Ten Democratic candidates appeared on stage in Atlanta, Georgia, for the fifth Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday evening.
Wednesday’s debate, a year out to the month from the 2020 presidential election, was the first since the start of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. It also comes as, somehow, the pool of Democratic candidates appears to still be expanding, though no new faces made it onstage this time.
At the debate was former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Here are six highlights from Wednesday’s debate.
1. Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard go head-to-head over Gabbard’s record
Gabbard was asked by a moderator what she saw as the “rot” in the Democratic party — a term she has used to describe Hillary Clinton.
“Our Democratic party is unfortunately not the party of, by, and for the people. It is a party that has been and continues to be influenced by the foreign-policy establishment represented by Hillary Clinton, the military-industrial complex and other greedy interests,” Gabbard said. “I’m running for president to be the Democratic nominee that rebuilds our Democratic party, takes it out of their hands, and truly puts it in the hands of the people of this country.”
When asked if she had a response, Harris tore into Gabbard’s record — including her apparent ties to Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad — and called into question whether she’s actually a good faith member of the Democratic party.
“It’s unfortunate that we have someone on this stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for the United States who, during the Obama administration, spent four years, full time, on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said.
“That’s ridiculous, Senator Harris,” Gabbard interjected.
“Who has spent, full time, criticizing people on this stage as affiliated with the Democratic party,” Harris continued, “when Donald Trump was elected, not even sworn in, buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in the Trump Tower; fails to call a war criminal by what he is as a war criminal; and then spends full time during the course of this campaign, again, criticizing the Democratic party.”
“What Senator Harris is doing is unfortunately continuing to traffic in smears and lies and innuendos because she cannot challenge the substance of the argument that I’m making, the leadership and the change I am seeking to bring in our foreign policy,” Gabbard shot back.
2. Joe Biden’s poor word choice about violence against women
When Biden was asked how he planned to address the issues raised by the #MeToo movement, he said it came down to “fundamentally [changing] the culture of how women are treated.” But his response elicited a few nervous laughs when he used the phrase “punching at it.”
“No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger other than in self-defense and that rarely ever occurs,” Biden said. “We have to change the culture, period, and keep punching at it, and punching at it, and punching at it.”
“No, I really mean it,” he said amid that nervous laughter. “It’s a gigantic issue.”
3. Biden, forgetting about Harris, says he is endorsed by the “only” African American woman elected to the senate
Joe Biden touts endorsement from Carol Mosley Braun, the 1st Black woman US Senator; then claims she’s the only one to ever serve in the Senate.
— Madam Auntie Kamala Harris (Supporters) (@flywithkamala) November 21, 2019
Toward the end of the debate, Biden boasted that he was part of the “Obama coalition” and that he “comes out of the black community” in terms of support.
He then listed his supporters: “three former chairs of the black caucus” and “the only African American woman elected to the United States Senate,” referring to former Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun.
His opponent Kamala Harris quickly interjected, “No, the other one is here.”
Biden quickly corrected himself, saying “the first African American elected, the first.”
But his boasting was deflated as Harris, the second black woman elected to Senate, laughed incredulously from the side of the stage.
4. Harris addresses white candidates’ outreach — or lack thereof — to black voters
“The larger issue is that for too long, candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic party and overlooked those constituencies,” Harris said. “They show up when it’s close to election time, they show up to a back church and want to get the vote. But just having been there before, there are plenty of people who applauded black women for the success of the 2018 election, applauded black women for the election of a senator from Alabama.
“But at some point, folks get tired of just saying, ‘Well, thank me for showing up.’ They say, ‘Well, show up for me,'” she continued. “When black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in connection with childbirth in America; when the sons of black women will die because of gun violence than any other cause of death; when black women only make 61 cents on the dollar as compared to all women who tragically make 80 cents on the dollar, the question has to be, ‘Where ya been, and what are you going to do? And do you understand what the people are?'”
5. Pete Buttigieg attacks Gabbard’s “judgment” for meeting with Bashar al-Assad
Gabbard and Buttigieg had a contentious interaction over national security and foreign policy during the latter half of the debate.
“I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels,” Gabbard said, referring to his remarks at a forum in Los Angeles this week.
“As commander in chief, leader of our armed forces, I bring extensive experience serving for seven years in congress,” she continued, “meeting with leaders of countries around the world, working with military commanders of different commands, dealing with high-level national security briefings.”
“I know that it’s par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish even by the standards of today’s politics,” Buttigieg said.
“Are you saying that you didn’t say that?” Gabbard asked.
“I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We’ve been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years. With law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed,” Buttigieg said. “Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?”
“That’s not what I said,” Gabbard said.
“I’m talking about building up alliances. And if your question is about experience, let’s also talk about judgment,” he responded. “One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I have, in my experience, such as it is, whether you think it counts or not since it wasn’t accumulated in Washington, enough judgement that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”
“What you’ve just pointed out is that you would lack the courage to meet with both adversaries and friends to ensure the peace and national security of our nation. I take the example of those leaders who have come before us, leaders like JFK, who met with Khrushchev; like Roosevelt, who met with Stalin.”
“Like Donald Trump, who met with Kim,” Buttigieg interjected, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
6. Memorable one-liners
With so many people on stage and so many questions, some candidates used one-liners to drive their points home.
When addressing double standards for female candidates, Sen. Klobuchar said, “‘If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day” — referring to the Speaker of the House who is currently leading the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 21, 2019
Mayor Buttigieg used humor to distinguish himself from wealthy candidates, calling himself the “least wealthy person on this stage.”
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) November 21, 2019