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Democrats clash in fiery Las Vegas debate with Bloomberg as main target

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Democrats clash in fiery debate with Bloomberg as main target 13:15

Washington — Michael Bloomberg was welcomed to his very first presidential debate with a fusillade of attacks generally reserved for front-runners. For parts of the debate, he was the main target of his fellow Democratic candidates, but there were also a number of clashes between other candidates in what may have been the most contentious debate of the primary season yet.  

The six Democrats faced off in Las Vegas, less than a week away from the Nevada caucuses, which take place on Saturday. Early voting is already underway. 

Bloomberg was challenged on his record on stop-and-frisk, his derogatory comments about women, his tax returns, his wealth and his company's use of nondisclosure agreements. Elizabeth Warren kicked things off by saying, "I'd like to talk about who we're running against — a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced' ... No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Michael Bloomberg."

His wealth and the way he's used it were brought up frequently. At one point, the mere fact of his wealth was a topic, when moderator Chuck Todd mentioned that Bernie Sanders had once said that billionaires should not exist. He posed the question to Bloomberg: "Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?" 

Pete Buttigieg called Bloomberg and Sanders the "most polarizing candidates on the stage" and suggested that one, Sanders, "wants to burn this party down," and "the other wants to buy this party out." But he mainly clashed with Amy Klobuchar, attacking her inability to recall the name of the Mexican president. "Are you saying I'm dumb?" Klobuchar said. 

The clashes between Buttigieg and Klobuchar continued until the closing minutes of the debate, with Buttigieg going after Klobuchar for supporting Trump nominees. Klobuchar derided Buttigieg in response, saying that he was "not in the arena" and dismissed him as having just "memorized a bunch of talking points."

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, held a rally in Phoenix, the first in a three-day swing of rallies. He referenced the debate and Bloomberg's performance, saying "I hear he's getting pounded tonight — you know, he's in a debate." 

"He spent $500 million so far and I think he has 15 points. Crazy Bernie was at 30," Mr. Trump said.

NBC News and MSNBC hosted the Las Vegas debate, in partnership with the Nevada Independent newspaper. The next debate, hosted by CBS News with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, will be held Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of that state's primary on February 29.


Trump tweets about performance of "Mini Mike" in debate

Although President Trump held a rally at the same as the Democratic debate, he tweeted around 1 a.m. ET about Bloomberg's debate performance. 

"Mini Mike Bloomberg's debate performance tonight was perhaps the worst in the history of debates, and there have been some really bad ones," Mr. Trump wrote. "He was stumbling, bumbling and grossly incompetent. If this doesn't knock him out of the race, nothing will. Not so easy to do what I did!"

By Caroline Linton

Klobuchar: "That debate was one for the record books in terms of all of the attacks"

Klobuchar: "That debate was one for the record books in terms of all of the attacks" 06:48

In the post-debate spin room, Klobuchar told CBS News the debate was "one for the record books in terms of all of the attacks and some of the personal attacks." 

Although she sparred with Buttigieg, Klobuchar said she didn't feel like all the attacks were good for the Democratic party. But, she said she hoped people who are just tuning in now realize "there were glimmers of how our party can win."  

She said that when Buttigieg went after her, "my thought bubble was 'seriously?'" She later said she thought his line of attack on her that she forgot the name of the Mexican President was "petty."

She said that she retorted "not everyone is as perfect as you, Pete," during the debate "because he was being so haughty about this. We had discussed it. He's been doing it all week. I just think that as I said, you need a president, given the guy we have in the White House, maybe you need someone who's a little more humble."

Klobuchar said her campaign has not only been organizing in Nevada but also in the Super Tuesday states, which includes her home state of Minnesota. "We're surging, we're bringing in support. And so we are really excited going into Super Tuesday," she said.

She said that like Iowa, it's hard to predict what the results will be in Nevada. But she didn't seem to be worried about another fiasco in reporting results, like in Iowa.

"Oh, that they can't count?" Klobuchar joked. "I just think that they know how to count in Vegas." 

By Caroline Linton

Elizabeth Warren needed a strong debate in Las Vegas, says CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak

Elizabeth Warren goes on the offensive in Las Vegas debate after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire 02:03
By Caroline Linton

Biden, Sanders supporters in South Carolina say Bloomberg looked "weak" in debate

Biden, Sanders supporters in South Carolina think Bloomberg looked "weak" in debate 05:08

Candidates make closing statements after fiery debate, emphasizing unity

After two hours of fiery debate, candidates made their closing statements.

"This has been quite a debate," Klobuchar said, to laughter from the audience, before pivoting to a call for unity. "What unites us is so much bigger than what divides us."

Bloomberg used his statement to draw on his managerial experience, and said that he was not seeking any money from voters, unlike the other candidates on stage.

"This is a management job, and Donald Trump's not a manager," Bloomberg said.

Buttigieg also called for unity, saying that the eventual nominee must "galvanize, not polarize" voters.

"We need to draw everybody that we can," Buttigieg said, adding that his candidacy would work to "create a sense of belonging in this country that moves us out of the toxic and polarizing moment that we are in today."

Biden was briefly interrupted by protesters before he could give his statement, but they were largely drowned out by chants of "Joe! Joe!" from supporters.

By Grace Segers

Buttigieg attacks Klobuchar's record on confirming Trump nominees

Klobuchar spars with Buttigieg in Las Vegas debate 02:52

Klobuchar was first asked what she would do to protect young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children with their parents, particularly if the Supreme Court agrees the Trump administration was within its rights to eliminate the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

The Minnesota senator said the best way to protect "Dreamers" is to elect a new president, since the votes are already there in Congress. She added that comprehensive immigration reform is a must, with a pathway to citizenship. 

Buttigieg pointed out that Klobuchar had voted to confirm a head of Customs and Border Protection selected by Mr. Trump. He also said she's voted for some of the president's judicial nominees who have been hostile to undocumented immigrants. 

"Not everyone is as perfect as you," Klobuchar hit back at Buttigieg. 

Klobuchar also hit Buttigieg on his experience, saying "I have been in the arena." Buttigieg retorted, "These are the votes you took."

Klobuchar then continued that "you have not been in the arena doing that work" and dismissed Buttigieg as having just "memorized a bunch of talking points."

By Kathryn Watson

Buttigieg challenges Bloomberg on how he uses his wealth

Buttigieg was asked about Bloomberg's significant contributions to causes supported by Democrats, such as gun control reform and climate change. Buttigieg said he believed Bloomberg should be using his wealth to benefit the Democratic nominee, but that nominee shouldn't be Bloomberg.

"I think he should absolutely do everything in his power to defeat Donald Trump," Buttigieg said, but that should not include running for president. "At the end of the day, it's not just about how much money you've got, it's what you stand for."

By Grace Segers

Bloomberg pressed on billionaire status, while Sanders is confronted with socialist label

Sanders has said in the past that billionaires should not exist, and candidates on stage were given an opportunity to answer whether they agree.

Klobuchar said she believes in capitalism, although she does agree the system isn't fair.

But it was Bloomberg, by far the wealthiest candidate on stage, who was asked that existential question: "Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?"

The former New York City mayor defended himself, saying he's made significant donations to make the world a better place. 

"We're not gonna throw out capitalism," Bloomberg said, noting it was called "communism" and it didn't work. 

Sanders was confronted with polling about Americans' negative views of socialism. He declined to address that head-on, asking instead who was leading in the polls. 

"Let's talk about democratic socialism, not communism. Mr. Bloomberg, that's a cheap shot," Sanders said.

Bloomberg added that he agrees taxes should be raised on the rich, and he wants Congress to roll back the GOP-backed tax cuts of 2017.

By Kathryn Watson

Candidates commit to not raising taxes on small businesses

Candidates were asked about whether they would raise taxes on small businesses, typically a priority for Republican candidates. Biden committed that taxes would not go up on small businesses.

"We should not be raising taxes on them. We have to start rewarding work, not just wealth," Biden said. He also hit Bloomberg's previous comments that redlining had led to the stock market collapse in 2008, saying that it was "the greed of Wall Street" that had led to the recession.

Bloomberg said that Biden had misconstrued his words on redlining. He also looked around at his opponents and noted that he was the only one on stage who had started a business.

Biden, Buttigieg and Warren each said that the economy needs to support entrepreneurship among black and Latino Americans.

"It can't just be about taxes, we need to level the playing field," Warren said.

By Grace Segers

Candidates tackle global warming and climate change

Candidates were asked to address the effects of global warming on Nevada, although they broadened the conversation to address global warming across the country.

Biden said he'd make investments in wind and solar battery technology, EV charging stations and would restore the funding to the Environmental Protection Agency that President Trump has cut. 

Bloomberg said the first thing he'd do is rejoin the Paris climate agreement.

Warren reiterated that she would sign an executive order to stop offshore drilling.

Sanders was asked to address an anonymous statement from a union leader in Pennsylvania who told a media outlet that his or her union would tell its members not to vote for a Democratic candidate who wants to end fracking, as Sanders has suggested. Sanders said he would tell those folks in Pennsylvania the issue of fracking comes down to science, and morals. 

"This is a moral issue, my friends," Sanders said. 

By Kathryn Watson

Klobuchar confronted on failure to name the Mexican president, spars with Buttigieg

Democratic presidential hopefuls Former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Indiana Senator Amy Klobuchar participate in the ninth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo and The Nevada Independent at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 19, 2020.  MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Klobuchar, who was unable to name Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a recent town hall, had to come to terms with that lapse. 

Klobuchar said she doesn't think her "momentary forgetfulness" reflects her appreciation and understanding of Mexico, a major trading partner. 

Klobuchar, sparring with Buttigieg, said that "people sometimes forget names."

Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar further, noting her responsibility in the Senate for overseeing trade matters, and seemed to suggest that her memory lapse was a problem, since Klobuchar often points to her Washington experience to contrast with his more limited resume. Klobuchar asked if Buttigieg was suggesting she's "dumb."

"Are you trying to say that I'm dumb? Are you mocking me?" Klobuchar challenged him.

The Klobuchar-Buttigieg exchange became so heated that Warren interjected to defend Klobuchar, suggesting the intense criticism of Klobuchar for forgetting Obrador's name was over the top.

Biden took his opportunity to interject, saying he's actually worked with Obrador, pointing to their relationship. 

By Kathryn Watson

Bloomberg addresses criticisms about past comments about women

Democratic presidential hopeful Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during the ninth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo and The Nevada Independent at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 19, 2020.  MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Bloomberg was asked about his previous comments about women, and about the alleged culture of sexual harassment in his companies.

"I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the Me Too movement has exposed," Bloomberg said. He added that he had women in positions of power in his company and in his administration as mayor.

Warren pounced on Bloomberg's answer, calling it insufficient.

"I hope you heard what his defense was: 'I've been nice to some women.' That just doesn't cut it," Warren said. She asked if Bloomberg would release women from non-disclosure agreements about the culture in his companies.

"We have very few non-disclosure agreements...none of them accuse me of doing anything except maybe they don't like a joke I told," Bloomberg said.

Warren and Biden pushed Bloomberg repeatedly to release the women from the nondisclosure agreements.

Bloomberg said that the agreements were "made consensually."

By Grace Segers

Bloomberg talks about his tax returns

Bloomberg said that he had not yet released his tax returns because it takes a while to process, saying that he could not simply use the site Turbo Tax.

"We're releasing them, they'll be out in a few weeks, and that's as fast as I can do it," Bloomberg said.

Other candidates have suggested that Bloomberg's refusal to release his tax returns sooner is akin to that of Mr. Trump.

By Grace Segers

Sanders pressed on failing to release medical records after saying he would

Moderator Hallie Jackson asked Sanders about his claims of transparency, after he has not yet released his medical records after suffering a heart attack last year, despite an earlier saying that he would. His campaign did not immediately disclose the heart attack he suffered in October, and he has since declined to release his medical records. He has released letters from doctors.

Buttigieg said he thinks all candidates should be held to the same standard of presidents — releasing their medical records. The former Indiana mayor turned the transparency discussion back to the Medicare for All debate, saying he's more concerned about Sanders' failure to explain exactly how he'd pay for the plan. 

Klobuchar added later that she thinks the candidates on stage should release their medical records. 

By Kathryn Watson

Bloomberg says he is "embarrassed about" stop-and-frisk

Moderator Lester Holt asked Bloomberg about the controversial stop-and-frisk program in place during his tenure as mayor, which predominantly targeted black and Latino young men. Bloomberg, who has apologized for the policy, said that he was "embarrassed."

"What happened, however, was that it got out of control," Bloomberg said.

Biden responded by noting that the Obama administration sent mediators to New York City to try to end the policy of stop-and-frisk.

"The policy was abhorrent, and it was in fact a violation of every right we have," Biden said.

"I do think that this is about leadership and accountability," Warren said. She added that Bloomberg had apologized for how the policy "turned out," but not how it was designed. She said that a sincere apology from Bloomberg "has to start with the intent of the plan as it was put together."

As soon as Bloomberg admitted his regret over "stop and frisk," his campaign sent out a rapid-response email describing how he "has apologized for not fully understanding the full impact the NYPD's practice of stop and frisk was having on Black and Latino communities."

Klobuchar also addressed her time as a federal prosecutor in Minnesota, including cases which primarily targeted black citizens. Klobuchar argued that she tried to advocate for fairness as prosecutor, and said that she had received support from black voters in her previous elections.

"I have had the support of African Americans in my community in every election," Klobuchar said. "And that's because I earned it."

By Grace Segers

Bloomberg defends himself against Biden: "Let me finish, thank you"

Bloomberg, who has so far said little on the debate stage, tried academically to dismantle Biden's claim that he hadn't been supportive of Obamacare. Bloomberg said he had defended the former president's signature health care law. When Biden tried to interrupt, Bloomberg wouldn't let him right away.

"Let me finish, thank you," Bloomberg said. 

By Kathryn Watson

Warren goes on the offensive on health care

Warren, who has proposed a plan to transition to Medicare for All, slammed the health care proposals offered by other candidates. She accused Buttigieg's plan of being akin to a PowerPoint presentation, and called Klobuchar's proposal "a Post-It note." Sanders' campaign, she said, "relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question" about the viability of Medicare for All.

Buttigieg joked that he was "more of a Microsoft Word guy," while Klobuchar noted that Post-It notes were invented in her home state of Minnesota. Klobuchar also touted her support for implementing a public option, saying that most Democrats in the Senate did not support the Medicare-for-All bill proposed by Sanders and supported by Warren.

Biden made the argument that he was the only one on stage who had actually accomplished health care reform, since he had worked on negotiations with lawmakers on the Affordable Care Act when he was vice president.

By Grace Segers

Sanders responds to criticism that he is "polarizing"

After several candidates attacked Bloomberg, Buttigieg pivoted to criticizing Sanders, calling him "polarizing."

"If speaking to the needs of the working class is polarizing, I think you've got the wrong word," Sanders said, calling out Buttigieg's "billionaire campaign contributors." Buttigieg then said that the few dozen billionaires contributing to his campaign were among hundreds of thousands other donors.

Buttigieg also accused Sanders of feuding with the culinary union in Las Vegas, which has criticized Sanders' signature plan, Medicare for All. 

Warren was asked about some of Sanders' supporters who have taken to harassing people online.

"We are all responsible for our supporters, and we need to stand up," Warren said.

Sanders said about his online supporters that "99.9% of them are decent human beings."

"If there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people. They are not part of our movement," Sanders said.

By Grace Segers

Everyone gangs up on Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg — 2020 Democratic presidential debate — Las Vegas
Democratic presidential hopeful and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg arrives for the ninth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo and The Nevada Independent at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. Getty

Sanders was given the first question, asking how his plan is better than Bloomberg's to defeat Mr. Trump. Sanders said his tactic comes down to voter turnout, before pivoting to attack Bloomberg on "stop and frisk."

Bloomberg, given the chance to respond, immediately hit Sanders on health care, saying the country can't threaten to take away health care for 160 million Americans.

"I'd like to talk about who we're running against - a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced' …. No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Michael Bloomberg," Warren said, getting a memorable line in early. 

"Democrats take huge risks if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another," she added. 

Bloomberg tried to make the case that, as a New Yorker, he knows how to take on an "arrogant con man" like Mr. Trump, and that as the former mayor of New York, he knew how to manage complex issues, and also helped put New York City back on its feet after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Buttigieg took his chance to attack the former New York City mayor, too. 

"Let's put forward somebody who's actually a Democrat," the former Indiana mayor said, both alluding to Bloomberg running as a Republican in the past, and slipping in a jab at Sanders, who is a democratic socialist. 

By Kathryn Watson

Harry Reid: Nevada should be first state to vote

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, taking the stage ahead of the debate, made the case that Nevada should be the first state to vote in the country.

The former senator from Nevada blasted Iowa and New Hampshire, suggesting they botched the process. Nevada, he said, is far more representative of the Democratic Party. 

He also praised Democratic organizers in the state. Often, Reid said, people say they should empower women. It's the opposite in this case. 

"Women have empowered us," Reid said. 

Reid said Democrats need to work to dump Mr. Trump. 

By Kathryn Watson

Tom Perez: "We've gone to school on the lessons of Iowa"

DNC chair Tom Perez on how the party is planning on avoiding the mistakes of Iowa 03:36

Ahead of the debate — and amid complaints the rules have been changed to allow Michael Bloomberg in — DNC chair Tom Perez told CBS News' Nikole Killion that the party's job is to put the most viable candidates on the stage."

"You're going to see six candidates on the debate stage tonight and what they all have in common is that if you look at last week's poll — I think it was Quinnipiac —  all six of them are ahead of Donald Trump and a head-to-head matchup," Perez said. "And my job is to make sure that whoever wins the nomination — and we're aggressively neutral in that effort — but whoever wins that nomination, we're building that infrastructure so that we can continue our momentum that we've seen in 2017-18 and '19, and win in 2020."

Perez insisted the Democratic party has "gone to school on the lessons of Iowa," and they "have a great, great leadership team here in the Nevada Democratic Party — Harry Reid," he said, referring to the former Senate Democratic leader.

When asked directly if he took responsibility for the disarray in the reporting of the results in Iowa, Perez deflected, saying the party's "number-one goal right now is to focus on defeating Donald Trump."

"Once we complete that successful mission, then we have to have a conversation and we do at the end of every cycle have a conversation about what needs to change in the future," Perez continued. 

He also said the party has made progress already and reduced the number of states that hold caucuses, rather than primaries. 

"For this cycle, we dramatically changed the superdelegate rules to return power to the grassroots, and we actually created incentives, so that half the states that were caucus states last time around are now primary states," Perez said. "We went from 14 to seven that were caucus states. And the next time around, we're going to have a conversation about a lot of things, including whether we should have further reductions in the number of caucus states, and then the order, as well. I think that conversation is ripe."

By Nikole Killion

Sanders is starting to eat into Biden's lead in South Carolina, says "The State" reporter

Can Joe Biden maintain support in South Carolina? 03:37

RNC launches mobile billboard on Las Vegas strip ahead of the debate

The Republican National Committee unveiled a mobile billboard on the Las Vegas strip ahead of the Democratic debate Wednesday night. The billboard will condemn the "DNC's Big Rig," referring to the theory among some Sanders supporters that the Democratic National Committee is actively trying to prevent Sanders from becoming the nominee. The billboard also touts the president's accomplishments.

By Grace Segers

Can Bernie Sanders maintain his surge ahead of Nevada caucuses?

Can Bernie Sanders maintain his surge ahead of Nevada caucuses? 09:28

Trump sets sights on Bloomberg

President Trump's Twitter feed has been focused on Bloomberg in recent days. 

The president has been repeatedly bashing "Mini Mike" over his height and how he's used his vast wealth, which far surpasses Mr. Trump's. Bloomberg, in turn, has hit back at the current occupant of the Oval Office.

"Impeached president says what!" Bloomberg wrote earlier Wednesday, quote-tweeting Mr. Trump alleging that the former New York City mayor is corrupt.

Bloomberg's financial situation likely means he could spend more on the presidential race than the Trump campaign could possibly raise, despite the president's monstrous fundraising figures. 

Mr. Trump will be holding a rally in Phoenix at the same time as the Democratic debate, and he's all-but-certain to criticize Bloomberg and other Democrats in the field. 

By Kathryn Watson

How important is Bloomberg's debate performance?

How important is Bloomberg's debate performance? 07:23

Bloomberg makes his debut on the debate stage

Even though he will not be on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, Bloomberg needs to perform well in Wednesday's debate, as it will be the first time he will make his case to voters while fending off likely attacks from other candidates. Democrats have already accused him of buying his podium on the stage and even the party's nomination.

There's no indication that Bloomberg will be apologetic about his wealth, however, since it has enabled him to fund significant campaigns on gun control and climate change, and help propel several Democrats to victory in the House. Sanders and Warren in particular have made taxing the ultra wealthy key planks of their campaigns, a means of funding the government programs they would implement if elected.

Read more about Bloomberg's strategy and preparation for the Nevada debate here.

By Grace Segers

Nevada Democrats showcase new caucus tool, hoping to avoid Iowa chaos

In a briefing with reporters late Tuesday, the Nevada State Democratic Party showcased a new "caucus calculator" Democrats hope will smooth tabulation and reporting for Nevada in the wake of Iowa Democrats' failure to report any of their caucus results on the night of their voting contest two weeks ago. However, key questions remain unanswered about the party-run process here in the final days before the caucuses on Saturday, February 22.

As first detailed by The Nevada Independent, the tool consists of a series of Google Forms and links to read-only previews of Google Sheets that assist caucus chairs in determining viability and realignment at each precinct.

Accessed through links on iPads provided by the party, the tool is supposed to instantly combine volunteers' entries of in-person results at each precinct with early votes already tabulated by the state party, displaying them in spreadsheets accessed through the embedded 4G connections for each tablet.

Find out more about the new caucus tool here

By Alexander Tin

How do the Nevada caucuses work?

Like Iowa, Nevada voters choose their preferred primary candidate through caucuses. However, there are some key differences between the two contests, and Nevada will be looking to prove it can competently carry out a caucus process after the Iowa Democratic Party's mayhem this year.

Candidates' performance in the state's four congressional districts will determine the 23 district-level delegates, and their statewide results will determine how many of the 11 at-large and "pledged elected official" delegates they receive. In total, Nevada sends 48 delegates and 3 alternates to the Democratic National Convention in the summer.

Read a full primer here.

Grace Segers, Alexander Tin, Eleanor Watson 

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