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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

Protests interrupt Biden's final answer

Muffled screaming could be heard coming from the back of the auditorium as Biden began speaking during the candidates' closing statements about professional setbacks. The uproar caused confusion and stopped the debate for about a minute.

According to Bloomberg, they were protesting immigration and wore shirts that read, "Defend DACA, Abolish ICE, Citizenship for All."

Reproductive rights, abortion questions missing from debate

While tonight’s debate was full of heated exchanges over health care, student debt and race issues, a major topic was missing: reproductive rights. Republican-led legislatures in various states are currently pushing abortion restrictions, and women seeking abortions in states like Texas and Mississippi continue to face severely limited options. None of which came up on the debate stage tonight.

Buttigieg closes with coming out tale

Buttigieg finishes the debate by telling his coming out story.

"As a military officer serving under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and as an elected official in the state of Indiana when Mike Pence was governor, at a certain point, when it came to professional setbacks, I had to wonder whether just acknowledging who I  was was going to be the ultimate career ending setback," he said.

"So I just came out," he said, diving back into the story of his 2015 coming out in a local South Bend newspaper article.

"They reelected me with 80 percent of the vote," Buttigieg said, in a familiar stump speech. "What I learned is that trust can be reciprocated."

His husband weighed in on Twitter shortly after:

Fact check: Booker on the problem of child lead poisoning in America

"There’s over 3,000 jurisdictions in America where children have more than twice the blood lead levels than Flint, Michigan," Booker said.

This is accurate, according to studies published in the past few years. 

A 2016 analysis by Reuters of lead testing results across the U.S. found almost 3,000 neighborhoods with lead poisoning rates in children at least double of those in Flint. Reuters continued conducting their analysis into 2017, and an updated study published that year found that the number had increased to more than 3,800.

Fact check: Booker says majority of gun deaths occur in urban areas

"The majority of homicide victims come from neighborhoods like mine," Booker said, referencing his Newark, New Jersey, home during a discussion on gun violence.

This is true. According to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2015-2016, 63 percent of firearm homicides occurred in a metropolitan area.

Biden struggles with Iraq answer

Biden has had a long time to think about his role in the Iraq war, from his vote to authorize it more than 15 years ago to the prominent part he played in the Obama administration’s drawdown of troops as vice president.

But he struggled to give a cogent answer when he was asked whether it was a mistake to pull out of Iraq when the U.S. did because the rise of ISIS required troops to be deployed back to the region.

He even appeared to claim that "we predicted" the major problem that precipitated sending troops back in. 

"It was later, when we came into office, that Barack, the president, turned to me, and said 'Joe,' when they said we have a plan to get out, he turned to the whole security and said 'Joe will organize this. Get the troops home,'" Biden said.

"My son spent a year in Iraq and I understand. And we were right to get the combat troops out. The big mistake that was made, which we predicted, was we would not have a circumstance where the Shia and the Kurds would not work together to keep ISIS from moving in."

Biden fumbles a point

The former vice president started off well, but his last couple answers have been tough to follow. 

In an answer on what he would do about injustices that stem from slavery, he starts talking about education but somehow ends up talking about social workers going over to homes in lower-income communities to teach parents how to be better parents, essentially, adding that they would do things like keep the “record player on” at night so young children would hear and learn more words.

There was a point in there, somewhere, but unfortunately for Biden, the answer in total was jumbled — to put it lightly.

Sanders: 'We are going to cancel all student debt in this country'

Sanders talked up his plan to cancel all $1.6 trillion in student debt in the country.

"We are going to cancel all student debt in this country and we are going to do that by imposing a tax on Wall Street," he said. He’s the only one willing to go that far for now. Warren has a plan to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for households making under $250,000 that she estimates would knock out $640 billion of debt.

Both plans speak to an explosion in student loan debt over the last decade, but they’re controversial within the party, with critics warning they’d reward too many well-off Americans and breed resentment in others who don’t qualify for benefits. Many in the field have proposed alternative approaches like tying debt forgiveness to public service and making it easier to refinance loans at lower rates. 

To read about every candidate’s individual plans for student debt and college affordability, check out our issues page.

The Democratic shift against charter schools

Yang said he was "pro good schools" in response to a question on charter schools, independently operated public schools that tend to not be unionized. 

Elizabeth Warren appeared to take a pot shot at the concept, saying "money for public schools should stay in public schools, not go anywhere else."

Charter schools enjoyed prominent backing from Democrats under President Obama, but the 2020 president field has soured on them amid a spate of strikes by public school teachers and clashes with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a prominent charter school advocate.

Fact check: Are 30 million people uninsured in America?

“Right now, 30 million Americans don’t have coverage,” Harris said of the state of health care in the U.S. Thursday night.

This is mostly true. The Census Bureau released data this week that found that 27.5 million people were uninsured for all of 2018, while another 10.6 million reported they had health care for less than the entire year. The number of uninsured Americans rose from 2017.

Impeachment going unmentioned

The debate entered its third hour and moderators have not yet asked about impeachment, and none of the candidates have mentioned it even though earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee took a major step in its ongoing investigation into whether to recommend the filing of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. 

Passed along party lines, the committee adopted a resolution that set procedures and rules for future impeachment investigation hearings

Several of the Democratic presidential candidates have voiced support for impeachment proceedings to begin against the president, while others have been more cautious on the issue. Impeachment came up at the last Democratic debate in late July in Detroit, but not until the latter half of the event.

While Democrats have not set a deadline for recommending articles of impeachment, congressional staff have suggested a pre-election year timeframe, and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said this week he’d like to decide it “rather rapidly.”