Schumer weaponizes impeachment trial debate

Schumer is engaged in an aggressive campaign to change the narrative of what for weeks has appeared an utterly partisan vote of Trump by McConnell and Senate Republicans. He’s seeking to drive a witness wedge among Republicans and disrupt their own party unity, first in a letter to McConnell Sunday night that served as an opening offer for the trial, then in TV hits and a news conference on Monday and finally in a series of interviews with print reporters.

“Even if McConnell doesn’t want it, I expect at least four Republicans will be for witnesses,” Schumer declared.

Republican leaders jeered this idea. They say Schumer is merely playing a part to satisfy the party’s liberal base and demonstrate Democrats won’t roll over to McConnell.

“He’s a pretty good actor,” scoffed Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is close to McConnell and works out with Schumer in the Senate gym. “He thinks this is what’s required of him to be the Democratic leader: Fight the good fight, put on a good show. I think he knows what the outcome is going to be.”

Still, there’s no question that Schumer’s letter to McConnell has disrupted the Republican leaders’ “nothing-to-see-here” impeachment narrative and the party strategy to ignore witnesses at the outset — and call them in later if there are 51 votes for it. Republicans are now back to debating witnesses, though many say Schumer will end up with Hunter Biden testifying before the Senate if he’s not careful.

But those aren’t the votes Schumer and McConnell are worried about. The two political combatants are really scrapping for a handful of Senate Republicans who may feel compelled to request new documents and witness testimony that the House did not receive. And one of those pivotal senators, Susan Collins of Maine, is clearly annoyed by Schumer.

While Collins said she would never echo McConnell’s sentiment of “total coordination” with the White House on the trial, she said Schumer’s behavior is “not a promising sign.”

“I would not have done that,” Collins said of McConnell’s vow to acquit Trump and work with the White House. “But Sen. Schumer’s move is such a typical, inappropriate approach that it indicates that he’s not really sincerely interested in negotiation.”

In addition to Collins, Democrats believe Republican senators like Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee could potentially support Schumer’s proposal. But none have explicitly backed bringing in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney or Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton or demanding documents like administration emails sent after the Ukraine whistleblower came forward.

Clad in duckling-pattern socks and at one point raiding an office holiday chocolate pack for a cappuccino treat, Schumer is relaxed in the interview but cautious about leaning too hard publicly on his Republican colleagues. At this stage for the voluble Schumer, saying too much could backfire.

He won’t comment on the politics of impeachment for incumbent Republicans like Collins but is acutely aware of the polling showing voters want impeachment trials. He says he’s discussed impeachment with Republicans, though he won’t disclose their names.

Clearly his strategy is multifaceted. He wants to win a majority of senators to subpoena documents and witnesses. But he also is putting Republicans in a bind by forcing them to either break with Trump or essentially dismiss hearing any new information about Trump’s decision to delay aid to Ukraine and request investigations into Joe Biden – the basis of the House’s two articles of impeachment.

The “bottom line is that our Republican friends have a choice, not just Mitch McConnell but all of them,” Schumer said. “Do they want the facts to come out, or do they want to cover up the truth?”

While Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said that the Democrats didn’t sign off on every detail of Schumer’s strategy, the party is sticking with him.

“He didn’t preclear it, although he told us he was thinking about the whole issue,” the Illinois senator said. “And so far it’s been a totally positive response.”

Democratic senators say Schumer has focused his messaging to the caucus more on the historical context and weight of impeachment, as opposed to discussing the politics of the impeachment trial. At a caucus lunch this month, Schumer gave a presentation on impeachment that included video clips from President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial. He’s sternly reminded them they will be sitting for hours unable to talk, tweet or do much other than listen.

Jones, who faces a tough re-election bid for his Alabama Senate seat, said he’s only spoken to Schumer about the impeachment process and that his reelection “has never come up” in those talks.

“There’s not a single message about ‘we need to stick together to do x’ or ‘we need this outcome,’” Jones said. “It’s just not that discussion. Not on our side, I think it’s different on the other side.”

Manchin, who broke with his party last year to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and could be a wildcard on impeachment, said Schumer hasn’t been working to win him over one way or the other: “No, no, no and hell no.”

Sinema’s office did not comment on her view of Schumer’s strategy and she rarely goes to party lunches, anyway. But Schumer allies said they could corroborate the lack of dissent among Democrats and his light touch.

“One of the reasons that Leader Schumer has been able to keep us together is that he rarely hammers anybody,” said Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. “The best way to keep the caucus together is to just make the best possible argument and allow people to be attracted to that argument as opposed to old fashioned arm-twisting.”

In putting forth his argument, Schumer talks about how he will be remembered in history books and his legacy as Democratic leader. It’s an indication he’s aware of the scrutiny he’s getting now as a party leader renowned for his messaging and political acumen — and that despite his determination, the next few weeks are fraught with uncertainty.

“I don’t know how it’s going to end,” he said. “But I am confident of the path we are on.”

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At next debate, Democratic candidates must talk California. Here’s why

Democratic presidential candidates are slated to debate again Thursday, this time in Los Angeles. It would be nice if they discussed some specific needs of California.

Just one or two, maybe three, questions about problems particularly acute in this state. That shouldn’t be too much hassle.

California does, after all, comprise 12% of the U.S. population. We have one-third more people than the next largest state, Texas. Our economic growth outshines the country’s overall. California’s well-being is vital to the nation’s health.

So our dilemmas really are America’s, too. A president can be a great friend in helping to solve state problems — or an annoying troublemaker like President Trump.

Yes, a California-tilted debate is probably wishful thinking. And it’s possible this skirmish won’t even be held. On Friday, the candidates threatened to boycott the event because of a labor dispute at host Loyola Marymount University.

But assuming some debate will be held in California before the March 3 primary, I have a few suggested topics for the candidates:


We’ve had a deadly, destructive epidemic. Trump keeps accusing the Democratic state government of failing to clear the forests of dead trees and brush that fuel fires. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who hasn’t been in office even a year, “has done a terrible job of forest management,” the president bellows.

Fact check: The federal government owns and manages 57% of California’s 33 million acres of forests. Private landowners have about 40%. The state only owns 2.2% and local governments less than 1%.

Question for the wannabe presidents: If elected, will you promise to clean up your own forest mess? And consider joining the state in helping to clear out dead wood on private land?


It’s an old cliché, but what Mark Twain purportedly said is still true: “Whisky is for drinking, water’s for fighting over.” That’s particularly true in the West, especially in half-arid California.

The fiercest current fight is over water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The delta supplies drinking water for 25 million people and irrigation for 3 million acres. But there’s not enough for everyone who wants it in a growing population.

The West Coast’s largest estuary has been in environmental decline because of water transfers to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and Southern California cities. Salmon runs and the coastal fishing industry are threatened with going belly up.

The Trump administration is pressing to ship more delta water to San Joaquin agriculture interests. Delta farmers, the fishing industry and environmentalists are fighting the feds.

Question for candidates: Are you with the salmon or the pistachios?

State and local taxes

As part of their federal income tax cut two years ago, Trump and the Republican Congress raised taxes significantly on many people who paid state income and local property taxes. A limit of $10,000 was placed on the amount of state and local tax payments that could be deducted on federal returns.

This socked people hard in high-tax states such as California and New York. An estimated 11 million taxpayers were hit nationwide. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill to lift the limit. But even if the measure gets to the Senate, Republicans are expected to kill it.

Question: Will you scrub the SALT limit and reduce taxes for many high-taxed Californians?


It’s a mess. L.A. County has nearly 60,000 homeless people. The population is at least 130,000 statewide. Sidewalks are littered with tents, and trash is strewn everywhere.

White House spokesman Judd Deere recently blamed California’s “over-regulation, excessive taxation and poor public service delivery” for a dramatic increase in homelessness. Yeah, right!

The state and local governments are trying all sorts of things, including more emergency shelters and tiny huts. But California badly needs help. We’re panhandling for federal dollars.

Question: As president, would you toss some loose change our way?

Bullet train

We have this pipe dream called a bullet train that’s way underfunded and far behind schedule. Everyone thinks high-speed rail — mimicking China, Japan and Europe — would be groovy. But those trains are subsidized by national governments. California is a big state, but it’s still only a state and can’t print money.

The last estimated tab for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train was $79 billion. But this grand project is on a sidetrack and hardly discussed anymore. The state is now just trying to build a line through the San Joaquin Valley.

The feds have contributed only $3.4 billion and grabbed back $929 million of it. They don’t want to spend another cent. Private investors aren’t interested either. And California taxpayers would rather take the bus.

Question: Is high-speed rail in California of any interest at all? If so, how about some more bucks?


The country is so polarized that politicians are afraid to compromise on reform. Meanwhile, California is home to 2.2 million immigrants living here illegally, one-quarter of the country’s undocumented population.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a so-called “sanctuary state” bill that limited law enforcement’s ability to help federal agents deport undocumented immigrants unless they’d been convicted of a serious crime. Trump is asking the Supreme Court to kill the law.

Questions: Will you work — earnestly work — to finally achieve immigration reform? And does California’s sanctuary law bother you? What should be changed about it as part of any compromise?

Voters should know the candidates’ views on these things before they cast ballots.

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7 Democrats Qualify For December Primary Debate : NPR

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders participate in the November Democratic presidential primary debate.

John Bazemore/AP

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Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders participate in the November Democratic presidential primary debate.

John Bazemore/AP

The sixth Democratic primary debate has shaped up to be the smallest — and least diverse — so far of the 2020 campaign.

Just seven candidates have qualified per Democratic National Committee requirements: former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; billionaire businessman Tom Steyer; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and nonprofit executive Andrew Yang.

The Thursday, Dec. 19, debate is being co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The scheduled debate may hit a snag, however, as a labor dispute continues at Loyola Marymount. All seven candidates say they will not cross the picket line and participate unless there is a resolution before Thursday.

Democrats had one of the most diverse fields of candidates ever to run for president, but that won’t be fully represented onstage this month. Yang, who is Asian American, will be the only nonwhite candidate onstage. California Sen. Kamala Harris had met the December DNC benchmarks, but she dropped out of the race last week.

And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro didn’t qualify either. That leaves the debate without African American or Hispanic candidates — both important demographics and constituencies within the Democratic Party.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was just one poll short of making the stage but had already announced she wouldn’t attend even if she did reach the threshold, saying she’d rather campaign in early states instead.

To qualify for the debate, candidates had to reach 4% in four early-state or national polls or 6% in two early-state polls from Oct. 16 through Dec. 12, in addition to getting 200,000 unique donors, with 800 of those from 20 different states. There are still 15 Democrats running for president, but fewer than half ended up reaching those benchmarks.

However, at least one rising candidate won’t be there. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a late entrance into the race last month and has already dropped over $100 million on ads. Bloomberg reached 5% in only two national polls, but even if the billionaire media mogul had hit the polling threshold, he wouldn’t have qualified on donors since he is entirely self-funding his campaign.

The smaller stage could lend itself to more focused conversations among the candidates next week. Biden continues to hold a tenuous lead in most polls, with Sanders and Warren close behind. Buttigieg and Warren have also had sharp exchanges in recent days over transparency in their past business and legal work. And other candidates, like Klobuchar, are trying to capitalize on late momentum with another strong debate performance.

This will be the final debate of 2019, but the DNC announced on Thursday four 2020 debates in early-voting states leading up to their primaries or caucuses: Jan. 14 in Iowa, Feb. 7 in New Hampshire, Feb. 19 in Nevada and Feb. 25 in South Carolina.

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When is the next general election TV debate, and who is taking part?

Mr Corbyn was set to join the other party leaders at the BBC Election Debate last week, but Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, took his place. Mr Johnson did not take part either, sending instead the Conservative Party’s chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak.

Less than a week before polling day, Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn are expected to take part in the BBC Prime Ministerial Debate in Southampton on Dec 6. BBC Radio 4’s Today presenter Nick Robinson will be chairing this head-to-head debate.

Emma Barnett is also set to host a special edition of Question Time on Monday Dec 9, where an audience of under-30s will question a panel of politicians representing all seven parties. 

Prior to these events, on Nov 22 a BBC Question Time special took place on BBC One. Live from Sheffield, the programme saw leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat parties each answer questions from the audience for 30 minutes. 

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, and Jonathan Bartley, the Green Party co-leader, had the opportunity to discuss their views in two separate Question Time specials. 

What happened in the Channel 4 climate change debate?

All party leaders except Boris Johnson took part in Channel 4’s climate change debate.

The Prime Minister declined to take part in the debate, but it was understood that the Conservatives instead put forward Michael Gove. However, the broadcaster said that the former Environmental Secretary was not welcome on the basis that it was a leaders’ event.

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Specter of U.S. interference looms over health care debate in U.K.

LONDON — Antoinette Simmons has lived in the United States for the last 10 years, after having lived in England for a decade. Guess which country’s health care system she prefers?

In the U.K., the National Health Service diagnosed and treated her husband’s cancer free of charge. After moving to Atlanta in 2009, Simmons says she was hit with an unexpected bill of $28,000 after having surgery and misreading the fine print in her insurance policy.

“It was a very dark time,” she said, “because I just felt that the walls were closing in.”

Simmons, 57, a public defender who was born in Jamaica, has a warning for those who are using the future of the NHS — specifically its ability to negotiate drug prices after Brexit — as a campaign issue in the national elections on Dec. 12.

“People should run screaming away from anything that involves the pharmaceutical vampires in the United States getting anywhere near the NHS,” she said.

Antoinette Simmons.

Built out of the chaos of World War II, the NHS is now the world’s fifth-largest employer, and because of it, no U.K. citizen need face bankruptcy because of medical care, or have to choose between seeing a doctor and keeping the lights on.

But this year, the opposition Labour Party is raising concerns that another Conservative government could “sell off” the NHS to the United States.

“After Brexit, if we have a Conservative government they will be very desperate to have a trade deal with the U.S.,” said Sonia Adesara, a doctor who is campaigning on behalf of the Labour Party. “And I think it’s very clear the U.S. wants access to our NHS.”

“Access,” in this sense, refers to the administration’s desire for American pharmaceutical companies to be allowed to fully participate in the U.K. health care market, according to trade objectives published in February.

The NHS budget was $170 billion this year, much of it used to help negotiate low drug prices, scoring bargains Americans can only dream of.

So potentially there is a lot of money to be made in any trade deal between London and Washington after the U.K. leaves the European Union.

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The Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust building at Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, previously known as Park Hospital, where the NHS was launched by the then health secretary Aneurin Bevan.Peter Byrne / PA Images via Getty Images file

Labour, which founded the NHS in 1948, frames the choice facing voters this way: Will the U.K. preserve the service as a pillar of postwar society, providing free health care in a system that’s rated as the best in the developed world?

Or will the U.K. allow increased influence from the United States, whose far more expensive free-market-oriented model is ranked worst in the world, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan research organization.

Last week, Labour released a trove of government documents covering talks between the U.S. and the U.K. that it says are “proof” the NHS would be on the block if the ruling Conservative Party wins the election and negotiates a post-Brexit trade agreement with the U.S.

Despite the documents, the Conservatives still repeatedly insist that the NHS would not be part of any post-Brexit trade deal with Washington.

“There are no circumstances in which this government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a televised debate with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “Our NHS will never be for sale.”

Opponents point to the prime minister’s career and private life, which have been riddled with allegations of lying, as reasons to be skeptical. Most recently the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled he misled Queen Elizabeth II before suspending Parliament so it could not scrutinize his Brexit plans.

As many as 45 percent of respondents in a poll by Survation in November said they do not trust the prime minister with the NHS.

It’s not just Labour and other opposition parties who warn of Johnson’s untrustworthiness.

Nick Boles, a former Conservative lawmaker and chief of staff when Johnson was mayor of London, wrote in The London Evening Standard that the prime minister “will betray the NHS in a heartbeat if that is what it takes to get a trade deal out of his role model — Donald Trump.”

‘Question of Power’

The sheer unpopularity of Trump in the U.K. has made the specter of NHS interference a potent attack line for Labour, which has been languishing in the polls under the weight of a vicious dispute over allegations of anti-Semitism in the party and its divisive stance on Brexit.

On Sunday, Corbyn leaned into this unpopularity by calling Johnson the “world’s leading sycophant” with regard to Trump.

The president and his ambassador in London, Woody Johnson, said this summer that the NHS would be “on the table” in any post-Brexit trade deal, although both later backtracked.

Trump has also vowed to go after what he calls “freeloading” countries — or those that don’t pay the full share of medical research and development. It aligns with what the powerful pharmaceutical lobby has advocated for years.

If the Conservatives win a majority this month, as polls suggest they might, the U.S. could be in a position to strong arm the British government over the NHS.

Robert Lawrence, a trade expert who served on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, suggested that the U.K. could try to set firm ground rules with the Americans during trade talks, which can’t start officially until after Brexit, now slated for Jan. 31.

“It could be made clear to the United States that the NHS is just a nonstarter,” he said. “Then it comes back to a question of power: Do you have sufficient leverage to swallow that hot potato? It just it depends on what else you’re prepared to give up.”

Giving way on drug prices could put a huge strain on Britain.

Paying the free-market U.S. price would increase the NHS pharmaceutical budget to $58 billion from $23 billion per year, according to University of Liverpool research conducted for U.K. broadcaster Channel 4.

The NHS is the world’s fifth largest employer, behind the Department of Defense, the Chinese army, Walmart and McDonald’s.Peter Dazeley / Getty Images file

That would put a colossal strain on the NHS’s already overburdened finances after a decade of austerity. However, few are suggesting that the NHS would stop being free at the point of access.

Supporters point out that, for all of its faults, the NHS still outshines the U.S. medical system by most measures. That’s despite the U.S. spending more on health care, publicly and privately, than any other country.

“The NHS provides world-class treatment as soon as you walk through that door,” Adesara, the doctor and Labour activist, said. “I think that’s a pretty amazing thing — that everyone gets this amazing care no matter who you are and how much money you have.”

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The Channel 4 News Climate Debate – Channel 4 News

Channel 4 News hosts the first ever leaders’ debate on the climate crisis.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, the Green Party’s co-leader Sian Berry and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price will all be in the studio. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage did not accept our invitation to attend.

For many voters, the climate crisis is a key issue in this year’s election: the five warmest years on record all took place in the last decade and with the UK currently set to miss its emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s, many of the parties have made their green policies front and centre.

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Panel of insiders and activists debate Labour’s manifesto

Joining me now is Salma Shah, a special adviser to Saajid Javid when he was Home Secretary; award-winning R&B singer Jamelia; Tom Hamilton, who was a former senior labour policy adviser and speechwriter at the Labour Party; and Matt Eades, from the grassroots think tank for young Conservatives, Blue Beyond.

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Impact of 5th Democratic debate; Why Tom Hanks agreed to play Mr. Rogers

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4 POLITICO scribes give the skinny on Wednesday’s Democratic debate

The loser award will have to go to Biden. Though he held his own with questions on foreign policy, the former vice president once again committed an unforced error by misspeaking and saying he had the support of the only African American woman elected to the Senate. He meant the first and corrected himself. The damage wasn’t so much in the gaffe he corrected, but that it detracted from his key point: that he held the strongest African American support of anyone on the debate stage. Once again, he stepped on his own message.

Otterbein: Booker had a strong night. He was funny, effectively attacked Biden, and talked at length about one of his key issues (criminal justice). But will that actually make a difference for his campaign? He hasn’t yet qualified for the next debate. (It’s also unclear he will benefit by going after Warren’s wealth tax, which is broadly popular.) Bernie Sanders had a not-great, not-bad night: He didn’t make any mistakes, and his remarks on Palestinians will be remembered. But for once his signature issue was not the focus of the first half-hour of the debate.

Buttigieg arguably had an OK night since few of his rivals aggressively attacked him even though he’s surging in Iowa. Yes, Klobuchar tussled with him over experience and Booker and Harris made arguments about the importance of black voters that were not-so-subtly about him, but there’s no doubt that he got off easier than Warren did after she emerged as a top candidate.

Siders: Amy Klobuchar did the most to help her campaign, more effectively occupying the “centrist alternative to Biden” lane than anyone else on stage. Her critique of sexism in politics and her rebuke of “free-car” progressivism were both sharp, improving on an already-strong performance last month. If nothing else, her odds of a vice presidential nod ticked up as a result.

Pete Buttigieg had a good night, too. And still, Buttigieg’s night was the worst. Even if it was out of his control, expectations matter in politics, and this was supposed to be the night that all focus was on Buttigieg. A good night for him would have been two hours of attacks, with the emerging narrative that he had fended off the assault. He didn’t even get the chance.

Thompson: Klobuchar had the most powerful moment of her campaign when she clearly and eloquently called out sexism in American politics. It’s a tricky thing to do — female candidates and candidates of color often shy away from so explicitly talking about such prejudice — but her answer was a thoughtful rallying cry for female voters. In a largely tranquil debate with candidates repeating their usual talking points, that moment will get more play and attention in the coming days.

Billionaire Tom Steyer had the worst night. Having spent tens of millions of his personal fortune to get a spot on the debate stage, he still didn’t lay out a clear, coherent rationale for “why him?” He will likely be on the next debate stage but he’s in the low single digits and nothing tonight changed that.

What surprised you?

Korecki: Medicare for … none? After the issue played an outsized role in every debate until this one, it was placed on the backburner this round. Instead, there was a shift toward impeachment and foreign policy – areas that critics say have not had enough air time in previous debates.

Otterbein: It’s pretty remarkable that there wasn’t a true Pete pile-on given his position in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. That seems to imply that his rivals don’t take him seriously. Medicare for All also took much less of a beating than it has in past debates, which will make progressives happy.

Siders: Most observers were expecting a Buttigieg pile-on, with Buttigieg rising in public opinion polls. He took an arrow on experience. But the lack of a sustained assault suggests two things: First, after months of debates, competitors appear to have learned that on a multi-candidate stage, the aggressor does not necessarily reap the rewards of attacking a rival. Second, Buttigieg’s opponents do not yet feel pressure to pull him down, with the possibility that his surge in Iowa is not sustainable and — if he does sustain it — they will get another opportunity to go after him in December.

Thompson: I was surprised that there wasn’t that much actual debating. While there was some interesting back-and-forth near the end, the first hour-plus largely had candidates reciting part of their regular stump speeches.

What moment or exchange will we remember a month from now?

Korecki: Tulsi Gabbard vs. everyone. No candidate managed to get under people’s skin and create fireworks like Gabbard. The two memorable exchanges of the night were Gabbard’s clashes with Kamala Harris and later, Pete Buttigieg. The question posed to Gabbard in and of itself was somewhat stunning for a Democratic debate: “What is the rot you see in the Democratic Party?” Harris jumped in and accused Gabbard of buddying up to Steve Bannon, and refusing to call out a war criminal. Gabbard then went after Buttigieg on lack of experience and he responded with a hit on Gabbard for meeting with Bashar Assad.

Otterbein: A few options: First, one of Yang’s several funny lines (“I am not insane”; “Sorry I beat your guy”). Second, Booker saying to Biden, “I thought you might have been high when you said it,” referring to the former vice president saying marijuana might be a gateway drug. Or third, Biden’s gaffes.

Siders: The exchange with Buttigieg on race. If Buttigieg can improve his poor standing with black voters, his response to a question about race on Wednesday — that while he does not have the experience of being discriminated against because of his skin color, “I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country” — will be remembered as a turning point in his campaign. If he can’t, it will be the moment that encapsulated his inability to broaden his appeal.

Thompson: Biden mistakenly saying he had the endorsement of the “only” African American female senator while Kamala Harris — a black woman senator herself — was on stage right next to him. “Nope, that’s not true, the other one is here,” Harris said as she threw her hands up in bewilderment. Biden protested that he said “first” black female senator (Sen. Carol Moseley Braun) but the tape doesn’t lie: he did say “only.”

It was the most tweeted moment of the night, according to Twitter, that will reinforce Biden’s reputation as gaffe-prone. Of course, he’s been having verbal miscues for months and remains the front-runner.

How did the moderators do?

Korecki: They allowed too much time to go by without giving equitable — or even near equitable — speaking opportunities to some of the candidates. They did do a good job of following up and demanding a response to questions. However, at times they allowed candidates to go on at length, drifting off topic and devolving into stump speeches.

Otterbein: They should have let some of the back-and-forth between the candidates go longer. They should have asked Buttigieg about the report that found that some black leaders who his campaign had said endorsed his plan for black Americans had, in fact, not endorsed it. And why not ask Biden to respond to Sanders’ critiques of his support for the Iraq War?

Siders: Fine. By now, the candidates appear to have figured out how to debate without stepping on one another. The moderators came away from the debate — rightfully — having not made this about them.

Thompson: The moderators missed a few moments to let the candidates spar more and draw out real contrasts with one another. They cut off a fascinating exchange on criminal justice, drugs, and marijuana between Booker and Biden to go to a commercial break. Sanders attacked Biden for supporting the Iraq War and there was no follow-up to Biden. At other times, the moderators seemed eager to skip to the next topic just as candidates appeared on the verge of jousting.

How will this change the trajectory of the race?

Korecki: Buttigieg wasn’t a clear winner but he made a mark and it could be a sign of what’s to come. To the extent that these debates begin building a case toward electability, the South Bend mayor was able to show he could vigorously go toe to toe with just about any criticism and hold his own. He rolled out an answer to questions about his lack of elected experience: Why is Washington experience the only thing that matters?

Otterbein: The media is focused on impeachment, and this was probably the sleepiest debate so far. It’s hard to imagine this being talked about as much as some past debates were.

Siders: One shift evident Wednesday was the emphasis on identity — not ideology — as an electability argument. It was apparent in Klobuchar’s critique of gender and in the remarks about race by Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. “Black voters are pissed off, and they’re worried,” Booker said, reminding viewers that he has been a black voter “since I was 18.” This isn’t a one-off, but a reflection of frustration by some Democrats that the party’s electability conversations are too often centered on white, Rust Belt voters Democrats lost to Donald Trump in 2016.

Thompson: It won’t change much — which is probably good news for Buttigieg, who has been surging in Iowa in recent weeks. Nothing in the debate was likely to slow him down — if anything he held his own under an even brighter spotlight.

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Democratic debate highlights: Experience and race at forefront as healthcare talk fades

ATLANTA (Reuters) – The fifth presidential debate featured sharp exchanges on Wednesday over outreach to minority voters, the role of U.S. diplomacy and which of the Democratic contenders is best prepared to lead.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates during their fifth 2020 campaign debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Unlike past debates, which were dominated by how the candidates favor expanding health insurance coverage to millions of Americans, Democrats touched on the issue only briefly.

Here are some highlights from the stage in Atlanta, where 10 of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November 2020 debated foreign policy, gender and the benefits of experience.


The night featured an extended conversation about gender, experience and who has the broadest appeal.

Pete Buttigieg, whose only political experience is as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, sought to turn his lack of time in Washington into an advantage.

“I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small, but frankly where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small,” he said.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who previously said a woman with Buttigieg’s experience would not have made it to the debate stage, reiterated her argument that women are held to a higher standard.

“Otherwise, we could play a game called ‘Name your favorite woman president,’ which we can’t do,” she said to applause.

The United States has never sent a woman to the White House.

Klobuchar then took aim at former Vice President Joe Biden’s claim that he alone can win in swing states, pointing out she has carried Republican districts in her home state of Minnesota.

In response, Biden touted his record of passing bipartisan legislation and his long experience in Washington.

“There’s no time for on-the-job training,” he said. “I spent more time in the Situation Room, more time abroad, than anyone up here.”


Buttigieg was pressed on his failure to gain traction among black voters, a crucial bloc in the Democratic nominating contests.

Buttigieg, who has risen in polls in the mostly white early-voting state of Iowa, has been criticized by the black community in South Bend, where he fired the city’s first black police chief in 2012 and faced protesters earlier this year after a police officer shot a black man.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who is black, said the Democratic nominee should have experience representing all people and should not court black voters only at election time.

“Democrats have taken for granted the constituency that has been the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said.

Buttigieg acknowledged he faces a “challenge” in introducing himself to many black voters, before pivoting to his own experience as a gay man.

“I do not have the experience of ever being discriminated against because of the color of my skin,” Buttigieg said. “I do have the experience of feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights coming up for debate.”

Biden, who leads the Democratic field in support from black voters in opinion polls, later said the reason he was chosen as former Democratic President Barack Obama’s vice president was because of his “long-standing relationship with the black community.”


Asked what he would say to Russian President Vladimir Putin in their first phone call, technology entrepreneur Andrew Yang answered: “I’m sorry I beat your guy,” referring to Trump.

“It’s a ‘sorry, not sorry,’” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren interjected to laughter.

“And second, I would say ‘the days of meddling in American elections are over,’” Yang added.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sought to differentiate his stances on military intervention and diplomacy from those of Trump and Biden. Sanders reiterated his goal of bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan but said, “unlike Trump, I will not do it in a tweet at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Referring to Biden, Sanders said “one of the big differences between the vice president and myself is he supported the terrible war in Iraq and I helped lead the opposition against it.”

Sanders said the United States needs to “bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in a room” to work out their differences and the “same thing goes with Israel and the Palestinians.”


U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard doubled down when asked about her recent clash with the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran who has centered her campaign on opposition to overseas military intervention, said the Democratic Party “continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment in Washington, represented by Hillary Clinton and others’ foreign policy, by the military-industrial complex and other greedy corporate interests.”

Harris defended Clinton, saying Gabbard criticized former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration on Fox News and met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Buttigieg criticized Gabbard for the latter decision, saying he “would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”

Reporting by Amanda Becker and Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Joseph Ax, Ginger Gibson and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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