a criminal, and a 12-year-old girl is not a system that is keeping us safer, and it is not serving our values.


We need — I want to add one more part on this, because I think we have to look at all the pieces. Why do we have a crisis at the border? In no small part because we have withdrawn help from people in Central America who are suffering.

We need to restore that help. We need to help establish and re-establish the rule of law so that people don't feel like they have to flee for their lives.

RAMOS: Mr. Yang? It is true that in the last few years we have seen the most severe anti-immigrant measures, from putting kids in cages to limiting asylum for people fleeing gangs and domestic violence. But it is also true about 1 million immigrants enter the U.S. legally every year. So, are you willing to raise the number of legal immigrants from 1 million to 2 million per year? And should there be a merit system, as President Trump wants?

YANG: ...I would return the level of legal immigration to the point it was under the Obama-Biden administration.

RAMOS: (INAUDIBLE) Pete, eight out of 10 Latinos in Texas fear another mass shooter targeting them. This is according to a new Univision poll. President Trump has called Mexican immigrants rapists and killers, tried to ban Muslims from entering the country separated children from their parents.

He supporters have chanted, build a wall and send her back. Do you think that people who support President Trump and his immigration policies are racist?

BUTTIGIEG: Anyone who supports this is supporting racism.


The only people, though, who actually buy into this president’s hateful rhetoric around immigrants are people who don’t know any. We have an opportunity to build an American majority around immigration reform.


In some of the most conservative, rural areas of Iowa, I have seen communities that embraced immigration grow. And that's why part of my plan for revitalizing the economies of rural America includes community renewal visas that would allow cities and towns and counties that are hurting not only for jobs but for population to embrace immigration as we have in my city.

You know, the only reason that South Bend is growing right now, after years of shrinking, is immigration. It's one of the reasons we acted, not waiting for Washington, to create city-issued municipal IDs, so that people, regardless of immigration status in our city, had the opportunity to have the benefits of identification.


O’ROURKE: I will lead an effort to make sure that we rewrite our immigration laws in that way. Never cage another child. Make sure that there is accountability and justice for the seven lives lost under our care and our custody, but also face the fact that Democrats and Republicans alike voted to build a wall that has produced thousands of deaths of people trying to cross to join family or to work a job.

That we have been part of deporting people, hundreds of thousands just in the Obama administration alone, who posed no threat to this country, breaking up their families. Democrats have to get off the back foot, we have to lead on this issue, because we know it is right.

Legalize America, begin with those more than 1 million DREAMers, make them U.S. citizens right now in this, their true home country...

... and extend that to their parents, their sisters and their brothers, and ensure that we have a legal, safe, orderly system to come to this country and add to our greatness here.

Trade and China

STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to turn now to national security and the foreign policy issue that has such a direct impact here at home. The U.S. relationship with China, trade and President Trump's tariffs. We received more than 100 questions from viewers wanting to know how all of you are going to handle these tariffs.

And, Mr. Yang, let me begin with you. Would you repeal the tariffs on your first day in office? And if so, would you risk losing leverage in our trade relationship with China?

YANG: I would not repeal the tariffs on day one, but I would let the Chinese know that we need to hammer out a deal, because right now, the tariffs are pummeling producers and farmers in Iowa who have absolutely nothing to do with the imbalances that we have with China.


So, the imbalances are real. But we have to let the Chinese know that we recognize that President Trump has pursued an arbitrary and haphazard trade policy that has had victims on both sides.

So, no to repealing the tariffs immediately, but yes to making sure we come to a deal that addresses the concerns of American companies and American producers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mayor Pete, let me take that question — let me take that question to you, … How do you think about China? We've seen President Trump call President Xi both an enemy and a friend.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the president clearly has no strategy...

The problem is, this is a moment when American leadership is needed more than ever, whether it's in Hong Kong, where those protesters for democracy need to know that they have a friend in the United States, or anywhere around the world where increasingly we see dictators throwing their weight around.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you repeal the tariffs?

BUTTIGIEG: I would have a strategy that would include the tariffs as leverage, but it's not about the tariffs. Look, what's going on right now is a president who has reduced the entire China challenge into a question of tariffs, when what we know is that the tariffs are coming down on us more than anybody else and there's a lack of a bigger strategy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Klobuchar, you've actually supported the tariffs on steel.

KLOBUCHAR: What we've got right now, though, George, it's not a focused tariff on steel. What he has done here, he has assessed these tariffs on our allies. He has put us in the middle of this trade war and he is treating our farmers and our workers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos. And if we are not careful, he is going to bankrupt this country.

One forecast recently says that it has already cost us 300,000 jobs, all right? There is soybeans that are mounting up in bins all over the Midwest, in my state of Minnesota and in Iowa.

So what I think we need to do is to go back to the negotiating table...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Castro, you actually, in one of the previous debates, identified China as the most serious national security threat to our country. I want to pick up on what Senator Klobuchar was saying. She said she would go back to the negotiating table. The question is, what do you do for leverage? Where do you get it?

CASTRO: So when I become president, I would immediately begin to negotiate with China to ratchet down that trade war. We have leverage there. I also believe, though, that we need to return to a leader when it comes to things like human rights.

We have millions of Uighurs, for instance, in China that right now are being imprisoned and mistreated.

And in North Korea, this president is elevating a dictator. We need to stop that. We need to return to ensuring that America leads again on human rights. When it comes to this trade war, I would immediately begin ratcheting that trade war down. We have leverage in that discussion

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Warren, let me bring you in on this conversation. President Obama signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In part, it was designed to rein in China, to bring China into some kind of regulation. What do you think he got wrong?

WARREN: So our trade policy in America has been broken for decades, and it has been broken because it works for giant multinational corporations and not for much of anyone else. ...

The way we change our trade policy in America is, first, the procedures. Who sits at the table? I want to negotiate trade with unions at the table. I want to negotiate it with small farmers at the table. I want to negotiate it with environmentalists at the table. I want to negotiate with human rights activists at the table.

And you asked the question about leverage. If I can just respond to that one, the leverage, are you kidding? Everybody wants access to the American market. That means that we have the capacity to say right here in America, you want to come sell goods to American consumers? Then you got to raise your standards. You've got to raise your labor standards. You've got to raise your environmental standards so our companies can compete on a level playing field. We can use trade not to undermine American workers and not to undermine American farms and not to undermine small businesses in this country. We can use trade to help build a stronger economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Harris, how would your trade policy differ from President Obama's?

HARRIS: When we look at this issue, my trade policy, under a Harris administration, is always going to be about saying, we need to export American products, not American jobs...

I am not a protectionist Democrat. Look, we need to sell our stuff. And that means we need to sell it to people overseas. That means we need trade policies that allow that to happen.

You asked earlier about China. It's a complicated relationship. We have to hold China accountable. They steal our products, including our intellectual property. They dump substandard products into our economy. They need to be held accountable.

We also need to partner with China on climate and the crisis that that presents. We need to partner with China on the issue of North Korea. I am on—and I think the only person on this stage—the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee. We need a partner on the issue of North Korea.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm going to take this to Senator Sanders right now.

SANDERS: Well, there is a reason—there is a reason why, in the last 45 years, the average American today, despite an explosion of technology and worker productivity, is not making a penny more than he or she made 45 years ago. And one of the reasons is that, for decades, we have had disastrous trade policies.

I got to say to my good friend, Joe Biden, Joe and I strongly disagree on trade. I helped lead the opposition to NAFTA and PNTR, which cost this country over 4 million good-paying jobs.

And what happened is people who had those jobs ended up getting other jobs making 50 percent of what they made in manufacturing.

What we have got to do is develop a trade policy that represents workers, represents the farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere, who are losing billions right now because of Trump's policy, a trade policy which understands that if a company shuts down in America and goes abroad, and then thinks they're going to get online to get a lucrative federal contract, under Bernie Sanders, they got another guess coming.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Vice President Biden, he invoked your name.

BIDEN: Yeah, well, look, we're either going to make policy or China's going to make the rules of the road. We make up 25 percent of the world economy. We need another 25 percent to join us.

And I think Elizabeth—Senator Warren is correct. At the table has to be labor and at the table have to be environmentalists. The fact of the matter is, China—the problem isn't the trade deficit, the problem is they're stealing our intellectual property. The problem is they're violating the WTO. They're dumping steel on us. That's a different issue than whether or not they're dumping agricultural products on us.

In addition to that, we're in a position where, if we don't set the rules, we, in fact, are going to find ourselves with China setting the rules. And that's why you need to organize the world to take on China, to stop the corrupt practices that are underway.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Booker, close out this round.

BOOKER: Sure. There’s one point we’re really missing on the stage right now, which is the fact that Donald Trump’s America first policy is actually an America isolated, an America alone policy.

BIDEN: Exactly right.

BOOKER: From trade to battling China to the global crisis of climate change, the challenges in the Middle East, he is pulling us away from our allies, out of the Iran deal, out of the Paris climate accords.

And on trade, he's deciding to take on China, while at the same time taking on tariff battles with all of our allies. You literally have him using a national security waiver to put tariffs on Canada. Now, look, I'm the only person on this stage that finds Trudeau's hair very menacing, but they are not a national security threat.

We cannot go up against China alone. This is a president that has a better relationship with dictators, like Duterte and Putin, than he does with Merkel and Macron. We are the strongest nation on the planet Earth, and our strength is multiplied and magnified when we stand with our allies in common cause and common purpose. That's how we beat China. That's how we beat climate change on the planet Earth, and that's how American values are the ones that lead on issues of trade and workers' rights.


MUIR: George, thank you. I want to turn now to our troops overseas and to America's longest war in Afghanistan.

Many of you on this stage have said you'd bring the troops home in your first term. Others have said in your first year. Senator Warren, we all know the presidency is much different from the campaign trail. President Obama wanted to bring the troops home. President Trump promised to bring the troops home. And you have said of Afghanistan, let's help them reach a peace settlement. It is time to bring our troops home, in your words, starting right now. Would you keep that promise to bring the troops home starting right now with no deal with the Taliban?

WARREN: Yes. And I'll tell you why. What we're doing right now in Afghanistan is not helping the safety and security of the United States. It is not helping the safety and security of the world. It is not helping the safety and security of Afghanistan. We need to bring our troops home.

And then we need to make a big shift. We cannot ask our military to keep solving problems that cannot be solved militarily.

We're not going to bomb our way to a solution in Afghanistan. We need to treat the problem of terrorism as a worldwide problem, and that means we need to be working with all of our allies, our European allies, our Canadian allies, our Asian allies, our allies in Africa and in South America. We need to work together to root out terrorism.

It means using all of our tools. It means economic investment. It means expanding our diplomatic efforts instead of hollowing out the State Department and deliberately making it so we have no eyes and ears in many of these countries. We need a foreign policy that is about our security and about leading on our values.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Warren, a quick follow on that, because top U.S. leaders, military leaders on the ground in Afghanistan told me you can't do it without a deal with the Taliban. You just said you would, you would bring them home. What if they told you that? Would you listen to their advice?

WARREN: I was in Afghanistan with John McCain two years ago this past summer...And I talked to people — we did — we talked to military leaders, American and local leaders, we talked to people on the ground and asked the question, the same one I ask on the Senate Armed Services Committee every time one of the generals comes through: Show me what winning looks like. Tell me what it looks like.

And what you hear is a lot of, "Uh," because no one can describe it. And the reason no one can describe it is because the problems in Afghanistan are not problems that can be solved by a military.

...We need to work with the rest of the world. We need to use our economic tools. We need to use our diplomatic tools. We need to build with our allies. And we need to make the whole world safer, not keep troops bombing in Afghanistan.

MUIR: I do want to stay on this, and I want to turn to Mayor Buttigieg, because you're the only veteran on this stage. You served in Afghanistan. We heard in recent days from General Joseph Dunford, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in recent days, "I'm not going to use the word withdrawal right now. It's our judgment the Afghans need support to deal with the level of violence." If he's not even using the word withdrawal, would you put your promise to bring troops home in the first year on hold to follow the advice?

BUTTIGIEG: ... We have got to put an end to endless war.

And the way we do it is see to it that that country will never again be used for an attack against our homeland, and that does not require an open-ended commitment of ground troops.

Let me say something else, because if there's one thing we've learned about Afghanistan, from Afghanistan, it's that the best way not to be caught up in endless war is to avoid starting one in the first place.

And so when I am president, an authorization for the use of military force will have a built-in three-year sunset. Congress will be required to vote and a president will be required to go to Congress to seek an authorization.


MUIR: I want to turn to Vice President Biden, because the concerns about any possible vacuum being created in Afghanistan, if you pulled the U.S. troops out, has been heightened by what we've seen in recent days on the ground in Iraq.

When you were vice president, President Obama turned to you to bring the troops home from Iraq. You have said on the campaign trail, quote, "I made sure the president turned to me and said, Joe, get our combat troops out of Iraq." There was a major drawdown of U.S. troops, and then ISIS seized by some estimates 40 percent of the territory in Iraq. You then had to send thousands of troops back in. Was it wrong to pull out of Iraq that quickly? And did the move actually help ISIS take hold?

BIDEN: No, it wasn't wrong to pull out. But I want to answer your Afghanistan question. ...It's an open secret, you reported a long time ago, George, that I was opposed to the surge in Afghanistan.

The whole purpose of going to Afghanistan was to not have a counterinsurgency, meaning that we're going to put that country together. It cannot be put together. Let me say it again. It will not be put together. It's three different countries. Pakistan owns the three counties — the three provinces in the east. They're not any part of — the Haqqanis run it..

But here's the point. The point is that it's a counterterrorism strategy. We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing for bases—insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to air lift from and to move against what we know.

We don't need those troops there. I would bring them home. And Joe Dunford's a fine guy, but this has been an internal argument we've had for eight years.

With regard to—with regard to Iraq, the fact of the matter is that, you know, I should have never voted to give Bush the authority to go in and do what he said he was going to do. The AUMF was designed, he said, to go in and get the Security Council to vote 15-0 to allow inspectors to go in to determine whether or not anything was being done with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons. And when that happened, he went ahead and went anyway without any of that proof.

...once he started to put the troops in, was that in fact we were doing it the wrong way; there was no plan; we should not be engaged; we didn't have the people with us; we didn't have our—we didn't have allies with us, et cetera.

we were right to get the combat troops out. The big mistake that was made, which we predicted, was that you would not have a circumstance where the Shia and the Kurds would work together to keep ISIS from coming—from moving in.

MUIR:I want to turn to Senator Sanders on this. Because the concern over Afghanistan is very similar to what we saw in Iraq when the troops came out. ISIS filled that vacuum.

What do you make of people out there who are worried that if we pull out U.S. troops too quickly from Afghanistan, it will create safe haven all over again, like the plotters of 9/11?

SANDERS: David, let me answer that, but let me just comment on something that the vice president said.

You talked about the big mistake in Iraq and the surge. The truth is, the big mistake, the huge mistake, and one of the big differences between you and me, I never believed what Cheney and Bush said about Iraq...

BIDEN: You're right.

SANDERS: I voted against the war in Iraq... and helped lead the opposition. And it's sad to say—I mean, I, kind of, you know, had the feeling that there would be massive destabilization in that area if we went into that war.

But I think, also, I am the only person up here to have voted against all three of Trump's military budgets… I don't think we have to spend $750 billion a year on the military when we don't even know who our enemy is.

I think that what we have got to do is bring this world together—bring it together on climate change, bring it together in fighting against terrorism. And make it clear that we as a planet, as a global community, will work together to help countries around the world rebuild their struggling economies and do everything that we can to rid the world of terrorism. But dropping bomb on Afghanistan and Iraq was not the way to do it.

MUIR: I want to take this to Mr. Yang. You share the stage, as you know, when when we talk about troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the vice president, who was in the Situation Room, with senators who were on the Senate Armed Services, the Foreign Relations Committees, with an Afghanistan veteran who is on the stage tonight.

As you share the stage with these candidates, what makes you the most qualified on this stage to be commander in chief?

YANG: I've signed a pledge to end the forever wars. We've been in a state of continuous armed conflict for 18 years, which is not what the American people want. We have to start owning what we can and can't do. We're not very good at rebuilding countries.

And if you want proof, all you have to do is look within our own country of Puerto Rico.

We've spent trillions of dollars to unclear benefits, lost thousands of lives... And the goal has to be to rebuild the relationships that have made America strong for decades.

I would lead our armed forces with restraint and judgment. What the American people want is simply a president who has the right values and point of view and they can trust to make the right decisions when it comes to putting our young men and women into harm's way. And that's what I would do as president.

Latin America

RAMOS: You haven’t been asked about Latin America in the previous debates, so let’s begin. Senator Sanders, one country where many immigrants are arriving from is Venezuela. A recent U.N. fact-finding mission found that thousands have been disappeared, tortured and killed by government forces in Venezuela.

You admit that Venezuela does not have free elections, but still you refuse to call Nicolas Maduro a dictator—a dictator. Can you explain why?


SANDERS: Well, first of all, let me be very clear. Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant. What we need now is international and regional cooperation for free elections in Venezuela so that the people of that country can make—can create their own future.


RAMOS: Secretary, you wanted to say a quick response...?

CASTRO: Sure, thank you, Jorge. I'll call Maduro a dictator, because he is a dictator.

And what we need to do is to, along with our allies, make sure that the Venezuelan people get the assistance that they need, that we continue to pressure Venezuela so that they'll have free and fair elections, and also, here in the United States, offer temporary protected status, TPS, to Venezuelans.

I also believe that we need to do things like a 21st century Marshall plan for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala ... so that people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of having to make the dangerous journey to the United States. And under my administration, we're going to put renewed focus on Latin America. It makes sense. They're our neighbors and we have a lot of things in common. It also makes sense that, because we have a country like China that is going around the world to places like Africa and Latin America, making their own relationships, strengthening those, the United States needs to strengthen its partnerships in Latin America immediately.

Climate Change

RAMOS: What meaningful action will you take to reverse the effect of climate change? And can we count on you to follow through if your donors are against it?

O'ROURKE: We will make sure that we get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than the year 2050. That we are halfway there by 2030. That we mobilize $5 trillion over the next 10 years to do that. That we invest here in Houston, Texas, with pre-disaster mitigation grants to protect those communities that are vulnerable to flooding given the fact that this town has seen three 500-year floods in just five years, you'd like to think you're good for 1,500 years, but you're not. They're coming faster and larger and more devastating than ever.

We're also going to make sure that we free ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels and embrace renewable wind and solar energy technology, as well as the high-paying, high-skill, high-wage jobs that come along with that. And that we're going to pay farmers for the environmental services they want to provide. Planting cover crops, keeping more land under conservation, using no-till farming, regenerative agriculture can pull carbon out of the air and can drive it and sequester it into the soil.

That's the way that we're going to meet this challenge and we're going to bring everyone into the solution.

RAMOS: Senator Klobuchar?

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

This is the existential crisis of our time. ... I think having someone leading the ticket from the Midwest will allow us to talk about this in a different way and get it done.

On day one, I will get us back into the international climate change agreement. On day two, I will bring back the clean power rules that President Obama had worked on. On day three, I will bring back the gas mileage standards. You can do all that without Congress, which is good.

On day four, five, and six I will, working with Congress and mayors and business people all over the country, introduce sweeping legislation to get at that 2050 goal. And on day seven, you're supposed to rest, but I won't. This is what we need to do if we're going to get at climate change. We have to take this on as a crisis that's happening right now.

RAMOS: Senator Warren, should American foreign policy be based around the principle of climate change?

WARREN: Yes. We need to work on every front on climate change.

But that means we've got to use all the tools. One of the tools we need to use are our regulatory tools. I have proposed following Governor Inslee, that we, by 2028, cut all carbon emissions from new buildings. By 2030, carbon emissions from cars. And by 2035, all carbon emissions from the manufacture of electricity. That alone, those three, will cut our emissions here in the United States by 70 percent.

We can do this. We also need to help around the world to clean, but understand this one more time. Why doesn't it happen? As long as Washington is paying more attention to money than it is to our future, we can't make the changes we need to make. We have to attack the corruption head-on so that we can save our planet.

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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