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September Democratic Debate: Live updates from Houston

NBC News' live blog with the top coverage of the third democratic primary debate for the 2020 presidential election hosted by ABC in Texas on September 12, 2019.
Image: Democratic Debate Live Blog
Adrian Lam / NBC News

The 10 leading Democratic candidates faced off on the same stage for the first time in Houston Thursday night. Health care, education, trade, racial inequality, immigration and gun control were once again front and center. Read on for the biggest moments, fact-checks and analysis.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the third Democratic debate.

Live Blog

Fact check: Would Biden's health care plan leave 10 million uncovered?

“The problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million people uncovered,” Castro said during Thursday’s debate, criticizing Biden's health care proposal.

This is mostly true, according to the text of Biden's own plan. His plan estimates that his expansion of the Affordable Care Act would insure "more than an estimated 97 percent of Americans."

There’s an estimated 327 million people living in America; 3 percent of the population is approximately 10 million. Estimates on the number of non-citizens vary and it's unclear how Biden's proposal would affect immigrant communities in practice, which could change these numbers. Still, Biden has said he wants to give everyone a chance to be covered.

Gun restrictions have broad support

As Democrats debate some new gun restrictions, some of their proposals will fall on receptive ears among Democratic primary voters — and among many voters who aren't Democrats as well. 

An August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that:

  • Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 97 percent of Democratic primary voters support expanding background checks to all firearm sales and transfers.
  • Sixty-two percent of all Americans and 87 percent of Democratic primary voters support banning the sale of selected semi-automatic firearms referred to as assault weapons.
  • And three quarters of all Americans and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters support a voluntary program where the government would buy back firearms that people no longer want.

What's not popular: Only a quarter of Americans back a ban on the sale of all handguns. 

Vice deporter-in-chief?

The Obama administration deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous administration, earning Obama the moniker "deporter in chief" among some immigrant rights groups.

Asked during the debate if the Obama administration made a mistake deporting so many people, Biden distanced himself from the results of Obama-era immigration policy. Biden also described the administration’s deportation and detention practices as the work of a former president doing his best, and described Obama’s immigration policy as entirely different from that of the Trump administration’s practice of separating families and placing detainees in cages. 

During the Obama years, unaccompanied child migrants and entire families with children were housed in facilities that included cages.

NOGALES, Ariz. - Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, center-left, visits the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Nogales Placement Center with Governor Jan Brewer and Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino in Nogales, Ariz. on June 25, 2014.Barry Bahler / DHS

However, one major difference between the Obama and Trump administrations, recognized by most human rights advocates, is that the Trump administration has held individuals, including children, in detention for longer periods of time. 

The Trump administration has also taken legal steps to eliminate court orders restricting the period of time a child can be held in detention and what health or sanitary supplies the government is obligated to provide to those in immigrant detention.

The pack shines

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

A lot of the hype coming into tonight was in having Biden, Warren and Sanders — the three front-runners — on the same stage. But the seven other candidates have been solid, at times taking up major chunks of the debate without a word from the top three.

Fact check: Klobuchar says three gun control bills are waiting 'on Mitch McConnell’s desk'

Klobuchar poked at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for inaction on gun control measures, saying that the Kentucky Republican has three bills on his desk right now: "Universal background checks, closing the Charleston loophole, and passing my bill to make sure domestic abusers don’t get AK-47s.”

This is true — but all three bills face an unclear, if not flat-out bleak, fate in the GOP-controlled Senate.

In February, the Democratic-controlled House passed a law closing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows the sale of a firearm if a background check is not completed within three days. It’s a loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to obtain the weapon he used to murder nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. 

In March, the House passed a bill that would expand background checks for gun purchases to include buys made at gun shows, online and other private sales. And in April, the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with new language that would close the so-called boyfriend loophole. Under current law, it is illegal for spouses or ex-spouses who have been convicted of abuse or who are under a restraining order to buy a gun. But the law doesn’t apply to romantic partners who aren’t legally married. 

Warren and Sanders split over Senate rules

Warren said as president she'd get rid of the filibuster — a move the president can influence but only members of the chamber have a vote on — to advance gun-control legislation. She framed the filibuster, which allows a minority of 41 senators to stop legislation, as corrupt. 

But Sanders said he does not favor eliminating the tool, which both liberal and conservative senators have long used against majorities, even though it could be a major obstacle to his Medicare for All health care plan if he wins the presidency and Democrats take control of the Senate.

Sanders has instead said that he would use a parliamentary process called "reconciliation" for a Medicare for All bill and refashion the chamber’s rules around that if necessary.

Beto gets the home-state love

It helps to be the home-state candidate, and tonight’s debate has been especially beneficial for Texan Beto O’Rourke, who has been praised by much of the entire field for his handling of the El Paso shootings. 

Fellow-Texan Julián Castro praised O’Rourke when he received a question about racism and the El Paso shootings. So did Joe Biden. And Kamala Harris. And Cory Booker.

Castro calls Biden on flip-flopping on Obama’s legacy

Castro really went after Biden hard after the former vice president was questioned about the administration’s immigration policy. Castro, who served as HUD secretary under Obama, used the moment to hit Biden for "taking credit" for the good under Obama and distancing himself from the criticism of the administration.

What to watch for is how his attacks might help Castro in the polls by attacking the front-runner.

Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks during the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, on Sept. 12, 2019.Mike Blake / Reuters

'Gun violence is not a side issue for me'

Booker reminded Democrats of their minority base when he pointed out that "gun violence is not a side issue for me" because more people die daily in communities like his than in mass shootings.

Without that empathy, the issue won’t be solved, Booker said. 


Bernie pivots from guns to lobbying

Bernie uses the discussion about gun violence to pivot to one of his most consistent talking points: the lobbying that goes on in Washington. He equates the gun lobby to big pharma, and notes he got an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association.

More of what the candidates are saying ... but in one sentence.