Democratic Debate live updates: MSNBC/Washington Post host

With impeachment at center stage, Democrats debated their visions to replace Trump.

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NBC News' live blog tracked the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle, co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

With the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump taking center stage,the 2020 candidates clashed over their visions to replace him. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg escaped unscathed after it was expected he'd draw heavy fire as the newly minted front-runner, while former Vice President Joe Biden stumbled with gaffes on women, marijuana and race.

Catch up quickly via our analysis and fact checks, and get a look at who came out swinging via our attack tracker. Or, see how the night unfolded below.

Live Blog

Buttigieg and Gabbard clash

The two veterans sparred over judgment and inexperience after Gabbard suggested that Buttigieg wanted to use the U.S. military to fight drug cartels in Mexico, a claim he denied — calling it “outlandish.”  She called it careless and that she has extensive military and foreign policy experience. 

He then shot back by saying he might not have extensive experience in Washington but he has enough judgment that he “would not have sat down with a murderous dictator,” referring to Bashar al Assad.

Stacey on the mind

Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, came up twice in tonight’s debate: both Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker mentioned her in the context of voter suppression.

Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader, was a voting rights advocate and claimed that her 2018 loss to Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, by less than 2 percent was, in part, due to widespread voter suppression in the state. Just before the 2018 election, the state purged a half million voters from its lists.

And no wonder. The state recently announced it would purge another 300,000 people from its voter lists — one of the voter suppression tactics Abrams claimed cost her the governorship.

Rough end of debate for Biden

The last 30 minutes of Wednesday’s debate did not go well for Biden.

It began when he said that “we have to keep punching at” misconduct toward women, like sexual harassment and violence. An odd choice of words to discuss how to treat women, and one that was met with mockery online.

Then he was victim of tonight’s standout moment: when Booker went after Biden for saying he would not legalize marijuana.

“I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker said, drawing huge applause from the audience. 

Biden clarified that he thinks the drug should be decriminalized and all criminal records related to marijuana charges should be expunged, but that he thinks that the drug’s long-term impact need to be studied more. 

Then, Biden followed up by saying he comes “out of the black community in terms of my support,” highlighting his high polling numbers among black voters. He then noted having the support of former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., the first black woman elected to the Senate. But instead said he was supported by the “only” black woman ever elected to the Senate.

Harris, the second black women elected to the Senate, jumped on the error.

“Nope,” she interjected, laughing at the comment.

Biden says he’s supported by the 'only' black woman elected to the Senate. Harris thinks otherwise.

Biden, during what was a rough stretch for him, said he comes “out of the black community in terms of my support,” highlighting his high polling numbers among black voters.

He then noted having the support of former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., the first black woman elected to the Senate. But instead said he was supported by the “only” black woman ever elected to the Senate.

Harris certainly saw the situation differently.

“Nope,” she interjected, offering up a laugh at the comment.

Biden says to fix violence against women, we need to ‘keep punching’ at the issue

Joe Biden, who has faced allegations from women who said that he made them feel uncomfortable with inappropriate or unwelcome physical contact, was asked how he would advocate for the MeToo movement.

He responded by saying would he push for a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and said “we have to change the culture” of how men treat women.

“No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger,” he said.  “We have to change the culture.”

“We have to keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it,” he added.

It was an unusual choice of words in response to a question about how to treat women.

And it’s not likely to suffice for women’s rights groups that have looked to increase attention to MeToo during the campaign.

Biden, in particular, has struggled with the issue.

Earlier this year, Lucy Flores, a former Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, said Biden made her feel uncomfortable by smelling her hair and kissing her head at a 2014 campaign rally. In short order, several other women came forward with their own allegations of encounters with Biden that they said made them feel the same way.

Fact check: Is Harris' statistic on black maternal mortality correct?

“Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth in America,” Harris said on the debate stage. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes nationwide.  

Booker attacks Biden, champions black voters

Booker had one of the standout moments so far — going after Biden for saying earlier this week that marijuana is a gateway drug. 

“I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker said, which drew huge applause from the audience. 

Bookers said that marijuana is already legal for privileged people and the war on drugs has targeted black and brown communities, so decriminalizing weed should be the goal. 

He also went after candidates on the stage like Buttigieg when it comes to connecting with black voters, and it’s about creating “authentic connections” with the community and not focus groups to understand the issues that are important to them.

Buttigieg seemed to be a prime target, but he's only been attacked once tonight

Pete Buttigieg surged in a recent Iowa poll, making him a prime target for scrutiny during Wednesday night’s debate. But coming to the end of the debate, he's only been attacked one time.

Harris challenges Buttigieg on black support

Buttigieg came into Wednesday night’s debate leading the crowded Democratic field in Iowa and ranking among the top five candidates in most national polls. But, Buttigieg avoided direct criticism from other candidates on the debate stage for much of the first hour.

That was until Harris suggested that the mayor’s standing makes little sense when black Americans represent such a critical portion of the party’s electorate. Buttigieg’s support among black voters remains at or below 5 percent in most polls and black Americans face a critical set of political and social issues that will demand a president’s attention. 

“For too long candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said. “The question has to be: ‘Where ya been, and what are you going to do?’”

Hinting at his weak support with African American voters, Buttigieg said he would “welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America that do not know me.” And although he has no experience of being discriminated against because of the color of his skin, Buttigieg said, “I do have the experience of being a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my rights up for debate.” 

He said this experience “lets me know just how deep my obligation is for those whose rights are on the line.”

Election Confessions submitted during the debate

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