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Slimmed-down Democratic field partakes in last debate of 2019 in L.A.

PBS Politico Debate
Seven Democrats met onstage December 19, 2019, in Los Angeles for the final debate of the year.

LOS ANGELES, California -- The most diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates in history was boiled down to a debate stage that lacked black or Latino candidates.

The seven candidates who met the polling and fundraising minimums to qualify for Thursday night's debate in Los Angeles included just one person of color: entrepreneur Andrew Yang.


Below is a recap of major moments from the PBS/CNN debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, which got underway at 6 p.m. MT (All times listed below are mountain time and approximate)...

8:40PM: Debate concludes following closing statements.

The final Democratic primary debate of 2019 is over. The seven candidates made their final pleas to the American public in their closing statements.

Here's what they said:

  • Tom Steyer: "I'm different from anybody else on this stage. Here's why. I'm running because corporations have bought our government and we need to return power to the people. For the last 10 years that's exactly what I've been doing, taking on unchecked corporate power."
  • Andrew Yang: "I know what you're thinking, America. How am I still on this stage with them?" Yang said to applause. "Our campaign is growing all the time because we are laser focused on solving the real problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place. I spent seven years helping create thousands of jobs in Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, and other cities, serving as an ambassador of entrepreneurship under President Obama and I saw firsthand what many of you already know: Our country is falling apart."
  • Amy Klobuchar: "This primary comes down to some simple questions. Who has the best ideas, the best experience, mostly who can beat Donald Trump, and how will she do it. So Donald Trump built his fortune on, over time, over $413 million that he got from his dad. My grandpa, he was an iron ore miner, a union member. He saved money in a coffee can in the basement to send my dad to a community college. That's my family trust. I figure if you are given opportunity, you don't go into the world with a sense of entitlement. You go into it with a sense of obligation."
  • Pete Buttigieg: "So the nominee is going to have to do two things. Defeat Donald Trump and unite the country as president. It's a tall order. And in order to do it, we're going to need a nominee and a president who can respond to the crisis of belonging that is gripping our nation today."
  • Elizabeth Warren: "This is a dark moment in America. And yet I come here tonight with a heart filled with hope. All three of my brothers served in the military. They're all retired. They're all back in Oklahoma. One is a Democrat. Two are Republicans. But you know what unites my three brothers? Amazon. They are furious that Amazon reported $10 billion in profits and paid zero in taxes. My brother is a part of why America is ready to root out corruption and fight back. And that gives us a base to work from."
  • Bernie Sanders: "The truth is that real change always takes place, real change, always takes place from the bottom on up, never from the top on down. And that is why in this campaign I am so proud that we have over 1 million volunteers. We have some of the strongest grassroots organizations." 
  • Joe Biden: "Look, we all have big progressive plans and the question is who can deliver on those plans? It seems to me we have to ask ourselves three questions, straight up and honestly. Who has the best chance, most likely chance of defeating Donald Trump, who is the one most likely to do that. Number two, who can help elect Democrats to the United States Senate in states like North Carolina and Georgia and Arizona and other states. And thirdly, who can deliver legislatively. That requires you to look at our records. I have a significant record of getting significant things done."

8:25PM: The candidates were just asked if they would rather ask for forgiveness or give a gift to each other

Things got a little awkward on stage when the candidates were asked if they had to choose would they: ask for forgiveness from a candidate or give one of them a gift.

Here's how they responded:

  • Andrew Yang: Hewas left speechless by the question, but eventually answered. He said he would love to give each of the candidates on stage a copy of his book. "I wrote a book on it and if you like data, this book is for you. This goes for the people at home too, if you like data and books," he said.
  • Peter Buttigieg: "We know what a gift it would be for the future, for the company, for literally anybody up here to become president of the United States compared to what we've got. And we've got to remember, there are I don't know how many, we're up to 25 something have run for president in the democratic president. The moment we got a no, ma'am nominee, the 24 who aren't that nominee will have to rally around the one who does. Let's hope there's not too much to ask forgiveness for when that day comes."
  • Joe Biden: "And the reason I would give everyone here a gift is because they want to do something like I do, making their lives better because there's a lot of people who are hurting very, very, very badly."
  • Bernie Sanders: "I think the gift that all of us need to give to the American people is a very, very different vision of the reality of the Trump administration. And the vision that we need to bring forth is to create a government and a nation based on love and compassion, not agreed and hatred."
  • Elizabeth Warren: "I will ask for forgiveness. I know that sometimes I get really worked up. And sometimes I get a little hot. I don't really mean to. What happens is when you do 100,000 selfies with people, you hear enough stories about people who are really down to their last moments."
  • Amy Klobuchar: "I would ask for forgiveness any time any of you get mad at me. I can be blunt. But I am doing this because I think it is so important to pick the right candidate here. I do."
  • Tom Steyer: "So the gift that I would like to give everyone on this stage, which was the original question, is the gift of teamwork, because the question up here is, 'how are we together going to change this framework.' How are we together going to beat this corrupt and criminal president."

8:18PM: Sanders and Biden spar other over health care

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden fought over their health care plans Thursday night, with Sanders advocating for his signature “Medicare for All” single-payer proposal and Biden backing a plan that builds on Obamacare and maintains a role for private health insurers.

It started when Sanders was asked if -- given the reality that Senate Republicans would oppose his health care plan -- he would push any smaller measures in the more immediate future. He wouldn’t play ball, saying, “I think we will pass a Medicare for All single-payer system.”

Biden then advocated his plan, which would add a public option to Obamacare and put lower the caps on how much of their income Americans would pay for insurance on the exchanges.

“You shouldn’t have Washington dictating to you you cannot keep the plan you have,” Biden said.

Sanders responded that Biden’s plan “would essentially maintain the status quo.” Biden then shot back that Sanders’ proposal would come with $30 trillion in new expenses over a decade and would necessitate tax increases.

Sanders pointed out that in exchange for those taxes, Americans would no longer have to pay copays, insurance premiums or deductibles, and would have prescription drug costs capped at $200 per year.

At one point, Biden stopped and said to his animated foe: “Put your hand down for a second, Bernie.”

“Just waving to you, Joe,” Sanders responded.

8:10PM: Biden tells Sanders to "put your hand down for a second"

While discussing the cost of medical care in the US, former Vice President Joe Biden told Sen. Bernie Sanders to "put your hand down" after the Vermont lawmaker was seen waving it, a gesture he commonly makes during debates.

Read the exchange below:

Biden: "I've added to the Obamacare plan the Biden initiative, which is a public option, Medicare if you want to have Medicare, reducing significantly the price of drugs, deductibles, et cetera, made by underwriting the plan to a tune of about $750 billion and making sure we're able to cover everyone who is in fact able to be covered. Put your hand down for a second Bernie."

Sanders: "Just waving to you, Joe. Saying hello." 

Biden: "I know, I know."

8PM: Biden says he will pull troops from Afghanistan if elected president

Former Vice President Joe Biden says he will pull out all combat troops from Afghanistan if elected president because he disagrees with the "national building notion" the US has engaged in.

"I got in a big fight for a long time with the Pentagon because I strongly opposed the nation building notion we set about. Rebuilding that country as a whole nation is beyond our capacity. I argued from the very beginning that we should have a policy that was based on an antiterrorism policy with a very small footprint that in fact only had special forces to deal with potential threats from that territory to the United States of America," Biden said.

Biden added: "The first thing I would do as president of the United States of America is to make sure that we brought all combat troops home and enter into a negotiation with the Taliban. But I would leave behind special forces in small numbers to be able to deal with the potential threat unless we got a real good negotiation accomplished to deal with terrorism."

7:50PM: Klobuchar attacks Buttigieg for critiquing opponents' experience

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Thursday night lambasted South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg for denigrating in a previous debate other Democratic candidates’ experience in Washington.

Saying Buttigieg should “respect our experience,” she pointed to Elizabeth Warren’s role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Joe Biden pushing his cancer moonshot, Bernie Sanders striking deals for veterans’ care and her own role in negotiating farm bills.

“The point is, we should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and been able to show that they’ve gathered the support that you talk about of moderate Republicans and independents,” she said. “I think a track record of getting things done matters.

Buttigieg fired back: “If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80% of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana.”

But South Bend is an overwhelmingly Democratic city -- and Klobuchar responded by pointing out Buttigieg’s failed run for Indiana state treasurer in 2010.

“If you had won in Indiana, that would be one thing. You tried and you lost by 20 points,” she said.

7:45PM: Why Yang wants more women in politics

Businessman Andrew Yang drew applause after calling for more women in government because "money and men are tied together" in a country struggling with gender inequality.

"Our country is deeply misogynist and almost all of us know that. Money and men are tied together. That's where I thought Elizabeth [Warren] was taking the conversation. The fact is strong societies would elect more female leaders. Strong men treat women well with the same reasons. I'm on the record saying that you need both strong men and female leaders in government because the fact is if you get too many men alone and leave us alone for a while, we kind of become morons," Yang said.

7:40PM: Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren clash over how they are funding their campaigns

Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren delivered the most contentious moment so far of Thursday night's debate when the two sparred over how they are financing their campaigns.

Warren argued that she does not “sell access” to her time, suggesting that Buttigieg is beholden to the top donors because he is soliciting donations from wealthy Americans.“I do not sell access to my time. I don’t spend time with millionaires and billionaires. I don’t meet behind closed doors with big dollar donors,” Warren said.

Buttigieg defended his fundraising by saying “this is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump” and that Democrats can’t do that “with one hand tied behind our back.”

He also faulted Warren for headlining top dollar fundraisers during her Senate campaign and then transferring that money to her presidential race.

But then Buttigieg took it a step further by comparing his wealth to Warren’s.“You know, according to Forbes magazine, I’m literally the only person on this stage who is not a millionaire or a billionaire,” Buttigieg said.

“So, this is important. This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”

He added: “Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine. Suppose you went home and felt the holiday spirit -- I know this isn’t likely, but stay with me -- and decided to go on and gave the maximum donation allowable by law, would that pollute my campaign because it came from a wealthy person? No. I would be glad to have that support.”

Warren went after Buttigieg for hosting a recent fundraiser in a wine cave with a crystal chandelier in Napa Valley, California, asking voters to “Think about who comes” to an event were $900 bottles of wine are being served.

“We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren said.

7:30PM: Klobuchar to Buttigieg and Warren: "I did not come here to listen to this argument"

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar wasn't having any of Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren's heated exchange on stage.

She jumped into their back-and-forth and said, "I did not come here to listen to this argument."

The candidates had been arguing about how much money they've spent on their campaigns, with Warren throwing a shot at Buttigieg, saying, " So the mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900 a bottle wine."

Using the wine cave reference, Klobuchar tried to move the debate forward and said, "I came here to make a case for progress. And I have never even been to a wine cave. I have been to the wind cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to. So what is making a case for progress about? That is what unites us up here instead of what divides us, which is campaign finance reform."

7:20PM: Warren would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. She'd also be the first woman, she points out...

Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew applause with her answer to a question about her age and the fact that, if elected, she'd be the "oldest president ever inaugurated."

"I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated," Warren said, to applause in Los Angeles.

7PM: Sanders was asked to answer a question about race. Here’s how he responded...

Democratic debate moderator Amna Nawaz interrupted Sen. Bernie Sanders when she tried to get him to answer question about the "overwhelmingly white" presidential field.

She first asked Andrew Yang, "The Democratic party relies on black, hispanic, and Asian voters. But you are the only candidate of color on the stage tonight. And the entire field remains overwhelmingly white. What message do you think this sends to voters of color?"

After Yang wrapped up his response, she asked Sanders for his response.

Here's what happened next:

Nawa: "Thank you, Mr. Yang. Senator Sanders, I do want to put the same question to you."

Sanders: "I'll answer that question but I wanted to get back to the issue of climate change for a moment, because I do believe this is the existential issue."

Nawa: "Senator, with all respect, this question is about race. Can you answer the question as it was asked?"

Sanders: "Because people of color in fact are going to be the people suffering most if we do not deal with climate change. And by the way, we have an obligation up here, if there are not any of our African-American brothers and sisters up here, to speak about an economy in which African-Americans are exploited, where black women die three times at higher rates than white women, where we have a criminal justice system which is racist and broken, disproportionately made up of African-Americans and Latinos and Native Americans who are in jail. We need an economy that focuses on the needs of oppressed, exploited people, and that is the African-American community. "

6:55PM: Andrew Yang: "An honor and disappointment" to be the only candidate of color on stage

Andrew Yang said Thursday that is was "both an honor and disappointment” to be the only candidate of color on the debate stage, something that happened after New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro failed to qualify for the debate and California Sen. Kamala Harris dropped out of the race.

“It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight,” said Yang, who is Asian.“I miss Kamala, I miss Cory,” Yang said, before adding with a smile, “although I think Cory will be back.”

The line drew big applause and highlighted Yang’s long-standing friendship with Booker. Yang went on to detail how he had racial epithets used against him as a child, but added, “but black and Latinos have something much more powerful working against them than words.”

Yang used the answer to pivot to his Freedom Dividend, the universal basic income proposal that is central to his campaign.

“The question is why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage? Fewer than 5% of Americans donate to political campaigns. You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income,” Yang said. “I guarantee if we had a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month, I would not be the only candidate of color on this stage tonight.”

6:50PM: Biden says returning to normal after Trump is not enough

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that returning to “normal is not enough” when pressed Thursday night on his claims that if President Donald Trump loses in 2020, Republicans will have an “epiphany” and bipartisan cooperation will become more possible.“With Trump out of the way, it’s not going to change things in a fundamental way,” Biden said.

Still, he said, Republicans would no longer be intimidated by the threat of primaries from pro-Trump challengers.

“I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that’s the case, then we are dead as a country,” he said.

Biden said he has “no love” for GOP lawmakers who have attacked him and his family.

“We have to be able to get things done, and when we can’t convince them, we go out and beat them like we did in the 2018 elections in red states and in purple states,” he said.

6:40PM: Buttigieg suggests Warren is offering "false choice" with her plans

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg subtly hit Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in response to a question about her ambitious and costly plans, suggesting that Warren is offering the country a “false choice” by arguing candidates who don’t agree with her vision are not willing to take on the nation’s biggest fights.

“Right now, I think we’re being offered a false choice. You either have to go all the way to the extreme or it’s business as usual,” Buttigieg said. “Yes, we must deliver big ideas and yes, taxes on wealthy individuals and on corporations are going to have to go up. We can also be smart about the promises we’re making, make sure they’re promises that we can keep without the kind of taxation that economists tell us could hurt the economy.”

Buttigieg added, “Whether it’s infrastructure, childcare, housing, health, on issue after issue, we’ve got to break out of the Washington mindset that measures the bigness of an idea by the trillions of dollars it adds to the budget or the boldness of an idea by how many Americans it can antagonize.”

Buttigieg’s argument against Warren heading into the debate is that she has unrealistic proposals that don’t add up and is more interested in fighting than accomplishing the possible.

6:35PM: Sanders: "We need an economy that works for working families, not just the 1%"

At the heart of Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign is income inequality in the US and a plan to eliminate large pay gaps between executives and workers which is something he addressed tonight when discussing the economy.

"Today in America, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on Earth. More income and wealth inequality since the 1920s. We need an economy that works for working families, not just the 1%," Sanders said.

More on Sanders' tax plan: In September, Sanders outlined his tax plan and how much large corporations would pay in taxes. These taxes are aimed at companies with large pay gaps between their executives and workers.

According to the campaign, if Sander's income inequality tax were in effect last year, "McDonald's would have paid up to $110.9 million more in taxes, Walmart would have paid up to $793.8 million more in taxes, JPMorganChase would have paid up to $991.6 million more in taxes, Home Depot would have paid up to $538.2 million more in taxes, and American Airlines would have paid up to $18.8 million more in taxes."

6:30PM: Tom Steyer says his business experience sets him apart from Democratic field

Investor Tom Steyer sought to differentiate himself from the rest of the Democratic presidential field Thursday night by touting his business experience.

“I built a business over 30 years from scratch,” Steyer said. He said Democrats will need to challenge Trump on the growing economy.

“My experience -- building a business, understanding how to make that happen -- means I can go toe to toe with Mr. Trump.”

“I think that’s different from other people on this stage,” he said. Noting that Trump in 2016 defeated one of the best-prepared presidential candidates in history, he said, “I have a different, unconventional way of attacking a different, unconventional candidate.”

6:27PM: Biden rails against the wealthy: "The middle class is getting killed"

Former Vice President Joe Biden decried tax cuts to the wealthy, and said he wants to invest in services crucial to helping the middle class, like education.

"The middle class is getting killed. The middle class is getting crushed. The working class no way up as a consequence of that," Biden said.

Biden added: "We have to eliminate a significant number of these god awful tax cuts that were given to the wealthy. We have to invest in education. We have to invest in healthcare. We have to invest in those things that make a difference in the lives of middle class people so they can maintain their standard of living."

6:25PM: Sanders and Klobuchar split on new trade agreement

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar split on the new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, with Sanders saying he’ll vote against it and Klobuchar saying she’ll support it.

At Thursday's debate, Sanders called the deal, negotiated to replace former President Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement, “a modest improvement over what we have right now,” but said it won’t stop companies from outsourcing their manufacturing.

“I will not be voting for this agreement, although it makes some modest improvements,” he said.

Klobuchar, meanwhile, pointed to another populist Democrat -- Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, once seen as a presidential contender -- saying he backs the new deal and she will, too.

“We have a change with this agreement,” she said. Klobuchar also touted alterations negotiated by Democrats, saying the pact now brings “better labor standards, better environmental standards, and a better deal.”

6:20PM: Yang: "We have to stop being obsessed over impeachment"

Andrew Yang suggested on Thursday that Democrats are too focused on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, and that it is at the party’s peril.

“We have to stop being obsessed over impeachment, which unfortunately strikes many Americans like a ball game where you know what the score is going to be, and start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place,” Yang said, just a day after House Democrats impeached the President.

The businessman argued that the more Democrats “act like Donald Trump is the cause of all our problems, the more Americans lose trust that we can actually see what’s going on in our communities and solve those problems.”

This stance puts Yang are odds with some of his opponents, some of whom have said they not only support impeachment, but – in the case of US senators – suggested they would vote in favor of removing the President from office.

6:15PM: Elizabeth Warren calls impeachment a moment to "uphold our Constitution"

Sen. Elizabeth Warren called the impeachment of President Trump a moment for the Senate to "uphold our Constitution" in her answer to the first question tonight from moderators during tonight's Democratic debate in Los Angeles.

"I see this as a constitutional moment. Last night the President was impeached. And everyone now in the Senate has taken a constitutional oath to uphold our Constitution. And that doesn't mean loyalty to an individual. It doesn't mean loyalty to a political party. It means loyalty to our country," Warren said.

Warren used the first question during the debate -- about impeachment – to frame her argument against former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg by questioning the willingness of some candidates to take on the powerful and wealthy.

“We need a candidate for president who can draw the sharpest distinction between the corruption of the Trump administration and a Democrat who is willing to get out and fight not for the wealthy and well-connected, but to fight for everyone else,” Warren said. “That’s why I’m in this race.”

Warren is sticking with an argument she has made coming into the debate: Because Biden and Buttigieg raise money from top Democratic donors, they are not willing to take on monied interests.

6:10PM: Sanders: Trump is "a pathological liar"

Sen. Bernie Sanders called President Trump a "pathological liar" a day after the President was impeached by the House.

"We have a President who is a pathological liar," Sanders said. "We have President who is running the most corrupt administration in the modern history of this country. And we have a President who is a fraud because during his campaign he told working people one thing and he ended up doing something else."

Sanders will likely need to be in Washington if the Senate convenes a trial to decide whether to convict Trump and remove him from office.

6:05PM: Joe Biden calls the impeachment of President Trump a "constitutional necessity"

The first question in the Democratic debate was on the impeachment of President Trump and was directed at former Vice President Joe Biden who called it a "constitutional necessity."

"It was a constitutional necessity for the House to act as it did," Biden said in his opening remarks. " Is it any wonder that if you look at the international polling that's been done, that the Chinese leader is rated above the American president, or that Vladimir Putin congratulated him, saying stand fast and that in fact it was a mistake to impeach him. We need to restore the integrity of the presidency, of the office of the presidency."

6PM: Debate begins

The sixth Democratic primary debate has just started in Los Angeles. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, businessman Andrew Yang, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, businessman Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have taken the stage.

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