On Tuesday, CU Democrats and CU College Republicans held their long-awaited debate where student representatives from each group argued about issues including immigration, student loan forgiveness, and free speech.

On Tuesday, CU Democrats and CU College Republicans hosted a student debate where two representatives from each group argued about five hot-button political issues. The debate was divided into five questions, each addressing one of the following topics: immigration, the Russia-Ukraine war, student debt forgiveness, the Inflation Reduction Act, and free speech.

The debate, originally slated to occur last semester, was postponed indefinitely due to the political climate at the time and logistical complications. It wasn’t until several months later that the long-anticipated debate was finally rescheduled to take place in Roone Arledge Cinema. 

The two debaters from CU College Republicans were Jonas Du (CC ’25) and Adam Lehodey (GS ’25). The CU Democrats representatives were Sebastian Javadpoor (CC ’25) and Bryson Chang (CC ’26). Each organization had one student representative moderate the event.

For each question, the two sides were allotted time for their opening statements, followed by a five-minute open debate section where each side could respond directly to the other. Finally, each section concluded with closing statements, where each side summarized their arguments.  

Question 1: What can and should be done about border crossings?

The Republicans began in their opening statements by classifying the issue as the “Biden Border Crisis,” emphasizing the yearly increase in illegal border crossings under the Biden administration.

The Democrats began their arguments with the idea that immigrants are people who need help. They stated that immigration helps the US economy, as illegal immigrants join the workforce and are crucial in many industries. They framed the immigration issue as a transaction, alleging that the United States should offer assistance to immigrants since they in turn help the US economy. 

As the open debate section began, the Republican side frequently asserted that they were not against immigration, but that they were only against illegal immigration and wanted to have stricter protocol to regulate it. The Democrats countered that the Democratic party are the ones attempting to solve the “border crisis,” and that Republicans are the ones blocking Biden’s immigration efforts. 

The Democrats went on to say that Republicans were not treating immigrants like people, but rather like pawns in a political game. The Republican rebuttal argued that if the Democrats cared about people, then why were they not more concerned about the people being harmed by illegal immigrants. The Democrats ended the exchange by arguing that immigrants who are harmed while they are here cannot seek help due to constant fear of discovery and deportation. 

Question 2: Should the US and its allies hold Vladimir Putin responsible for the war in Ukraine? How should America respond to increasing Russian expansion and aggression?

The Democrats began by stating that the US should want to help as many people as possible, meaning that if Putin invades Ukraine or another state, the US should be there to stop it. They continued to say that “Biden has gotten the world together in a way President Trump never could.”

The Republicans argued in their opening statement that the US, along with the rest of the world, has been weak towards Russia, which is why the war in Ukraine began in the first place. They speculated that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would never have happened under a Republican administration. 

As the floor opened for debate, the Democrats stated that the world “trusts Biden to fight authoritarianism” more than it trusts Trump. The argument then shifted to one about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, which guarantees the safety of its member states through mutual political and military action should one of them be threatened. In discussion about NATO member nations, the Republicans argued that “lots of countries in NATO are not paying their fair share.” 

The Republicans continued to circle back to the point that Russia invaded Ukraine during Biden’s term and not Trump’s, suggesting that something about the Biden administration’s attitude toward Russia compelled Putin to carry out the invasion during that time. They concluded the debate section by saying that it is important to acknowledge “why Russia chose to invade in the first place,” namely, why they chose to invade while Biden was in office. 

In their closing statements for the section, the Democrats stated that the Republicans “spout rhetoric,” while Biden is the only candidate that can provide substantial solutions. The Republicans said that the “reality is that we need to look at the actions,” arguing that Putin’s decision to invade Russia during Biden’s administration is indicative of Biden’s ability to stand up against Russia.  

Question 3: Were the Democrats right to push for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)? Why did the Republicans universally oppose it? What specific provisions would you support or challenge within the Inflation Reduction Act?

The Republicans reclassified the issue as the “Inflation Acceleration Act,” alleging that the burden of the act falls on working-class taxpayers since climate provisions are costing more than expected. The Republicans claimed that these expenses would incur a bill of $1 trillion for taxpayers. “The government is bad at picking economic winners and losers,” they said.

The Democrats then argued that the IRA is the most substantial investment the US has ever made to combat climate change. They said that the act increases corporate taxes, not those of the working class, and is effective in the goal of “reducing the deficit, reducing inflation, and helping the climate.”

In response, the Republicans made the argument that companies adjust their prices and wages to compensate for higher corporate tax rates, resulting in the burden eventually falling on working-class Americans. Additionally, corporations will move abroad when tax rates rise, which isn’t beneficial for the US in any way, the Republicans said. 

At this point, a man stood up in the audience and began yelling at the debaters. He said that since 87% of carbon emissions are from outside the US, any American action against climate change is futile. The man was escorted out, continuing to yell “nothing the US can do will have any effect” as he left the auditorium. The clock was reset, and the debate continued as planned. “I’m surprised we made it this far,” one of the moderators remarked. 

The Republicans then defended capitalism in their argument, saying that the US should create a society where people are rewarded for working hard and innovation is encouraged. The Democrats’ rebuttal was a jab at former President Trump, saying that when the US creates such a society that encourages innovation by evading taxes, it results in the current Trump lawsuit situation.

In their closing arguments for the section, the Republicans emphasized creating a society where it is easier to invest and imagining a broader economic framework that takes carbon emissions into consideration while rejecting the IRA. 

The Democrats argued that rewarding innovation has only allowed corporations to bully the working class. The IRA makes it easier for working-class Americans to access electric vehicles and sustainable energy while holding corporations responsible for pollution.

Question 4: Is congressional action necessary for student loans? What can be done with the ballooning student debt crisis?

The Democrats began their statement by saying the minimum wage has not been adjusted for inflation. Since a high school degree is no longer sufficient to earn a decent living, the Democrats argued, college, and the affordability of it, is a necessity. “People cannot pay to receive the rent and food that they need to live,” they said. The Republicans responded by saying that there is “no worse policy to help the poor” and that funds are more impactful when invested into public and charter schools. 

In the open debate section, the Democrats called out the mutually exclusive ultimatum that the Republicans presented, arguing that it is possible to both forgive student loans and invest in schools. They also said that the Republican Party does not support investing in public schools, as Trump has previously said he wants to cut budgets for schools who increase teacher pensions.

The Republicans argued that loan forgiveness disproportionately benefits rich borrowers. The Democrats disagreed, saying that all borrowers would benefit from loan forgiveness, allowing everyone to put money into their lives and the economy rather than into loan payments. 

The argument then shifted to the topic of subsidizing college tuition. The Democrats were in favor of doing so, but the Republicans argued that subsidies would be ineffective since colleges would compensate by raising tuition. 

Question 5: In today’s America, and especially here at Columbia University, are free speech and the marketplace of ideas still alive? If not, should it be resuscitated and how?

The Republicans began this section by simply stating that Columbia has a free speech problem on campus. Rather than having diversity, equity, and inclusion training, the University should implement free speech seminars. 

The Democrats argued that the “marketplace of ideas” allows hate speech to masquerade as freedom of speech. Due to the University’s privatization, it is not held to the same standards as public spaces, they said. They further argued that the presence of student publications such as the Independent indicate that free speech is protected on campus.

The Republicans stated that a writer for the Independent was doxxed and received threats for an article, which exemplifies the idea that free speech is not protected on campus. The Democrats rebutted that free speech also protects criticism of the Independent, and that there should be restrictions on what can and can’t be written and published.

The Republicans then argued that if all speech that students find “offensive” is policed, administrators can start to impose their subjective beliefs and feelings into free speech policy on campus. 

To conclude, the Democrats pointed out an inconsistency in the Republican platform, citing that Republicans support the protection of free speech but also implement laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, which restricts discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation by  teachers in kindergarten through third grade classrooms.

With that, the debate came to a close. The anticipation leading up to the debate was palpable as students listened intently to their peers argue important and complex issues, and audience members sometimes even felt compelled to interject. The idea that college campuses are ideologically homogeneous may be widespread, but the CU Democrats and CU College Republicans debate was a nice reminder that there is a wide diversity of thought among the student body.

Ava Schwabecher contributed to this report.

Image via Bwog Archives