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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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."
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.
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
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.