A record 12 Democratic 2020 candidates took to the debate stage in Ohio today and immediately united in calling for Donald Trump – the man they all have been planning to run against – to be impeached with Joe Biden calling him ‘the most corrupt president in all our history.’
Meeting for the first time since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed a formal impeachment inquiry, the candidates blasted Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate the Bidens, and accused him of self-dealing and ‘selling out’ the American people.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has jumped in the polls, fielded the first question at the fourth Democratic debate.
An early caller for Trump’s impeachment, she said: ‘This president has obstructed justice and had done it repeatedly,’ Warren said.
‘Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences,’ Warren continued.
Sanders, on stage for the first time since his heart attack, called Trump: ‘The most corrupt president in the history of this country.’
Sanders accused Trump of ‘enriching himself while using the Oval Office “in order to get dirt on a presidential candidate is beyond comprehensible.’
He called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to ‘do the right thing and allow a free and fair trial in the Senate.’
Biden, whose son Hunter’s business in Ukraine featured in Trump’s push for a probe by the Ukrainian government, called Trump ‘the most corrupt president in modern history and I think all of our history.’
The dozen candidates met in Ohio for the first time since 10 front-runners met in Houston last month.
It was the largest Democratic debate in recent memory.
Biden delivered yet another defense of his son, on a day when Hunter Biden told ABC he would forego foreign work if his father wins the presidency, acknowledged some responsibility for the appearance of favoritism, and admitted he got jobs due to his father’s name.
‘My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States in rooting out corruption in Ukraine,’ Joe Biden said when pressed on the issue – while seeking to steer clear of details.
‘My son’s statement speaks for itself what I think is important is we focus on why it’s so important to remove this man from office,’ Biden said. ‘Rudy Giuliani, the president and his thugs, have already proven that they are in fact flat lying,’ Biden intoned, referencing Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who pushed Ukraine to probe the Bidens.
Biden argued the focus should be on Trump.
‘This president on three occasions, three occasions has invited foreign governments and heads of government to get engaged in trying to alter our elections. The fact is that it is outrageous. Rudy Giuliani, the president and his thugs have already proven that they, in fact, are flat lying. What we have to do now is focus on Donald Trump. He doesn’t want me to be the candidate. He is going after me because he knows if I get the nomination, I will beat him like a drum,’ he said.
Trump did focus attacks on as the poll leader throughout the summer while officials were deliberating on how to push Ukraine.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a former prosecutor, said Trump ‘has committed crimes in plain sight.’ She said Trump had been ‘selling out the American people.’
‘On this issue with Ukraine he’s been selling out democracy,’ Harris said, standing by her statement that she has seen enough evidence to vote to impeach.
‘I know a confession when I see it,’ she said.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said he feels as much ‘outrage’ as fellow Democrats.
But he cautioned: ‘This has got to be about patriotism and not partisanship.’
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who had a dynamic debate night, delivered an impassioned attack on Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
‘He’s digging up dirt on an opponent. That’s illegal conduct,’ said Klobuchar, also a former prosecutor. ‘I’m still waiting to find out from him how making that call to the head of Ukraine and trying to get him involved in interfering in our election makes America great again.’
‘I would like to hear from him how coddling up to Vladimir Putin makes America great again. It doesn’t make America great again, it makes Russia great again,’ she said, playing off Trump’s campaign slogan.
Former Obama Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro said of the impeachment effort: ‘We can walk and chew gum at the same time.’
But as the debate shifted quickly from impeachment to health, the united front crumbled rapidly.
Elizabeth Warren came under attack from her fellow Democrats for not being more specific about how she would pay for her universal health care plan, which some economists predict could cost in the trillions.
‘I have made clear what my principles are here. That is costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations and for hard working middle class families, costing will go down,’ the Massachusetts senator said of her support for Medicare for All. ‘Costs will go up for wealthy, for big corporations. They will not go up for middle class families. I will not sign a bill into law that raises their costs. Because costs are what people care about.’
Pete Buttigieg went on the attack against Warren, who has lead recent polls for the Democratic nomination, arguing that her universal health care plan would divide the country over health care.
‘I don’t understand why you believe the only way to deliver affordable coverage is to obliterate private plans,’ he said. ‘Our country will be polarized, more than now, after everything we have been through, after everything we are about to go through, this country will be more divide. Why divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?’
Amy Klobuchar also struck out at Warren, saying she hasn’t said how she will pay for her plan.
‘I’m sorry Elizabeth,’ she said. ‘You are making Republican talking points in this room.’
Klobuchar went on to say: ‘Bernie is being honest. We owe it to the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.’
Sanders had acknowledged earlier in the debate taxes will go up under his Medicare for All plan.
‘As somebody who wrote the damn bill, as I said, let’s be clear. Under the Medicare for All bill that I wrote, premiums are gone. Co-payments are gone. Deductibles are gone. All out-of-pocket expenses are gone. We’re going to do better than the Canadians do. That’s what they have managed to do. At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health care bills. I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They will go up significantly for the wealthy and for virtually everybody, the tax increase will be substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out of pocket expansions,’ he said.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, went in for the kill on Warren.
‘I appreciate Elizabeth’s work,’ she added but then said: ‘The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done. We can get this public option done.’
Both Klobuchar and Kamala Harris expressed frustration about how many times Democrats have argued about health care, noting they are in the fourth debate and saying the same things on the issue.
‘What bothers me about this discussion, which we had so many times, is that we don’t talk about the things that I’m hearing about from regular Americans. That’s long-term care,’ Klobuchar said. ‘We need long-term care insurance and strengthen Medicare. In Ohio that has been hit by the opioid epidemic, we need to take on the pharmaceutical companies and make them pay for the addictions they have caused in the people they have killed.’
And Harris got an extended round of applause for standing up for the abortion issue, which is of huge importance to Democratic primary voters who are worried judges appointed by Trump will revoke Roe vs. Wade.
‘This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle. Not one word with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to health care. It’s outrageous. There are states that have passed laws that will virtually prevent women from having access to reproductive health care. It’s not an exaggeration to say women will die because these Republican legislatures in these various states who are out of touch with America are telling women what to do with their bodies. Women are the majority of the population in this country. People need to keep their hands off of women’s bodies and let women make the decisions about their own lives,’ she said as the heavily Democratic audience cheered loudly.
When the debate turned to foreign policy, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard faced rejoinders from Democrats when she called out both President Trump and threw out blanket attacks on those who back what she termed a ‘regime change war’ in Syria.
‘First of all, we’ve got to understand the reality of the situation there, which is that the slaughter of the Kurds being done by Turkey is yet another negative consequence of the regime change war we’ve been waging in Syria,’ Gabbard said. ‘Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011,’ she continued, before blasting members of the ‘mainstream media’ who she said have been ‘cheerleading this regime change war.’
‘Just two days ago the New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears. This morning a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable. As president I will end these regime change wars,’ she said.
Gabbard was referencing a recent Times piece that noted the lawmaker, who met with Assad in Syria and has accused fellow Democrats of ‘rigging’ the race, had injected ‘chaos’ in the race, while drawing supportive comments from former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and online approval from Russian bots.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg took on Gabbard.
‘Well, respectfully, congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong. The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.’
Buttigieg, who like Gabbard has been deployed overseas as part of the military, said it was wrong to ‘abandon the international stage’ or ‘think our only choices are between endless war and total isolation.’
He said many U.S. troops are ‘ashamed of what their country has done’ by abandoning Kurdish allies who served as a ground force to take on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
‘I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East,’ said Warren. But she said the U.S. should extract its troops ‘the right way,’ then teed off on Trump, saying he has ‘sucked up to dictator,’ has ‘cut and run on our allies,’ and ‘has enriched himself at the expense of the United States of America.’
Warren tried to turn the tables on her rivals when asked about her plan to tax multimillionaires.
‘My question is not why do Bernie and I support a wealth tax. It’s why is it does everyone else on this stage think it is more important to protect billionaires than it is to invest in an entire generation of Americans?’ she asked.
‘No one is supporting billionaires,’ Biden interjected.
Buttigieg said he was ‘all for’ a wealth tax. ‘I’m all for just about everything that was just mentioned in these answers. Let me tell, though, how this looks from the industrial Midwest where I live. Washington politicians, congressmen and senators, saying all the right things, offering the most elegant policy prescriptions, and nothing changes,’ he said.
Added Warren: ‘So understand, taxing income is not going to get you where you need to be the way taxing wealth does, that the rich are not like you and me. The really, really billionaires are making their money off their accumulated wealth, and it just keeps growing. We need a wealth tax in order to make investments in the next generation.’
CNN anchor Erin Burnett took the debate in a unpopular direction when she asked a series of candidates questions about their age.
‘To the issue of candidates and their health: Senator Sanders, I want to start with you,’ she began.
‘I’m healthy. I’m feeling great,’ Sanders interrupted, drawing laughter from the crowd.
‘And Senator Sanders is in favor of medical marijuana. I want to make sure that’s clear as well,’ Booker jested.
‘I’m not on it tonight,’ Sanders insisted.
‘Senator, we are all very glad you’re feeling well,’ Burnett said.
Then she posed a ‘question on a lot of people’s minds … You’re 78 years old, and you just had a heart attack. How do you reassure democratic voters that you’re up to the stress of the presidency?’
‘Well, let me invite you all to a major rally we’re having in Queens, New York,’ Sanders said. ‘We’re going to have a special guest at that event, and we are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people.’
‘But let me take this moment, if I might, to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes,’ Sanders continued. ‘And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and I’m so happy to be back here with you this evening.’ That drew sustained applause from candidates and audience members alike.
Burnett then asked Biden if he could handle the office of the presidency being inaugurated at the age of 80. She also put an age question to Warren, 71.
Any of the three of them would all be the oldest president ever inaugurated in their first term in U.S. history if elected.