On Thursday, while President Trump was holding a campaign rally in Minneapolis, the 2020 Democratic contenders spent the evening talking LGBTQ issues at a CNN town hall event, called “Equality In America,” sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Coalition.
In total, 9 candidates appeared during staggered times throughout Thursday evening in a format similar to the CNN climate change town hall back in September:
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- California Sen. Kamala Harris
- Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
- Businessman Tom Steyer
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was originally scheduled to appear, but could not attend due to his scaled-back campaigning schedule related to his recent heart problems.
There were some headlines made throughout the evening, some good, and some bad, depending on the candidate.
Vox says there were two candidates who stood out above the rest, while one candidate, in particular, sort of bombed with his rambling answers. Take a guess at which one fumbled the worst on the matter of LGBTQ issues.
Winner: Pete Buttigieg
This was the Pete Buttigieg many LGBTQ people have been waiting for. He had a touching moment where he spoke at length about his reaction to realizing he was gay as a young child and choosing to live in the closet well into adulthood. …
Winner: Elizabeth Warren
No matter the eventual rulings in the SCOTUS cases, Congress has the power to amend Title VII to protect LGBTQ workers by passing the Equality Act. The bill would extend non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people not just in employment, but in public accommodations, education, and housing. While most of the candidates expressed support for the Equality Act during their town hall (and each has expressed support for the bill in the past), Elizabeth Warren went one step further by explaining how she would reform the filibuster to overcome the objections of a potential Republican minority. It’s a crucial detail for the fate of the bill.
Aside from Vox’s praise of Warren, the New York Times isolated a specific answer from Warren and called it a noteworthy viral moment of the 2020 campaign:
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) October 11, 2019
The NYT points out that succinct, lighthearted moments like this are helping Warren attract supporters since they play well on social media:
Viral moments are coveted in the Democratic primary race, where they can serve as a magnet for online donations and bring much-needed attention to candidates struggling to stand out in a large field.
Ms. Warren’s answer appeared likely to turn into one of those moments, even though she is hardly struggling to attract attention to her campaign, having risen in the polls to rival former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as a leading contender for the Democratic nomination.
The “loser” candidate of the night, if you can’t guess, according to Vox, is former vice president Joe Biden. His answers were textbook Biden in that they arrived at the “correct” answer for the audience, but took some very winding and cringe-inducing roads to get there.
Loser: Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden had a markedly improved performance from the last LGBTQ presidential forum, when he condescended to the woman interviewing him both on and off the stage. But on Thursday, he still often rambled through long stories about how he supported marriage equality within the Obama administration. By giving meandering answers, Biden managed to face fewer questions than the other candidates.
However, a reference to old gay bathhouses drew a rebuke from critics on Twitter. “We talked about this in San Francisco, it was all about, you know gay bathhouses. It’s all about round the clock sex, it’s all … c’mon man!” It was a bizarre line that had little to do with modern LGBTQ policy.
He also explained his vote for “don’t ask, don’t tell,” saying he originally opposed the policy, but then voted for it as part of a larger military spending bill. Including controversial policies in military spending bills is an old political trick that essentially dares your opponents to vote against the military to achieve your policy goals.
Biden’s intentions are heading in the right direction, but for an audience already weary of his four-decade record on these issues, with some of his votes a direct aversion to the matters he’s discussing today, it’s a reminder of why he’s a risky choice in 2020.
Biden’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” vote is along the same lines of defending his record on other items from the 1990s, such as the criminal justice reform bill he championed which is constantly lampooned today as being disproportionally prejudiced against minorities.
Referencing San Francisco bathhouse sex might be the best “gay issues” point to which Biden can draw on from his personal memory, or act as a way he believes he can relate to the issues at hand, but it sure sounds cringeworthy to hear him talk about it.
Biden wasn’t the only one leaving viewers annoyed on Thursday. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was forced to apologize for an attempted joke about gender pronouns when introducing Sen. Kamala Harris:
KAMALA HARRIS: My pronouns are she, her and hers.
CHRIS CUOMO: Mine, too.
HARRIS: Alright. pic.twitter.com/09gJ2pygjd
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) October 11, 2019
Cuomo took to twitter to dial it back a bit late Thursday night:
PLEASE READ: When Sen. Harris said her pronouns were she her and her's, I said mine too. I should not have. I apologize. I am an ally of the LGBTQ community, and I am sorry because I am committed to helping us achieve equality. Thank you for watching our townhall.
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) October 11, 2019
The event was a mixed bag for CNN and a mixed bag for candidates. At the end of things, Elizabeth Warren continued doing what she needs to do to build on her support and keep chipping away at Biden’s electability argument.
Biden, on the other hand, probably did the opposite of what he needed to do.