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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

LGBTQ community’s top candidates asked about trans violence

The two candidates, who according to a one-of-its-kind Out Magazine poll are the top two picks of LGBTQ voters, were asked how they would reduce violence against transgender people.

Bernie Sanders made an intersectional call for ending all forms of discrimination against “all minorities in this country” and pivoted to a call for universal health care. 

Elizabeth Warren promised to “lift up their voices” and to read from the White House Rose Garden “the names of transgender women, of people of color, who have been killed in the past year,” to force a difficult conversation around violence against minority communities.

There are two tiers of talking time, and Sanders is in the middle.

In the top tier: Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Warren. In the bottom: Biden, Steyer and Yang. See the latest on candidate talking time here.

Candidates unify on immigration

Some of the strongest unity seen on the debate stage came when candidates were asked about immigration. 

They vowed to undo President Trump’s immigration policies on Day One or in the first 100 days of their presidencies. 

Tom Steyer delivered some of the harshest criticism, saying the president is against immigration by nonwhite people.

"This is his attempt to divide us on race. … He’s been vilifying nonwhite people. He’s been trying to inflame his base and scare them that if, in fact, white people lose control of this country, they are going to lose control of their lives,” he said. 

Steyer said those arguments have led Trump “to break the laws of humanity in our name.”

None of the candidates mentioned decriminalizing crossing the border illegally, as Julián Castro first proposed and several Democrats have since endorsed, or whether to enact a moratorium on deportations, as some advocates have demanded. 

Klobuchar claims moderate, Midwest bona fides

Amy Klobuchar — who is explicitly using her Minnesota roots to make a case for an Electoral College strategy — wasn’t having Pete Buttigieg’s attempt to claim better Midwest bona fides. 

Klobuchar said Democrats have to create a coalition of “moderate Republicans and independents as well as a fired up democratic base” to win, and said she had done it three times by winning the midwestern state of Minnesota. 

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Buttigieg countered that some things matter more than “vote totals,” like “putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana” — a reference to his mayoral re-election campaign in South Bend.

Klobuchar snapped back: “If you had won in Indiana that would be one thing — you tried and lost by 20 points,” referring to Buttigieg’s ill-fated 2010 run for Indiana state treasurer in which he won less than 40 percent of the vote.

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Reparations now?

Asked about his position on reparations, Pete Buttigieg said he supports a longstanding proposal to study the impact of paying reparations to the descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States. Then, Buttigieg suggested that in the interim, investments should be made immediately in the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, in creating equity in health care and education and expanding business opportunities because the effects of theft — in this case, the stolen labor, lives and liberty of the enslaved — compound over time, Buttigieg said. 

But when the same question was put to former Vice President Joe Biden, he pivoted with an answer that described innovation as the critical element of American economic dominance. Biden then called for sustained investment in the nation’s increasingly Latino child population. Latino children made up 25 percent of the nation’s K-12 school-aged population in 2016, according to census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center

No permanent friends, only permanent interests

The debate is showing how alliances can quickly shift, like in rounds of "Survivor."

After Warren squared off with Buttigieg and Buttigieg appeared to come out the victor, Klobuchar blindsided him. That was made possible by the fact that Warren hasn't laid a glove on Klobuchar — and the fact that both Warren and Klobuchar have an interest in knocking down Buttigieg for different reasons. Warren and Buttigieg are competing for liberal elites, while he's fighting Klobuchar for Iowans and other Midwestern moderates.

Klobuchar slammed him for having "mocked 100 years of experience" in belittling the work of Washington veterans like herself, Warren, Sanders and Biden.

"We should have someone heading up this ticket who has actually won," she said, noting that Buttigieg lost his statewide race in Indiana and his bid for Democratic National Committee chairman.

When he countered that he'd won re-election as a "gay dude" in "Mike Pence's Indiana," she shot back that South Bend isn't the whole state.

"If you had won in Indiana that would be one thing," she said before referring to his failed run for state treasurer. "You tried and you lost by 20 points."

Buttigieg has target on his back tonight

Buttigieg has emerged as the biggest target on stage for his fellow Democrats.

Moments after Warren knocked him for hosting closed-door fundraisers (particularly one that took place in California in a “wine cave”), Klobuchar went after the South Bend, Indiana, mayor. She alleged that he criticized at the last debate how much experience she, and others on stage, had.

“I think you should respect our experience,” Klobuchar said. “I respect yours as a local official, I’ve been one.”

Buttigieg hit back, saying to Klobuchar, “you actually did denigrate my experience.”

“I was going to let it go because we have bigger fish to fry,” he said.

But Klobuchar came back aggressively.

“We don’t have bigger fish to try than picking a president of the United States,” she said.

The increasing attacks on Buttigieg come as he’s emerged as the frontrunner in Iowa, whose voters will caucus in just 46 days.

Here’s the wine cave everyone hit Buttigieg over

Buttigieg has consistently taken heat for having closed-door fundraisers with big dollar donors — including in tonight's debate. 

The Associated Press reported last week that Buttigieg dined privately with donors on Sunday at a winery owned by a billionaire couple.

The Hall Rutherford wine caves is in California's Napa Valley and has a chandelier with “1,500 Swarovski crystals, an onyx banquet table to reflect its luminescence and bottles of cabernet sauvignon that sell for as much as $900,” the AP reported

The AP said the event was not listed on Buttigieg’s public schedule and reported that the mayor has raised more than $50 million so far this race. 

Fact check: Did Warren’s campaign benefit from big-ticket fundraisers?

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren attacked Democrats who rake in top dollars in pricey fundraisers, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg claimed that her campaign wasn’t as pure as she claimed.

“Senator, your presidential campaign right now, as we speak, is funded in part by money you transferred, having raised it at those same big ticket fundraisers you now denounce,” Buttigieg said.  

He’s right. Warren transferred more than $10 million from her Senate campaign coffers to underwrite her presidential bid, giving her a healthy leg up on fundraising when she became a presidential contender. Warren did fundraising dinners right up until she easily won her 2018 Senate re-election bid.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell organized a fund-raising dinner for Warren last year at a fancy steakhouse in Philadelphia with $120 cheesesteak, The New York Times reported in September.

The vibe has turned

After a mostly genial first hour, the candidates are starting to exchange plenty of jabs — and a few haymakers.