Twelve Democrats running for their party's nomination for president returned to the debate stage for the fourth primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. The record-number of candidates on stage was the largest field in history, making for a sometimes unwieldy, if spirited debate. Hosted by CNN and the New York Times, the moderators of Tuesday's debate were CNN anchors Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and New York Times national editor, Marc Lacey.
In order to qualify for tonight's debate, candidates had to show at least 2% in four early states or national polls, as well as collect 130,000 unique donors. Seven other candidates who have declared their candidacies for president, failed to meet those requirements for tonight's debate and were excluded from the broadcast. The rules allowed each candidate 75 seconds to answer questions and 45 seconds for responses and rebuttals. Fifteen seconds were provided for clarifications as well.
Tonight's candidates on stage included:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
- California Sen. Kamala Harris
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
- Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke
- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
- Billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
Thanks to the dozen candidates on stage, opening statements were forgoed, with the moderators launching right into the first question of the night about the the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump by the House and whether Democrats party were being careful in moving forward. Sen. Elizabeth Warren had the first opportunity to speak, saying that she began running for president, not thinking her campaign would be all about impeaching the president. However, thanks to the Mueller report and the recent whistleblower report about a call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Warren was one of the first candidates to call for impeachment, something she mentioned while answering the question.
"Some times there are issues that are bigger than politics, and I think that's the case with this impeachment inquiry," Warren said.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to give their opinion on the impeachment inquiry with most of the candidates on stage calling for impeachment, all of whom listed off the various reasons they believed the president deserved to be removed from office.
Sen. Cory Booker struck a more cautious tone, saying that his duty as a senator was to act carefully as a member of the upper chamber and look at something like removing a president should be conducted. However, his counterpart on the West Coast, Sen. Kamala Harris said she would vote to remove Trump and he'll likely be impeached based on her "being observant."
"Because he has committed crimes in plain sight. I mean, it's shocking but he told us who he was," Harris said, referring to a quote from Maya Angelou that advised people to "listen to somebody when they tell you who they are the first time."
“Our framers imagined this moment,” Harris said. “A moment when we would have a corrupt president.”
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said she supported the impeachment inquiry, but added, "Calls for impeachment really began shortly after Trump won his election, and as unhappy as that may make us as Democrats, he won that election in 2016."
The moderators then turned to the elephant in the room - the reason why the impeachment inquiry came about. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked Biden about Trump's request of Ukraine's newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate the former Vice President's son, Hunter, whose business dealings with a Ukrainian gas company were part of Trump's charge Biden was corrupt.
Biden refused to take the bait.
“My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine,” Biden said.
"What I think is important is we focus on why it's so important to remove this man from office," he added.
Sanders was given the opportunity to speak after Biden, but he did not defend the former Vice President's actions or Hunter Biden's work with the Ukrainian gas company, using his time to refocus the conversation on how the middle class was suffering under Trump's administration.
The topic turned to healthcare, a major issue for Democrats in Ohio as candidates began to debate the merits and flaws of each other's plans, which ranged from Warren's call for Medicare-for-All, to a Single-Payer plan proposed by other candidates and Mayor Pete Buttigeig's 'Medicare-For-Those-Who-Want-It.'
The candidates saved most of their arguments fighting Warren's plan, who has proposed a 'Medicare-For-All' plan. However, her fellow Democrats on stage pressed the Massachusetts senator on how she plans to pay for it without a tax increase on America's middle-class.
"Let me be clear on this," Warren said. "I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle class families."
"A yes or no question that did not get a yes or no answer,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, adding this kind of conversation was one of the things that Americans watching the debate at home hate about politicians. "Your signature senator is to have a plan for everything: Except this."
Buttigieg pitched his own plan, calling it a 'Medicare-for-all-who-want-it' which Warren called 'Medicare-for-all-who-can-afford-it.'
"At least Bernie’s being honest here," Sen. Klobuchar said, pointing out that Americans deserved to know where the “invoice” from Warren's plan was going.
Sanders, on the other hand, said a 'Medicare-for-all' plan would require taxes to go up, adding that under his plan, costs would still go down as medical insurance premiums and co-pays would be eliminated.
The conversation turned to automation, jobs and the concept behind a Universal Basic Income, something candidate Andrew Yang has made a focus of his campaign. Several candidates pointed out that manufacturing, especially in Ohio, had fallen in recent years under the Trump administration, including several factories that had gone defunct in recent years.
Some of the oldest and youngest candidates for president in history were on stage in Ohio Tuesday and the question of their age came up for many including Sanders, who suffered a recent heart attack, Warren, who would be 74 by the time she assumed office (if she won) and Biden. Sanders first used some of his time to thank everyone for their well-wishes during his recent health issues.
"Let me take this moment if I might to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I'm so happy to be back here with you this evening."
The conversation turned to Syria, which has seen an invasion by Turkey in recent days, with the Democrats on stage criticizing Donald Trump for abandoning our allies after deciding to withdraw his troops from Syria. Former Vice President Biden blasted Trump for his decision to abadon allies who had been there for U.S. Troops since the first Iraq war.
"I would not have withdrawn the troops and would not have withdrawn the additional thousand troops who are in Iraq, which are in retreat now, being fired on by Assad's people and the president of the United States saying if those ISIS folks escape from the prisons they're in, they'll only go to Europe and it won't affect us," Biden said.
"I would want those thousand troops to be protected by air cover -- those thousand troops having to withdraw under fire -- make it clear they're not going anywhere and have them protected and work my way back toward what in fact needs to be done, protecting those Kurds. They lost their lives. This is shameful! Shameful what this man has done!"
Rep. Gabbard called out the media for smearing veterans, saying they had been championing the war in Syria.
"Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime-change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime-change war," Gabbard said.
Gabbard also went after her fellow candidate on-stage, Elizabeth Warren to join her in calling for an end to a regime-change war in Syria.
"I think we ought to get out of the Middle East," Warren said. "I don't think we should have troops in the Middle East, but we have to do it the right way, the smart way. What this president has done is that he has sucked up to dictators, he has made impulsive decisions that often his own team doesn't understand."
Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump had given ISIS fighters a "get our of jail free card."
Harris added to the condemnation to Trump's attacks on pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, saying that the president had created a 'crisis' and 'that dude's gotta go.'
"What Donald Trump has done because of that phone call with Erdogan is basically giving 10,000 ISIS fighters a get out of jail free card," Harris said." And you know who the winner is in this? There are four. Russia, Iran, Assad and ISIS," Harris said. "This is a crisis of Donald Trump's making and it is on a long list of crises of Donald Trump's making and that's why dude got to go. And when I am commander in chief, we will stop this madness."
However, the real fireworks on stage about Syria were saved for a confrontation between Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, both of whom had served overseas. Mayor Pete accused Gabbard of being 'dead wrong' about Syria.
"We’ve got to understand the reality of the situation there, which is that the slaughter of the Kurds being done by Turkey is yet another negative consequence of the regime change war we’ve been waging in Syria,” Gabbard replied. "Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011."
At one point, Senator Kamala Harris attempted to get Sen. Warren in calling for Twitter to shut down President Donald Trump's twitter account. However, Warren refused to take the bait saying she didn't just want to push Trump off Twitter, she wanted to "push him out of the White House. That's our job."
That didn't satisfy Harris, who asked again if Warren would joine her in "saying that his Twitter account should be shut down."
“No,” Warren replied.
“You can’t say you are for corporate responsibility if it doesn’t apply to everyone,” Harris replied.
The final question of the night concerned a recent photo taken of Ellen DeGeneres and former President George W. Bush at a football game last week. Ellen took heat from critics for having a 'friendly moment' with someone who had spent his career trying to set back LGBTQ rights. The candidates were asked about a friendship that people might find surprising.
"So in that spirit, we'd like you to tell us about a friendship that you've had that would surprise us and what impact it's had on you and your beliefs," Cooper asked the 12 candidates.
Julián Castro was given the first opportunity to answer, saying that some of the most interesting friendships he'd made had been with people different from him.
Castro talked about being kind to other people around you, yet holding them account for what they've done. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said she'd developed several surprising friendships, including her fellow Rep. Trey Gowdy.
"He and I disagree a lot, and very strongly, on a lot of political issues. We've developed a friendship that's based on respect, and he's been there for me during some personally challenging times," Gabbard said.
Each candidate told stories about working with their Republican colleagues. Klobachar recalled her memories of working with Arizona Senator John McCain.
"For me, it's John McCain, and I miss him every day...There is nothing more liberating in life than fighting for a cause larger than yourself. That's what we're doing right now."
Billionaire candidate Tom Steyer cited a woman he knew from Denmark, South Carolina, who was fighting for clean water and environmental justice in her community.
"She's a different gender. She's a different race. She's from a different part of the country, but she reminds me of my parents in terms of her courage and her optimism and her honor," Steyer said.
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke talked about a trip he'd taken with GOP Rep. Will Hurd after they drove from Texas to Washington D.C. during a snowstorm and how they livestreamed their conversation as they drove across the country.
"A Republican and Democrat finding out what we had in common. By the end of that trip not only had we formed a friendship, but we had formed trust," O'Rourke said.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang talked about an avid Trump supporter he'd met who had worked as a trucker and spent time in jail. "I'm happy to say that after our ride together, he actually said he would move from Donald Trump to my campaign, which was a thrill for me. And we remained in touch ever since."
California Senator Kamala Harris touted her friendship with her fellow Senator, Rand Paul, who once joined her on a bill to help end the money bail system. While the two of them 'agree on almost nothing' they agreed on that.
"After we joined forces he said to me, 'Kamala, you know, Appalachia love this.' And it really made the point that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us," Harris said of her partnership with Paul.
Mayor Pete Buttigeig cited the friendships he'd made while serving in the nation's military, saying that the people he served with were radically different from him. "Different generation, different race. Definitely, different politics. And we learned to trust each other with our lives."
Elizabeth Warren talked fondly about her relationship with former Solicitor General Charles Fried, a Republican who'd once helped her get a job, despite the fact the two of them didn't agree on much.
"I was far more liberal than he was. But he also was willing to listen to my work about what's happening to America's middle class. And Charles engaged with it over and over and is the person who made sure I got the job."
Former Vice President Joe Biden also spoke fondly about his time working with Senator John McCain, describing the Arizona senator as a honorable man and "a great man of principle."
Finally, Cory Booker spoke about working with a Republican governor during his time as Mayor of Newark, N.J., a largely very liberal city.
"He and I had to form a friendship, even though I could write a dissertation on our disagreements," Booker said.
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