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Bipartisan Parade of Candidates Touts Reforms, Bashes Trump, at NAACP Convention

The one message in common among the nine Democrats and lone Republican who showed up to a presidential forum in Detroit Wednesday was their disdain for Donald Trump and lack of surprise over Wednesday’s testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller incriminating the president.

A week ahead of ahead of next week’s official Democratic debate, frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and more, and Republican Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, all took the opportunity to call out the president for fomenting hate. 

The candidates for next year’s White House race appeared before the annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during a two-hour event. In a departure from a formal debate, the NAACP gave each candidate a few minutes to speak and answer questions from host April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) participates in a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this year's Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

President Trump declined an invitation to appear before the civil rights organization, which typically draws multiple public figures and thousands of attendees to its annual conference.

The most-mentioned suggestion among the candidates was that President Trump is spreading white supremacist thought and setting the United States apart in the world as a place of hate. Even Weld, the lone representative from the president’s political party, opened up by calling Trump a “raging racist.”

Weld also mentioned that the Trump Management Corporation was charged in 1973 with discriminating against black housing applicants in New York.

“Unless the Republican Party rejects the racism of Donald Trump, they will come to be universally viewed as the party of racism in America,” Weld told the crowd at Detroit’s Cobo Center. 

Democratic presidential candidate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden participates in a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this year's Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images

Weld also said he was not surprised by Wednesday’s Congressional testimony by former special counsel Robert Mueller that, while tepid in terms of drama, underscored allegations that the president attempted to obstruct justice by blocking investigations of Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Mueller’s report paints the most vivid picture of a scofflaw and one-man crime wave as I’ve ever seen,” the former governor said. “This man is a moral leper. He has no clue, no compass.”

The NAACP forum comes on the heels of widespread reaction to the president’s suggestion that four first-term congresswomen should “go back” to where they came from. In the past, the phrase has been used to denigrate people from other countries. 

During the forum, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said the current White House has brought the United States to a critical crossroads.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is interviewed by moderator and White House correspondent April Ryan at a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this year's Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

“We have an existential crisis in this country which is the presidency of Donald Trump ripping this country apart,” said Booker, former mayor of Newark. “That (Mueller) report is enough of an indication that the House of Representatives should begin impeachment proceedings against this president.”

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he believes the country may be “underreacting” to the Trump presidency. 

“White supremacy brought this nation to its knees once,” he said. “I believe that systemic racism is the thing that could unravel the American project if we do not confront it.”

Outside of the topic of Trump, candidates detailed plans designed to address access to education, what some view as an imbalance behind bars, and police-involved shootings.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) participates in a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this years Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Biden touted a criminal justice plan that would give former inmates a boost once they are released in terms of housing and grants for education. 

“Don’t just given them $25 and a bus ticket,” he said. 

He also addressed the 1994 crime bill which he helped write as a U.S. senator from Delaware. Critics have blamed the legislation for an imbalance which put many people convicted of low-level drug offenses—especially people of color—behind bars.

“We had a giant epidemic in America—violence—particularly in African-American communities,” Biden said, adding that the Congressional Black Caucus and black mayors agreed with him. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) participates in a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this years Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

“We have now a systemic problem of too many African Americans in jail right now, so I think we should shift the whole focus to rehabilitation,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should go to jail because of a drug crime unless they’re a major seller or dealer.”

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is interviewed by moderator and White House correspondent April Ryan at a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this years Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Harris offered a twist on how the country should treat those who were formerly incarcerated for low-level drug offenses. She said she advocates decriminalizing marijuana and that those who have been imprisoned for low-level drug offenses should get first dibs at jobs in the burgeoning industry of legal marijuana.

Harris said in cases of police-involved shootings, the thoughts of the Department of Justice should take precedence and there should be an independent investigation of such offenses.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., offered details of a comprehensive plan that would impose a wealth tax of two cents on every dollar starting with the first dollar after $50 million. The funds raised by this plan would pay for universal child care for children up to five years old, universal pre-K, cancel a majority of student loan debt, raise the wages of child care workers and send $7 billion into an entrepreneurship fund.  

Democratic presidential candidate, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro participates in a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this year's Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

“Whites are twice as likely to start small businesses because black Americans don’t have capital,” Warren said. “I’m not talking about loans.”

Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld, a former Governor of Massachusetts, participates in a Presidential Candidates Forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The theme of this years Convention is, When We Fight, We Win. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont opened and closed his time on the stage by saying that anyone 18 and above should be able to vote, a nod to some state measures to prevent former inmates from casting ballots temporarily or permanently.

“We win when the voter turnout is high,” Sanders said. “We will take on voter suppression from one end of this country to the other. When youare 18-years-old in this country, you are eligible to vote—end of discussion.”

The Democratic candidates will meet again in Detroit next week at the next official Democratic debate. This one is being organized by CNN and will take place July 30th and 31st at Detroit’s Fox Theatre.

More Mueller testimony coverage from Fortune:

—Robert Mueller testimony: What we learned so far

Trump goes on Twitter rant before, during Mueller testimony

—Robert Mueller’s opening statement: Read full text

—Trump 2020 campaign team using Mueller testimony to raise $2 million

—How 2020 democrats are responding to Robert Mueller’s testimony

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