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The People

CATCH UP ON LAST NIGHT, FIRST: Ten Democratic candidates went where many presidential candidates have gone before: to the debate stage. This time, there was Spanish spoken, a record number of women onstage, people touting their diverse backgrounds and substantive policy debate. It was impossible to miss the historic nature of the night — both in numbers, depth and diversity. 

Tonight, 10 more candidates will jump into the fray, including the top polling candidates: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. We'll be tracking. In the meantime, here are some of our takeaways: 

MOST UNSCATHED: Elizabeth Warren, the highest polling candidate with the biggest target on her back, walked away from the night unscathed. Candidates had the opportunity to draw contrasts with some of Warren’s most high profile policy ideas, such as breaking up big companies, free college and tax hikes on the rich. But they largely declined to question the Massachusetts senator on any of these ideas. 

Key point: “[S]he used her platform to do what she has done to great effect on the campaign trail: talk about her bold, liberal policy ideas. It’s about the best she could have hoped for after being slotted onto the Joe Biden- and Bernie Sanders-free debate stage,” my colleague Aaron Blake reports.

BIGGEST CLASH: You could call it a Texican standoff. Former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke duked it out on immigration policy in one of the most heated and enthralling moments of the night. 

Castro, the former HUD secretary who was the first candidate to unveil his immigration policy, challenged his rivals "not to criminalize desperation" and repeal Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes it a crime to cross the border. He specifically jabbed O'Rourke for not backing the idea.  

  • "I just think it's a mistake, I think it's a mistake, Beto, and I think if you truly want to change the system, then we got to repeal that section," Castro said. "If not, it might as well be the same policy."

  • “You said recently that the reason you didn’t want to repeal section 1325 was because you were concerned about human trafficking and drug trafficking,” Castro continued, adding that other laws exist to take care of those issues. “If you did your homework on this issue, you would know we should repeal this section." 

  • Castro took the fight into the spin room post-debate, too: "I find it very ironic that a senator from Massachusetts and a senator from New Jersey are the ones who understand this border policy and this law better than Congressman O'Rourke," he told reporters. 

BIGGEST TALKER: Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) got the most airtime. Followed by O'Rourke. Warren "clocked in third with just over nine minutes. Unlike Booker and O’Rourke, among others, Warren refrained from interrupting fellow candidates," per my colleagues who made this excellent graphic. 

BIGGEST BREAKOUT: Last night may have been the night that reporters finally stopped joking about being able to tell the difference between Julián Castro and his congressman brother Joaquin. 

The longshot candidate who has been polling under 1% could see a tangible bounce: He delivered a sharp and impassioned response to the crisis unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border, and got rounds of audience applause for his answers on diversity and inclusion. Castro received high praise on social media from from those the LGBTQ and activist community. 

A few of his most notable quotes: 

  • “I don't believe only in reproductive freedom, I believe in reproductive justice,” Castro said when asked about whether or not his healthcare plan would cover abortion. “And, you know, what that means is that just because a woman -- or let's also not forget someone in the trans community, a trans female, is poor, doesn't mean they shouldn't have the right to exercise that right to choose. And so I absolutely would cover the right to have an abortion.”
  • “Well, I don't think that that represents the vast majority of the issue. In fact, you know, my first visit after I announced my candidacy wasn't to Iowa or New Hampshire. It was to San Juan, Puerto Rico,” Castro said of his focus on mitigating the effects of climate change. 

MOST PERSONAL: Despite all the liberal loathing for Bill de Blasio, he shared some personal moments that seemingly hit home with the audience. He didn't exactly land the highly personal anecdotes each time, but regardless, de Blasio set himself apart by weaving some memorable parts of his biography into the conversation. "He talked about having hard conversations with his black son. He talked about his dad’s PTSD, which eventually led to suicide," my colleague Aaron points out.

BIGGEST FAULT LINE: Health care -- and specifically Medicare-for-all -- revealed the most serious split in the field. There was rift between those who wanted to build on Obamacare successes and others who are ready to eliminate virtually all of the private insurance market. Expect to see more fireworks tonight when Bernie Sanders is debating. 

  • Warren shows she’s all in: Warren and de Blasio were the only two candidates who raised their hands when asked who would “abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan.” Warren questioned politicians who don’t back such a proposal.
  • A moment of clarity: "This Warren Medicare-for-all answer is important; Bernieworld thought it spotted some weakness because she wasn't being clear, on the trail, about whether she was for a full single-payer phase-in. And she just got clear," our colleague Dave Weigel tweeted.
  • Klobuchar’s response shows the uneasiness in the debate: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) advocated for keeping private insurance in addition to a government health care plan because she is “just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years.” The exact numbers vary slightly, but she is correct that a majority of Americans, usually through their employer, have private insurance coverage and thus “Medicare for All” would be a massive sea change far surpassing what Obamacare did.
  • De Blasio attacks Beto’s defense: While Klobuchar avoided any harsh responses for her position, O’Rourke was not so lucky. “Congressman O'Rourke, private insurance is not working for tens of millions of Americans when you talk about the co-pays, the deductibles, the premiums, the out of pocket expenses. It's not working,” de Blasio said. “How can you defend a system that's not working?” O’Rourke tried to muster a response, but was unable to do so before the debate moved on.
  • John Delaney had an answer, though: “I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken,” the outspoken critic of Medicare-for-All explained in perhaps his best moment of the debate, at least according to some prominent Republicans. Delaney explained that he while he supports a universal healthcare approach, it should include private insurance. 

MOST LIKELY TO APPEAL TO REPUBLICANS: Reasons for Klobuchar's popularity among her Republican colleagues -- who have not been shy about gushing about their love for her -- became clearer last night. In addition to her skepticism of single-payer health care, here are a few more lines from the Minnesota senator that seem designed to find a middle ground.

  • On gun control: "I look at these proposals and I say, 'Does this hurt my uncle Dick and his deer stand?' coming from a proud hunting and fishing state. These ideas don’t do that," she said of bans on assault weapons and universal background checks.
  • On Castro’s proposed changes to immigration laws: “... I am happy to look at his proposal. But I do think you want to make sure that you have provisions in place that allow you to go after traffickers and allow you to go after people who are violating the law.”
  • On working with Trump: “... Donald Trump, one of the first bills that he signed of the 34 he signed where I was the lead Democrat -- OK, that's a first up here -- was one that was about that, making sure minority community members could share in those jobs.”
  • On free college: “So I do get concerned about paying for college for rich kids. I do. But I think my plan is a good one. And my plan would be to, first of all, make community college free and make sure that everyone else besides that top percentile gets help with their education.”

BIGGEST VILLAIN: It wasn't Donald Trump. Or leader of the pack Joe Biden. The boogeyman of the night ended up being Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The candidates up onstage provided no clear plan on how to deal with working with McConnell if elected president with a Republican Senate.

  • Even Warren, the candidate of plans, provided no obvious road map: “But short of a Democratic majority in the Senate, you better understand the fight still goes on. It starts in the White House, and it means that everybody we energize in 2020 stays on the front lines come January 2021. We have to push from the outside, have leadership from the inside, and make this Congress reflect the will of the people,” Warren said. 
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee suggested taking away the filibuster from McConnell as a first step to saving Miami from climate change. 
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) said the way to address a problem like McConnell is by tackling the party's “perception problem”: “We have got to change the center of gravity of the Democratic Party from being coastal and elital,” he said. 
  • Bottom line: “No Democrat has a good plan for what to do if Mitch McConnell is Senate majority leader in 2021 because there is no good plan for it. If Democrats don't win Congress, there's no progressive agenda that can pass. It's that simple,” Vox's Ezra Klein tweeted.

BIGGEST CROWD PLEASERS: That being said, some of the night's punchiest lines were jabs at Trump for which there was no shortage of applause. 

  • "I don't think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5:00 in the morning, which is what he does," Klobuchar said of Trump's policy towards Iran. 

  • "The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump. And there's no question about it," Inslee said of the biggest geo-political threat to the U.S.

ZINGIEST ZINGERS: But candidates also sparred directly with one another in some of the most pointed rebuttals of the nights: 

  • "I just want to say, there's three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman's right to choose. I'll start with that," Klobuchar said in response to Inslee's claim that he was the "only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman's right of reproductive health in health insurance." 
  • "Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11. That’s why I and so many other people joined the military, to go after Al-Qaeda, not the Taliban," Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) said to Ryan after he incorrectly claimed that the Taliban "started flying planes into our buildings." 

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Three people (O'Rourke, Booker and Castro) plus a moderator broke into Spanish last night. Who will showcase their language skills tonight? 

Booker, on becoming a meme: “ . . . I just knew he had laid a gauntlet down,” Booker told CNN’s Anderson Cooper after the debate. “and I was talking with a little bit with Castro, both he and I knew that as people who can speak Spanish that we were going to bring it as well.”

In the Media

THE 411 ON FIRST NIGHT IN THE 305: Here’s a look at how our Post colleagues and journalists around the country covered Wednesday’s debate. 

'Democratic divides take center stage': “Deep divides over health care and economic policy dominated the first Democratic presidential debate Wednesday, as 10 candidates jousted in Miami over the best formula for beating President Trump and fixing the economic struggles of the middle class,” our colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa and Michael Scherer report in the A1 wrap up.

“The result was a prime-time display — the first national event of the election season — showcasing economic and regulatory differences that have riven the Democratic Party, including transformative plans to eliminate private health insurance, fund free college for most Americans, break up giant corporations and impose sharp tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.”

Dan Balz sees a new Democratic Party: “The first debate of the 2020 presidential campaign offered a clear road map of a new Democratic Party, one that favors a series of ambitious and liberal domestic initiatives and that is more willing than some Democrats of the past to use the powers of the federal government to intervene in the economy,” Dan writes. “On a range of issues, including immigration, climate change, health care, the economy and more, the Democratic candidates were unabashed in their enthusiasm for more government activism, signaling not only differences with President Trump but also with a more cautious approach by Democratic politicians of the past two decades.”

Just the facts: “In the initial debate of the Democratic primary season, 10 presidential hopefuls rarely strayed over the factual line,” our colleagues Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Meg Kelly write in their fact-check round up. “Many were armed with statistics, but only a handful of the stats were stretched past the breaking point.”

In search of one shining moment: “With so many candidates getting their first chance at the spotlight, airtime became precious currency. Those who felt moderators didn’t give them enough of it decided to take it," our colleague Chelsea Janes reports


On Beto’s rough night: “Beto O’Rourke came to Miami on Wednesday night looking for a moment to help his struggling presidential campaign but may have done more — at least early on — to help his competitors,” McClatchy’s David Smiley and Alex Daugherty report. “As the curtain raised on the presidential primary, O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who rose to national prominence last year while losing a close Senate race, became a convenient springboard during the first moments of the first 2020 Democratic debate for some of the other nine candidates looking to break out during night one of a back-to-back event.”

Trans right mention makes history:  “Mr. Booker was the first presidential debate candidate to reference protecting the rights of transgender people. Mr. Castro followed up shortly thereafter, “the Times’ Reid J. Epstein, Sydney Ember, Shane Goldmacher and Katie Glueck report. “The discussion was another significant breakthrough for the transgender community, which in recent years has been rocked by so-called bathroom bans in North Carolina and other parts of the country and by President Trump’s rollback of Obama-era rules that banned discrimination against transgender people in the military.”

Jaime Harrison’s shout out: “It’s rare for a presidential candidate to use debate oxygen to plug someone else’s campaign, but that’s what Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey did tonight for South Carolina Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison,” NPR’s Susan Davis reports. “He is running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate to take on incumbent Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham in 2020.” 

Outside the Beltway

TOO DANGEROUS: "Asylum officers urged a U.S. appeals court Wednesday to block the Trump administration from forcing migrants to remain in Mexico while they await their immigration court hearings in the United States," The Post's Maria Sacchetti reports. 

  • "The officers, who have been directed to implement the program, say it is 'fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international and domestic legal obligations.'"
  • “Asylum officers are duty bound to protect vulnerable asylum seekers from persecution,” the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, which represents 2,500 federal workers, including asylum officers, said in a 37-page court filing with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

Key: "The legal filing is an unusual public rebuke of a sitting president by his own employees, and it plunges a highly trained officer corps that typically operates under strict secrecy into a public legal battle over one of Trump’s most prized immigration policies," Maria writes. 

  • “Mexico is simply not safe for Central American asylum seekers,” the filing said, noting that gangs that terrorized migrants in their home countries might easily follow them into Mexico. “And despite professing a commitment to protecting the rights of people seeking asylum, the Mexican government has proven unable to provide this protection.”

DHS inspectors' take on harrowing conditions for migrants: BuzzFeed’s Hamed Aleaziz obtained a draft report DHS report from a visit by inspectors to facilities in the Rio Grande Valley earlier in June where “described the conditions as dangerous and prolonged.”

  • “[T]hey found adults and minors with no access to showers, many adults only fed bologna sandwiches, and detainees banging on cell windows — desperately pressing notes to the windows of their cells that detailed their time in custody.”
  • “Some adults were held in standing room–only conditions for a week. There was little access to hot showers or hot food for families and children in some facilities. Some kids were being held in closed cells. There was severe overcrowding.” 

2020 candidates visit: Only a short drive from the Democratic debate, Democratic presidential candidates visited the for-profit Homestead shelter for unaccompanied migrant children to condemn the Trump administration's treatment of immigrants prior to Wednesday night’s debate.

  • Warren was the first of the candidates to travel to Homestead too join the protests that had been planned for months, my colleagues Dave Weigel, Colby Itkowitz and Chelsea Janes report.
  • The visits will continue among the candidates today and tomorrow.
  • Joe Biden is the only candidate who has yet to announce that he’ll stop by the shelter.