Abortion, Reparations, Israel: Topics to Watch for During the Second Democratic Debate

July 30, 2019, 1:44 PM UTC

Despite four hours of Democratic debates last month, the questions were largely focused on jobs and the economy, health care, and immigration. According to analysis from the New York Times, those topics filled about half the time the candidates spent talking. That leaves plenty of room for other issues to be explored during the second round of debates. 

These are the topics that were barely discussed in the first debates and that could add greater depth to voters’ views of the candidates in the second round:


Only three candidates, Julián Castro, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, were asked to directly address abortion in either of the first debates, despite several southern states passing restrictive abortion bills this spring.  

Joe Biden has the most to explain on this subject. In early June, he reversed his longterm stance of supporting the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion. If he gets questioned about his change of opinion this time, it could offer other candidates an opportunity to pounce. Kirsten Gillibrand, who appears on night two with Biden, described the Hyde Amendment in the first debate as a compromise made behind closed doors.  

Other candidates could be tested upon whether they would choose Warren’s abortion strategy of making Roe v. Wade a federal law. Sanders, when asked about how he would protect Roe v. Wade during the first debate, gave a vague answer about how Medicare for All would guarantee abortion rights.    

Reparations for slavery

Reparations were mentioned one time in the first debate—by fringe candidate Marianne Williamson. She said the Democratic Party should push for reparations while Pete Buttigieg was being questioned about a police shooting in South Bend. The subject, for which a Congressional hearing was held in June, has support from only about one-fourth of Americans. As such, many of the candidates have been vague about their position, saying they aren’t completely opposed to reparations but not directly for them either. 

Harris expressed support for reparations earlier this year then changed her stance to say she supported a plan called the Lift Act that would give a tax credit for all families making less than $100,000. Harris, Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Gillibrand have co-sponsored legislation from Cory Booker that calls for a study of slavery’s effects and potential reparations.   

Reparations could expose rifts between frontrunners Warren, Harris, Sanders, and Biden. Sanders said he was against reparations during the 2016 election but also co-sponsored Booker’s bill. Biden has been against reparations in the past and has not addressed the subject during this campaign.  


Foreign policy was barely covered in either of the first debates. Candidates had little opportunity to discuss frayed relationships with European allies or North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, and Israel. Trump has made several moves that please the Israeli government—among them moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—but has aggravated many liberals who want to ease tensions between Israel, Palestine, and other Arab nations.   

In February, the Senate passed an anti-boycott Israel bill. Of candidates who are in the senate, Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand, Klobuchar, Harris, and Booker, only Klobuchar voted in favor of the bill. The others expressed dismay at the potential for free speech violations (this portion of the bill, which would have allowed the government to cut ties with corporations that participate in an Israel boycott, was removed from the anti-boycott bill that was passed by the House last week). None of the presidential candidates have expressed support of boycotting and divesting from Israel.

Trump’s controversial move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could create a gap between some of the candidates. Candidates like Biden and Buttigieg have said they would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv. Others like Warren, Sanders, and Harris have declined to share their opinions.    

Russian meddling 

Robert Mueller said during his Congressional hearing last week the Russians have already started meddling in the 2020 election. Bill de Blasio, Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, and Andrew Yang mentioned that America needed to stop Russia, but they weren’t asked to expound on their answers. Warren has put together a $20 billion election security plan, but she didn’t talk about it during the first debate.  

Discussions about Russian meddling would not only be timely given Mueller’s warning; they would test whether the candidates have any legitimate ideas for tackling a complicated threat.  

Climate change 

During the first night of the first Democratic debates, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee spoke less than any other candidate. That’s in part because none of the moderators asked about climate change. Inslee got the opportunity to riff about his key subject only as an answer to questions about manufacturing jobs and the economy. Out of four hours of debating, climate change was only discussed for 15 minutes.  

And climate change wouldn’t just give Inslee more opportunities to shine. Beto O’Rourke, who was panned for his performance in the first debate, identified climate change as the top threat to the country and could gain some needed support by speaking on an issue he has also focused on.    

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