Seven Democratic candidates for president gathered in Los Angeles Thursday night at Loyola Marymount University for the final debate of 2019, with a little more than a month before the first votes are cast in Iowa for the 2020 primary.
Hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, moderators kept the candidates' feet to the fire, trying to get the still-crowded field to answer questions on a variety of topics, including the impeachment of President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, climate change, health care, the economy and more. PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, Amna Nawaz and Yamiche Alcindor and Politico's Tim Alberta moderated the debate.
Seven candidates qualified for tonight's debate in Los Angeles. They included:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Senator Elizabeth Warren
- Senator Bernie Sanders
- Andrew Yang
- Senator Amy Klobuchar
- Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Tom Steyer
The sometimes heated and contentious debate between the candidates lasted just over two and a half hours, with the topics ranging from healthcare, immigration, climate change, campaign finance and of course, the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The debate was initially calm, with the candidates avoiding direct attacks against one another, instead focusing on the impeachment of President Trump. The first question of the night went to former Vice President Joe Biden, who called the president's impeachment a "constitutional necessity."
"It was a constitutional necessity for the House to act as it did," Biden said. " Is it any wonder that if you look at the international polling that's been done, that the Chinese leader is rated above the American president, or that Vladimir Putin congratulated him, saying stand fast and that in fact it was a mistake to impeach him. We need to restore the integrity of the presidency, of the office of the presidency."
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders went even further, calling Trump a "pathological liar."
"We have a President who is a pathological liar," Sanders said. "We have a President who is running the most corrupt administration in the modern history of this country. And we have a President who is a fraud because during his campaign he told working people one thing and he ended up doing something else."
Senator Elizabeth Warren said the Senate would have the opportunity to "uphold our Constitution."
"I see this as a constitutional moment. Last night the President was impeached. And everyone now in the Senate has taken a constitutional oath to uphold our Constitution. And that doesn't mean loyalty to an individual. It doesn't mean loyalty to a political party. It means loyalty to our country," Warren said.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang criticized Democrats for having a singular focus on the impeachment process.
“We have to stop being obsessed over impeachment, which unfortunately strikes many Americans like a ball game where you know what the score is going to be, and start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place,” Yang said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew one of the bigger applause breaks of the night with her answer to a question about her age and the fact that should she be elected, she would be the "oldest president every inaugurated."
"I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated," Warren said.
As the debate continued, the candidates warmed up, taking shot at each other, especially when the topic of campaign finance was raised by the moderators. Warren hit Buttigieg for how he has financed his primary campaign using closed-door fundraisers, bringing up a recent dinner that occurred in a California "wine cave." Warren compared Buttigieg's style of raising money for his campaign, and her own, citing the 100,000 selfies she's taken at campaign events and speechs.
"I do not sell access to my time,” she said.
Buttigieg, looking somewhat impatient for his chance to respond, said it was important to raise money if Democrats were going to beat Trump, and that they were wasting time with "purity tests." Buttigieg also took a shot at Warren's personal net worth, claiming she had a lot more money than he did.
"Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine. Suppose you went home and felt the holiday spirit -- I know this isn’t likely, but stay with me -- and decided to go on petebuttigieg.com and gave the maximum donation allowable by law, would that pollute my campaign because it came from a wealthy person? No, I would be glad to have that support," Buttigieg said.
Warren was unimpressed.
"We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States," Warren said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar interrupted the back and forth, saying that she wasn't on stage to "listen to this argument."
"I came here to make a case for progress. And I have never even been to a wine cave. I have been to the wind cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to. So what is making a case for progress about? That is what unites us up here instead of what divides us, which is campaign finance reform."
Toward the end of the evening, the moderators asked the candidates "in the spirit of the season," if that had to choose, would they either ask for forgiveness or give one of their fellow candidates a gift?
Yang was initially left speechless at the question, but eventually offered each candidate a copy of his book.
"I wrote a book on it and if you like data, this book is for you. This goes for the people at home too, if you like data and books," he said.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg talked about how it would be a gift "for the future" for anyone on stage to become president instead of Trump.
Biden said he would give everyone on stage a gift, because they "want to do something like I do, making their lives better because there's a lot of people who are hurting very, very, very badly."
Sanders said his gift would be a "very different vision of the reality of the Trump administration. And the vision that we need to bring forth is to create a government and a nation based on love and compassion, not anger and hatred."
Warren said she'd ask for forgiveness, saying that she sometimes gets "really worked up."
"I don't really mean to," Warren said. "What happens is when you do 100,000 selfies with people, you hear enough stories about people who are really down to their last moments."
Amy Klobuchar asked for forgiveness from everyone on stage "any time any of you get mad at me."
"I can be blunt. But I am doing this because I think it is so important to pick the right candidate here. I do." Klobuchar said.
Steyer said he'd give the gift of teamwork to everyone on stage, because the real question was "how are we together going to change this framework. How are we together going to beat this corrupt and criminal president?"
The candidates mostly stuck to their tried and true campaign themes for their closing statement of the night.
Billionaire Tom Steyer said he was running because "corporations have bought our government and we need to return power to the people."
Andrew Yang got a laugh out of the audience, saying he knew what America was thinking, seeing him on stage.
"I know what you’re thinking America,” Yang said. "How am I still on the stage with them?"
Yang talked about how real problems is what got Trump elected and that he'd spent seven years helping to create thousands of jobs in places like Detroit, Baltimore and New Orleans.
"I saw firsthand what many of you already know: Our country is falling apart," Yang said, inviting viewers to his website to learn more.
Sen. Klobuchar talked about her grandfather and how he saved money to help send her father to a community college by working in a mine 1,500 feet underground.
This primary comes down to some simple questions. Who has the best ideas, the best experience, mostly who can beat Donald Trump, and how will she do it. So Donald Trump built his fortune on, over time, over $413 million that he got from his dad. My grandpa, he was an iron ore miner, a union member. He saved money in a coffee can in the basement to send my dad to a community college. That's my family trust. I figure if you are given opportunity, you don't go into the world with a sense of entitlement. You go into it with a sense of obligation."
Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the eventual nominee would have to do two things: Defeat Donald Trump and unite the country as president.
"It's a tall order. And in order to do it, we're going to need a nominee and a president who can respond to the crisis of belonging that is gripping our nation today," he stated.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said it was a "dark moment in America," but she was there tonight with a "heart filled with hope."
"All three of my brothers served in the military. They're all retired. They're all back in Oklahoma. One is a Democrat. Two are Republicans. But you know what unites my three brothers? Amazon," Warrn said. "They are furious that Amazon reported $10 billion in profits and paid zero in taxes. My brother is a part of why America is ready to root out corruption and fight back. And that gives us a base to work from."
Sanders reminded viewers that real change "always place from the bottom on up," and "never from the top on down."
" And that is why in this campaign I am so proud that we have over 1 million volunteers. We have some of the strongest grassroots organizations," Sanders said.
Finally, former Vice President Joe Biden had the last word of the night.
"Look, we all have big progressive plans and the question is who can deliver on those plans? It seems to me we have to ask ourselves three questions, straight up and honestly. Who has the best chance, most likely chance of defeating Donald Trump, who is the one most likely to do that. Number two, who can help elect Democrats to the United States Senate in states like North Carolina and Georgia and Arizona and other states. And thirdly, who can deliver legislatively. That requires you to look at our records. I have a significant record of getting significant things done."
The next debate is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2020 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The debate will be the final one before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3rd, 2020.
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