The first Democrat presidential debate was unofficially bilingual, as several candidates and moderators slipped seamlessly between English and Spanish throughout the two-hour event.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) switched between the languages to dodge answering the first question posed by moderators, which was about his support for a marginal tax rate of 70 percent for those making more than $10 million a year. Instead of answering directly, O’Rourke castigated America’s broken economy.
“This economy has got to work for everyone, and right now, we know that it isn’t,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us coming together to make sure that it does.”
O’Rourke then proceeded to reiterate the same point, but in Spanish.
“We have to include everyone in the success of the economy,” he said. “But if we want to do that, we have to include everyone in our democracy. Each voter we need the representation” [sic].
After using up his time without addressing the question, O’Rourke was given the option to provide a simple yes-or-no answer. He again deflected, saying he would support a “tax rate that was fair to everyone”:
After O’Rourke’s initial foray into speaking Spanish, many of the other candidates followed suit.
When asked what he would do on his first day in the White House, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) offered the initial part of his answer in Spanish.
“The situation now is unacceptable,” he said. “This president has attacked the immigrants is unacceptable” [sic].
Booker, who initially looked confused when O’Rourke first began speaking Spanish, then switched to English to provide the rest of his answer.
“On day one, I will make sure that, number one, we end the ICE policies and the custom and border policies that are violating human rights,” he said. “When people come to this country, they do not leave their human rights at the border.”
“Number two, I will make sure that we reinstate DACA, that we reinstate pathways to citizenship for DACA recipients and to make sure that people that are here on temporary protective status can stay and remain here,” he said.
Booker finished his answer by saying Americans needed to address violence and poverty afflicting Central America’s Northern Triangle and forcing hundreds of thousands to immigrate illegally.
“We cannot surrender our values and think we’re going to get border security,” he said. “We actually will lose security and our values. We must fight for both”:
The final candidate to utilize Spanish during the debate was former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro in his closing statement. Castro, who like Booker and O’Rourke learned the language in adulthood, appeared to have a better mastery than either of his competitors.
“My name is Julian Castro, and I am a candidate for President of the United States,” he said, before transitioning into English.
Castro said his ability to introduce himself in Spanish as a presidential candidate showed “the progress that we have made in this country.”
“Like many of you, I know the promise of America,” he said. “My grandmother came here when she was seven years old as an immigrant from Mexico, and just two generations later, one of her grandsons is serving in the United States Congress, and the other one is running for President of the United States.”
“If I am elected president,” he said. “I will work hard every single day so that you and your family can get good health care, your child can get good education, and that you can have good job opportunities, where you live in a big city or small town.
“And on January 20, 2021, we’ll say ‘Adios’ to Donald Trump,” Castro added:
The unexpected bilingual nature of the debate was widely noted on social media.
— Full Frontal (@FullFrontalSamB) June 27, 2019
I need subtitles for a debate in the United States.
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) June 27, 2019
Has there ever been this much Spanish spoken at presidential debate?
— Victor Blackwell CNN (@VictorBlackwell) June 27, 2019
very curious how native spanish speakers feel about the use of spanish in tonight's debate
— tracy the emotional support penguin (@brokeymcpoverty) June 27, 2019
Some of the Democrats taking part in the second portion of the debate on Thursday even joked about needing to brush up on Spanish:
I need to learn Spanish by tomorrow night at 9.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) June 27, 2019
My Spanish is terrible.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) June 27, 2019