DemDaily: The Road to Iowa. The Seventh Democratic Debate

January 15, 2020

Last night's Seventh Democratic Primary Debate, held in Des Moines, Iowa did little to move the needle for any one candidate, with the contenders focused on promoting their own policy platforms rather than pummeling their opponents.

Indeed, the rather subdued cast of just seven contenders provided the most substantive debate on foreign policy, along with extensive discussion of climate change, health care, childcare, college tuition and impeachment.

The Candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; billionaire businessman Tom Steyer; and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

The debate, co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, was the first of six remaining 2020 debates before the end of the primary season, and the last before the February 3rd Iowa Caucus.

(Tamir Kalifa/New York Times)

The Highlights
On the wake of the Iran crisis and tensions in the Middle East, intertwined with the Impeachment hearings, CNN's Wolf Blitzer opened by asking which of the candidates was best to be commander in chief?

The contenders tried to distinguish themselves on trade, Middle East policy, North Korea, China and military action, trading a few barbs along the way.

Senator Bernie Sanders said "the two greatest foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes, the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq...were based on lies. What I fear very much is that we have a president who is lying again, and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq."

Sanders attacked former Vice President Joe Biden on his 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, which Biden acknowledged was a mistake, adding, "I Know what it is like to send son or daughter, like our colleague (referring to Buttigieg) has gone to war in Afghanistan."

Biden also pointed out that he was part of deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, from which Trump has now pulled out. "We're in a situation where our allies in Europe are making a comparison between the United States and Iran, saying both ought to stand down, making a moral equivalence. We have lost our standing in the region, we have lost the support of our allies. The next President has to be able to pull those folks back together."

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Scott Olson/Getty)

When asked if her Senate experience was more valuable as Commander in Chief than Mayor Pete Buttigieg's military and mayoral service, Senator Amy Klobuchar said, "I've been in the US Senate for over 12 years and I think what you want in a President is someone who has dealt with these life and death issues and who has made decisions."

Buttigieg countered, "Well, I bring a different perspective. There are enlisted people that I served with, barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9-11, on the war in Iraq, and there are people now old enough to enlist who were not alive for some of those debates. The next President is going to be confronted with national security challenges, different in scope and in kind from anything we've seen before."

The Democrats also debated USMCA, the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Sanders said that, regardless of "modest improvements" the deal makes, he won't support it because it does not address climate change.

Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Warren support USMCA, which, as reminded by Warren, has the backing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

On the AFL-CIO's support, Sanders, a strong labor advocate, interjected not all of labor, most notably the Machinists' union, did not support the agreement.

Tom Steyer (Scott Olson/Getty)

Biden: "There'll be no trade agreements signed in my administration without environmentalists and labor at the table, and there will be no trade agreement until we invest more in American workers."

When asked what he would do as President to help farmers hurt by Trump's trade war in China, billionaire Tom Steyer brought the subject back to climate change, saying he was "the only one on this stage" who was making it a #1 priority. He also accused Buttigieg for "not standing up more for his generation."

Steyer had his strongest debate performance, while also receiving the least time on-air.

Moderators played on tensions between Warren and Sanders amid recent news reports that, in a private 2018 meeting, Sanders told Warren he didn't believe a woman could be president.

Sanders adamantly denied the story, while Warren, in her breakout moment of the debate, inferred it was true. Warren: "This question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it's time for us to attack it head-on"..."Can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage: Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women." Klobuchar interjected, "So true. So true."

The moderators posed specific questions on Healthcare, including prescription drugs, childcare and, of course, the cost of the "Medicare for All" plan advocated by Senators Sanders and Warren. Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer favor a form of public option.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (USANewsHub)

Sanders and Biden renewed their regular spat over the cost of Bernie's plan, joined by Klobuchar who said, "This is not right... I think you should show how you are going to pay for things Bernie."

Klobuchar put in another strong performance, painting herself as a pragmatic alternative to her progressive rivals and to the frontrunning centrist, Biden.

Warren called Buttigieg's health care plan was only a "small improvement," implying his platform, in general, lacked depth. "The numbers that the mayor is offering don't add up."

An ever-articulate Buttigieg, whose comments sometimes seemed scripted, countered, "It's just not true that the plan I'm proposing is small. We have to move past the Washington mentality that suggests that the bigness of plans only consists of how many trillions of dollars they put through the Treasury, that the boldness of a plan consists of how many Americans it can alienate."

On the topic of impeachment, Commentator Wolf Blitzer asked Steyer, "you've spent millions and millions of dollars telling the American people that President Trump deserves to be impeached. Will it have been worth it if he's been impeached but not removed from office?"

Steyer: "Actually what I've done is to organize a petition drive of eight-and-a-half million Americans to sign and say this president deserves to be impeached and removed from office...So, if you ask me whether standing up for what's right in America, standing up for the American people and our safety, standing up for the constitution...I will never back down from that."

Warren and Sanders had a contentious moment after the debate (Reuters)

Klobuchar criticized the Senate GOP for considering going ahead with Trump's impeachment trial without any witnesses. "Last time I checked our country was founded on the idea that we would not be ruled by a King.They may as well give the President a crown and a scepter...This is a decency check on this president."

Biden, when asked if was prepared for "the insults and mudslinging" in a debate with Trump, quipped, "I have been the object of his affection for some time."

Biden also claimed to have "the broadest coalition of anyone in the race," pointed to his "overwhelming support among the African American community."

In a missed opportunity, Buttigieg, when asked about his lack of support among black voters, replied simply that "the black voters who know me most are supporting." He did, however, make an appeal in his closing statement, "Join me if you're a voter of color feeling taken for granted by politics as usual."

Biden, who otherwise lacked energy during the debate, closed with a forceful commentary. "Character is on the ballot this time around. The American character is on the ballot. Not what Donald Trump is spewing out, the hate, the xenophobia, the racism. That's not who we are as a nation...We have to restore America's soul...We lead the world when we lead by example, not by our power."

RelatedDemDaily: Download on the 2020 Debates 1/7/20

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