South Carolina Democratic debate live updates: Candidates faced off in Charleston

The 10th Democratic debate was the last before the nominating contests in South Carolina on Saturday and 14 other states on Super Tuesday.
Image: Seven Democratic candidates will take the stage in a primary debate in South Carolina on Feb. 25, 2020.
Seven Democratic candidates will take the stage in a primary debate in South Carolina on Feb. 25, 2020.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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The leading Democratic presidential candidates came out swinging at the party's 10th debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday night.

The debate quickly descended into chaos as the current front-runner, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, faced a torrent of attacks from all sides, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg over his treatment of women, and several of the candidates literally shouted over each other about health care.

The two-hour debate, co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, is the final verbal bout before the candidates head into South Carolina's primary on Saturday and the Super Tuesday nominating contests of 14 states on March 3, where more than a third of Democratic National Convention delegates are up for grabs.

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Read our debate coverage:

Live Blog

Bloomberg refers to coronavirus

Bloomberg is the first candidate to bring up the ongoing public health issue around the new coronavirus, about which the CDC sounded alarms earlier Tuesday.

He hit Trump for letting CDC funding lapse related to fighting global pandemics.

But that wasn't enough for Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. 

Who gets to talk about race?

Debate moderators asked some of the candidates to state their positions on race issues but left out Klobuchar, even though she has been struggling to get support from voters of color and has faced criticism on race (related to her record as a prosecutor).

Just after Steyer discussed reparations, Klobuchar, who said the country needs to elect a candidate from the Midwest, was allowed to shift to a question on rural America.

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Poverty, particularly among children, remains high

Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota who has described herself as a champion for often forgotten parts of America, made one of the debate's only references to rural and child poverty Tuesday night.

In South Carolina, a state with many rural communities, about 15 percent of the population lives in poverty, compared to about 12 percent of people nationwide, according to census data. But poverty is an even more pronounced experience for children. While about 16 percent of all children in the United States live in poverty, almost 23 percent of children in South Carolina do so, according to a 2019 Children’s Defense Fund analysis of census data.

Nobody puts Biden in a corner

After Biden gave a forceful (and detailed) answer about how to directly address specific issues affecting black Americans, he criticized the moderators for cutting him off.

"I'm not going to be quiet anymore, OK?" he said. 

Biden was quiet during the initial moments of the debate, but as it went on it, he became sharper and more aggressive in his answers. 

Know who's not making his presence felt tonight?

President Donald Trump, a frequent target at previous debates, has been attacked by candidates on the debate stage four times in the first hour tonight. At this rate, the debate will tally the fewest attacks on Trump of any debate so far. 

ANALYSIS: Ending the filibuster is a good news, bad news proposition

For Democrats, the good news about killing the filibuster is that it would make it easier to pass their agenda.

The bad news — as they might be able to have gleaned from the Trump administration — is that it would make it easier for Republicans to repeal whatever they pass in the future.

For a party that has prided itself on progressive legislating — from Social Security and Medicare to civil rights — the prospects of turning back the clock with a 51-seat Republican majority in the future might seem like a risk.

But then again, without it, two anti-abortion bills would have passed the Senate today.

The allure of jamming a particular Democratic president's plans through the Senate is usually stronger for that president than for the members of the Senate — even from his or her party — who plan to remain in their jobs longer than four or eight years.

The president doesn't have a vote on lowering or eliminating the filibuster threshold. The senators who do aren't likely to support it.

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Bloomberg eager to talk about anti-gun push

During the discussion about guns, Bloomberg eagerly raised his hand and shut down Buttigieg. He eagerly reminded the audience that he has funded an organization with 6 million people who work on anti-gun legislation called Moms Demand Action.

Sanders, Bloomberg getting the brunt of it

The Vermont senator has fielded 23 attacks in the first 45 minutes tonight. That's one more than the number of times he was targeted all night in last week's Nevada debate.

Onstage, Sanders' competitors have alluded to his "Medicare for All" plan and its lack of a price tag, and they have labeled him the most polarizing candidate among them.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has also taken hits, albeit in Sanders' shadow. The former mayor of New York has fielded 13 attacks so far tonight, many of them from Warren regarding his non-disclosure agreements with women who have worked for him.

Follow the latest play-by-play with our debate attack tracker.

Bloomberg hit on NDAs again. What's an NDA, anyway?

Bloomberg told voters watching Tuesday night's debate that he had likely made the country better in the last week by taking a new position on non-disclosure agreements, more commonly known as NDAs.

After a bruising exchange on the Nevada debate stage last week — during which Warren called on Bloomberg to release all current and former employees from NDAs — Bloomberg did move to release three women from such agreements. On Friday,  Bloomberg, CEO of Bloomberg LP, also announced that the company will stop using NDAs in cases involving allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Over 33 percent of the American workforce has signed non-disclosure agreements in settlements with employers or as requirements of accepting or maintaining jobs. The agreements, typically between individuals and employers, organization or institutions, usually mandate that those who sign them avoid speaking publicly about their experiences or the terms of any settlement agreement.

Fact check: Did two states kick hundreds of thousands of people off the voting rolls?

"Wisconsin has kicked hundreds of thousands of people off of their voting rolls. Georgia kicked 100,000 off," Klobuchar said Tuesday.

What's she talking about?

It's true that Georgia recently purged 100,000 inactive voters from the voting rolls, but Wisconsin hasn't yet actually completed its purge yet: The registrations of more than 200,000 Wisconsin voters are caught up in litigation, and an appeals court put the planned purge on hold last month.

It's important to note that purges — the elimination of inactive voters from the rolls — are a normal part of roll maintenance. Voting rights activists say purges must be done carefully, however, so active voters aren't caught up in them. There is some indication that the proposed Wisconsin purge and Georgia's aggressive purges are indeed catching active voters.

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