NBC News' live blog tracked the ups, downs and confrontations of the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle, co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times.
The largest group of candidates took the stage Tuesday night at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. They included front-runners Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Sen. Bernie Sanders, who returned to the campaign after having a heart attack two weeks ago; billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who appeared in his first debate of the cycle; and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who missed the September go-round after failing to qualify.
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Who won the Democratic debate?
The biggest rift between the 12 candidates on stage in Ohio came out once again over health care. But splits were also evident over how far to push for an assault weapons ban and taxes on the wealthy.
Rivals pile on Warren
The Massachusetts Democrat became the main target of attacks after her recent rise in the polls. Here's how the other candidates went after her.
Beto takes post-debate swipe at Buttigieg
Klobuchar keeps up criticism of Warren post-debate
Klobuchar, who repeatedly went after Warren during Tuesday’s debate, kept up her criticism in the spin room, telling MSNBC that she doesn’t think Warren “should be taking swipes that we don't fight hard enough."
Booker reiterates unity message after debate
In a post-debate interview, Booker reiterated his call for unity in the campaign.
He told NBC News, "this nation needs leaders that can lift us all up. We cannot walk into a general election in a fractured way."
"That's why to me any kind of broad brush painting people, unfair attacks to me are unacceptable," he added. "We need to make sure that we understand that this is not an individual operation. None of us can do it alone. We're going to need each other on that stage to unify behind the nominee."
Fact check: Who gets credit for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?
Biden and Warren got into it in the third hour of the debate when the former vice president took some credit for getting Warren’s brainchild — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — passed into law.
"I agreed with the great job she did, and I went on the floor and got you votes. I got votes for that bill. I convinced people to vote for it. So let's get those things straight too," Biden said, earning a steely and careful response from Warren that she was "deeply grateful to President Obama" for getting the agency created.
Before she ran for Senate, Warren conceived of the regulatory agency to police the financial industry in the wake of the economic downturn. It was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2010.
Biden, who has been criticized for close ties to the banking industry during his decades in the Senate, was undoubtedly supportive of the legislation — it was a key priority of the Obama administration. But both former Sen. Chris Dodd and former Rep. Barney Frank told The New York Times they do not recall the former vice president being a key or significant player in getting Dodd-Frank passed, undercutting his claims here.
Fact check: Yang exaggerates manufacturing job losses in 2016 swing states
In his closing remarks, Andrew Yang referenced the loss of "4 million manufacturing workers here in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Iowa" as a symptom of the "fourth industrial revolution."
His figure is way off. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those five states lost a combined 1.09 million manufacturing jobs between the peak of national manufacturing employment, 2000, through October 2016.
There’s no data on cause, but it's clear Yang's got his numbers wrong. Nationwide, the country lost 4.9 million manufacturing jobs during the same period.
Castro dings final question
The former housing secretary wasn't pleased with what he heard.
Here's who attacked President Trump in the debate
The Trump Show it was not.
A question about impeachment kicked off the debate, and while President Trump was a presence here and there, by the final hour Trump had all but disappeared from candidate talk.
Tallying 30-plus attacks over the fourth debates three hours, Trump was only attacked seven times in the last sixty minutes, compared with 31 times in the first two hours. Andrew Yang gave (Microsoft search engine) Bing as much grief as he gave Trump.
Here are the numbers on candidate attacks on Trump throughout the fourth Democratic debate.
Here's how the candidates answered that friendship question
A question aimed at a controversy involving Ellen Degeneres and George W. Bush got many groans online, but drew a variety of answers on stage. Asked who they are friends with who are not like them or did not view things as they do, candidates dropped names like John McCain, Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Jim Inhofe. Some candidates chose not to name anyone specifically, however.
Love is all you need.
Fact check: Sanders gets his numbers right on job losses due to trade deals
Bernie Sanders, in attacking Joe Biden, said the former vice president was responsible for helping to put into effect "trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR with China," which, Sanders said, "cost us 4 million jobs.”
Sanders made this claim during the September debate. It was true then, and it's true now— according to several reputable analyses.
As NBC News’ Carrie Dann reported in February during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, job losses resulting from NAFTA tend to be overstated — but one major study found that more than 850,000 jobs were displaced by the pact.
Robert E. Scott of the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute found that about 851,700 U.S. jobs were displaced by the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico between 1993 (shortly before NAFTA was implemented) and 2014. That’s a data point that was cited by Sanders during his 2016 campaign, when he frequently decried job losses due to NAFTA. (Other studies, however, have found the job losses to be far less.)
When it comes to granting PNTR (“permanent normal trade relations” status) to China, which President George W. Bush formally did in 2001 after China entered the World Trade Organization, U.S. job losses have been larger, according to studies.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote in 2018, citing a 2014 study by the Economic Policy Institute, that “growth in the U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs (three-fourths of which were in manufacturing).”
If you add the 851,700 figure with the 3.2 million figure, you would see a figure that approximates the 4 million figure that Sanders referred to.
Baseball and donut shops: What the other candidates are doing on debate night
The half dozen candidates who didn’t qualify for tonight’s debate instead spent the evening watching baseball and livestreaming their messages to supporters on social media.
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney got to watch the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, while keeping an eye on the debate on his phone.
“These questions about age are inappropriate in my judgement,” he tweeted.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was watching the debate with his family, according to a spokesperson.
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio had a similar plan, saying in a text message that he was watching “some” of the debate while also “reading to my five-year-old.”
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, retired Adm. Joe Sestak was livestreaming his answers to the debate questions over on Facebook, “live from a Donut shop in New Hampshire,” he announced on Twitter.
And self-help author Marianne Williamson was speaking in Encinitas, California, which she too livestreamed online, where she said America needs to “know who we are and claim the power of knowing who we are.”
The final question is about friendship
Buttigieg says his Supreme Court plan is more than 'packing' courts
Buttigieg referred to his plan to change the Supreme Court, which he said could be done without a Constitutional amendment.
He said it wasn’t just “packing” the court, however, since his plan would involve restructuring the court to include justices backed by both parties rather than just expanding it.
Under his proposal, the court would have 15 justices, five supported by Republicans, five by Democrats, and five chosen by the 10 partisan justices. He talked to NBC News about his plan earlier.
Who wants to tell Cory Booker about Robert Bork?
“We need regulation and reform. And anti-trust? I mean, Robert Bork right now is laughing in his sleep,” Sen. Cory Booker said Tuesday night, referencing the prominent conservative judge and antitrust scholar.
Bork is not sleeping. Bork has been dead since 2012.
The three major candidates go at it
Biden said that presidential candidates can’t be “vague” about their proposals and then hit Sanders and Warren for Medicare for All. He said he’s the only one on stage to get big things done. Sanders hit back, saying some of those big things, such as the Iraq War, were actually not good.
Warren jumped in to defend her record and talked about the founding of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — something Biden said he played a large role in getting passed. Warren then thanked Obama for helping create the agency.
Fact check: Yang says there were more opioid prescriptions than people in Ohio
Yang, making a point about the devastating effect of the opioid epidemic, said that at one point, "there were more opioid prescriptions in the state of Ohio than human beings in the state of Ohio."
This is true, according to government data about opioid prescription rates in 2010, when there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons in the state in 2010. The prescription rate has since gone down.
Good question here
Candidates spar over Big Tech
When asked about breaking up big tech companies, most candidates offer tepid support that generally centers around, yes, tech companies are big, and yes, something should be done.
O’Rourke offered some of the most specific assessments, touching on data privacy as well as antitrust. Harris also pushed for Twitter to ban Trump, but Warren declines to back Harris up — instead saying she wants to push him out of the White House.
Warren’s war on big tech has gotten personal lately. She deliberately took out a false ad on Facebook to pressure CEO Mark Zuckerberg to crack down on misleading political advertising. She previously put up a billboard that said “BREAK UP BIG TECH” in the Bay Area.
O’Rourke raised some of the same issues as well in the debate, but said he would not “specifically call out which companies” should be broken up as Warren has done, arguing it was not the role of a president to prejudge independent government agencies and investigations.
Anti-monopoly issues have been gaining a lot of steam among Democrats this cycle, in general.
Fact check: Biden takes credit for beating the NRA. Is he right?
Biden, during a discussion on firearms, made a pair of claims about his efforts to take on the NRA — and gun violence.
“I'm the only one on this stage who has taken on the NRA and beat them, and beat them twice,” Biden said. He added, “We were able to get assault weapons off the streets and not be able to be sold for 10 years. Recent studies show that mass violence went down when that occurred.”
Biden’s claim that he’s beaten the NRA twice — he has also made this claim in a TV ad — refers to the 1994 assault weapons ban and the Brady background check bill. It’s true that Biden played a leading role in the Senate in getting both measures passed and signed into law.
However, Biden has also come under scrutiny for failing to usher any bills through a divided Congress after being tasked by President Barack Obama with gun control efforts following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Biden has also been criticized for his vote in favor of a 1986 bill that the NRA has called "the law that saved gun rights" in America.
As for Biden's second claim that the 1994 assault weapons ban reduced violence — there’s some evidence to support this. A 2019 study out of the Department of Surgery at New York University School of Medicine found that “mass-shooting fatalities were 70 percent less likely to occur during the federal ban period,” from 1994 to 2004, when it automatically expired.
Cause and effect, however, is impossible to prove, and it’s possible that other factors contributed to this decline. But the numbers themselves were low — there were 15 less deaths during the assault ban period — and other studies said the evidence was inconclusive.
Police shootings are a leading cause of death for young black men
When asked about mandatory gun buybacks tonight, Harris said gun violence was the leading cause of death of young black men.
According to research published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, police shootings claim the lives of an average of about 1,000 people each year in the United States, and have become a leading cause of death for young men.
The study did not differentiate between killings later determined to be justified and those that were not. The study did find that the risk is particularly acute for young black men and those between the ages of 20 and 35. However, over the course of a lifetime, about one in 1,000 black men “can expect to be killed by police,” according to the study.
Police shootings account for nearly 2 percent of all deaths of black men between the ages of 20 and 24, compared to just 0.5 percent of deaths among young white men in the same age range. And a 40-year-old black man lives with about the same risk of being shot and killed by police as a 20-year-old white man in the United States.
These figures together help to make homicide the seventh leading cause of death for all black Americans in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fact check: How many assault rifles are in circulation?
"Five million assault weapons are on the streets of America today — during the course of this debate eight people will die from gun violence," Harris said.
It’s hard to know exactly how many assault-type rifles are in circulation, but there's some evidence there are far more than 5 million of those weapons on the street. Some estimates go as high as 10 million to 16 million.
Meanwhile, 100 people are killed with guns each day, according to gun control advocates, a number that includes suicides. That’s roughly four an hour, and the debate is scheduled to be three, not two, hours.
Alta Vista for life
Yang when asked about breaking up the big tech companies drops a bit of a burn on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine.
"There’s a reason why no one is using Bing today," he said. "I’m sorry Microsoft, it’s true."
Warren’s got a (fitness) plan
Biden flips the script on age: 'With it comes wisdom'
Biden would be the oldest person elected president, but when pressed about his age, instead of being defensive, he said it would be an asset.
“Because I’ve watched it, I know what the job is and I’ve been engaged,” the former vice president said. “I’m running because of my age.”
He said that his age comes with decades of legislative experience and the ability to command respect on the international stage. Biden said he would release his health records before the first primary vote, but questions regarding age are not likely to die down, especially as health concerns are on voters’ minds.
Widespread support for some gun control measures
Democrats are right that a majority of Americans support universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and a voluntary gun buyback program.
According to an August NBC/WSJ poll, 89 percent of Americans back universal background checks, while 75 percent support voluntary buybacks. Sixty-two percent back an assault weapons ban.
But there are some measures that Americans say go too far.
The same poll found that just 25 percent back a ban on handguns.
Bernie addresses recent heart attack
Tuesday’s debate marked a return to the campaign trail for Sanders, who had a heart attack earlier this month. When asked about his health, Sanders said he was “healthy” and “feeling great,” and invited viewers to come to an upcoming rally in Queens, pledging a vigorous campaign moving forward. He thanked colleagues and supporters for well-wishes.
Do gun safety groups want mandatory buybacks? They’re split.
Beto O’Rourke accused Pete Buttigieg of disrespecting March for Our Lives, the activist group founded in the wake of the Parkland shooting, by calling mandatory buybacks a “shiny object” that distracts from other policies.
“That was a slap in the face to every single one of those groups and every single survivor of a mass casualty assault with a AR-14 and AK-47,” he said. “We must buy them back.”
O’Rourke is right that March for Our Lives backs mandatory buybacks, but major gun safety groups mostly oppose the approach or have minimized it. Giffords, another gun safety group, put out a polling memo for candidates warning that the issue “could be dangerous” when trying to win over voters who support other gun restrictions.
Giffords favors an alternate approach, which Warren mentioned: Requiring owners of existing assault weapons to register their weapons and accept new restrictions on their possession and sale, similar to automatic weapons.
“I want to use the method we used for example with machine guns,” Warren said. “We registered them, we put in a huge penalty if you didn’t register them, and a huge tax on them, and we let people turn them in.”
Castro gets applause for answer on tackling gun deaths
Castro was the first candidate to mention the Texas shooting in which a white police officer shot and killed a black woman, Atatiana Jefferson.
He got big applause for mentioning police shootings as gun violence and talking about growing up in Texas against the backdrop of gun violence.
"Police violence is also gun violence and we need to address that," he said.
Castro said he is against mandatory and voluntary gun buybacks but he did not directly address how he plans to stop violence committed by handguns versus assault weapons.
Jefferson, meanwhile, was like a disproportionate share of those who die in police shootings each year, black and unarmed.
Prior to Tuesday’s debate, Castro, a Texas native, Warren,Booker, Harris, Sanders, O’Rourke, Steyer and Yang all posted public statements on Twitter expressing outrage, sympathy for Jefferson’s family or calls for investigation and reform.
On Tuesday night, only Castro mentioned Jefferson by name.
Read NBC News' report on how the shooting — coming on the heels of the sentencing of a former Dallas police officer in the killing of her neighbor, Botham Jean — is fueling tensions with police in Forth Worth.
Halfway into the debate and nobody's attacked Biden yet
Biden, a popular target in previous debates, has yet to be targeted by another candidate so far in the fourth Democratic debate.
According to numbers from NBC News' debate attack tracker, Elizabeth Warren is the most-attacked candidate so far and Amy Klobuchar has delivered the most attacks.
The other candidates who haven't been attacked yet: Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer.
Beto is light on details
Twice in a week, O’Rourke has touched upon major policy proposals that involve the Bill of Rights — both the First Amendment's right to religious freedom, and the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.
At last week’s LGBTQ presidential forum, O’Rourke said he would revoke tax exempt status from any religious organization that is discriminatory toward LGBTQ people.
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” O’Rourke said.
Such a move would likely affect the faithful of many religions — Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.
So when O’Rourke on Tuesday revived his proposal for a mandatory gun buyback for semiautomatic assault weapons like the AR-15, he couldn’t answer questions about how he would find these weapons, because the government does not track such sales — which other candidates didn’t let slide by.
Heated clash between O'Rourke and Buttigieg on guns
Fact check: Steyer claims 90 percent of Americans haven't had a raise in 40 years
Tom Steyer said that “90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years.”
This is not true.
According to a study by the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan federal agency, wages across all income levels, even adjusted for inflation and taxes, rose from 1979 to 2015. The top 10 percent of wage earners, however, saw a greater increase in their wages than did all others, the study showed.
Yang presents equivalency between U.S. and Russia
Asked about how he would handle Putin and Russia, Yang raised some eyebrows by presenting an equivalency between Russia interfering in the U.S. election and the U.S. interfering in other foreign elections.
Klobuchar, the next candidate to speak, fired back, saying there's no equivalency between the two countries.
Democratic debate or 'Succession' finale?
Keep your friends close, and your frenemies ...
Fact check: Sanders on homelessness, the uninsured rate, student debt
Speaking out against billionaires in America, Sanders offered up data to make his point. Did he have his numbers right?
- Are “half a million Americans sleeping out on the streets today?" Half a million people experienced at least one night of homelessness in 2018, according to federal data. Two-thirds were staying in homeless shelters or transitional housing, however, so the number actually sleeping on the physical streets was just shy of 200,000.
- Are "87 million people uninsured or underinsured?" According to one recent study, yes, though Census data differs somewhat. The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that advocates for improvements in health care, reported earlier this year detailing that 87 million people in 2018 were underinsured, uninsured, or insured but experienced a coverage gap during the year. The Census Bureau reported different data: 27.5 million Americans were uninsured in 2018, while another 10.6 million reported having health care for just part of the year. The Bureau did not measure underinsurance.
- Do millions struggle with student debt? Yes, and those numbers are on the rise.
- Do three people own more wealth than the bottom half of American society? Yes, according to a recent study.
Klobuchar said the wealth tax is only one way to address inequality, though tax policy makes a difference
Klobuchar argued Tuesday night that calls from Warren to reduce wealth inequality with a 2 percent tax on those earning more than $50 million could be accomplished in other ways. "Your idea is not the only idea," she said. But experts have said Warren is right about the effects of the different tax rates paid by working Americans and those wealthy enough to live off of interest and investment gains.
The rate at which earnings on investments are taxed, also known as the capital gains tax, has always sat at a lower rate than taxes on wages earned at jobs. However, in 2018, more than 70 percent of capital gains tax benefits went to taxpayers with incomes over $1 million, according to an Urban Institute and Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center analysis.
The capital gains tax rate is such a key contributor to wealth inequality that of the household income growth realized in the United States since 1979, a disproportionate share went to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to a second analysis from the same think tank. That’s those who earn little of their income at a job but instead collect the bulk of their money from interest on savings and investment growth.
In 1979, the top 1 percent of American households took in about 9 percent of all income in the United States. By 2014, that figure had grown to 17 percent.
CORRECTION (Oct. 16, 2019): An earlier version of this post mischaracterized Klobuchar's remarks. She said Warren's wealth tax was "not the only idea" to reduce inequality; she did not say it was unrealistic.
The debate hashtag we needed
We interrupt your debate to bring on snapshots from the best hashtag of the night: #debatedogs.
Clash between two vets on stage
Gabbard and Buttigieg took off the gloves as their disagreement on U.S. wars abroad came into full focus.
Gabbard repeated her call for an end to “regime change wars,” which is how she describes U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war. Trump last week announced that he was pulling around 1,000 troops out of the region.
But then Gabbard went further, describing economic and government sanctions against governments like Syria’s as a type of modern day “siege.”
Buttigieg — the only other post-9/11 veteran on stage — came to a strong defense of U.S. involvement in Syria, describing the small contingent of U.S. forces as an influential deployment that keeps Americans safe.
He said when the options presented are “endless war” and “total isolation,” the result is the U.S. abandoning the world stage.
Social media not having it with Gabbard’s Syria response
Gabbard’s response on Syria — saying the U.S. should not have participated in a “regime change war” — is not playing well on social media, where many people pointed to Gabbard’s track record of apologizing for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Booker: Attacks on each other don’t work
Biden is no longer the presumed frontrunner in the race after Warren overtook him in several polls a week ago, and it is playing out in real-time on the debate stage as every candidate is taking swings at Warren on various issues.
This has forced her to be defensive and vigorously defend her positions. Notably, Biden has not fielded an onslaught in the same way tonight. However, Booker came in after the last skirmish and urged his opponents to disagree without “tearing each other down” because it will only serve Republicans and Trump. It raises questions for Democrats: Do they want a “nice” primary so that the nominee isn’t limping to the general? Or do they want a more aggressive race so that the nominee is prepared for Trump’s brash, unrelenting attacks?
Gabbard: “Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands”
Gabbard, a veteran, excoriated Trump when asked about his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, which made way for Turkish forces to attack Kurdish fighters — leading to a bipartisan outcry, charges of a humanitarian crisis and ISIS resurgence.
“Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands," she said, noting that members of both parties are also to blame.
Gabbard, who has come under scrutiny for her position on Syria, called for the end to the “regime change war” there and to end the idea of using sanctions to punish countries. Gabbard also used the moment to take on her critics who have called her an apologist for the leader of Syria, Bashar al Assad.
How would Warren’s wealth tax work, and would anyone actually pay it?
The field debated whether to impose a wealth tax on ultra-rich households, with the conversation largely centered on a plan by Warren to — as she put it in the debate and in her speeches — charge “two cents” for every dollar billionaires own in assets and property, not just their annual earnings.
More specifically, she would charge a 2 percent annual tax on wealth for fortunes over $50 million and 3 percent on fortunes over $1 billion. She estimates it would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years. Sen. Bernie Sanders recently put out a plan for a wealth tax as well that would raise taxes even higher on billion-plus fortunes, up to 8 percent, and raise $4.35 trillion.
Several other candidates said they were open to the idea, but Andrew Yang raised the criticism that similar taxes have been tried in Europe and were eventually repealed because they were difficult to implement. He’s correct that the number of nations with some form of wealth tax is on the decline — one OECD report found that number dropped from 12 to four between 1990 and 2017.
But it’s also not clear Warren’s plan wouldn’t raise a lot of money either. Economist Jonathan Gruber conducted a study of wealth taxes in Switzerland and found that, while reported wealth declined when taxes went up — a signal that the rich might be successful at finding new ways to avoid paying taxes — they still collected significant amounts.
"It doesn't mean it's a bad idea or it won’t raise money," Gruber told NBC News. "Elizabeth Warren's tax would raise money, it's a question of how much."