CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- Bernie Sanders was the Democratic Party's front-runner headed into Tuesday night's Democratic debate — and his rivals, unlike during the last time out in Las Vegas, appeared dead set on blunting his momentum.
This was the final time that the primary field appeared together onstage before "Super Tuesday" on March 3, when Sanders could, with victories in California and Texas, claim a runaway lead in the Democratic nomination fight.
- Fact-checking the debate
- More fact-checking of the candidates
- Analysis of attacks on Sanders
- Key debate takeaways
Below's a recap of the debate highlights, which unfolded from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET.
10 p.m. Debate concludes; Sanders led in speaking time
At the end of the debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders had a clear lead in speaking time with nearly 16 minutes, followed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all at more than 13 minutes.
9:47 p.m. Would the Democrats meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un?
Faced with the question of potentially meeting with the North Korean dictator, Klobuchar told the moderators she would, but "not in the way this president has done it."
"He literally thinks he can go over and bring a hot dish to the dictator next door and he thinks everything is going to be fine," she said. "He has not done it with our allies."
Biden, too, hit Trump for negotiating with a dictator during his response, saying, "You don't negotiate with a dictator, give him legitimacy, without any notion whether he is going to do anything at all. You don't do that. Look what happened. He gave this dictator -- he's a thug -- thug -- legitimacy, weakened the sanctions around the world against holding -- committing people not to trade anything from oil to parts that can deal with providing missile technology, and what's happened? It's been weakened."
9:40 p.m. Sanders: 'I'm proud of being Jewish ... but you can't ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people'
In response to a question about moving the American embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, Sanders deflected.
"The answer is it's something that we would take into consideration," Sanders said. "I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people."
9:38 p.m. Buttigieg takes on Sanders for comments on Castro
After Biden took aim at Sanders for praising the literacy program implemented by Castro, Buttigieg also took a turn to hammer Sanders on his comments by attacking him for his "nostalgia" of the 1960s, and not looking ahead to the future.
"I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the '50s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolution politics of the '60s," Buttigieg said. "This is not about what was happening in the '70s or '80s, this is about the future."
"This is about 2020," he said to loud applause from the crowd, before again invoking Democrats' fears of running with a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket.
"We are not going to survive or succeed, and certainly not going to win by reliving the Cold War, and we're not going to win these 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. We've got to be a lot smarter about this," he added.
9:32 p.m. Sanders defends his sympathetic comments on Cuba, met with boos from audience
Moderators questioned Sanders for the sympathy he's expressed for socialist governments in Cuba in Nicaragua, most recently pointing to social programs implemented by Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro as a silver lining within his authoritarian government.
"We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad," Sanders said in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview Sunday night. "You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?"
Sanders defended himself by equating his position with Obama's stance on Cuba.
"I said what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education," Sanders said, being met with resounding boos from the audience.
"Really, really?" Sanders responded to their disapproval.
Biden went on to argue Obama never said anything "positive" about the Cuban government as Sanders suggested.
"He acknowledged they did increase life expectancy, but he went on and condemned the dictatorship, he went on and condemned the people who, in fact, had run that committee," Biden said.
9:30 p.m. Warren calls on Bloomberg again to release his tax returns.
Warren called out Bloomberg on his campaign's slow response to releasing his tax returns, saying that getting it done after Super Tuesday, where nearly 40% of the delegates will have been allocated, is too late.
"He plans to release them after Super Tuesday. It is not enough to be able to say, just trust me on this. We have a president who said he was going to release his taxes after the election -- and has refused to do this," she said.
Warren drew a parallel between the former mayor of New York City and Trump, falling in line with the attack the rest of the Democratic field has made on Bloomberg.
9:27 p.m.Candidates take on the influence of China
In response to a moderator question, Bloomberg said he would not allow Chinese firms to build U.S. infrastructure. However, he stressed that relations with China are vital to American interests.
"But make no mistake about it, we have to deal with China, if we're ever going to solve the claim climate crisis. We have to deal with them because our economies are inextricably linked," Bloomberg said.
Biden also said he would not allow Chinese firms to build U.S. infrastructure, citing the human rights violations of the Chinese government. Biden said that the U.S. must make it clear that China must,"play by the rules, period."
9:23 p.m. Democrats outline response to coronavirus amid rising fears
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it's not a question of if the coronavirus will penetrate this country, but when, the Democrats pitched how they would respond to the health crisis if they were president.
"What we have to do is make sure we have treatment for those Americans and that they are in a quarantine situation. We don't want to expose people but we want to give them help. And I would agree, when Mayor Bloomberg said that 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 organization that would coordinate with the rest of the world, he hasn't yet really addressed the nation on this topic, I would do all of that. But I want to take this out of politics right now and talk to the American people because this is so serious," Klobuchar said.
Biden invoked his experience with dealing with the Ebola crisis, telling the crowd, "I was part of making sure that pandemic did not get to the United States, saved millions of lives. ... We increased the budget of the CDC, we increased the NIH budget ... what I would do immediately is restore the funding."
"No one up here has ever dealt internationally with any of these world leaders I'm the only one that has," Biden added.
Sanders, too, hit the Trump administration for cutting funding to the CDC and called for international cooperation, "Whether or not the issue is climate change, which is clearly a global crisis requiring international cooperation, or infectious diseases like coronavirus, requiring international cooperation. We have to work and expand the World Health Organization. Obviously, we have to make sure the CDC, the NIH, our infectious departments, are fully funded. This is a global problem, we've got to work with countries all the over the world to solve it."
9:20 p.m. Candidates pitch themselves for commander-in-chief role
The Democratic contenders could inherit tricky foreign policy issues as commander-in-chief.
Warren again walked back her stance to pull troops out of the Middle East, saying we can't "cut out" on allies there.
"We need not to cut and run on our allies. We need an approach that keeps us safe by using all of the tools in a measured way," Warren said.
Bloomberg echoed that sentiment, saying the nation needs eyes and ears on the ground to prevent terrorism.
"We have to have some troops in places where terrorists congregate and to not do so is just irresponsible. We shouldn't be fighting wars that we can't win," Bloomberg said.
Buttigieg harped on the importance of restoring the credibility of the United States as a world power.
"The first thing we've got to do is restore the credibility of the United States," Buttigieg said. "I don't think we need to have ground troops anywhere terrorists can gather because terrorists can gather anywhere in the world -- but we do need intelligence capabilities and specialists on the ground, but what good is that if you have a president who won't listen to them?"
9:10 p.m. Bloomberg first contender to bring up coronavirus
Amid a global health crisis over the rapidly spreading coronavirus, Bloomberg was the first candidate to bring up the topic, and condemned Trump over his response.
"One of the great problems today -- you read about the virus -- what's really happening here is the president fired the pandemic specialist in this country two years ago," he said. "So there's nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing. And he's defunded the Centers for Disease Control, so we don't have the organization we need. Is is a very serious thing. As you see, the stock market is falling apart because people are really worried and they should be. We don't have anybody to respond."
9:09 p.m. Klobuchar says wanting to legalize marijuana 'is realistic'
Klobuchar says that, "it is realistic to want to legalize marijuana" in response to a question from a moderator. She said that too many people may have criminal records that have " stopped them from getting jobs." She also stressed the importance of treatment when it comes to criminal justice with drug abuse.
"If you want to make the criminal justice system work, you don't want to have repeat customers, and you want to help people get off of drugs and the way you do that is with drug courts," Klobuchar said.
9:05 p.m. Buttigieg on rural health care for minority families: 'All of these things are connected'
Responding to a question about providing sufficient rural health care, Buttigieg said he believes shortened life expediencies for black, rural families and hospital closures are the "results of racial voter suppression."
"All of these things are connected -- housing, wages, the ability to get anything meaningful done on criminal justice reform," he said. "All of these things are going to be harder to deal with as long as black voices are systematically excluded from political participation."
He said he planned to address the aforementioned issues with his Fredrick Douglass plan, which includes a 21st Century Voting Rights Act.
9:05 p.m. Sanders says Medicare for All advantages rural health care
In response to a question about access to healthcare in rural areas, Sanders talked about a plan he enacted in South Carolina which expanded funds for a community health center as, "part of the Affordable Care Act." Sanders also took the opportunity to talk about how access would be improved by Medicare for All, one of the cornerstone issues of his campaign.
"The advantage of a Medicare for All healthcare program, because it's not driven by profits for the drug companies and the insurance companies," Sanders said.
9:04 pm. Klobuchar touts her rural health care policy
Klobuchar leaned on her rural health care policy, saying "one size doesn't fit all."
"I am leading -- the lead Democrat on a bill to extend that, to have other types of hospitals, like emergency rooms in rural areas be covered," she said.
She promoted her plan to incentivize understaffed fields, like nursing and plumbing.
"So putting incentives in place with how we do loan payback, making one-year and two-year degrees free, and then, of course, creating loan payback programs if people will go, especially medical students, into rural areas," she said.
9:03 p.m. Biden pitches his long history with the black community to address inequities
For Biden, the debate represents a make-or-break moment, since he's banking on a win in the Palmetto State to carry him with momentum through Super Tuesday, he delivered a strong response on his efforts to convince black voters that he can change years of inequities.
"Number one, my entire life I have been involved with the black community," Biden began. "I was a public defender. I worked in the projects. I came along, and the first thing as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, extended the Voting Rights Act eventually for 25 years. And I have been deeply involved."
"Secondly, I provided for the opportunity for first-time home buyers to be able to have a $15,000 tax credit so they can get the mortgage at the front end and be able to keep it," he said. "Thirdly, I go after those people who are involved in gentrification because what's happening is we're moving people out of their neighborhoods in ways that in fact make to sense. They're being bought out. You cannot find a place to live."
8:52 p.m. Warren touts a pro-public school agenda
Responding to a question about education -- and how African American students in South Carolina score worse than white students on national assessments -- Warren said a president can make a "big difference" in their choice of Secretary of Education.
"My secretary of education will be someone who has taught in public school," she said. "My secretary of education will be someone who believes in public education. And my secretary of education will believe that public dollars should stay in public schools."
She then went on to boost her proposal to invest $800 billion in public schools.
8:49 p.m. Klobuchar touts her Midwestern roots on gun control
Klobuchar said that her Midwestern appeal, and her history on gun control, would help her take on gun control issues.
"The way we do it is having someone leading the ticket from a part of the country where we actually need the votes," Klobuchar said. "So I have long supported the assault weapon ban. I am the author of the bill to close the Boyfriend Loophole that says that domestic abusers can't go out and get an AK-47."
Biden sparred with Klobuchar, saying that loophole was the only thing he couldn't get covered in the Violence Against Women's Act, which he was a proponent for. Klobuchar touted that she is from a "proud hunting state," which gives her an edge in the middle of the country.
"We have to win in the middle of the country," Klobuchar said. "While everyone talks about winning rural areas, suburban areas, I'm the only one up here with a receipts that has actually repeatedly, while being for the assault assault weapon ban, won in Republican congressional districts over and over again."
8:49 p.m. Sanders concedes to Biden, saying his rejection of the Brady Bill was a "bad vote"
Sanders responded to Biden's attacks on his voting record for the Brady Bill, admitting it was a "bad vote."
He defended himself by referencing his support of a ban on assault weapons 30 years ago, saying it was the reason he "likely lost a race for the one seat for Congress in Vermont."
"Right now, my view is we need to expand background checks, end the gun show loophole and do what the American people want -- not what the NRA wants," he said.
8:46 p.m. Buttigieg hits Sanders over opposition to repealing filibuster
In one of the many attacks on Sanders, Buttigieg took aim at the Vermont senator's opposition to getting rid of the filibuster, a position that sets him apart from a number of his Democratic rivals.
"I'm definitely on board with the part about ending up somebody from the middle of the country, but I want to come back to the question about the filibuster because this is not some long-ago bad vote that Bernie Sanders took," he said.
"This is a current bad position that Bernie Sanders holds," Buttigieg continued. "And we're in South Carolina. How are we going to deliver a revolution if you won't even support a rule change?"
8:45 p.m. Warren calls for a roll back of the filibuster.
In the midst of a conversation about gun legislation, Warren took a veiled jab at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose Senate has not taken up gun reform legislation and called for a slash of the filibuster in the Senate.
"I've been in the Senate. What I've seen: gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority and then doesn't pass because of the filibuster. Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry."
A centerpiece of Warren's platform is rolling back the filibuster, which she argues blocks legislation by not allowing for a majority vote to be cast.
"Until we're willing to dig in and say that if Mitch Mcconnell is going to do to the next Democratic president what he did to President Obama, and that is try to block every single thing he does, that we are willing to roll back the filibuster, go with the majority vote, and do what needs to be done for the American people," she said.
8:35 p.m. 'A progressive agenda is popular,' Warren contends
Amid an onslaught of attacks on Sanders, as a number of his rivals underscored the party's fears of embracing a democratic socialist as the nominee and the effect on down-ballot races, Warren defended her progressive ally, arguing, "a progressive agenda is popular."
"We talk about how to build a future," she continued. "That's what matters. I talk to people in selfie lines every day who tell me about the importance of getting real help on health care. It's why I also have a way to pay for health care that doesn't raise taxes on middle-class families. But it's so much more than that. It's Democrats. We need to speak to the future we can build together."
Positioning herself as a uniter, Warren ended by saying, "We need to talk about our aspirations, our hopes. This is a moment to choose hope over fear."
8:29 p.m. Buttigieg raises party fears of a Sanders nomination
Buttigieg discussed the down-ballot effects of a nomination of the progressive Sanders, saying that it would lead to a Congress controlled by Republicans.
"The time has come to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters," Buttigieg said.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats secured a majority in the House with the help of many moderate Democrats in districts that Trump won in 2016. Buttigieg cited those Democrats, saying to Sanders that, "they are running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can."
8:29 p.m. Steyer warns against ideological divide in Democratic Party
Amid a heated dispute between Sanders and Buttigieg, Steyer interjected to call out the ideological differences currently dividing the party, warning against the "risk" of a party that "has decided that we're either going to support someone who is a democratic socialist or somebody who has a long history of being a Republican."
"Let me say that I got into this race because I wanted to fight for economic justice, for racial justice and to make sure we had climate justice for the American people," he said. "And I am scared. If we cannot pull this party together, if we go to one of those extremes, we take a terrible risk of re-electing Donald Trump."
8:21 p.m. Bloomberg addresses the NDAs and other allegations from women at his company
Bloomberg addressed a question from a moderator about non-disclosure agreements with women from his company, an ongoing point of criticism against his campaign.
"What happened here is we went back 40 years and we could only find three case where women said they were uncomfortable," Bloomberg said. "Nobody accused me of anything other than making a comment or two."
Warren also attacked him over reports that he told a pregnant female employee to, "kill it," but Bloomberg said that those reports were false.
"I never said it, period, end of story," Bloomberg said. "When I was accused of doing it, we couldn't figure out what she was talking about."
8:20 p.m. Warren calls out Bloomberg for funding right-wing candidates
Bloomberg, who just became a registered Democrat in 2018, has given large sums of his billions to candidates running for Congress, some of them Republicans.
"In 2016, he dumped $12 million into the Pennsylvania senate race to help re-elect an anti-choice, right-wing Republican senator," Warren said.
"In 2012, he scooped in to try to defend another Republican senator against a woman challenger. That was me. It didn't work, but he tried hard," she said to applause.
8:17 p.m. Biden confidently asserts 'I intend to win South Carolina'
Biden was asked about his slipping poll numbers among the black community, and Sanders' rise that puts him in "striking distance" of Biden, to which he responded, "I've earned the vote, I've worked like the devil to earn the vote of the African American community, not just here but across the country. I've been coming here for years and years."
Biden then said, with confidence, that he intends to emerge victorious on Saturday, regardless of Sanders' momentum.
I don't expect anything. I plan to earn the vote," Biden continued. "I'm here to earn it. But, folks, I intend to win South Carolina, and I will win the African American vote here in South Carolina."
He was also pressed on if he will continue his campaign if he doesn't win the Palmetto state, but he deflected, saying, "I will win South Carolina."
8:12 p.m. Biden hits Sanders for reportedly seeking to primary Obama in 2012
In one of the early knocks against Sanders, Biden attacked his rival for allegedly seeking to primary against President Barack Obama in 2012.
"Being progressive, he talked Barack Obama, he wanted a primary -- he said we should primary Barack Obama. Someone should," Biden said.
Sanders only responded, "I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight."
8:10 p.m. Warren: We need a president who will 'dig in, do the hard work, and actually get it done'
Warren went after Sanders' and his avoidance to put a price tag on his health care plan, saying that her transparency on the details of a "Medicare for All" platform led her to getting criticized on the cost, while Sanders has avoided that criticism.
"Bernie and I both want to see universal health care. But Bernie's plan doesn't explain how to get there, doesn't show how we're going to get enough allies into it and doesn't show enough about how we're going to pay for it," she said. "I dug in. I did the work. And then Bernie's team trashed me for it."
8:08 p.m. Bloomberg digs at Sanders over Russian interference
After the Washington Post reported that Sanders was briefed on Russian interference in the 2020 campaign, particularly, to boost him campaign, Bloomberg immediately took a swipe at Sanders for that revelation.
"Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that's why Russia is helping you get elected," Bloomberg said to Sanders.
"Let me tell Mr. Putin, okay, I'm not a good friend of President Xi China...and let me tell Mr. Putin who interfered in the 2016 election, try to bring Americans against Americans. Hey, Mr. Putin, if I'm president of the United States, trust me, you're not going to interfere in any more American elections," Sanders said.
8:05 p.m. Sanders fields first question on economy
Sanders, in the first question of the night, argues that his progressive platform will create an "economy for all."
"The economy is doing really great for people like Mr. Bloomberg and other billionaires," Sanders said. "For the ordinary American, things are not so good. ...That is not an economy that's working for the American people. That's an economy working for the 1%. We're going to create an economy."
8 p.m. Seven candidates taking the stage in debate showdown
The candidates vying to take on the president are facing off, in podium order from left to right: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President JoeBiden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer.