After the Iowa caucuses, the State of the Union and President Donald Trump’s acquittal by the Senate on two articles of impeachment, the week ended with a bang. On Friday, seven Democratic presidential candidates squared off in a debate in New Hampshire, just a few days before voters in the state head to the polls for the first primary of the election cycle.
Monday’s highly anticipated Iowa caucuses were a mess. An app meant for reporting results malfunctioned due to a “coding issue,” and precinct chairs had to wait on the phone for hours to report their results. After days of waiting as results trickled in, it’s still not completely clear who won. Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appear neck-and-neck, with Buttigieg slightly edging out Sanders in state delegate equivalents while Sanders is slightly ahead in the popular vote. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren appears to have come in third. However, as of Thursday night, the Associated Press says it is “unable to declare a winner.”
Regardless, the Democratic presidential candidates have moved on to New Hampshire, which will vote in the election cycle’s first primary on Feb. 11. Given the chaos over who won in Iowa, doing well in New Hampshire has only become more crucial for campaigns. Tonight’s Democratic debate could be a crucial last chance for the candidates to make their case to those voters.
ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, ABC News managing editor David Muir and ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis, WMUR-TV political director Adam Sexton and WMUR-TV news anchor Monica Hernandez all moderated the debate in Manchester, N.H. Stephanopoulos and Muir previously moderated the September debate.
Seven candidates qualified for New Hampshire Democratic debate: former Vice President Joe Biden, Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sanders, billionaire executive Tom Steyer, Warren and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Candidates had until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 6 to get at least 5% in four DNC-approved polls or 7% in at least two early state polls (New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada). They also needed to receive at least 225,000 unique donors with at least 1,000 unique donations in 20 states, U.S. territories or Washington D.C. Starting with the New Hampshire debate, there’s also a third way to qualify: candidates can make the stage with at least one pledged delegate for the Democratic National Convention based on the results of caucuses or primaries.
The DNC plans to hold a debate in each early voting state, meaning tonight’s debate will be the first of three debates in February alone. The next two will be on Feb. 19 in Las Vegas and Feb. 25 in Charleston.
Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, tells TIME that Friday’s debate could possibly impact Tuesday’s vote. “You shouldn’t underestimate the volatility of New Hampshire primary voters, even in the last weekend,” he says. “[There’s] a lot of people who will, believe it or not, just be tuning in for the week between Iowa and New Hampshire… They might be moved quite a bit by what’s in the news that week.”
Here are the biggest moments from the debate:
“My views have changed”
Sanders addressed his record of voting against stricter gun control policy during the debate.
In 1993, Sanders voted against a bill that would establish national background checks, and as recently as the early 2000s voted in favor of bills that protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits. But the senator from Vermont, a pro-gun state, said his opinions have changed.
“I come, like New Hampshire, from a very, very rural state,” he said, adding that Vermont had not passed stricter gun policies until as recently as two years ago; in 2018, Vermont passed gun control measures including requiring background checks, raising the legal age for gun purchases to 21 and it banned bump-fire stocks.
“We had virtually no gun control legislation at all, and I represented that perspective… The world has changed and my views have changed.” Sanders now says he supports universal background checks, ending the “gun show loophole,” ending the so-called “straw man provision” — when a person purchases a firearm for someone else — and ending the sale of assault weapons.“And we go further,” Sanders says. “But the point is I will not be intimidated by the NRA.”
Candidates talk drug policy
Following a question posed by Monica Hernandez, an anchor with New Hampshire news station WMUR, the debate turned to the opioid epidemic, an issue that has hit the state particularly hard. New Hampshire is among the top five states in the U.S. with the highest rate of opioid-related deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and saw 34 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 — more than twice the average national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000. Between 1999 and 2017, more than 215,000 people died from overdoses connected to prescription opioids.While the rate of fatal drug overdoses have shown signs of slowing down in 2019. Democratic candidates have plans to address the continued devastation of the opioid crisis.
Asked about his claim that as president, he would call for the decriminalization of all drugs, Buttigieg sidestepped to note that he would call for stopping jailing people for drug possession. “I’m calling for that we end the use of incarceration as a response,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’ll be lawful to distribute those kinds of drugs.”
Buttigieg added that the pharmaceutical companies responsible for marketing and distributing a number of the “legal” drugs that have led people to addiction and overdose need to be held accountable. (Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company accused of using deceptive marketing strategies to promote highly addictive and deadly painkillers, filed for bankruptcy in September 2019 after facing numerous lawsuits from states across the country.)
Klobuchar, who oversaw crime policies during her tenure as a prosecutor in Minnesota’s Hennepin County, said treatment was the only solution to avoiding “repeat customers” in the system, though she said that “those dealing in big time drugs” should still face prosecution.
Klobuchar further noted that people affected by the opioid epidemic, particularly in New Hampshire, were owed an explanation on how their treatment will be paid for. Per her plan, the money from federal settlements in cases against pharmaceutical companies and a tax on prescription opiates will go toward supporting treatment efforts.Yang also spoke in support of treatment for people with addiction issues and called for mandatory treatment centers.
The topic of race takes center stage
About halfway through the debate, candidates sparred on the subject of race, spurred by a question to Buttigieg from moderator Linsey Davis on the rate of arrests of black people for marijuana possession in South Bend, Ind. while he was mayor. A black person in South Bend was four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, Davis said, a disparity she said increased after Buttigieg took office.Davis noted that Buttigieg has called the high rates of arrests of black people at the national level “evidence of systemic racism.”“Weren’t you in effect the head of that system?” Davis asked.
Buttigieg pivoted, claiming the city targeted drug offenders as a reaction to violence in South Bend. “We adopted a strategy that said drug enforcement could be targeted in cases where there was a connection to the most violent group or gang connected to a murder,” he responded. “In order for us to prevent violence and remove the effects of systemic racism not just from criminal justice but from our economy, our health, our housing and from democracy itself.”
Warren was next asked if Buttigieg’s response was a sufficient answer.
“No,” she said to claps, adding, “We cannot just say that criminal justice is the only time to talk about race.” She added an example of the intersection between racial equality and affordable college, and argued that her wealth tax would afford the African American community greater opportunities when it comes to further education.Following that moment, Steyer noted that the candidates had not addressed race during the debate. “Not one word,” he said. “Are you kidding me?”
Steyer reiterated his support for reparations, and turned his attention to Biden’s link with Dick Harpootlian, a white South Carolina state senator who has accused Steyer of paying black Democrats for their votes. Black lawmakers in South Carolina have called the claim racist, according to the Associated Press.Steyer has spent millions of dollars in South Carolina in an effort to court black voters, the New York Times reports.
Steyer pushed Biden to denounce his surrogate. “I’m asking you to come with me and the legislative black caucus and disavow Dick Harpottlian and what he had to say, he was wrong,” he said. Biden, who is leading the pack of Democratic nominees among black voters declined to do so. Instead, he replied to Steyer, “I’m asking you to join me and the overwhelming support I have in this black caucus. I have more support in the caucus than anybody else. Double what you have.”
The spotlight stayed on Biden when Davis next asked Sanders if he agreed with one of his surrogates, Nina Turner, who wrote in a recent op-ed for the South Carolina outlet The State that Biden has “repeatedly betrayed black voters to side with Republican lawmakers.”Sanders said Turner was likely referring to some of Biden’s “earlier actions,” without offering specifics, and defended the former Vice President.“
Joe Biden is a friend of mine. I’m not here to attack him,” he said. “I would say, what we need in terms of the African American community is to understand that we have got to start investing big time in education, in healthcare.”
Biden calls for standing ovation for Lt. Col. Vindman
Responding to a question about the U.S. military, and support thereof, Biden called on everyone in the audience at the New Hampshire debate to stand up in honor of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified against President Trump during the House impeachment hearings and was removed from his job at the White House on Friday.
“[Trump] should have been pinning a medal on Vindman and not on Rush Limbaugh,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s State of the Union Address, during which he awarded conservative radio talk show host Limbaugh with a Presidential Medal of Honor.
.“I think we should all stand and give Col. Vindman a show of how much we support him,” he said to the audience, many of whom appeared to stand and applaud.The ovation came after Buttigieg said there was no danger in nominating Biden as a presidential candidate given the threats of an investigation into his son Hunter’s work in Ukraine, as is currently being floated by Republican senators.
“To be the kind of president — to be the kind of human being who would seek to turn someone against his own son, who would seek to weaponize a son against his own father is an unbelievably dishonorable thing,” Buttigieg said.
Klobuchar criticizes Buttigieg, praises Mitt Romney
Klobuchar praised Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s vote to convict Trump on one article of impeachment during the Senate trial this week as “courageous,” and slammed Buttigieg for his comments on the entire impeachment process. “You said it was exhausting to watch and that you wanted to turn the channel and watch cartoons,” she said. “It is easy to go after Washington because that is a popular thing to do. It is much harder to lead.”
Buttigieg and Sanders spar over progressive policies
Without referring explicitly to the Vermont senator at first, Buttigieg went after Sanders’ message, arguing his strategy of offering transformative policies around health care and college tuition will polarize people rather than unite them around the Democratic platform.
“The biggest risk we could take at a time like this,” Buttigieg argued, is with “our nominee dividing people with politics that says if you don’t vote all the way to the edge, it doesn’t count.”
Asked if he was talking about Sanders, Buttigieg said, “Yes.”
Sanders defended his campaign approach, saying that his message would appeal to the working class. “The way you bring people together is by presenting an agenda that works for the working people of this country, not for the billionaire class.”
Warren attacks billionaires and campaigns that have accepted PAC donations
Warren was asked to describe why she would make a better presidential nominee than billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who has self-funded his campaign, is rising up in polls and on Friday received an endorsement from President Trump’s former Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.
Warren took the moment to call out her fellow Democrats on stage — other than Klobuchar, she noted— as either billionaires or candidates receiving help from Political Action Committee contributions. (Steyer’s net worth makes him a billionaire. Yang, Sanders and Biden are millionaires, and Buttigeig has accepted PAC money to fund his campaign.)
“Everyone on this stage except Amy and me is either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending,” she said. “I think the way we build a democracy going forward is not billionaires reaching in their own pockets or people sucking up to billionaires. The way we build it going forward is [with] a grassroots movement funded from the grassroots up.
”At the end of January, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) changed debate rules eliminating individual donor requirements, making it theoretically possible Bloomberg to have qualified for the debate. Bloomberg still did not meet the DNC poll requirements in order to attend the debate. Sanders followed up on Warren’s comments by doubling-down on his recent criticisms of Buttigeig’s campaign funding. “Unlike some of the folks up here, I don’t have 40 billionaires contributing to my campaign,” Sanders said, naming Buttigieg specifically as someone who has accepted donations from major industries. “Coming from the pharmaceutical industry, coming from Wall Street, and all the big-money interests.”
Klobuchar on Sanders: “I like Bernie just fine”
Candidates on stage were asked to comment on Sanders’ perceived likability — a topic that drew interest after 2016 Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton’s comments in a documentary that “nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him” were revealed last month. Klobuchar, laughing, said, “I like Bernie just fine,” as Biden offered Sanders a one-armed hug.
Candidates debate voter turnout
Early in the debate, Sanders touted his success among young voters during the Iowa caucuses and stressed the need to increase voter turnout among youth in order to beat President Trump in the general election, a nod to the high voter turnout of successful Democratic elections such as the 2008 presidential election and 2018 midterms.
But when Stephanopoulos asked by show of hands if anyone worried if a democratic socialist being on the ticket could hurt voter turnout, Klobuchar raised her hand. “We are not going to be able to out divide the divider-in-chief,” she said. “We need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out… Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is a candidate that will bring people in from the middle.”
Steyer seconded Klobuchar’s call for a more moderate candidate. “After this week, there’s a real threat that Donald Trump can get re-elected,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to beat him actually is the way that Bernie Sanders said, which is to get turn out across spectrum of Democratic voters.”
Biden: “I took a hit in Iowa”
Biden began the debate by acknowledging that his fourth place results in the Iowa caucuses posed a setback. “I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,” he said, referring to the upcoming New Hampshire primary. “I’ve always viewed the first four encounters — the two primaries and two caucuses — as the starting point.”
Asked about why he feels that if Sanders or Buttigieg will present a risk if one of them wins the Democratic nomination, Biden cited Sanders’ identification as a self-described democratic socialist. He also said Buttigieg has not shown he has the experience to be successful as President.
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