Chuck Todd of NBC News greets Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former housing secretary Julian Castro, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke and other candidates after the first night of the Democratic presidential debate on June 26, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Jolt: Raise your hand if you found Debate No. 1 ‘underwhelming’ and chaotic

Call it a chaotic, two-hour feast of hors d'oeuvres -- bite-sized morsels of policy and politics served up by a largely anonymous wait staff.

For those of you who couldn’t tune in to last night’s Part One debate in Miami, this morning’s Washington Post has the most thorough kitchen-sink lede from the first major televised event of the 2020 presidential contest:

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.

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.

***

As he has before, Aaron Kall, the director of debate at the University of Michigan and author of "Debating The Donald," offered us this assessment of the first of a two-part display of candidates:

Last night’s first Democratic debate in Miami was a bit underwhelming and inconsistent. Elizabeth Warren started strongly out of the gate and closed well with a message of strongly fighting for all Americans.

She unfortunately disappeared during long stretches of the debate and ended up being eclipsed in total speaking time by several other candidates.

Warren was supposed to benefit from being on stage with a slate of weaker polling candidates and shine in the spotlight. Instead, Julian Castro and Cory Booker likely helped themselves and will earn a second look from undecided Democratic primary voters. Castro fully embraced the Miami debate experience and showed a deep command of immigration policy and nuance.

President Donald Trump played a much smaller role in the two-hour debate than expected. Aside from a few well-delivered zingers, he was largely absent from the debate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was much more prominently discussed among the moderators.

I predict this will change tonight. Former Vice President Joe Biden has a large incentive to shine the spotlight on the Trump administration and its policies, while making simultaneously making the case why he’s the best candidate to duel him on a presidential debate stage and best equipped to compete in critical swing states.

A lot can be learned from tonight’s debate to benefit the candidates competing on Thursday. There will continue to be several “show of hands” questions that should be quickly and confidently answered. The same exact question will likely be asked of several candidates, so they must be prepared to have thoughtful and unique responses. No candidate will receive more than 10 minutes or so of total airtime, so word efficiency and economy is at a premium.

Finally, all of tonight’s candidates should immediately brush up on their Spanish or they could be in for a long night.

***

The Gallup organization has refreshed its polling on the topic of abortion:

Currently, 53% of U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal "only under certain circumstances," far more than the 25% who favor it being legal with no restrictions and the 21% who think it should be completely illegal. These results from a May 1-12 Gallup poll, align with what Gallup has found most years since 1975, the year it began tracking these attitudes.

This year, the polling group also included a “heartbeat” question. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they would oppose a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected while 40% are in favor. (Some medical authorities have questioned the use of both “heart” and “beat” to describe embryonic development at that stage.)

As you might suspect, support is strongest in the South, where 47% support such legislation, and opposition drops to 51%.

***

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is slated to appear before two U.S. House committees on July 17. On Wednesday, CNN’s Manu Raju caught up the Georgian most likely to have an impact on the proceedings. From his Twitter account:

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, told me that he wants to question Mueller about the "whole premise" of the Russia probe and "why it got started to begin with," adding that "it's appropriate to see where it came from."

***

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning will issue two blockbuster rulings that could have major implications for Georgia. One concerns whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to next year’s census, the other takes up partisan gerrymandering.

As our colleague Jeremy Redmon reported earlier this month, there are fears that adding a citizenship question, coupled with other factors, could lead to an undercount of nearly 2 percent of Georgia’s population.

That could have massive implications for Georgia’s congressional representation and the hundreds of billions of dollars it receives in federal funding for its cities and counties.

The Trump administration has argued that adding the citizenship question would help it better track demographics and enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Evidence has recently surfaced indicating that the motivation is a racially centered GOP effort to draw political boundaries that will benefit Republicans. 

Then there’s the question of whether justices will impose restrictions on the ability of state legislatures to draw electoral maps that advantage one political party over another.

The specific cases in front of the high court involve districts in North Carolina and Maryland, but depending on how broad the justices rule, the verdict could have implications on Georgia’s map, which has separate legal challenges pending. 

***

Gov. Brian Kemp’s early round of relatively diverse appointments to boards, judgeships and criminal justice posts have surprised even his critics. His staff hires have not. 

Lauren Groh-Wargo, the top aide to Stacey Abrams, tweeted a list of 14 senior aides that Kemp’s administration hired shortly after his election, noting that each is white.

“This is is probably the least diverse Gov staff in contemporary GA history,” wrote Groh-Wargo.

Kemp deputies said Groh-Wargo’s list omitted other hires, including a Latino deputy counsel, an African-American policy adviser and field representative and an Indian operations manager. 

***

Congress is now engaged in a game of border-funding chicken. 

Georgia Republicans Johnny Isakson and David Perdue joined their Senate colleagues yesterday, voting overwhelmingly to pass a bipartisan $4.6 billion emergency spending measure to address the humanitarian crisis on the southern border. “The heartbreaking reports we’ve seen about conditions at border facilities show that there is a moral imperative for Congress to act,” Isakson said. 

That came a day after the House delegation voted along strict party lines to narrowly advance a Democrat version of the bill, which would impose tighter restrictions on how the Trump administration can use the funds, and gives Congress unfettered access to immigration holding sites. (The Senate voted down that version on Wednesday.)

At this point, there’s no agreement on how the chambers will reconcile the two versions – and lawmakers are eager to leave town on Friday for their Fourth of July recess. 

***

Ralph Reed says his Faith & Freedom Coalition plans to spend at least $50 million to turn out supporters next year. Reed said Wednesday the plan would fund at least 500 staffers and 5,000 volunteers to mobilize religious voters, and include $4 million to target Latino voters in swing states like Florida and Nevada. 

***

We’ve been keeping our eye on the internal resistance to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s effort to relocate two department branches from Washington to Kansas City. Employees from those two U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies recently voted to unionize, and now Politico reports that as many of four-fifths of employees from one may choose to quit instead of leaving D.C. Perdue said moving the agencies will cut costs, improve quality of life for employees and bring the feds closer to the farming communities they serve. 

***

A day after health care-focused journalists heard from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan on Georgia’s health care waiver plans, they listened to Democrat Stacey Abrams’ take. Here’s the feed our colleague Ariel Hart sent from their conference: 

Gov. Brian Kemp and Duncan may tout the number of health care bills they passed during the legislative session, Abrams said. But by rejecting the simpler option of full Medicaid expansion, she said, they did little compared to what they could have done and are spending too much on the workaround. 

The state has contracted with the consulting firm Deloitte for nearly $1.9 million to research the waiver proposals. “What Deloitte is being asked to do is, how can we solve the least of our problems, Abrams said. "We should not spend $2 million trying to deny access to health care.”

She dismissed the notion that the GOP accomplishments in this session on a wide range of medical and health care subjects take the issues of health care off the table for Democrats in the next election.

“There was important progress made on specific issues,” she said. “But the macro challenge to Georgia is the massive population that is uncovered or under-resourced when it comes to access to health insurance…This notion that we will stop debating this because we half solve it is a nonstarter to me.”

***

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, plans to unveil a mental health bill today that would address the gun violence epidemic at schools -- but without touching the divisive firearms debate. The two-term Republican’s bill is intended to help schools identify troubling behavior patterns in students earlier. It would also require the government to provide technical assistance to schools and universities seeking to deal with the issue. 

The bill, we’re told, was inspired by a program in place at Columbus State University. “The goal is to deescalate concerning behavior in its earliest stages before an individual poses a threat to themselves or campus safety,” according to the congressman’s office.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X