RECAP: Democrats Face Off in First 2016 Primary Debate

by Carrie Dann /  / Updated 

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The NBC News political unit live-blogged the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. The debate, hosted by CNN, featured candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee.

If you missed the debate, you can view our minute-by-minute recap of the night below, complete with fact-checks and analysis from top NBC News talent.

10:59pm ET: That's it! Here are some final thoughts from our team:

10:52pm ET: Question for all the candidates: Which enemy makes you the most proud?

  • Chafee: The coal lobby
  • O'Malley: The NRA
  • Clinton: The NRA, the health insurance companies, drug companies, the Iranians, "probably the Republicans"
  • Sanders: Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry
  • Webb: The enemy soldier who threw a grenade at me. "But he's not around anymore."

10:45pm ET: Clinton asked about legalization of recreational marijuana. She says she's not ready to take a position. 'We're just at the beginning" of research from states that legalize it, she says, although she does suggest that she supports reforms to stem mass incarceration traced to marijuana possession charges.

10:41pm ET: Clinton derides as "Republican scare tactics" the claim that paid family leave would hurt small businesses. A fired-up Clinton says GOP is "fine with big government" when it comes to interfering with Planned Parenthood. Big cheers again from Democrats in the audience.

O'Malley, Sanders both agree with Clinton on paid leave.

10:37pm ET: A new line of questioning on climate change. O'Malley cites his plan to move to a 100% clean electrical grid by 2050. Sanders: "This is a moral issue."

10:33pm ET: Coming back from a commercial break, Clinton is asked about being elected in a year of outsiders. She again references the "outsider" status of vying to be the first female president, then adds a nod to her record.

O'Malley strikes back: "Our country needs new leadership to move forward."

Clinton: "I wouldn't ask anyone to vote for me because of my last name." Asks voters to look at her proposals.

10:28pm ET: Pressed on what "revolution" looks like, Sanders said America needs more political participation, more people to unite against money in politics.

10:27pm ET: Jim Webb to Bernie Sanders: "I don't think the revolution's going to come. And I don't think that Congress is going to pay for a lot of this."

10:25pm ET: How would she be different than Barack Obama? Clinton cites that she'd be the first female president. Any policy differences? She'd "go further" on issues like education, climate change and the economy.

10:22pm ET: Some disagreement on Edward Snowden.

  • Chafee: "I would bring him home."
  • Clinton: "He broke the laws of the United States... I don't think that he should be brought home without facing the music."
  • O'Malley: "He broke the law... put Americans lives at risk"
  • Sanders: "What he did in educating us [about surveillance] should be taken into consideration"
  • Webb: "I would leave it to the legal system"

10:21pm ET: Clinton says she does NOT regret her vote on the Patriot Act. Chafee notes that it was a nearly unanimous vote in the Senate.

10:18pm ET: Asked about in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, Clinton says "if states agree with it..."

10:17pm ET: As immigration conversation continues, Clinton jumps in to remind the audience of the difference between rhetoric from Democrats on this topic and from Republicans, who she says have "demonized" immigrants. O'Malley references "Donald Trump, that carnival barker in the Republican Party."

10:16pm ET: Webb gives an impassioned response on immigration, telling the story of his wife, who is Vietnamese.

10:14pm ET: Sanders now being asked about immigration. Here’s some good background from the New York Times on Sanders’ relationship with Hispanics and his efforts to explain past positions on immigration that don’t always sit well with Latino activists.

10:12pm ET: Now we're on to Social Security. "I want to enhance the benefits of the poorest recipients of Social Security," says Clinton.

Sanders: "You don't cut Social Security, you expand it!"

10:07pm ET: Oh, boy. Chafee defends his vote for Glass-Steagall, saying that he had just arrived in the Senate after the death of his father.

10:05pm ET: Clinton takes another round of questions on her change of positions on Keystone, etc.

10:03pm ET: Still no mention of Vice President Joe Biden.

10:02pm ET: Sanders hits back at Clinton's riff on her efforts in Congress to rein in Wall Street: "In my view, Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress."

10:00pm ET: Cooper to Sanders, on financial reform: "Secretary Clinton just said that her plan is stronger than yours."

Sanders: [Laughs] "Not true."

9:59pm ET: Martin O'Malley back on the offensive. He says that he DID support Clinton back in 2008, before the financial crash, but now says that Clinton isn't hard enough on big banks.

9:57pm ET: From NBC's Charlie Gile: Bernie Sanders said that the United States has more people in prison than China does.

Fact: His claim is true. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated the number of incarcerated persons in the United States to be 2.4 million, while that number is 1.64 million in China, per the International Centre for Prison Studies.

9:54pm ET: In response to Black Lives Matter question,Clinton calls for a "new New Deal" to help children of color in early childhood education.

9:53pm ET: Facebook question: Do black lives batter, or do all lives matter?

Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley, who both faced protests from Black Lives Matter activists early in the campaign, forcefully speak out for the importance of addressing concerns of the black community, police reform.

9:50pm ET: Lincoln Chafee weighs in to slam Clinton on the email issue.

COOPER: "No you want to respond, Secretary Clinton?"

CLINTON: "No."

9:48pm ET: Bernie Sanders chimes in, saying that he believes Clinton is right about the Benghazi committee being a partisan exercise.

"The American people are sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails!" he says. Huge applause in the auditorium.

9:45pm ET: We're back from commercial, and the first question is to Hillary Clinton on her emails.

"I have been as transparent as I know [how] to be," she says, citing the emails that she turned over to the State Department. "This committee is basically an arm of the Republican National Committee, it is a partisan vehicle." She cites Kevin McCarthy's comments linking the Benghazi committee to her poll numbers.

"Tonight I want to talk, not about my emails, but about what the American people want from the next president of the United States."

9:40pm ET: We're at the first commercial break in the Democratic debate. No mentions yet of Hillary Clinton's emails, Joe Biden's will-he-won't-he act, or Donald Trump.

9:36pm ET: Martin O'Malley invokes the name of Chris Stevens, the ambassador killed in the Benghazi attacks. He and Webb both question Clinton's judgment on Libya.

Clinton says there are always risks when diplomats are sent overseas.

9:35pm ET: Sanders stumbles a little bit when asked to respond to Webb.

9:33pm ET: Webb is upset that he hasn't gotten more airtime. He interjects to say that the U.S. relationship with China should be viewed as the country's biggest strategist threat now.

9:32pm ET: Via NBC's Charlie Gile:O’Malley claims that in the 2014, arrests in Baltimore had fallen to a 38 year low. He also said that when he became Governor, Baltimore was "the most violent and addicted city in America." According to FBI data, Baltimore’s crime rate dropped 48% while O’Malley was in office after he adopted a “zero-tolerance” policing strategy. However, the FBI warns against using their data to draw comparisons. Baltimore’s drop in crime rate was comparable to other US cities.

9:29pm ET: Martin O'Malley whacks Clinton on Syria, saying that her advocacy of a no-fly zone in the region is a mistake.

Clinton strikes back, noting that he endorsed her in the 2008 presidential campaign.

9:28pm ET: Here's what Hillary Clinton said on Meet the Press about the president's Syria policy.

9:27pm ET: Asked when he would use force, Sanders says: "When our country is threatened, or when our allies are threatened, I believe we need coalitions" to act. He doesn't support unilateral action by the United States.

9:25pm ET: After Chafee mentions Clinton's vote on the Iraq war, Clinton notes that President Barack Obama - after a spirited series of debates on foreign policy during the 2008 campaign - "trusted my judgment" and made her Secretary of State.

9:23pm ET: Sanders says he does not support American ground troops in Syria.

"Nobody does, Senator Sanders," Clinton interjects.

9:22pm ET: We're on to foreign policy. Clinton says it's important that the United States "take more of a leadership position" when it comes to Russia and Syria.

9:20pm ET: Webb weighs in, saying the average American deserves the chance to defend their family with a firearm.

9:18pm ET: Sanders counters, after O'Malley piles on re: the gun control issue. "All the shouting in the world isn't going to do what we want," Sanders says, citing the difficulty of passing gun legislation in Congress. "Our job is to bring people together on common sense gun legislation."

9:14pm ET: A tough exchange on gun control just now. Sanders has moved to the left but voted against the Brady Bill in the past. (Here's a good look from Perry Bacon Jr. on his gun record.)

Asked if Sanders is tough enough on the issue, Clinton responds: "No, not at all."

9:13pmET: Bill Clinton isn't in the arena, but he is in Vegas -- and he's watching wife Hillary Clinton on TV.

9:11pmET: The first question to Martin O'Malley is about his record as mayor of Baltimore. Critics have said that his crackdown on crime in the city hurt minorities.

9:10pm ET: From NBC's Charlie Gile: In her answer to a question about political expediency, Hillary Clinton said that while she was Secretary of State, she said that she "hoped that TPP would be the gold standard."

On November 15th 2012 at an event in Australia, Clinton sounded like a hard sell on TPP, saying, "This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field."

9:08pm ET: Lincoln Chafee gets a question about his switch from Republican to independent to Democrat. "The party left me," he says, saying that he's been consistent on the issues.

9:07pm ET: Clinton counters: "We are not Denmark... it's our job to reign in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn't run amok." But says it would be "a mistake to turn our back" on the system that built the American economy.

9:05pm ET: Asked about his comment on NBC's Meet the Press that he's not a capitalist, Sanders says he doesn't ascribe to "casino capitalism" that rewards only the most wealthy.

Here's what he said to NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday:

9:03pmET: Sanders weighs in on his progressive principles, citing as he has in the past his admiration for other countries' models of social services.

"I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden, like Norway, and learn for what they have done for working people."

9:00pm ET: The first question from Anderson Cooper is for Hillary Clinton, asking about her flip-flops on issues like trade and the Keystone XL.

"I've been very consistent.... I do absorb new information," she says.

Asked if she's a progressive or a moderate, she says "I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."

8:56pm ET: Last up for opening statements, frontrunner Hillary Clinton. She mentions her upbringing and her granddaughter as she typically does on the stump. She gets applause from the audience in the debate arena for promoting paid family leave and equal pay.

"I will do everything I can to heal the divides" in this country, she says.

"Fathers will be able to say to their daughters: 'You too can grow up and be able to be president.'"

8:55pm ET:

8:54pm ET: Bernie Sanders is the second-to-last candidate to give his opening statement. He mentions income inequality, money in politics, climate change and prison reform.

"What this campaign is about is whether we can mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we can and should have."

8:52pm ET: In his opening statement, Martin O'Malley says "I have learned how to get things done, because I am very clear about my principles." He's been dinging Hillary Clinton on the stump for moving towards the progressive positions he supports.

8:50pm ET: Next up, Jim Webb, who begins his opening statement by bemoaning too much influence of money in politics. He also touts his military record.

8:48pm ET: The first opening statement goes to former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln Chafee. "I'm the only one running for president who has been a mayor, a United States senator, and a governor," he says.

"I'm very proud that in my over 30 years of service, I have had no scandals... I have high ethical standards." An early dig at Clinton?

8:45pm ET: All five candidates are now on stage, and we're getting geared up to begin.

The debate will be moderated by Anderson Cooper, with questions from CNN's Dana Bash and Don Lemon and from CNN en Espanol's Juan Carlos Lopez.

8:30pm ET: As you wait for the debate to begin, catch up on what the political unit will be watching for during the big show.

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports on the policy areas where the Democrats may try to differentiate themselves. And she examines how the debate might be a make-or-break moment for Martin O’Malley.

Perry Bacon Jr. looks at Bernie Sanders’ moves to the left.

NBC’s afternoon political newsletter, The Lid, lays out what might be a hurdle or a blessing for three of the candidates on stage: Very, very low name ID. (Don’t subscribe to The Lid? Sign up here!)

And First Read offers a Viewers Guide for the debate. Follow along!

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