Although impeachment has dominated the news in Washington, it took up surprisingly little time in the fifth Democratic debate Wednesday night, which, unlike the hearings in Washington, was fairly mild in tone. And as it happens, the two mild-mannered Midwesterners, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, had the standout performances of the evening.
Klobuchar, who also had a strong fourth debate but saw little sign of upward movement in the polls afterward, suggested Wednesday night that women have a more difficult road to the presidency, when asked about a statement she'd made about Buttigieg, in which she said a woman with his resume wouldn't have made it to the debate stage.
"Women are held to a higher standard otherwise we could play a game called 'Name your favorite woman president,'" she said, adding that any woman watching at home "knows exactly what I mean." Women "have to work harder and that's a fact," she also said.
The sharpest exchange Buttigieg had was with Gabbard who mocked his apparent inexperience for saying he would send U.S. troops to Mexico.
Buttigieg responded, "I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We've been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years. With law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships for example. Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?"
He then went after her judgment. "If your question is about experience let's also talk about judgment," he said, addressing Gabbard. "One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I have in my experience, such as it is, whether you think it counts or not since it wasn't accumulated in Washington, enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that."
The Democratic hopefuls had relatively little to say about impeachment, an issue where they broadly agree. And the only candidate to what could be seen as a noticeably difficult night was former Vice President Joe Biden, who committed what appeared to be a string of unforced errors.
When asked about the #MeToo movement, Biden noted that he had spearheaded efforts to combat domestic violence, such as the "It's On Us" campaign he led as vice president. But Biden elicited a nervous chuckle from the audience as he continued on the point.
"No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger, other than in self-defense and that rarely ever occurs," he said. "So we have to just change the culture, period. And keep punching at it, and punching at it, and punching at it -"
Biden caught himself amid some laughter from the audience, insisting that "no, I really mean it."
After a tense exchange with Senator Cory Booker over marijuana decriminalization, Biden had another hiccup as he expounded on his long relationship with the black community.
"I come out of the black community in terms of my support, if you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me, because they know me. They know who I am, three former chairs of the black caucus. The only black, African American women that had ever been elected to the United States Senate... the whole range of people. My point is..."
All eyes then turned to Kamala Harris, an African American senator. "Nope, the other woman is here," she quipped.
"I said the first, I said the first African American woman elected," Biden responded, a nod to former Senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.
But the Minnesota senator rejected the notion that a woman cannot beat President Trump in 2020.
"I govern both with my head and my heart, and if you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day," Klobuchar said during the debate, which was hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.
Buttigieg, who has risen in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire in recent days, was hardly the target that other front-runners like Biden and Warren have been. He did take some fire from Tulsi Gabbard and from Klobuchar, who took aim at him when he was talking about voter protection reforms. She noted that while he "said the right words" on reform, "I actually have the experience," pointing out she's passed 11 bills on this very issue.
The South Bend mayor offered a retort he's used in the past: "Washington experience is not the only experience that matters," he said. "There's more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country?"
The debate also delivered a couple of solid one-liners. Andrew Yang, asked what he'd say to Vladimir Putin in his first phone call with him, responded, "I'm sorry I beat your guy."
Elizabeth Warren, who's been facing some questions about electability and a tendency she's shown toward attacking the character of her opponents, rather than the quality of their ideas, seemed to have course-corrected a bit tonight. Asked whether the Democratic Party has room for those who oppose abortion, like Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who just won re-election, she said, "I'm not here to drive anyone out of this party," and added that as president she would fight for what she believes is right.
She was also asked if, having called the president's border wall a "monument to hate and division," she'd have it taken down. "If there are parts of the wall that are not useful, then yes," she responded, adding that we need to stop the manmade crisis at the border, that the government needs to stop taking children from their families.
She spoke of her visit to a detention facility in McAllen, Texas, and described an Amazon warehouse filled with cages, with men, women, children, and even nursing mothers.
Watch CBSNews.com and CBSN for updates and analysis all day and all night ahead of this pivotal debate.
"We can build a coalition with Republicans," Buttigieg says
In a post-debate interview with CBS News' Ed O'Keefe, Buttigieg said he'd been seeing "a lot of folks" like a New Hampshire voter who voted for Mr. Trump and may be looking for someone new.
"The pitch is we're not going to agree on everything, but I think we can agree that we need to restore decency and dignity to Washington and that this president is as insulting to Republican values as he is to the progressive and Democratic values that I believe in," Buttigieg said. "And that we can put together a coalition to build a different future. And again, we're not going to agree on everything, but my biggest message to somebody like that is welcome, come aboard and let's work together."
Buttigieg also told O'Keefe he was frustrated that keeping combat troops in Afghanistan wasn't discussed.
"There were a lot of military and veterans issues, some of which we didn't get to this evening, including the president's pardoning of war criminals, which he is casting as if it's pro-military," Buttigieg said. "I can't think of something worse for the military than a president who equates being a war fighter with being a war criminal and says that you can just expect these things to happen. That's a slander against the uniform and against the flag, and I wanted to weigh in on the issue of service, which is so important."
Klobuchar: "I tried to reinsert myself" when sparring with Buttigieg
11:43 p.m.: In a post-debate interview with CBS News' Ed O'Keefe, Klobuchar said she wanted to make sure she highlighted that she has more experience than Buttigieg.
"I tried to reinsert myself because I actually have the local experience that he's had, I've run a major agency in a major big county, and I did that for eight years, and then I ran for the U.S. Senate, and I've had 14 years of private sector experience," Klobuchar said. " I think that matters when we've had a president that hasn't done anything to help people for prescription drugs or do anything to build infrastructure in a big way in this country. And so I have a lot of respect for the mayor, I truly do, but when he started ticking off all of the bills that were mine, and talking about the things that he wanted to do, I think the fact that I've passed over a hundred bills since I got to Washington matters, and one of the points I wanted to make (was) that he is qualified but I think I'm more qualified."
Klobuchar repeated that she thinks Buttigieg is qualified, but that "there's clearly some kind of different standard going on when we have had, as I said, name your favorite woman president, or vice president, and we can't."
Klobuchar also highlighted her campaign's recent growth in Iowa, and said they are adding staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina. If the Senate will be holding an impeachment trial that will take her off the trail, she said she has a "lot of great people who can speak for me" on the campaign trail. She touted the number of endorsements she has from local elected officials as well as strong support in her home state of Minnesota, which borders Iowa, and the support of her husband and her daughter, who she called "great campaigners."
Warren, Biden and Buttigieg spoke the most
11:40 p.m.: Warren, Biden and Buttigieg dominated the debate, with each speaking over 11 minutes, not including closing statements. Sanders spoke 10 minutes 13 seconds, and Booker, Harris and Klobuchar each spoke over 9 minutes without their closing statements.
Gabbard, who had a number of heated exchanges in her time on the stage, spoke 7 minutes and 54 seconds, not counting her closing statement.
At the bottom of the list were Tom Steyer, who spoke just 6 minutes and 59 seconds, and Andrew Yang, who spoke just 5 minutes and 1 second without his closing statement.
Trump campaign responds to the debate
11:27 p.m.: Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the candidates on stage were "short on solutions and heavy on their unhealthy obsession with taking down President Trump via an illegitimate coup," referring to the impeachment inquiry.
"Tonight, 2020 Democrats were short on solutions and heavy on their unhealthy obsession with taking down President Trump via an illegitimate coup," she said in a statement. "They know they cannot beat President Trump's record-breaking economy, landmark criminal justice reform, falling healthcare costs, and historic trade deals, so they are set to defeat him in the halls of Congress rather than at the ballot box. The vote of the American people matters little to the 2020 Democrats. Their goal is singular and unified: defeat Trump at any cost."
Candidates did discuss the impeachment inquiry, in particular when it was referenced by moderators. Harris said there is a "criminal living in the White House."
-- Kathryn Watson
Candidates make their final arguments in closing statements
11:04 p.m.: Moderator Rachel Maddow noted shortly after 11:00 that it was "well past time" to begin closing statements.
Booker said that he discarded his original opening statement in favor of talking about the impact of civil rights in American history and in the current election.
"This is the moment in America when we need a leader who can inspire us to get up and fight again," Booker said, urging people to visit his website and donate, as he has not yet qualified for the December debate.
Steyer argued in his closing statement that he was the only candidate calling for "structural change in Washington" with his support for imposing term limits. Gabbard focused her remarks on empathy, saying "every single person deserves to be treated with respect."
Yang concluded his debate on a familiar note, saying that he ran for president because he was not finding solutions in Washington.
"My first move was not to run for president of the United States, because I am not insane," Yang said, to laughter. "I'm not running for president because I fantasized about being president," Yang added, calling himself a "parent and a patriot."
Klobuchar invoked the impeachment hearings this week, praising Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Ukrainian-born immigrant and decorated U.S. soldier, for his testimony praising American values.
"But this is also a patriotism check, a value check, a decency check," Klobuchar said.
Harris said that she had "taken on" Attorney General William Barr and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She added that justice was "very much on the ballot" in 2020.
Buttigieg also struck a familiar note, saying that he was running to represent the country in the era after Mr. Trump leaves office. He appealed to "future former Republicans" who are "disgusted" by the president.
Sanders concluded by highlighting his family's immigrant history, saying his father came to this country at age 17. He blasted the Trump administration's treatment of immigrants.
"I will lead an administration that will look like America," the Vermont senator said. Sanders also noted that he had received over 4 million contributions averaging $18 each, a record in American campaign history.
Warren railed against corruption in her closing remarks and touted her proposals for structural change.
"We have a government that works for those at the top and not for anyone else," she said, adding that she has the "biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate."
Biden implicitly hit back at Warren, saying that she probably wasn't talking about former President Obama and his "spotless" administration. He also encouraged voters to "get up" to oppose Mr. Trump.
"I'm so tired of everyone walking around like, 'Woe is me, what are we going to,'" Biden said. "Let's take back this country and lead the world again. It's within our power to do it. Get up and take it back."
-- Grace Segers
Buttigieg takes shot at Gabbard, says he wouldn't sit down with "murderous dictator" like she did
11:01 p.m.: Gabbard and Buttigieg got into a pointed exchange, with Gabbard suggesting Buttigieg would send troops to Mexico.
Buttigieg hit back at Gabbard's foreign policy record, specifically her 2017 meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Buttigieg said he wouldn't meet with a "murderous dictator" like him. That comment elicited applause from the audience.
"I will meet with and do what is necessary to make sure that no more of our brothers and sisters in uniform are sent into harm's way," Gabbard responded.
Gabbard pointed out that former President John F. Kennedy met with former Soviet Union President Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, and Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin.
Buttigieg interjected, "Like Donald Trump met with Kim," in reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
-- Kathryn Watson and Grace Segers
Booker says voter suppression prevented Stacey Abrams from becoming governor
10:57 p.m.: Bringing up voter suppression, Booker argued that voter suppression prevented Democrat Stacey Abrams from winning the Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018. The current governor and former secretary of state of Georgia, Brian Kemp, oversaw several measures narrowing voting rights before he was elected.
"It was voter suppression, particularly in African American communities, that prevented Stacey Abrams from becoming the first black woman governor," Booker said.
Buttigieg called for "federal leadership to establish voting rights for the 21st century."
Klobuchar noted that she already experience introducing bills on voting rights. "I have actually done this work," she said, dinging Buttigieg's lack of experience in the area. Buttigieg responded that Washington experience is not the only experience that matters.
"There's more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage right now and where are we as a country?" Buttigieg said.
-- Grace Segers
Warren says "I'm not here to drive anyone out of the party" about abortion
10:50 p.m.: When abortion was raised as a topic, some in the crowd cheered.
Klobuchar suggested the Trump administration is too extreme on the issue, saying that Mr. Trump "will hear from the women of America."
Warren, asked if the Democratic Party has room for people who oppose abortion, like the Democratic Louisiana governor who won reelection this week, focused on the importance of women's right to choose.
"I believe that abortion rights are human rights," Warren said. When pressed, she added that "I'm not here to drive anyone out of this party."
Sanders said that, if there's ever a time for the men in this country to stand up for the women in this country, it's now.
-- Kathryn Watson
Harris says Democrats have taken voters of color for granted for too long
10:37 p.m.: Harris, given an opening to attack Buttigieg over his record on race, took another track. For too long, Democrats have taken voters of color for granted, she noted.
"The question has to be, 'Where've you been, and what are you going to do?" Harris said of Democratic outreach to minority women voters.
Buttigieg, given a chance to respond, said he agreed Democrats need to listen to marginalized voters.
"My response is, I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don't yet know me," he said.
Booker later chimed in on the topic, saying he has some experience with black voters.
"I've been one since I was 18," he said, eliciting laughs.
But black voters are "pissed off," he said, and have long been overlooked.
Booker also hit Biden for saying that marijuana should not be legalized.
"I thought you may have been high when you said it," Booker said. "Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people."
"I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period," Biden said. He added that he "comes from the black community" in terms of his support, a line which caused some consternation from Harris when he said he was endorsed by the only black woman in the Senate. He then corrected himself, saying he had been endorsed by the "first" black woman in the Senate, Carol Moseley-Braun.
-- Kathryn Watson and Grace Segers
Candidates address white supremacist violence
10:29 p.m.: An hour and a half into the debate in Atlanta, which has a majority black population, moderators asked about how to address white supremacist violence. Gabbard said that racism was an institutional problem that needed to be addressed at the highest level of government.
"It's important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in an institutional way in our country," Gabbard said.
Yang said that it was important to designate white supremacist violence as "domestic terrorism" because it would allow the Department of Justice to pursue those cases as terrorism.
"First we have to designate white supremacist terrorism as domestic terrorism," Yang said. He also talked about how young men can be radicalized online by forums which promote racist ideologies.
"We have to as a country find a way to turn our boys into healthy, into strong young men," he added.
-- Grace Segers
Biden says he'd stop subsidies and arms sales to Saudi Arabia
10:20 p.m.: Biden, asked about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, condemned the brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, and said he'd end subsidies to the Kingdom, and stop selling it military hardware.
The Trump administration recently announced it's sending thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia, arguing it needs to protect oil in the region and be in a position to counter Iran.
Klobuchar was also asked about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, but pivoted to other countries, saying the U.S. needs to entirely rethink its foreign policy.
Sanders said he thinks he was the first person on stage to not only say Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi, but also that "Saudi Arabia is not a reliable ally." He added that the U.S. needs to bring representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran into a room to deal with them both.
-- Kathryn Watson
What Yang would tell Putin: "Sorry I beat your guy"
10:15 p.m.: When asked what he would say in his first conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin as president, Yang took a jab at Mr. Trump.
"Well, first I'd say, 'I'm sorry I beat your guy,'" Yang said, to laughter and applause. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Mr. Trump's campaign.
Yang also said he would tell Putin, "The days of meddling in American elections are over."
Yang said he would focus on diplomacy and recommit the U.S. to NATO as president.
-- Grace Segers
"Donald Trump got punked," Harris says
10:10 p.m.:Harris elicited some laughs and claps when she said "Donald Trump got punked," criticizing the president's foreign policy failures.
"He has conducted foreign policy since day one, born out of a very fragile ego," she said.
Harris noted the president's concessions to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his inability to convince the country to denuclearize.
Mr. Trump continues to speak approvingly of Kim, as talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled.
-- Kathryn Watson
Steyer: "Climate is the number one priority for me"
10:03 p.m.: Steyer, who has spent millions of dollars to combat climate change, echoed a message of former candidate Jay Inslee, who centered his campaign on climate change.
"I am the only candidate on this stage who will say, climate change is the number one priority for me," Steyer said, name-checking Biden and Warren.
"I think it is the existential threat to humanity. It is the number one issue," Biden replied, accusing Steyer of supporting the coal industry earlier in his career.
Steyer replied that he came to his new conclusion about climate change being a huge priority over a decade ago.
-- Grace Segers
Candidates tackle housing costs
9:50 p.m.: Steyer was the first to be asked about affordable housing, a growing problem particularly in major cities. The billionaire said so much depends on where someone places their head at night.
Warren said the housing problem is an issue on "the supply side," and the federal government and private developers aren't building the kind of housing Americans need, or enough of it.
"Housing is how we build wealth in America," Warren said. She added that the federal government has subsidized housing for white people, but not people of color.
Her plan, Warren said, would address that imbalance and reverse it.
Booker tackled the question next, pointing out he started his career as a tenant rights lawyer. But one thing hadn't yet come up, Booker noted -- gentrification. Booker said his plan would allow people who pay more than a third of their income in rent to receive a tax break. That would help low-income families, the former Newark mayor said.
-- Kathryn Watson
Candidates discuss plans for paid family leave
9:46 p.m.: For the first time since the debates began, moderators asked candidates about their proposals to enact universal paid family leave. Yang claimed that only two countries -- Papua New Guinea and the U.S. -- do not provide paid family leave. In fact, there a few other countries also do not provide paid family leave, but the number is extremely low.
"We should get off this list as soon as possible," Yang said.
Klobuchar compared her plan, which would provide three months of paid family leave, to Harris' plan. Klobuchar said she had "meticulously" calculated how she would pay for her family leave plan.
"I'm not going to go for things just because they sound good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car," Klobuchar said.
Harris noted that more and more women were having children in their thirties and forties, meaning that people raising children are also often taking care of their parents.
"These families and parents are often raising young children and taking care of their parents, which requires a lot of work," Harris said. "What we are seeing in America today is the burden principally falls on women."
-- Grace Segers
Biden says Trump has "indicted himself"
9:45 p.m.: NBC's Rachel Maddow brought up recent "lock him up" chants against the president at the World Series in a question to Sanders. The American people, Sanders said, are "catching on to the degree that this president thinks he is above the law."
He added that the American people "are saying, 'Nobody is above the law.'" He added that if this president did break the law, he should be prosecuted "like any other individual who breaks the law."
Biden, joining the conversation, said such a decision is up to the Justice Department.
Sanders said he agrees that such a determination is up to an independent Justice Department. But the American people, Sanders reiterated, is beginning to understand that, in his estimation.
Biden agreed, and said the issue of whether the president should be impeached is a separate issue. But the president, the former vice president said, has already "indicted himself." Biden also suggested it would be up to the attorney general to determine whether Mr. Trump should be prosecuted for breaking the law while he was in office.
-- Kathryn Watson
Klobuchar: Women candidates "have to work harder, and that's a fact"
9:36 p.m.: Klobuchar addressed comments she previously made about Buttigieg, where she said that a woman with his qualifications would not have made it to the debate stage.
"I think that Pete is qualified to be up on this stage, and I am honored to be standing next to him," Klobuchar said. However, she added, women were simply held to a different standard.
"Otherwise we could play a game called 'name your favorite woman president,'" Klobuchar said, to laughter.
"We have to work harder and that's a fact," Klobuchar said about women presidential candidates. She touted her experience as a senator who has won red counties more than once, saying it was proof she could win the election against Mr. Trump.
"If you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day," Klobuchar said, to applause.
-- Grace Segers
"I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends," Klobuchar says
9:33 p.m.: The story of Klobuchar's first Senate race is one of an uphill battle, the Minnesota senator recalled. "I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends," she said.
That remark came after Steyer had to answer his critics, who point to people like him as indicative of the problem with money in politics. Steyer is a billionaire who is self-funding much of his campaign.
Klobuchar has tried to make the case that she's an outsider candidate who understands Middle America and can win demographics other liberal candidates from wealthier backgrounds can't.
-- Kathryn Watson
Tulsi Gabbard addresses criticism of Hillary Clinton
9:25 p.m.: Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker asked Gabbard about her criticism of Hillary Clinton. Gabbard said she was criticizing Clinton because she represented the establishment wing of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party establishment, she argued, "continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment in Washington, represented by Hillary Clinton and others' foreign policy, by the military industrial complex."
Parker then turned to Harris, asking if she would like to respond.
"Oh, sure," Harris said, to laughter. She then condemned Gabbard for criticizing former President Obama on Fox News, and for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Harris said that Gabbard "spends full time during the course of this campaign, again, criticizing the Democratic Party."
"What Senator Harris is doing is continuing to traffic in lies, and smears, and innuendos," Gabbard replied. She said that Harris' words showed that Harris would "continue the Bush-Clinton-Trump strategy of regime change wars."
-- Grace Segers
Warren pressed on "Medicare for All" plan, which Biden suggests is unrealistic
9:20 p.m.: Warren was forced to defend her "Medicare for All" plan, which is unpopular among Republicans and critics say could turn off many independent voters.
"I look out and I see tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to pay their medical bills, Warren said.
Warren has been criticized for the cost of her plan, which she says will still lead to overall lower costs for average Americans.
Sanders was then invited into the conversation, bringing up one of his favorite lines -- that he "wrote the damn bill."
Biden, considered a more moderate candidate, insisted Americans don't want their health care taken away. The former vice president said he trusts Americans to make the best choice for themselves. "Medicare for All," he said, will never succeed.
"It couldn't pass the United States Senate now with Democrats, it couldn't pass the House," he said.
"If you go the route of my two friends on my rights and my left, you have to give up your private insurance," Biden added.
-- Kathryn Watson
Warren says her wealth tax is "not about punishing anyone"
9:13 p.m.: Warren pushed back against criticism that her proposal for a tax on the wealthy is punitive, saying that it's about fairness.
"Doing a wealth tax is not about punishing anyone," Warren said. She referred to a speech she gave in her 2012 Senate campaign where she argued that wealthy people had built their fortunes based on the work of others, such as teachers and public servants.
"Pitch in two cents so that everyone else gets the chance to make it," Warren urged the millionaires and billionaires who would pay the tax.
"Two-cent wealth tax and we can invest in an entire generation's future," Warren added.
Booker responded by saying that he believes in investing in public services, but that he disagreed with Warren's proposal for a wealth tax.
"The tax the way we're putting it right now, I'm sorry, it's cumbersome," Booker said of the wealth tax. He added that it would be hard to evaluate as well. He also suggested the same revenue could be had from an income tax, rather than a wealth tax. "We as Democrats have got to start talking about not just how we tax from this stage," he said.
-- Grace Segers
Biden asked how he'd work with Republicans who want him and his family investigated
9:09 p.m.: NBC's Andrea Mitchell asked Biden how he could work with Republicans who are calling for investigations into both him and his son, Hunter Biden.
The former vice president said he can win states others can't, pushing his electability argument.
"I think we have to ask ourselves the honest question, who is most likely to do what needs to be done," Biden said.
Biden did not directly address Republican concerns about his son's work on the board of Ukraine company Burisma while he was vice president.
As the impeachment inquiry continues, Republicans keep questioning the Bidens' actions, even as officials in the impeachment inquiry have said they have no evidence of anything illegal about Hunter Biden's time spent on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
-- Kathryn Watson
Candidates address first open impeachment hearings
9:02 p.m.: After three witnesses testified in open hearings on Wednesday, the first question of the night was about impeachment. Warren took the opportunity to slam the main witness today, U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, noting that he had been nominated ambassador after he donated $1 million to President Trump's inauguration.
"How did Ambassador Sondland get there?" Warren asked, referencing his donation, adding that Sondland's nomination "tells us about what's happening in Washington: the corruption." It's about "how money buys its way into Washington," she said, and she warned big donors not to ask to be ambassadors in her administration.
Sanders noted the importance of the impeachment inquiry, but said that it shouldn't be the main focus of the campaign.
"Sadly we have a president who is not only a pathological liar, he is likely the most corrupt president in modern history," Sanders said, although he argued that focusing on impeachment alone would be a mistake. "The American Congress can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time," Sanders added.
Buttigieg struck a similar note, saying that candidates should focus on what happens after Mr. Trump is defeated, as well as "absolutely" confronting the president "for his wrongdoing."
-- Grace Segers
Which candidates qualified for the debate?
There will be two fewer candidates on stage than in October because former Housing Secretary Julián Castro failed to qualify this time and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke ended his bid for the White House.
Here are the 10 candidates who have qualified to appear:
- Joe Biden, former vice president
- Cory Booker, New Jersey senator
- Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana
- Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii representative
- Kamala Harris, California senator
- Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota senator
- Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator
- Tom Steyer, businessman
- Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator
- Andrew Yang, entrepreneur
The Democratic National Committee raised the polling and donor criteria that candidates must meet to qualify for the November debate. Candidates could either reach 3% in four national or early-state, DNC-approved polls, or reach 5% in two early-state polls. They also had to demonstrate that they have 165,000 unique donors, including at least 600 each in at least 20 states, U.S. territories or the District of Columbia.
How to watch the 5th Democratic debate
Warren will still have a target on her back
Although she's slipped in the polls since the last Democratic debate, Elizabeth Warren will still have a target on her back Wednesday night, particularly when it comes to her plan to implement "Medicare for All."
Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign blasted Warren's $20.5 trillion plan to pay for the program as "mathematical gymnastics" at the start of the month. To Warren's left on the issue, Senator Bernie Sanders made a characteristically indirect attack on her three-year transition plan to Medicare for All, with a tweet quoting a nurses association leader's assertion that any watering down of his plan is a mistake.
Asked by CBS News last week to differentiate her transition plan from the more moderate "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan from Buttigieg, Warren said her plan "is about actually giving people Medicare for All that is going to be full healthcare coverage." A Buttigieg spokesperson fired back, saying that "unlike Senator Warren, he wouldn't kick tens of millions of American families off their private health care plans."
Senator Amy Klobuchar also clashed with Warren on the issue from the stage in October, asserting that Medicare for All is impossible without raising middle class taxes, a claim Warren's campaign disputes.
-- Zak Hudak
Four candidates call on Comcast to probe NBC/MSNBC
Two days before the fifth Democratic primary debate, hosted by MSNBC, four Democratic presidential hopefuls called on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to demand Comcast, MSNBC's parent company, commit to conducting an independent investigation into the company's "toxic culture" that allowed the sexual harassment and abuse of staffers.
Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez on Tuesday ramping up the pressure on the party to reiterate its support for victims of sexual misconduct.
"We, the undersigned candidates, are very concerned about the message it would send to sexual assault survivors if our next debate is sponsored by MSNBC without clear commitments from Comcast, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, to conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors," the 2020 hopefuls wrote.
Despite the letter, Booker, Harris, Sanders and Warren will all take the stage Wednesday night.
-- Melissa Quinn
All eyes will be on Buttigieg
This is the first debate where 37-year-old Buttigieg is poised to be the focus, given his new top standing in Iowa and a general surge in the early states. He'll be alongside the other frontrunners -- former Vice President Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Don't be surprised if they call out Buttigieg's low standing among black and Latino voters -- two constituencies needed to win the nomination.
And while polls show Democratic voters are closely watching the impeachment hearings, they want their candidates focus on the issues. And on Wednesday night, they will, especially health care -- and how to pay for it -- plus the economy and climate change.
Democrats are holding the debate here in Georgia because it's a state they'd like to win. But it hasn't gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992.
-- Ed O'Keefe
First debate since public impeachment hearings began
Wednesday night marks the first Democratic debate since the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry entered its public phase last week. To what extent Democrats will focus on the inquiry remains to be seen.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he was not part of "some irregular or rogue diplomacy," and he referred to emails showing that leadership at the State Department, National Security Council and White House had been informed about the announcement of Ukraine investigations sought by Mr. Trump of the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee server and the energy company Burisma, which employed Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.
Should the House impeach President Trump, half a dozen of the candidates running for president could find themselves sidelined from the campaign trail for much of January in the crucial closing weeks before the earliest voting contests. The subsequent Senate trial requires the presence of all sitting senators, which means that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet would be in Washington after the first of the year, should a Senate trial take place in the new year.
Biden campaign outlines debate points
Debate watchers can anticipate three main tactics from Joe Biden's campaign Wednesday night:
- Make an argument about who has the experience and steady leadership needed to be commander-in-chief;
- promote the "progressive wins" of the Obama era;
- and continue to contrast Biden's health care approach to that of other rival Democrats.
Senior Biden campaign officials discussed the upcoming debate with reporters on a background call today.
On health care, Biden officials say it's clear with recent Democratic victories in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana that building on the Affordable Care Act is the way for Democrats to win.
Senior campaign officials frequently mentioned Warren on this point, noting her plan would come out of the checks of the middle class.
Regarding polls that show Biden lagging behind Buttigieg in Iowa, a senior campaign official said, "We are in a very good position."
-- Bo Erickson and Kathryn Watson
Trump and the debate
There's no word on whether the president will be watching tonight's Democratic debate, but his campaign will be making his presence known in Atlanta beforehand with an aerial banner reading, "Democrats' socialism will destroy Atlanta jobs" and a full-page newspaper ad in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.