The Democratic party is currently engaged in the long process of selecting a candidate who will go up against Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The contenders this week had the opportunity to make their case for nomination in a pair of televised debates on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.
While the Democrats clashed over their positions on various issues, including immigration and healthcare, Donald Trump took the opportunity to criticise his opponents and stake his claim for re-election next year.
Frontrunners come under attack
Some of the most heated exchanges came in the second debate on Wednesday evening, which featured candidates including former vice-president Joe Biden, California senator Kamala Harris, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
Several of the participants took aim at Biden – viewed by many as the frontrunner in the race – challenging him on issues such as his plans for healthcare and his record on racial equality.
The former vice-president came under fire in his previous debate appearance for past involvement with senators who favoured racial segregation, and in this week's event his fellow candidates once again went on the attack.
Harris in particular challenged him on his race record, but the senator herself faced criticism for her policies towards drug offences during her time as a prosecutor in California.
“She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations, then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” said Gabbard.
One of the key themes of the previous night's debate was senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren defending their positions on issues such as healthcare and university tuition. More centrist candidates claimed progressive, liberal policies were not the best way for the Democratic party to defeat President Trump in 2020.
The current field of 24 Democrats vying for the presidential nomination will be whittled down to ten by September, and the chosen candidate will be announced at the party's convention in July 2020.
‘Success like never before'
Trump was uncharacteristically quiet during the first of the two debates, but after the second event he came out firing on Twitter.
“The people on the stage tonight, and last, were not those that will either Make America Great Again or Keep America Great!” he tweeted.
The president claimed the US is now “breaking records in almost every category”, including the stock market, the military and unemployment.
“We have prosperity and success like never before,” he added. “It will soon be time to choose to keep and build upon that prosperity and success, or let it go.”
Mr Trump also aimed criticism at his predecessor in the White House. Shortly after the Democratic candidates debated immigration and the situation at the US-Mexico border, the president said the “cages for kids” were built by the Obama administration in 2014, which “had the policy of child separation”.
This was seemingly a reference to the 2014 border crisis that saw unaccompanied children entering the US in high numbers. However, NBC News reported there was no policy under the Obama administration that allowed the separation of migrant parents and children.
The current president has come under fire for a previous ‘zero-tolerance' immigration policy that involved trying to prosecute every illegal border crossing, which resulted in children being separated from parents or guardians who had been referred for prosecution.
Are the president's policies backfiring?
As he steps up his rhetoric ahead of next year's election battle, one of the president's most frequent claims is that the US economy is among the strongest in the world. He has said that, had he not been elected in 2016, the country would be in a recession by now, and the Democratic 2020 candidates would lead the US “into an economic sinkhole the likes of which we have never seen before”.
However, Trump's former chief economic adviser has offered a different perspective on the current economic situation, suggesting that policies such as trade tariffs on China could be backfiring.
Gary Cohn told the BBC the trade war between the US and China has had a “dramatic impact” on American manufacturing and capital investment. He also said the tariff battle provided a “very convenient excuse” for the Chinese government to deliberately slow down its overheated economy.
At home, Trump has repeatedly called for the US Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy by lowering interest rates, and he got his wish this week when the Fed chose to make the first cut in rates since 2008.
The reduction of 0.25 percentage points didn't impress the president, however, who had demanded a bigger change and responded by saying that Fed chair Jerome Powell had “let us down”.
US stocks fell after the announcement, with the S&P 500 dropping by up to 1.8 per cent. Powell's description of the cut as a “mid-term policy adjustment” prompted speculation that this might not mark the beginning of a sustained period of looser monetary policy.
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