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

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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

Flashback: Barbara Lee's Iraq war vote gets high praise at last debate

At the December debate, in response to a question about what to do about continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Sanders said he was wrong to support the initial military action — and acknowledged the stand taken by Barbara Lee.

Lee, a Democratic representative from California, has been an ardent anti-war advocate and was the only member of Congress to vote against military action after 9/11.

On Middle East presence, Warren calls for removal of ‘combat troops’

In response to a question about whether to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East, Warren stands out for calling for the removal of combat troops.

Biden and Klobuchar hold that the U.S. needs to maintain a presence. Sanders and Buttigieg don’t offer definitive answers.

Overall, the candidates didn't demonstrate significant differences between on military policy in the Mideast, with the exception of whether to leave some troops in the area. And even if you pull troops out, it’s relatively easy today to send them back fairly quickly.

Who's attacking the most? Who's talking the most?

Throughout tonight's debate, the NBC News Data / Graphics team is tracking the numbers behind the debate: How much speaking time has each candidate gotten, and which candidates are attacking one another (and Donald Trump) the most.

Fifteen minutes into the debate Bernie Sanders is leading all candidates in speaking time and Donald Trump is the only person candidates are attacking.

Warren staying on message during foreign policy question

Blitzer pokes at Klobuchar/Buttigieg feud

Klobuchar and Buttigieg engaged in some heated exchanges in the previous debate regarding experience. Blitzer wastes no time in bringing that up, but Klobuchar dodges it.

"I’ve been very clear that I respect the mayor’s experience very much in the military," she said. " I just have a different experience. I’ve been in the U.S. Senate for over 12 years."

Smaller group, smaller venue

Previous debates were in large halls and had more candidates. This time, with six candidates in a smaller venue at Drake University, there’s already a cozier feeling to the scene.

Debate No. 7 begins with question on the candidates' qualifications to be commander in chief

The seventh Democratic debate kicks off with a foreign policy question: Why the candidates think they're best prepared to be commander in chief. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was given the opportunity to respond first.

Sanders said he's fit to be commander in chief because he voted against the war in Iraq when he was a representative in the House. He said he would lead through diplomacy rather than war. 

Candidates take the stage!

Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar at the start of the Democratic presidential primary debate on Jan. 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Trump: 'I don't believe that Bernie said that'

MILWAUKEE — At a campaign rally here Tuesday night just ahead of the Democratic debate, President Donald Trump referred to the latest rift between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

“I don't believe that Bernie said that, I really don't,” Trump said of reports that Sanders told Warren in a private conversation that a woman could not win the presidency. 

“A woman can win for president,” Trump said, laughing at a member in the crowd who shouted “Melania!”

Biden aides say he intends to stay out of Warren-Sanders fray

There's at least one candidate who will not be getting into the fray at all between Warren and Sanders: Biden. Even though he will literally be standing between both of them, three Biden aides say that the former VP will do his best to stay out of the spat between the two most progressive candidates in the race.

Biden again avoided reporters’ questions about the Warren-Sanders feud at a stop in Des Moines on Monday night (he hasn’t held a formal gaggle with his traveling press corps in weeks). And his campaign opted not to hold its usual debate day briefing with reporters Tuesday in part to avoid being drawn into the fray.

Aides say Biden is prepared, however, to once again answer charges about his Iraq War record since they expect Sanders to bring it up during the debate. In recent weeks, Biden has been quick to dismiss Sanders’ jabs about the former vice president on Iraq and Biden’s inability to excite the party. Though Biden has largely avoided responding to Sanders directly, he has offered more than a few sarcastic asides lately, which he hasn’t done as much with other Democratic opponents in the race.

Biden really hasn’t gone after Warren in recent weeks, besides pointing out generally that some candidates like her have attacked him for what they believe is an unrealistic ability to unite the party.

Sanders posts ad attacking Biden ahead of debate