With less than three weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, six Democratic White House hopefuls are debating at Drake University in Des Moines. Three of them—Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, will soon be serving as jurors in President Trump's impeachment trial. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer are also taking part in the CNN/Des Moines Register debate, which is the seventh Democratic primary debate. There will be three more next month. Some highlights:
- The first question was on Iran, the Guardian reports. Asked why he would be best suited to serve as commander-in-chief amid rising tensions, Sanders pointed to his vote against the Iraq war in 2002, when he warned it would lead to "unprecedented levels of chaos in the region." Biden, who voted to authorize military action, said that vote was a mistake but defended his record, saying: "The man who also argued against that war, Barack Obama, picked me to be his vice-president."
- Buttigieg—the youngest candidate on stage, and the only veteran—said his generation was the one suffering the consequences of the 2002 votes. "There are enlisted people I served with barely old enough to remember those votes," said Buttigieg, who will turn 38 next week.
- "We have to get combat troops out" of the region, said Warren, though others, including Biden and Buttigieg, called for keeping a small number of US troops in the Middle East, the AP reports. "We've turned the corner so many times we're going in circles in these regions," Warren said.
- Biden, asked whether he would meet North Korea without preconditions, said "No" and criticized Trump's handling of dictator Kim Jong Un, CBS reports. "We gave him everything he's looking for: legitimacy," Biden said. After the former vice president noted that Kim had once called him a "rabid dog" that should be beaten with a stick, Sanders quipped: "But other than that, you like him?"
- Warren defended her vote in favor of the US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, while Sanders argued against the "Trump-led trade deal" and vowed to vote against any trade deal that did not address climate change.
- Sanders denied telling Warren in 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency. "Anybody who knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States," he said. "Go to YouTube today. There's a video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States."
- Warren sought to defuse the conflict, saying "Bernie is my friend and I’m not here to fight with Bernie," the New York Times reports. She added: "The only people on the stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women: Amy and me. And the only person who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me." Sanders told her he defeated a GOP incumbent in 1990, leading to a brief back-and-forth over whether her "30 years" remark was accurate.
- On health care, there was a split between those who support Medicare for All and those content with expanding ObamaCare, reports the Guardian. Biden and Klobuchar accused Sanders of not being candid about the costs of Medicare for All. "I think you should show how you’re going to pay for something, Bernie," Klobuchar said. She argued that the idea of Medicare for All is so impractical that the "debate isn’t real."
- Steyer, who has had the least speaking time of any candidate, argued that health care costs are so high in America because corporations "own the system." "We're not negotiating against those corporations," he said. "We have corporations who are having their way with the American people and people are suffering."
- Sanders argued that college tuition should be free and student debt should be canceled, while Buttigieg and Steyer—a billionaire—said the children of the wealthy should not be going to college for free.
- On impeachment, Biden said it is "irrelevant" whether Trump would be harder to beat if he is acquitted in a Senate trial. Warren, asked how serving as a juror in Trump's trial would affect her ability to campaign, said: "Some things are more important than politics."
- Sanders called climate change a "national crisis" and rejected Klobuchar's claim that the candidates all had similar plans. "If we as a nation do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, not by 2050, not 2040," he said. “But unless we lead the world right now—not easy stuff—the planet we are leaving our kids will be uninhabitable and unhealthy." Steyer said he would declare an emergency on his first day in office.
- Buttigieg, asked about his lack of support among black voters, admitted that he wasn't "perfect" on all the issues but said "the black voters that know me best are supporting me." He added: "The biggest mistake we can make is take black votes for granted. I never will."
- In closing statements, Klobuchar said she could bring the country together and "end the noise and the nonsense." Warren said she had a "heart filled with hope," while Biden said another four years of Trump would be an "absolute disaster" for America. "This is the moment when we have got to think big, not small," said Sanders. Steyer accused Trump and other Republicans of "kicking the American people in the face," and Buttigieg described himself as a unity candidate and urged people who are used to "voting for the other party but right now cannot look your kids in the eye and explain this president to them" to join him, CNN reports.
- Warren appeared to reject a handshake from Sanders after the end of the debate, leading to a brief exchange.
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