The second night of the first presidential debate proved a dramatic escalation from Wednesday’s gathering, as the candidates regularly took each other on in battles that ranged from racial to generational to ideological.
The candidates onstage were Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Harris, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), author Marianne Williamson and businessman Andrew Yang.
Harris calls out Biden on race: The sharpest exchange of the debate centered on race, when Harris, the only black candidate on the stage, called out Biden for his comments at a recent fundraiser where he bragged about his relationship with segregationist senators early in his career.
“It was hurtful,” Harris said. She said she didn’t think the former vice president was racist. But she criticized him in distinctly personal terms for his opposition to busing, saying that as a little girl in California she was part of only the second class that was integrated via a policy of transporting black students to mostly white schools.
“On this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats,” Harris said. (Her campaign soon tweeted a picture of Harris as a child.)
Biden seemed prepared for the attack and struck back at Harris, saying that early in his career he became a public defender. “I didn’t become a prosecutor,” Biden said, a knock on Harris, whose past as the top prosecutor in California has stirred suspicion from some black voters.
Biden tried to argue that he opposed federally-required busing, and didn’t want Washington to dictate policy to local governments. But Harris called him out on that argument, saying that racist state-level policies have held back African Americans for years and that it is the role of the federal government to intervene.
Biden ticked off legislation that he’s pushed to support African Americans, but then seemed to run out of steam. “Anyway, my time is up,” he said.
— Annie Linskey
Buttigieg addresses police shooting: Buttigieg offered a blunt answer when asked about a police shooting in South Bend, Ind., in which a white officer shot and killed a black man. In its wake, the mayor has been sharply criticized by South Bend’s black residents.
Asked why the police force was so much whiter than the city itself, he replied:
“I couldn’t get it done.”
“It’s a mess. And we’re hurting. And I could walk you through all of the things that we have done, all the steps,” Buttigieg said. “It didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact.”
Buttigieg was criticized by Hickenlooper, who said that — as mayor of Denver — he had taken steps to improve relationships between residents and police. He was also criticized by Swalwell, who asked why he had not taken firmer action.
Buttigieg’s initial response to the shooting had disappointed activists and family members of the victim, who criticized the mayor as not showing compassion or offering new information. He canceled campaign events to address it, but the controversy underscored tensions between the young, white mayor and the black community in South Bend, where 40 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line.
“Until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism . . . we will be left with the bigger problem of a wall of mistrust,” he said.
— David A. Fahrenthold
A blunt demand for generational change: Swalwell, who’s struggled to make a dent in the polls, went directly after Biden, triggering a rambunctious exchange over generational change.
Recalling a speech Biden gave when he was a younger presidential candidate, Swalwell said several times it was time for the former vice president to take his own advice and to “pass the torch.”
Biden listened with a smile as Swalwell spoke. In his response, he talked about education.
Noisy crosstalk ensued before Sanders — who, like Biden, is in his 70s — stepped in to say he is part of Biden’s generation, and that the issues in this presidential contest are not generational.
Sanders briefly tried to inject himself into a debate over generational change, yelling, “Who has the guts to take on Wall Street!”
After more noise, Harris calmed the chatter.
“Hey guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight — they want to know how we are going to put food on their table,” she said, drawing loud applause.
— Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan
Is illegal immigration a crime?: About half of the candidates raised their hands when moderators asked whether they would they change the law to decriminalize illegal immigration.
“You do away with that,” Buttigieg said, seizing on a rare silent moment to speak for those with their hands up. Buttigieg attacked the Republican Party for President Trump’s policy of separating parents and children caught at the border. “We should call out hypocrisy when we see it. And for a party that associates itself with Christianity, to suggest that God would smile on the division of families … that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to use religious language again.”
Biden was asked if he would support deporting immigrants whose only crime was crossing the border without authorization.
“That person should not be the focus of deportation. We should fundamentally change the focus,” Biden said, saying he wanted to deport those who committed “major crimes.”
All 10 candidates raised their hands when a moderator asked if their proposed government health-care plans would cover undocumented immigrants.
“Our country is healthier when everybody is healthier,” Buttigieg said. If undocumented immigrants paid into a broader health care system, it would help other Americans, he said, adding, “This is not about a handout.”
From afar, President Trump sought to capitalize on the matter, tweeting from the Group of 20 summit in Japan: “All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited health care. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!”
— David A. Fahrenthold
Trump talks about the debate to Merkel: Trump had said he was “off to save the free world” en route to a global summit in Osaka, Japan, but during the debate he appeared more interested in attacking fellow U.S. politicians back home than making headway on his foreign policy agenda.
As the Group of 20 summit got underway, the president’s attention was clearly divided as he took time between bilateral meetings with India President Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to watch a few minutes of the second night of the first Democratic primary debate on a television set at the conference center.
After tweeting at Democrats, Trump then raised the debates, unprompted, during his meeting with Merkel.
“You know, they have a debate going on, they had the first debate last night,” Trump told the chancellor, who remained stone-faced. “I don’t know if you saw it, it wasn’t very exciting, I can tell you that. They have another one today. They definitely have plenty of candidates, that’s about it. So I look forward to spending time with you rather than watching.”
— David Nakamura
Biden immediately goes after Trump: Biden used his first question of the night to directly attack Trump, saying that “Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation” by giving tax breaks to the wealthy. That was in keeping with Biden’s campaign strategy: to ignore the Democratic field and present himself as the inevitable challenger to Trump.
Biden was asked about his remarks to wealthy donors at a recent fundraiser, in which he said that “nothing would fundamentally change” for them under a Biden presidency. What did Biden mean by that?
“Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America,” said Biden, at the start of a meandering answer that ended with a pledge to eliminate tax loopholes for the rich and to repeal Trump’s recent tax cuts that helped the wealthy and large corporations. “I would be going about eliminating Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy,” Biden concluded.
That immediate attack on Trump was a marked shift from Wednesday’s debate, in which another 10 Democratic candidates mostly talked about their policy proposals, and spent little time criticizing or even mentioning their prospective GOP opponent.
Harris dodged a question about how Democrats would pay for the programs they’re proposing by citing the president.
“Where was that question when the Republicans and Donald Trump passed a tax cut?” she asked.
“For too long the rules have been written in favor of people who have the most, and not the ones who work the most,” Harris said.
— David A. Fahrenthold and Annie Linskey
Hickenlooper, Sanders spar on socialism: One of the sharpest dividing lines among the candidates surfaced early in the evening. Hickenlooper, an outspoken critic of the leftward drift of parts of the Democratic Party, warned that Democrats could be doomed if the GOP is able to define them all as socialists.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists,” said Hickenlooper, a former small-business owner.
Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist and recently delivered a speech defending the term, responded by citing polls showing him defeating Trump.
The key to beating Trump, he said, is to “expose him for the fraud that he is.”
Attacks against Trump, which were relatively scattered in Wednesday’s session of the debate, erupted with greater frequency and intensity in the early stages of Thursday’s session. But the Democratic Party’s slide left was evident both nights, with several candidates taking issue with the Obama administration, which was far more centrist than the party’s stakeholders today.
Bennet and Hickenlooper are positioning themselves as centrist counterweights to the liberal candidates. But the debate has brought into focus the extent to which their views are the exception in the sprawling field.
— Sean Sullivan
Democrats don’t shy away from guns: A topic many Democrats steered clear of for decades was front and center in the second hour of the debate, highlighting how attitudes have changed in recent years amid rising anger in the party over mass shootings.
The candidates spoke about guns in personal terms. Swalwell decried the fact that parents now have to remember what their children are wearing when they set off for school, in case they have to identify their bodies later.
Buttigieg, a military veteran, said his life experience informs his decisions. “As somebody who trained on weapons of war, I can tell you there are weapons that have absolutely no place in American cities,” he said.
Sanders, whom critics accused in 2016 of being too conservative on guns, faced scrutiny over his past comments as well as a direct challenge from Swalwell, who has sought to position himself as the field’s staunchest advocate of gun restrictions.
Harris said it was not a matter of ideas but political will. If Congress doesn’t act to tighten guns laws, she said, she would take executive action as president to do so.
— Sean Sullivan
Candidates on climate change: There was more unanimity on another dominant issue for Democrats: climate change. Harris said that she supported a “Green New Deal,” an expansive proposal to transform the country’s energy system.
“This is not just happening in the Arctic ice caps. This is happening in the middle of our country,” said Buttigieg. He said he supported using farming practices to reduce carbon.
Biden said he would act — even if Republicans in Congress wouldn’t go along — to add 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations around the country and to fund billions in scientific research. Biden also returned to a theme of the evening for him, that he had dealmaking experience that other candidates lack. In this case, Biden said he wanted to return the United States to the Paris Climate Accord, a global emissions-reduction plan that Trump has said he’s pulling the United States out of. And Biden said, he would then press other nations to increase their goals to reduce emissions.
“We make up 15 percent of the problem,” Biden said, which meant that the rest of the world represents 85 percent. “We have to have someone who knows how to corral the rest of the world” to make more ambitious changes, he said.
— David A. Fahrenthold
Details on what candidates would do about border crisis are still light: All the Democratic candidates, on the trail, have decried Trump’s policy of separating children at the border. But most have been far less specific on what they’d do to solve the influx of immigrants coming into the United States. That didn’t change much Thursday night.
Asked what she’d do about the border crisis on Day 1 as president, Harris focused on other aspects of immigration, saying she would reinstate protections for undocumented students who’ve been in the country for years. She also said she’d reinstate and extend deferred deportations for parents, and would provide protection for veterans. (All of those proposals are popular with voters.)
“I will release children from cages,” Harris said.
Hickenlooper said Trump’s child separation policies amount to kidnapping, but he also didn’t have a specific answer for how to deal with migrants coming to the country.
“The first thing we have to do is recognize the humanitarian crisis on the border for what it is,” he said, adding that he’d reform the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, without providing specifics.
Williamson was eager to jump in, amping up the anti-Trump rhetoric by accusing the administration of state-sponsored child abuse.
Gillibrand stood out toward the end of the exchange by suggesting several concrete changes, saying the country needs immigration centers that are community-based. And, she added, border security needs more funding.
Biden also suggested more funding, saying he would “surge billions of dollars to the region.”
He added: “The law now requires the reuniting of those families. We would reunite them.”
— Annie Linskey
Tariffs come up for the first time in two nights: International trade, which did not emerge as a focal point in Wednesday’s debate, came up tonight. Trump’s trade war with China has been a consistent target for many Democratic candidates.
Yang and Buttigieg both spoke out against Trump’s tariffs, with the South Bend mayor underscoring his status as a Midwesterner who lives in a state with a large agricultural industry.
“Their fundamental economic model isn’t going to change because of some tariffs,” Buttigieg said, speaking of China.
— Sean Sullivan
Biden’s dealmaking comes under question: Pressed to explain how he would overcome gridlock in Washington, given staunch opposition from the Republican-held Senate, Biden offered, in essence, a defense of his own dealmaking skills.
“I have seen it happen,” Biden said, citing deals he made to pass emergency funding during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, as well as an agreement he struck to end a standoff over federal spending in 2011, when tea party Republicans were threatening to shut the government or default on the national debt.
“I got Mitch McConnell to raise taxes $600 billion!” Biden said, referring to the Kentucky senator, then the minority leader. But, Biden allowed, sometimes dealmaking wasn’t enough: “Sometimes you can’t do that. Sometimes you have to just go out and beat them.”
Biden was then attacked by Bennet, who said Biden had been rolled in those budget negotiations.
“The deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the tea party,” Bennet said, because it extended tax cuts put in place under President George W. Bush.
“That was a great deal for Mitch McConnell,” he added. “It was a terrible deal for Americans.”
— David A. Farenthold
How much should health insurance be disrupted?: Moderators asked which candidates support moving to a national health care system that would eliminate private insurance, and only Sanders and Harris raised their hands.
But others onstage — Buttigieg and Gillibrand — said their goal was to arrive at that point quickly by offering federally run health care coverage as an option, and then counting on it to out-compete private care.
“People can buy in. And then if people like us are right … then it will be a very natural glide path to the single-payer environment,” Buttigieg said. He described dealing with his late father’s terminal illness, stressing that Medicare made the process much easier.
“I want every family to have that same freedom,” Buttigieg said.
Biden referred to his late son Beau’s terminal cancer, saying the experience brought home the dangers that await families without coverage. But Biden called for a less-disruptive approach to change, saying he wanted to “build on” the Affordable Care Act, rather than replacing it.
“The quickest, fastest way to do it is to build on Obamacare,” Biden said. “Urgency matters. There’s people right now facing what I faced. … I am against any Democrat who wants to take down Obamacare.”
At least one other candidate also spoke of a personal experience with health care — Bennet, who recovered from prostate cancer earlier this year.
— David A. Fahrenthold
Williamson finally speaks: It took about 30 minutes before self-help author Williamson got her first question — and she used her time to criticize the candidates’ plans writ large.
She called the policy proposals to shore up the country’s health-care plans “superficial fixes” and railed against the current system as a “sickness system” rather than a “health-care system.”
“If you think we are going to beat Donald Trump with all these plans, you are wrong,” she said, a tacit swipe at several candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who have offered multiple policy proposals.
— Annie Linskey
Yang addresses his UBI idea: Yang was asked to defend his signature proposal — a payment of $1,000 a month, to every American, from the federal government. How would he pay for it?
“It’s difficult to do if you have companies like Amazon, trillion-dollar companies, paying zero in taxes,” Yang said, suggesting he would seek to close loopholes used by companies. (Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
He said he would also add a “mild” value-added tax, a kind of consumption tax used by European countries.
“Just the value gained by having a stronger, healthier, mentally healthier population” would be worth billions to the U.S. economy, Yang said, plus savings as incarceration rates and homelessness declined.
— David A. Fahrenthold
Sanders makes an admission unusual for politicians: The first question of the night went to Sanders, who was asked if his sweeping plans to expand government services — from implementing Medicare-for-all to canceling student loan debt — would result in a tax hike on the middle class.
After ticking though his priorities on health care and education — many of the same ideas he ran on in 2016 — Sanders eventually answered the question.
“Yes, they will pay more in taxes but less in health care,” said the Vermont senator.
— Sean Sullivan
Candidates have trouble following instructions: It’s hard to pick just one issue that is the most important when you’re running for president. The 10 candidates onstage proved that when asked what would be their hands-down first priority if elected.
Gillibrand rattled off several priorities, including affordable day care. Harris started with a middle-class tax cut but quickly added guns and immigration reform.
Sanders, true to form, rejected the entire premise of the question. “We need a political revolution,” he said, using a favorite tag line.
Moderator Chuck Todd set up the question in a way that seemed designed to get a rise out of Biden, saying that President Barack Obama had been forced to choose between health care and climate change as his first priority, settling on health care.
Biden shot back, “I think you’re so underestimating what Barack Obama did.” He then effusively praised Obama’s success in pulling together the Paris climate accord, which President Trump has abandoned.
Williamson had perhaps the most surprising answer, saying she’d place a call to the leader of New Zealand, who has bragged that her country is the best place for children to grow up. “I would say, ‘Girlfriend, you are so wrong because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up,’ ” Williamson said.
Despite the earlier passion about children separated at the border, none of the candidates mentioned reuniting them with their families as their first priority.
— Annie Linskey
Repairing foreign relations: Toward the end of the evening, the candidates plunged into a discussion of how they’d repair American foreign policy in the aftermath of President Trump’s unorthodox approach to global relations.
“When you’ve got a situation where our president said something happened in the Straits of Hormuz and the whole world doesn’t know whether to believe it or not, that is a huge problem,” Bennet said. He was referring to doubts among allies about the Trump administration’s assertion that Iran was responsible for a recent attack on commercial ships there.
“We have to restore our democracy at home,” Bennet said. “The rest of the world is looking.”
Biden said that, as vice president, he had worked to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. That gave Sanders an opening for another attack on the former vice president.
That’s “one of the differences that Joe and I have in our record,” Sanders said. While Biden supported the war in Iraq, he said, “I helped lead the opposition.”
Moderator Chuck Todd also asked the candidates which country they would call first to “reset” relations after the Trump presidency.
Hickenlooper and Yang named China, saying that despite a geopolitical rivalry and economic competition, the United States needed to find a way to work with the Chinese government on climate change and other topics.
Biden, Bennet, Swalwell and Harris all said that they would call America’s NATO allies and that Trump has frayed that crucial military alliance. Biden said that NATO could be effectively destroyed if Trump won another four years in office.
Sanders, in a similar vein, said he would reach out to the United Nations in hopes of preventing military conflicts. Gillibrand said she would reach out to Iran to cool the tensions Trump has stoked, adding, “President Trump is hellbent on starting a war with Iran.”
Buttigieg said it was too soon to say, because he couldn’t be sure which country Trump would have “pissed off” by then.
“Our relationship with the entire world needs to change,” Buttigieg said.
— Annie Linskey and David A. Fahrenthold
Closing time: Each of the candidates got 45 seconds for a closing statement. A line from each (in the order in which they spoke):
Swalwell: “We can’t be a forward-looking party if we look to the past for our leadership.”
Williamson: “I’m going to harness love for political purposes.”
Bennet: “I believe we need to a build broad coalition of Americans.”
Hickenlooper: “You don’t need big government to do big things.”
Gillibrand: “I will take on the fight that no one else will.”
Yang: “It is not left. It is not right. It is forward.”
Harris: “We need someone who has the ability to prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump.”
Buttigieg: “Help me deliver that new generation to Washington before it’s too late.”
Sanders: “Nothing will change unless we have the guts to take on Wall Street, the insurance industry.”
Biden: “I’m ready to lead this country because I think it’s important we restore the soul of this nation. This president has ripped it out.”
— Sean Sullivan
NIGHT ONE: Wednesday night, 10 different candidates covered issues including Medicare-for-all, immigration, Iran, guns and the ideological direction of the party. Onstage were New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), former HUD secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Maryland congressman John Delaney.
Get an assessment of each candidate on last night’s stage from The Trailer. Here’s what happened Wednesday, from Washington Post reporters Sean Sullivan, Annie Linskey and David A. Fahrenthold:
José Díaz-Balart of Telemundo asked Castro about immigration and border security, prompting him to underscore a sweeping immigration plan he released earlier this year — and offer an emotional reaction to the photo.
“It’s heartbreaking. It should also piss us all off,” said Castro. “It should spur us to action.”
Castro talked about Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act; the Fact Checker explains that here.
One of the tensest moments of the debate erupted during the discussion of immigration, as Castro and fellow Texan O’Rourke clashed in an exchange. “If you did your homework on this issue . . . ” Castro said at one point.
Booker, also asked about immigration, seemed to surprise some in the audience when he started his response in Spanish.
“The current situation is unacceptable” Booker said in Spanish, adding that Trump had “demonized” immigrants for political gain.
Booker said he would prioritize the reinstatement of DACA, the program designed to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children.
De Blasio also chimed in, defending immigrants against those who have criticized them, addressing those who feel the American Dream has passed them by. “The immigrants didn’t do that to you,” he said.
Klobuchar also gave an impassioned defense of people coming to this country. “They are America,” she said. “We need their ideas.”
Ryan referred to the conditions under which some undocumented children are being held.
“Now we have kids literally laying in their own snot,” he said. “That is not a sign of strength. That is a sign of weakness.”
From the Fact Checker: ‘Metering’ and the deaths of the Salvadoran father and daughter
O’Rourke and Booker break into Spanish: Besides Booker, two Democratic candidates spoke Spanish, a way to signal their understanding of, and sympathy for, immigrants at a moment when passions on immigration have been inflamed.
O’Rourke dove into Spanish in his opening answer. “We have to include every individual in the success of this economy. But if we want to do that, we need to include everyone in our democracy,” O’Rourke said, repeating his words in Spanish.
Castro spoke Spanish in his closing statement, talking about his family and heritage. In his answer to a question about the photo of the father and daughter, used the first names of the two victims: Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria.
“We saw those images. Watching that image of Oscar and his daughter Valeria is heartbreaking,” Castro said, in English.
Who would end private health insurance?: Moderator Lester Holt of NBC asked a question to all 10 Democrats onstage: Would they support a system that ends private health insurance and replaces it with government-provided care? Only two raised their hands: de Blasio and Warren.
Warren said she supports Sen. Bernie Sanders’s proposal for a Medicare-for-all plan. She cited her past as an academic who studied why Americans go broke, saying medical costs were a major cause of bankruptcies, even in families with insurance.
“Medicare-for-all solves that problem,” she said. “And I understand, there are a lot of politicians who say, ‘Oh, it’s not possible.’…What they’re really telling you is, they just won’t fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right. And I will fight for basic human rights.”
Others said no to abolishing private health insurance, including Klobuchar and O’Rourke. That led to the first real candidate-to-candidate exchange of the night, as de Blasio — one of the lowest-polling candidates on the stage — jumped in to ask O’Rourke, “Why are you defending private health insurance?”
Then Delaney jumped in, saying de Blasio and Warren want to destroy a system that works well for some people, adding, “I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working, and fixes what’s broken.”
[From The Fix: Winners and losers from the first night]
Warren and Klobuchar talk about prosperity: The first question of Wednesday’s debate went to Warren — and it was on a subject she’s had lots of experience addressing. Savannah Guthrie of the “Today” show asked Warren if her far-reaching plans for overhauling the rules of the U.S. economy and the way the federal government runs are too risky.
That allowed Warren, a seasoned debater, to go straight to her stump speech. She argued that the economy is “doing great” for large corporations and the wealthy, but that most workers aren’t feeling the prosperity.
“That is corruption, pure and simple,” said Warren, going to a favorite tag line.
Klobuchar, whose positions are broadly more centrist than Warren’s, gave a similar answer in the opening moments.
“We know that not everyone is sharing in this prosperity,” she said. “Donald Trump just sits in the White House and gloats about what’s going on.”
Centrism or liberalism?: On a night when de Blasio and Warren sought to push the party to the left, Ryan used a few questions to take a relatively centrist position; he cast himself as the candidate for the forgotten blue collar voters. That choice is likely to define Thursday’s debate, which will feature democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and establishment centrist and former vice president Joe Biden.
“We have got to change the center of gravity for the Democratic Party,” Ryan said.
Candidates pressed on guns: The candidates were pressed about where they stand on more restrictive gun laws.
“Guns in hands of a collector who has had them for decades — that is very different from guns that could and do turn over very quickly,” Warren said. She made a plea for more federal funding to study what proposals could work, something that the NRA has opposed, and said gun violence should be treated like a national health emergency.
O’Rourke won applause when the said that “weapons of war” belong on the battlefield and not “in our communities.” He said he supports universal background checks for gun purchases.
Klobuchar struck a folksy note, saying that she tests all gun proposals with the following question: “Does this hurt my Uncle Dick and his deer stand?” she said.
De Blasio said he was the only person onstage with a black son. “I’ve had to have very serious conversations with him,” de Blasio said. “We need to have a very different relationship between our police and our community.”
Democrats get the McConnell question: One looming question for the Democrats was what they would do if Republicans held the Senate with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in charge — and whether he would block a potential Supreme Court nominee.
Booker underscored the importance of Democrats doing well in Senate elections and getting the party to 50 votes in the upper chamber. De Blasio said Democrats needed to “stop acting like the party of the elites.”
Questioned on whether she had a plan to deal with McConnell, Warren said, “I do,” then emphasized that in a democracy it was critical to mobilize the public. “Short of a Democratic majority in the Senate, you better understand the fight still goes on,” she said.
Inslee said he would take the legislative filibuster away from McConnell.
All but one candidate say they’d reenter Iran deal: In a show of hands, Booker was the only candidate to indicate that he would not reenter the Iran nuclear deal that former president Barack Obama negotiated and President Trump abandoned.
In 2015, Booker had supported the deal with allies to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. But Wednesday night, he didn’t say what exactly he disliked about the deal, but he said he believed events on the ground have changed, requiring a different type of agreement. He criticized Trump for “marching” the country toward a more hostile environment in the Middle East.
Klobuchar raised her hand to say she would reenter the agreement but said that the deal was “imperfect.” She criticized Trump, saying: “I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe,” a dig at the president who reportedly tweets while informally dressed.
Gabbard, a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard who spent a year in Iraq in 2005, used her military service to criticize what she called President Trump’s bellicose rhetoric toward Iran.
“This president and his chicken-hawk cabinet have taken us to the brink of war with Iran,” Gabbard said. “Chicken hawk” is a term critics use to deride those who advocate for aggressive military action despite having avoided military service themselves.
Gabbard, who has made “ending regime-change wars” a central part of her platform, warned that if the United States attacked Iran, the result would be a far more costly and deadly conflict than the war in Iraq.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have ratcheted up in recent days, as Iran downed an American drone and Trump imposed sanctions in retaliation, after initially considering a military strike.
Warren, Castro pressed on abortion: All the candidates onstage favor abortion rights, but both Warren and Castro were pressed on their views. Castro cast his stance as “I believe in reproductive justice,” earning applause from the crowd. He also pointed out that abortion is an issue in the transgender community.
Warren said that she believes women should have the “full range” of reproductive services. She said that it’s “not enough” to rely on the courts to protect abortions rights and Congress must act.
Delaney: The country is “on a mission to find the America that’s been lost.”
De Blasio: “Records matter,” he said, pointing out that he has seen the face of poverty and has tried to improve health care in the city.
Inslee: Focusing on climate change, he said that “on my last day on earth” he wants to be able to look his grandchildren in the eyes and tell them that he did everything possible to save the planet.
Ryan: “I don’t know how you feel, but I’m ready to play some offense. … It’s time for us to get back on track,” said Ryan.
Gabbard: “We have a country that is of, by and for the rich and powerful. This must end.”
Castro: “Me llamo Julián Castro . . . On January 20, 2021, we’ll say adios to Donald Trump.”
Klobuchar: As a U.S. senator, “I listened and I acted, and I think that’s important in a president.”
Booker: “I’ve taken on tough fights. We win those fights not by showing the worst of who we are,” but “the best of who we are.” He said his candidacy is “calling this country to a sense of common purpose again.”
O’Rourke: “We can’t return to the same old approaches. We are going to need a new politics.”
Warren: “I will fight for you as hard as I fight for my own family,” she said.
Disjointed but mostly civil: The tone of the debate was disjointed and civil — with few moments of true roughhousing between candidates. The sharpest exchange was between two Texans — Castro and O’Rourke — in which Castro said he wanted to decriminalize illegal border crossings, and chastised O’Rourke because he didn’t.
Two of the lowest-polling candidates — de Blasio and Delaney — also interrupted and interjected often.
The highest-polling candidate onstage was Warren, who somewhat inexplicably drew little criticism from other candidates. On Thursday night, the other two top-polling candidates — former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — will be onstage. They may not escape as easily.
Trump’s counterprogramming: On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted a video mocking a technical glitch during the debate proceedings. “Thank you @MSNBC, real professionals!” he wrote. The night before, Trump didn’t offer much commentary on the event beyond a tweet calling the whole thing “BORING!”
His campaign, however, issued a lengthy statement decrying the candidates as “far-left” and “socialist,” particularly for the cries of some to end private health insurance. It has been part of their strategy — one Trump has not always adopted — to not elevate particular candidates and try to lump them together into one blob. Several of his advisers described the debate as not moving the needle and said they were looking more to Thursday night.
How the debates work: Each debate is broken into five segments, according to rules distributed to the campaigns last week. The candidates will have one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds for follow-ups. Everyone will get a 45-second closing statement.
The candidates will be provided water as well as pens and paper. But they will not be allowed to carry notes onstage.
Debates are being carried on NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo, which has Spanish-language translations. Moderators for both nights are Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Díaz-Balart.
How the stage was determined: Debate organizers used a randomized drawing to determine which candidates will appear in which debates. By chance, four of the top five candidates in the polls were placed into the same debate. NBC News opted to conduct that debate on the second night.
To qualify, candidates had to register at least 1 percent support in three polls approved by the Democratic National Committee or collect monetary donations from 65,000 people across 20 states.