DETROIT (WOOD) — For nearly all the Democratic presidential candidates, there’s something standing in the way before they can take on Republican President Donald Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden.
Candidates took aim at Biden Wednesday as a second set of 10 debated at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.
Before the debate started, Biden joked, “Take it easy on me, kid,” to Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who emerged as strong competition after the first round of debates. She didn’t.
“You can’t be on the debate stage running for the president of the United States and want people to go easy on you,” she said in the spin room after the debate. “I believe the American people have a right to know there’s going to be a robust debate of issues and people need to articulate what policies they support and why and that’s what happened tonight.”
She wasn’t alone. Nearly everyone had a jab or two to throw at Biden.
“It’s not surprising,” Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado noted in the spin room. “I mean, Joe was the vice president, he’s certainly the best known and he’s leading in the polls because of that name recognition.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York took Biden to task for an op-ed he wrong years ago about women’s role in the workplace and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro criticized him on immigration.
“It is clear that Vice President Biden and others are running out of fear on the issue of immigration. They’re afraid to say that we need to repeal the law that allows this Trump administration to separate little children from their parents. If you’re going up against a bully like Trump, who is bold and fearless, the answer is not to run out of fear,” Castro told reporters, adding that his campaign would be just as bold and fearless.
Sen. Cory Booker questioned Biden’s record on criminal justice legislation.
“I talked directly to an issue that I’ve been fighting on all my life,” Booker said in the spin room. “We’re in Detroit. I live in the inner city of Newark, New Jersey. These aren’t abstract issues or these aren’t issues of the past. This is about what’s happening right now in communities. There are people in jail right now because of the legislation that Joe Biden has taken responsibility for.”
He said his record on criminal justice reform is better than Biden’s.
“I just hope Joe Biden can speak to his record, can have the courage to say, ‘I was wrong on these points’ — three strikes you’re out, wrong on the overprosecution of marijuana,” Booker said.
Sen. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii took a different tack on criminal justice: She took aim at Harris, raising concerns about her record as the state attorney general of California and saying she didn’t do enough to help minorities and the poor.
Bennet, too, aligned himself with Biden and against Harris on health care, a topic that took up a huge chunk of the debate, saying Harris’ plan was too expensive and that other plans to get rid of a private option altogether were a bad idea.
“Just because an idea is big doesn’t mean it’s good,” he said of public option-only plans, adding they just won’t hold up.
Biden did not address reporters in the spin room.
Businessman Andrew Yang, one of the few candidates who’s not a politician, called the targeting of Biden “unfortunate.” He wanted to keep the focus on the economy, speaking repeatedly during the debate about increasing automation in manufacturing and how to create jobs and speaking directly to those issues in Detroit.
“Right now, only 6% of American high school students are in technical or vocational apprenticeship programs. In Germany, that’s 59%,” he said in the spin room. “And there are millions of unfilled American jobs that we just don’t have the right people for because we’re overprescribing college. We’re saying college, college, college and if you don’t go to college, then you’re doing it wrong.”
Asked in the spin room what he could promise Michigan voters, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee threw his support behind manufacturing, too, but he went the traditional route of the automotive industry.
“We’re going to make sure we have UAW jobs building electric cars,” Inslee said. “My car’s an electric car built here in Michigan. We know we got the best autoworkers in the world in America. We want to make sure that they make cars right here for us.”
He also turned to his signature issue of the environment, promising to fight emerging contaminant PFAS, a chemical that has been found in drinking water sources around the state and country.