Biden and Harris among 2020 candidates preparing for debate rematch

Second night of Democratic debates likely to accentuate fault lines on race and identity

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Photograph: Rachel Mummey/The New York Times, Mark Felix/The New York Times

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Photograph: Rachel Mummey/The New York Times, Mark Felix/The New York Times

 

Joe Biden on Wednesday will face rival Kamala Harris in a highly anticipated rematch after a searing confrontation during last month’s presidential debate that reshaped the 2020 Democratic primary contest and threatened the former vice-president’s early frontrunner status.

While the first night of the presidential primary debates in Detroit, on Tuesday, revealed sharp dividing lines between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, night two will likely further accentuate fault lines on race and identity.

Biden will take centre stage, between Harris and the New Jersey senator Cory Booker, the contest’s most prominent black candidates who reflect an increasingly young and diverse party.

The former vice-president vowed a more aggressive approach on Wednesday, after Harris poleaxed him in a clash over his civil rights record during the first round of debates in Miami last month.

“I’m not going to be as polite this time,” Biden told donors at recent event in Detroit.

US Democratic presidential candidate New Jersey senator Cory Booker. File photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
US Democratic presidential candidate New Jersey senator Cory Booker. File photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Criminal justice

For weeks, Biden has exchanged political barbs with Harris and Booker over his role in helping to draft the 1994 crime bill as a senator from Delaware. The law is blamed for dramatically expanding the nation’s prison population, which disproportionately impacted African American men.

After his campaign released a criminal justice plan aimed at rectifying what many critics say were unduly harsh consequences of the 1994 law, Booker said the plan was an “inadequate solution” from a candidate who was “an architect of mass incarceration”.

“Cory knows that’s not true,” Biden replied last week at a campaign event in Dearborn, a diverse suburb of Detroit. He then criticized Booker’s record as mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

“His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African American men,” Biden said, previewing a possible line of attack on the senator. “If he wants to go back and talk about records, I’m happy to do that.”

Biden’s campaign later released a memo on Booker’s time in the city, claiming there would not be sufficient time to raise each point during a TV debate with enforced time limits.

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Healthcare

The former vice-president has also traded jabs with Bernie Sanders and Harris over healthcare, which was a major topic of debate on Tuesday night and revealed some of the sharpest divisions in the party.

Harris released her version of a Medicare for All plan that would cover all Americans without abolishing private health insurance. But the California senator is likely to face questions over how she would implement such a plan without raising taxes on middle-class Americans, as she has insisted is possible.

Biden, who has released a healthcare plan that would build on the Affordable Care Act passed under the Obama-Biden administration, said Harris’s claim that it is possible to pay for “Medicare for All” without raising taxes on the middle class existed in “a fantasy world”.

No candidate mentioned Biden on Tuesday, in a sign that, despite his early lead in the primary contest, his campaign – or at least his ideas – are not dominating the field.

After his performance in the June debate – during which he let Harris attack his record on bussing and race without interruption and then abruptly ended his retort with the ill-considered comment “my time is up” after his allotted minutes ran out – Biden’s standing in national and state polls slipped. The clash renewed questions about his age and agility as a candidate vying to take on Donald Trump. The exchange, meanwhile, helped to propel Harris and defray concerns about her electability.

Diversity

Despite a historically diverse field of candidates running for the Democratic nomination, only white candidates were randomly assigned to the debate stage on night one. Night two will be far more diverse.

Harris, 54, is the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother who was a barrier-breaking prosecutor in California and the state’s first female attorney general. Booker, 50, a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School who studied at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, has argued that turning out African American voters is the surest path to beating Trump.

Biden frequently refers to his eight years as vice-president to the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. Asked at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) convention last week, coincidentally in Detroit, whether he was using the popular former president as a “crutch”, Biden reminded the audience that Obama didn’t have to choose him.

“They did a significant background check on me,” he said. “I doubt he would have picked me if these accusations about my being wrong on civil rights [were] correct.”

The debate stage will feature seven other candidates, including the former US housing secretary Julian Castro, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado senator Michael Bennett and governor Jay Inslee of Washington.– Guardian