IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

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.

Live Blog

What’s on Steyer’s hand?

Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is sporting a unique accessory at today’s debate — markings on his hand that have many on social media raising their eyebrows. 

Tom Steyer's hands during the Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 14, 2020.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

The design is called the “Jerusalem Cross,” and as Steyer wrote on Facebook late last year, he does it “every day to remind myself that ultimately, the truth always wins.” 

Steyer explained the design in a text exchange published on Buzzfeed, adding that he’s drawn it on his hand each day “for a while now.”

Steyer twice dings Buttigieg on age, experience

Steyer did not come to play about Buttigieg’s age and experience.

Over the course of two hours on the debate stage, Steyer managed two opaque but critical references to Buttigieg's youth and, by implication, inexperience. First, Steyer described Buttigieg as a man about the same age as Steyer’s. children. Then, Steyer described Buttigieg as someone with about three years of experience at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to his 30 years of experience operating an international business.

Buttigieg’s retort to the second: Steyer’s description “demoted him” from a McKinsey associate to a mere consultant and that, by the way, wasn’t the “biggest part of his career.”

Buttigieg’s political experience, leading a town of around 100,000 people has been a persistent line of attack perused by other candidates as his standing in the polls ebbed and peaked.

Women of color, America’s child care providers with few protections

Elizabeth Warren has talked about her Aunt Bee, a trusted relative who swooped in when a young Elizabeth Warren faced the conundrum of trying to find and afford decent child care or curtail her career. The moral of the story: Aunt Bee made Warren’s career possible, but millions of parents don’t have an Aunt Bee.

Tonight, Warren added another element to her child care plank. Today, it’s women of color doing a lot of this essential labor for very little pay. Across the country about 1.2 million people — most of them women — are providing the child care that today makes other people’s careers possible but on average make about $11 an hour, or roughly $23,000 a year in 2018, according to federal data. Among them, about 44 percent are women of color. 

Many working in private homes and child care centers with small staffs have few, if any basic labor protections, such as overtime pay, paid time off, health insurance or legal avenues to address workplace harassment and discrimination. 

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."

We apologize, this video has expired.

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