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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

Going decade by decade, Buttigieg slams Sanders for Castro comments, pushes focus on future

Reminding viewers once again of Sanders' comments (made in the 1980s) about the Castro regime in Cuba, Buttigieg slammed the Vermont senator for expressing "nostalgia" for revolutionary politics.

"I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s," Buttigieg said. "This is not about what coups were happening in the 1970s or '80s. This is about the future. This is about 2020.

"We are not going to survive or succeed, and certainly not going to win, by reliving the Cold War," he continued. "And we're not going to win these critical, critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime."

Three's a party, seven's a crowd

We don't quite have as many people as the early debates did, but seven candidates still feels like a lot. 

Many of the candidates clearly feel they haven't gotten enough time and are firing back at the moderators when told they're out of time. And other candidates can seem to disappear for particular chunks of time.

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar in the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C.Patrick Semansky / AP

Steyer hits Trump, Republicans over Russian interference

Steyer had his strongest moment in the debate so far when he attacked Russia for interfering in the 2016 election — which was confirmed by 17 American intelligence agencies — and its purported interference this year. He also excoriated Trump and Republicans in Congress for not standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

He also gave a nod to his Need to Impeach campaign, which he started before he ran for president. 

"There was a hostile, foreign attack on our election last time, and the president sided with the hostile foreign power. That's why I started Need to Impeach. That's what we have to do. We have to oppose a president who sides with a hostile foreign power that commits cyberwarfare against the United States of America," Steyer said.

"That's where we are. Where are all these patriotic Republicans who wave the flag but, when we're actually under attack, they side with our enemies? It's outrageous. That's why he should have been impeached. They covered it up, and I was years before these people. There's something wrong here. We're under attack, and they're not doing a darn thing about it."

Sanders doesn’t commit when asked whether he would move embassy in Israel

Asked whether he would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv after the Trump administration moved it to Jerusalem in May 2018, Sanders, who is Jewish, said it is "something we would take into consideration," but he didn't provide much more of an answer past that.

Trump's decision to move the embassy delighted the Israeli government but angered Palestinians and brought concerns that it could further destabilize a fraught region, and it has been a point of contention since. 

Many are curious where Sanders would land. The progressive Vermont senator has received much criticism for his stance on Israel, and the recent fight he has picked with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is considered the direct lobbying arm of the Israeli government, has only made that intrigue pick up steam. 

Sanders, who has argued that the U.S. must also be supportive of a Palestinian state, said AIPAC is a platform for "leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights." 

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In a feisty debate, Bloomberg picks two particular targets

Bloomberg has spent the first 90 minutes of tonight's debate retaliating against Sanders and Warren, the two who have lobbed the most attacks toward him.

Mostly, Bloomberg's approach tonight has revolved around attacking Trump and saying he has what it takes to beat the president.

The only other candidate Bloomberg has attacked is Biden, who has yet to target Bloomberg. Last week, Biden attacked Bloomberg 12 times, focusing on his contentious stop-and-frisk policy when he was mayor of New York and his non-disclosure agreements with women who have worked for him.

Get the latest with the NBC News debate attack tracker.

Buttigieg refers to the rural hospital crisis

Buttigieg pointed out that states that haven't expanded Medicaid have seen higher rates of hospital closings, and he noted that those states have larger minority populations that then cannot get health care coverage. That's true, according to an Urban Institute accounting, and an outsize percentage of communities of colors in those states carry medical debt that is now in collections. 

The medical debt is incurred at hospitals, which people go to in emergencies when facing dire health crises. When they don't have insurance coverage to pay for their treatment, they take on that debt, injuring their credit and economic situations long term. It also means poor rural hospitals don't receive reimbursement for treating those patients.

By refusing the Medicaid expansion that states were offered through the Affordable Care Act, the South Carolina government has rejected more than $10.5 billion since 2014, which would provide health care coverage to nearly 200,000 low-income people — many of whom are members of minority groups.

The decisions of the 15 states that have declined expansion have contributed to a rural hospital crisis in which 166 infirmaries have closed nationwide since 2005 — four alone in South Carolina — according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. The crisis peaked in 2019 with the closings of 19 facilities in the U.S., and four more have shut their doors this year.

Democratic candidates slam 'great genius' Trump for botching coronavirus response

Democratic presidential candidates criticized President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak during their debate Tuesday night, blasting budget cuts his administration has made to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his thrashing of the U.S.'s international relationships.

"This president has not invested like he should have in his budget. He tried to cut back on the CDC. He tried to cut back on the international organizations that would coordinate with the rest of the world. He hasn't yet really addressed the nation on this topic," Amy Klobuchar said. "I would do all of that."

The question about the outbreak gave Klobuchar a chance to issue a public warning: "This is so serious I'm not going to give my website. I'm going to give the CDC's website, which is CDC.gov."

Asked how he would deal with the crisis, Biden touted his experience fighting Ebola when he was vice president and vowed to restore funding and to push China: "You have to be open. You have to be clear. We have to know what's going on."

Sanders took the opportunity to go after Trump but also used it to pivot to other issues that require international coordination, climate change in particular.

Read the full story here.

Fact check: Biden attacks Sanders' record on guns

Biden hammered Sanders over his record on guns multiple times Tuesday night, while Sanders defended himself as a reliable supporter of gun control. 

"Walking distance from here is Mother Emanuel church," Biden said. "Nine people shot dead by a white supremacist. Bernie voted five times against the Brady bill and wanted a waiting period — no, let me finish — a waiting period of 12 hours."

It's true that Sanders has had a voting record that many gun control advocates consider checkered, and he has only more recently aligned with the Democratic Party on certain gun control issues. And he did vote against multiple iterations of the Brady bill, which required waiting periods for people buying guns — five times in total, according to PolitiFact

Biden also hit Sanders for his 2005 vote to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from legal liabilities, which Sanders was asked about by a moderator. 

"I have cast thousands of votes, including bad votes. That was a bad vote," Sanders said.

He went on to defend his record: "I have today a D-minus voting record from the NRA. Thirty years ago, I likely lost a race for the one seat for Congress in Vermont because 30 years ago, I opposed — I supported a ban on assault weapons."

While Sanders is right that his most recent rating from the National Rifle Association is a D-minus and that he did lose his 1988 congressional race, multiple outlets have said the reason he lost isn't so clear cut

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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