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Debate Recap: After Impeachment and Infighting, Night Ends on a Question About Forgiveness
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=52651"><span class="small">NPR</span></a>   
Friday, 20 December 2019 09:24

Excerpt: "A smaller debate stage gave almost every candidate more time to shine, but it was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who made the most of it."

The Democratic presidential primary debate found seven front-runners facing off in Los Angeles, California. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
The Democratic presidential primary debate found seven front-runners facing off in Los Angeles, California. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty)

Debate Recap: After Impeachment and Infighting, Night Ends on a Question About Forgiveness


20 December 19


smaller debate stage gave almost every candidate more time to shine, but it was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who made the most of it. 

The two were virtually tied among speaking times, and that’s especially noteworthy as Klobuchar — who has seen a surge since a strong debate performance last month — is looking to make an impressive showing in Iowa. She was the only lower-polling candidate able to break into the top tier in speaking time.

Not far behind those two were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who each had just over 19 minutes of speaking time. The two had the biggest clash of the night, over fundraising and transparency. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden lagged slightly behind at 15 minutes, 14 seconds. The two lowest-polling candidates onstage, billionaire Tom Steyer and nonprofit executive Andrew Yang, had the shortest speaking times. 

Warren: America Could Unite Over Breaking Up Big Tech

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in her closing remarks, amplified one of the central planks of her platform for president: America’s largest tech companies need to be regulated.

Warren, who has pushed for the breakup of some of the biggest tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook, said the issue can unite a partisan country.

Need evidence? Take her three brothers, who she says are all upset that Internet giant Amazon largely avoids corporate taxes.

“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,” Warren said.

“They are furious that Amazon reported $10 billion in profits and paid zero in taxes. My brothers are part of why America is ready to root out corruption and fight back,” she added.

On the campaign trail, Warren has been intensifying her calls to break up the tech giants.

Taking direct aim at the tech sector has not gone without notice from some of tech’s most influential leaders.

In leaked comments, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has called the specter of a Warren presidency an “existential” threat. He said the company would go to the mat to fight back, likely launching a legal challenge. “And I would bet that we will win the legal challenge,” Zuckerberg said in the recording. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders has also made taking square aim at technology companies a part of his platform. And at Thursday’s debate, he mentioned Amazon in a remark about how big spending in elections is tantamount to a corporate takeover of American politics.

"This is why three people own more wealth than the bottom half of Americans. This is why Amazon pays zero in federal taxes. We need to get money out of politics. We should run our campaigns on that basis,” Sanders said. 

Pragmatism Versus Purity Highlighted In Health Care Debate

Well, it took until 10:06 p.m. ET to get to health care, but it was clear it’s still the most well-defined dividing line in this primary. And the line is pragmatism versus purity. 

The moderator’s question was a good one and was directed to Sen. Bernie Sanders on what lesser items on health care he might support if his bold “Medicare for All” plan doesn’t pass, which is unlikely given the makeup of Congress and how difficult it was to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders didn’t have an answer on any lesser measures he’d support and instead contended, “We’re going to have the American people behind us; we will have the Congress behind us.” 

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he didn’t think that was “realistic.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another pragmatist onstage, teamed up on Sanders. She told him that his fight was with moderate freshmen Democratic House members and Democratic governors in conservative states. “If you want to cross a river over troubled water,” she said, “you build a bridge. You don’t blow one up.”

And where was Sen. Elizabeth Warren in all this? Taking notes. When she finally spoke, she answered the original question and ticked off smaller items she felt she could get done in her first 100 days. “We have to start moving and start moving fast,” she said. “We can do that on 50 votes.”

Watch if this becomes a new tactic from Warren in an effort to make herself look more practical and not go out on the plank that has been Medicare for All for her. After all, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that improving Obamacare and making fixes to it, including a public option, has majority support overall. Medicare for All as a replacement for private health insurance, however, has just 37% support from independents.

'Tis the Season ... Or Something Like That

As the debate clock wound down, the candidates got something of a holiday-themed closing question when moderator Judy Woodruff of PBS asked them to identify something they would ask for forgiveness for from a fellow candidate, or a gift that they would give to someone they shared the stage with.

Spoiler alert: Many candidates didn’t quite answer the question as asked. 

Andrew Yang joked that he’d love to gift each candidate a copy of his book about the impact of automation on workers, noting that fellow candidate Elizabeth Warren had already started reading it. 

Pete Buttigieg followed up by joking that perhaps he should circulate his book more. But he said that each candidate onstage knows “what a gift it would be to the future and the country for literally anybody up here to be president of the United States,” compared with President Trump, and he called on the candidates — past or present — to rally around the Democrats’ eventual nominee. 

Warren was the first to ask forgiveness, saying that sometimes she gets “really worked up” by the stories she hears in her long selfie lines at campaign events from voters who are suffering. 

Joe Biden said that he believes every candidate onstage is looking for the same thing, and he talked about the calls that he and his wife, Jill Biden, have with people whom they meet on the road who are looking for comfort and to talk about the issues facing them — issues he wants to eradicate as president.

Bernie Sanders said that the gift that all candidates could give the American people is a “very, very different vision of reality than the Trump administration” and that it’s incumbent on them to create a government and “a nation based on love and compassion, not greed and hatred.”

Amy Klobuchar said that she’d ask for forgiveness any time any of her fellow candidates got mad at her but added that she is blunt because she thinks it’s crucial that Democrats pick the right candidate. She said she thinks the biggest gift the party could give Democrats this year is to remember that “we have to bring people with us and not shut them out.”

Tom Steyer said that he heard every single candidate onstage address the “cruelty” that they’ve seen from the Trump administration. He said the gift he hopes to give everyone onstage is “the gift of teamwork” that will be required to defeat Trump in a general election.

Free College, Student-Loan Relief Popular With Democrats, Less So With General Electorate

The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll looked at a series of issues that Democrats are putting forward. College affordability is a major topic. 

One solution put forward is free tuition at public colleges and universities. Three-quarters of Democrats are for it, but only 46% of independents are. 

It’s a similar but slightly better story with forgiving student-loan debt for lower-income people — 84% of Democrats are in favor of it, and 54% of independents are.

Buttigieg And Klobuchar Spar Over Whose Experience Matters Most

Pete Buttigieg is being forced to defend his governing experience as mayor of South Bend, Ind., from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who suggested that he does not have what it takes to be president.

Buttigieg, who leads a city of some 100,000 people, claimed that he built a broad-based coalition to win the mayoral office, which he has held since 2012.

Klobuchar, who has represented Minnesota in the Senate since 2007, was incredulous.

“While you can dismiss committee hearings, I think this experience works,” Klobuchar said. “And I have not denigrated your experience as a local official,” she said. “You should respect our experience when you look at how to evaluate someone who can get things done.”

Buttigieg shot back: “You actually did denigrate my experience.”

Klobuchar’s broadside was the latest in a series of attacks she has launched against Buttigieg, arguing that being the mayor of a midsize city does not prepare someone for the White House.

“Senator, I know that if you just go by vote totals, maybe what goes on my city seems small to you,” Buttigieg said. “If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80% of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.”

Not good enough, said Klobuchar. 

“We should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and been able to show that they can gather the support that you talk about of moderate Republicans and independents, as well as the fired-up Democratic base.” 

‘I’m The Guy’: Biden’s Afghanistan Defense

Former Vice President Joe Biden defended his role in the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. He argued that he fought with the Defense Department over the conflict and that he opposed the surge in troops to the country.

“I argued against it constantly,” Biden said. “I’m the guy.”

The conflict has gone on for nearly two decades. It’s facing increased scrutiny after the Washington Post released government documents and unpublished notes that showed that U.S. officials misled the public about what was happening on the ground.

Andrew Yang: ‘We Have To Stop Confusing Economic Value And Human Value’

During tonight’s debate, Andrew Yang went on an extended — yet somewhat familiar — riff. He was responding to a question about a voter whom moderator Tim Alberta of Politico met in Iowa who said he was concerned about the resources available to his son, who lives with “significant disabilities,” according to Alberta.

It’s a topic that Yang talks about frequently. He has openly talked about his son Christopher, who is autistic. And he recently held an event in Iowa where he took questions from autistic adults, as well as from families raising autistic children.

On the debate stage tonight, Yang said that the country must do more for people like Kyle, the son of the man whom Alberta mentioned, and that “special needs children are going to become special needs adults.”

Later, Yang added that “we have to stop confusing economic value and human value” and that kids like Kyle need to be told that “you have intrinsic value because you’re an American and you’re a human being.”

He also drew a link to the Freedom Dividend that he has championed, which is a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status. He said that the Freedom Dividend would “take this burden off the communities and the schools who do not have the resources to support kids like my son.”

Candidates Pressed On Judicial Appointments 

One of President Trump’s biggest legacies will be the stamp he has put on the federal judiciary. He recently passed the milestone of having appointed a quarter of appeals court judges. 

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed out that she aggressively questioned Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s controversial but successful Supreme Court nominee, during his confirmation last year — and that he then apologized to her

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, said, "The Supreme Court is a very important issue to me because my marriage rested on a vote from that single body.” 

Candidates Continue Wrestling With Reparations (Or Dodging The Question)

Moderators asked candidates whether they supported reparations to African Americans. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he supports HR 40, a bill in Congress that would create a commission to study reparations. 

When asked about reparations, former Vice President Joe Biden pivoted to talking about immigration.

The issue of reparations has come up repeatedly in the Democratic primary fight. As NPR reported in March, candidates at times took a loose definition of reparations. Some sold their anti-poverty or redistributive policies — which, given America’s racially unequal levels of wealth and income, would disproportionately benefit African Americans — as a form of reparations.

However, reparations are not just about economics but also about reconciliation, as one expert told NPR at the time.

Reparations poll poorly among Americans. According to an October AP/NORC poll, 29% of Americans said they supported cash reparations to descendants of slaves. 

However, support varies widely by race and ethnicity: 15% of white people support reparations, according to that poll, compared with 44% of Hispanics and 74% of African Americans.

Being A Woman Is Seen As Best Candidate Quality

The Democrats onstage spent a good amount of time debating why women don’t have more representation in elected office despite being a majority of the electorate for several cycles. 

But, interestingly, when NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist polled about candidate qualities this year, being a woman was seen as the best quality — 71% of registered voters said they would be enthusiastic about voting for a woman, as did 83% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

The qualities that Democrats said they’d be least enthusiastic about voting for: being a business executive or someone older than 70. The three leading candidates for the nomination are all 70 or older, and only one of them — Sen. Elizabeth Warren — is a woman.

Billionaires And Wine Caves Punctuate Buttigieg, Warren Dust-Up

There has been a back and forth going on between South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently over transparency and access, and it spilled into the open in Thursday’s debate in one of the tensest exchanges yet between the two. 

Warren, who’s known for taking selfies with supporters and is focused on raising money from small donors, attacked Buttigieg for holding a closed-door, high-dollar fundraising event with “billionaires in wine caves,” referring to a recent lavish event in California.

Buttigieg, however, punched back, saying that he is the least wealthy candidate onstage and that Warren shouldn’t issue “purity tests you yourself cannot pass.” 

“Your net worth is 100 times mine,” the South Bend mayor said. 

Warren Turns Age Question Into Applause Line: ‘I’d Also Be The Youngest Woman Ever Inaugurated’

Moderator Tim Alberta, of Politico, asked a question about age, noting that three candidates onstage would be the oldest president ever inaugurated.

When the question came to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the 70-year-old quipped back: “I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.”

The clapback remark prompted a burst of applause from the audience. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders is the oldest Democratic candidate, at 78 years old. Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, is the second oldest. 

By comparison, President Trump is 73 years old. 

Biden Won't Commit To Running For A 2nd Term If Elected

If elected next year, former Vice President Joe Biden would be 82 at the end of his first term. There have been reports that he may run for only a single term

During tonight’s debate, Biden wouldn’t commit to running for a second term if elected. 

“I’m not even elected one term yet,” he said. “Let’s see where we are — let’s see what happens.” 

While Biden would indeed be the oldest president ever to serve at that age, he did jokingly retort that it wouldn’t be older than legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. 

Differing Sympathies Toward Israelis And Palestinians

There was bigger applause from the debate audience for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders when he spoke of the need to support Palestinians than when he spoke favorably of Israel. Perhaps that’s not surprising — Democrats are far less likely to express support for Israel than Republicans are. 

Gallup found this year that 43% of Democrats said they sympathized more with Israelis over Palestinians in the Middle East conflict, versus 76% of Republicans who said so. The Democratic support for Israel is relatively unchanged from 2001, but it’s a 17-point increase for Republicans.

Liberal Democrats’ favorable ratings toward the Palestinian Authority has increased 15 points since 2001, from 21% favorable to 36% favorable. Meanwhile, conservative Republicans have just a 10% favorable rating of the Palestinian Authority, about where it was almost 20 years ago at 13%.

Halfway Through, Klobuchar Has Spoken The Most Among The 7 Candidates 

After the first hour, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is winning in terms of debate time.

According to an NPR analysis, Klobuchar has clocked the most talking time so far, with about 8 minutes and 33 seconds.

She’s followed by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with 7 minutes and 43 seconds.

Just behind Buttigieg in speaking time is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has spoken for 7 minutes and 13 seconds.

Andrew Yang has gotten the least airtime — 5 minutes and 27 seconds. 

Candidates Debate Relationship With China

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer offered different views on how they would address China’s role if there’s a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Buttigieg said he would make sure that China was “isolated from the free world” if it violently put down the protests, which have been going on for more than six months.

Steyer, on the other hand, said that isolating China from the rest of the world isn’t possible.

“We have to work with them as a friend,” Steyer said, adding that climate change will require that the U.S. partner with China.

Moderator Pushes Sanders On Diversity

One of the tenser moments thus far occurred when Sen. Bernie Sanders attempted to pivot from what moderators asked him to a different topic. 

Moderators first asked Andrew Yang about diversity, with regard to the fact that he is the only nonwhite candidate onstage tonight.

When they posed the question to Sanders, he swung the discussion back to climate change, an issue that had been discussed earlier.

Moderator Amna Nawaz interrupted him: "Senator, with all due respect, this question is about race," and asked him to answer that question.

Sanders then connected climate to diversity by talking about environmental justice, saying that climate change stands to affect racial and ethnic minorities more heavily than whites. And there is evidence for this: For example, a 2018 Environmental Protection Agency study found that “non-Whites tend to be burdened disproportionately to Whites” when it comes to certain types of air pollution.

The unequal effects of climate change are addressed explicitly in the Green New Deal, which all the candidates on the stage have said they support.

In Pushing Her Climate Plan, Klobuchar Mentions Deadly Fire In Paradise

In promoting her plan to address climate change, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., talked about the fires in Paradise, Calif., which burned some 150,000 acres and destroyed tens of thousands of structures and homes. 

The community in Northern California is still struggling. Just 11 of the 11,000 homes destroyed have been rebuilt.

Here’s the story of one family who stayed. 

For another look at the devastating effects that climate change is having on American cities, NPR’s Rebecca Hersher and Ryan Kellman spent a year visiting Ellicott City, Md., which has faced an existential threat from flash flooding. 

#DemsSoWhite: Yang Criticizes Lack Of Diversity 

As NPR’s Asma Khalid wrote this month, this December debate has come under scrutiny for its lack of diversity onstage — even amid the most diverse Democratic candidate field in history. California Sen. Kamala Harris had qualified, but she dropped out. And the debate would have been entirely white if Andrew Yang had not qualified just days before the Democratic National Committee’s deadline

"It's both an honor and a disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on this stage," Yang said. 

"I miss Kamala; I miss Cory, though I think Cory will be back,” he added, referring to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. (Booker didn’t qualify for this debate.)

Yang also tied the relative lack of diversity to a lack of economic opportunity, which he aims to reverse with his signature proposal — a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 per month to help achieve a universal basic income. He pointed out that a very small percentage of people of color even donate to political candidates, and that’s because they don’t have disposable income, which his plan aims to change. 

No Attacks On Each Other — So Far

The candidates haven’t had any attacks or squabbles with each other, and we’re almost an hour into the debate. Ironically, former Vice President Joe Biden, the candidate who has pushed for bipartisanship, seemed to be baiting the other candidates into a debate over how partisan their governing style should be. He said “some on this stage” would rather not even try to work with Republicans. And he had a good moment, noting that with his leadership and family under attack from Republicans, he certainly has incentive to not want to work with them.

No one took the bait, but pugilism versus pragmatism is arguably an even sharper divide in this primary than moderate versus progressive.

Biden, Steyer Talk Clean Energy Jobs

Businessman Tom Steyer, who has made climate change a focus of his campaign, says focusing on clean energy development could be a major driver of economic growth. 

“We can do it in a way that … creates millions of union jobs, and we come at it from the standpoint of environmental justice. This is our greatest opportunity to reinvent this country,” Steyer said.

Earlier, former Vice President Joe Biden said he would be willing to displace some blue-collar jobs to help address climate change.

“The opportunity is for those workers to transition to higher-paying jobs,” Biden said.

The push for “green jobs” was a major initiative during the Obama administration. Investments in wind and solar energy did increase, but there was also intense pushback from Republicans who accused the administration of a “war on coal.”

Warren's Brand Of Economic Populism Comes After An Evolution 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren touched on populist refrains common to her campaign.

Her approach, however, is part of an evolution. In fact, Warren, who is now 70, was a Republican for years. As NPR’s Asma Khalid reported, former law school colleagues remember Warren as “consistently pro-business,” sounding almost Reagan-esque.

But then after reviewing individual bankruptcy cases around the U.S., she realized that some of the struggling families were not unlike hers from her own upbringing in Oklahoma.

Then, later, “Warren's work on [a] bankruptcy commission made her more of a partisan — it became clear to her that Republicans in Congress were not her ally, nor were all of the Democrats,” Khalid reported. 

Climate Change And Relocation

Climate and environmental concerns haven’t been front and center in previous debates, but the stage is in California this time — a state heavily impacted by wildfires and other disasters.

You can check out NPR’s climate change tracker to see where each candidate stands on the issues, including the Green New Deal and a carbon tax. 

Moderator Tim Alberta of Politico pressed the candidates on whether they would support a federal relocation program for those affected by disasters, and the first candidates who were asked wouldn’t commit, though Andrew Yang did later say it needed to be done. They did each emphasize the importance of paying attention to the global issue. 

‘They’re Just Wrong’: Warren Defends A Wealth Tax 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a very quick retort when asked what she’d say to detractors of her wealth tax proposal and whether it would hurt the economy: “Oh, they're just wrong.” 

NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben has an explainer with all you need to know about Warren’s plan. Warren recently increased the size of her proposed wealth tax from 3% to 6%, which would in turn finance her “Medicare for All” proposal. 

Democrats And Trade

Trade has divided the Democratic candidates. See how their views differ — from the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to tariffs — in our issue tracker from NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben here

Candidates Respond To USMCA

Moderators asked candidates to talk about how they feel about the newly updated NAFTA, known as the USMCA, which received bipartisan support in the House. 

Only two candidates were asked about the trade agreement directly: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Sanders characterized the deal as only a “modest improvement” on NAFTA and said he wouldn’t support it, in part because it doesn’t deal with climate change.

Klobuchar said she supports the deal and invoked her Senate colleague Sherrod Brown’s support for the agreement. This is the first trade deal that the Ohio Democrat will ever have supported in his Senate career. He explained that support to NPR this week while also acknowledging that it wouldn’t lead to massive changes in U.S. job numbers:

“I think what this agreement does is it makes companies less likely to move. So we're not going to see huge numbers come back ... but we are going to begin to stop the flow of jobs going out,” he said.

NPR’s Scott Horsley characterized some of the changes Democrats won in the USMCA negotiations: “Democrats endorsed the trade deal after winning stronger enforcement of labor and environmental provisions and stripping a measure that would have locked in long-term patent protection for certain pharmaceutical products,” he wrote.

Americans Are What They Watch

Andrew Yang noted that there’s such a split among Americans on views of impeachment and they can’t agree on basic facts — even when they read the same words — because of where they get their news from. And there is lots of evidence for that.

As we noted this morning, in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last month that showed 53% of Americans approving of the House impeachment inquiry, just 30% of Fox News viewers approved it, compared with 72% of MSNBC or CNN viewers. 

Impeachment Is 1st Debate Question 

All seven candidates onstage were asked right off the bat about Wednesday evening’s House vote to impeach President Trump — and how they would convince more voters to back removing the president. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden called removing Trump a “constitutional necessity” and necessary to “restore integrity” to the Oval Office. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said that Trump is a “pathological liar” and that he believes he can appeal to conservatives too “that we cannot have a president with a temperament that is dishonoring the United States.” 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Trump had dishonored the very pledge he made when he first ran for president — to “drain the swamp.” She argued that she can make the “sharpest distinction between the corruption of the Trump administration” and who can fight for everyone, “not just the wealthy and well-connected.” 

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the Ukraine affair that predicated the impeachment vote a “global Watergate” and said it was much worse than the scandal that drove President Richard Nixon to resign. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the decision should be made “beyond public opinion and polls.” 

Billionaire Tom Steyer pointed out that he had long been pushing to impeach Trump with his “Need to Impeach” group. 

And nonprofit executive Andrew Yang blamed polarization among the media and people not believing basic facts, and he emphasized that the concern over job losses and manufacturing that propelled Trump to crucial wins in the Rust Belt, especially, shouldn’t be overlooked. your social media marketing partner
Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2019 09:40