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Democratic debate live updates: Candidates spar in October debate in Ohio

NBC News' live blog of the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election, hosted by CNN and the New York Times, in Westerville, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.
Image: Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.
Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.Adrian Lam / NBC News

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.

For full politics coverage, download the NBC News app.

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.

Read our take on those had strong performances and those who likely failed to move the needle.

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

Ali Vitali

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

Elizabeth Janowski

Elizabeth Janowski and Jane C. Timm

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.

See the candidate attacks in the fourth Democratic debate, by the numbers.

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

Benjy Sarlin

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.

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Fourth Debate In Ohio
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on stage during the Democratic Presidential Debate on Oct. 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Win McNamee / Getty Images

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

Benjy Sarlin

Jason Abbruzzese and Benjy Sarlin

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.

Image: Democratic presidential candidate former Rep. Beto O''Rourke speaks during the fourth U.S. Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate in Westerville, Ohio
Democratic presidential candidate former Rep. Beto O''Rourke speaks during the fourth Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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

Janell Ross

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'

Dartunorro Clark

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. 

Image: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential hopefuls Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, from left, and former Vice President Joe Biden chat during a break in the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Widespread support for some gun control measures

Carrie Dann

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.

Benjy Sarlin

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


Dartunorro Clark

Janell Ross

Dartunorro Clark, Janell Ross and Suzanne Gamboa

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’RourkeSteyer 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.

It's Elizabeth Warren who now occupies the attention of the candidates.

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.

Later, Warren and Buttigieg came out against O’Rourke’s proposal.

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

Janell Ross

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.

Where's Biden?

Booker: Attacks on each other don’t work

Dartunorro Clark

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”

Dartunorro Clark

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?

Benjy Sarlin

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."

Biden gets first foreign policy question

Biden asked the first foreign policy question of the debate more than an hour in — this one focused on Trump’s recent decision to pull out troops in Syria, leading to a Turkish invasion. Biden offered strong criticism of Trump’s move.

"It has been the most shameful thing that any president has done in modern history in terms of foreign policy," he said.

Elizabeth Warren vs. The Field

Elizabeth Warren has come under attack from fellow candidates in nearly every part of the debate, underscoring her recent rise in the polls and the threat other candidates feel as a result.

It’s a stark contrast from the previous three debates, when the candidates barely laid a glove on Warren, nor even really tried. 

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Fourth Debate In Ohio
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) listens to South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the Democratic Presidential Debate on Oct. 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Win McNamee / Getty Images

But tonight, Warren has come under fire on Medicare for All from Pete Buttigieg and an enlivened Amy Klobuchar, who said Warren's plan was “making Republican talking points”; from Beto O’Rourke, who said Warren is “more focused on being punitive” toward the wealthy than “lifting people up"; and from Andrew Yang, who said Warren's wealth tax had “massive implementation problems” in other countries that tried it.

Booker: Attacks on one another don’t work

Dartunorro Clark

Biden is no longer the presumed front-runner in the race after Warren overtook him in several polls, and it is playing out in real time on the debate stage as every candidate is taking a swing at Warren over everything under the sun.

This has forced her to be defensive and to vigorously defend her positions. Notably, Biden has not fielded an onslaught in the same way. 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 election? Or do they want a more aggressive race so that the nominee is prepared for Trump’s brash, unrelenting attacks? 

Washington Post runs ad during New York Times debate

Who doesn’t love a bit of news media gamesmanship? The Washington Post, not a publication that runs a lot of TV ads, drops one during the CNN-New York Times debate.

We’ll be on the lookout for a Times ad during the upcoming MSNBC/WaPo debate.

Fact check: Biden suggests he didn't warn against 'demonizing' the wealthy

After moderator Erin Burnett said to Joe Biden, “You have warned against demonizing rich people,” Biden rejected he'd ever said such a thing. 

“Demonizing the wealthy? What I talked about was how you get things done and the way to get things done is take a look at the tax code right now," he shot back.

But Biden did warn against demonizing the wealthy — explicitly.

Biden said at a New York City fundraiser in June that “we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money,” because “rich people are just as patriotic as poor people,” according to numerous reports about the event. 


Candidate attacks, by the numbers: One hour in

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been the focus of the field in the first three Democratic debates. But with Sen. Elizabeth Warren now edging him out in some polls, Tuesday night’s debaters appear to be shifting their attention to Warren, at least based on the first hour. Follow our tracker here

NBC's Ali Vitali explains one possible motivation behind Klobuchar's fiery performance

Ali Vitali

The debate on Twitter? It’s about Tom Steyer’s tie

Plenty of content on the debate stage, but the real debate is happening on Twitter — and it’s focused on Tom Steyer’s tie. Some like it. Meghan McCain? Not a fan.

Tom Steyer agrees with Bernie: Billionaires should be taxed out of existence

Dartunorro Clark, Alex Seitz-Wald and Tim Fitzsimons

A question that CNN’s Erin Burnett asked Sanders about taxing billionaires out of existence under his plan to tackle income inequality took an unexpected turn when the lone billionaire on the stage — businessman Tom Steyer — agreed.

Steyer in his first debate appearance spoke directly to voters about the need for a wealth tax and strengthening worker and union rights.

“The corporations have bought our government,” he said, adding that it’s time to “break the power of these corporations.”

It’s important to note, however, Steyer has spent nearly $20 million on radio and TV ads ahead of the debate, which helped him qualify for it while other candidates did not. And he has spent almost $200 million to fund candidates and campaigns in the past, which helped him increase his name recognition.

Booker wants 'sectoral bargaining' for workers. What is that?

Benjy Sarlin

Booker name-checked a plan to encourage “sectoral bargaining” for workers in order to help boost the labor movement in America and raise wages. Under this system, workers would negotiate standards for their industry across the country, rather than just individual unions at individual companies negotiating with their management. 

A number of candidates, including Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, have signed onto the concept, which is used in some European countries. SEIU head Mary Kay Henry is in favor of the idea, which she sees as a way to counter a longtime decline in union membership.

Medical events still a driver of bankruptcy

Janell Ross

Medical debt was often described as the leading cause of bankruptcy before the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, became law in 2010. 

By some estimates, including one in a series of often-mentioned papers published by then-Harvard University professor and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, found that before the Affordable Care Act, medical debt was responsible for about half of all bankruptcies in the United States. 

However, the number of people filing for bankruptcy due to a medical event has not declined, according to a paper published in February in the American Journal of Public Health. That study found that about two-thirds of all bankruptcies stemmed from medical problems and related costs. There is, however, other research which puts the share of bankruptcies caused by medical debt below 5 percent. Each of the studies used different data sets to reach their conclusions. 

Yang’s presence felt

Yang’s supporters have complained that he has not received much attention in previous debates, but he’s been a big part of the first hour tonight. The automation question that was posed is a direct nod to his main plan, which is meant to establish a monthly payment to all Americans as a way to counteract the encroachment of robotics and artificial intelligence in a variety of industries.

Fact check: Did Trump ask China to investigate Biden 'in exchange' for favorable trade terms?

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke said that President Donald Trump asked China to involve itself in the 2020 election "in exchange for favorable trade terms in an upcoming trade deal."

While the president surely called on China to probe possible political rival Joe Biden's family amid ongoing trade talks — he did so on television this month — he hasn’t publicly hinged it on “favorable” trade terms. We have not seen a record of Trump's conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the president has denied asking Beijing to probe the Bidens.

Asked explicitly if he'd be "more willing to do a trade deal with the Chinese" if they investigated his political rival, the president said, "No, it has nothing to do with it.  No.  No. I want to do a trade deal with China, but only if it’s good for our country."

Yang gang, assemble!

In what has to be Yang’s most fiery moment in any of the recent debates, he jumped into a conversation and pushed Warren about what her plan will do for people at risk of losing their jobs to automation. 

He focused on truck driving, adding that it’s the most common job in Ohio. Warren offered an answer about making sure there’s a safety net as Americans age — and gets a nod of approval from Yang.

Klobuchar roasts Trump and Warren early

Klobuchar, one of the candidates in need of a breakout moment, landed punches twice in the opening stage of the debate on a pair of the hottest topics.

The first came as several candidates were asked to explain their positions on impeaching Trump. Klobuchar said Trump put his own interests before those of his country. Borrowing his slogan, she said pressuring Ukraine to investigate an opponent, his abandonment of the Kurds and his affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin did not make America great but made Russia great.

Later, as Warren tried to avoid agreeing with Sanders that their Medicare for All plans would result in broad tax increases, Klobuchar cut through some of the policy noise. “At least Bernie’s being honest here,” she said. “I’m sorry Elizabeth but you have not said that … The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done.”

What’s the difference between Warren, Buttgieg, Biden on health care?

Benjy Sarlin

Warren and Buttigieg got into an extended exchange on health care, with Warren defending her Medicare for All plan and Buttigieg defending his alternative. 

Here’s how each plan works: Warren would move virtually all Americans to a more generous version of Medicare that has no premiums and few out-of-pocket costs. Once everyone was moved to the new plan, all comprehensive private insurance plans would be banned, although customers could purchase supplemental insurance that cover any items that Medicare does not. Estimates of the cost peg it at upwards of $32 trillion over 10 years, although proponents argue it will lower overall health care spending by eliminating overhead and negotiating lower payments to hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies. 

Buttigieg’s approach is dubbed “Medicare For All Who Want It,” and would automatically enroll some uninsured in a Medicare-like plan and allow other Americans to either keep their existing private insurance or buy in to the Medicare plan with aid from federal subsidies based on their income. No one would pay more than 8.5 percent of their income in premiums. His plan would also cap the amount health providers are allowed to charge private insurers relative to Medicare. Buttigieg estimates the cost would be $1.5 trillion and be paid for with new taxes on corporations. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a relatively similar $750 billion plan that would also create a Medicare-like option and cap premiums with expanded subsidies, but make participation voluntary. 

You can read about all the candidates plans at our issue tracker.

Klobuchar promises to make drug giants pay for 'killing' Ohioans

Klobuchar won applause with a threat to force opioid manufacturers to pay for the people who have suffered from the consequences of drug addiction, including fatal overdoses.

The threat is likely to register in Ohio, which has the second highest rate of drug overdoses in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.

Just this month, drug giant Johnson & Johnson reached a $20 million settlement with Ohio counties and avoided a potential federal trial, according to NBC News.

Booker time

Cory Booker gets a bit of time, and he thanks the moderators for it. He’s been just about silent in the debate so far. There are just too many candidates for some people not to slip through the cracks for long periods of time.

Fact check: Castro claims Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania have lost jobs

Early on Tuesday night, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro said that, "Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, actually, in the latest jobs data, have lost jobs, not gained them."

This doesn’t appear to be true, at least when it comes to Michigan and Pennsylvania. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment — both the rate and the total number of persons who are unemployed — went down in Michigan from July 2019 to August 2019, the latest month for which state data is available.

In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate remained the same from July 2019 to August 2019. The number of people who were unemployed increased from July 2019 to August 2019, but so did the number of people who were employed.

Castro is right about Ohio, however, where both the unemployment rate and the number of persons unemployed increased from July 2019 to August 2019.

Have you changed your mind about a Democratic candidate? Tell us.

As you're watching the Democratic debate tonight, share your anonymous Election Confession about the 2020 candidates. One just in about Amy Klobuchar:

Warren comes under fire

Warren has watched her stock rise in the polls as she faced little pushback from fellow Democratic presidential candidates on the trail and in the debates.

That changed Tuesday. Already, Buttigieg and Klobuchar took aim at her over Medicare for All, signaling a gloves-off approach is over.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Bernie revisits his favorite line

Sanders has said it before, and he said it again tonight: He wrote the damn bill. The bill, in this case, is a Medicare for All proposal

Buttigieg hits Warren on 'Medicare for All'

Buttigieg took the biggest shot at Warren that the Massachusetts senator has faced on a presidential debate stage so far. Warren was asked whether Medicare for All would raise taxes on the middle class, and she instead said that she would sign no bill that would raise costs on the middle class.

Buttigieg then shot back, “A yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer,” and took aim at Warren for having a plan for everything but not addressing that question. Warren then hit back, taking aim at Buttigieg’s health care proposal.

Biden defends his son amid Ukraine controversy

Dartunorro Clark

Biden was asked about his son’s business dealings while he was vice president, but he seemed to dodge the question by making it about Trump’s alleged abuses of power and said that Trump is only attacking him because he’s the only one who can beat Trump in the general election.

Biden’s campaign has been struggling somewhat to counter the onslaught of allegations from Trump and his allies. But Biden said that he was satisfied with his son’s response to questions about his business dealings in which his son Hunter said he showed poor judgment and may have benefited from nepotism. Biden promised to avoid the appearance of conflict. However, none of his contenders appeared to have jumped in to attack him on the issue. 

Buttigieg discusses what happens if Trump is impeached or voted out

Every candidate on stage reiterated their support for impeachment, but Buttigieg took his time to discuss what happens if Trump is impeached or voted out, saying it’s going to be more important to figure out how the country would move forward post-Trump. He noted that divisions in the country would be likely to worsen in the aftermath.

Polls show mixed bag on support for impeachment

Carrie Dann

As the debate kicked off with questions about impeachment, a series of recent polls have shown growing support for an impeachment inquiry by Congress, although Americans remain split about whether the president should be impeached and removed from office. 

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that a majority of adults  — 55 percent — say that there is either enough evidence to impeach Trump and remove him from office now (24 percent) or that Congress should keep pursuing the investigation (31 percent.) Another 39 percent say there is not enough evidence for a congressional inquiry. 

But if asked to choose between just two options — removing him from office or allowing him to stay — it's a mixed bag. 

Forty-three percent say Trump should be removed, while 49 percent say he should not be impeached and removed at this time. 

Candidates agree that Trump is the most corrupt president

Right off the bat, four candidates came out swinging at Trump by calling him the most corrupt president in the country’s history: Sanders, Biden, Harris and Klobuchar.

These remarks, of course, come against the backdrop of the  House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and 2020 Democrats’ belief that Trump needs to be held accountable for alleged abuses of power.

Pat Sajack is out

“Wheel of Fortune” host and noted conservative Pat Sajack lasted about two minutes tonight.

Impeachment questions right off the bat

CNN’s Anderson Cooper launched the debate by asking the candidates, beginning with Sens. Warren and Sanders and former Vice President Biden, about impeachment  — a topic almost entirely avoided during the first three Democratic debates. This comes after Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine.

All  of the candidates on stage have backed impeachment.

Warren gets the first question

CNN immediately starts with Warren. A nod to her emergence as the candidate on the upswing?

Candidates arrive on stage

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Fourth Debate In Ohio
Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), billionaire Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former housing secretary Julian Castro at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Can impeachment power already sizable debate ratings?

The first three Democratic debates all drew sizable audiences, providing evidence of heightened public interest more than a year ahead of the 2020 election. 

And that was before impeachment. 

Now, with the president facing growing pressure from Democrats, the party's 2020 candidates will be closely watched for their thoughts on the impeachment inquiry — a potential boost for CNN's ratings. 

Public support for impeachment has been growing in the polls, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is reportedly floating a vote on the inquiry. 

The high-water mark for a Democratic debate was set in June by the second night of the first debate, which drew 15.3 million viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. That's still considerably lower than some 2016 Republican presidential debates featuring then-candidate Trump, one of which drew more than 24 million viewers.

Can Trump's influence drive the Dem ratings even higher? We'll see.

Sanders is ready to talk about his health scare

Shaquille Brewster

Tonight will be Sanders' return to the campaign trail since having a heart attack two weeks ago, and his campaign knows that scrutiny of the 78-year-old senator will be high. Expect Sanders to continue to be personal and reflective about his health scare, connecting it to his signature policy proposals, his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, told NBC News. 

As he did in a video posted to his Twitter account last week, Sanders is ready to "talk about how we come through these things stronger, with more resolve about the mission that we're all here on Earth to try to serve," Shakir said.

"In many ways, this is going to be the first coming out of Bernie Sanders in a big way right after his medical event," Shakir said. "That's going to be framing, I assume, how some people are watching the debate, but also informing Senator Sanders about the things he needs to do to reassure people that he is running a vigorous campaign and fighting aggressively for this nomination."

Team Biden on what to expect tonight

A Biden adviser outlined the candidate's approach to the debate.

"What you'll hear tonight from the VP is that first and foremost, we have to keep the focus on Donald Trump's unprecedented abuse of power," the adviser said. "Trump is trying to distract from the fact that he has turned his back on working families. But, Biden won’t be distracted from the issues that are impacting working families."

Biden will also emphasize his decades-long record in Washington, the adviser said.

"From the Violence Against Women Act to the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, and fighting for working-class Americans, Joe Biden has delivered more tangible, progressive results than any candidate on that stage, and that's exactly what he'd do as president to move our nation forward while healing the damage Donald Trump has wrought."

Hunter Biden, Sanders' health, and Syria


Mark Murray

Carrie Dann

Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

Health care and the economy dominated the first questions at the earlier debates, but Syria is likely to start tonight’s debate. Bernie Sanders' health scare and Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian energy company also are likely to come up. First Read has the storylines to watch.

Image: Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington.
Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

Democratic candidates not pulling punches ahead of debate night

With the clock ticking closer to the Iowa caucuses, Democratic candidates are starting to get a bit chippy as they look to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. In recent days, the candidates have sparred over the separation of church and state, gun control, health care and more, poking at divides that will likely be apparent on stage tonight. 

Read more about the candidates' attacks on each other in the Meet the Press Blog. 

A quick look at the polls

What a difference a month and a half makes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren comes into Tuesday's debate with the momentum, with some polls putting her ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Biden is currently leading in the Real Clear Politics national poll average, which puts together most major polls tracking the Democratic nomination. But Warren has made up a lot of ground since the last debate in mid-September, with the latest RCP average putting her only about six points behind Biden.

Warren overtook Biden in the average about a week ago, while polling close to Bernie Sanders at the time of the last debate.

As for the other nine candidates on stage, they've all remained reasonably flat, with Harris and Buttigieg trading fourth place back and forth in recent weeks.

Impeachment, Warren and what else to watch for

WASHINGTON — Warren's a target. Biden's on the defense. Impeachment. Read Jonathan Allen's take on the five things to watch as the two Democratic presidential front-runners look to cement their primacy and struggling candidates try to revive their campaigns.

Image: Joe Biden, Eliazabeth Warren
Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk on Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston.David J. Phillip / AP

Everything you need to know about the fourth debate

The field of candidates taking the stage the largest to date, including one fresh face and another returning after an absence. Where is the debate? What time does it start?

Here's everything you need to know.

Democratic presidential hopefuls New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders gesture during the third Democratic primary debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.ROBYN BECK / AFP - Getty Images

Tonight's livebloggers

Our livebloggers tonight will be NBC News Digital Politics reporters Allan Smith, Dartunorro Clark, Benjy Sarlin, Alex Seitz-Wald, and national political reporter Jonathan Allen; NBCBLK reporter Janell Ross; NBC OUT reporter Tim Fitzsimons; NBC News Digital senior tech editor Jason Abbruzzese, and the NBC News Political Unit's Mark Murray, Ben Kamisar and Carrie Dann.