Syracuse Democrats and Republicans went head-to-head on guns, immigration and more

Syracuse University's student Republican and Democrat organizations duked it out over four debate questions on Wednesday night. Topics covered included gun regulations, immigration, health care and Planned Parenthood funding.

Syracuse University’s premier political groups, the SU College Democrats and The College Republicans at Syracuse University faced off in a debate Wednesday night in a packed Maxwell Auditorium.

The debate, moderated by Grant Reeher, Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute, began with Courtney Rau and Emily Green, presidents of the College Republicans and Sarah Epelman, President of the College Democrats, emphasizing the importance of hearing various viewpoints and encouraging open debate between the two sides.

Reeher kicked the debate off with a plea to the audience to remain calm while the three selected students from each side debated with one another.

“This isn’t the presidential debate so the expectations for decorum are a little higher,” he said.

The first of four questions posed to the groups was about whether or not the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare or ACA, should be repealed.

The Republicans opened with the idea that “before we are Republicans, we are Americans” and continued to call ACA the “biggest domestic policy disaster in the past 20 years” on the grounds that it demolishes the concept of personal responsibility.

The Democrats responded by calling that the “classic Republican response” and argued that the free market, which the Republicans were advocating for, fails to provide adequate care for low-income families. They maintained throughout the debate that they see health-care as a human right.

The moderator asked the Republicans explain how they get to the health-care system they were promoting. They argued that technology is the answer, saying that an app where you call a person “in India or China” or somewhere else in the world rather than going to a physician would be more efficient because doctors are overworked as it is.

During the question-and-answer portion following the debate, a man in a “Make America Great Again” hat asked the Democrats why a person who needs the government for health-care is entitled to “one iota” of his money, which was met by groans and boos from the audience. The Democrats responded that it was simply moral responsibility.

A similar conversation was held when the debate moved to question whether or not Planned Parenthood should receive federal funding. This time the Democrats opened with statistics about the services provided by Planned Parenthood, including cancer screenings, STD testing, abortions and sex education.

The Republican side argued that the central issue with the government funding organizations like Planned Parenthood is that they are basically “interest groups” because they Democratic candidates. They also said that the tax dollars should not go to providing abortions for women.

The Democrats fired back that the Hyde Amendment bars federal funds being used to fund abortion except in certain cases like rape and incest. Both groups agreed that the services provided by Planned Parenthood are important, but the Republicans argued that the organization has monopolized the market for women’s health care and restated that they think a free market is best, in which other facilities with competitive prices could flourish.

The next question in the debate, which was about immigration issues, elicited the most common ground between the two groups. Both sides agreed that the process to obtain citizenship needs to be reformed and made simpler and easier. They also agreed on granting amnesty to people in refugee situations.

The groups differed in that the Republican side argued that immigrants should assimilate and that the ability to speak English should be a factor in granting citizenship.

One of the Republicans cited the Teddy Roosevelt quote “Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

The Democrat rebuttal was that The United States does not have an official language.

The fourth and final question was whether or not guns regulations should increase. The Democrats opened.

“We’re not here to take away your guns. We are firm believers in the second amendment,” they said.

They then moved to advocate for stricter gun laws, citing recent events in Las Vegas.

The Republicans argued that the majority of gun deaths are by suicide, and stated that 50% of all gun homicide victims are black men and are committed in inner-cities. They also asked the Democrats for their plan to get rid of all guns on the street.

After a heated debate about assault rifles, assault weapons and handguns, along with an emotional anecdote from an audience member with ties to Sandy Hook Elementary School, both sides agreed that background checks and proper gun training are essential to gun safety.

The nearly four-hour hour debate concluded with Jen Bercaw, a sophomore in the School of Information Studies asking both sides, “Why is having respect for the other side such an issue?” which prompted each side to give one platform from the opposing side that they agreed with.

The Democrats said they liked what the Republicans had to say about immigration reform and a Republican said he agrees with background checks for gun sales. 

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