Six Democratic presidential candidates abandoned all niceties Wednesday for the last — and fiercest — debate before the Nevada caucuses, during which candidates turned their attacks awat from President Trump and toward each other, at least for the moment. From the earliest minutes of the debate at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, the Democratic presidential hopefuls took aim at Michael Bloomberg, whose appearance Wednesday marked his first on the debate stage.
The Democrats — Joe Biden, Pete Buttiegieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — seized on Bloomberg's billionaire status, his past support for controversial policies like stop-and-frisk and accusations of sexist and degrading comments.
But it wasn't just Bloomberg who was on the receiving end of Democrats' jabs. There was plenty of time for them turn on one another, too.
Here are the top moments from the most ferocious 2020 debate so far:
- in his first appearance on the debate stage
Less than 10 minutes into the debate, Warren made clear her disdain for Bloomberg, warning that Democrats are taking a "huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."
"I'd like to talk about who we're running against," Warren said. "A billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg."
Democrats, she continued, will not defeat President Trump in November "if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk."
Klobuchar continued with the attack on Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, saying that Democrats need a candidate who presents a stark contrast to Mr. Trump.
"I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House," she said.
Buttigieg, meanwhile, sought to tie Bloomberg and Sanders together, saying the Democratic Party needs to nominate a candidate "who is actually a Democrat." One, he said, "wants to burn this party down," and "the other wants to buy this party out."
Bloomberg was a Republican but switched his voter registration to Democrat before his mayoral run, while Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist.
The former New York City mayor attempted to differentiate himself from Mr. Trump, saying that as a New Yorker, he knows how to take on an "arrogant con man" like the president.
2. Bloomberg pressed on unwillingness to release women from confidentiality agreements
But it wasn't just the size of Bloomberg's bank account that earned the ire of his Democratic opponents. His fellow candidates also hounded the businessman and former mayor on his decision to not release women from nondisclosure agreements they signed regarding allegations of workplace misconduct.
"I hope you heard what his defense was: 'I've been nice to some women,'" Warren said in response to Bloomberg. "That just doesn't cut it. The mayor has to stand on his record."
The Massachusetts senator pressed Bloomberg on how many women signed confidentiality agreements and said a lack of transparency about his conduct damages his electability, particularly if there is a "drip drip drip" of damaging stories about him that could come to light in the run-up to the general election.
Biden echoed Warren, saying Bloomberg's unwillingness to release women from nondisclosure agreements is an issue of transparency.
"None of them accuse me of doing anything," Bloomberg protested, adding, "Other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told."
The multi-billionaire refused to agree to let women speak freely about their experiences working for his company. "They signed the agreements and that's what we're going to live with," Bloomberg said.
But he also said, "I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the Me Too movement has exposed," and he pointed to women who worked with him in New York's City Hall and the high marks his company, Bloomberg LP, receives from employees.
"We're not going to end these agreements because they were made consensually," he said.
3. Warren defends Klobuchar from attacks by Buttigieg
In a rare break from the infighting among candidates, Warren came to Klobuchar's defense as she fended off attacks from Buttigieg for forgetting the name of Mexico's president and his policies in a recent televised interview.
Buttigieg accused Klobuchar of lacking the knowledge to serve as president, saying she is staking her candidacy on her experience and "literally part of the committee that's overseeing these things."
Klobuchar, he said, was not "able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south."
"Are you trying to say that I'm dumb?" Klobuchar responded. "Or are you mocking me here, Pete? I said I made an error. People sometimes forget names."
Warren jumped in to defend Klobuchar in a brief moment of unity, saying the attacks on her are "not right."
"I understand she forgot a name. It happens to everybody on the stage," Warren said. "Look, you want to ask about whether or not you understand trade policy with Mexico? Have at it. If you get it wrong, you ought to be held accountable. You want to ask about autonomy, you ought to be held accountable. You want to ask about a thousand different issues and you get it wrong, you ought to be held accountable. Let's be clear. Missing a name all by itself does not indicate that you do not understand what is going on."
4. Septuagenarians with stents are pressed on their health
While Sanders and Bloomberg are very different candidates, they have a few things in common: they're both 78 years old and they both have stents.
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.
"I think the one area maybe that Mayor Bloomberg and I shared, you have two stents as well," Sanders said, addressing Bloomberg. He also said that he had cardiologists following him on the campaign trail.
"They follow me around the campaign, three, four, five events a day; see how you're doing compared to me," Sanders said.
5. "Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?"
Bloomberg's wealth was a frequent topic of discussion among Democratic candidates in Nevada, but it was a September tweet from Sanders that kicked off a discussion about the distribution of wealth in the country.
When asked to elaborate on what he meant when he tweeted "billionaires should not exist," Sanders said there is a "grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income."
"Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans," he said. "That's wrong. That's immoral."
Moderator Chuck Todd then turned the question on Bloomberg, asking "Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?"
"I can't speak for all billionaires. All I know is I've been very lucky, made a lot of money and I'm giving it all away to make this country better," the former New York City mayor said. "And a good chunk of it goes to the Democratic Party as well."
Asked whether he should have earned so much money, Bloomberg said yes, as he worked hard for it.
6. Tensions between Buttigieg and Klobuchar boil over
The battle between Buttigieg and Klobuchar reached a fever pitch Wednesday as the two traded barbs over whether they each have the experience to lead the country.
In addition to knocking the Minnesota senator for forgetting the name of Mexico's president, Buttigieg also criticized Klobuchar on her record on immigration, for voting to confirm a Trump-nominated head of Customs and Border Protection, as well as the president's judicial nominees.
As he began to speak in Spanish, Klobuchar mocked, "I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete."
The Minnesota senator said she has been "in the arena," unlike the former South Bend mayor, and she countered that the unnamed CBP nominee, Kevin McAleenan, had been recommended by Obama administration officials.
"You've memorized a bunch of talking points and a bunch of things," Klobuchar said.
In response, Buttigieg accused Klobuchar of suggesting his experience as a mayor didn't measure up.
"I'm used to senators telling mayors that senators are more important than mayors," he said. "You don't have to be in Washington to matter."
7. Warren on opponents' health care plans: "a PowerPoint," a "Post-It note," and "Yeah, probably won't happen anyway"
Warren, who has proposed a plan to transition to "Medicare for All," dispensed with the health care proposals offered by several of her opponents in quick succession:
Mayor Buttigieg really has a slogan that was thought up by his consultants to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to afford their health care. It's not a plan. It's a PowerPoint.
And Amy's plan is even less. It's like a Post-It note, "Insert Plan Here."
Bernie has started very much — has a good start, but instead of expanding and bringing in more people to help, instead, his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work. And then his own advisers say, yeah, probably won't happen anyway.
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.
8. Protesters interrupt final minutes of debate
As the Nevada debate came to a conclusion with candidates making their closing statements, there was one last moment of drama as protesters in the Paris Theater interrupted Biden's final remarks.
"You deported 3 million people," the demonstrators shouted.
Biden paused his remarks as the protesters were escorted from the room.
Grace Segers contributed to this report.
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