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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

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. 

Klobuchar on Trump: We need a president, not an unelected king

Biden says he’s been ‘object of Trump’s affection’ for months

Biden made what is really his case for perceived "electability" at the end of Tuesday’s debate.

Biden said that even though he’s been the “object of Trump’s affection” for months — hinting at Trump’s push for Ukraine to probe Biden and his son Hunter, which led to the president’s impeachment — his poll numbers have remained strong and he has maintained his position at the top of the primary field, bolstering his case that he will be able to take on Trump in the fall.

The former vice president added that he currently has more African American support than his Democratic rivals, and that has strengthened his primary bid and has yet to waver in the polls.

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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."

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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.