Politics & Government

Highlights: 2020 Dems headline SC convention, Planned Parenthood forum as protest unfolds

Nearly all of the Democrats running for president were in Columbia Saturday where they got a chance to make their pitch to voters. They appeared on stage at the S.C. Democratic Convention and a forum on abortion held by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Go to thestate.com for full coverage of Democrats’ weekend in South Carolina.

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Here are highlights from our live updates of Saturday’s events:

2 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden could not escape questions over his long-time support for the Hyde Amendment, which he recently reversed. Speaking at the member-only Planned Parenthood Action Fund event, Biden said his record in Washington speaks for itself. He said his health plan would cover all women, no matter their income. He added that resources through his plan could be used for reproductive health care.

Among the questions Biden received was from a West Virginia woman, who told Biden not only was she a victim of spousal abuse, but that an abortion she had “saved her life.” Biden said more needed to be done to support victims of domestic violence.

Biden asked the woman to talk to him personally after his remarks at the forum, adding, “I think I can directly help your personal situation as well.”

1:40 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage with seven surrogates, supporters and campaign co-chairs standing behind him. Six were African American, including former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, activist Cornell West and actor Danny Glover. One, an Indian American, was U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. It sent a powerful message that the Vermont Independent is trying to show South Carolina Democrats he can resonate with the state’s majority-black primary electorate after a poor showing in 2016.

Sanders also criticized the centrist think tank Third Way. Gathered in Charleston last week, Third Way President Jon Cowan told The Guardian that Sanders is an “existential threat” to the Democratic Party.

Sanders also called for an end to private prisons and pledged to implement U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s “10-20-30” anti-poverty plan, which proposes directing federal funds to communities with persistently high poverty rates.

11:40 a.m.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro brought convention-goers to their feet when he read out the names of unarmed black men and women killed by law enforcement, ending with Walter Scott of Charleston, who was gunned down by a white police officer in 2015.

At the same time, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris took the stage at the Planned Parenthood forum, walking out to Missy Elliott’s “Work It.” She took a direct shot at President Donald Trump, saying, “He doesn’t fully understand the power of the microphone in the hands of the president of the United States to elevate public discourse and inform the public about their rights.”

11:30 a.m.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., addressed S.C. Democrats for the first time this convention weekend, unable to make the fish fry the night before because he was needed at home to address a community reeling from a police-involved shooting of an African American man. He addressed the matter at the top of his remarks.

11:20 a.m.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was the first presidential candidate to walk on stage. She walked out to Lizzo’s “Good as Hell.”

“There’s been an all out assault on our reproductive freedom,” said Gillibrand, who added that, as president, she would only appoint judges and justices who believe Roe v. Wade is settled law and would repeal the federal Hyde Amendment. That amendment bans the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s health is at risk.

“If President Trump wants a war on America’s women, it’s a war he’s going to have and it’s a war he’s going to lose.”

11 a.m.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts spoke second, nodding to funding historically black colleges and universities and the bill she has introduced with U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to eradicate student debt.

10:53 a.m.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California was the first presidential candidate to speak at the state party convention.

She drew a crowd of enthusiastic supporters toward the front of the stage.

“I believe in an America where no one tells a woman what to do with her body,” she said during one part of her speech, a nod to the Planned Parenthood forum taking place across the street.

10:45 a.m.

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, an influential state Democrat and a Democratic national committeewoman, said she gave Vice President Joe Biden some unsolicited advice on Friday.

“Please,” Cobb-Hunter said she told Biden at a meeting with black elected officials and activists in the state, “just go ahead and apologize so we can put this story to bed and move on.”

Biden has been under fire over the past several days for using his rapports with notorious segregationist legislators as examples of how he will “bring people together” as president. Cobb-Hunter said she “whispered” her advice in the vice president’s ear on Friday since she had to leave the meeting early.

Otherwise, she told The State, she would have shared her thoughts with the whole group. She made it clear that she was not advising Biden because she preferred him as a candidate: Cobb-Hunter never endorses in primaries or reveals who she will be voting for.

She also said she was not personally offended by Biden’s remarks, understanding the intention behind his remarks was good. She simply wanted to pass along advice.

“Some people surround themselves with supporters and they don’t always hear an opposing view,” Cobb-Hunter explained. How did he respond to the tip? “I don’t want to characterize how he was feeling,” Cobb-Hunter said, “but it did appear to me that he didn’t appreciate it and it caught him off guard.” Biden did not address the controversy at the fish fry Friday night. He is scheduled to address the convention Saturday evening.

Pro-life supporters rally outside the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s “We Decide: 2020 Election Membership Forum” at the USC Alumni Center in Columbia, SC. Jeff Blake jblake@thestate.com

10:30 a.m.

Outside the USC Alumni Center, roughly 120 pro-life S.C. voters protested the Planned Parenthood Action Fund forum, where 20 of the 23 Democrats running for president were set to speak on issues including access to abortions and contraception and health care.

Demonstrators included Beth Drummond of Columbia, who held her youngest child in a baby carrier strapped her chest. “I believe in the value of life,” said Drummond, a mom of two.

“It begins at conception, and abortion is murder. I feel very strongly about that.”

One of the State House’s most vocal abortion critics, state Sen. Richard Cash, R-Anderson, told protestors, “to kill a baby in its mother’s womb is wrong. An organization that specializes in such baby killing is evil to the core, and should be condemned in the public square.”

Cash charged protestors to check their legislator’s voting record on pro-life issues, including Republicans. He did not, however, name names of his colleagues.

In a statement, S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick jabbed Democratic candidates speaking at the forum. “It’s amazing to see that their first stop is to go pay homage to the radical pro-abortion lobby at Planned Parenthood,” he said. “It’s truly disgraceful, but unfortunately not surprising with this group of radicals.”

The counterprotest was organized by the nationally organized Students for Life of America and USC’s Advocates for Life.

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10:15 a.m.

Trav Robertson caught some flak earlier this week for giving exclusive convention streaming rights to MSNBC.

But the incumbent chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party easily won reelection to another term on Saturday. In his speech appealing to delegates, Robertson, of Anderson, laid out a bold vision for party efforts this cycle, including a promise that he would make it his mission to retake the Republican-controlled S.C. Senate.

He defeated underdog candidate Adam White, of Charleston, built his case around a pledge to invest in small counties around the state and that new leadership could result in more wins statewide.

9:35 a.m.

Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most senior Democrat, greeted convention attendees early in the program. He gave quick mention to the previous evening’s “World Famous Fish Fry,” which attracted 21 presidential candidates and nearly 7,000 attendees.

“I apologize for the raspy voice this morning but that’s what happens when you go to a fish fry the night before and many more people come than you’re expecting,” he said.

He made passing reference to the chaos of the evening: “For those of you who were turned away: I didn’t do it. The fire marshal did it.” There was some laughter, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the statement was a joke or a bid of self defense.

9:26 a.m.

The South Carolina Democratic Party convention got under way shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday morning, a massive gathering of the party faithful. Many were there to adopt rules and elect the next slate of state party leaders.

Countless others were on hand to partake in the spectacle of seeing over a dozen of the 23 declared Democratic presidential candidates deliver speeches in the critical early primary state. Inside the convention hall, convention delegates observed a singing of the national anthem.

In the hallway outside was the pounding of drums from the Lower Richland High School drumline. Campaign representatives passed out stickers and literature. A contingent from billionaire Tom Steyer’s “Need to Impeach” movement hoisted signs.

9 a.m.

Campaigns lined up and down Lincoln Street in front of the convention center, where traffic moved slowly. And the line to get into the convention center stretched down Lincoln street.

The scene had a party like atmosphere, with air horns, signs, and even a miniature blimp with Delaney’s name scrawled across.

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Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.
Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.