Sparks flew during the ninth Democratic presidential debate, with five veteran debaters and one newcomer facing off on stage on Wednesday.
Wednesday's debate was the first for billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who took considerable heat from the other candidates on stage over his treatment of women and defense of stop and frisk.
The debate, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent, put pressure on Bernie Sanders to defend his position as a leading candidate in the run-up to Nevada's caucuses on Saturday, while moderates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar — and now Bloomberg — looked to widen their bases, and Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren sought a boost after failing to meet early expectations.
Highlights from the Las Vegas Democratic debate:
- Who won the Democratic debate in Las Vegas?
- ANALYSIS: Finally, the fight Democrats have been waiting for.
- Debate rivals hammer Bloomberg over 'stop and frisk' policing in NYC.
- Warren comes out swinging and lands several punches.
Warren says Biden, Klobuchar are too concerned with being McConnell’s pal
Warren continued to carry a big stick when going after opponents, criticizing a few of her Democratic colleagues for their chuminess with Republicans. Klobuchar and Biden both have heralded their ability to work across the aisle, but Warren said this bipartisanship is only advocating for incrementalism and abandoning progressive values.
“Amy and Joe’s hearts are in the right place, but we can’t be so eager to be liked by Mitch McConnell that we forget how to fight the Republicans,” Warren said, also tucking in a slam aimed at the wealth of Buttigieg's donors.
Klobuchar appeared frustrated and didn’t get much out beyond, "Oh come on, you gotta be kidding me," before the debate cut to commercial while she just shook her head. Biden later noted that he’s been a target of McConnell and claimed he’s the only one on the stage who has beaten him when advocating for legislation in the Senate.
“I’ve been the object of his affection,” Biden said, noting that McConnell and Republicans have recently attacked him, his son and his family. “I don’t need to be told I’m a friend of Mitch McConnell’s. Mitch McConnell has been the biggest pain in my neck in a long, long time.”
Debate watch Detroit: Two hours later, few minds have been changed
If candidates came into tonight's debate hoping to change minds and earn supporters, they largely struck out with people watching at the Brush Street Stadium Bar & Grill in Detroit.
By the second hour of the debate, much of the bar had emptied out, the noise level from conversations had risen to a level so high it was hard to hear the TV, and few of the people remaining said they'd heard anything that impressed them enough to influence their votes.
"I'm no closer to a decision now than I was before," said Jamila Taylor, 42, a doctor who came to the debate watch party in a pink and green sweater from her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's oldest black sorority. "I heard things from each candidate that I agree with but not enough to stand out," she said.
Harry C. Todd, 57, an insurance executive and a member of the Detroit Alphas, the Detroit fraternity that sponsored the watch party, said he heard candidates "promising everything to everybody," trying to target different demographic groups with their answers to draw voters. He'd rather hear them talk about what they're going to do to build bipartisan support for important issues like clean water and good schools.
"I'm not a soundbite guy," he said. "They all want to do this great stuff, but what's your plan to work with both sides of the aisle?"
Redlining redux: facts and fiction
After a tape circulated of Bloomberg describing the end of redlining as the cause of the 2008 financial crisis and the deepest recession since the Great Depression, he disavowed the idea on the Las Vegas debate stage.
"Redlining" refers to a federal policy that first barred lending to black and Latino homeowners then, constraining the ability of those homeowners to purchase homes outside of specific neighborhoods for more than five decades.
"I was against it. ... Redlining is still a practice in some places, and we've got to cut it out," Bloomberg said.
But the idea that redlining was a positive force is not limited to Bloomberg's recorded comments. It is a widespread belief advanced during and after the Great Recession by conservatives opposed to lending regulations that required banks to track and report mortgage lending to the federal government. The reporting was intended to help address the long-term economic effects of unequal lending.
From 1934, when the nation's mortgage system began, to the mid-1970s, affordable and sustainable loans were made available almost exclusively to white Americans. Homes remain the single most valuable asset held by most American households and the source of most inherited wealth or property. So redlining has helped not only helped to fuel the widespread neighborhood and school segregation, which continue to this day, but also to perpetuate the nation's yawning racial wealth gap.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, about 74 percent of white Americans owned their homes, compared to just 44 percent of black Americans, according to census data. In 2016, the average white American household had about $147,000 in wealth.
Fact check: Did Amazon pay $0 in federal income tax in 2018?
Buttigieg said Amazon and Chevron didn’t pay anything in federal income tax in 2018.
"What we've got to do is level the playing field, where a company like Amazon, Chevron, is paying literally zero on billions of dollars in profits and it puts small businesses like the ones that are revitalizing my own city," he said.
That's true. Amazon paid $0 in U.S. federal income tax on more than $11 billion in profits before taxes in 2018. It also received a $129 million tax rebate from the federal government. Chevron also paid $0 in federal income tax on more than $4.5 billion in income in 2018. The company also received a federal tax rebate to the tune of $181 million.
Amazon and Chevron's low tax bill partially stems from the Trump administration's corporate tax cut from 35 to 21 percent in 2017. Companies have a long-standing practice of using tax deferral, a tax instrument that enables businesses to postpone paying taxes until a later year. When Trump decreased the tax rate, it allowed companies to defer more taxes. Amazon's low tax bill also stemmed from carryforward losses from years when the company didn’t bring in profits, tax credits for investments in R&D, and stock-based employee compensation.
When Buttigieg criticizes Bloomberg, he sprinkles a dig at Sanders
If you've watched closely tonight, you'll notice a common attack line from Buttigieg: Bloomberg wants to "buy the election" and Sanders wants to "burn the house down."
The most recent moment was when Buttigieg was asked whether Bloomberg's spending was good for Democrats, to which he replied that it wasn't because the former New York mayor doesn't hold Democratic values.
"I think that turning to someone like Mayor Bloomberg, who thinks he can buy this election, is no better a way to succeed than turning to someone like Senator Sanders, who wants to burn the house down," Buttigieg said.
What's going on here is Buttigieg's seeing not only Bloomberg's money as a threat but also pitching himself as a centrist who can take on Trump — a lane Buttigieg has tried to rule with an iron fist. He also sees Sanders, after a popular vote win in Iowa and a victory in New Hampshire, as his chief rival going forward.
Fact check: Bloomberg touts drop in crime rate under his watch
"When I got into office, there were 650 murders a year in New York City," Bloomberg said, defending his record on stop-and-frisk. "The crime rate did go from 650, 50 percent down to 300. And we have to keep a lid on crime."
The murder rate in New York City — not the crime rate — dropped by roughly half, going from 649 murders in 2001 (the first year he was elected) to 335 murders in 2013 (his last year in office). But it's a stretch to credit this decline to expanded use of the stop-and-frisk strategy. The murder rate was declining a decade before he took office and continued to decline after he departed after three terms — suggesting other forces were in play. The murder rate kept falling after the program was formally ended by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014.
Debate watch Houston: Couple on third date came for jazz, stayed for debate
HOUSTON — Michael Edwards and Kirby Avila, both 28, came to a Houston beer bar to listen to live jazz. It was their third date. But after ordering drinks, they ducked onto the patio and found dozens of people watching the Democratic debate — and they soon joined them.
Edwards, a nurse at a major Houston hospital, said he's seen what happens to people who lack health insurance, and so Sanders has his vote. Avila, a chemical industry technician, said she was still undecided. But after Warren's performance tonight, she said she's leaning toward her.
"She's so sharp, and I think it's time for a woman," Avila said.
So why trade a night listening to soothing jazz for one listening to sniping candidates? Edwards, who is black, and Avila, who is Latina, said November's election is vitally important for people of color.
"There's too much on the line," Edwards said, turning to Avila.
"Yeah," she said, holding Edwards' hand. "It's a good third date."
Google 'democratic debate' ... and you get Bloomberg's ad
A gentle reminder of just how expansive Bloomberg’s ad buys are. His campaign has prime ad real estate tonight for Google searches for the debate.
In hour two, Bloomberg's having the debate he wanted. It may not overshadow the first hour's pile-on.
Bloomberg has spent the second hour of the debate much more comfortable on stage, discussing policies around climate change, the tax code and small businesses.
He took shots at Sanders in particular, comparing his policies to "communism," which Sanders called a "cheap shot."
"I can't think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get re-elected than listening to this conversation," Bloomberg said of the proposals. "This is ridiculous. We're not going to throw out capitalism, we tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism and it just didn't work."
But hour two may not be the headline coming out of Wednesday night's bout. What is likely to get more attention is Bloomberg's first hour, where he got annihilated by Warren and other candidates on nondisclosure agreements and stop-and-frisk.
But Bloomberg is left with some moments that are likely to serve as clips in upcoming campaign ads. And as we know, the Bloomberg operation is more than equipped to turn those bits around into far-reaching ads.
Debate watch Las Vegas: First-time voter looks to debate for guidance
LAS VEGAS — People are trickling into the watch party at Layla's Palace Banquet Hall as the debate continues. Among them is Jasmine Campuzano, 18, who said she's been waiting for four years to cast a vote against President Donald Trump. This will be the first year she can vote.
"I wanted to make sure the person I vote for isn't a surprise later," said Campuzano, who attended the event with her mother and brother. "I want to make sure the person I vote for is what I am actually getting."
She's still not sure which Democrat will get her vote, but she's hoping to have a better idea by the end of the debate. At the moment, the high school senior said it looks like a catfight on stage and it's hard to follow.
"But I like how Elizabeth [Warren] is answering the questions," she said.