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At Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate, presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg escalated their disagreement over O’Rourke’s proposal for mandatory buybacks of assault weapons.
“Every single one of them is an instrument of terror,” said former Texas Rep. O’Rourke when asked how he planned to take away assault weapons from American gun owners, registered or unregistered. O’Rourke in a previous debate said, “Hell, yes,” he would as president establish a mandatory government buyback program for AK-47 and AR-15 rifles but without going into details of how it would be enforced.
“I expect my fellow Americans to follow the law,” he said Tuesday. “The same way that we enforce any provision, any law that we have right now. We don’t go door to door to do anything in this country to enforce the law. I expect Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non-gun owners alike to respect and follow the law.”
In a follow-up question, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper pointed out that the former congressman’s campaign website says “individuals who fail to participate in the mandatory buyback of assault weapons will be fined,” but doesn’t specify how weapons would be confiscated from noncompliant owners.
“If someone does not turn in an AR-15 or AK-47, one of these weapons of war or brings it out in public and brandishes it in an attempt to intimidate as we saw when we were at Kent State recently, then that weapon will be taken from them,” O’Rourke said. “If they persist, there will be other consequences from law enforcement but the expectation is that Americans will follow the law. I believe in this country, I believe in my fellow Americans. I believe they will do the right thing.”
While fellow candidates have praised O’Rourke’s response to a shooting that devastated his hometown of El Paso, Texas, some Democrats raised alarms that his mandatory gun buyback proposal plays into Republican hands.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., charged the former lawmaker with needing “to pick a fight in order to stay relevant” and calling his buyback plan a “shiny object.”
“Congressman, you just made it clear that you don’t know how this is going to take weapons off the streets. If you can develop the plan further I think we can have a debate about it,” Buttigieg said. “But we can’t wait,” he added. “People are dying in the streets right now.”
Buttigieg, who has spoken out against gun confiscation, repeated his calls for universal background checks, a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and “red flag” laws to authorize law enforcement agencies to temporarily confiscate weapons from owners deemed to pose a threat.
“We cannot wait for purity tests,” he said. “We have to get something done.”
“This is not a purity test,” O’Rourke fired back. “This is a country that loses 40,000 of our fellow Americans every year to gun violence. This is a crisis and we’ve got to do something about it. And those challenges you described are not mutually exclusive to the challenges that I’m describing.
“To use the analogy of health care, it would be as though we said, ‘Look, we’re for primary care but let’s not talk about mental health care because that’s a bridge too far,’” he continued. “No, let’s decide what we are going to believe in, what we are going to achieve and let’s bring this country together in order to do that.”
Referencing gun reform groups like March for Our Lives, O’Rourke added, “Let’s follow their inspiration and lead and not be limited by the polls and the consultants and the focus groups. Let’s do what’s right while we have time to do what’s right.”
“The problem isn’t the polls, the problem is the policy,” Buttigieg responded. “And I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.
“Everyone on this stage recognizes, or at least I thought we did, that the problem is not other Democrats who don’t agree with your particular idea of how to handle this. The problem is the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their enablers in Congress, and we should be united in taking the fight to them,” Buttigieg added, drawing applause from the audience.
“I never took you or anyone else on who disagrees with me on this issue,” O’Rourke said. “But when you, Mayor Buttigieg, describe this policy as a ‘shiny object,’ I don’t care what that meant to me or my candidacy. But to those who have survived gun violence, those who’ve lost a loved one to an AR-15 and AK-47, March for Our Lives formed in the courage of the students willing to stand up to the NRA and conventional politics and poll-tested politicians, that was a slap in the face to every single one of those groups and every single survivor of a mass casualty assault with an AR-15 and AK-47.
“We must buy them back.”
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Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office, NJ/Facebook
On Tuesday, New Jersey officials released a sketch of a possible witness to the abduction of 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez.
Dulce disappeared on September 16, after her mother took her to Bridgeton City Park with her siblings.
The case of a 5-year-old girl who has been missing for a month took a turn on Tuesday when New Jersey officials released a sketch of a man they believe may witnessed Dulce Maria Alavez's abduction.
Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office, NJ/FacebookDulce was last seen running towards the playground at Bridgeton City Park with her younger brother on September 16, according to NJ.com. Her mother, 19-year-old Noema Alavez Perez, initially stayed behind in the car with her 8-year-old daughter, but went to check on the other two kids when the older daughter said she couldn't see her siblings on the playground.
When Perez got to the playground, her son was crying and asking for his sister.
An Amber Alert was later issued when a child who was at the playground reported seeing a man direct a child into a red van with tinted windows at the park. (While that man was initially described as an abductor, investigators later said they just wanted to speak to him.)
The sketch of the man officials released Tuesday is not being described as a suspect or a person of interest. Rather, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said in a statement on Facebook that he is "simply a possible witness we want to speak with at this time."
The sketch was put out after a new witness came forward and described a person that they had seen at the park, who had been with two children under the age of 5 around the time that Dulce went missing.
Officials said the witness is not the same one who prompted the Amber Alert with their description of a man ushering a child into a vehicle at the park.
"We are asking this person (or anyone who may recognize him) to come forward, as investigators wish to speak with him as it is believed that he may have information that is helpful in determining the circumstances that led to Dulce's disappearance," Webb-McRae said.
The man in the sketch is described as Hispanic and about 5-feet, 7-inches tall. He is of a slender build and 30-35 years old. He was wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a white baseball-style cap at the time.
Dulce is about 3-feet, 5-inches tall with brown eyes and brown hair. She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt with the picture of an elephant on it, black and white pants, and white shoes.
A $52,000 reward is being offered for information on Dulce's disappearance.
Anyone with information on the man is being asked to contact the Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033. Anonymous tips can also be texted to TIP411 with "Bridgeton" in the message.
A lot had happened between September’s Democratic debate and Tuesday night’s fourth gathering of presidential hopefuls: The House announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump; the White House responded by increasing attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders suffered and recovered from a heart attack; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued her climb in polling, usurping Biden as the leader in Iowa.
How much difference a single three-hour debate will matter in a news cycle driven by impeachment will be answered in the coming days, but here are five takeaways from the CNN-New York Times debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
1) Bernie’s big night
One of the biggest questions leading up to Tuesday was the health of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who suffered a heart attack just two weeks ago.
Sanders appeared sharp from the get-go, declaring President Trump the “most corrupt president in the history of this country” and defending his Medicare for All plan while railing against the “dysfunctional” health care system he wants to overhaul.
When asked about his health by CNN co-moderator Erin Burnett, he clearly did not want the focus on him.
“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” he said, before pivoting briefly to a question about opioids that was asked just before.
Eventually, the 78-year-old, who is the oldest candidate running for the Democratic nomination, took the opportunity to thank his rivals for their outpouring of support.
“Let me take this moment if I might to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes,” Sanders said. “And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I’m so happy to be back here with you this evening.”
Sanders said he would be holding a big rally in New York City Saturday that would feature a surprise guest. A Washington Post report, later confirmed by other media outlets, said it would be freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who would be giving him her much-sought-after endorsement. Just after the debate ended, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota announced her endorsement of Sanders, citing their work together on eliminating student debt and providing free meals in schools year-round to every student who wants one. There were additional reports that Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan would also be endorsing Sanders.
2) Warren the frontrunner?
If you go by national polling, Biden is still slightly ahead of Warren, but her rivals, in focusing their attacks on her, seemed to be signaling that the Massachusetts senator is the one to beat. Warren was hit early and often, although not all the blows landed.
Early on she was pushed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar on her support for Medicare for All and for her refusal to say middle-class taxes would go up. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard attempted to engage Warren on foreign policy, but was cut off by a commercial break. Sen. Kamala Harris went on a questionable tangent trying to get Warren to agree that President Trump should be banned on Twitter. Biden returned to one of his frequent themes, that he was the only person on the stage who had gotten big things done — but Warren claimed credit for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before she was a senator. Biden, who was vice president at the time, said he had helped round up the votes for it. Warren paused before thanking Obama for his support.
3) Steyer makes his debut, not much of a mark
This was the first debate for billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, who announced he was entering the race in July. Steyer, who funded an ad campaign calling for President Trump’s impeachment, kept trying to leverage his speaking time to introduce his candidacy. There wasn’t much time, however, as Steyer spoke for just seven minutes and 12 seconds, the least amount of time of any candidate. For comparison’s sake, Klobuchar — who is polling around the same sub-2 percent mark as Steyer — spoke for over 13 minutes. Steyer did have a notable exchange when he agreed with Sanders that wealth inequality was a major issue, calling the current economic system “absolutely wrong. It’s absolutely undemocratic and unfair. I was one of the first people on this stage to propose a wealth tax.”
Steyer has pledged to spend $100 million of his own money on his campaign and he’ll have a second opportunity to speak to voters: He’s one of seven Democrats who have already qualified for next month’s debate.
4) Abortion is raised — finally
During a discussion on health care, Sen. Kamala Harris lamented how little focus there has been on women's reproductive rights during the debates.
“This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word, with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today,” Harris said. “Women are the majority of the population in this country. People need to keep their hands off of women’s bodies and let women make the decisions about their own lives.”
The issue of abortion came later during the debate, again eliciting a passionate response from Harris.
“Women have been given the responsibility to perpetuate the human species,” she said. “Our bodies were created to do that. And it does not give any other person the right to tell a woman what to do with that body. It is her body. It is her right. It is her decision.”
It also gave Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who now considers herself pro-abortion-rights but supports abortion restrictions in the third trimester, the opportunity to highlight the difference.
“I agree with Hillary Clinton on one thing,” Gabbard explained. “I disagree with her on many others. But when she said abortion should be safe, legal and rare, I think she’s correct.”
The assertion drew supportive tweets from Leana Wen, the former president of Planned Parenthood.
I don’t agree with @TulsiGabbard on a lot, but do appreciate that she brought up the third rail for Democrats: that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” We should reduce the need for abortions by investing in prevention.
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) October 16, 2019
Then, during a discussion about the Supreme Court and its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, Sen. Elizabeth Warren sought to reframe the issue.
“I lived in an America where abortion was illegal. And rich women still got abortions,” Warren said. “What we’re talking about now is that the people who are denied access to abortion are the poor, are the young.”
5) No climate change
The biggest issue that wasn’t addressed in the marathon forum was climate change. The moderators retrod familiar ground on health care, redundantly allowed each of the 12 candidates to agree on the impeachment inquiry and closed by asking each of them to name an unlikely friendship, inspired by the pairing of former President George W. Bush and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres at an NFL game. (Several of them singled out the late Sen. John McCain.) They did not address the global ecological disaster that United Nations scientists said last month could be “hitting harder and sooner” than anticipated.
“Not one single question about the climate crisis,” wrote Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year after pushing his single-issue campaign. “Not one single question about the climate crisis. Not one single question about the climate crisis. This is the existential crisis of our time. Not one single question, and that’s completely inexcusable.”
“Three hours and no questions tonight about climate, housing, or immigration,” wrote the account of former Housing Secretary Julián Castro while he was still on the stage. “Climate change is an existential threat. America has a housing crisis. Children are still in cages at our border. But you know, Ellen.”
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