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10 takeaways from the second 2020 Democratic debate

Kamala Harris draws blood on Joe Biden on race issue; Sanders stands pat as grumpy socialist

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MIAMI (CFP) — The second flight of 10 Democrats took the stage in Miami Thursday night for the second of two nights of debate among the more than two dozen candidates running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Here’s a recap of some of the key takeaways from the proceedings:

Kamala Harris challenges Joe Biden on race during Democratic debate (From MSNBC)

1. Race and Fireworks: The tussle of the night — and the clip every network will play for days — was between former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California. It began when an emotional Harris took aim at Biden for his recent comments that he was able to work with segregationist senators in the past, which she called “hurtful.” “I will tell you on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats,” she said, explaining how she benefited from school busing in the 1970s, which Biden opposed at the time. Biden, his anger rising, was having none of it: “I did not praise racists. This is not true,” he said, before launching into a somewhat disjointed defense of his record on civil rights, which ended awkwardly when he noted that his time was up. The former vice president seemed a bit rattled after the exchange, although he recovered his equilibrium later in the debate.

2. Bernie Being Bernie: The most consistent performer on the stage was U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, in his own indomitable style, stuck to his battle-tested positions on the need for a political revolution to take America back from the greedy, unscrupulous capitalist class. Asked how he, as a older white man, could represent the party’s diversity, he stuck to his economic line: “How come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she was making 45 years ago … We need a party that is diverse, but we need a party that has guts.” Love him or hate him, this is one grumpy socialist who knows his own mind and never wavers — and does it all at the top of his lungs.

3. South Bend Shooting: Mayor Pete Buttegieg had to handle a hot potato question about a shooting of a black man by a white police officer in the city he leads, South Bend, Indiana. “It’s a mess, and we’re hurting … I have to face the fact that nothing I can say will bring (the victim) back,” he said. And while conceding that he has not been able as mayor to bring more diversity to the city’s mostly white police force, he also said that the investigation into the shooting needs to run its course — and ignored a shouted demand from U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California that he fire the officer involved.

4. Generational Dust-Up: Swalwell got in a pointed dig at Biden by quoting a speech that the septuagenarian former vice president made calling for passing the torch to a new generation of leadership — 32 years ago, when Swalwell was 6. That set off a cacophony of cross-talk that only ended when Harris managed to get off the line of the night: “Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on the table.”

5. Private Insurance Fault Line: When asked by the moderator if they supported abolishing private health insurance as part of a Medicare-for-all plan, only two candidates — Sanders and Harris — raised their hands. Sanders offered a robust defense of the idea, saying that if other major countries such as Britain and Canada can operate a health care system for their citizens, the United States should be able to do the same. The biggest pushback on eliminating private insurance came from U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who noted that Canada has just a tenth of the population of the United States, and Biden, who touted his role in passing Obamacare and said he had no intention of scrapping it. Buttigieg proposed a mixture of public and private plans that he called “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it.”

6. At Back of the Pack: Unlike in the first debate, when former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro had a breakout performance, none of the candidates lagging at the back of the pack turned in a performance that is likely to move the needle. Bennet did manage to grab a bit of air time; Swalwell tried to create moments on gun control and his calls for generational change; and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tried to do the same with her support for legal abortion. But neither they nor former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper are likely to play much of a role in the post-debate conversation.

7. Stepping Up The Trump Attacks: The candidates in the second debate had clearly paid attention to pundits’ commentary after the first debate that President Donald Trump had not been sufficiently targeted. They stepped up the rhetoric against the president, particularly on his immigration policies. As Sanders put it, with his characteristic subtlety: “Trump is a phony. Trump is a pathological liar and a racist.”

8. Making News: Very little of what the candidates said during the debate was unexpected or made much news, with one exception — Gillibrand said that if elected, “my first act will be to engage Iran to stabilize the Middle East,” which would change 40 years of official hostility to the imams in Tehran.

9. Um, Why Were These People on the Stage? Democrats did nothing to burnish their reputation for seriousness by including new age guru Marianne Williamson and tech bro Andrew Yang as part of the debate, both of whom seemed hopelessly out of place and, frankly, in the way. It was perhaps not as silly as hosting Kim Kardashian, but it was close. Yang, to his credit, was mostly mute and later complained that his microphone had been turned off (if only); Williamson, alas, opted to interject herself with any number of peculiar observations, including that her first phone call as president would be to the president of New Zealand (which, by the way, doesn’t have a president) and that she was going to “harness love” to beat Trump. Good luck with that.

10. Winners and Losers: The winner of the night was clearly Harris, who managed to make herself look  presidential and take a bite out of Biden. The biggest loser of the evening was Biden, who, as the front-runner, needed to stay above the fray, but, by letting Harris get under his skin, may have punctured his aura of invincibility. Sanders and Buttigieg did no harm to their prospects, but Gillibrand clearly suffered in comparison to Harris, the only other woman on the stage.

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Justin Fairfax says encounters with 2 accusers were consensual, wants FBI investigation

Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.

Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.

In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”

But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”

Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.

“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”

The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.

Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.

In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”

Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.

“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”

Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.

Among the leaders calling for Fairfax’s departure were former Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”

“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”

Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.

The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave

The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.

But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.

Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”

“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”

Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart,  House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.

If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.

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