NBC News provided up-to-the-minute coverage of the sixth Democratic presidential primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
The debate, hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, featured the most intimate group of candidates to date. Just seven of the leading candidates took the stage, including frontrunners former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as well as lower-tier candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
Who won the December Democratic debate?
A day after the House impeached President Donald Trump, the Democratic presidential contenders made their case for why they are best suited to take him on next year.
With the field of candidates on the debate stage Thursday night in Los Angeles narrowed to seven, there was more room for head-to-head conflict between contenders, with the bottom tier fighting to break into the top ranks and the top tier looking to break away from the pack.
With less than two months before voters begin weighing in, here’s a look at who landed their punches, who weathered the blows and who might have had their last moment on the debate stage.
Kamala Harris' husband: 'We are just enjoying each other right now'
Cost of living issues get limited time during debate
Detailed proposals to address the cost of living concerns vexing many Americans remained limited during Thursday night’s debate.
During the first hour of the debate, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — the candidate who benefitted from the wine cave fundraiser — mentioned a grim reality of full-time work at the minimum wage. A person earning $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage, takes home about $15,080 per year before taxes, if that person takes no time away from work. In 2018, about 1.7 million Americans earned the minimum wage or less, according to a March Bureau of Labor Statistics study. But, $15,080 is not enough to cover the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in any major city in the United States, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition analysis of housing costs released this year. Buttigieg made reference to that fact on the debate stage.
When businessman Andrew Yang was asked to comment on the fact that he was the only candidate of color who met the Democratic Party’s polling and donation criteria to participate in the December debate, Yang responded with data hinting at the shape and size of inequality in the United States. Yang said that just 5 percent of Americans donate to campaigns because one must have disposable income to do so. A Pew analysis of The American National Election Study found that about 12 percent of Americans donated to political campaigns during the last presidential election cycle in 2016. That year, median incomes also climbed but differences between racial and ethnic groups remained significant.
In 2016, the median Asian household income reached $81,431, for white families $65,041, Latinos $47,675 and black households $39,490, according to U.S. Census data. Those figures all continued to climb in 2018. But, that year, nearly 40 percent of Americans indicated they would need to borrow to cover a $400 unexpected emergency expense and about 12 percent said they would have no way to cover such an expense at all, according to an annual Federal Reserve study of economic well-being.
The figures together suggest that the cost of living continues to outstrip earnings or come close for millions of Americans. During Thursday night’s debate, multiple candidates made mention of college and out of pocket medical costs — topics that have occupied large portions of previous debates. But gender and racial pay gaps, the return to stagnant overall wage growth, and cuts to social safety net programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) received little to no mention.
Sarah Sanders mocks Biden for stuttering. Biden responds, 'It’s called empathy. Look it up.'
Toward the end of the debate, former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders mocked Biden on Twitter for accentuating a stutter in his response to a question about whether, in the spirit of the holidays, there was a candidate on stage to whom the others would ask forgiveness or give a gift.
“I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about. #DemDebate,” Sanders tweeted.
In his answer on stage, Biden said Warren, who had just emphasized her personal contact with thousands of voters when taking selfies with them on the campaign trail, was not the only person who snapped photos with voters.
The former vice president said he’s done “thousands of them,” adding that people often “lay out their problems,” such as telling Biden — who lost his first wife and infant daughter in a car accident nearly 50 years ago to the day, and his eldest son to brain cancer in 2015 — about how they’ve lost a family member, or asking him whether they’re going to be okay.
Biden said that he and his wife, Jill Biden, have a list of people whom they call on a weekly or monthly basis.
“I tell them I’m here. I give them my private phone number. They keep in touch with me. A little kid who says, 'I, I, I, I, I, can’t talk. What do I do?' ” said Biden, who also has talked recently about how he’s dealt with a history of stuttering.
Biden responded to Sanders in a tweet, saying, “I’ve worked my whole life to overcome a stutter. And it’s my great honor to mentor kids who have experienced the same. It’s called empathy. Look it up.”
Sanders issued a follow-up tweet about 10 minutes after her initial one, both of which she later deleted, that said, “To be clear was not trying to make fun of anyone with a speech impediment. Simply pointing out I can’t follow much of anything Biden is talking about.”
Shortly after that, she apologized.
Female candidates ask for forgiveness for tone
Both female candidates on the stage, Warren and Klobuchar, asked for forgiveness for their tone during Thursday night’s debate, a nod to the unique challenges that women face in being judged for their demeanor in politics.
Asked by moderators to ask for forgiveness on something or offer a gift, two male candidates talked about gifting other candidates' books they’d written, while both women asked for forgiveness.
“I know sometimes I get really worked up and I know sometimes I get a little hot,” Warren said. “I don’t really mean to. What happens is when you do 100,000 selfies with people, you hear a lot of stories about people who are really down.”
Klobuchar later said she can be “blunt” in her campaign, because she thinks it’s so important.
“If I get worked up about this, it’s because I believe it so much in my heart that we have to bring people with us, not shut them out,” she added.
Candidates hit key themes in closing remarks
The seven candidates hit some of their key themes in closing remarks:
Steyer: Fight corporate power, term limits, climate change. Yang: Address why Trump won, get money out of Washington. Klobuchar: I can beat Trump, unite the country. Buttigieg: Build a bigger Democratic Party. Warren: Root out corruption, build social services. Sanders: Grassroots change from bottom up. Biden: Electability, someone who can get things done.
Trump campaign after debate: 'None of these characters has a chance'
“After yet another drab, pessimistic Democrat debate, it’s even more clear why they felt they had to impeach President Trump. None of these characters has a chance,” said campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Yang saves a solid laugh line for closing statement
Closing statements came up quick — and Andrew Yang used his to earn some laughs.
“I know what you’re thinking America,” Yang said to open his remarks. “How am I still on the stage with them?"
The line prompted an uproar of laughter from the crowd.
Klobuchar points to the political challenges of health care
After a fiery exchange between Biden and Sanders over their respective health care plans, Klobuchar looked to calm the moment: “Whoa, guys, hey.”
She then pointed to a challenge for the ambitious health care plans (and really many of the plans discussed on stage tonight): politics.
“Here’s the political problem. This fight that you guys are having isn’t real,” she said, pointing to the need to work with other Democrats who want to build on Obamacare, including the new governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear.
“If you want to cross a river over some troubled waters, you build a bridge. You don’t blow one up,” she added. “I think that we should build on the Affordable Care Act.”