It had felt like a lifetime since the Democratic presidential candidates last debated on Sept. 12 entering Tuesday night.
It also didn’t take long for them to get back right where they left off.
The 12 candidates were fiery from the start — sparking an energy that lasted throughout the three-hour debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Oh., which took viewers all the way from talks of impeachment to candidates defending their age and health.
Left to right in order of how they stood on stage were: U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, billionaire Tom Steyer, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former U.S. housing secretary Julián Castro.
Here were some of the night’s top moments.
“I got votes for that bill!”
Throughout the Democratic primary, Biden has found his greatest strength — his decades in office — also being his greatest weakness.
And near the end of the debate, that contrast was on full display.
“I’m going to say something that’s probably going to offend some people,” Biden said. “I’m the only one on this stage that’s gotten anything really big done.”
He cited the Violence Against Women Act, his help passing the Affordable Care Act and the assault weapons ban of the 1990s.
And he said part of leadership was “not being vague” about policies, referring to Warren and Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plans.
Sanders had the obvious response.
“You know what you also got done, and I say this as a good friend?” Sanders said. “You got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill that is hurting middle-class families all over the country. You’ve got trade agreements like NAFTA and (agreements) with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs."
Warren mentioned her own experience creating the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to which Biden shouted: “I went on the floor and got you votes.”
Big Pharma a favorite target
If Harris or Castro are elected president, Big Pharma executives should be looking over their shoulders.
In lawsuits initiated by attorneys generals from across the country, pharmaceutical companies like Purdue and Johnson and Johnson are accused of pushing billions of addictive pills leading to a national opioid crisis that has rocked communities across the country, including those not far from the Ohio debate.
Those suits, though, are more likely to lead to expensive settlements than jail time for anyone who played a part.
But Harris and Castro candidates said they wouldn’t hesitate to bring criminal charges to the leaders of those companies if elected.“They are nothing more than some high-level dope dealers," Harris said.
Meanwhile, Klobuchar, who spoke of her father’s own struggles with alcohol addiction, said these companies should have to pay for the treatment of people who became dependent on their products.
O’Rourke said it’s not enough to curb opioid dependency. The federal government should move swiftly to approve medical marijuana as an alternative pain remedy. To which Yang shouted out: “Preach, Beto.”
Buttigieg and O’Rourke get personal on guns
There was a pointed argument that edged on getting personal between O’Rourke and Buttigieg on the topic of gun violence.
Buttigieg recently called O’Rourke’s idea to require mandatory buybacks of assault weapons “a shiny object” that was unrealistic, and he pushed yet harder against his plan during the debate.
“Congressman, you just made clear you don’t know how this is actually going to take weapons off the streets,” Buttigieg said to O’Rourke. “People are dying in the streets right now ... We cannot wait for purity tests, we just have to get something done.”
O’Rourke then made a reference to the mobilization of students in the wake of the Parkland shooting, who formed the group called “March for Our Lives.”
"We should be “listening to my fellow Americans ... to those students, March For Our Lives, who in fact came up with an extraordinary, bold peace plan that calls for mandatory buybacks ... and not be limited by the polls and the consultants and the focus groups,” he said.
Buttigieg then retorted back: “I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.”
O’Rourke then said he meant no offense, but that Buttigieg’s disparaging comments about his gun plan were a “slap in the face” to survivors.
It was a night of memorable moments for Buttigieg, who mixed it up also with Gabbard.
The former U.S. Naval Reserve officer sounded especially authoritative on foreign policy.
Tulsi Gabbard attacks the media
Gabbard accused tonight’s debate hosts — the New York Times and CNN — of smearing veterans and calling her a “Russian asset.”
Responding to a question about Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, Gabbard said Trump “has the blood of the Kurds on his hands.”
But so do “many of the politicians in our country from both parties” who have supported the Syrian civil war, which started in 2011, she said, including “many in the mainstream media who have been championing and cheerleading this regime-change war.”
Then she went directly after the debate hosts.
“The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling to an end to this regime-change war,” Gabbard said. “Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and a (Syrian dictator Bashar Al) 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.”
The Times story didn’t accuse Gabbard of being a Russian asset. It just noted that she has the support of some on the far-right and is mentioned frequently on Russian state news media.
Buttigieg, the other veteran on the stage, called her “dead wrong.”
“The slaughter in Syria is not the consequence of America’s presence,” he said, “It the consequence of withdrawal and betrayal.”
(Here’s the link to the NYT story: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/12/us/politics/tulsi-gabbard.html)
Warren takes fire over “Medicare for All”
Just on the second topic of the debate, health care, several candidates ganged up on Warren — perhaps the first time she was attacked like the front runner she has become over recent weeks.
After she was asked whether taxes would go up to pay for her Medicare for All plan, Warren only assured generally that middle class families would pay less after her plan is implemented, while costs for the wealthy and major corporations would go up.
“A yes or no question that didn’t get a yes or no answer,” he said. " Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole ... is supposed to get filled in."
Then Sanders, who likes to say he “wrote the damn bill” when it comes to Medicare for All, said that the plan would increase taxes, especially on the wealthy, but would result in net savings for “virtually everybody” because of steep health care savings.
That led Klobuchar to pile on to the criticism of Warren, saying that “at least Bernie is being honest here."
”The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done," she said.
But on the topic of health care, Harris changed the subject and got the most raucous applause.
She pointed out that in the past few debates, there has been “not one word on women’s reproductive health care which is under attack ... People need to keep their hands off women’s bodies and let women make their own decisions.”
Warren was taking fire from all sides. O’Rourke later in the debate criticized her for what he characterized as her “punitive” approach when it came to taxing the wealthy.
Warren pushed back.
“I’m really shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I’m punitive,” Warren said. “Look, I don’t have a beef with billionaires. My problem is, you made a fortune in America, you had a great idea, you went out there and worked for it, good for you. But you built that fortune in America, I guarantee, you built it in part on workers all of us helped pay to educate. You built it in part, getting your goods to market on bridges all of us helped pay for. You built it at least in part protected by police and firefighters all of us helped pay the salaries for.”
Bernie Sanders looks like...himself
Sanders had a heart attack earlier this month, but he looked fresh, healthy and ready to take on his Democratic opponents.
The senator from Vermont stepped into a heated debate on Medicare for All between Warren and Buttigieg, interjecting that he “wrote the damn bill.”
He went on to set the record the straight about his plan, saying premiums would go away, co-pays would go away and the system would work better than what Canada has.
In typical Bernie style, he raised his voice at times on other topics, not looking at all like a 78-year-old man fresh out of the hospital.
Before a moderator asked him about his heart attack, Sanders told her, “I’m feeling great.”
“We are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how i can reassure the American people.”
Sanders plugged a rally in Queens scheduled for Saturday, then thanked everyone for their prayers.
Biden defends Hunter: “My son did nothing wrong.”
Leading into the debate, Trump continued a conspiratorial assault on Biden over his son’s work for a Ukranian natural gas company during the Democrat’s time in office.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper called the attacks false, but nevertheless pressed Biden: Should you have allowed your son to work for a foreign company while you were vice president?
Biden wouldn’t say.
“My son’s statement speaks for itself,” he repeatedly said, referencing ABC’s interview of Hunter Biden which aired earlier in the day. The younger Biden acknowledged it was “poor judgement” to take that job.
“My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong,” Biden said, and Trump was only going after him because the Democrat would “beat him like a drum.”
If any of his primary foes took issue with Biden’s dodge, they didn’t say.
Sanders, making a national public appearance for the first time since his heart attack, swiftly shifted the conversation back to impeaching Trump.
Impeachment, impeachment, impeachment
Tonight’s debate started with a bang, with CNN host Anderson Cooper getting straight to the issue of impeachment.
Specifically, Cooper wanted to know: Can senators who might have to vote to impeach Trump be fair, considering what they’ve said about the president? And is impeachment a distraction for Democrats?
The candidates’ answers were basically “yes,” and “no,” with some candidates holding nothing back.
Sanders called Trump “the most corrupt president in the history of this country.”
Biden said Trump was “the most corrupt president in modern history, and I think in all of our history.”
Harris said it was simple.“He has committed crimes in plain sight,” she said. “As a former prosecutor, I know a confession when I see it.”
Only Gabbard pumped the brakes on impeachment talk, although she said she supported it.
”If the House votes to impeach, the Senate does not vote to remove Donald Trump, he walks away and he feels exonerated,” she said.