As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump conclude their presidential campaigns and election day looms, the Cornell Democrats and Republicans staged their second bi-annual debate discussing key issues including immigration, welfare, and national security in Ives Hall, Monday.
The debate followed the conventional presidential format, with the parties fielding two speakers each to answer the moderator’s questions.
As expected, there were clear disagreements on many issues, beginning with the a question on immigration.
Kevin Kowalewski ’17, president of the Cornell Democrats, declared the current immigration system “broken,” and emphasized the need to maintain immigrants’ fundamental rights in any discussion of policy reforms.
“While we are absolutely against tearing communities apart, we must not encourage the creation of an entire community of illegal citizens,” Kowalewski said. “Hence, we believe in creating a strong pathway to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants in America.”
The Republicans disagreed, saying awarding pathways to citizenship could have a detrimental effect on efforts to promote legal immigration in the future. Olivia Corn ’19, chair of Cornell Republicans, argued instead for incentivizing legal immigration.
“Policies such as work permit distribution greatly increase the incentive for an immigrant to obtain official status,” Corn said.
Corn advocated a tough stance on illegal immigrants, calling a crackdown on border control violations necessary.
“We can’t allow people to keep entering the country illegally,” Corn said. “We definitely need more border control than we have today.”
Two other major points of conflict focused on the sustainability of current welfare programs and the Affordable Care Act.
While both parties agreed that the current version of the program is not sustainable, Democrats suggested that minor tweaks could ensure the program’s longevity.
“Policies like the public option were dismissed during the initial discussion over Obamacare, but they’re worth revisiting as they can lower premiums in the long run,” Kowalewski said.
The Republicans, however, said that the program must be completely overhauled in order to combat the inflation caused by rising premiums.
Cristian Gonzalez ’20, a member of Cornell Republicans, argued for the introduction of private market restrictions as an alternative to these premiums.
“Under the current welfare schemes there is little incentive for unemployed citizens to seek jobs,” Gonzalez said.
While the Democrats largely toed Clinton’s policy line on most issues, the Republicans distanced themselves from some of Trump’s more controversial policies at the outset.
“We don’t believe that the wall is a realistic solution,” Corn declared at one point during the debate.
In a departure from the fractious nature of the presidential debates, however, there were several points of mutual agreement on certain issues between the two parties.
Both sides endorsed restraint when considering on-ground involvement of U.S. troops in the fight against ISIS, with the Republicans also advocating the application of political and economic pressure on Saudi Arabia to crack down on Wahhabi extremism within its borders.
“We need to look into Wahhabi sects in Saudi Arabia,” Gonzalez said. “Wahhabism is a disgrace to the larger muslim community — it is an alien concept for most Muslims, and they don’t identify with it at all. It cannot be allowed to thrive, especially by our allies.”
Corn also acknowledged the validity of Democrats’ criticism on the issue of Supreme Court appointees, denouncing the Republican-controlled senate’s refusal to accept President Obama’s proposed appointee as an act that “gravely undermines our legislative process.”
The moderator’s final question concerned what each party representatives expected to see from their party over the next 20 years.
Both Democratic speakers projected a bright future for the party, highlighting landmarks such as the first African-American presidency and the first woman presidential nominee of a major party as examples of the Democrats’ belief in diversity.
Willow Hubsher ’18, social chair of the Cornell Democrats, said she hoped that the party would remain on the “right side of history,” and continue incorporating a range voices in its policy agenda.
The Republicans, however, foresaw a fractured future for their party; both speakers predicted a split between its liberal and conservative elements, leaving the party high command to make a difficult decision — either sanctioning a tea party-like split, or continuing to function as a divided organization with a disillusioned base.
“This year’s election has been unprecedented in so many ways,” Corn said. “The damage done to the Republican party may be irreversible, at least in the near future.”
Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations Student Government Association and Chi Psi fraternity hosted the debate.