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

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

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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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Live Blog

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

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?

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

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?

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.