Impeachment, felons voting divide Democrats at CNN forums

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AP) – California Senator Kamala Harris joined the call for United States (US) President Donald Trump’s impeachment on Monday as five leading Democratic presidential contenders clashed in a series of prime-time town hall meetings that exposed deep divisions in a party desperate to end the Trump presidency.

Harris’ unexpected support for impeachment follows Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s push for Congress to begin the process to remove the US President following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report – a plan all but certain to fail without significant Republican support.

“There is no political inconvenience exception to the US Constitution,” Warren said. “If any other human being in this country had done what’s documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail.”

The impeachment debate, which is raging among Democrats nationwide, played out on national television on Monday as five 2020 hopefuls representing different wings of the party addressed young voters in first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire.

While they took turns on stage, the forum – hosted by CNN – marked the first time this young presidential primary season in which multiple candidates appeared on national television for the same event.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren. – AP

The five-hour marathon marked a preview of sorts for the party’s first formal presidential debate, set for late June. On Monday, they clashed from afar while taking questions from college students about free college, free health care, gun control and impeachment.

A central question underscored many of the questions posed to the candidates, who were in many cases forced to address their greatest political liabilities: Who is best positioned to deny Trump a second term?

Bernie Sanders, a front-runner in the crowded Democratic field who has pushed much of his party to the left in recent years, was asked to defend his decision to embrace democratic socialism.

“It’s a radical idea. Maybe not everyone agrees. But I happen to believe we ought to have a government that represents working families and not just the one per cent,” he said.

Republicans, led by Trump, have spent much of the last year warning voters that Democrats would take the country toward socialism should they win in 2020. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has cast herself as a Midwestern pragmatist well positioned to appeal to the middle of the country, refused to embrace “Medicare for All”, free college or Trump’s impeachment.

“I wish I could staple a free college diploma to every one of your chairs,” Klobuchar told the audience of college students. “I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.”

Warren, a champion for her party’s more liberal wing, called for an “ultra-millionaires’ tax” on income over USD50 million to help pay for free college, free child care for all children five years old and younger, free universal prekindergarten and student-debt forgiveness.

“We say good for you that you have now gotten this great fortune,” she said of the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers. “But you got to pay something back so everybody else gets a chance.”

The Republicans tasked with helping Trump win re-election paid close attention to the Democrats’ answers, seeking political ammunition to tear them down.

Republican Chair Ronna McDaniel pounced on Sanders’ call to restore the voting rights of felons, including people like the Boston Marathon bomber, who killed three people and injured hundreds in 2013 with a pair of pressure-cooker bombers and was sentenced to death.

“I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy,” Sanders said. “Yes, even for terrible people.”

McDaniel responded on social media, “If you had any doubt about how radical the Democrat Party has become, their 2020 frontrunner wants to let terrorists convicted of murdering American citizens vote from prison. It’s beyond extreme.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has generated tremendous buzz recently in the Democratic field, also opposed Sanders’ position. The 37-year-old former military officer said felons should have their voting rights restored only after they leave prison, not before.