The three front-runners in the Democratic primary all came out strong for paid family leave in their first debate. Hillary Clinton had an edge, as she did throughout most of the night’s proceedings, using her personal experiences as a mother to bolster her position. Clinton also took the opportunity to wedge in the night’s only reference to reproductive rights.
Moderator Dana Bash asked Clinton to respond to Republican primary candidate—and winner of the last debate—Carly Fiorina, who’s contended that federally mandated paid family leave would squash job growth.
“This is typical Republican scare tactics,” Clinton said. “We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small businesses. I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court because I was practicing law … we need to join the rest of the advanced world in having it.”
Bash pushed back, arguing that some taxpayers might object to another government program.
In her response, Clinton managed the debate equivalent of a triple axel, cramming a dig at Republicans, a shoutout to paid leave, and the debate’s first—and only!—nod to the GOP’s unprecedented attacks on abortion rights over the past few months. “When people say that, it’s always the Republicans or sympathizers who say you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care. They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and try to take down Planned Parenthood,” she said. “They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it. We can do these things. We should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, ‘big government this, big government that’ except for what they want to impose on the American people. We’re going to make the wealthy pay for it. That is the way to get it done.”
Bernie Sanders echoed her support: “We are the only major country that is an international embarrassment, that we do not provide family—paid family and medical leave.” Ditto Martin O’Malley, who should have left the personal anecdotes to Clinton. “My wife Katie is here with our four kids and, man, that was a juggle when we had little kids and keeping jobs and moving forward,” he stumbled, but finished on solid ground. “We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave.”
Watch their exchange below: