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8 top moments from the South Carolina Democratic debate

Democrats clash in South Carolina

Washington — Democrats took aim at frontrunner Bernie Sanders at the 10th debate of the presidential primary cycle, as former Vice President Joe Biden appeared revitalized ahead of one of the most consequential contests of his political career.

The debate in Charleston was the last time the candidates will meet before Saturday's pivotal South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday on March 3, which could spell the end of the road for several candidates. Biden has long been leading in the Palmetto State, which has a large African American population, although Sanders has narrowed the gap after winning the first three contests. Voters in 16 states and U.S. territories will make their picks at the polls days later on Super Tuesday.

While former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the target of last week's debate in Las Vegas, it was largely Sanders who fended off attacks from his fellow candidates as he tries to build on the momentum he gained following his win in the Nevada caucuses. His fellow candidates argued he would endanger congressional Democrats should he become the party's nominee, and took aim at his health care proposals and record on gun control.

Democratic voters who watched debate say Sanders impressed them most: CBS News poll

Here are the eight key moments from Tuesday night's debate:

Sanders comes under fire for comments about Cuba

Sanders defends his past comments on authoritarian governments

The most intense criticism of Sanders came around an hour and a half into the debate as the other candidates zeroed in on the Vermont senator's recent comments to "60 Minutes" about Fidel Castro and the current Cuban regime.

In Sunday's interview, Sanders said: "We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but, you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?"

Asked about those comments at the debate, Sanders said he was echoing sentiments expressed by President Obama.

"Really? Literacy programs are bad?" he said. "What Barack Obama said is they made great progress on education and healthcare."

His opponents seized on those remarks. 

Buttitieg accused Sanders of "making excuses," while Biden defended Obama and said Sanders mischaracterized his past remarks on Cuba.

"The fact of the matter is [Obama] in fact does not, did not, has never embraced an authoritarian regime and does not now," Biden said. "This man said that in fact he did not condemn what they did."

Democrats pressed on how they would respond to coronavirus outbreak

Candidates discuss coronavirus outbreak and containment

As the Trump administration grapples with the growing coronavirus outbreak, Klobuchar, Biden and Sanders laid out their roadmaps for how they would respond to the virus if they were in the White House.

The three advocated for increasing federal dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, saying a boost in their funding is crucial to ensuring the United States is prepared to deal with an outbreak of an infectious disease. They also said they would improve relations with other countries to ensure the global community can work together to tackle the outbreak.

"Whether or not the issue is climate change, which is clearly a global crisis requiring international cooperation, or infectious diseases like coronavirus, requiring international cooperation, we have to work and expand the World Health Organization, obviously we have to make sure the CDC, the NIH, our infectious departs are fully funded," Sanders said. "This is a  global problem. We've got to work with countries all over the world to stop it."

Biden positioned himself as the only candidate on stage who has experience working to fight and contain an outbreak, as he was vice president when the Obama administration dealt with the Ebola outbreak that began in 2014.

"No one up here has ever dealt internationally with any of these world leaders," Biden said. "I'm the only one that has."

The former vice president also said he would be pushing China to allow U.S. officials into the country.

"I would be on the phone with China making it clear we are going to need to be in your country. You have to be open. You have to be clear," Biden said. "We have to know what's going on. We have to be there with you and insist on it and insist, insist, insist."

Klobuchar, of Minnesota, urged Americans to visit the Centers for Disease Control's website to ensure they are educated on what to do if they experience symptoms.

"I want to take this out of politics right now and talk to the American people because this is so serious," she said. I'm not going to give my website right now. I'm going to give the CDC's website, which is cdc.gov so that people keep checking in and they follow the rules and they realize what they have to do if they feel sick."

Warren goes after Bloomberg for NDAs and past support of Republicans

Elizabeth Warren goes after Bloomberg's record of funding GOP Senate campaigns

Warren again took aim at Bloomberg for his derogatory comments about women, including one remark in which he allegedly told a woman working at his company to "kill it" after announcing her pregnancy.

"At least I didn't have a boss who said to me, 'Kill it,'" Warren said, referring to her own experiences in the workplace when she was in her early 20s.

The accusation that Bloomberg told an employee to have an abortion earned a swift rebuke from the former mayor, who categorically denied making such a remark.

"I never said it," he said. "Period. End of story."

Bloomberg also responded to Warren's calls for him to release women from nondisclosure agreements. The former New York City mayor announced last week his company would release three women from their confidentiality agreements who complained about derogatory comments he made.

Warren attacks Bloomberg's record with women

"I don't know what else she wants us to do," Bloomberg said of Warren. "We're following exactly what she wants us to do."

Warren also criticized Bloomberg for his past support of Republican candidates, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and her own Senate opponent, Scott Brown. 

"I don't care how much money Michael Bloomberg has," she said. "The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him. He has not earned their trust."

Bloomberg says Russia wants Sanders to win

Straight out of the gate, Bloomberg said Russia was trying to boost Sanders in the Democratic primary because he would be a weaker candidate to take on President Trump.

"Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that's why Russia is helping you get elected, so you'll lose to him," Bloomberg told Sanders.

Sanders responded by addressing Putin directly.

"Hey, Mr. Putin, if I'm president of the United States, trust me, you're not going to interfere in anymore American elections." 

Sanders said last week that the FBI had briefed his campaign that there were indications that Russia is trying to help him win the Democratic nomination as part of their efforts to interfere in the 2020 campaign.

Biden vows to win South Carolina

Asked about his seemingly slipping support among African American voters, Biden vowed to win Saturday's South Carolina primary.

"I've worked like the devil to earn the votes of the African American community, not just here but around the country. I've been coming here for years and years," Biden said. "I don't expect anything. I plan to earn the vote."

"I intend to win South Carolina and I will win the African-American vote in South Carolina," he added.

Bloomberg almost says he "bought" Democratic majority in Congress

Bloomberg argued vulnerable House Democrats further down the ballot would be at risk of losing their seats if Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, and had a revealing slip of the tongue while making his point.

"Let's just go on the record. They talked about 40 Democrats. Twenty-one of those were people that I spent $100 million to help elect," Bloomberg said. "All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I bought— I got them."

Bloomberg has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to boost Democratic candidates across the country, wielding his vast personal fortune to support allies in the causes important to him. Critics have said those contributions — and the prospect of losing financial support — amount to little more than political bribery.

Biden: "You spoke over time and I'm going to talk"

In a particularly heated set of exchanges, Biden took on his Democratic contenders for what he said is a dearth of accomplishments, namely Steyer and Sanders.

Biden specifically criticized Steyer for his hedge fund's investment in a large private prison company and scolded the billionaire investor as he attempted to cut in.

"I'm not out of time. You spoke over time and I'm going to talk," Biden said, adding that it's crucial for Democrats to win back control of the Senate.

Steyer attempted to defend himself, saying his hedge fund eventually sold the stake and that he has since worked to end private prisons in California, launching a bank designed to support minority-owned businesses.

"I have worked tirelessly on this and you know I'm right," Steyer said, calling Biden's claims "absolutely unfair."

"Where we come from that's called Tommy come lately," Biden fired back.

Bloomberg jokes about shaky first debate performance

Michael Bloomberg defends record on race

In an attempt at levity in between the sparring among candidates, Bloomberg invoked his performance at last week's debate in Las Vegas and suggested he handedly defeated his fellow Democrats in his first appearance on the debate stage.

"I really am surprised that all of my fellow contestants up here, I guess would be the right word for it given nobody pays attention to the clock, I'm surprised they show up because I would've thought after I did such a good job at beating them last week they would be a little bit afraid to do that," Bloomberg said.

The former New York City mayor was the subject of numerous attacks from the candidates last week as they criticized his past support for stop-and-frisk, his derogatory comments about women and deep pockets.

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