What the 2020 Candidates Said During CNN’s Back-to-Back Town Halls

April 23, 2019, 2:51 PM UTC
democractic candidates town hall
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Democratic White House hopefuls Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren laid out their visions for America during back-to-back CNN town halls Monday night, touching on everything from student loan debt to criminal justice reform. If you didn’t tune in, here are some of the issues that came up.

Voting Rights

Bernie Sanders said even “terrible people” like the Boston Marathon bomber and those convicted of sexual abuse should have the right to vote. Why? Because taking away the constitutional rights of any group is “running down a slippery slope,” Sanders said.

Fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg didn’t agree.

“Re-enfranchisement upon release is important,” said Buttigieg, “but part of the punishment when you are convicted of a crime and you are incarcerated is you lose certain rights. You lose your freedom. And I think during that period it does not make sense to have an exception for the right to vote.”

Student Debt

Amy Klobuchar said canceling the $1.5 trillion in student debt is an unrealistic idea.

“I wish I could staple a free college diploma under every one of your chairs—I do,” Klobuchar said. “Don’t look. It’s not there. I wish I could do that but I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.”

But Klobuchar said she is in support of letting those with student debt refinance their loans at a lower rate, expanding Pell Grants, and making community college free.


Calling cyber attacks a “new form of war,” Kamala Harris emphasized how vulnerable the U.S. is right now.

“We are vulnerable in terms of all of the systems that hold together our financial systems, that hold together our medical care systems,” she said. “And we’ve got to pay greater attention.”

Sexism in Politics

Elizabeth Warren said that during her 2012 Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown, she had support from Democrats but they were sure she would lose.

“All I can say is, Democrats, get a better message,” Warren said.

Asked whether she feared being “Hillary’d”—or held to higher standard than men—Warren said she won’t let it stop her and that running for office is “what girls do.”


Pete Buttigieg called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, protection for Dreamers, and reasonable border security.

“We know what to do. It’s just that we don’t have the leadership in Washington to do it,” said Buttigieg. “And I’m afraid one of the reasons is we’ve got a White House that has actually computed that it is better off politically if this problem goes unsolved, so that Americans can continue to be divided around it for short term political gain. And that has got to end with the new president.”

Criminal Justice Reform

Citing organizations like the Innocence Project, Klobuchar advocated taking a second look at some convictions and said said she supports a clemency board to review possible pardons.

She also acknowledged race disparities in U.S. prisons.

“There is racism in our criminal justice system and we must pledge to fix it.”

Medicare for All

Harris shared her experience caring for her ailing mother, who eventually died from cancer, noting how such an illness can consume many parts of one’s life.

“Access to healthcare is a right,” she said, “and not a privilege for those who can afford it.”

Harris said Medicare for All wouldn’t mean dissolving private insurance companies entirely, but Medicare would be expanded to include dental, vision, hearing aids, and mental healthcare.

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