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Democratic presidential candidates speak at Las Vegas forum

Updated August 3, 2019 - 4:04 pm

Nineteen Democratic presidential candidates came to Las Vegas on Saturday to appeal for votes at a forum at UNLV hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Candidates appeared one at a time to take questions from union members. Here are key takeaways from their remarks.

Pete Buttigieg

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg started his time on stage by talking about the shooting in El Paso, Texas.

“America is under attack,” he said. Buttigieg said people must stand up against white nationalism and gun violence.

Buttigieg said there are “weapons of war” that have no place in American neighborhoods during peacetime.

Buttigieg said steps that need to be taken include a law for universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

In response to a question about what can be done to address white nationalism and homegrown terrorism, Buttigieg said it’s not just a policy topic. It’s a culture problem, he said, including how white nationalism is talked about.

On the topic of healthcare, Buttigieg said: “Medicare for all who want it” is the best way to start with healthcare changes.

In response to a question about how he’d build an infrastructure for the future, Buttigieg said it’s an issue not being talked about enough in the campaign.

Buttigieg said way too much of the conversation has been about cutting regulations. He said he doesn’t think Americans are free if there’s not a good road to get them to work.

In response to a question about how he’d unite all Americans, Buttigieg referenced his “Douglass Plan” seeking to dismantle systemic racism.

Updated 4:04 p.m.

Kamala Harris

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California told the crowd that the American people must agree to not tolerate gun violence anymore.

The comments came as reports about Saturday’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, continued to trickle in.

Pivoting to labor issues, Harris said she would like the next labor secretary to have experience as a worker so they could understand labor issues in the context of real-life experiences.

Harris supports a Medicare for All plan that would allow a 10-year transition period. The plan would not have copays or deductibles.

Updated 3:44 p.m.

Michael Bennet

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado told union members he supports a $15 minimum wage, but is prepared to listen to rural counties in the United States where that may not work. He said it’s possible that a wage that high could be a burden to small businesses and put people out of work.

Bennet, a former superintendent of the Denver public school system, responded to a question about efforts to desegregate schools by saying he thinks schools are just as segregated now as in the 1960s.

Updated 3:31 p.m.

Tim Ryan

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio is a co-sponsor on Medicare for All, but is not in favor of forcing people to give up private insurance. A public option, he said, will be the competition for the private sector.

Ryan said he wants to represent working class people, who he said are struggling to get ahead while corporations get everything. He said the Democratic party is perceived as “coastal” and “Ivy League.”

The congressman told the crowd of organized labor members that it is essential to double union membership in the United States.

Updated 3:31 p.m.

Tulsi Gabbard

U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii called for an end to “wasteful regime-change wars.”

Gabbard, a veteran who enlisted after 9/11, said the country needs to ask itself if the deployment of the military strengthen or weaken national security.

She also voiced support for Medicare for All, but said Americans need to be able to stay with their current insurance plan.

Updated 2:56 p.m.

Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said it is time to stop trash-talking public employees and start paying a living wage. He told the union crowd that he was proud to be the governor of the state with the highest minimum wage.

The governor said he has been called the candidate with the “gold standard” of addressing climate change. His clean energy program would focus on ensuring “environmental justice” in the United States, he said.

Inslee said he is confident that the country can still address climate change issues.

Updated 2:45 p.m.

John Delaney

Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland said Democrats need to get back to “putting workers back at the center” of everything that is done.

Delaney said health care is a basic human right and he has a plan for universal coverage. But he wants people to have a choice, and does not plan to take away private health care coverage to those who like it.

He also supports doubling the earned income tax credit.

Updated 2:26 p.m.

Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she supports free community college and refinancing student loans. She also criticized some plans floated by her opponents that would cover free college for anyone.

“I would have the money focused on the people who need it most,” she said.

Updated 1:58 p.m.

Bill de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the union crowd that he was running for president because the government is not working for working people.

“When we secure the rights of working people, everything else becomes possible,” de Blasio said.

He said state right-to-work laws should be illegal. He suggested a federal law that “says you can’t be fired without just cause.”

Some union members voted for Trump in 2016 because they felt Democrats were not on their side, de Blasio said.

Updated 1:58 p.m.

At about 12:15 p.m., former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke said he was leaving Las Vegas after learning of a shooting in El Paso, Texas. O’Rourke was born in El Paso and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Texas’ 16th Congressional District, which includes El Paso.

The Associated Press reported that multiple people were killed in an attack at a shopping complex.

“I’m incredibly saddened and it is very hard to think about this,” he told reporters. “But I’ll tell you, El Paso is the strongest place in the world. This community is going to come together. I’m going back there right now to be with my family and to be with my hometown.”

O’Rourke

Updated 1:40 p.m.

Bernie Sanders

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont touted his history of supporting unions and voiced support for Medicare for All.

He guaranteed that a health care plan under his administration would be at least as good as bargained-for plans. The senator said his plan would put an end to co-pays and deductibles.

Sanders also said he wants to see a ban on private prisons and detention centers on the federal level.

Updated 1:24 p.m.

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer, a California business leader and philanthropist, said he supports a federal mandate to allow collective bargaining for public employees.

Steyer said the government is broken and points to a “hostile corporate takeover” of the federal government.

“I believe that what is in front of us is a question of retaking this democracy,” he said in his closing statement.

Steyer said the tax system in the U.S. is “remarkably unfair.” He called it proof that corporations have taken over the government.

Asked what he would tell a state employee who was on the fence about joining a union, Steyer said, “from my point of view, it’s absolutely essential in a negotiation to come in with strength and to come in together.”

Steyer said there should be no private prisons.

Asked about his takeaways from the forum, Steyer said every single candidate who had spoken “is a hell of a lot better than the criminal in the White House.”

In response to a question about how much of his own wealth he has put up for his campaign, Steyer said his campaign will keep doing grassroots efforts.

He said he views this as a “generational election.” There’s a short window to deal with climate change, he said, adding that he would declare a state of emergency on climate change on day one, if he becomes president.

Gun violence in this country is a perfect example of the corporate takeover, Steyer said.

Updated 12:38 p.m.

Beto O’Rourke

After Beto O’Rourke took the stage, he told the crowd about reports of an active shooter in the Cielo Vista Mall area in El Paso, Texas.

Answering the first question while on stage, Beto said he supports a federal mandate for public workers to collectively bargain.

Asked what it would take for gun reform, O’Rourke said public pressure sparks political will.

O’Rourke said he supports “red flag” laws, which allow authorities to take guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

He said addressing mental health is a big solution. He wants universal health care and no copay for patients to see a psychiatrist or psychologist.

On the topic of unions, O’Rourke said he thinks Democrats have shied away too much from speaking out about being pro-union.

Updated 11:47 a.m.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson said she supports a federal mandate for anyone to be able to collectively bargain.

“When people cannot collectively bargain, they are disempowered,” she said.

Williamson said she wants to repeal the Trump tax cut.

She later said while talking about what she’d do as president: “My main partner is the American people. That is one of the reasons I can get this done.”

Asked if she thinks school districts should be able to require vaccinations, Williamson said “I’m fine with that.”

Williamson said until the American people “wake up,” nothing will change.

Updated 11:31 a.m.

Joe Biden

“Without public employees, nothing functions,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in his opening statement.

He later added: “I think it’s time we stop apologizing to anyone about public employees.”

Biden said he supports federal law allowing all public employees to collectively bargain.

Addressing the topic of deportations under the Obama administration, Biden said the focus was on deporting felons.

Biden said he does not support decriminalizing border crossings. “It will be an invitation to come.”

About the fight against unions, it’s all about suppressing wages, Biden said.

He later said: “I’m a labor guy. And I’ve been outspoken about labor.”

The country should build on Obamacare, not scrap it, Biden said. He railed against a “$30 trillion plan,” referring to Medicare For All.

“I’m against any Republican who wants to get rid of Obamacare, and I’m against any Democrat who wants to get rid of Obamacare,” he said.

Biden said his plan on student loans is earners who make less than $25,000 wouldn’t pay anything and there would be no interest. Those who currently pay 10 percent of their disposable income on loans would pay 5 percent under Biden’s plan.

Asked for what he would look for in labor secretary, Biden said he would go to people who know what’s at stake, be it a labor lawyer or leader.

Biden said the “moral fabric of this country is being ripped.”

Biden ended his time on stage by saying: “Don’t be depressed. We can do this. Anyway, I’m out of here.”

Updated 11:11 a.m.

Cory Booker

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey called this election a “moral moment.”

Booker said charter schools are only 3 percent of our nation’s schools. The next president must focus on empowering public education, he said.

Booker said if anybody wants to come after the schools in his city that are serving low-income students, “they’ll have to come through me.”

“Every neighborhood should have a great public school to support the genius of their children,” he said.

Booker said if he’s the next president, the secretary of education will be someone who has taught in a public school.

In response to a question from a worker at a facility who takes care of those with developmental disabilities, Booker said if he’s president, he’ll make the worker’s job better, including by allowing the power to organize.

Booker heard a question from a woman in New York who’s a laboratory operator for a local municipality who says she’s scraping by, trying to make ends meet. Her question: “How is this going to get easier to me?”

I’m going to take away “toxic Trump tax cuts,” Booker said.

Booker said he will also give an increase to the earned income tax credit, create debt-free college and loan forgiveness, and expand Social Security.

Booker said he wants to empower unions. On organizing, he said, “This is a sacred ideal of our country that is under assault.”

Updated 10:43 a.m.

Steve Bullock

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says he does support a federal mandate to allow collective bargaining. He calls the right to bargaining “essential” for the country. “I think that there should be greater protections at the federal level.”

Bullock says he wants to see a world with no private prisons. But asked about extending a contract for a private prison under his leadership, Bullock said he had to extend the contract because it would be there whether he supported it or not.

On policy, Bullock calls for building on progress, not unrealistic proposals.

Bullock says he would start with a public option for health care to create competition. He does not support throwing out employer-sponsored health care plans.

On health care, Bullock is not offering much for specifics.

“You don’t have to make promises that I think are pretty darn hard to keep,” he said.

Asked what he would do about climate change, Bullock says the country must take immediate steps to address it. He’s calling for being carbon-neutral by 2050 and said he thinks it can get done by 2040. He’s calling for rejoining the Paris accord.

In his closing statement, Bullock brags about being the only candidate in the field to win in a Trump state.

The order of speakers is changing. Cory Booker is up next.

Updated 10:27 a.m.

Seth Moulton

Rep. Moulton of Mass. says he is running to bring unity and fight for values. He says he stands with AFSCME every day “because I believe in public service.”

Asked if he supports federal law for public workers to have collective bargaining, he says yes.

Asked if wartime experience is transferable to taking on Trump, Moulton says he knows something about building coalitions. “I just think that that particular leadership experience is relevant to the task before us in winning this election.”

On health care, Moulton says he wants competition.

Question from a member: What is your plan to ensure access to affordable housing? Moulton says we must get rid of restrictive zoning laws so communities can develop more dense housing. Also, he wants to improve access to transportation.

On mental health, Moulton said he would establish a national hotline for immediate access to mental health professionals.

Updated 10:10 a.m.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren to press: “We need to make our elections system as secure as Fort Knox.”

Elizabeth Warren to press: We need to address gun violence head on. “We know some steps that would help.” We need to treat gun safety “like the health crisis it is.” Nothing gets done in Washington about it because of the influence of the NRA.

Asked what she would do to make sure public service workers get respect, Warren says 2020 presents a chance to have a government on the people’s side.

Asked if union leaders would be put in top ranks of Warren administration, Warren says, “You bet.”

Warren gets applause for saying she will not have an secretary of education who has not been a public school teacher.

Warren said she is taking a new approach to taxes, starting with a wealth tax. Corporations that make more than $100 million in profits get taxed 7 percent. She said it would produce $1 trillion over ten years to reinvest in jobs, infrastructure, workers.

“The big question in 2020 is who government works for,” she says in closing statement.

Updated 10 a.m.

Julian Castro is first up

Asked about immigration, Castro said there is comparison between Obama and Trump. But there are lessons we can learn. “We need to move forward” with immigration reform.

He said he supports all undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious crime being on a pathway to citizenship.

“Only right wingers call this thing open borders, and they are going to call it open borders no matter what you do,” Castro said.

Asked if decriminalizing illegal border crossings would increase the number of immigrants, Castro said desperation is what drives border crossings.

AFSCME member asked what Castro will do to stop billionaires and big corps from attacking unions’ right to organize. Castro said he would make it easier for public sector workers to organize. “We need a tax code that rewards people who have to work.”

Castro said he would repeal and replace Trump tax cuts, close loopholes that benefit special interest. Also, he wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Castro said the U.S. need a tax code that invests more in middle class and poor people. “I would just turn that on its head,” he said.

Asked who will do home care jobs at a low wage, Castro said he supports higher wages and organizing. “Also, in our policy, connect the dots between housing and health care,” he said.

Castro said come January 2021, he expects Democrats to control House, Senate and White House. but if not, he said he will maximize for executive authority. When challenged, he said “I think that executive orders that are legal are perfectly acceptable.”

Updated 9:48 a.m.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaks

AFSCME President Lee Saunders says this forum is really the beginning of the union’s endorsement process. In the past, the union has been quick to endorse, he said. But this time he wants to slow the process down.

Lee said he wants the candidates to talk about the issues that affect working people. “We want the candidates to talk about the importance of unions in the fabric of American society,” he said.

AFSCME has 1.4 million members across the country, he said.

Lee said the union will be sending out polls and holding town hall meetings with members to measure support for candidates.

“We’re going to take our time with this, and we’re going to be smart, and we’re going to be strategic, and we’re going to be deliberate as far as how when endorse and when we endorse,” Saunders said.

Asked if he had concerns about the whether Medicare for All efforts could yield worse health care than negotiated plans, Saunders said, “We are a union that supports single payer.”

“I’d welcome the discussion that’s taking place in the Democratic party right now about how the health care system should look,” Saunders said.

Saunders said he wants AFSCME to have a seat at the table, whether it’s MFA, single payer, public option.

Updated 9:11 a.m.

Gov. Sisolak addresses press

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak just addressed the press. He said many of the presidential candidates participating in the forum have asked for his support and endorsement, but he hasn’t made any endorsements yet.

The most important thing is for candidates to let the American public know where they stand on important issues, Sisolak said.

Updated 8:51 a.m.

Dem candidates speak in Las Vegas

Most of the expansive Democratic field of presidential candidates will make brief appearances Saturday at a forum in Las Vegas.

Nineteen candidates are scheduled to speak starting at about 9 a.m. at the forum, hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Candidates will appear one at a time to take questions from union members at UNLV’s student union.

Follow our live blog here for the latest from the candidates.

The event comes days after a contentious second round Democratic primary debates, and on a weekend when many candidates are making stops around the state.

The candidates are scheduled to speak in the following order:

— Julian Castro (Former HUD secretary)

— Elizabeth Warren (U.S. Sen. Massachusetts)

— Seth Moulton (Rep. of Massachusetts)

— Steve Bullock (gov of Montana)

— Joe Biden (former VP)

— Cory Booker (U.S. Sen. of New Jersey)

— Marianne Williamson (Author)

— Beto O’Rourke (Former Rep. of Texas)

— Tom Steyer (Billionaire philanthropist )

— Bernie Sanders (U.S. Sen. of Vermont)

— Bill de Blasio (Mayor of NYC)

— Amy Klobuchar (U.S. Sen. of Minnesota)

— John Delaney (Former Rep. of Maryland)

— Jay Inslee (Gov. of Washington)

— Tulsi Gabbard (Rep. of Hawaii)

— Tim Ryan (Rep. of Ohio)

— Kamala Harris (U.S. Sen. of California)

— Michael Bennet (U.S. Sen. of Colorado)

— Pete Buttigieg (Mayor of South Bend, Indiana)

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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