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Big debate on small stage offered last chance for Democratic candidates before Iowa Caucuses

DES MOINES, Iowa -- It was the last Democratic debate before the first votes are cast in the 2020 election. Tuesday night's debate was the final face-to-face gathering of the candidates before the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses.

The six Democratic presidential candidates participating took on foreign policy, trade, healthcare, childcare and electability at the Iowa debate.

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Below is a recap of the debate's key moments. All times reflected are Mountain time...

9:15 p.m. - Debate has concluded

Here's who spoke the most in the debate...

Sen. Elizabeth Warren had the most speaking time during the debate with nearly 19 minutes, followed closely by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar at nearly 18 minutes.

Meantime, Warren and Sanders appeared not to shake hands after the Democratic presidential debate ended.

9:10 p.m. - Buttigieg slams Trump on "bone spurs" that kept him from serving in Vietnam

Pete Buttigieg pointed to his own military experience and slammed Donald Trump over his bone spurs diagnosis as he argued he is prepared to take on the President.

Buttigieg said if Trump tried “tough talk” on the military during a debate with the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, he would have to do so while “standing next to an American war veteran and explain how he pretended bone spurs made him ineligible to serve.”

The line came near the end of the debate, when Buttigieg turned a barb from businessman Tom Steyer to take on the Republican president.

Buttigieg attacked the President on other topics, too.

“I am ready to take on this president on the economy because I am from the exact kind of industrial Midwestern community he pretends to speak to and has proven to turn his back on,” Buttigieg said.

The mayor also hit Trump on religion.

“If he keeps trying to use religion, if a guy like Donald trump keeps trying to use religion to somehow recruit Christianity into the GOP, I will be standing there not afraid to talk about a different way to answer the call of faith,” he said. “And insist that God does not belong to a political party.”

9:05 p.m. - Steyer says he can beat Trump on the economy

Businessman Tom Steyer, who spent more than $100 million dollars on television ads, was asked how he plans to convince voters that he's more than just his money.

Steyer said it's simple; he's going to focus on the economy just like President Trump

"Look, we know how Donald Trump is going to run for president. He's going to run on the economy. He's already told Americans last month in Florida you don't like me, and I don't like you. But you're all going to vote for me because the Democrats are going to destroy the economy in 15 minutes if they get in control," he said.

Steyer went on to defend his wealth, saying that he started his business on his own.

"I didn't inherit a penny from my parents," he said.

Steyer continued: "Whoever is going to beat Mr. Trump is going to beat him on the economy and I have the experience and expertise to show he's a fake there and a fraud."

9:00 p.m. - Buttigieg defends lack of support among black voters, admits "much longer way to go"

Pete Buttigieg defended his lack of support among black voters on Tuesday, arguing that he isn’t “perfect” on all issues that matter for African American voters.

Still, he noted that “the black voters that know me best are supporting me," pointing to the support he has in his hometown, South Bend, Indiana.

Buttigieg’s lack of black support has been a persistent problem for the former South Bend mayor, one that he first acknowledged in 2019 but has largely failed to address for much of his campaign.

“The biggest mistake we can make is take black votes for granted. I never will,” Buttigieg said. “The reason I have the support I do is not because any voter thinks I’m perfect, it's because of the work that we have done facing some of the toughest issues that communities can, not from the luxury of a debate or a television panel or committee room, but on the ground.”

Buttigieg went on to say that “of course there is a much longer way to go in my community and around the country” on issues of race, he will “be a president whose personal commitment is to continue doing this work.”

8:55 p.m. - Biden on Trump's mockery: "I've been the object of his affection now more than anybody else on the stage"

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he's prepared to debate President Trump if he secures the Democratic nomination.

"I've been the object of his affection now more than anybody else on the stage. I've taken all the hits he can deliver, and I'm getting better in the polls," Biden said.

He responded to CNN's Abby Phillip, who pointed out that Trump frequently mocks his opponents. Biden said he's "prepared" for that.

"I have support across the board and I'm not worried about taking on Donald Trump at all," Biden said.

8:45 p.m. - Steyer wants to declare a state of emergency on climate change

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer said he would declare a state of emergency on his first day if elected president.

"I'm still shocked that I'm the only person on the stage who will say this. I would declare a state of emergency on day one on climate," he said. "I would do for the standpoint of environmental justice and make sure we go to the black and brown communities where you can't breathe the air or drink the water out of the tap."

Steyer went on to say his plan would create millions of jobs.

"It's going to be the biggest job program in American history. So I know we have to do it and I know we can do it. I know that we can do it in way that makes us healthier. That makes us better paid and is more just," he said.

8:35 p.m. - "It's irrelevant" if Trump is acquitted in impeachment trial, Biden says

Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked if it would be harder to run against President Trump if he's acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial."It's irrelevant. There's no choice but for Nancy Pelosi and the House to move. He has, in fact, committed impeachable offenses," Biden said.

Pelosi is expected to announce House impeachment managers Wednesday, kicking off the process of the Senate impeachment trial.

Meantime, Biden said that President Trump “flat-out lied” when he claimed the US killed Iran's top military general because he was targeting four US embassies. 

“Quite frankly, I think he's flat-out lied about saying that the reason he went after -- the reason he made the strike was because our embassies were about to be bombed,” Biden said. 

8:30 p.m. - The candidates discuss where they stand on child care accessibility

The Democratic candidates were asked how they would prioritize affordable child care for families if elected president.

Here's what some of the candidates said:

  • Joe Biden on free universal infant care: "It should be free infant care. Here's the deal. You know, I was a single parent, too."
  • Pete Buttigieg: "Subsidizing child care and making sure that we are building up a work force of people who are paid at a decent level to offer early childhood education and child care writ large. We can do that. Until we do this will be the biggest drivers of the gender pay gap."
  • Bernie Sanders: "Hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Tax breaks for billionaires and then tell moms and dads, we cannot have high-quality affordable child care. That is wrong."

8:25 p.m. - Warren on child care: "I've been there"

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked why her education plan includes calls for tuition-free public college — but an income limit for free child care. 

Here's how she responded:

"Actually my plan is universal child care for everyone. It just has some people adding a small payment."

Warren said child care is an issue she has personal experience with.

"I've been there. You know, I remember when I was a young mom — I had two little kids, and I had my first real university teaching job. I was — it was hard work. I was excited. But it was child care that nearly brought me down."

She said that had a family member not stepped in to help, she may have quit her job.

"And I think about how many women of my generation just got knocked off the track and never got back on. How many of my daughter's generation get knocked off the track and don't get back on."

8:15 p.m. - Buttigieg, Warren spar on cost of health care plans, boldness

Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg argued about the boldness of their respective plans on health care, with the former South Bend mayor accusing the Massachusetts senator of solely judging a plan based on the cost and the way it would anger people who disagree.

Warren supports "Medicare for All," a sweeping health care proposal that would begin transition the United States to a single payer health care system. Buttigieg, instead, has proposed a "Medicare for all who want it" plan that would not force all American onto government health coverage but would offer a public option for people who choose to enroll.

Warren answered a question about health care by saying the “problem” with plans like Buttigieg’s is that while they are an improvement, they are a “small improvement.”

“That’s why is costs so much less,” she said.

“It’s just not true that the plan I’m proposing is small,” Buttigieg said of Warren. “We have to move past the Washington mentality that suggests that the bigness of plans only consists of how many trillions of dollars they put through the treasury the, the boldness of a plan consists of how many Americans it can alienate.”

After Buttigieg hit Warren’s plan for the cost – his plan would cost roughly $1.5 trillion while a full Medicare for All plan could cost as much as $30 trillion – the senator responded, “The numbers that the mayor is offering don’t add up. … You can’t cover that with a kind of money that the mayor is talking about.”

8:10 p.m. - Steyer on health care: "We have corporations who are having their way with the American people"

Businessman Tom Steyer said Americans spend "too much" on health care "because corporations own the system."

After Sen. Bernie Sanders asserted that, "We are now spending twice as much per person on health care as do the people of other country," Steyer jumped in.

"We're spending way too much because corporations own the system," he said. "And we're not negotiating against those corporations. And we've given tax cuts to the richest Americans and the biggest corporations for decades. That's all this is. We have corporations who are having their way with the American people and people are suffering."

7:55 p.m. - Candidates debate trade matters

The Democratic presidential candidates debated the value of President Donald Trump's newly negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal, a proposal that is being cast as the remaking of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Sanders forcefully said he opposed the USMCA, arguing, “We can do much better than a Trump led trade deal.”

Klobuchar defended the USMCA, as did Buttigieg and Warren. “Yes, it has been improved, it is not perfect, but when you sit down with the people who are most impacted, they are just how much harm has been done to them,” the former mayor said.

“We have farmers here in Iowa who are hurting. And they are hurting because of Donald Trump’s initiated trade wars,” Warren said. “This new trade deal is a modest improvement.”

7:50 p.m. - Here's how Klobuchar responded when she was asked if a woman could win

Amy Klobuchar was just asked about reports that Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren a woman couldn't win this election.

Klobuchar — one of two women on stage tonight — said it's a line she's heard before.

Here's how she responded: "I hear that. People have said it. That's why I've addressed it from this stage. I point out that you don't have to be the tallest person in the world — James Madison was 5'4". You don't have to be the skinniest person in the room. You don't have to be the loudest person. You have to be competent."

She added: "I have won every race, every place, every time. I have won in the reddest of districts. I have won in the suburban areas, in the rural areas."

7:45 p.m. - Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren discuss reports that he said a woman could not be president

Sen. Bernie Sanders comments on Sen. Elizabeth Warren's assertion that he told her a woman couldn't win the 2020 presidential election: "Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it."

Here's what else he said:

"Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it. And I don't want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want. Anybody knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States. Go to YouTube today. There's a video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States. In 2015, I deferred, in fact, to senator Warren. It was a movement to draft senator Warren to run for president. And you know what, I stayed back. Senator Warren decided not to run, and I then did run afterwards."

7:40 p.m. - Biden says he wouldn't meet Kim Jong Un without preconditions

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would not meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un without preconditions, saying he’d instead push China and other Asian neighbors to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

It was a different answer from Barack Obama, who, while running for the presidency, said in 2008 he would meet North Korea’s leader without preconditions. That remark drew sharp criticism from conservatives at the time -- but President Donald Trump has since had such a meeting.“Absent preconditions, I would not meet with the quote supreme leader who said Joe Biden is a ‘rabid dog’ who should be beaten with a stick,” Biden said.

“Other than that, you like him,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders joked.

“And he got a love letter from Trump right after that,” Biden said.

7:35 p.m. - Buttigieg says ensuring Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons is a priority

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was just asked, if elected president, he'd ensure Iran never have a nuclear weapon.

The question comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Iran: After a US airstrike killed Iran's top general, Iran announced it would no longer limit itself to the restrictions contained in the Iran nuclear deal, which the US had previously withdrawn from.

Buttigieg said ensuring Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons is a priority — but criticized President Trump for withdrawing from the deal.

"Ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons will, of course, be a priority, because it's such an important part of keeping America safe," he said.

He continued:

"But unfortunately, President Trump has made it much harder for the next president to achieve that goal. By gutting the Iran nuclear deal — one that, by the way, the Trump administration itself admitted was working, certified that it was preventing progress towards a nuclear Iran — by gutting that, they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events that we are now dealing with as it escalates even closer to the brink of outright war."

7:30 p.m. - Candidates disagree over whether to keep troops in the Middle East '

The six candidates on the stage disagreed over whether to keep troops in the Middle East, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders calling for troops to come home, and former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar arguing for keeping some troops in the region.“The American people are sick and tired of endless wars which have cost us trillions of dollars,” Sanders said.

Warren added that she would “get combat troops out.”

Biden made the opposite point, arguing that it was impossible to remove all of them, a view that was echoed by Klobuchar, who said she would keep some troops in the region.

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the only candidate on the stage who served in the military, said the United States “can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops.”

Buttigieg then slammed President Donald Trump, noting that the president who called for the end to “endless war” has “more troops going to the Middle East.”

7:25 p.m. - Democrats make their case for why they're qualified in foreign policy

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attacked former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq in the opening minutes of Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate in Iowa.

It’s how he began an answer to the question of why his experience best qualifies him to handle foreign policy.

“Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. I didn’t believe them for a moment. I took to the floor. I did everything I could to prevent that war,” Sanders said, contrasting himself with Biden.

Biden acknowledged that his vote was a “mistake.” But he also said former President Barack Obama -- who won the 2008 Democratic presidential primary in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war -- put Biden in charge of ending that war.

“I think my record overall, on every other thing we’ve done, has been -- compares to anybody on this stage,” Biden said.

For her part, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren pointed to her position on the Senate Armed Services Committee and three brothers’ military experience. She also said the United States must “think about our defense in very different ways” -- including cyber warfare, climate change and closing what she called a revolving door between the defense industry and the Pentagon.

“That is corruption, pure and simple,” she said. “We need to block that revolving door and cut our defense budget.”

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg pitched his own experience as a US Navy Reserves veteran who served in Afghanistan. “For me, those lessons of the past are personal,” he said.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed to her efforts to limit President Donald Trump’s war powers in the Senate. She also said she opposed the Iraq war from its outset.

And billionaire businessman Tom Steyer said the country spends “dramatically” too much on defense and that an outsider is needed.

7:20 p.m. - Biden: "We have lost our standing in" the Middle East

Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed the latest tensions between the US and Iran and America's standing in the world at tonight's debate.

Here's what he said about the current crisis in the Middle East:

"We're in a situation where our allies in Europe are making a comparison between the United States and Iran, saying both ought to stand down, making a moral equivalence. We have lost our standing in the region. We have lost the support of our allies. The next president has to be able to pull those folks back together, re-establish our alliances and insist that Iran go back into the agreement, which I believe with the pressure applied as we put on before, we can get done," he said.

Biden went on to say that he would leave troops in the Middle East.

"I think it's a mistake to pull out the small number of troops that are there now to deal with ISIS," he said.

7:10 p.m. - Sanders brought up Iraq in the first question of the night

With the first question of the night, Sen. Bernie Sanders brought up foreign policy and Iraq.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked, "Why are you best prepared — the best prepared person on this stage to be commander in chief?"

In response, Sanders cited his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. "I not only voted against the war, I helped lead the effort against that war," he said.

Joe Biden admitted his vote for the war was a mistake.

7 p.m. - Tonight's debate just kicked off

The six candidates appearing are introduced: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, businessman Tom Steyer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders shared a moment on stage as the candidates were introduced.

Biden hugged Sanders and whispered, "We're close -- be careful of your arms."

Sanders laughed it off and the rest of the candidates were introduced.

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