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In a Debate Over Differences, Here’s What Was Left Off the Table

July 31, 2019, 9:44 AM UTC

Tuesday night’s Democratic debate was dominated by efforts to win the heart of the United States, with all those on the Detroit stage volleying over the Democratic party’s message and its ability (or lack thereof) to beat President Donald Trump at the polls in 2020.

A wide range of topics—including healthcare, immigration, gun control, student loan debt, and foreign policy—were covered at least in part throughout the nearly three-hour debate. While these headlining issues are vital to the 2020 election, a handful of others were left unexplored.

Criminal Justice Reform

CNN’s moderators dedicated a section of Tuesday’s debate to race in America, prompting the candidates to condemn both Trump’s recent attacks on congresswomen of color and the rise of white supremacy. A handful of 2020 contenders discussed their stances on reparations and education investment, but few took the opportunity to tackle the systematic biases within the U.S. criminal justice system.

Those who did mention police reform did so sparingly. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has been criticized for his handling of racial issues in South Bend, proposed community participation in police reform. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said he addressed such reform “ten years before Ferguson,” referencing the protests that broke out after the death of Michael Brown in 2014.

In the first round of debates, candidates like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro were open about addressing the nation’s high incarceration rates and mourning those killed in police-related incidents. This Tuesday, incarceration and mourning were left off the stage.

LGBTQ+ Rights

In the first round of debates, a few candidates expressed support for the Equality Act, legislation introduced to the House earlier this month that would expand existing civil rights protections to fight discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the LGBTQ+ community has not been mentioned frequently thus far in the 2020 debates, neither the Equality Act nor the LGBTQ+ community were addressed at all during Tuesday’s debate.

Women’s Rights and Abortion

Three strong women took the stage Tuesday night, but neither they nor their male counterparts addressed issues like the gender wage gap or abortion.

The nation was still reeling from a sweep of state anti-abortion laws during the first round of debates. This perhaps made the topic more relevant then, but these laws have not disappeared—nor has the issue of equal pay for equal work. The House voted to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act at the end of March, taking a step towards a long sought-after goal, but the legislation is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.


While not an issue of civil rights, the issue of Iranian diplomacy was also neglected by Tuesday night’s candidates. CNN’s moderators asked about foreign policy at length—specifically inquiring whether candidates would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un—but Iran was not mentioned.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been rising since Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as the Iran nuclear deal) more than a year ago. Iran recently surpassed the uranium enrichment limit set by this deal, adding to global apprehension.

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