The final Democratic presidential debate before the Feb. 11 first-in-the-nation primary began at 8 p.m. Friday night at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The seven candidates are former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 38; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 78; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 70; former Vice President Joe Biden, 78; former tech executive Andrew Yang, 45; businessman Tom Steyer, 62; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), 59.
Here were some key moments in the debate:
Sanders Defends Vote Against USMCA
Sanders said he wouldn’t apologize for voting against the U.S.–Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Sanders announced during the last debate that he wouldn’t support the agreement, known as USMCA, because it didn’t address climate change.
“We could do much better than a Trump-led trade deal. This deal, and I think the proponents of it would acknowledge, will result in the continuation of the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs as a result of outsourcing,” he said
Speaking on Feb. 7, Sanders said he voted no because the deal didn’t mention climate change and because he believes it will continue the export of jobs from the United States.
Klobuchar, who voted yes, said she did so “because there were some major improvements in this trade agreement,” including improvements related to labor inspections and pharmaceuticals.
Not having a trade agreement with the United States and Canada puts the United States at a disadvantage against China, Klobuchar said.
Warren said she voted yes because the deal made things “somewhat better” for farmers and workers.
She said she’s working on a better trade deal on climate.
The trade deal passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in late 2019. The GOP-held Senate passed the deal last month, and Trump signed the deal on Jan. 29.
Candidates Criticize Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Twitter account was active on Friday night as the billionaire, 77, missed another debate. Candidates were invited by a moderator to weigh in on Bloomberg’s candidacy, and everyone heard from criticized the billionaire.
“I don’t [think] anyone ought to be able to buy their way into a nomination or [for] president of the United States,” Warren said.
“I can’t stand the big money in politics,” Klobuchar added.
Bloomberg or the person who was tweeting, meanwhile, championed the former mayor’s stance on healthcare, gun restrictions, and his chances against President Trump.
“Everyone on the stage tonight will argue about who’s most electable. If any one of them is the nominee, I’ll be in their corner. But there should be no debating which one of us can actually beat Trump. Because I’ve beaten him before—and I will beat him again,” one tweet said.
Another said that Democrats “need to fight for accessible and affordable health care for every American without mortgaging our future,” in an apparent critique of the Medicare for All proposals put forth by some candidates, which would cost trillions of dollars.
Because he is self-funding his campaign, Bloomberg did not meet the donor threshold set by the Democratic National Committee. Bloomberg could qualify for the next debate after the committee eliminated the threshold.
Buttigieg Reiterates Call for Supreme Court Reform
Buttigieg reiterated a proposal to expand the size of the Supreme Court, claiming such a move would help depoliticize the nation’s highest court.
“We cannot allow the Supreme Court to continue to become one more political battlefield, as we are seeing today. And the time has come for us to think bigger,” he said.
Buttigieg has called for adding six justices to the current nine and allow Democrats and Republicans to each name five appointees, while those 10 justices would choose another five.
Biden has called any expansion of the court a non-starter.
“I agree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Biden said during the debate, referring to the eldest justice on the court.
Ginsburg has dismissed proposals to change the court’s size or the length of time a justice serves.
If rules are changed, Biden argued, the court would “lose its legitimacy.” Instead, he said Democrats need to flip the Senate in November, noting that senators approve the justices nominated by President Donald Trump.
Several candidates said they wouldn’t nominate justices who don’t agree with Roe v. Wade, a ruling which said abortion was a constitutional right.
Sanders, who has suggested rotating justices to and from the Supreme Court, said he would use abortion as a litmus test, as did Biden.
Warren Calls for Pulling Troops From Afghanistan
Warren said she would, if elected, remove troops from Afghanistan.
“Nobody sees a solution to this war. Nobody can describe what winning looks like. All they can describe is endless war,” she said.
Warren said she was not willing to leave troops there, questioning what the years of war have brought.
“We sent our troops in, and they did our best. They were there for us, and we need to be there for them. And that means not send[ing] our troops to do work that cannot be solved militarily,” Warren said.
Sanders, meanwhile, brought up Biden’s Senate 2002 vote supporting the Iraq War.
“If I might, like Joe and others, I also heard the arguments in terms of the war in Iraq from [George W.] Bush, from [Dick] Cheney, from John Bolton, from the whole administration. I listened very carefully,” said Sanders, who was also in office at the time.
“And I concluded that they were lying through their teeth. And I not only voted against that war, but I helped lead the opposition.”
Biden warned against pulling troops out of Afghanistan entirely. Such actions, he said, can lead to regional instability.
Biden recalled the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, saying troops were “ashamed” to leave while the Kurds asked Americans to stay. Biden was responding to Warren.
Candidates Oppose Soleimani Strike
Several presidential candidates said the President Donald Trump-ordered strike that took out Iranian General Qassem Soleimani either was or may not have been a good idea.
“It depends on the circumstances. It depends on what the different effects would be,” Buttigieg said.
If we learned nothing else from the war in Iraq, it’s that taking out a bad guy is not a good idea if you do not know what you are doing.”
Sanders and Biden both said they would not have ordered the strike.
“The reason I wouldn’t have ordered the strike: there’s no evidence yet of imminent threat that was going to come from him,” Biden said.
Soleimani was commander of Iran’s Quds Force, which the United States designates as a terrorist group. U.S. officials say he was responsible for thousands of American deaths or injuries.
Opposition to the strike arose shortly after it was announced in December 2019 and prompted Congress to introduce several bills aimed at reducing Trump’s power to take military action against Iran.
Standing Applause for Vindman
Biden urged people in the audience to give a standing applause for Alexander Vindman, a military veteran who was on the National Security Council before he was apparently removed on Friday.
Vindman testified against President Donald Trump during the impeachment inquiry.
“Stand up!” Biden told the audience. The audience complied, giving Vindman a standing ovation.
Trump “should be pinning a medal on Vindman and not Rush Limbaugh,” Biden said.
Limbaugh, the longtime conservative radio host, was recently diagnosed with cancer. He attended the State of the Union speech on Tuesday, where Trump surprised him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The audience also applauded Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted for one article of impeachment against Trump. Every other GOP senator voted against both articles.
Battle Over Medicare for All Erupts
Candidates battled over the Medicare for All proposals on stage, with Klobuchar and Biden taking stances against the proposals and Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg saying they’re for it.
Klobuchar said Medicare for All would kick 149 million Americans off of their health care, and she advocated for a nonprofit, public option that builds on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Biden said that Sanders wrote the Medicare for All bill but won’t say how much it would cost. “It will cost more than the entire federal budget we spend now. The idea middle-class taxes aren’t going to go up is just crazy,” Biden said.
Sanders claimed that his plan, which would involve the government taking over the entire healthcare sector, would actually drive healthcare prices down. Biden argued that that wasn’t true. Sanders later wondered why people have been talking for healthcare so long.
“If you want real change in healthcare, at the end of the day, you’re going to have to take on the insurance companies … and the drug companies and their price-fixing,” he said.
Warren posited that people are looking at healthcare the wrong way. Thirty-six million Americans last year, she said, couldn’t afford to have a prescription filled.
“They were worried about or sick enough to go to a doctor … walked out and said, it’s either that or groceries. It’s either that or pay the rent on time,” she said.
“How about we start with what a president can do—I love saying this—all by herself. On day one, I will defend the Affordable Care Act, and I will using marching orders to reduce the cost of commonly used prescription drugs,” she added.
Buttigieg, who has proposed a scaled-back Medicare for All plan, attacked Sanders, warning against “a politics that says if you don’t go all the way to the edge, it doesn’t count. A politics that says it’s my way or the highway.”
Asked if he was talking about Sanders, Buttigieg said yes.
Experience Needed for the White House?
Klobuchar said experience would be good for the candidate who wins the Democratic nomination, hitting Buttigieg over his relative lack of experience.
“We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us,” Klobuchar said.
Steyer said the most important factor in the nomination was the ability to beat President Trump.
“That’s why I’m worried about Mayor Pete. You need to be able to go toe to toe with this guy on the debate stage, or we’re gonna lose,” Steyer said.
Buttigieg said Democrats would win back the presidency by putting the president “next to somebody that actually lives in a middle-class neighborhood in the industrial Midwest,” Buttigieg, an Indiana resident, said.
He noted his service in the U.S. military and said he’d be able to unify the country “around a new and better vision.”
Sanders said that bolstering turnout in November was important.
“No matter who wins this damned thing, we’re all going to stand together to defeat Donald Trump,” he added.
Biden: ‘I Took a Hit in Iowa’
Biden, asked about why he would advise Democratic voters against voting for Buttigieg or Sanders, said: “This is a long race. I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here.”
“I’ve always viewed the first four encounters as the starting point,” he said, referring to the first two caucuses and the first two primaries, including the upcoming New Hampshire primary.
Pressed on his past criticism of Buttigieg and Sanders, who were first and second in Iowa, Biden said Buttigieg “is a great guy and a patriot.”
But Buttigieg, “the mayor of a small city,” Biden added, “has not demonstrated he has the ability to get a broad scope of support across the spectrum, including African-Americans and Latinos.”
About Sanders, he added: “The president wants very much to stick a label on every candidate … Bernie’s labeled himself, not me, a Democratic socialist.”
If Sanders wins, Biden said, Trump would put that label “on every Democratic running” nationwide.
Iowa Democratic Chair Calls for Probe of Caucuses
The Iowa Democratic Party chairman called for an independent probe of the recent caucuses in Iowa, which have been plagued by technological and reporting issues.
Troy Price, the chairman of the party, or IDP, said that 100 percent of the results were reported, but the party is still working on ensuring the results were accurate.
Even when the results are finalized, “an independent investigation of what happened is necessary,” Price said in a statement Friday night, just hours before the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire.
“We will be undergoing an independent, forensic review,” Price added to reporters on Friday in Des Moines. “What went right? What went wrong? Start to finish.”
Both Buttigieg and Sanders have declared victory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.