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The Campaign

ALL THE WAYS THE DEMOCRATS TRIED TO TAKE DOWN BIDEN: Former Vice President Joe Biden spent the night defending his record and middle-of-the-road approach from a staggering laundry list of attacks by his lower-polling opponents. He was hit on climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration, health care, reproductive rights, the Iraq War, trade …. I think you get it. 

  • "Everybody is talking about how terrible I am on these issues," Biden said at one point during the Detroit debate, as he noted, "The fact is that we're talking about things that occurred a long, long time ago." 
  • Reference check: "Barack Obama knew exactly who I was. He had 10 lawyers do a background check on everything about me on civil rights and civil liberties, and he chose me, and he said it was the best decision he made."

Biden, who appeared much more prepared for a fight this time around, parried the blows by each candidate and sought to turn the tables, avoiding a performance that could have delivered a gut punch to his candidacy. 

  • Still, he did not leave unscathed: “Biden did better than in Miami, but also emerged battered over his record in the past and his ideas for the future, both of which one or another rival found inadequate,” per The Post’s Dan Balz.
  • Big-picture implications: "By the end of the evening, the candidates had done as much to make a case against one another as against the president, without offering much in the way of an aspirational message or connecting directly with the voters they will need to win the presidential election." 

Here were some of the most heated exchanges of the night:

Biden's record on race: Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) blasted Biden for his role in the 1994 crime bill that contributed to the mass incarceration of African Americans and longer jail sentences for drug offenses, in arguably the debate's sharpest exchange.

After Biden accused the former Newark mayor of getting "nothing done" as the police department engaged in stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately targeted black men, Booker had this searing response: 

  • “We have a system right now that's broken. And if you want to compare records -- and, frankly, I'm shocked that you do,” Booker said. “I am happy to do that. Because all the problems that he is talking about [are ones] that he created. I actually led the bill that got passed into law that reverses the damage that your bills that you were, frankly -- to correct you, Mr. Vice President -- you were bragging, calling it the Biden crime bill, up until 2015." 
  • Booker didn't stop there: “There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that 'tough on crime' phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine. This isn’t about the past, sir. This is about the present right now. I believe in redemption.” 
  • Biden's recently released criminal justice policy would eliminate the death penalty and reduce punishments for some drug offenses, effectively rolling back some aspects of the law he helped put in place. 

Deportations under Obama: Biden said that he would not ramp up the deportation of immigrants if he were president. But Biden was hounded by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about whether ever used his influence in the White House to press the former president against increasing deportations.

  • Attack: “I'm confused. I asked the vice president point blank: 'Did he use his power to stop those deportations?' He went right around the question,” de Blasio said. 

  • Dodge: “I was vice president,” Biden shot back. “I am not the president. I keep my recommendation to him in private. Unlike you I can expect you would go ahead and say whatever was said privately with him. That is not what I do." 

  • Booker piled on: “Well, a couple of things. First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can't have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can't do it when it's convenient and then dodge it when it's not." 

Climate change: Washington Governor Jay Inslee laid into Biden for what he called a “middling” climate plan. Biden's plan embraces the framework of the Green New Deal, and aims for the U.S. to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. 

  • Attack: “And we know this; middle ground solutions, like the vice president has proposed, or sort of middling average-sized things, are not going to save us. Too little, too late is too dangerous,” Inslee said when asked about why he has made fighting climate change his number one campaign priority. 

  • Rebuttal: "There is no middle ground about my plan," Biden shot back, insisting he would immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord and use his relationships with world leaders to "make sure that we up the ante which it calls for." He also took a harsh position toward fossil fuels, pledging not to have subsidies for either coal or fracking. "We would work it out." 

  • Another attack: “We cannot work it out. We cannot work this out. The time is up. Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in 10 years, and we need a president to do it or it won't get done. Get off coal. Save this country and the planet. That's what I'm for,” Inslee replied. 

Attitudes towards women: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) quizzed Biden about a 1981 op-ed he penned about how expanding the child tax care credit and allowing more women to work outside the home would lead to the “deterioration of family.” 

  • “I just want to know what he meant when he said that,” Gillibrand asked after reading aloud parts of the op-ed (see below)
  • Biden, in response, said both his wives worked while raising children and reminded the audience he wrote the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.
  • He sought to paint Gillibrand as opportunistic, saying she had previously praised him on gender issues: “I don't know what's happened, except that you're now running for president,” Biden said.

Reproductive rights: Seizing on the momentum, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pressed Biden on why he seemed to suddenly change his mind about supporting the Hyde Amendment, a measure that bars federal funding for abortions. 

  • “Why did it take you so long to change your position on the Hyde Amendment?” Harris asked. She accused Biden of reversing himself while campaigning after making a decision "for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive healthcare and including women who were the victims of rape and incest."
  • Biden said Harris misrepresented his position, and that “everybody on this stage [that] has been in the Congress, in the Senate or House, has voted on the Hyde Amendment," referring to how Republicans insert the restriction into government funding bills. Biden said he reversed himself recently because "there was not full federal funding for all reproductive services prior to this point." 
  • From EMILY's List communications director: 

Healthcare details: The moment Biden truly went on the offensive was by sparring with Harris over their recently-released health care plans. Biden accused her of a proposing a plan that takes too long and seeks to hide its true costs. 

  • “To be very blunt, and to be very straightforward, you can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan,” Biden, who has advocated for an expansion of Obamacare with a so-called public option. 
  • Harris's comeback: “Your plan, by contrast, leaves out almost 10 million Americans,” Harris said, adding, “the cost of doing nothing is far too expensive.” Harris's plan proposes that phases the country into a government-run system after 10 years while allowing private plans to continue. 

But the barbs "led to a confusing series of disagreements over their proposals," per my colleages Jeff Stein and Yasmeen Abutaleb, especially coming 24 hours after the debate's first round successfully highlighted the contrasts between liberals Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) who support for Medicare-for-all and moderates in favor of building upon Obamacare. 

  • "Biden misled viewers when he said during a heated exchange that his proposal would cover everyone — even though by his own plan’s admission, it would leave out 3 percent of Americans, or about 10 million people," they write.
  • And experts said "Harris downplayed the impact of her proposal on employer-sponsored plans in an exchange with Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.)." 
  • "Both Harris and Biden have stopped short of the Medicare-for-all plan endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), which would put all Americans into one single government insurer with no premiums, deductibles, or co-pays. That plan, sometimes called a single-payer plan, is more far-reaching, and would require larger middle-class tax increases. But that plan is also simpler, and the ones outlined by Biden and Harris are more difficult to explain during a national television debate.

Here are other key moments of the debate: 

TOP TALKERS: Biden, "who took center stage during the second debate night, spoke more than any other candidate on either night of the debate," our colleagues report in this handy breakdown that combines both nights this debate round. Guess that's the flip side of getting attacked so much.

  • "Harris followed Biden among Wednesday-night candidates with 17.7 minutes of airtime, closely matching what Warren and Sanders received Tuesday." 

MOST OVERUSED TALKING POINT: We're calling this one for ... "Republican talking points."

Warren used it to burn former Maryland Rep. John Delaney on Tuesday. Sanders used it to attack a question by CNN moderator Jake Tapper at one point. And by Wednesday it was clear the line had staying power. 

  • "We cannot keep with the Republican talking points on this," Harris told Bennet after he attacked her for being dishonest about the cost of her healthcare plan. "You got to stop."
  • "Open borders is a right-wing talking point, and frankly I'm disappointed that some folks, including some folks on this stage, have taken the bait," former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said in response to a question about his proposal that decriminalizes crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. 

BIGGEST BURN: This one goes to Booker, after Biden slammed his record as Newark mayor to defend his own past on criminal justice. 

  • "Mr. Vice President, there's a saying in my community, you're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don't even know the flavor."
  • Even the official Kool-Aid account got into it:

MOST AWKWARD MOMENTS: Biden told Harris just as she was walking out on the stage, "go easy on me, kid. From Harris's camp: 

Biden also closed out the debate with what became a viral gaffe. After many other candidates plugged their own websites in their final remarks, Biden tried to do the same -- but appeared to confuse a URL with a texting code:

That was fast: 

MOST EFFECTIVE PROTESTERS: “During the opening statements, a group of protesters interrupted Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey by chanting 'Fire Pantaleo!' — a reference to Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold on Staten Island in 2014,” the New York Times's Nick Corasaniti reports.

  • Garner's death came up again later: Castro invoked Garner's death when he talked about holding officers accountable.
  • De Blasio, who has refused to fire Pantaleo, was also pressed. Garner's family is "waiting for justice and are going to get justice," deBlasio said. There's finally going to be justice. I have confidence in that, in the next 30 days, in New York."
  • And the protesters elicited a direct response during the debate: 

MOST IMPROVED CANDIDATE: Andrew Yang's performance was solid enough that his #YangGang now has a national moment to build on. What do they do with it? 

  • He earned a massive round of applause for his jab at the media: "You know what the talking heads couldn't stop talking about after the last debate? It's not the fact that I'm somehow number four on the stage in national polling. It was the fact that I wasn't wearing a tie," Yang said.
  • And the tenor of the debate: "Instead of talking about automation and our future, including the fact that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs, hundreds of thousands right here in Michigan, we're up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality TV show. It's one reason why we elected a reality TV star as our president." 
  • It's bigger than just him: "A night after the least heralded and most unorthodox candidate on the stage, Marianne Williamson, made a good second impression, Yang had his own moments," our colleague Aaron Blake writes
  • Reality check: Combined, Yang and Williamson's Real Clear Politics national polling average is just over 2%. Biden, in case you were wondering, is over 32%. But unlike Williamson, Politico's polling tracker shows Yang is closer to making the next debate in September.
At The White House

TRUMP VS. FED, AGAIN: "The Federal Reserve reduced the benchmark interest rate Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade, lowering the rate by a quarter-point to just below 2.25 percent in an effort to bolster the U.S. economy amid early signs of a global slowdown," our colleague Heather Long reports. Markets fell as Fed chair Jerome Powell clarified this was "not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts" and President Trump fired off a series of tweets blasting Powell for not going far enough to stimulate the economy. 

  • Powell's bind: “The strong reactions -- from the president and the markets -- underlined the pressures on Powell as he tries to navigate between a White House and Wall Street demanding further interest rate reductions, and the warnings from a number of economists and Fed leaders who do not think the central bank should be cutting rates to stimulate growth when the economy looks solid, if not strong."
Global Power

BIN LADEN’S SON IS REPORTEDLY DEAD: “Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden, who was viewed as an eventual heir to the leadership of Al Qaeda and had repeatedly threatened to attack the United States, is dead, according to two American officials,” the New York Times’ Julian E. Barnes, Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt scoop.

  • The details about his death are scarce: “Details of the strike that killed him were scarce, including when and where,” Barnes, Goldman and Schmitt write. “The United States government played a role in the operation, but it was not clear how, according to the officials, who discussed his death on the condition of anonymity.”
  • What it means: “Though Mr. bin Laden carried a prominent name and lineage, the news of his death represented more of a symbolic victory for the American government than the removal of a threat. Al Qaeda has not carried out a large-scale attack in years …”
The People

AN ACTUAL GIFT HORSE: “The White House says Mongolia’s government has gifted the 13-year-old with a horse, which has been named Victory," the Associated Press's Darlene Superville reports.