Debate pile-on from rivals shows Warren's strengths and weaknesses

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren speaks during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 5, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — The fourth round of the Democratic presidential debates began with two frontrunners.

But in the three hours of back-and-forth's over health care, taxation and past accomplishments, it sure felt like there was just one on the stage — Elizabeth Warren — as the rest of the field piled on her and pretty much left Joe Biden alone.

The pile-on — and her response to it — underscored Warren’s strengths.

Punching back: When Biden interjected that he won over votes for passing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Warren helped create, she followed with this not-so-subtle shot: “I am deeply grateful to President Obama” — never mentioning Biden’s name.

Projecting vitality: “I will out-work, out-organize, and outlast anyone, and that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence, or whoever the Republicans get stuck with,” she said in response to a question about being 70 years old.

Blasting a corrupt and unfair system: “Right now in America, the top 0.1 percent have so much wealth – understand this – that if we put a 2 cent tax on their 50 millionth and first dollar, and on every dollar after that, we would have enough money to provide universal childcare for every baby in this country, age zero to five, universal pre-K for every child, raise the wages of every childcare worker.”

But the debate also highlighted her weaknesses if she becomes the Democratic nominee.

Refusing — again — to answer a simple question if single-payer/Medicare for All would increase American’s taxes: Moderator: "Senator Warren, to be clear, Senator Sanders acknowledges he's going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for all. You've endorsed his plan. Should you acknowledge it, too?"

Warren: "So the way I see this, it is about what kinds of costs middle-class families are going to face."

More:

Buttigieg: "Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this."

And:

Klobuchar: "At least Bernie's being honest here and saying how he's going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up."

Saying it’s her way or the highway on policy: “My question is not why do Bernie and I support a wealth tax,” Warren said. “It's why is it does everyone else on this stage think it is more important to protect billionaires than it is to invest in an entire generation of Americans?”

Klobuchar countered, “I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth, because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires. We just have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea.”

Pushing for large-scale structural change when nearly half the party doesn’t want it: “Look, I understand that this is hard, but I think as Democrats we are going to succeed when we dream big and fight hard, not when we dream small and quit before we get started,” Warren said.

But here was Klobuchar again: “You know, I think simply because you have different ideas doesn't mean you're fighting for regular people.”

Indeed, our September NBC/WSJ poll found that a majority of Democratic primary voters – 56 percent – prefer large-scale change, even if it’s harder and costlier to pass.

But 40 percent say they wanted smaller change, and that’s not an insignificant slice of the party.

Of course, it was four years ago when a good chunk of the Republican Party wasn’t for the change Donald Trump was campaigning for.

But the “Stop Trump” movement fizzled because the GOP — the party of the Bushes and the McCains and the Romneys – was broken.

A “Stop Warren” movement, however, can count on a sizable number of Dem voters who still look back fondly on the Obama/Biden years.

And here’s Warren’s challenge, as was evidenced last night: How will she appease that wing of the party?

How the AOC-Omar endorsements for Bernie are a win-win for the Democratic Party

Given his recent heart attack, Bernie Sanders had a strong night.

After all, not everyone could bounce back from a major health scare and stand on a debate stage for three hours.

Team Sanders also got a boost when it announced it picked up the endorsements from liberal Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ilan Omar, D-Minn.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

But that’s not only good news for Sanders; it’s also good news for Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and the rest of the Democratic Party – who can now distance themselves from the GOP attacks on AOC and Omar.

As Ron Brownstein put it, "If @SenSanders isn’t the nominee doesn’t this group action make it easier for the ultimate D winner to rebut the Trump charge that they are the candidate of 'the squad' by saying: what do you mean? They endorsed someone else."

Impeachment inquiry update

Ambassador Michael McKinley, the former senior adviser to the Secretary of State Pompeo, is expected to appear in closed session today, NBC’s Geoff Bennett and Garrett Haake report.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy said the full House of Representatives won’t vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry at this point, reiterating her argument that there is “no requirement” for there to be a floor vote for the inquiry to continue.

"We're not here to call bluffs,” Pelosi added. “We're here to find the truth, to uphold the Constitution of the United States. This is not a game for us. This is deadly serious."

2020 Vision: Breaking down the 3rd quarter numbers

The official numbers for the third fundraising quarter are in after last night’s FEC filing deadline:

Total raised (not including transfers or candidate loans/contributions)

  • Sanders: $25,425,463
  • Warren: $24,684,963
  • Buttigieg: $19,211,493
  • Biden: $15,741,432
  • Harris: $11,849,290
  • Yang: $9,922,625
  • Booker: $6,023,097
  • Klobuchar: $4,806,133
  • O'Rourke: $4,482,284
  • Castro: $3,497,251
  • Williamson: $3,054,167
  • Gabbard: $3,032,159
  • Bullock: $2,299,449
  • Bennet: $2,115,098
  • Steyer: $2,047,432
  • Delaney: $468,452
  • Ryan: $425,731

Cash on hand as of Sept. 30

  • Sanders: $33,734,560
  • Warren: $25,717,674
  • Buttigieg: $23,378,518
  • Harris: $10,542,692
  • Biden: $8,987,628
  • Yang: $6,357,361
  • Booker: $4,223,789
  • Klobuchar: $3,679,592
  • O'Rourke: $3,255,730
  • Steyer: $2,623,142
  • Gabbard: $2,138,491
  • Bennet: $1,863,600
  • Bullock: $1,366,143
  • Williamson: $723,731
  • Castro: $672,334
  • Delaney: $548,061
  • Ryan: $158,348.92

On the campaign trail today

The day after the debate, Joe Biden makes a stop in Columbus, Ohio before attending a community event in Davenport, Iowa… Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris also are in the Hawkeye State, with Buttigieg holding a town hall in Ames and Harris holding one in Dubuque… And Amy Klobuchar stumps in New Hampshire.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

NBC’s Amanda Golden and Julia Jester paint the scene from last night’s post-debate spin room, where the candidates and campaign surrogates spoke with reporters.

Beto O’Rourke on his fight with Pete Buttigieg over O’Rourke’s mandatory buyback program: “Either [Buttigieg is] missing the point or he's being driven by the polling on this,” O’Rourke said, “When he described the pursuit of a mandatory buyback to take these 16 million AR 15s and AK 47s off the streets as chasing a shiny object, I thought it was so offensive to everyone who has survived gun violence, lost someone to gun violence or fears gun violence in their lives right now.”

Kamala Harris’ back-and-forth with Elizabeth Warren last night surprisingly didn’t have to do with health care or foreign policy, but over Harris wanting Warren to join her call for Twitter to shut down President Trump’s account. Harris said in the spin room, “The words of the president of the United States, unedited, that are used in that way, have a real impact on real human life. And we are talking about a private corporation that has terms of service, and it is a real simple claim — he has violated the terms of service and he has violated the privilege that he has to be on a commercial, private platform and that right should be removed.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $40,958,012

$40,958,012.

That's the amount raised by Trump's re-election campaign in the third quarter, per NBC's Monica Alba.

According to its latest FEC filings, the campaign spent a little less than $15 million in the same amount of time and ended the quarter with $83 million cash on hand.

Those totals are just what was raised by Trump's official Donald J. Trump campaign FEC filing (not RNC or the affiliated joint fundraising committees.)

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Binge watch

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how the Democratic candidates are fighting for breakthrough moments amid the latest impeachment storylines.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

NBC's Shannon Pettypiece looks at last night's debate winners and losers.

Jonathan Allen writes that Amy Klobuchar tried to position herself as the Dem who can go toe-to-toe with Warren.

Jane Timm and Adam Edelman fact-checked last night's debate.

Meanwhile... Erdogan is rejecting calls for a ceasefire ahead of a visit from Pence and Pompeo — and he says he'll only negotiate with Trump himself.

Trump Agenda: Russia moves in

As U.S. troops move out of Syria, Russians are moving in.

State Department official George Kent said he was told to "lay low" after raising concerns about Giuliani.

Giuliani pressed Trump to eject a Muslim cleric from the U.S. — one of Erdogan's top priorities.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions has been subpoenaed over his dealings with Giuliani and Giuliani's associates.

Republicans are already dialing back their criticism of Trump on Syria.

2020: Pile-on!

Here's how everyone piled on Elizabeth Warren last night.

In case you missed it: Here's NBCNews.com's blow-by-blow coverage from debate night.

The New York Times calculates how much speaking time all of the candidates had during the debate.

George Conway donated to Joe Walsh.

CORRECTION (Oct. 17, 2019, 3:10 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misattributed a quotation from Elizabeth Warren about "a corrupt and unfair system." She did not say, “I get a little bit tired — I must say — of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel, 87 million uninsured, 30,000 people dying every single year." Bernie Sanders said that. The incorrect quotation has been removed from this article and one from Warren has been added.