The fifth Democratic debate has wrapped, with 10 candidates on stage in Atlanta: former vice president Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.); South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii); Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); businessman Tom Steyer; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); and businessman Andrew Yang.

November 20, 2019 at 11:30 PM EST

Biden, Warren close by talking about how to make change

The evening ended with closing statements from Warren and Biden. Warren talked about gun violence, which wasn’t addressed tonight. On that issue, like so many others, Americans agree on what should happen and leaders know what to do, she said. The reason action isn’t taken, Warren said, is corruption. The government works “better for big drug companies than it does for people trying to fill a prescription,” she said. Then she touted her anti-corruption plan and her willingness to advocate for major systemic change.

Biden followed by bringing up Obama, this time in the context of the corruption Warren referenced. “I hope we weren’t talking about Barack Obama and his spotless administration,” he said. He ended with his usual “pick-your-head-up,” optimistic refrain.

“It’s time to remember who you are. Get up. Let’s take back this country and lead the world again,” Biden said, before raising his voice for his conclusion. “It’s within our power to do, get up and take it back.”

By Chelsea Janes
November 20, 2019 at 11:29 PM EST

Sanders gets biographical

“Let me say a word about myself,” Sanders said, “unusual as it may seem.”

The personal anecdote he offered embodies a distinct shift in tone for Sanders, who has long had a reputation for stubbornly delivering uncompromising stump speeches about economic inequality. But in recent weeks — and especially since his Oct. 1 heart attack — Sanders has relaxed.

In campaign stops with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and again during the debate, he has shared more details from his past and has even attempted a few jokes. Midway into the debate, as Biden recounted how North Korean leader Kim Jong Un compared him to a rabid dog, Sanders interjected, “Other than that, you like him.”

In his final remarks, Sanders brought up his father, an immigrant “who came to this country without a nickel in his pocket.”

“I have a sense of the immigrant experience,” Sanders said, adding that he’d stand up for undocumented immigrants.

He then told the story of when he was arrested as a college student and civil rights activist, saying he’s been “committed to the fight against all forms of discrimination.”

“I believe an administration that will look like America will end the divisiveness brought by Trump and bring us together,” he said.

By Reis Thebault
November 20, 2019 at 11:28 PM EST

Buttigieg faces late attacks

After surviving much of the debate, Buttigieg faced some heat in the final 15 minutes.

Klobuchar said he talks a big game but lacks federal experience. “Washington experience is not the only experience that matters,” Buttigieg shot back.

Buttigieg also faced an attack from Gabbard, who claimed he wanted to send troops to fights cartels in Mexico. Both Buttigieg and Gabbard have served in the military.

“That is outlandish,” said Buttigieg, accusing her of taking him out of context. He then attacked Gabbard for her comments on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, prompting gasps from the crowd.

By Sean Sullivan
November 20, 2019 at 11:24 PM EST

Stacey Abrams looms large at debate in her home state

Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, loomed large at Wednesday’s debate.

That’s not a surprise, given the debate’s location in her home state. But there’s another reason. Abrams, who enjoys star power in the party’s liberal wing, has consistently been floated as a possible vice-presidential pick. And she has not tamped down the talk.

During an appearance at the University of Iowa this month, the Georgia Democrat, who came within fewer than 55,000 votes of becoming the nation’s first black female governor, was asked whether she would be willing to serve as vice president.

“I’m happy to do so,” she replied.

She was invoked several times during the debate, with candidates describing her narrow loss last year — in a contest that they claim was marred by voter suppression — as an example of the importance of restoring voting rights.

Klobuchar said Georgia’s leadership would be different if a slate of reforms, including automatic voter registration at age 18, had been in place at the time of her race.

“Stacey Abrams would be governor of this state right now,” she said.

Booker made a similar point, describing her loss as a case study in the consequences of voter suppression.

By Isaac Stanley-Becker
November 20, 2019 at 11:19 PM EST

Yang warns about the future of the American dream

Yang used his closing statement to deliver a stark warning about the vanishing American dream, which he said his parents once chased. Instead of building on the success of his parent’s generation, today’s leaders are leaving young people an intolerable future, he said.

“Our kids are not all right,” Yang said. “They’re not all right because we’re leaving them a future that is far darker than the lives that we have led as their parents.”

He warned that the United States is not prepared for what he described as the “greatest economic transformation in our country’s history.” Trump, he suggested, was a symptom of the dislocation that comes with that transformation.

By Isaac Stanley-Becker
November 20, 2019 at 11:16 PM EST

Booker turns conversation to voting rights

In answering a question about one of the issues most important to Democrats — abortion — Booker invoked another: voting rights.

“This is a voter suppression issue right here in this great state of Georgia,” Booker said, pointing out that the state passed one of the country’s strictest abortion bans this year. “It was the voter suppression, particularly of African American communities, that prevented us from having a governor — Stacey Abrams, right?”

Just like combating abortion restrictions, Booker argued, other Democratic policies will be difficult to execute without addressing voting rights. Buttigieg agreed, saying that Congress should pass H.R. 1, the sweeping package of voting reforms, and designate election days federal holidays. He also repeated his call to abolish the electoral college.

Klobuchar hewed to more moderate fixes, including requiring states to use backup paper ballots when voting.

By Reis Thebault
November 20, 2019 at 11:14 PM EST

Booker makes plea for next debate

Booker began his closing statement by acknowledging that he has not yet qualified for the December debate and asking for help.

Then, he abandoned his prepared remarks in favor of impromptu words inspired by someone in the audience – Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). He told the story of the lawyer who helped his family find a home when his parents were subject to racial discrimination. Booker said he asked that lawyer why he decided to help families like his stand up to discrimination. That lawyer told him he was inspired by Lewis’s role in the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala., a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement.

“We need a leader that can inspire us to get up and fight again,” Booker said. “If you give me a chance to lead, I will cause what John Lewis says is good trouble. I will challenge us. I will ask more from you than any other president has ever asked before, because we need to mobilize a new American movement. Keep me on this stage. Keep me on this race. It is time we fight and fight together.”

By Chelsea Janes
November 20, 2019 at 11:11 PM EST

Democrats talk about abortion, conservative states

Democrats claimed abortion rights as a winning issue but mostly dodged a question about how to deal with members of their own party who take a different position — and win.

Warren was asked about John Bel Edwards, the Democratic governor of Louisiana who was recently reelected in a state that favored Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016. Edwards this year signed into law a bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — part of a wave of antiabortion bills that represent a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Pressed for an answer on what to do about Democrats like Edwards who have run on in culturally conservative states, Warren seemed to suggest that she wouldn’t seek to draw rigid lines, saying, “I’m not here to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to build fences.” Yet she also vowed: “I believe that abortion rights are human rights.”

By Isaac Stanley-Becker
November 20, 2019 at 11:06 PM EST

Harris corrects Biden’s statement about black female senators

Biden argued that he has strong support from the African American community, saying “I come out of the black community in terms of my support.”

“I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me because they know me, they know who I am,” Biden continued. “Three former chairs of the Black Caucus. The only black African-American woman who had ever been elected to the United States Senate.”

The first African-American woman to be elected to the Senate, Carol Moseley Braun, has endorsed Biden.

The second, Harris, was standing a few feet away from him.

“That’s not true!” Harris exclaimed through a smile, as Biden corrected himself to say he meant “the first” African-American woman elected to the Senate. Harris and Booker chuckled incredulously as Biden finished his defense, saying he was picked as vice president “because of my relationship, long-standing relationship with the black community.”

By Chelsea Janes
November 20, 2019 at 11:04 PM EST

Booker pivots to talk about black voters

Booker pivoted from a question about Trump’s wall to a comment about candidates making meaningful connections with minority communities. “I have a lifetime of experience with black voters,” Booker said. “I’ve been one since I was 18.”

Booker suggested black voters want “authentic connections” with their candidates, and used Biden’s recent comments about the dangers of legalizing marijuana as an example of a lack of understanding of the issues that affect those communities. Biden, unlike other candidates, has said he doesn’t support legalizing marijuana because studies don’t prove it’s not a gateway drug.

“I thought you might’ve been high when you said it,” Booker said.

Biden defended himself, saying, “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. I think everyone anyone who has a record should be let out of jail. Their records expunged. … But I do think it makes sense based on data that we should study what the long-term effects are for the use of marijuana.”

Then Biden issued a somewhat garbled defense of his appeal to African American voters.

By Chelsea Janes
November 20, 2019 at 10:59 PM EST

Fact Checker on Booker and race and criminal justice

“With more African Americans under criminal supervision in America than all the slaves since 1850, do not roll up into communities and not talk directly to issues that are going to relate to the liberation of children.” — Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.)

There are several problems with this claim. First, as Booker framed it, it’s simply wrong. The 1850 census counted 3.6 million slaves. African Americans made up 2.3 million, or 34 percent, of the total 6.8 million correctional population in 2014.

A Booker spokeswoman as evidence sent us a link to a 2014 PolitiFact fact check about a different claim – that more black men are now in prison than were slaves in 1850. “There were about 1.68 million African American men under state and federal criminal justice supervision in 2013, 807,076 more than the number of African American men who were enslaved in 1850,” the fact check said, rating it “true.”

But that’s not what Booker said.

Moreover, even if the black men comparison is correct in terms of raw numbers, it’s still misleading because the U.S. population has soared since 1850, as our colleagues at Wonkblog noted in 2015. The census that year found that roughly nine in 10 of the nation’s 3.6 million black people were enslaved. By contrast, one in 11 black people is under correctional supervision today, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

By Glenn Kessler
November 20, 2019 at 10:55 PM EST

Harris and Buttigieg get personal on race and sexuality

A potentially tense moment erupted late in the debate, when Harris was given a chance to talk about a criticism she leveled at Buttigieg earlier this week. Harris took the Buttigieg campaign to task for using a stock photo of a mother and child in Kenya to promote a plan for African Americans.

Harris declined to do so, saying Buttigieg had apologized.

She then challenged her party to work harder to address racial inequities, do more outreach to black women and “rebuild the Obama coalition.” Harris would be the country’s first black female president.

The exchange also turned personal when Buttigieg, who is gay, referred to his sexuality in the context of discrimination. “While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country,” said Buttigieg.

By Sean Sullivan
November 20, 2019 at 10:52 PM EST

Biden argues for his record on addressing violence against women

Biden, whose own conduct toward women has been scrutinized, said he has a strong track record of addressing sexual and physical violence toward women.

Responding to a question about legislative solutions to the harassment and abuse of women brought to light by the #MeToo movement, Biden said he would “make sure we pass” the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which he helped craft as a senator. The bill is currently stalled in the Senate.

“We have to fundamentally change the culture, the culture of how women are treated,” Biden said.

He also touted his role in promoting the “It’s On Us” campaign, which seeks to combat sexual assault on college campuses. He said the most important step is to “get men involved.”

He said it was a “gigantic issue,” but he did not offer new plans or proposals.

By Reis Thebault
November 20, 2019 at 10:44 PM EST

Democrats decry white-supremacist violence

Democrats addressed the issue of white-supremacist violence, which federal law enforcement officials have described as a deepening problem in the United States.

Yang said the first step is acknowledging that such violence amounts to domestic terrorism, so that the Department of Justice can properly track and measure it. He suggested that the problem required efforts targeting young men in particular, telling the story of an “anti-hate activist” who had turned the corner after being radicalized as a 14-year-old.

Gabbard, meanwhile, called for a full-scale overhaul of the criminal justice system, addressing topics ranging from the war on drugs to the bail system. She said more needs to be done by the federal government to weed out violence.

“Leadership starts at the top,” she said.

Neither candidate used the question to assail Trump, who has previously faced criticism from Democrats for using rhetoric that appears to have inspired acts of mass violence or attempted violence, including in El Paso over the summer.

By Isaac Stanley-Becker