Biden sets sights on Trump for tonight's debate

Ahead of tonight's debate, senior officials for Joe Biden's campaign gave reporters a background briefing to preview the former vice president's posture heading in to the 10-candidate event.

The big points: Biden will take the fight to President Donald Trump and not take any attacks on his record lying down.

He will make a strong case for why the president’s leadership is failing working and middle class Americans, and the U.S. on the world stage, as a contrast to the role Biden played in the Obama administration helping to save the auto industry and build close relationships that helped Detroit get back on its feet. He’ll have a lot to say on Trump based on the president's comments over the past weeks. To say they are beneath the dignity of the office doesn’t even begin to describe them, as one aide put it. 

And Biden is "not going to take personal swings," said one aide. "That’s not his way, that’s not who he is." But he is "fully prepared" to "point out where other candidates may not be on as solid ground as they think they are in attacking him." Health care specifically will be a focus for him and one in which he won’t shy from making proactive contrasts with rivals. 

Officials said health care was likely to be a focus for Biden in particular in drawing contrasts with his opponents, especially Sen. Kamala Harris. And they expect more questions to be raised about his record on civil rights and criminal justice issues. “We have 51 percent of the African American vote and they want it,” one official said. But the official added that Biden has shown to have resilient support among African Americans that will withstand any attempts by rivals to undercut it. 

Biden's aides stressed that tonight is "not a make or break moment in the narrative of the campaign" for him like it may be for other candidates. The fact that polls show the race has largely returned to where it was before the first debate shows that it is "hard to change the fundamentals of the race in a setting where each candidate is going to get maybe 10 minutes," the aides said.

Who won Night 2?

Voters who were hoping for close combat weren't disappointed by Wednesday night's 10-way Democratic presidential debate. There was a lot of it, and it was fierce.

Here's a look at which candidates made moves to help their own cause, which of them slipped and which faded into the background (in no particular order).

Harris calls Gabbard an Assad 'apologist'

During an interview with MSNBC's Garrett Haake, Harris built on the attacks she made on Gabbard during the debate. She called Gabbard an "apologist" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, "a war criminal."

Who spoke the most?

Over the last two nights, it was Biden, Harris and Warren, according to NPR. See how the other candidates ranked:

 

The race to make the third round of debates is on

With the first two rounds of Democratic debates in the books, attention will begin turning to which candidates will make the DNC's cut for the third round in early September. 

The thresholds for qualifying for the next debate will increase, per DNC rules. Candidates must register at least 2 percent in four separate polls (from different media sponsors or different regions with the same media sponsor) and reach a minimum of 130,000 unique donors to their campaigns. The donor threshold is self-reported by the campaigns themselves for now and the DNC does not confirm who has made it until the end of the qualifying period.

That donor threshold is one reason so many candidates touted their websites during the debates. Under the DNC rules, here's where the 20 candidates on stage this week currently stand, according to our count:

Candidates who have reached both thresholds:

Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren

Candidates who have reached the polling but not the donor threshold:

Amy Klobuchar

Candidates who have reached the donor but not the polling threshold:

Julián Castro, Andrew Yang

Candidates who have not reached either threshold:

Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan and Marianne Williamson

Twitter knows the flavor

Another viral exchange tonight came during a discussion on criminal justice, when Booker claimed Biden, in attacking Booker's record on the issue as mayor of Newark, was "dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don't even know the flavor" (see our earlier blog post for more on that exchange). It quickly became a top-tweeted moment.

Fact check: Biden wrongly suggests Obama put protections for 'Dreamers' into law

Earlier in the evening, Biden suggested that President Barack Obama put a plan to protect "Dreamers" — some 700,000 undocumented immigrant who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — into law. 

"The president came along, and he's the guy that came up with the idea the first time ever, dealing with the Dreamers. He put that in the law," Biden said, attempting to fend off a broadside from New York City's mayor over the number of deportations that occurred under the Obama administration.

But that's not true. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was a bill that would have given legal status to the so-called “Dreamers.” Several versions of the bill have been introduced in recent years — including while Obama was president — but it has never passed.

Faced with that reality, Obama signed an executive order in 2012 that put into place his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed "Dreamers" without felonies or serious misdemeanors to stay in the country and be eligible for work permits. 

However, because it was put into place via executive action, it was always possible that the program would only be temporary. In 2017, President Donald Trump moved to end DACA, although the effort is still tied up in court. The Supreme Court said in June it would decide the fate of the program during its next term.

Fact check: Did 'almost all' of the tax cuts since 2001 go to the wealthiest Americans?

"Since 2001, we have cut $5 trillion worth of taxes. Almost all of it has gone to the wealthiest people in America,” Bennet claimed Wednesday night. 

This is exaggerated.

Nearly two-thirds of $5.1 trillion in tax cuts went to the richest fifth of Americans, according to a 2018 report from the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. That’s quite a lot, but it’s not “almost all.”

Gillibrand wants to clean up the environment — in the White House

During a conversation about climate change, Gillibrand was asked about her support for the Green New Deal and whether the proposal is realistic. People are still talking about her answer.

The New York senator responded that her first act as president would be to douse the Oval with Clorox bleach. Re-engaging the U.S. on global climate change would be job No. 2, she said.

Biden sets internet ablaze with closing call to arms

Biden told his followers to “go to Joe 30330 and help me in this fight.”

A quick peek at his Twitter account makes clear that supporters need to “text Joe to 30330,” but the internet had a good time with this one. Many laughs were had on Twitter where users contemplated if Biden knew what he was talking about, thought he was running in an election thousands of years in the future and so on.

Harris dings Biden for his past support of the Hyde Amendment

Nearing the end of the debate, Harris knocked Biden for supporting — until just recently — the Hyde Amendment, a federal law that bars the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions.

"On the Hyde Amendment, Vice President, where you made a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive health care, including women who were the victims of rape and incest, do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?" Harris asked. "Because you have only, since you’ve been running for president this time, said that you had in some way would take that back or you didn’t agree with the decision that you made over many, many years."

Harris is right — the vice president backtracked on his support for the Hyde Amendment just months ago in June, amid a flurry of criticism.

""I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to ... exercise their constitutionally protected right," Biden said, when he announced his departure from the long-held belief. "If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code."

Who is Tulsi Gabbard?

According to Google Trends, Joe Biden (in yellow) was dominating as the most-searched candidate.  During the debate, it was Tulsi Gabbard (in blue).