From The Nation
Jorge Ramos Challenges Joe Biden on Immigration at Houston Democratic Debate
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Jorge Ramos delivered a master class in how to make a presidential debate meaningful as the Democratic contenders clashed in Houston Thursday night. The Univision anchor asked tough questions and got unexpected, revealing, and instructive answers from presidential candidates whom he pushed beyond their comfort zones with savvy inquiries about fires in the Amazon, veganism, and socialism.
For the candidates who were up to the task, the exchanges were exhilarating -- and empowering.
That was certainly the case when Ramos opened a line of questioningabout Latin Americaa topic that he noted had not been touched on in previous debateswith a challenge to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders: "You admit that Venezuela does not have free elections, but still you refuse to call Nicolas Maduro a dictatora dictator. Can you explain why? And what are the main differences between your kind of socialism and the one being imposed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua?"
Sanders made quick work of the first part of the question: "Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant. What we need now is international and regional cooperation for free elections in Venezuela so that the people of that country can make -- can create their own future." Then, he seized the opening Ramos had given him to explain his ideology:
THE POLITICS OF VEGANISM
"In terms of democratic socialism, to equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair. I'll tell you what I believe in terms of democratic socialism. I agree with [what] goes on in Canada and in Scandinavia, guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right.
"I happen to believe also that what, to me, democratic socialism means, is we deal with an issue we do not discuss enough, Jorge -- it's not in the media and not in Congress. You've got three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of this country. You've got a handful of billionaires controlling what goes on in Wall Street, the insurance companies, and in the media.
Ramos then turned to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker with one of the most distinctive questions asked so far in the 2020 debate season: "After the recent fires in the Amazon, some experts suggested that eating less meat is one way to help the environment. You are a vegan since 2014. That's obviously a personal choice, but President Trump and Brazil's President Bolsonaro are concerned that climate change regulations could affect economic growth. So should more Americans, including those here in Texas, and in Iowa, follow your diet?"
That drew laughs. Booker got even more laughs when he said, "First of all, I want to say no. Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish: No."
Then the senator showed his political skills, turning his answer into a reflection on farm issues -- a focus of his campaign, especially in Iowa -- that was informed and effective. "Let's just be clear," said Booker. "The factory farming going on that's assaulting this corporate consolidation of the agricultural industry, one of the reasons why I have a bill to put a moratorium on this kind of corporate consolidation is because this factory farming is destroying and hurting our environment. And you see independent family farmers being pushed out of business because of the kind of incentives we are giving that don't line up with our values. That's what I'm calling for."
Ramos had, again, asked a challenging question. And, again, an able contender had seized the opening and used it to their own advantage.OPENING UP THE IMMIGRATION CONVERSATION
Ramos was at his strongest on the issue of immigration, where he led a number of the candidates -- including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris -- through discussions that allowed them to highlight their knowledge and their passion regarding the need to end the Trump administration's abuses. Warren, who had another strong debate night, declared that "a system right now that cannot tell the difference in the threat posed by a terrorist, a criminal, and a 12-year-old girl is not a system that is keeping us safer, and it is not serving our values."