IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bloomberg in fray as Democrats trade nonstop attacks at most contentious debate yet

Candidates delivered the harshest broadsides of the primary campaign ahead of Nevada voting on Saturday.
Get more newsLiveon

LAS VEGAS — The Democratic debate on Wednesday night featured nonstop fireworks, kicking off with every person on stage not named Mike Bloomberg going after the former New York City mayor — before the night broke down into a two-hour slug fest with all the candidates throwing punches this way and that.

The first hit at the NBC/MSNBC two-hour debate here came from front-runner Bernie Sanders, who rippedBloomberg who was participating in his first presidential faceofffor his record as mayor. Bloomberg promptly fired back, telling the senator he cannot beat President Donald Trump.

Sanders slammed Bloomberg for the controversial stop-and-frisk policing policy his administration used, "which went after Latino and African American people in outrageous ways," Sanders said, adding that Bloomberg's record "is not going to" increase voter turnout.

Bloomberg hit back, saying, "I don’t think there's any chance of the senator beating President Trump."

"You don't start out by saying I've got 160 million people, I’m going to take away the insurance plan they love," Bloomberg added — a reference to Sanders' "Medicare for All" proposal.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

Next to swing at Bloomberg was Elizabeth Warren, who took aim at the mayor's past critical statements about women.

"I'd like to talk about who we're running against. A billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians,' and, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump,” Warren said. "I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg."

"Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk," she added. "Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."

Amy Klobuchar took her shot next.

"I've been told many times to wait my turn and to step aside," she said. "And I'm not going to do that now, and I'm not going to do that because a campaign memo from Mayor Bloomberg said, this morning, that the only way we get a nominee is if we step aside for him," she said.

"I think we need something different than Donald Trump. I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say, we need somebody richer in the White House."

Moments later, Pete Buttigieg offered his criticism for Bloomberg, but broadened it to also include Sanders.

"Let's put someone forward who is actually a Democrat," Buttigieg said. The remark was a reference to Sanders being a self-described “democratic socialist" and to Bloomberg having previously been a Republican and an independent.

"We shouldn't have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and one who want to buy this party out," Buttigieg said."And most Americans don't see where they fit if they've got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil, and a billionaire that thinks power, that money ought to be the root of all power."

After the opening round of Bloomberg bashing wrapped up, candidates turned their ire on one another.

Warren helped kick off the free-for-all by ripping the health care proposals of two of her competitors.

"Mayor Buttigieg really has a slogan that was thought up by his consultants to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to afford their health care. It’s not a plan, it’s a PowerPoint," Warren jabbed.

Klobuchar's plan, she added, "is even less."

“It's like a Post-it note," she said. "Insert plan here."

Moments earlier, Buttigieg hit Sanders over the recent spat the senator's supporters had with an influential union in Nevada.

"As a matter of fact, you're the one who is at war with the Culinary Union right here in Las Vegas,” Buttigieg said.

Tensions between Sanders and Nevada’s powerful culinary union exploded last week after it publicly criticized his campaign's push for "Medicare for All." The union then said it had comer under “vicious” attacks from Sanders supporters.

Sanders put the topic right back in Buttigieg’s corner, retorting that "we have more unions' support than you have ever dreamed of.”

“We have the support of unions all across this country,” he said.

Buttigieg also attacked Sanders for not releasing enough information about his health, citing his October heart attack.

"Under President Obama the standard was that the president would release full medical records, do a physical and release the readout. I think that's the standard that we should hold ourselves to as well," he said.

Tensions between Buttigieg and Klobuchar — the two Midwesterners who have both geared their campaigns to appeal to centrist Democrats and disillusioned Republicans and who have lashed out at each other in increasingly personal ways also bubbled over repeatedly.

"You're staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You're on the committee that oversees border security, you're on the committee that does trade, you're literally part of the committee that's overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south?

The criticism was a reference to Klobuchar not being able this week to recall the name of the president of Mexico.

"Are you trying to say that I'm dumb? Are you mocking me here, Pete?" Klobuchar replied.

Klobuchar then slashed Buttigieg for his lack of experience, saying, "I am the one, not you, that has won statewide in congressional district after congressional district."

"And I will say, when you tried in Indiana, Pete, to run, what happened to you? You lost by over 20 points," she said, referring to his failed bid to be Indiana's state treasurer in 2010 . "So don't tell me about experience. What unites us here is we want to win. And I think we should put a proven winner in charge of the ticket."

Later, after Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for having voted to confirm Trump's pick for Customs and Border Protection commissioner, in a long soliloquy that took aim at the senator's record with Latinx voters and on immigration, and that ended with the mayor speaking Spanish.

"I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete," Klobuchar said, delivering the cutting line barely before Buttigieg had finished speaking.

She added that "you have not been in the arena doing that work" on immigration. "You must have memorized a bunch of talking points," she said.

Buttigieg responded: "This is the arena, too. You don't have to be in Washington to matter."

The field, however, mostly focused on attacks on Bloomberg, with Warren taking the lead and hitting the ex-mayor once again on past comments he's made about women. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that multiple women had alleged that Bloomberg made profane, sexist comments and that they had signed nondisclosure agreements about the comments.

That exchange prompted Warren to deliver, arguably, the most memorable lines of the evening.

"I hope you heard his defense. I’ve been nice to 'some women.' That just doesn't cut it," she said. Bloomberg was seen rolling his eyes while Warren spoke.

She then requested that Bloomberg, on the spot on national television, release the women making the allegations from their nondisclosure agreements and she demanded to know how many there were. Bloomberg repeatedly declined to answer.

He also stumbled through his defense on the entire topic, saying, "None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told."

He said that "there's agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet" and releasing the accusers from their nondisclosure agreements is "up to them."

Warren then accused Bloomberg of having "muzzled" the women and compared the situation to Trump, who has also come under scrutiny for entering into nondisclosure agreements with women who had alleged suspect behavior.

"This is also a question about electability. We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has, who knows how many, nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against," Warren said.

Biden used the moment to pile on Bloomberg, too.

"Let's get something straight here, it's easy. All the mayor has to do is say, 'you are released from the nondisclosure agreement.' Period," Biden said. "If they want to ... they should be able to release themselves. Say yes."

The GOP seized on the night of pummeling, calling the event in a statement the "Democrats' Dumpster Fire in Nevada."

Wednesday night's debate came as several polls out this week have showed Bloomberg surging nationally into the runner-up position behind Sanders.

As a result, the two campaigns had increasingly painted the contest for the Democratic nomination as a two-man race.

But it has been Bloomberg more than anyone who, amid his rise in the polls, has faced blistering attacks, even before Wednesday night's debate, including over stop-and-frisk and past comment's he'd made about the LGBTQ community.