This week, for the first time ever, there was more than one woman in a U.S. presidential debate. On Wednesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) took the stage amid the usual lineup of men in dark suits for the first night of the Democratic presidential debate. And on Thursday, America watched Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and author Marianne Williamson debate alongside other 2020 contenders.
The presence of so many women in itself was remarkable, as my colleague Monica Hesse has noted. Even more significant, though, is the fact that, both nights, commentators largely agree that a woman “won.” Harris and Warren were standout candidates — and each of the six women had at least one moment that made us at The Lily sit up and take notice.
Here is our definitive list of memorable moments from the female candidates, ranked.
There was much confusion about the woman on the edge of the debate stage Thursday night. At first, people wondered who she was. Then they found her Wikipedia page. A self-help author and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” regular (and, apparently, former cabaret singer), Williamson was not given much time to talk during the debate. But her closing statement certainly stood out.
“I’m sorry we haven’t talked more tonight about how we are going to beat Donald Trump. I have an idea about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not going to be beaten just by insider politics talk. He’s not going to be beaten just by somebody who has plans. He is going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what this man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me please — you have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So, I sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field and, sir, love will win.”
From the beginning of her campaign, Gillibrand has characterized herself as the candidate for women. Her major issues are sexual assault, abortion and paid family leave; in the media, she has emphasized her role as a mother. In her closing statement, Gillibrand aimed her message directly at female voters:
“Women in America are on fire. We’ve marched, we’ve organized, we’ve run for office and we’ve won. But, our rights are under attack like never before by President Trump and the Republicans who want to repeal Roe v. Wade, which is why I went to the front lines in Georgia to fight for them. As president, I will take on the fights that no one else will.”
At a time when much of the country is talking about criminal justice reform, political commentators have predicted that Harris’s major weakness will be her history as a prosecutor. But Thursday night, Harris invoked her prosecutorial experience as a strength, answering a question on immigration. Asked whether an undocumented immigrant should be deported if a lack of documents is his or her only offense, Harris said, “Of course not.” And then she went on:
“The problem with this kind of policy — and I know it as a prosecutor. I want a rape victim to be able to run in the middle of — to run in the middle of the street and wave down a police officer and report the crime against her. I want anybody who has been the victim of any real crime ... to be able to do that and not be afraid that if they do that, they will be deported, because the abuser will tell them it is they who is the criminal.”
Gabbard invoked her military experience multiple times during the debate Wednesday night. She spent a year in Iraq in 2004, serving in a medical field unit as a specialist in a combat zone. And when Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) challenged her on the War in Afghanistan, she wasn’t having it.
Gabbard: The Taliban was there long before we came in. They’ll be there long before we leave.
Ryan: Well …
Gabbard: We cannot keep U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we’re going to somehow squash this Taliban that has been there and every other country that’s tried it failed.
Ryan: I didn’t say squash them, I didn’t say squash them. But when we weren’t in there they started flying planes into our buildings. So, I’m just saying right now.
Gabbard: The Taliban didn’t attack us on 9/11. Al Qaeda did. Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11.
Ryan: I understand that. I understand that.
On Wednesday night, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) interrupted Warren on health insurance to describe how he would support women seeking an abortion: “I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right to reproductive health in health insurance,” he said. That didn’t sit well with Klobuchar.
“I just want to say,” Klobuchar said, grinning at Inslee, “there’s three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”
After asking a few of the male candidates how they would “deal with” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), moderator Chuck Todd turned to Warren, invoking what has become her de facto campaign slogan: “I have a plan for that.”
“Senator Warren, I want to continue on the Mitch McConnell thing because you have a lot of ambitious plans,” Todd said. “You have a plan for that, okay. ... Do you have a plan to deal with Mitch McConnell?”
“I do,” Warren said. The audience erupted in applause. Warren stayed silent for a beat, allowing the applause to wash over the debate room. And then, of course, she launched into the details of her plan.
In what was unquestionably the showstopping moment of both nights, Harris cut into a discussion of racial justice: “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race,” she said. When the moderator granted her “30 seconds,” Harris paused for a second then forged on.
“Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because she — because we were black. And I will say also that — that, in this campaign, we have also heard — and I’m going to now direct this at vice president Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.
But I also believe, and it’s personal — and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”