Jobs. Terrorism. Immigration.
These topics have dominated the GOP debates so far, while major issues impacting the country, from gun violence to threats to voting rights, have largely been ignored.
The narrowing slate of GOP presidential candidates gathers Thursday night in Charleston, South Carolina for yet another primetime debate, the first of 2016. Since the group last debated in Las Vegas in early December, the nation has seen a number of events that could have a major impact on the U.S. and the world. Though the debate’s host, the Fox Business Network, has said the discussion will span many different “economic, domestic and international policy issues,” candidates have avoided commenting on important news events in past debates.
It remains to be seen if these recent developments will make the cut.
Executive gun control
After unsuccessfully pleading with Congress over the past few years to pass gun control reforms, President Obama issued a major, controversial executive order in early January to address rampant gun violence. The package of modest reforms include clarifying background check rules for online sales and gun shows, increasing the number of federal agents conducting background checks and investigating illegal gun trafficking, investing $500 million in mental health care, and developing new gun safety technology.
Republican candidates have come out in uniform opposition to these new rules, calling them misguided and unconstitutional, and vowing to repeal them if elected to the White House — posting messages like this one:
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 5, 2016
Some GOP governors have already made preparations to challenge the law in court.
Candidates should be asked for their own plans to reduce gun violence, and whether they would repeal even the part of the president’s order that increases funding for mental health care.
No charges for Tamir Rice’s shooters
After an investigation that dragged on for more than a year, Ohio prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced in late December that the Cleveland police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice would face no charges. A grand jury decided that it was “objectively reasonable” for the officers to shoot Rice, who was playing in a park with a toy gun, within seconds of arriving on the scene.
GOP candidates largely avoided talking about the episode, which activists have called a miscarriage of justice. When asked about it on the campaign trail, Jeb Bush did not know which city the shooting took place in. When informed by reporters, he said the grand jury’s decision not to indict shows that “the process worked.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who is also running for president, declined to comment on the verdict, but called Rice’s death a “tragedy” and emphasized that those protesting the police “need to be heard.” Kasich also created a task force to improve policing in his state, standing apart from most of his rivals who have largely dismissed any criticism of police brutality.
As the GOP gathers to debate Thursday night in another city rocked by police killing residents of color, they should be asked their thoughts on the controversial grand jury system, the guidelines for police using deadly force, and their views on police body cameras, considering Rice’s killing was captured on film.
A silent killer
In an ongoing environmental disaster some experts are comparing to the 2010 BP oil spill, a methane gas leak in Porter Ranch, California has triggered a state of emergency and the evacuation of thousands of families. The crisis has pushed California to reevaluate its widespread use of fracking and introduce reforms, including measures to hold companies financially liable for cleanup efforts.
GOP candidates have yet to comment on the massive contamination, and have stuck largely to calling for even weaker environmental protection laws. Like many of his rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has promised to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for limiting pollution from power plants, cracking down on unsafe coal ash disposal, and protecting waters of the United States rule.
Candidates should be asked Wednesday night what plans they have to ensure environmental safety in fossil fuel extraction and how they would respond to the California disaster in particular were they in the White House.
Iran boat kerfuffle
Just hours before President Obama’s final State of the Union speech on Tuesday, news broke that two U.S. Navy patrol boats were detained by Iran in the Persian Gulf after accidentally crossing into the nation’s waters. What could have been a major international incident was quickly resolved — thanks in large part to the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama Administration last year, which improved relations between the countries and provided an incentive for better diplomacy.
Yet while the U.S. military and State Department breathed a sigh of relief, GOP candidates took to social media with their outrage.
Iran knows they can get away with anything — including humiliating our sailors — as long as Obama is in office. https://t.co/8HDYzfLkBP
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 14, 2016
Many of the leading GOP candidates have vowed to “tear up” this deal if elected president, several of them promising to do so on their first day in office. Given recent events, they should be pressed on how they would do this without sparking conflict in an already volatile region.
A few weeks ago, just after the new year began, the Obama Administration began sending out agents to round up and deport Central American migrants who failed to qualify for asylum. Human rights experts and Democratic lawmakers blasted the president for resorting to this tactic. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and others have called the situation inhumane, calling instead for the migrants to be given Temporary Protected Status in light of the massive spike in violent crime in their home countries.
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is predictably taking credit for the administration’s move.
Does everyone see that the Democrats and President Obama are now, because of me, starting to deport people who are here illegally. Politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 25, 2015
Yet long before Trump entered the race, President Obama had already deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in U.S. history. Candidates should be asked Wednesday how these numbers square with their claims that the president is too lax on immigration, and whether they would continue the policy of conducting raids and deporting Central Americans seeking asylum.