The top six Democratic presidential candidates met in Las Vegas for the ninth Democratic Party primary debate Wednesday. It was the first time billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg qualified to make the stage, and his competitors clearly came compared to deal with him.
The candidates were Bloomberg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The ninth debate, put on by NBC and MSNBC, was far more combative than past debates, with moderators allowing candidates to go back and forth freely with their arguments.
This was also the first debate since Warren and Biden’s crash in the polls. Sanders mounted the stage as the firm frontrunner for the first time, followed by Buttigieg and Bloomberg, who invested tens of millions in online ads to near-instantaneously shoot him up in the polls.
The moderators for the debate were anchor Lester Holt, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Hallie Jackson, Noticias Telemundo senior correspondent Vanessa Hauc, and Jon Ralston of The Nevada Independent.
Bloomberg Is Unwelcome:
The opening moments of the debate showed just how frustrated the veteran candidates were with Bloomberg’s sudden rise. Every candidate on the debate stage devoted their first turn at the mic to attacking Bloomberg in some form or another.
Sanders took the opportunity to criticize Bloomberg’s past support for stop-and-frisk, a policing policy that has widely been derided as racist among Democrats.
Bloomberg replied by arguing that Sanders was radical and unelectable. (RELATED: Klobuchar Says Nominating A Woman Could End Sexism On The Internet)
“I don’t think there’s any chance Sanders can win,” he said.
The moderators’ more lax rules for debate then came into play for the first time when Warren interjected to highlight that Bloomberg is alleged to have described female employees as “fat broads and horse-faced lesbians.”
Bloomberg was not given a chance to respond before Klobuchar opened up. She highlighted a message the Bloomberg campaign had sent out earlier in the day saying other candidates needed to drop out lest Sanders gain an insurmountable delegate lead.
Klobuchar implied the message was sexist, saying “I’ve been told many times to wait my turn and step aside. I’m not doing it.”
Later on in the debate, moderators forced Bloomberg to engage with accusations of sexism in his companies.
“I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement exposed,” he replied, going on to mention that he employed many women.
Moderators then turned to Warren, and she characterized his response as Bloomberg saying “I’ve been nice to some women.”
In one of the highlights of the debate, Warren took Bloomberg to task for the various non-disclosure agreements Bloomberg’s female employees have signed after accusing the company of sexism and called for him to release them from the agreements. The crowd ate up her criticism, launching into applause at each statement she made.
Biden then joined in on the attack, doubling down on Warren’s call for Bloomberg to release the women from their NDAs.
“All the mayor has to say is ‘you are released from the non-disclosure agreements,'” Biden said to mass applause. “You think women in fact were ready to say ‘I don’t want anyone to know about what you did to me.’ That’s not how it works.”
The crowd remained heavily against Bloomberg during the exchange, booing his excuse that the NDAs were made “consensually” with the employees.
Do Democrats Support Capitalism?
Moderators questioned Sanders on his past statements that billionaires should not exist, especially in the context of Bloomberg’s presence on the stage.
Sanders argued that Bloomberg held more wealth than millions of Americans combined, and that it is “grotesque” and “immoral.”
“Have you earned too much? Did you earn that much money?” moderators asked.
Bloomberg replied that he had and that he had worked very hard for it, and the audience applauded. Bloomberg argued that throwing out capitalism was giving Trump a free ticket to a second term. (RELATED: The Harsh Reality Behind Woke Capitalism)
“We know what throwing out capitalism does. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism and it just didn’t work,” Bloomberg said as Sanders protested.
Sanders argued calling his program communism was “a cheap shot” and that he only supported democratic socialism.
Holt then questioned him on American voters’ distaste for socialism in polls, to which Sanders cited his solid lead in national polling among Democrats.
“The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?” Bloomberg replied before he and Sanders entered into a heated exchange about wealth.
Sanders was repeatedly attacked for lacking support from Nevada’s Culinary Union, which notably sent out a flyer telling its 60,000 members that Sanders’ health care plan would destroy their current coverage, which was negotiated by union leadership.
“I will never sign a bill that will reduce the health care benefits they get. We will only expand it,” Sanders argued. (RELATED: Buttigieg Argues There Was ‘No Evidence’ Killing Soleimani Made Americans Safer)
Candidates then used the Culinary Union issue to transfer into a more general health care battle, with Warren targeting Buttigieg and Klobuchar.
Klobuchar went straight for the jugular of Sanders and Warren’s Medicare-for-All plans, arguing that two-thirds of Democratic senators weren’t on board with the idea.
“Don’t put your money on a plan that isn’t even on the wheel,” Klobuchar said, riffing on the Las Vegas debate location.
Biden then cut in, arguing “I’m the only one who’s got anything done on health care.”
Bloomberg was late in coming to the health care debate, but he wasn’t soft with his comments.
His policies mirrored that of Buttigieg’s Medicare-For-All-Who-Want-It plan, and when Biden attempted to interject, Bloomberg replied with a stern “bup bup, let me finish,” and Biden was immediately shut down.
Bernie Sanders’ ‘Bullying’ Supporters:
Buttigieg and Warren then took the fight to Sanders, accusing his supporters of “bullying” online.
Sanders argued that “99 percent” of his supporters online were perfectly polite, and that the “bullying” faction of his supporters was no bigger than those of his opponents.
Buttigieg disagreed, however.
“Leadership is about what you draw out of people,” Buttigieg said. “Leadership is about how you motivate other people to treat other people, and I think at some point you need to ask yourself why your supporters are bullying.”
Buttigieg then highlighted the fact that Bloomberg and Sanders are leading the polls despite being the most polarizing candidates on the stage.
“We shouldn’t have to pick between someone who thinks capitalism is the root of all evil and a man who thinks money ought to be the root of all power. Let’s put forward someone who’s actually a Democrat,” he said to wide applause and mixed booing.
When moderators turned to the topic of climate change, candidates largely mirrored their previous statements on the issue. Bloomberg, however, was given his first chance to talk about the issue on a debate stage. (RELATED: Bloomberg Uses Joe Biden’s Past Statements Against Him In Brutal New Ad)
Bloomberg said he would, on his first day as president, rejoin the Paris Agreement, going on to argue that the need for international cooperation is why he has been sympathetic to China.
He went on to argue that fracking was a “transition fuel” that the US would need to maintain before transferring to a totally green economy. He created a distinction between “dangerous” fracking that let methane into the air and “safer” fracking which did not.
Buttigieg’s reply implied there was no time for transitional fuels, and he argued that “the deadline is 2020” for dealing with climate change.
Democratic National Convention:
Moderators finished the night off by getting each candidate on the record saying whether the candidate with the highest number of delegates after the first round of voting at the Democratic National Convention should take the nomination, whoever it may be.
Sanders, who leads the pack, was the only candidate to answer in the affirmative. The rest replied that the party’s process should be allowed to run its course.
If no candidate obtains a majority in the first round of voting, superdelegate voters not pledged to any candidate would be allowed to weigh in. These were the voters many Sanders supporters blamed for stealing the party’s presidential nomination from him in 2016.
Moderators then gave candidates the chance to give their closing statements.
Protesters yelled over Biden’s closing statement, but the rest of the crowd shouted them down and they were escorted out.