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December Democratic debate live updates: Seven candidates face off in Los Angeles

The smallest number of candidates yet will spar onstage at Loyola Marymount University starting at 8 p.m.
Image: Seven Democratic presidential candidates will take the stage in a debate sponsored by PBS Newshour and Politico  in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
Seven Democratic presidential candidates will take the stage in a debate sponsored by PBS Newshour and Politico in Los Angeles on Thursday night.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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.

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Live Blog

Warren and Buttigieg clash over campaign donations

In one of the standout moments of the night, Warren hit Buttigieg directly about how he is financing his campaign, specifically knocking him for hosting close-door fundraisers — particularly one that took place in California in a wine cave. 

She noted that she ran grassroots campaign and talks to ordinary voters, and that meeting with big-ticket donors makes a candidate out of touch with ordinary issues. 

“I do not sell access to my time,” she said. 

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Buttigieg hit back, saying it’s important to raise money to beat Trump and such party “purity tests” diminish the importance of the election. He also took a jab at Warren’s net worth, saying it’s several times more than his. 

Klobuchar then jumped in, saying she did not come to the debate to hear that argument, and pivoted to how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has killed several bills that the Democratic-controlled House passed.

Klobuchar leading all candidates in talking time, Yang and Steyer talking the least

More than an hour into the sixth debate and Klobuchar has eclipsed Warren as the leader of the talking time race. See the latest on candidate talking time in the debate here

Biden won’t commit to second term

Biden — who would be 82 years old on Election Day in 2024 — was asked if he would commit to running for a second presidential term if he wins the 2020 election.

“No,” he said. “I’m not willing to commit one way or another."

“Let’s see where we are,” he added.

Politico reported earlier this month that Biden had been signaling to aides that he would only serve one term if elected.

Still, his refusal to say that he’d commit to serving two terms is a surprising admission. Politics watchers have pointed out that the fueling of questions over a one-term presidency — especially by Biden himself — could very easily make Biden a lame-duck president if he were elected.

Warren turns an age question


Tom Steyer calls China a 'frenemy'

The candidates are talking tough on China, but it’s Steyer who offers the most memorable answer. 

After Buttigieg's response, Steyer pushes against the idea of isolation of China and ties his answer to the need to work together on climate change. 

“We have to work with them as a frenemy, people who disturb us, who we disagree with, but who in effect we are linked with in a world that is ever getting closer,” Steyer says.

Trump tweets about impeachment in first hour of debate


Buttigieg's big promise

Buttigieg said he would leave open the option of boycotting Olympics in China as a sanction, but that wasn't his biggest threat. He said that if the Chinese were to repeat the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Hong Kong, "they will be isolated from the free world and we will lead that isolation economically and diplomatically."

China's hardly the kind of country that can be isolated easily — it's no North Korea or Libya. It's not even Iran. China has the second-largest economy in the world. It has a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and it has a lot of nuclear weapons. That is, China's got a lot of economic and diplomatic leverage.

Joaquin Castro tweets at Pete Buttigieg about 'wine cave'


This is what Castro seems to be referring to:


Climate change leads to nuclear — and thorium! — discussion

Nuclear energy is a controversial topic in the climate debate due to the risks of nuclear facilities and the waste it creates. 

Yang took the opportunity to bring up a reasonably obscure technology: thorium reactors. Thorium is a slightly radioactive metallic element that has been touted as a way of generating nuclear power with less waste, though there aren’t currently any working thorium reactors. And there’s plenty of skepticism about whether it’s a good way to address climate change.

Yang: 'An honor and disappointment' to be only candidate of color on stage

Andrew Yang was asked about being the only candidate of color on stage at tonight’s debate.

“It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight,” Yang said. “I miss Kamala, I miss Cory, although I think Cory will be back."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., dropped out of the race earlier this month, while Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., did not qualify for the debate.

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Former Health and Human Services Secretary Julian Castro and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also failed to qualify for the debate. 

A moment later, Sanders was asked to answer the same question but began discussing climate change.

One of the moderators then chimed in.

“Senator, with all due respect, the question is about race,”  PBS's Yamiche Alcindor said, prompting wild applause from the audience.

What Cory Booker is doing during the debate