By QUINN SCANLAN and ADAM KELSEY, ABC News
(MILWAUKEE) — The third night of the Democratic National Convention, themed “A More Perfect Union,” featured a female-driven lineup of powerful speakers, leading up to the moment when California Sen. Kamala Harris officially accepted the vice presidential nomination, marking only the third time a woman was chosen for the slot among either major party, and the first time a woman of color will be on the ticket.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will officially accept the presidential nomination on Thursday, on the final night of the Democrats’ virtual celebration.
Here are five key takeaways from the history-making third night of the convention:
Democrats offer stark contrast on gun control, climate change and immigration
Democrats leaned into their policy differences with Republicans early on night three, devoting sections of the broadcast to gun control, climate change and immigration.
In emotional remarks, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attempted assassination in 2011, described her “days of pain and uncertain recovery” in the aftermath, and made a plea for the election of an administration, unlike the current one, that pursues stricter firearm laws.
“We are at a crossroads. We can let the shooting continue or we can act,” Giffords said. “We can protect our families, our future. We can vote. We can be on the right side of history.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham touted her state’s “climate leadership” and criticized Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations. She specifically targeted the administration’s embrace of oil and gas as energy sources and argued that a widespread transition to green energy would not only have an environmental impact, but create new forms of employment.
“We have the chance this November to attack the climate crisis, invest in green 21st-century jobs and embrace the clean energy revolution our country, our young people are crying out for and the leadership the rest of the world is waiting for,” Lujan Grisham said. “The choice is clear.”
Later, viewers heard from 11-year-old Estela Juarez of Florida, who read a video she wrote to the president about her mother, an undocumented immigrant and the wife of a U.S. Marine who was deported due to Trump administration policies.
“My mom worked hard and paid taxes, and the Obama administration told her she could stay,” Juarez said. “My dad thought you would protect military families so he voted for you in 2016, Mr. President. He says he won’t vote for you again after what you did to our family.”
Taken together, the segments drew stark contrasts, not only with Republicans but also specifically with the platform Trump ran on in 2016. After two days heavily focused on Joe Biden as a person and a candidate, the party issued a vision of the future on these key issues that could outlast the next 10 administrations.
Prominent female politicians emphasize importance of voting
As President Donald Trump continues to ramp up his attacks on widespread mail-in voting, and his campaign and the Republican National Committee take legal action seeking to stop Democratic-led pursuits to expand voting and limit restrictions around casting a ballot, voting has been central to the party’s message, and on Wednesday night it was on full display.
On the heels of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the message was clear from the start, and it was fiercely delivered by some of the most known women in politics: This November, voting is how Americans can make their voice heard.
“America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words. We are at a crossroads. We can let the shooting continue or we can act,” Giffords said in her remarks. “We can vote. We can be on the right side of history.”
Hillary Clinton referred back to her 2016 loss to Trump as the Democratic nominee, saying for the entirety of his presidency, people have said to her, “I wish I could do it all over,” or “I should have voted.”
“This can’t be another woulda-coulda-shoulda election… no matter what, vote,” Clinton said. “Vote for the diverse, hopeful America we saw in last night’s roll call… come November, if we’re strong together, we’ll heal together.”
Following Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman in government and first and only female speaker of the House, touched on the decades of activism that led to women securing their right to the ballot box.
The speaker said there are two men — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump — “standing in the way” of protecting Americans’ health care amid a global pandemic, or preventing gun violence, and of guaranteeing equality for women.
“But we know what he doesn’t: that when women succeed, America succeeds. And so we are unleashing the full power of women to take our rightful place in every part of our national life,” Pelosi said. “Who is standing in the way? Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump … We will remember in November.”
Resilience of women takes center stage
On Trump’s first day as president, millions of women took to the streets in marches across the country to make known their feelings of disdain — and disgust — for the man occupying the Oval Office.
Throughout his first term, Democrats have contrasted his rhetoric about and action impacting women with their own, and during Wednesday night’s programming, that continued, elevating struggles uniquely felt by women, and how Biden has championed addressing them throughout his career.
“In 1992 my husband shot me and left me for dead… I didn’t even know the name for what was happening to me then, domestic violence. Now working to end domestic violence is my life’s work,” said Ruth Glen, the president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “I have seen Joe Biden’s passionate leadership in passing the Violence Against Women Act.”
Urging Congress to reauthorize that law, Glen said, “We need leaders who believe that a woman’s life is worth fighting for.”
“The most important thing you can say to a survivor is I hear you,” said Carly Dryden, a leader for It’s On Us, an initiative to prevent sexual assault on college campuses started by the Obama-Biden administration. “If you’re silent, you’re complicit, and we’re just getting started.”
“I’m voting for Joe Biden because it’s on my generation to make sure that we never go back,” Dryden said.
Obama’s precedent-breaking, and personal, remarks urge a defense of democracy
In an unprecedented rebuke of a sitting president by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama delivered a deeply personal criticism of Trump, taking him to task over his temperament, intellectual indifference and hyperpartisanship.
“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care,” Obama said, reflecting on his Oval Office meeting with Trump following the 2016 election.
“But he never did,” he continued. “He’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Comments like Obama’s have never been heard at a party convention in the modern era of presidential politics, where retired chief executives typically refrain from such pointed critiques. But Trump’s treatment of Obama is similarly unparalleled — from constant attempts to undermine his every policy success, to uncorroborated allegations he spied on his 2016 presidential campaign, and plenty of personal attacks of his own.
Like other DNC speakers before him, the former president drew a direct connection between Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the United States’ death toll. And like his wife Michelle on Tuesday, Obama described the existential impact of Trump’s words and actions upon the government’s core, while alluding, in personal terms, to those who defended democracy during earlier generations — something he said unites all Americans.
“Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents working in fire traps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from,” he said. “Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.”
“If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors,” Obama continued, growing emotional. “They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work.”
Like a good team-player, he made the pitch for his former vice president as well, calling Biden his “brother,” and someone who “was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision” and saying he “made me a better president.”
But the address will be remembered for its intense focus and somber warnings; Obama’s plea to set aside politics and consider what a president should believe, such as the idea that “no one is above the law” and that the “right to vote should be sacred.”
“None of this should be controversial,” he said. “These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They’re American principles. But at this moment, this president and those who enable him, have shown they don’t believe in these things.”
Obama closed with callbacks to the country’s history of activism and that which has already taken place during Trump’s term in office, from the protests at airports over the Muslim ban to the racial justice demonstrations this summer, issuing a call to a new generation and saying that one final push was necessary this November.
“You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place,” he said. “You’re the missing ingredient – the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.”
Harris takes the torch from Obama, pushing message of united America
Kamala Harris made history as the first woman of color to become a party’s vice presidential nominee, laying out a hopeful vision for a more unified America under a Biden-Harris administration, a message that was at times reminiscent of the 2004 keynote speech that propelled Obama to the national political stage.
“We believe that our country—all of us, will stand together for a better future. And we already are,” Harris said. “There’s something happening all across our country. It’s not about Joe or me. It’s about you. And it’s about us … In this election, we have a chance to change the course of history. We’re all in this fight.”
Harris invoked her late mother’s struggle — her perseverance — as an immigrant, as a de facto single mother after she and Harris’ dad split when the now-California senator was just 5 years old: “She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people, to believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility.”
In her speech, she spoke of a country “where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love,” and said that right now, “that country feels distant” because of the way the president has governed, especially during this pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Black Americans, Native Americans and Latinos.
“This is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism,” she said. “This virus, it has no eyes and yet it knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other.”
And speaking on the protests against racial and social injustice, an issue she, as a woman of color, is especially equipped to deliver, Harris took a swipe at the president: “And let’s be clear — there is no vaccine for racism.”
“We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better and do the important work,” she said. “A president who will bring all of us together — Black, white, Latino, Asian, indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want. We must elect Joe Biden.”
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