Sanders Faces Onslaught in South Carolina Debate

7 candidates clashed in fiery debate
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2020 7:19 PM CST
Sanders Faces Onslaught in South Carolina Debate
Warren, Sanders, and Biden try to answer a question during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, SC.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Seven Democrats took part in a fiery debate in South Carolina on Tuesday night—one more than in last week's primary debate. Tom Steyer joined Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg in the Charleston debate, co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. Analysts expected Sanders, the frontrunner, to be a target, and in the opening minutes the senator was attacked by Bloomberg over reports that Russia plans interference to help his candidacy, by Biden over his record on guns, by Buttigieg for being divisive, and by Warren for his team "trashing" her after she "put in the work" on reining in Wall Street, Politico reports. "I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why," Sanders quipped. Some highlights:

  • After Bloomberg said Russia was supporting Sanders so he could lose to President Trump, Sanders directly addressed the Russian president. "Mr. Putin, if I’m president of the United States, trust me, you're not going to interfere in any more American elections," he said.

  • Biden was asked about polls that show his support among black voters is falling ahead of South Carolina's primary on Saturday, the Guardian reports. "I’ve worked like the devil to earn the vote of the African-American community," Biden said. Asked if he would continue his campaign if he loses the state, Biden said: "I will win South Carolina."
  • When addressing Bloomberg's "stop-and-frisk" policy as New York City mayor, Buttigieg admitted that his own record as mayor of South Bend had shortcomings and said: "I'm conscious of the fact that there are seven white people on this stage talking about racial justice."
  • Bloomberg was visibly angry after Warren said he once told a pregnant employee to "kill it." "I never said it. Period," he said. Warren also slammed Bloomberg for donating to Republican candidates. "Who funded Lindsey Graham’s campaign for re-election last time? It was Mayor Bloomberg," she said. "He is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage."
  • Klobuchar and Steyer both attacked the cost of Sanders' proposals, saying Democratic voters would not support massive spending increases, the Washington Post reports. "The math does not add up," Klobuchar said.
  • Biden criticized Steyer for investing in private prisons. When the billionaire said he no longer supported them, Biden gave him a Trump-style nickname: "Tommy come lately."
  • Asked about his record on gun control, Sanders was booed when he tried to start criticizing Biden's record on trade deals, the Guardian reports. Sanders admitted there were some "bad votes" on his record but stressed that he only had a D-plus record from the NRA.
  • Biden vowed to take on the NRA. "If I’m elected, NRA, I’m coming for you, and gun manufacturers, I’m going to take you on and I’m going to beat you," said Biden, who claimed, incorrectly, that gun violence has killed 150 million Americans since 2007.
  • Warren and Buttigieg both targeted Sanders for his opposition to changing Senate rules to stop legislation from being filibustered, the New York Times reports. "How are we going to support a revolution, if you don’t even support a rule change?" Buttigieg asked.
  • Steyer got some cheers when he said he was the only candidate onstage that supported reparations for slavery. The policy is one that he mentions "when he’s asked why he’s doing so well among black voters in South Carolina," FiveThirtyEight notes.
  • As the debate became increasingly bad-tempered, with candidates desperate for speaking time talking over each other, Buttigieg was asked to "honor the rules of the debate."
  • Bloomberg, seeming slightly more relaxed than in last week's debate, cracked a joke when asked about New York's anti-obesity tax on sugary drinks, CBS reports. "What's right for New York City isn't right for every other city, otherwise we'd have a naked cowboy in every city," he said.
  • Bloomberg said he supported decriminalizing marijuana because the "cat is out of the bag," but said legalization should go slowly because "until we know the science, it’s just nonsensical to push ahead."
  • On the coronavirus outbreak—which Bloomberg was the first candidate to bring up, more than an hour in—Biden stressed that he had been part of the administration that dealt with the Ebola outbreak. Klobuchar advised worried viewers to check the CDC's website.
  • When asked whether she would allow China to build parts of America's infrastructure, Warren pivoted to attacking Bloomberg. "We know that Mayor Bloomberg has been doing business with China for a long time, and he is the only one on this stage who has not released his taxes," she said.
  • Asked about his remarks on Fidel Castro's education policy, Sanders said he rejected authoritarianism and he had merely been making the same point Barack Obama did, the Times reports. Biden said his former boss "did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government."
  • Sanders, who would be the first Jewish president, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "reactionary racist" and said he would consider moving America's embassy back to Tel Aviv. US foreign policy should ensure the "independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people," he said.
  • The final question was a two-parter: Candidates were asked what the biggest misconception about them was, and what their motto is. Klobuchar said the biggest misconception about her is that she is boring. Warren said one misconception "is that I don’t eat very much because I eat all the time." Bloomberg joked about his height, while Biden promised to put a black woman on the Supreme Court.
(More Democratic debate stories.)

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