It’s the last Democratic debate of the year. Candidates gathered in Los Angeles, California for tonight’s debate, hosted by Politico and PBS News Hour, on Dec. 19. Notably, though still in the race, Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and former HUD Julián Castro are not on the debate stage tonight. Moderators for tonight include Tim Alberta of Politico, Yamiche Alcindor, of PBS, Amna Nawaz of PBS, and Judy Woodruff, also of PBS. Below is a question-by-question hit on (almost) every question and answer in the debate, including clips and tweets. A full stream of the debate is available at the very end.
The first question, perhaps unsurprisingly, was about the House’s vote to impeachment Donald Trump. Why do you think Americans aren’t all convinced Trump should be impeached, and what would you say in the near future to convince Americans?
Joe Biden started things off. He focused on integrity in the presidency, and referenced Vladimir Putin. He said his job to make the case for why Trump doesn’t deserve to be president for another four years.
Sanders aptly called Trump a “pathological liar.” He said Trump is running the most corrupt administration in this country’s modern history, which is also true. Sanders then confirmed he believes he will personally make the case to the American people in the coming months.
Here’s that clip.
Warren referenced Trump’s argument that he would “drain the swamp,” which he clearly did not do. We need a president, according to Warren, who can fight for everyone who isn’t wealthy and well-connected. True!
Next up, Sen. Klobuchar. She confirmed that Trump is not king, which he probably can’t be reminded of enough. Klobuchar then focused on how to approach the impeachment in the Senate’s trial and compared Trump to Nixon. Basically: If Trump is innocent, let’s hear from everybody involved in this trial. Why else would be scared to offer witnesses?
Mayor Pete Buttigieg argued impeachment is above public opinion or politics and said the House had no choice. Then, similarly to Biden, Buttigieg transitioned to the 2020 election, no matter what happens in the Senate before then.
Next up, Steyer, after he was awkwardly nearly skipped over. Steyer stressed his background in starting a Need To Impeachment movement two years ago. He angled his argument as one of “right” or “wrong” and agreed with Sen. Klobuchar. If people claim to be innocent, let’s have them testify under oath so the American people can make up their minds.
Andrew Yang talked about the difference in media reporting, and a general distrust for media. Basically: No wonder people are confused, the media is sending mixed messages to the people, so they don’t know quite what to believe. Then he transitioned to manufacturing jobs.
Sanders quickly called out the framing of the next question—it’s not great, he said, it’s moderate. At the end of day, Sanders argued, it won’t stop corporations from moving abroad or outsourcing. What we need, Sanders said, is a trade policy that actually stands up for workers and focuses on climate change. No vote for this agreement, in spite of modest agreement with it.
Klobuchar felt differently than Sanders. She clarified she will vote for it on the grounds that it is a change, if not a perfect one.
Next question was to Biden. What is your argument to the voter watching the debate who doesn't love Trump, necessarily, but does like the economy?
Biden stressed that the middle class is getting “crushed” and “killed.” He wants to eliminate tax cuts to the wealthy, invest in healthcare, and maintain a standard of living for working-class people. Ordinary people are not growing, Biden says. Basically: People don't really love this economy.
Next up, Buttigieg. He agreed with Biden. People aren’t measuring the economy by Dow Jones, Buttigieg says. People are measuring it by how they can pay their bills at the end of the month. The economy isn’t working for most people. In fact, he stresses, poor people too are struggling, not just the middle class. Very true!
Next up, Yang. Yang talks about depression, financial insecurity, overdoses, and student loan debt. Basically: People are literally dying and the economy is (at least partially) to blame.
Warren raised her hand to get an answer in. “We have a government that works great for giant drug companies but not someone for trying to fill a prescription,” the senator stressed. Basically: our economy is excellent for the wealthy and well-connected, but for no one else. That’s corruption, the senator stresses.
Next up, a response from Sanders. We need an economy that works for working families.
The question transitioned to Warren’s tax plan. What does she say to people who suggest the tax could actually harm the economy by stifling it?
They’re just wrong, she says to much audience applause. Warren points out that with just a minor tax, we can invest in childcare, education, erasing student loan debt.. But more than that, in a sense, people are more empowered to grow the economy. Basically, with more resources and less debt, people can actually live. And that will help the economy overall.
Steyer responds to Warren and agrees with her and her wealth tax.
Buttigieg goes the middle on the economy, which lines up with his usual response. He edges away from Warren’s response and stresses that he doesn’t want to give free college to wealthy families. He wants to step away from “Washington mindset.”
We return after a break!
Tim of Politico starts with a question about climate. Even if the U.S. reduces its carbon footprint by 2050, the damage will be done. Would you support a new federal program that would support moving people away from at-risk areas?
Klobuchar says she hopes she doesn’t have to relocate cities, but rather individuals. She says it’s an existential crisis.
Next up, Steyer. Would you help subsidize the relocation of these families?
Steyer wants to declare a state of emergency on day one of his presidency for the climate. He also ties solving the climate crisis with creating more jobs.
Buttigieg says these big-picture plans are basically “zero” unless something actually gets done today.
As president, would you be willing to sacrifice economic growth if it meant transitioning to a green economy?
Biden is up first. It’s a solid yes. Why? Because they can transition to those well-paying jobs.
Sanders again calls out the framing of the question. It’s not an issue of relocating people, but rather an issue of saving the planet for our children and our grandchildren. He also mentions declaring a national emergency. Instead of spending money on weapons, how about we spend on climate?
Question change for Warren—nuclear energy and climate change.
We’ve got to get carbon out of the air and water, Warren replies. She won’t build more nuclear, she says, and instead wants to put money and resources into clean energy. Let’s innovate our way out of this climate change problem—and hold politicians accountable when they take money from the oil industry and lobbyists.
Klobuchar angled toward Warren. Let’s talk about what’s happening on the coast, but also in the Midwest. She reminds the audience she lives in the Midwest. In summary, let’s getting someone from the Midwest on the ballot because flooding is a big issue there.
Next up, Yang. Yang wants to move people to higher grounds, literally and figuratively. Yang disagrees with Warren’s point on nuclear; he’s fine with it and isn’t terribly worried about safety issues.
New question, to Yang. What message does it send when you’re the only person of color on the stage tonight?
Yang expresses that he misses both “Kamala” and “Cory,” and notes he think Booker will be back. He doesn’t mention Castro. Ultimately, he swings it back to his universal basic income concept. If people had money to donate to political campaigns, they would. Ideally, that would result in more candidates of color getting donations.
Sanders wants to change back to climate change, stressing that it’s people of color who will be hurt most by climate change. Then, he stresses statistics on people of color, and specifically black Americans.
Klobuchar swings to voting rights and making sure that everyone, and specifically black Americans, are able to actually vote. Klobuchar mentions Stacy Abrams and the importance of registering everyone to vote the day they turn 18. She also brings up Martin Luther King and integration.
Next up, a question for Sanders about Israel and politics in the Middle East.
Sanders notes he is Jewish, lived in Israel, and that Israel has the right to exist in peace and security. But, he stresses, our policy must be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. Sanders stresses that what’s happening in Gaza is a crisis. Human rights, democracy, and bringing people together. Not endless wars.
Next up, Buttigieg. Buttigieg brings it back to Trump, arguing that Trump basically embedded domestic politics into Israel. Then he (basically) brings up that Trump is an international embarrassment and how that has to change.
Next, a question about Guatamino bay. Basically: President Obama promised to close it, yet didn’t. Asking Warren, would you close it, and if so, how?
Warren says yes, it’s time to close it, it’s an embarrassment.
Biden, why didn’t you manage to do it in the Obama administration?
Biden says they needed Congressional authority to do so. Biden transitioned back to Israel and argued for a two-state solution.
Next, a question on China’s record on human rights. Should the U.S. do more than protest and issue sanctions? Should the U.S. boycott the Olympics?
Buttigieg says every tool should be on the table.
Steyer says the U.S. should gather a coalition of allies and push back on what’s happening now in Hong Kong. It shouldn’t be the U.S. threatening or trying to be the world’s police, but rather a gathering of allies who want to help. He says we have to work with China as a “frenemy.”
The next question related to China goes to Biden. Is the U.S. on a collision course with China?
Biden says it’s not a collision course to war. He wants to bring sanctions in the United Nations. We don’t need to go to war, he argues, but we do need accountability. We’re not going to back away, he adds.
Yang responds by saying he personally has family in Hong Kong. He mentions the ban on face masks and identifying protesters. From here, Yang quickly goes to talk about technology and Chinese resources. He wants an international coalition on technology standards, and he believes that’s where we can win.
Klobuchar argues that we need to keep promises and “threats,” when it comes to foreign policy. Klobuchar argues for a “return to sanity.”
Buttigieg transitions on Trump—says he’s not worried about the president’s humor, but rather that he uses language that mimics that of a dictator. Specifically, he brings up the way that Trump attacks the press and media.
A break! Next up, questions from Tim, who wants to make things “interesting.” Interesting!
First, he brings up how Obama said if women were president, we’d see improvements on pretty much everything. Also: Old men! Who is up first to respond, amid audience laughter?
Sanders says he does disagree on the issue, and admits it might be a bit self-serving. Instead, Sanders goes back to his core point that it isn’t necessarily men versus women, but rather wealth inequality and billionaires in charge that needs to change. It’s not an issue of old or young, male or female, he says, but working-class people taking on billionaires.
Tim jokes with Biden that perhaps Obama didn’t clear that remark with his campaign. Biden says he believes Obama wasn’t referencing him.
Then, a back and forth about Biden’s age. Would he commit to running a second term if he becomes president? No, he hasn’t even gotten one term yet. It’s a nice thought, he adds, but let’s see what happens.
Then Klobuchar, who points out it's nice to have a woman answer this question. Klobuchar argues that she’s won races against men, and that more so, it’s about getting working and rural voters to show up and vote. She would be proud to be the first woman president, but mostly, she says, she wants to be a president that gets things done and improves people’s lives.
She also made a joke about nightclubs!
You’d be the oldest person ever inaugurated, the moderator transitions to Warren
I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated, she said to tons of applause. Then Warren mentions marginalized people and how she believes that’s what Obama was really talking about in his comment. Warren takes the answer back to people who can’t afford their student loans, child care, and are struggling to get by.
Warren then transitioned to her famous selfies and pointed out that those come free. People who can afford expensive dinners to meet with candidates aren’t the everyday people who need help.
Buttigieg joked that jab on $5,000 dinner fundraisers was directed at him, which it seemingly was, though no one laughed. He then stresses he will welcome anyone to his side when it comes to defeating Trump. This turns into one of the most heated exchanges of the evening.
Warren came back swinging at Buttigieg. Who comes to these dinners with fancy wines? He promised his fundraisers would be open door, she reminds the audience. But this one was closed door. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.
Next, Buttigieg hits back at Warren and says that he’s the only person on stage that isn’t a millionaire or billionaire. He suggests that people can’t pass their own purity tests. The audience is totally losing it at this point.
Warren replies by saying that she does not sell access to her time. She does not need behind closed doors meetings with big-dollar donors. If you want to donate to me, she says, that’s fine, but don't come around later and expect to be named Ambassador. I asked everyone on this stage to join me, she says, and it should be an easy step. How will you stand up to the well-connected when you’re president if you can’t now?
Buttigieg has a chance to reply and essentially calls Warren a hypocrite. He again calls it a “purity test.” He seems pretty heated at this point.
Klobuchar says she has never been to a wine cave and didn’t come here for this argument. She wants progress, which includes campaign finance reform.
Sanders slammed billionaires in general, as he is one to do. Specifically, he refers to Biden and Buttigieg.
Next up, a question on immigration. Specifically: DACA Dreamers in California! Will you move on permanent legislative protections for Dreamers?
Yang is up first. Of course, he would, he says, noting he’s the son of immigrants himself. Then he transitions back to deeply misogynistic cultures. He talked about men versus women running for office, and brought up the image of women having to “shake the money tree in the wine cave,” summing up the entire discussion in a… unique image.
Next question related to immigration. There are estimated to 2 million undocumented immigrants in California. Would you insist on a path to citizenship for all 12 million undocumented immigrants nationwide?
Steyer nails Trump’s immigration policy as racist.
Sanders wants a path to citizenship for all undocumented people, protections for Dreamers, and no more separating babies from their parents at the border.
Do you support reparations for children separated at the border? And for African Americans?
Buttigieg says yes to both. He notes just canceling out a racist policy is not enough. Harm compounds, he says, which is absolutely true. He discusses the need to invest in minority-owned businesses.
Biden is up next. He talks about opportunities for immigrants. However, he doesn’t directly say yes to reparations.
Klobuchar calls out Buttigieg and says that he, essentially, shouldn’t disregard the years of experience on the stage. Seemingly, this is a nod toward his age. Buttigieg says “sorry,” while she’s speaking, and then has a moment to reply where he stresses that his military experience counts.
“We should have someone heading up the ticket who has actually won,” Klobuchar says, in reference to the support of moderates and Republicans. Basically: Track record matters.
Buttigieg points out that his experience isn’t nothing; in fact, try doing it in Mike Pence’s Indiana as a gay person. Klobuchar counters that he actually lost in Indiana.
Sanders jumps in to talk about elections and voter turnout.
Next a question about free college for all, which always gets a big reaction.
Sanders was solid as always: free college, period.
Next question about people with disabilities and the workforce. Which, for the record, many disability advocates on Twitter were (understandably) not in love with in terms of framing and some word choice in answers.
Yang references his child with disabilities and talks about basic human value that isn’t tied to just one’s employment.
Warren talks about her experience as a special education teacher. She discusses the importance of paying people with disabilities fairly, independent housing, and treating everyone as a person of value to create a better America.
Next a question on transgender women of color who have murdered this year. Aside from voting for the Equality Bill, what more would you do to protect transgender people?
Sanders says we need moral leadership in the White House to end all forms of discrimination. He loops the answer back to free healthcare for all.
Warren promises she will go to the rose garden every year to read the names of transgender women, and transgender women of color specifically, who have been killed every year. She promises to take action on the homeless crisis and incarcerated transgender people.
Next a question for Biden on Afghanistan, following a big story from The Washington Post.
But in all seriousness, here is Biden’s response.
This leads to talking about continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, including Rep. Baraba Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against military action after 9/11. This comes up because Sanders says he regrets his support of military action at the time.
Now it’s time for Biden and Sanders to spar on healthcare costs and taxes. Biden seems more heated than Sanders, but the two definitely go back-and-forth. Among other notes, Sanders says Biden is upholding the status quo. Yet again, Klobuchar steps in and reduces the fight. She suggests the fight isn’t with one another, but with Republicans who aren't on the stage. Her overall point? Build on ACA.
Sanders suggests he took her “name in vain,” which gets some laughter. This debate is wild!
The final question of the night, “in the spirit of the season,” poses that candidates can either offer forgiveness or a gift to another candidate on stage.
Sound odd? Indeed! Yang seems to think the same, as he appeared amused and baffled. He ultimately offered everyone a copy of his book.
Buttigieg centers his response on the importance of everyone getting behind the nominee.
Warren asks for forgiveness. She says she gets a little “hot” and “worked up.” She refers to her hundred thousand selfies and says that when she meets people “down to their last moments.” Basically, she gets upset because she’s so passionate.
Biden says he takes thousands of selfies, just like Warren, and that people share hard stories with him too.
Sanders wants visions for love instead of greed and hatred.
Klobuchar says this is a “patriotism” check and a “values” check.
Steyer wishes for “teamwork.”
Finally, closing statements! Here’s what is circulating Twitter so far.
TL;DR: Lots of back-and-forths tonight! Buttigieg and Warren sparred on wealthy donors. Buttigieg and Klobuchar sparred on being electable and having a track record. Biden and Sanders also went head to head on healthcare. Klobuchar really positioned herself as a moderator among her peers and had a strong performance; possibly the strongest she’s had yet this cycle. Yang had some real hits with the audience.
Here is that live stream.
What do you think about tonight’s debate? Who shone to you? Who did you want more from? And of course, if anything is missing above, please share below!