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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.

Download the NBC News app for full politics coverage.

Trump's a popular target. Tonight he's even more popular.

944d ago / 3:29 AM UTC

Midway into tonight's debate, President Donald Trump has been attacked as many times as in the entire September Democratic debate. Amy Klobuchar accounts for 11 of those 28 attacks, and Bernie Sanders  five.

Warren gets personal during child care debate

944d ago / 3:24 AM UTC

Meghan McCain is watching the candidates tonight - and misses some of them

944d ago / 3:23 AM UTC

Bernie Sanders now leads all candidates in talking time

944d ago / 3:22 AM UTC

An hour into the seventh Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders leads all candidates in talking time. After a strong start, Joe Biden has dropped back into the middle of the pack.

Follow the NBC News talking-time tracker here.

Warren’s ‘Hardball’ strategy

944d ago / 3:19 AM UTC

Chris Matthews deserves a shout-out after Elizabeth Warren seemed to snag a chapter — “Hang a Lantern on Your Problem” — out of the MSNBC’s host’s seminal political book “Hardball.” The phrase means it’s better to call attention to your own potential political vulnerabilities than let an opponent hammer you on them first.

Warren said the question of whether a woman can win the presidency has been swirling in Democratic circles throughout the primary — in a way that suggests a woman would lose — and that the candidates shouldn’t “deny” that. 

The idea is nonsense, she argued, noting she and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are “the only people on this stage who have won every single election they've been in.”

Her rivals agreed with her that a woman can with the presidency. That makes it harder for any of them to suggest a woman can’t win going forward and may inoculate her and Klobuchar from voter fears that nominating a woman in 2020 will result in the same outcome as it did in 2016. Not the hardball viewers might have expected after Warren tussled with Sanders over whether he’d told her a woman couldn’t win the White House, but “Hardball” nonetheless.

Can women win? They already have.

944d ago / 3:10 AM UTC

In responding to concerns that a woman cannot win the presidency, Sen. Elizabeth Warren argued that Trump’s presidency had produced many things including a wave of women elected to public office.

In 2018, the first midterm election cycle after Donald Trump secured the White House, voters sent a record number of women to Congress: 117. Today, women make up about 20 percent of the U.S. House and Senate.

It’s not the first time that women have seen vast public office gains amid gender-related controversy. After Americans watched an all-male Senate Judiciary committee investigate Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations, voters elected so many women to federal public office that 1992 became known as “The Year of The Woman.” That year, California became the first state with an all-female Senate delegation.

Sanders fact checks Warren, whose math is just ever so slightly off

944d ago / 3:08 AM UTC

After Warren said "the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me," Sanders countered with a fact check: He beat a Republican incumbent in Vermont in 1990.

The devil’s in the details — especially when it comes to fact checking — and Sanders is technically correct. He defeated Rep. Peter Smith, a Republican, in November 1990. So ... 29 years and a couple of months ago.

In lieu of debate, Bloomberg’s social team gets weird

944d ago / 3:07 AM UTC

It’s hard to cut through the noise on Twitter, especially on debate night. Well, Michael Bloomberg’s social team sure is trying. 

They’ve sent out a variety of odd tweets, none weirder than this one:

Warren and Sanders' history of peace on the debate stage ended tonight

944d ago / 3:04 AM UTC

Elizabeth Warren declared midway into tonight's debate she wasn't here to attack Bernie Sanders... then minutes later she attacked Sanders, twice.

She and Sanders had been hands-off with each other: Up until tonight Warren had attacked Sanders zero times and Sanders had attacked Warren zero times.

Follow along with the NBC News debate attack tracker.

Warren dings male candidates on stage when addressing feud with Sanders

944d ago / 3:01 AM UTC

Warren was given the chance to respond to Sanders' assertion that he did not tell her in a one-on-one 2018 meeting that a woman couldn’t be elected president, which she had earlier claimed he did.

“I disagreed,” Warren said of her thoughts on their reported 2018 discussion. “Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it's time for us to attack it head on. And I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump?”

“Look at the men on this stage: Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women: Amy and me. And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me.”

Sanders responded that he had defeated a Republican incumbent in 1990, to which Warren responded that she placed her timeline within 30 years. Sanders’ 1990 election is months short of being 30 years ago.

Warren later expanded upon her earlier answer, saying: "I do think it's the right question, how do we beat Trump? And here's the thing. Since Donald Trump was elected, women candidates have outperformed men candidates in competitive races.”

“Back in the 1960s people asked, 'Could a Catholic win?'” she added. “Back in 2008 people asked if an African American could win. In both times the Democratic Party stepped up and said yes, got behind their candidate and we changed America. That's who we are."

Sanders, for his part, told moderators that he believes a woman can win the White House.

We apologize, this video has expired.

Sanders again denies telling Warren that a woman cannot win the election

944d ago / 2:52 AM UTC

Sanders again denied telling Warren that a woman cannot be elected president. He said that the attacks are what Trump and the media want and that he plans to work to elect whoever wins the nomination if he doesn’t.

Climate part of the debate without climate questions

944d ago / 2:50 AM UTC

The candidates aren’t waiting for climate questions to bring up the issue.

Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Steyer have all brought up climate change in reference to non-climate questions. It’s notable because global warming can sometimes get lost in the shuffle or only get discussed in reference to specific questions.

But tonight we’re hearing how climate is an intersectional issue, particularly when it comes to the country and the world’s economic future.

Democratic voters see Biden as most capable on foreign policy

944d ago / 2:45 AM UTC

The beginning of the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses zeroed in on foreign policy, the decision to use military force, and how the United States deals with its adversaries.

While the topic included a refresher on Joe Biden’s onetime support for the war in Iraq — courtesy of Bernie Sanders — the heavy focus on foreign policy more generally could be helpful to Biden, who is the candidate most trusted on foreign policy by Democratic voters, according to a recent CNN poll.

CNN found in its November national poll that 48 percent of Democratic voters called Biden the most capable candidate to handle foreign policy. The contenders with the next highest level of trust were Sanders, at just 14 percent, and Warren, at just 11 percent.

Joe Biden with the most talking time early on

944d ago / 2:43 AM UTC

Early into tonight's debate, Joe Biden has gotten the most talking time. This is opposite the position he was in early in the December 2019 Democratic debate.

A screenshot of a graphic showing which candidates have talked the most at tonight's debate

Warren and Sanders clash... on trade

944d ago / 2:40 AM UTC

Sanders and Warren drew their first significant distinction of the night — and it was on trade. 

(Yeah, not what people were expecting heading into the night.)

Sanders said he doesn’t support USMCA, Trump's NAFTA replacement, because of the impact it will have on the environment, even if big labor is supportive. 

But Warren said the agreement would be an improvement on NAFTA, calling it a "modest improvement." She also highlighted past deals she was against.

BUT... neither candidate directly criticized the others' position, even when given the opportunity.

Image: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders participate in the seventh Democratic 2020 presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines
Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders during the presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 14, 2020.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Sanders seizes on trade to talk climate

944d ago / 2:37 AM UTC

Sanders has been a vocal critic of free trade for years, mostly because of the toll it has taken on U.S. workers.

But tonight, he emphasized the impact that outsourcing can have on the climate. And when moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel told him the debate will touch on climate change later but the current question is about trade, Sanders immediately responded: “Well, they are the same in this issue.”

Sanders voted 'no' on Iraq. Here's what he did support.

944d ago / 2:37 AM UTC

Sanders talked up his well-known opposition to the Iraq War on the debate stage Tuesday, but he omitted his repeated support for a regime change in Iraq in the years leading up to that war and his mixed record on war and peace. Sanders voted for the Iraq Liberation Act and backed President Bill Clinton's airstrikes in 1998 and advocated for regime change in the country.

“Mr. Speaker, Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator who should be overthrown, and his ability to make weapons of destruction must be eliminated,” he said on the Senate floor in December 1998.

As NBC News' Jon Allen noted earlier today, Sanders has said his 2001 vote to authorize war in Afghanistan was "wrong." He has repeatedly attacked Biden for voting in favor of the Iraq War, a vote that Biden has similarly characterized as a mistake. 

Biden and Sanders draw laughter when talking about North Korea strategy

944d ago / 2:35 AM UTC

Biden said that in his administration he would work with China to pressure North Korea and would not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who previously called the former vice president a rabid dog that should be beaten with a stick.

Sanders then chimed in: "Other than that, you like him?" This drew laughter from the audience.

Biden responded: "Other than that, I like him, and he got a love letter from Trump right after that."

Sanders links past wars to fears of Trump lying

944d ago / 2:33 AM UTC

Bernie Sanders tied old wars to the current debate over war powers with a message aimed at the conscience and collective memory of the Democratic Party’s left wing.

He fears, he said, that President Donald Trump is the latest in a line of commanders in chief — following Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush — who will abuse his bully pulpit to deceive the American public about bloody and costly wars.

“What we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes were the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq,” he said. “Both of those wars were based on lies. And right now, what I fear very much is we have a president who is lying again and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq.”

It was a message Sanders was intent on delivering: He delayed answering a different question from moderator Wolf Blitzer to pause, zoom out and explain how he thinks Vietnam and Iraq are connected to the current clash over war powers.

We apologize, this video has expired.

Foreign policy takes up first quarter of debate

944d ago / 2:32 AM UTC

This is a two-hour debate, and we’re a quarter through it. And, so far, it’s a different kind of debate. 

Questions from the moderators have centered on foreign policy: troops in the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear efforts and how to handle North Korea.

Foreign policy had not dominated any of the previous Democratic debates so far, but it's not hard to see why it came to the forefront: the recent events in Iran and Iraq.

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

944d ago / 2:30 AM UTC

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’

944d ago / 2:23 AM UTC

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?

944d ago / 2:17 AM UTC

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

944d ago / 2:13 AM UTC

Blitzer pokes at Klobuchar/Buttigieg feud

944d ago / 2:12 AM UTC

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

944d ago / 2:08 AM UTC

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

944d ago / 2:03 AM UTC

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!

944d ago / 2:01 AM UTC
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Presidential Primary Debate In Des Moines, Iowa
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'

944d ago / 1:34 AM UTC

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

944d ago / 1:18 AM UTC

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

944d ago / 1:06 AM UTC

Surf Tax America

944d ago / 1:01 AM UTC

A New York Times graphic for tonight's debate caught a bit of attention on Twitter for its surprising resemblance to Weezer's classic debut album "Weezer," which is better known as the Blue Album. 

Let's hope this means the next debate is as good as "Pinkerton."

944d ago / 12:55 AM UTC

Buttigieg tweets thanks to Mandy Moore for her support

944d ago / 12:39 AM UTC

If you're just catching up on the Sanders/Warren conflict...

944d ago / 12:21 AM UTC

Here's what you need to know about the brewing tensions between Warren and Sanders:

Warren on Sunday called on Sanders to turn his campaign "in a different direction" after it reportedly provided talking points to its volunteers instructing them to paint Warren as the candidate of elites in conversations with voters.

Read more about that here.

Warren on Monday said that in 2018 told her that he didn't think a woman could win the 2020 election — a statement the Sanders campaign had blasted as "a lie" earlier in the day.

"Bernie and I met for more than two hours in December 2018 to discuss the 2020 election, our past work together and our shared goals," Warren said in a statement. "Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed."

Read more about that here.

Dave Chappelle endorses Andrew Yang

944d ago / 11:51 PM UTC

Yang isn't on the debate stage tonight, but he had some good news: an endorsement from comedian Dave Chappelle.

'Who is Brianne Pfannenstiel?' and everything else Google shows us about tonight's debate

944d ago / 11:22 PM UTC

You might be wondering just who Brianne Pfannenstiel is, according to Google.

Searches for Pfannenstiel are up a whopping 4,200 percent (granted from what is probably a very small initial amount) ahead of tonight's debate. 

Pfannenstiel, 31, is the top political correspondent for The Des Moines Register and a moderator for the debate, alongside CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip. 

As for how the candidates stack up against each other in terms of Google searches, Bernie Sanders currently retains the top spot, followed by Warren, Biden, Buttigieg and Steyer. 

ANALYSIS: Sanders needs to light a fire now. The question is whether he can control the blaze.

944d ago / 11:01 PM UTC

Sen. Bernie Sanders has stepped up an undeclared war on his top rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination — and left himself open to counterattack — because it's do-or-die time for him.

Sanders, I-Vt., and his supporters are tangling with former Vice President Joe Biden over foreign policy, trade and race, and with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., over policy purity, elitism and whether he said a woman can't win the presidency. The skirmishes rile up his base at the expense of alienating other Democrats.

While that's a strategy that makes more sense here and in other early primary states, where a relatively small but committed army of supporters can deliver victory, it risks a severe backlash now or over the long run.

Yet Sanders' best shot starts with his taking the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, following up with wins in New Hampshire and Nevada and riding a wave to a majority of delegates before the party's convention in Milwaukee in July.

That is, he needs to light a fire now. The question is whether he can control the blaze.

Read more here.

Iowa roiled by Democratic infighting weeks before first-in-nation vote

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944d ago / 11:01 PM UTC

DES MOINES, Iowa — This isn't how the home stretch before the Iowa caucus was supposed to go.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., seemed to have been telegraphing a willingness to take on former Vice President Joe Biden for his judgment on the Iraq War, amid the escalating tensions with Iran. That was the singular focus until the conflict between Sanders and fellow progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren bubbled into a fever pitch in the days leading up to the debate on Tuesday night here.

The very public rift marks a sea change in a winnowing Democratic field, less than three weeks before Iowans are set to caucus on Feb. 3.

And the crux of the Sanders-Warren conversation — about whether a woman can beat Trump — also highlights uncomfortable questions about perceived "electability" and brings about the specter of Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss. In conversations with a dozen Democratic operatives and aides, there appears to be little appetite for, and much hand-wringing over, these topics of conversation — on Clinton, on 2016 or on electability and gender.

Read more here.

January Democratic debate: Everything you need to know

944d ago / 11:00 PM UTC

The seventh Democratic presidential debate is set for Tuesday night, and it will be the smallest — and least diverse — debate to date.

The field of candidates has been shrinking, and the front-runners' campaigns have been taking on a tougher tone with one another, with even old friends Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren butting heads.

The debate is the last before the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3. The two candidates who've been sniping at each other the most in recent weeks, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, will be standing side by side on center stage.

Here's what you need to know.