The sixth Democratic primary debate took place Thursday night and provided another opportunity for the candidates to clash on the issues and their approach to defeating President Donald Trump.
The debate, hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, featured a few fireworks as the presidential hopefuls on stage went after each other for their views on impeachment, campaign finance, race and more.
The debate predictably kicked off with a question about the impeachment of President Donald Trump, as the House of Representatives voted to approve two articles of impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
One by one the candidates spoke of a Constitutional duty to impeach Trump, tackling the issue as one of grave importance that outweighs opinion polls, which show Americans divided on impeachment.
Businessman Andrew Yang, however, made a break from the rest of the party and took the media to task when he scolded them for being too focused on impeaching Trump as opposed to the issues that speak to the American people. (RELATED: Andrew Yang Rips Into Media Over Impeachment Coverage)
“The media networks didn’t do us any favors by missing a reason why Donald Trump became our president in the first place,” Yang said during Thursday’s debate. “If you turn on cable network news today, you would think he’s our president because of some combination of Russia, racism, Facebook, Hillary Clinton and emails all mixed together.”
The candidates also took on a question that will likely work against them during a general election — the economy. As Trump resides over record low unemployment, surging stock markets, and rising wages, the Democrats will have to make the case as to why American workers should earn their vote. On Thursday night, the candidates argued that the economy is doing well for the wealthy but not for the middle class and the poor.
“I’m proud to stand on a stage with people who see that America’s middle class is being hollowed out and that working families and poor people are being left behind,” Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.
“The middle class is getting killed, the middle class is getting crushed,” former Vice President Joe Biden concurred.
Warren focused on her wealth tax as one potential solution for income inequality, and shrugged off concerns from top economists that it could slow the economy.
“They’re just wrong,” she declared, failing to explain why her models differed from theirs. Warren has repeatedly obfuscated some details from her costly plans — earlier in the cycle, she repeatedly refused to say if she would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for her Medicare-for-all plan.
Democratic South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Warren’s quiet feud over their campaign finance strategies boiled to the surface on Thursday night. Warren jabbed Buttigieg for hosting a fundraiser in a “wine cave” where billionaire guests were served $900 bottles of wine. (RELATED: Buttigieg Releases New Bundling Program, Offers Access To Advisors, Exclusive Briefings With Candidate)
Buttigieg immediately quipped back, “You know, according to Forbes magazine, I’m literally the only person on this stage who is not a millionaire or a billionaire. So–this is important, this is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”
He added, “Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine.”
Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar chimed in that she has never been to a wine cave.
The moment launched a fight amongst the candidates about whether or not it is proper to accept donations from the billionaire donor class, a new concern from some who are attempting to win by setting working class voters against the elite.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ history on race issues came back to haunt him when he was chided by a debate moderator for seemingly avoiding a question about people of color running for president. Sanders notoriously faced protests during the 2016 campaign over his alleged lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (RELATED: Black Lives Matter Storms In, Takes Over Bernie Sanders Event In Seattle)
PBS broadcast journalist Amna Nawaz asked Sanders why Yang was only one person of color on the debate stage, and he attempted to redirect the question to talk about climate change. (RELATED: Debate Moderator Redirects White Candidate)
“Senator, with all due respect, this question is about race,” Nawaz said to cheers from the audience.
Sanders attempted to salvage the moment by talking about climate change in terms of economic justice, a point repeated by several candidates on stage throughout the evening. They claimed that climate change disproportionately affects minorities in low-income areas and advocated for government-funded relocation of individuals who can no longer stay in their cities due to rising sea levels or wildfires.
Sanders stumbled again later, however, when he attempted to make a joke about being white that didn’t seem to land with the crowd.
“You are the oldest candidate on stage this evening,” Politico’s Tim Alberta pointed out to Sanders.
“And I’m white as well!” Sanders yelled in response, leading to an awkward pause.
Biden agreed to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of blue collar jobs in the oil and gas industry in an effort to fight climate change. He claimed that those individuals could transition to jobs in the renewable energy sector. (RELATED: Biden Says He’s Willing To Sacrifice Hundreds Of Thousands Of Blue-Collar Jobs In Oil And Gas)
“The answer is yes, because the opportunity, the opportunity for those workers to transition to high paying jobs, as Tom [Steyer] said, is real,” Biden said when asked if he would sacrifice jobs to fight climate change.
A similar promise became one of the biggest gaffes in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and caused her major problems in the Midwest and union country. The Trump campaign aggressively promoted Biden’s admission on social media and in PR emails, and it will likely come up repeatedly if Biden makes it to the general election.
The candidates all relatively agreed that China is guilty of human rights abuses and constitutes a threat to the U.S., but Biden was not asked about his past comments that downplayed the threat. He also managed to slip out of allegations from the Afghanistan Papers published by The New York Times, which accused the Obama administration of systematically lying about the war in Afghanistan to justify keeping troops on the ground. Biden insisted that he was always against the war and raised those concerns internally.
Warren attempted to show off her identity politics chops on the debate stage at one point, promising that if she is elected president, she will hold an annual event in the White House Rose Garden where she reads the names of transgender individuals who have been murdered. It was one of few moments in the debate when a candidate focused exclusively on social issues.
Biden and Sanders went to the mat over their respective health care plans, with Biden trashing Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan as too expensive, and Sanders’ painting Biden’s plan as ineffective.
The testy exchange started out when Sanders held his hand up as Biden spoke about his own health care plan.
“Put your hand down for a second, Bernie, okay?” Biden asserted.
Sanders played off the jab, joking that he was just “saying hello” to Biden, however the moment escalated into a full-on debate over the Democratic Party’s direction on the health care issue.
The party has been struggling with how far to go on health care — more moderate figures like Biden and Klobuchar argue that they should focus on reforming and adding on to the Affordable Care Act, while Sanders and Warren advocate for a single payer system.
The debate concluded with Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg appearing to be the frontrunners, with Klobuchar not trailing far behind. Yang performed well, taking refreshingly different stances on major issues from the other candidates. However, he still battled against the moderators giving him a small amount of speaking time.