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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

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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.

Download the NBC News app for full politics coverage.

Live Blog

Bernie Sanders is the most-attacked candidate. Amy Klobuchar has delivered the most attacks.

An hour and a half into the debate and Amy Klobuchar is doing the most attacking (16 attacks), and Bernie Sanders is the candidate on the stage getting attacked the most (5 attacks).

Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had stayed away from attacking each other in previous debates, but tonight that ended.

And, yes, it's nothing new that President Donald Trump is the most-attacked person in the debate.

See the latest numbers on candidate attacks.

Klobuchar refers to 'Red Scare' exchange

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Klobuchar, answering a question about Trump and impeachment, referred to an exchange from Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous efforts to identify communists in the U.S. in the 1950s.

Fed up with McCarthy’s accusations, U.S. Army special counsel Joseph Welch asked the question, which you can watch below.

Biden says impeachment wouldn’t hinder matchup with Trump, but he will work to unite country

When asked if an acquittal in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial would embolden him in the general election, Biden said that the American people know Trump hasn’t done his job and that after beating him in November, he would still work to unite the country.

"There's no choice but for Nancy Pelosi and the House to move. He has in fact committed impeachable offenses," Biden said of Trump. "And I did my job. The question is whether or not he did his job. And he hasn't done his job. So it doesn't really matter whether or not he is going after me, I have to be in a position that I think about the American people.

"I can't hold a grudge. I have to be able to not only fight but also heal."

There's a reason health care plays a central debate role: It's still the top issue for voters

Yes, the candidates are rehashing many of the same arguments about health care that we’ve heard before.

But there’s a reason that health care comes up for so long in every debate: Democratic voters consistently say that it’s their top issue.  

That’s certainly the case in Iowa, where tonight’s debate is taking place. Last week’s Des Moines Register/CNN poll found that 68 percent of Democratic voters in the state called health care “extremely important” to their vote choice in the caucuses, with another 25 percent calling it “important.”

With the exception of climate change, other issues received significantly less attention from voters.

Just 52 percent called the economy “extremely” important to their vote choice, and just 25 percent named impeachment as “extremely” important to them.

Do Americans like their insurance?

A constant refrain over the course of all the Democratic debates among candidates opposed to universal public health care: Americans are happy with their health insurance the way it is.

The details are a little more complicated. For about 156 million Americans, their employers provide their health insurance. And most employees do say they are satisfied with those plans, according to a May 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation/Los Angeles Times survey of Americans with employer-provided health insurance. 

But 40 percent of those polled also said they had real difficulty paying medical bills, affording their premiums, deductibles and copays. And 51 percent said they or a relative have skipped or postponed medical care or medications they needed and even relied on home remedies because of cost. 

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

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

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

Bernie Sanders now leads all candidates in talking time

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

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.

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.