What candidates said about health care, reproductive rights at the Hall of Fame

Nineteen presidential candidates had five minutes each to make their case to more than 1,000 activists at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids on June 9. Most offered at least one really good applause line. Teams of reporters from the Des Moines Register and Iowa Starting Line pulled together some of the memorable parts of each speech here and here.

I decided to focus on how the candidates spoke about health care and women’s ability to access abortion for a couple of reasons. First, while the candidates highlighted a wide range of problems and proposals, almost all of them addressed those topics in some way.

Second, this post represents my gesture toward what media critic Jay Rosen has called the “citizens agenda” approach to covering campaigns. Although I lack survey data to know for sure what Iowa Democrats want the presidential contenders to be talking about, I believe health care and reproductive rights are among the most salient for caucus-goers, because:

  • I’ve often heard members of the public raise those topics at candidate events;
  • Many Democrats who ran for the Iowa legislature in 2016 and 2018 told me these issues, particularly Medicaid privatization and mental health services, frequently came up in their conversations with voters on the doors;
  • Repeated Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood and access to abortion over the last three Iowa legislative sessions have generated tremendous participation at public protests and in organizations like Indivisible chapters;
  • Anecdotally, Medicare for All seems to be a litmus test for quite a few Iowa Democrats, and I often see social media arguments among past caucus-goers over single-payer versus improving the Affordable Care Act with some kind of public option.
  • UPDATE: Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register on June 10,

    Seventy-nine percent of registered Iowa voters who plan to attend the 2020 caucuses in person say support for a woman’s right to abortion is a “must-have” from a candidate, according to the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. […]

    The defense of abortion rights is the top must-have concern among nine common Democratic stances tested, including the ideas of banning assault-style weapons, offering free tuition to college or implementing a national health care system.

    For this piece, I had planned to upload audio clips from all the candidate speeches, but due to sub-optimal acoustics in the press area, parts of the remarks are difficult to understand on my recordings. I recommend checking out the video on C-SPAN’s website. Not only is the audio more clear, closed captioning is available, as is a full transcript of the event below the video.

    I transcribed the excerpts enclosed below based on the speeches as delivered (occasionally there were minor deviations from candidates’ prepared remarks).

    Cory Booker: “Make no mistake: abortion is health care, and health care is a right”

    You can watch his whole speech beginning at the 25:25 mark on C-SPAN’s video.

    The U.S. senator from New Jersey brought up these issues a few minutes into his remarks. After telling the audience, “We can’t let the election be about what we are against. It must be an election about what we are for, who we are for,” Booker included this passage in his list of things Democrats are advocating:

    We are for every American having access to health care, and make no mistake: abortion is health care, and health care is a right, not a privilege.

    Eric Swalwell: “Let’s not aim so low only to protect Roe”

    (speech begins at the 31:35 mark on C-SPAN’s video)

    Swalwell’s stump speech has a recurring motif: “Go big, be bold, and do good.” The member of the U.S. House from California brought up health care and reproductive rights as examples of how Democrats can do more than be on the defensive.

    My wife and I, we fight insurance companies when the surprise bills come. We stand in line at the pharmacy and we see how expensive it should be. And here’s what I think we can do.

    We should have Medicare for anyone who wants it in America. Medicare for anyone who wants it. But also strive to invest in cures in our lifetime. To believe that we can solve the unsolvable, find the unfindable, and invest in such a way that innovation will allow us to cure the incurable.

    I also believe that when it comes to starting a family, for our family and every family in America, it’s my wife’s body. It’s a woman’s body. It’s her choice.

    I will only appoint judges that uphold the Roe decision. But let’s not aim so low only to protect Roe. Let’s repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment [that blocks federal funding for abortions].

    Bernie Sanders: “If we believe in Medicare for all as a human right, we must take on the power of the insurance industry”

    (speech begins at 38:15 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The main thrust of Sanders’ remarks was that Democrats disagree about the best way to defeat Donald Trump. The senator from Vermont thinks Democrats need to increase turnout and give working people and young people a reason to believe that participating in politics will improve their lives. Some well-meaning people favor a “middle-ground strategy that antagonizes no one, that stands up to nobody, and that changes nothing.” Sanders fears that strategy will not only result in bad public policy, but also could re-elect Trump.

    The American people want change. They want real change, and we have got to provide that change.

    And that means, and that means, if we believe in Medicare for all as a human right, we must take on the power of the insurance industry.

    If we believe that we must cut prescription drug costs in half, we must take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. […]

    We can create an nation where all people, regardless of their income, have health care and unlimited educational opportunities as a right.

    Tulsi Gabbard: “I’ll crack down on big Pharma and insurance companies who extort the sick”

    (speech begins at 50:40 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The U.S. representative from Hawaii was the only candidate who devoted a large portion of her time to foreign policy. However, she did touch on health care early in the speech.

    As your president and commander in chief, I’ll bring the spirit of service above self to the White House, putting people ahead of profits, putting the well-being of the American people above all else.

    I’ll crack down on big Pharma and insurance companies who extort the sick, who put their profits ahead of the health and well-being of the people, and work to pass Medicare for All, to make sure that every American that is sick is able to get the care that they need.

    Pete Buttigieg: “The GOP has sacrificed its ability to claim to be the party of freedom”

    (speech begins at 57:12 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The mayor of South Bend, Indiana regularly talks about reclaiming American values like freedom, patriotism, and national security from the Republican Party. In fact, those were major themes of his speeches long before he was officially running for president. He told the Cedar Rapids audience,

    The GOP has sacrificed its ability to claim to be the party of freedom, especially when we see an attack on women’s reproductive freedom that all of us, especially men, ought to be standing up to defend.

    Kamala Harris: “What’s that called? Health care fraud”

    (speech begins at 1:03:50 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The recurring theme of Harris’s speech alluded to her experience as a prosecutor. Early on, the senator from California said “we need to make the case for America”:

    Make the case for our America. An America where health care is a right, not a privilege. An America where teachers are paid their value. An America where women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

    Harris also said she is ready to “prosecute the case against Trump,” who has a long “rap sheet.”

    He promised health care, and then he tried to rip health care away from millions of people. What’s that called? Health care fraud. […]

    John Delaney: “There are lots of ways of creating universal health care in this country”

    (speech begins at 1:15:40 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The former U.S. House member from Maryland drew boos at the recent California Democratic Party state convention by saying single-payer health care was bad policy, and he argued in a Washington Post column last week that running on that platform would be “political suicide” for Democrats.

    Delaney reminded the Hall of Fame crowd that there are many paths to giving all Americans access to health care.

    But most importantly, we need a president who is committed to creating universal health care in the United States of America. Where everyone gets health care as a basic right of citizenship. No Americans should be worried about whether they can pay for their insulin. Or worry about their children’s health care, or worry about whether if they make a decision to get health care, that they may be signing up to bankrupt themselves. No American should worry about that, and we know we can do this.

    Why do we know that? Because other countries have done it. France has a universal health care system, Sweden has a universal health care system, the Netherlands has a universal health care system, and Germany has a universal health care system. So we can build a universal health care system in the wealthiest nation in the world.

    But the one, the one thing, about all of those countries whose systems we admire, none of them have a single-payer universal health care system, which shows there are lots of ways of creating universal health care in this country.

    My plan, Bettercare, gives every American health care as a right. It invests in our communities and ensures we have high-quality health care. It puts money against basic research so we can cure cancer and cure Alzheimer’s. And it gives the American people what they want, which is choices. That’s the best way forward on universal health care.

    Jay Inslee: “You can count on me today, yesterday, every day, to move forward to pass a Reproductive Parity Act”

    (speech begins at 1:22:15 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The governor of Washington touted a number of progressive policies Democrats have enacted in his state, including this one:

    We know that when we’ve stood up for choice–and I’ll tell you this. I’ve been in public life for 27 years. You can count on me today, yesterday, every day, to move forward to pass a Reproductive Parity Act, so not only [do] women have a right of choice, they have a right of health care, for their services exercising that constitutional right. We’ve done it in my state, we need to do it nationally.

    Kirsten Gillibrand: “I don’t think there is room in our party for a Democratic candidate who does not support women’s full reproductive freedom”

    (speech begins at 1:28:35 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The senator from New York devoted much of her remarks to the growing political role for women, who are “on fire in America today,” “fighting back,” and “rising up.”

    Now more than ever, our rights are under attack. Whether it’s Georgia or Iowa or Alabama or Missouri. In the White House. At the Supreme Court.

    Across this country, right-wing politicians and a whole lot of men are making decisions about our reproductive freedom.

    Now is not the time to be polite. Now is not the time for small steps. Now is the time to fight like hell. […]

    I was the first presidential candidate to pledge that I will only nominate justices and judges who see Roe v. Wade as a precedent. I am also going to codify Roe, and I will repeal Hyde, so that women of color and low-income women also get access to abortion services.

    In fact, I don’t think there is room in our party for a Democratic candidate who does not support women’s full reproductive freedom.

    Tim Ryan: “The women in the United States have never been knocked down”

    (speech begins at 1:48:35 on C-SPAN’s video)

    Most of Ryan’s speech focused on the working people who have struggled in the part of Ohio he represents in the U.S. House–the “epicenter of de-industrialization.” In other speeches, Ryan has advocated for Medicare for All, but he didn’t touch on that in this condensed version. (The organizers were strict with timekeeping.) At the end, he told a story about Muhammad Ali telling a fan he had never been knocked down in a fight. He was “either up, or getting up.”

    Well, the Iowa Democratic Party has never been knocked down. You are either up, or you’re getting up.

    And I will tell you the Democrats in the United States of America have never been knocked down. They’re either up, or they’re getting up.

    The workers in the United States of America have never been knocked down. They’re either up, or they’re getting up.

    The women in the United States have never been knocked down. They’re either up, or they’re getting up.

    Andrew Yang: “We can either talk about empowering women or we can do something about it”

    (speech begins at 1:54:35 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The entrepreneur supports Medicare for All but didn’t mention that in the condensed version of his stump speech. He focused on his case for giving every American adult a universal basic income of $1,000 per month.

    And the Democratic Party is all about empowering women. We know there are millions of women around the country in exploitative or abusive jobs or relationships that would be improved by a thousand dollars a month.

    We can either talk about empowering women or we can do something about it, and I say we do something about it.

    Marianne Williamson: “It is now time for we the people to step in”

    (speech begins at 2:00:10 on C-SPAN’s video)

    Williamson’s speech was distinct from the others; you can read the prepared remarks here. Instead of laying out a platform of policies, the best-selling author described how Trump has tapped into “very dark, primal place within the human psyche.” She argued that she can beat his appeals to fearful emotions by inspiring voters and telling the truh. She also criticized the hypocrisy of the Democratic establishment, asserting that “The political system has brought us to this point, and it is now time for we the people to step in.”

    Elizabeth Warren: “I’ve got a practical plan to protect the rights guaranteed to women under Roe versus Wade”

    (speech begins at 2:13:50 on C-SPAN’s video)

    “I’ve got a plan for that” is a refrain of Warren’s stump speech. After describing her proposals for a wealth tax, cancelling student loan debt for 43 million Americans, universal child care and preschool, creating a new industrial base, and battling climate change, the senator from Massachusetts told the Hall of Fame audience:

    And just one more that I want to mention, and that is Roe versus Wade. I’ve got a practical plan to protect the rights guaranteed to women under Roe versus Wade, regardless of what the United States Supreme Court does.

    John Hickenlooper: “We provided long-acting, reversible contraception to any woman who wanted it”

    (speech begins at 2:19:40 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The former governor of Colorado argued that while Trump is the worst president in history, beating him “is far from assured.” Democrats need to be “progressive but also pragmatic.” The party needs “a dreamer and a doer.”

    President Trump reminds us every day that our democracy is something we neglect at our own peril. We now live in a country where children are taken from their mothers and put in cages. A woman’s right to control her own body is under constant assault. The sick and the elderly have to choose between paying their medical bills or their utility bills. […]

    We must also acknowledge that the most effective attack the Republicans can level against us is one of socialism.

    Now that doesn’t mean that Democrats should shy away from big, progressive goals. Far from it. A pragmatist doesn’t say no to big ideas. They figure out how to get them done. I know, because it’s what we did in Colorado. Today, Colorado has near universal health care coverage. […]

    When other states were limiting reproductive rights, we provided long-acting, reversible contraception to any woman who wanted it. We cut abortion and unintended pregnancy among women by two-thirds.

    Speaking more broadly about health care, Hickenlooper said,

    When I am president, we will make affordable health care a right, not a privilege. We will do it by creating a public option. The more than 100 million Americans who like their insurance can keep it. And the millions who do not will have another choice.

    Amy Klobuchar: I “got passed one of the first laws in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay”

    (speech begins at 2:25:50 on C-SPAN’s video)

    Near the beginning of her speech, the senator from Minnesota discussed the personal crisis that sparked her activism.

    You know, I got into politics with that grit when our daughter was born. And she was really sick, she couldn’t swallow. And back then the insurance companies had a rule that they kicked you out of the hospital after 24 hours.

    And she was in intensive care, and I got kicked out of that hospital. And when we got out, and she got a little better, I went to the legislature as a new mom, not an elected official, and advocated and got passed one of the first laws in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay.

    Klobuchar circled back to the issue later, in the context of how Democrats can stand up for America.

    Iowa, it means standing up to risky schemes of privatizing Medicaid. It means standing up for our rural hospitals. And it means saying to those big pharma companies, you know what? You might have two lobbyists for every member of Congress. You might think that they own Washington, but they don’t own me.

    Steve Bullock: the election is about “giving people a reason to vote for us”

    (speech begins at 2:38:08 on C-SPAN’s video)

    Bullock spent much of his time explaining why he can beat Trump. He was re-elected as governor of Montana in 2016, even as Trump carried the state by 20 points.

    In the longer version of his stump speech, Bullock talks about how he was able to get a Republican-controlled legislature to approve Medicaid expansion, and how he vetoed more bills than any other governor in his state’s history, including every GOP attempt to limit a woman’s right to choose. He didn’t mention those topics in Cedar Rapids. Rather, he spoke about his efforts to fight the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and to pass state laws banning corporate campaign contributions and including the strongest disclosure requirements for political donations. This election will be not only about beating Trump, but also about “giving people a reason to vote for us.”

    Bill de Blasio: “We are guaranteeing health care for all New Yorkers”

    (speech begins at 2:44:15 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The New York City mayor shared that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. For years, she has fought to end the stigma surrounding mental health and to improve access to services.

    Near the end of his remarks, de Blasio mentioned several city policies that helped working people, such as universal access to preschool.

    We gave paid sick days to working people so they didn’t have to choose between a day’s pay and staying healthy and taking care of their family. Don’t you think you should have that in Iowa and all over the country?

    We got sick of waiting on Washington, so guess what we’re doing? We are guaranteeing health care for all New Yorkers. Anyone who doesn’t have insurance is guaranteed health care.

    He might have said more along those lines, but he ran out of time.

    Michael Bennet: Giving “every American the choice to make the best choice for themselves and their family”

    (speech begins at 2:51:00 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The senator from Colorado spent much of his time attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he called the “ringmaster” of Trump’s “three-ring circus.” McConnell blocked legislation reflecting the popular will while passing tax cuts for the wealthy. To combat this, we need a broad-based, unifying agenda that can bring along independents and some Republicans. As part of this agenda, Bennet has proposed several policies, dealing with climate change, education, and other issues.

    It’s why I’ve put forward a plan on universal health care that gives every American the choice to make the best choice for themselves and their family.

    It’s why I’ve proposed the American Family Act, that would reduce childhood poverty in America by 40 percent, add not a single bureaucrat to Washington, DC, for 3 percent of the price of Medicare for All.

    Beto O’Rourke: Health care means “every woman makes her own decisions about her own body”

    (speech begins at 2:57:50 on C-SPAN’s video)

    The former U.S. House member from Texas talked about people he’s interacted with while running for president. He touched on a wide range of policy issues to address gun violence, inadequate services for veterans, agriculture, climate change, pensions for workers, and so on.

    And then the women, who are leading on every single one of these issues, including perhaps one of the most important for the well-being of this country: guaranteed, high-quality, universal health care. Which means primary care, and in a state that ranks 51st in mental health care, that means mental health care for every single Iowan and American.

    And that health care also mean that every woman makes her own decisions about her own body and has access to the care that allows that to be possible.

    Top image: Photo by Robin Marty, taken on January 22, 2016, via Flickr. Part of Robin Marty’s collection of pro-choice stock images, published with permission.

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