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January Democratic debate live updates: Six candidates face off in Des Moines

Tuesday's debate was the smallest one yet.
Image: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, former mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar will take the state in a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night in Iowa.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, former mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar will take the stage in a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night in Iowa.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

NBC News provided up-to-the-minute coverage of the seventh Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Tuesday's debate stage was the smallest one yet, with many of the candidates who appeared on stage in previous debates either failing to qualify or dropping out of the race.

Hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, the debate featured six candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, billionaire Tom Steyer, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

Read about all the highlights below.

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Live Blog

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Team Sanders: Time to move on from Warren controversy

The tone from Team Sanders in the spin room tonight was that it is time to move on from the Warren controversy. 

"You have two candidates, they got different recollections of the event. Voters are gonna have to look at those and make their own decision," Senior Advisor Jeff Weaver told NBC News. 

Neither Weaver nor top surrogate Nina Turner spoke to Sanders after the debate about the awkward exchange between Sanders and Warren at the conclusion of the debate where it appears Warren denied Sanders a handshake. 

NBC News has reached out to the campaign for an understanding of what was said and what actually occurred. Turner said while she was not sure what was said, it was clear their conversation was not pleasant. 

Who won the night?

The fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party was on display Tuesday night in Des Moines, with moderate and progressive candidates clashing on a range of issues — from trade to troops in the Middle East — during the final debate before the Iowa caucuses.

With just six candidates on stage Tuesday night at the CNN/Des Moines Register debate — down from the initial 20 contenders divided over two nights at the field's first faceoff last year — the contenders had more space to let their policy differences come into sharper focus. But despite rising tensions in recent days, they mostly avoided lobbing personal attacks at each other.

Less than a month before Iowa voters weigh in on a 2020 Democratic contest that’s become a virtual four-way dead heat, here's who held their ground — and who might have spent their last night on a primary season debate stage.

Fact check: Sanders exaggerates health care data points

Sanders exaggerated data points about the current American health care system in his pitch for "Medicare for All" on Tuesday night.

"First of all, what Joe forgets to say is when you leave the current system as it is, what you are talking about are workers paying, on average, 20 percent of their incomes for health care," Sanders said, referring to former Vice President Biden. "That is insane. You've got 500,000 people going bankrupt because they cannot pay their medical bills. We're spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country."

Let's dig in.

  • Americans are not typically spending 20 percent of percent of incomes on health care, according to federal consumer expenditure data from 2018, as well as research on the issue. To be sure, there are some people for whom this is true — particularly in Medicare families — but it's not correct to describe the nation this way. 
  • The U.S. spends twice as much as many — but not all — developed nations on health care, according to data from the intergovernmental Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It’s not twice as much as "any other country," however.

As for the half a million medical bill bankruptcies per year, The Washington Post dug into the data point last year and rated it "Three Pinocchios" — though Sanders' campaign and researchers of the American Journal of Public Health editorial his campaign told The Post he relied on for the statistic disputed the rating. Read the paper's deep dive here

Trump knocks Steyer after debate

Warren appears to refuse Sanders handshake in chilly exchange after debate

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The seventh Democratic debate, by the numbers

Warren and Sanders de-escalate campaign feud over contested remark

DES MOINES, Iowa — The nonaggression pact between Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts faced its most difficult test and held — at least for now.

The two progressive senators de-escalated a tense round of tit-for-tat exchanges between their presidential campaigns on the debate stage here Tuesday night over the charged issues of gender and electability.

Aides and supporters of both senators, who have more or less remained allies even while running against each for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, had accused each other of dirty tricks and lying in recent days after a series of leaks to the media, culminating in Warren saying in a statement that Sanders once told her he didn't think a woman could win the presidency.

But when the topic came up during a debate hosted by CNN, both sought to set the issue aside and move on, even as Sanders once again denied telling Warren a woman couldn't win during a one-on-one meeting in 2018.

Read the full story.

The final numbers on candidate attacks on Donald Trump in tonight's debate

Candidates attacked President Donald Trump 45 times in the two hours and ten minutes of tonight's debate. That's more attacks directed at Trump in any debate except Night 2 of the July 2019 Democratic debate.

See the full numbers at our seventh Democratic debate attack tracker here.

Fact check: Did Biden introduce the first climate change bill?

"Back in 1986, I introduced the first climate change bill — and check PolitiFacts, they said it was a game changer. I have been fighting this for a long time," Biden said during Tuesday's debate.

While Biden did introduce one of the first pieces of climate change legislation in the Senate in 1986 and again in 1987, as PolitiFact noted, it wasn't the first time Congress had considered the issue.

A Democratic senator named Al Gore introduced a non-binding resolution in 1985 asking the president to study greenhouse gas emissions, PolitiFact said. The New York Times covered his push with the headline, “Action Is Urged to Avert Global Climate Shift," and reported that Gore said his bill would call for ''an international year of scientific study of the greenhouse effect and would request that the President take steps to begin this worldwide cooperative investigation.''


Candidates deliver their closing statements

And that’s a wrap, folks. Here are the (not verbatim) closing statements of each candidate summed up, edited for length and clarity in order of speaking.

Klobuchar: This election is about you. It is about your health care, your schools and your lives. It’s about racial justice and climate change and gun safety. If you are tired of the extremism and noise and nonsense in Washington, I am your candidate. 

Steyer: The American people are my teammates. I can prepare to take on Trump on the debate stage and take him down on the economy.

Buttigieg: We cannot take the risk of trying to confront this president with the same Washington mindset. If you are tired of the spectacle of division and dysfunction, join me to turn the page on our policies and summon the courage to break from the past. 

Warren: I see this as our moment in history, our moment when no one is left on the sidelines — those living in poverty, trans women of color, black infant mortality, climate change, student loan debt. Hope and courage, that is how I will make you proud as your nominee, and as the first woman president. 

Sanders: This is the moment when we have to think big, not small. This the moment to have the courage to take on the 1 percent and corporate greed and create a government that works for all and not just the 1 percent. 

Biden: Character is on the ballot, and that's not what Trump is spewing out with his xenophobia and racism. We have to restore America’s soul. It is in jeopardy under this president. We have to regain the respect of the world. We are in a position to do so right now.