Debate ends with talk of McCain and a trucker
After a three-hour debate that showed sharper divisions in the Democratic field, the candidates were asked a question inspired by the friendship between talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and former president George W. Bush. Each candidate was asked to speak about a friendship that would be a surprise.
Three, Klobuchar, Sanders and Biden, named the late senator John McCain. Buttigieg said the people he met in the military from different walks of life. Warren said Charles Fried, a solicitor general in the Bush administration, who helped her get a job 27 years ago. She also mentioned her three older brothers whose politics are different from hers.
Harris said Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Gabbard said former congressman Trey Gowdy, and O’Rourke recalled driving with Rep. Will Hurd from Texas to Washington and airing the whole thing on Facebook. Booker referenced working with former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and his effort to dine with every Republican senator, including Ted Cruz (Tex.).
Gabbard also used the moment to take a veiled shot at Hillary Clinton, saying, “When I look out at our country, I don’t see deplorables. I see fellow Americans.”
Yang cited a trucker named Fred, an avid supporter of President Trump who he said is now supporting him.
“He let me ride in his truck for hours. He spent some time in jail. I heard about his experiences trying to get other people off of drugs, and I’m happy to say that after our ride together, he actually said that he would move from Donald Trump to my campaign, which was a thrill for me. And we’ve remained in touch ever since,” Yang said.
Warren, Biden face off on CFPB
Biden, situated onstage between liberal champions Sanders and Warren, attempted to distinguish himself as the realist with a résumé of successes.
“I'm going to say something that is probably going to offend some people here. But I'm the only one on this stage who has gotten anything really big done,” Biden said. “The question is who is best prepared. We all have good ideas.”
Warren shot back that she came up with the idea to create a consumer agency to keep big banks in check and that she helped get it passed.
Biden responded that he played a key role in persuading people to support that bill. “I went on the floor and got you votes,” Biden said. “So let’s get those things straight too.”
Warren paused before responding, “I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed in the law, and I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it. And who helped pass it into law,” Warren said.
“Understand this: It was a dream-big fight-hard,” Warren said. “People told me go for something little, go for something small, go for something that the big corporations will be able to accept … we have to be willing to make big structural change.”
Candidates address abortion rights
Harris said that if she were elected president, her Justice Department would use “pre-clearance” to fight back against state legislators that pass unconstitutional abortion restrictions, so that those laws would not go into effect. She also recalled questioning Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing and asking whether he could think of a law that sought to control only men’s bodies.
“And the answer was ‘Uh, uh, uh, no,’” Harris said. “The reality of it is, this is still a fundamental issue of justice for women in America.”
Several candidates, including Klobuchar and Castro, said they would codify Roe v. Wade. Booker said he would create an office of reproductive freedom in the White House to elevate the issue.
Gabbard said the necessity of “safe, legal and rare” abortions was one of the rare things on which she agreed with Hillary Clinton. However, she said there should be restrictions in place so that abortions were not allowed in the third trimester “unless the life or severe health consequences of a woman are at risk.”
Warren said she lived through a time in the United States when abortion was illegal and reminded the crowd that people still got abortions — if they could afford to travel to places where it was legal. It was the poor and young who were denied access, she said.
Biden takes stronger stance on justices
Biden has previously taken heat from the Democratic base because he suggested that Republicans would be willing to work with him if he were elected president.
“With Trump gone, you’re going to begin to see things change,” Biden said earlier this year. “Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”
On the debate stage Tuesday night, he struck a different note, declaring that he would take the same approach to the Supreme Court as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did when he blocked the Senate from considering the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016.
At the time, McConnell had argued that the successor to the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia should be chosen by whichever president won the November 2016 election.
Biden said Tuesday night that, if one of the current Supreme Court justices steps down, he would make sure as the Democratic nominee that his party “would do exactly what McConnell did last time out: We would not allow any hearing to be held for a new justice.”
Harris wants Warren to join her call to kick Trump off Twitter
In their first notable disagreement of the night, Harris pressed Warren to join her in calling for Trump to be kicked off Twitter, accusing Warren of having a double standard when it comes to holding corporations accountable.
“I don't just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter, I want to push him out of the White House,” Warren responded.
Warren then said the real problem is not whether Twitter will suspend Trump but the amount of corporate money in politics.
“You can't go behind closed doors and take the money of these executives, and then turn around and expect that these are the people who are actually finally going to enforce the laws,” Warren said.
Harris pivoted back to the corporate accountability issue, arguing that Warren has different standards for different businesses.
“This is a matter of holding big tech accountable because they have an outsized influence on people’s perceptions about issues, and they actually influence behaviors, we all have to agree this is their power,” Harris said. “And so what I am saying is that it seems to me that you would be able to join me in saying the rule has to apply to Twitter the same way it does to Facebook.”
“I think all of the rules should apply across the board. I don’t have a problem with that,” Warren said, though she didn’t clarify whether she would support Harris’s call to kick Trump off Twitter.
Biden has an answer on his age
Biden had an answer ready when the moderators eventually asked him about his age. He turned the question around, emphasizing the experience and wisdom he has gained through his decades of public service.
“I will not need any on-the-job training the day I take office,” the 76-year-old former vice president said.
Warren, 70, also fielded a similar question. She emphasized her tenacity, arguing that she will work harder than any other candidate, regardless of age.
“Well, I say, I will outwork, out-organize and outlast anyone, and that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence or whoever the Republicans get stuck with,” she said, a nod to the possibility that Trump may be removed from office before the 2020 election.
Sanders, asked about health, says he’s ‘feeling great’
As the debate approached the two-hour mark, Sanders faced a question about his health.
“I’m healthy. I’m feeling great,” he said when a moderator broached the subject, before he insisted on weighing in on a previous question about drug laws.
When Booker pointed out Sanders favors legalizing marijuana, Sanders quipped, “I'm not on it tonight."
Then Sanders, who suffered a heart attack two weeks ago, gave a more serious answer, telling Americans he would prove to them that he has the fitness to serve by “mounting a vigorous campaign,” including a comeback rally with a special guest in New York on Saturday.
Klobuchar makes opioid epidemic personal
Klobuchar made a question about the opioid epidemic personal by relating a story about her father, who struggled with an alcohol addiction, as a reason there should be more investment in treatment programs.
“My dad, he struggled with alcoholism his whole life, and by his third DWI, they said to him, ‘you’re going to face jail or you got to go to treatment.’ He picked treatment, and he was pursued by grace, and he has been sober ever since,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar has spoken about her father’s struggles before, most famously during the confirmation hearing of Kavanaugh.
Debate turns to gun control
The candidates delivered impassioned arguments on gun control, with several — including Booker, Harris and Castro — referencing their personal experience with gun violence in their communities.
Harris said that there are 5 million assault weapons on the streets of America today and noted her experience meeting with the family of gun violence victims, including police officers shot in the line of duty, during her time in California.
“I’m done,” Harris said. “And we need action. And Congress has had years to act and failed because they have not had the courage.”
Klobuchar noted that polls show a majority of Trump voters want to see universal background checks. “I just don’t want to screw this up,” she said.
Castro prompted applause from the crowd when he called for action on the case of Atatiana Jefferson, who was fatally shot in her home by a Fort Worth police officer.
“Police violence is also gun violence, and we need to address that,” Castro said.
O’Rourke and Buttigieg also had a heated exchange on guns, after a moderator asked O’Rourke how he would enforce his proposed mandatory buyback of AR-15s and AK-47s.
O’Rourke said he would trust his fellow Americans to follow the law.
“You just made it clear that you don’t know how this is actually going to take weapons off the street. If you can develop the plan further, we can have a debate about it, but we can’t wait,” Buttigieg shot back. “We cannot wait for purity tests. We have to just get something done.”
O’Rourke said those challenges were not mutually exclusive. He said he also supports a ban on the sale of new weapons and high-capacity magazines, and red-flag laws. He called for a comprehensive gun-control policy. “Let’s decide what we are going to believe and what we are going to achieve. And let’s bring this country together in order to do that,” O’Rourke said. ““Let’s … not be limited by the polls and the consultants and the focus groups.”
“The problem isn’t the polls. The problem is the policy,” Buttigieg said dryly. “And I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.”
Biden calls on foreign policy experience
Playing up his decades of foreign policy experience, Biden said that he’s the only person on the stage who had “spent extensive time alone with Putin, as well as with Erdogan,” referring to the leaders of Russia and Turkey.
Biden also blasted Trump for how he’s conducted global affairs.
“We have an erratic crazy president, who knows not a damn thing about foreign policy and operates out of fear for his own reelection,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is you have Russia influencing and trying to break up NATO. What does the president do? He says: ‘I believe Vladimir Putin. I believe Vladimir Putin. I don’t believe our intelligence.’”
Booker also attacked Trump’s relationship with Putin, saying he had turned “the moral leadership of this country into a dumpster fire.”
“Russia and Putin understand strength, and this president, time and time again, is showing moral weakness. He is partnering more with Putin than he is with Merkel and Macron,” Booker said, referring to the leaders of Germany and France. “… I will stop this, and restore American integrity abroad.”
Asked about Trump’s decision, Castro launched a double-edged attack, criticizing the president’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border while also taking aim at his withdrawal of troops from Syria.
“Think about how absurd it is that this president is caging kids on the border and effectively letting ISIS prisoners run free,” Castro said.
Sanders isn’t toning it down
Sanders gave a fiery answer, a signal that he is not toning down his combative tendencies in the wake of his health scare.
“Turkey is not a U.S. ally when they engage in another mass slaughter,” he said forcefully in the second hour of the debate.
Earlier, he eagerly reminded viewers that when it comes to Medicare-for-all, he “wrote the damn bill."
And he gave one of the most impassioned defenses yet of his health-care plan, challenging Democrats to have the “guts” to stand up to the insurance companies and fight for a system that offers universal care.
Two veterans onstage face off on involvement in Syria
Gabbard and Buttigieg, the only veterans onstage, faced off on the question of U.S. involvement in Syria and what to do about Turkey’s attack on the Kurds, waged days after Trump ordered U.S. troops out of Syria.
Gabbard called the situation “yet another negative consequence of the regime-change war that we've been waging in Syria.” But she placed blame beyond Trump to include politicians “from both parties” and the mainstream media.
“Well, respectfully, Congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong,” Buttigieg told Gabbard. “The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence. It’s a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.”
He said U.S. troops were the only thing that stood between that part of Syria and the resurgence of the Islamic State.
“Really, what you’re saying, Mayor Pete, is you would continue to support having troops in Syria for an indefinite period of time, to continue this regime-change war?” Gabbard asked.
Buttigieg said what the United States was doing in Syria was keeping its word.
“Part of what makes it possible for the United States to get people to put their lives on the line to back us up is the idea that we will back them up, too,” he said. “I would have a hard time today looking at an Afghan civilian or soldier in the eye after what just happened over there, and it is undermining the honor of our soldiers. You take away the honor of our soldiers, you might as well go after their body armor next.”
Buttigieg, Klobuchar call Warren’s plans unrealistic
For the second time this evening, Buttigieg and Klobuchar attacked Warren for promoting an unrealistic policy. Both went after her wealth-tax plan and tried to appeal to more-moderate voters.
“Washington politicians … [offer] the most elegant policy prescriptions, and nothing changes,” Buttigieg said, a comment directed at Warren.
Klobuchar chimed in with a more pointed attack, suggesting that Warren’s characterization of her competitors’ plans was unfair.
“I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth, because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires. We just have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea,” Klobuchar said.
O’Rourke joined in too, calling the Massachusetts Democrat’s wealth-tax plan “punitive.”
Warren quickly fired back. “I’m really shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I’m punitive,” she said.
After the moderators tossed a question to Booker, the New Jersey Democrat took a moment to call on his competitors to tone down the intraparty attacks.
“You know, we’ve got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president, and how we talk about each other in this debate really matters,” Booker said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Billionaires’ place in America is discussed
At one point, Sanders was asked whether his goal was to “tax billionaires out of existence.” The Vermont senator launched into a lengthy speech about income inequality in the United States, lamenting the staggering number of homeless, uninsured, underinsured and debt-burdened Americans.
“Then you also have three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society. That is a moral and economic outrage,” Sanders said. “And the truth is, we cannot afford to continue this level of income and wealth inequality, and we cannot afford a billionaire class.”
Steyer, the only billionaire on the debate stage, agreed that Sanders was right to go after the wealthy.
“There have been 40 years where corporations have bought this government, and those 40 years have meant a 40-year attack on the rights of working people and specifically on organized labor. And the results are as shameful,” Steyer said. “As Senator Sanders says, both in terms of assets and in terms of income, it’s absolutely wrong, it's absolutely undemocratic and unfair.”
Steyer then advocated for a wealth tax, ending Trump’s tax cuts and increasing the minimum wage.
Warren takes on Yang on universal basic income
Warren found herself on defense for much of the first half-hour of the debate. But as the end of the first hour neared, she played offense against Yang, taking on the entrepreneur over his signature issue, universal basic income, which would guarantee every American $1,000 a month, no matter their employment status.
“I think the thing closest to universal basic income is Social Security,” Warren said, arguing that her proposal for strengthening Social Security would do more to protect vulnerable Americans than Yang’s plan.
She added that she wants to “see the data.”
“I have the data,” Yang quickly shot back.
Harris brings up abortion
During the back and forth on Medicare-for-all, Harris noted that women’s reproductive rights did not come up in any of the previous debates, even though, she said, Republican state legislatures are trying to dismantle those rights.
“This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word, with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today,” she said. “It’s outrageous.”
Harris continued, “People need to keep their hands off of women’s bodies and let women make the decisions about their own lives.”
Medicare-for-all: Who would pay?
In the first policy debate of the evening, Warren and Buttigieg sparred over whether middle-class taxes would go up under Medicare-for-all.
“I have made clear what my principles are here: Costs will go up for the wealthy and for corporations, and for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down,” Warren said.
Buttigieg, who has previously accused Warren of being “evasive” on that question, said she was doing so again on the debate stage.
“A yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer,” Buttigieg charged, before touting his own plan, “Medicare for All Who Want It,” which institutes a public option but allows private insurance companies to remain.
Sanders cut in, noting that he was the person “who wrote the damn bill.”
If the proposal is passed, taxes are going to go up significantly — for the wealthiest Americans, Sanders said.
Warren faced more flak from another opponent: Klobuchar, who argued Warren was “making Republican talking points right now in this room.”
Klobuchar also prompted applause from the crowd — a rarity so far this evening — when she raised the issue of the opioid epidemic.
Sanders and Biden, who have long disagreed over health-care policy, engaged in one of their sharpest exchanges on the topic in any debate.
Biden suggested Warren and Sanders needed to be clearer about the high costs of their plan, and he sought to steal some of Buttigieg’s thunder by saying that the mayor’s approach is effectively one he has spearheaded — expanding Obamacare.
Sanders snapped back, arguing that those who are defending the current system are advocating for a problematic approach in which many Americans are suffering. He said he gets “a little tired, I must say, of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel.”
Biden addresses questions on Ukraine
“My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government rooting out corruption in Ukraine. And that's what we should be focusing on,” Biden said.
Biden then pivoted to talking about Trump’s corruption, saying a statement his son put out today “speaks for itself.”
Pressed to answer whether it was a mistake for his son to take the position, Biden dodged the question.
“I never discussed a single thing with my son about anything having to do with Ukraine,” Biden said. “We’ve always kept everything separate even when my son was the attorney general of the state of Delaware. We never discussed it so there’d be no potential conflict. My son made a judgment. I’m proud of the judgment he made. I’m proud of what he had to say.”
It was unclear what judgment Biden was referring to, but he seemed to be talking about his son’s public statement where he said it was a mistake for him to take the job.
Yang wants to talk about economic problems
While many of the candidates spent their first few minutes talking about Trump and the impeachment inquiry, Yang took a different approach, encouraging Democrats to focus on the economic problems that paved the way for Trump’s win in 2016.
“When we talk about him, we are losing,” Yang said of Trump. He noted that the debate was unfolding in Ohio, a state Trump won. “Why did Donald Trump win your state by eight points?” he asked, before pointing out the manufacturing job losses that have occurred in the state.
“These are the problems that got Donald Trump elected,” Yang said.
Steyer makes debate-stage debut
In his first debate appearance, Steyer noted that he began his “Need to Impeach” campaign two years ago, long before the other Democrats onstage embraced the idea.
Even as he sought to distinguish himself from the others onstage, Steyer also praised them, saying that every Democratic candidate was “more decent and patriotic than the criminal in the White House.”
Buttigieg, meanwhile, cast himself as a uniter who can bring the country together after Trump has left the White House. “One way or another, this presidency is going to come to an end,” Buttigieg said, asking listeners what it’s going to feel like the first day the sun comes up after Trump is no longer president. “Really think about where we’ll be — vulnerable, even more torn apart by politics than we are right now.”
“I’m running to be the president who can turn the page and unify a dangerously polarized country,” he added.
Candidates talk about impeachment support
In his first comments, Biden said Trump’s decision to stonewall every congressional investigation led him to support the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Biden drew a contrast between Trump and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. At that time, Biden said lawmakers needed to be mindful of the American people’s vote.
“He’s gone so far to say since this latest event … I will not cooperate,” Biden said. “They have no choice but to move.”
Biden, who has found himself at the center of the impeachment inquiry, said nothing more about the specifics of the House investigation or his role in it.
Harris echoed her competitors, expressing her support of the impeachment inquiry and adding that she didn’t think the impeachment process would take very long.
“Because as a former prosecutor, I know a confession when I see it,” Harris said.
Striking a more cautious tone, Booker said he understood “the outrage that we all feel” but said it was important to conduct the impeachment process in an “honorable” way that did not further divide the country.
Both Klobuchar and Castro brushed off concerns that impeachment would be a “distraction,” saying U.S. lawmakers and voters were capable of doing two things at once.
“When [Trump] made that call to the head of Ukraine, he’s digging up dirt on an opponent,” Klobuchar said. “That’s illegal conduct; that’s what he was doing.”
Sanders goes after Trump and Republicans
Sanders, who has been off the campaign trail for two weeks after suffering a heart attack, also went after Trump and Senate Republicans. “Mitch McConnell has got to do the right thing and allow a free and fair trial in the Senate,” said Sanders, speaking about the topic of impeachment.
While his voice was a bit scratchy as he spoke, Sanders sounded much clearer than he did in the last debate, when he was noticeably hoarse. He is positioned toward the middle of the stage, to the left of Biden. Sanders stood patiently with his hands in front of him as Biden delivered his first remarks of the debate.
Debate starts with discussion of impeachment
The moderators wasted no time tackling the issue of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. Warren got the first question, on why she believes Congress should hold impeachment proceedings rather than leaving the issue of Trump’s fitness for office up to the voters to decide next November.
Warren’s response: “Because sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics, and I think that’s the case with this impeachment inquiry.”
Sanders, too, defended his call for impeaching Trump, adding that McConnell “has got to do the right thing and allow a free and fair trial in the Senate.”
Biden — who only recently came out in favor of impeachment — called Trump the most corrupt president in history. He highlighted the White House’s efforts to stonewall the impeachment inquiry. “They have no choice but to move,” he said of House Democrats.
To qualify, candidates had to hit 2 percent in at least four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee and receive contributions from at least 130,000 individual donors. The debate is at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, in the Columbus suburbs.