June 26 (UPI) -- A group of 10 Democrats faced off Wednesday in the first of two nights of debates in the 2020 presidential campaign.
The 10 candidates featured in the first round of debates were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; New York Mayor Bill De Blasio; former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.
O'Rourke appeared to dodge an early question about whether he would support a 70 percent tax rate on people in the United States making more than $10 million a year, at one point saying in Spanish that the economy must work for all people.
When pressed to give a yes or no answer on the question, he said he would support a tax rate and tax code that are fair for all Americans.
"Tax capital at the same rate that you tax regular income, take that corporate tax rate up to 28 percent and you would generate the revenue that you need to pay for the programs that we're talking about," he said.
De Blasio stated bluntly that the Democratic Party should favor a 70 percent tax rate on the wealthy as well as programs such as free college.
"This Democratic Party has to be strong, bold and progressive," he said.
Warren defended her call for the deconsolidation of large companies, such as Facebook and Amazon, as a tactic to fight corruption and political lobbying.
"Where I want to start this is I want to return the government to the people and that means calling out the names of the monopolists and saying I have the courage to go after them," she said.
De Blasio and Warren were the only two candidates to raise their hands when asked if they would abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan.
"I'm with Bernie [Sanders] on Medicare for all," Warren said.
Gabbard also said that she believes Medicare for all is the best way to ensure that all Americans receive the healthcare they need.
"I also think that employers will recognize how much money will be saved by supporting a Medicare for all program," she said.
Klobuchar spoke out in favor of a more incremental plan and implementing a so-called public option.
"I am just simply concerned about kicking half of Americans off of their healthcare plans within four years," she said.
The issue inspired an animated conversation among O'Rourke, De Blasio and Delaney.
After O'Rourke said he would not eliminate private insurance, instead giving consumers the choice, De Blasio interrupted to say that the system is not working for many Americans.
"When you talk about the co-pays, the deductibles, the premiums, the out-of-pocket expenses, it's not working. How can you defend a system that's not working?" De Blasio asked.
Delaney said many Americans like their private insurance, advocating for free healthcare for all Americans as well as the option to choose private insurance.
"We should be the party that keeps what's working and fixes what's broken," Delaney said.
Booker said he would take immediate action to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and paths to citizenship for those affected as well as those with temporary protected status.
Castro stressed the importance of repealing section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and treating crossing the border illegally as a civil violation.
After O'Rourke said the United States would follow its own asylum laws under his presidency and not turn back immigrants at the border or detain families and would take action to reunite families, Castro noted that the policy he described would still criminalize many of those immigrants.
"Let's be very clear, the reason that they are separating those little children from their families is that they're using section 1325 of that act, which criminalizes coming across the border, to incarcerate the parents and separate them," Castro said.
De Blasio said the United States must work to eliminate the stigma that immigrants have a negative effect on the availability of American jobs.
"For all the American citizens out there who feel you're falling behind, who feel the American dream is not working for you, the immigrants didn't do that to you, the big corporations did that to you, the 1 percent did that you," he said.
Ryan agreed that crossing the border illegally should be a civil offense, noting the law contains other provisions to prosecute people smuggling drugs or engaging in other illegal activities.
Inslee called for the expansion of so-called sanctuary laws that prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities and opposed the detainment and separation of children from their families at the border.
"There is no reason for the detention and separation of these children. They should be released, pending their hearings and they should have a hearing and the law should be followed," he said.
Iran and Afghanistan
Booker was the only candidate to not raise his hand when asked if they would sign onto the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as originally negotiated, adding however that he believed it was a "mistake" to pull out of the deal.
"When I am president of the United States, I'm going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region and make sure that if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I'm going to do that," he said.
Klobuchar described the original deal as imperfect, but a good deal for that moment.
"What I would do is negotiate us back into that agreement, stand with our allies and not give unlimited leverage to Russia and China," she said.
Ryan called for the United States to remain engaged in global issues such as the war in Afghanistan and keep military forces there until the situation is resolved so the funds can then be spent on serving U.S. communities.
"The reality of it is if the United States isn't engaged, the Taliban will grow," he said.
Gabbard, a veteran who has served in Afghanistan, responded by calling for the United States to return its troops from Afghanistan, citing the human and economic losses.
"We are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when this war began," she said.
Guns and school safety
Warren described gun violence as a national health emergency and said it must be treated as a "serious research issue" that would find effective solutions and separate policies affecting collectors from people who obtain guns illegally.
"We need to treat this like the virus that's killing our children," she said.
Ryan called for trauma-based care in every school to ensure students' mental health in addition to gun reform laws.
"We need to make sure that these kids feel connected to the school, that means a mental health counselor in every single school in the United States," he said. "We need to start playing offense. If our kids are so traumatized that they're getting a gun and going into our schools, we're doing something wrong, too."
O'Rourke also called for the implementation of "red flag" laws that would identify individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others.
De Blasio noted the United States must reform the relationship between communities and police, noting there have been "too many tragedies" involving young black men being killed by police.
Inslee said that climate change was his first, second and third priority as a candidate, an attitude he said is needed to solve the issue.
He said the nation should adopt policies that he has put in place in Washington state, including a 100 percent clean electrical grid.
"We're the first generation that has felt the sting of climate change and we're the last that can do something about it," he said.
O'Rourke pledged to shift $5 trillion over the next 10 years to climate issues and pay farmers for environmental services they choose to provide.
"If all of us does all that we can, then we're going to be able to keep this planet from warming another 2 degrees Celsius and ensure that we match what this country can do and live up to our promise and our potential," he said.
Delaney said it is possible to implement carbon pricing, a practice that charges large emitters of carbon dioxide for the negative environmental effects by passing the funds back to consumers.
"You can't put a price on carbon, raise energy prices and not give the money back to the American consumer," he said, adding he believes he could pass such a law with bipartisan support his first year in office if elected.
The debate continues Thursday night with 10 more candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; author Marianne Williamson; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; entrepreneur Andrew Yang; and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.