Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Eric Swalwell Clash Over Civil Rights

Sen. Kamala Harris (R) (D-CA) and former Vice President Joe Biden (L) speak as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) looks on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate. Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The second night of the Democratic debates was rife with interruptions and contentious policy clashes, with candidates stepping over each other’s buzzwords to articulate why they were best suited to reverse President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Whereas the previous evening was a drive-by of rhetorical flourishes which vaulted lesser-known names like Julián Castro and Tulsi Gabbard into the political stratosphere, Thursday’s candidates came to fight, especially when it came to civil rights.

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Here are some of the most revealing moments.

Harris Bests Biden 

Senator Kamala Harris used Thursday night to prove herself as the main threat to frontrunner Joe Biden, and potentially, President Donald Trump.

Seizing off the former vice president’s mishaps in praising his past collaboration with segregationist lawmakers, Harris invoked her own childhood to show the policies from a different historical perspective.

“You also worked with [the segregationists] to oppose busing,” said Harris. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day and that little girl was me.”

Biden haphazardly attempted to blame Harris’ city council at the time. But the senator reprimanded him for not recognizing the role federal government plays in protecting civil rights.

“So that’s where the federal government must step in,” countered Harris. “That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act, that’s why we need to pass the ERA, because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civl rights of all people.”

The moment appeared to be carefully rehearsed, as Harris’ campaign tweeted out her childhood photograph as the debate wore on.

Sanders Says Community Organizing Will Implement His Health Care Plan 

Bernie Sanders has spent much of his campaign touting universal health care. But when confronted with a simple question on how he would implement the policy on a national level, the progressive failed to give specifics, and instead fell back on populist rhetoric that equated health care reform with the civil rights movement.

“I will tell you how we’ll do it,” said the senator. “We’ll do it the way real change has always taken place, whether it was the labor movement, the civil rights movement or the women’s movement. We will have Medicare for all when tens of millions of people are prepared to stand up and tell the insurance companies and the drug companies that their day is gone, that health care is a human right, not something to make huge profits off of.”

Williamson Dismisses Entire Notion of Policies 

Spiritual author and fringe candidate Marianne Williamson made her national debut by questioning whether policies are important in elections.

“I’ll tell you one thing, it’s really nice if we’ve got all these plans, but if you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming,” she argued. “Because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying Make America Great Again. We’ve got to get deeper than just these superficial fixes, as important as they are.”

Swalwell Tells Biden to ‘Pass the Torch’ 

Eric Swalwell hit Biden early on for being a relic of a Democratic Party long gone, even using a speech the former senator delivered in the ’80s as ammunition for his point.

“I was six years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans. That candidate was then-Senator Joe Biden,” said Swalwell. “Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He is still right today. If we are going to solve the issues of automation, pass the torch. If we are going to solve the issues of climate chaos, pass the torch. If we’re going to solve the issue of student loan debt, pass the torch. If we’re going to end gun violence for families who are fearful of sending their kids to school, pass the torch.”

“I’m still holding on to that torch,” responded Biden after a question from NBC’s Lester Holt.

Buttigieg Admits the Limits of Power 

Pete Buttigieg arrived on the the debate stage amid the worst crisis of his political career, after a white police officer shot and killed a 54-year-old African American man in South Bend, Indiana. When asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd why his city’s police force had failed to hire more black members, Buttigieg answered, “Because I couldn’t get it done.”

“My community is in anguish right now,” said the Democrat. “I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back.”

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Eric Swalwell Clash Over Civil Rights