A narrowed field of seven Democratic candidates qualified for the final debate of the year—and the first question at the Los Angeles debate to nobody's surprise, was on the impeachment of President Trump 24 hours earlier. Judy Woodruff asked how the candidates would move the country forward after the highly partisan vote. Three of the candidates—Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar—will serve as jurors in Trump's Senate trial. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer are also taking part in the PBS/Politico debate. Some highlights:
- Warren called Trump "the most corrupt president in living memory," while Klobuchar accused the president of starting a "global Watergate" with his actions in Ukraine, the Guardian reports. Trump is "dumbing down the presidency beyond what I even thought he would do," said Biden, who promised to "restore the integrity of the presidency.”
- Asked about America's strong economy, candidates stressed that things are far from ideal for many millions of Americans, the AP reports. "The middle class is getting killed," said Biden. "This economy is not working for most of us," Buttigieg said. Warren said the economy is working for the "wealthy and well connected but no one else."
- Warren, asked about economists who say her proposed new taxes would stifle the economy, was applauded when she said: "Oh, they're just wrong." Steyer agreed that billionaires like himself should pay more taxes, though he argued that the Democrats should nominate somebody with a record of building wealth, the Washington Post reports. Buttigieg called Warren's wealth tax proposal "extreme."
- On climate change, Steyer—who is getting a lot more speaking time than in previous debates—promised to declare an emergency on his first day office. After Steyer told Buttigieg he should " prioritize this higher," the South Bend, Indiana, said the issue was already hitting home for him. "I live right by the river," he said. "My neighborhood flooded."
- Warren, asked how she would close the Guantanamo Bay detention center—which costs more than $13 million per inmate per year to operate—called it an "embarrassment" and promised to close it, but did not explain how.
- Yang, asked about being the only candidate of color present, said he missed Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. "It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight. I miss Kamala, I miss Cory," he said, though he predicted that Booker will be back. When Sanders was asked about racial inequality, moderators had to ask him to return to the question about he tried to say more about climate change. He argued that the two issues are related.
- On China, Yang said he had family in Hong Kong and warned about Beijing's use of facial recognition technology. Steyer described China as a "frenemy," while Biden said: "We have to be firm. We don’t have to go to war," the Post reports.
- Sanders said it is important for the US to support Israel, "but we must be pro-Palestinian as well," CBS reports. In Israel right now, "we have leadership under Netanyahu who has recently ... been indicted for bribery, who, in my view, is a racist," he said.
- When the candidates were asked about Barack Obama's recent remarks about "old men" failing to "get out of the way," former VP Biden quipped that his former boss probably wasn't talking about him. The 78-year-old said he wasn't planning to commit to serving a single term.
- Another big line for Warren: When told that she would be the oldest president even inaugurated, she said: "I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated."
- In what may have been the night's most anticipated clash, Buttigieg and Warren tangled over campaign funding, with Warren targeting Buttigieg's high-dollar fundraisers, including a recent one in a California "wine cave." "I do not sell access to my time," she told Buttigieg, who accused her of issuing "purity tests" that she can't pass herself, reports the New York Times. "I have never even been to a wine cave. I have been to the wind cave in South Dakota," Klobuchar said.
- Sanders said Biden and Buttigieg were competing to see who could get donations from the most billionaires—and Biden is winning.
- Klobuchar also targeted Buttigieg, noting that he had lost a statewide race in Indiana by 20 points. "We should have someone at the top of the ticket who has actually won," the senator said. "Try building a coalition to win re-election with 80% of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana," the mayor countered.
- A tough question for Biden: He was asked about reports that the government was lying to the public for years about the "unwinnable" war in Afghanistan. He said that from the start, he was against the troop surge and had argued with Obama and Pentagon officials, the Guardian reports. Former senior Obama adviser David Axelrod confirmed in a tweet that Biden was telling the truth. Buttigieg said that when he left Afghanistan years ago, he thought he was "one of the last troops, turning out the lights."
- Sanders, asked about transgender rights, pivoted again and started talking about Medicare, the Times notes. Warren said that in the White House, she would read out the names of murdered transgender women so the nation can "confront a particular vulnerability."
- Biden raised his voice during a clash with Sanders over Medicare for All, which he called unrealistic. "Whoa guys, hey," Klobuchar interjected as the debate turned into a shouting match.
- The final question appeared to take the candidates by surprise: They were asked if there was somebody on stage they wanted to apologize to or give a gift to. Yang, the first candidate to answer, said "Wow" and paused before saying he wanted to give everybody a copy of his book. "I can give out any one of four books that I wrote," said Sanders. Warren said she would ask for forgiveness. "I get a little worked up," she said. Steyer said he wanted to give the gift of "teamwork."
- In closing statement, Sanders and Warren promised to tackle income inequality. Biden said he had the best chance of defeating Trump. "Who can help elect Democrats to the United States Senate in states like North Carolina and Georgia?" he asked. Steyer said he would "break the corporate stranglehold" and fight climate change.
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