- Ten of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Atlanta on Wednesday night for the fifth round of presidential debates, which followed a long day of bombshell impeachment hearings.
- But none of the candidates emerged as winners. Instead, House Democrats came out on top because the low-conflict debate ensured the vast majority of media attention would stay on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
- Civility also won the night. The candidates spent most of the debate agreeing on policy basics and calling for a unifying nominee.
- Biden was the biggest loser of Wednesday night’s debate. The former vice president is known for putting his foot in his mouth, and he didn’t disappoint.
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Ten of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Atlanta on Wednesday night for the fifth round of presidential debates.
This was the second debate to occur since the launch of the House impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, and it came at the end of a day filled with public hearings.
The debate was moderated, for the first time, by four women: the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, the NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, the NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, and the Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker.
House Democrats and civility win the night
House Democrats came out as winners Wednesday night because the low-conflict debate ensured the vast majority of media attention would stay on the impeachment inquiry.
Civility also won the night. The candidates spent most of the debate agreeing on topics as varied as the existential threat of climate change and the need for paid family leave. They also agreed that the presidential nominee needed to bring the country together.
Biden made the case that he’s the best candidate to heal the country’s divisions. And he said he didn’t think “it’s a good idea” for Democrats to condone “lock him up” chants about Trump.
“We have to unify this country,” he said. “I have done it. I have done it repeatedly. We have to restore the soul of this country.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said Democrats needed to “galvanize, not polarize, the majority” of Americans who already supported gun, healthcare, and immigration reform. He framed single-payer healthcare, which his fellow candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders support, as “divisive.”
The candidates did spar over a range of policy issues, including taxes, healthcare, and foreign policy. But there were few vicious attacks.
Sen. Cory Booker criticised Warren’s proposal to dramatically raise taxes on the superrich, instead pushing for an expansion of the estate tax, taxes on capital gains, and more moderate measures meant to raise government revenue.
“The wealth tax, I’m sorry, it’s cumbersome,” Booker said, arguing that Democrats should focus on growing wealth and “pathways to prosperity” instead of just raising taxes.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard attacked the Democratic Party writ large, arguing that her party was in the pocket of corporate interests. Sen. Kamala Harris shot back by accusing Gabbard of being a stooge for Fox News.
Tom Steyer derided the frontrunners Warren and Biden for not saying climate change would be their top issue. “I would make this the number one priority” both in domestic and foreign policy, he said.
Biden replied by agreeing with Steyer.
“I think it is an existential threat,” he said of climate change. “It’s the number one issue.”
When Harris was asked to elaborate on her criticism of Buttigieg’s approach to issues of race, the senator pivoted, instead talking in broad generalities about how Democratic candidates shouldn’t take the black vote for granted.
“I think for too long candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said. “The question has to be where have you been and what are you going to do.” She added: “We’ve got to re-create the Obama coalition to win.”
Buttigieg replied, “I completely agree.”
Biden’s gaffes draw attention
Biden was the biggest loser of Wednesday night’s debate. The former vice president is known for putting his foot in his mouth, and he didn’t disappoint.
When explaining how he’d work to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Biden chose unfortunate phrasing.
“We have to change the culture,” he said. “We have to keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it.”
Biden was also the butt of one of the most successful one-liners of the night when Booker attacked him for opposing the legalization of marijuana.
And while defending his appeal among black voters, Biden misspoke and said he had the support of the “only” black woman ever elected to the Senate – he said he meant the “first.”
That provoked laughter and a clapback from Harris, the second black woman ever elected to the Senate.
“Nope, that’s not true,” Harris quipped. “The other one is here.”
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