The 10th Democratic presidential primary debate kicked off in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of that state’s primary on Saturday. Norah O’Donnell, anchor of “CBS Evening News,” and Gayle King, co-host of “CBS This Morning,” were the main moderators, but were joined mid-debate by “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, “60 Minutes”’ Bill Whitaker, and CBS News chief Washington, D.C. correspondent Major Garrett.
With Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders the current frontrunner after three strong finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and particularly in Nevada, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg buying his way into every market, and former Vice President banking on South Carolina to keep his campaign alive, there is a LOT at stake in the Palmetto State, which will is the first of the early states with a significant black voting population.
Let’s dig right in—but be warned: The tension was high and the candidates have stopped being polite, and started getting real. Yes, that’s a MTV’s Real World reference, but it really was quite hectic on that stage.
can someone get these dingdongs some jeopardy buzzers or something— Mike Case (@MikeACase) February 26, 2020
CAN PROGRESSIVE IDEALS FIGHT TRUMP IN A “GOOD” ECONOMY?
Sanders got the first question, which positively framed the current economy and asked the Vermont senator how he thought he “can do better” than Donald Trump. Sanders was quick to note that the current economy only benefits people like Bloomberg, before listing several realities that millions of Americans currently face.
Bloomberg got the rebuttal and deflected the economy talk to bring up recent intelligence that indicates Russia aims to support Sanders’ candidacy. The audience erupted in “oohs” reminiscent of the “Jerry Springer Show.” Sanders, clearly disgusted by Bloomberg’s statement, alluded to the billionaire’s relationship with China and vowed to shut down Putin as president.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren chimed in, asserting that progressive ideals are clearly popular now, and that while she and Sanders agree on a lot of issues, she’s got the plans to actually get it done—with a side note about the attacks she’s been fielding from the Sanders campaign.
Buttigieg was next, and said that Russia wants chaos. He then asked people to imagine a campaign that pitted Sanders vs. Trump, and what that political climate might do to our country between now and November. He then acknowledged the progressive wing of the party before demanding that a different tone was needed.
The other billionaire on the stage, Tom Steyer, asserted that he agrees with Sanders’ analysis of, but not his solutions to current issues. He then vowed to end corporate control of the government, while still keeping a robust private sector in place.
Former Vice President Joe Biden brought up Sanders’ gun voting record against the Brady Bill in particular, implying that it enabled Dylann Roof’s deadly 2015 attack at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church near the debate venue; he also brought up recent oppo research that revealed Sanders once considered primarying Barack Obama in 2012.
Ã¢Â�Â�IÃ¢Â�Â�m not saying heÃ¢Â�Â�s responsible for the nine dead.,Ã¢Â�Â� says Biden, the nicest thing anyone has said about Bernie so far.Ã¢Â�Â� Dan Froomkin/PressWatchers.org (@froomkin) February 26, 2020
Sanders noted that Buttigieg has accepted billionaire donations. Buttigieg used it as an opportunity to entice grassroots voters to donate via his website.
Biden was asked why his support was dropping in South Carolina. He voiced his long relationship with the state before stating that he intended to win the state on Tuesday. King asked him if he’d drop out if he didn’t—and Biden repeated that he would win.
BLOOMBERG: IS HE RISKY? HOW ‘BOUT STOP AND FRISKY?
Bloomberg was then asked what exactly he’s apologizing for when he apologizes for Stop and Frisk. He repeated the false talking point that he stopped using it by 95% when he “realized” it was a bad practice, before attempting to segue into a different topic.
Bloomberg did not Ã¢Â�Â�cut backÃ¢Â�Â� stop and frisk. He continues to lie about this, and itÃ¢Â�Â�s disturbing. A judge ruled stop and frisk unconstitutional. Bloomberg fought for *years* defending the policy, and only reversed course when he decided to run for president.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 26, 2020
King pushed back on the topic—though not the facts—and Bloomberg asserted that people are only talking about Stop and Frisk because it benefits their campaigns, before rattling off several of his other accomplishments as mayor of New York City, including another lie—that he supported teachers.
So - Bloomberg was in an all out war with the teachers union in NYC for years. If you call them as Bloomberg suggested you will get quite an earful.— Eliza Shapiro (@elizashapiro) February 26, 2020
When asked, “mayor to mayor,” if Stop and Frisk was racist, Buttigieg agreed that it was, quoting Bloomberg’s comment that “white people were being stopped too often.” Stopping just short of owning his own controversy with black people and the police in South Bend, the former mayor noted that it was weird to be talking about racial justice as one of seven white people on the stage, listing a bunch of racist and harsh experiences that people of color have.
Pete's outreach to black voters getting a little desperate pic.twitter.com/DefnSKYwou— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) February 26, 2020
Bloomberg then piped in with the newsflash that his life would have been harder if he’d been black, and vowed to do more than “just demagogue” about it. Klobuchar was asked about race next; after quoting MLK, she vowed to protect voter rights nationwide.
Warren was asked about her characterization of Bloomberg as the “riskiest” Democratic primary candidate. She confirmed she still feels that way before pointing out all key races he’s thrown his money and voice into, including his support of her own opponent and Sen. Lindsey Graham, and said no Democrats would accept him as the nominee.
Bloomberg said he’s been training for the presidency since 9/11; Warren shared her oft-repeated story of workplace discrimination while pregnant before invoking the “Kill it!” allegation against Bloomberg—to boos from his supporters.
Ã¢Â�Â�Mike Bloomberg has on repeated occasions faced and fought allegations that he directed crude and sexist comments to women in his office, including a claim in the 1990s that he told an employee who had just announced she was pregnant to "kill it."Ã¢Â�Â� https://t.co/MVc30HsNjp pic.twitter.com/w9kwzvbBcG— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) December 16, 2019
Bloomberg denied the allegation before noting that Warren wouldn’t have been fired for being pregnant in today’s New York City. Warren then repeated her call for the billionaire to release his former employees from their NDAs. He was then asked if he was wrong to make “jokes,” or if the women just took them wrong. Yes, that was an actual question.
After saying he did not recall the jokes, Bloomberg noted that since the Nevada debate, he’d released three women from their NDAs and his company would no longer use them, saying that, for Warren, “enough is never enough.”
Still thinking about Bloomberg saying about Warren, Ã¢Â�Â�The trouble is with this senator, enough is never enough.Ã¢Â�Â� Which basically is the equivalent of Ã¢Â�Â�Nevertheless she persisted.Ã¢Â�Â� Ã°Â�Â�Â�Ã°Â�Â�Â�Ã°Â�Â�Â�Ã°Â�Â�Â�Ã°Â�Â�Â�Ã°Â�Â�Â�— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) February 26, 2020
Instead of stopping there, Bloomberg then said that he’d changed the world and corporations everywhere by banning the NDAs. Warren was then asked what her basis was for the “serious” allegation, and she cited the woman’s “own words.” Bloomberg insisted again that he never said “Kill it” to a pregnant employee.
FUNDING PROGRESSIVE DREAMS
O’Donnell asked Sanders about the math on his proposals, saying he can only pay for “about half” of his proposals. Naming recent research from the Lancet, which endorsed the financial and human impact of Medicare for All, he started to list potential revenue streams to fund it—starting with a payroll tax. He was cut off by Klobuchar, who cited different data and Sanders’ own recent “60 Minutes” interview. Calling his plans “a bunch of broken promises on a bumper sticker,” she touted her own proposals.
All hell broke loose right about then, as Sanders tried to respond, Buttigieg started shouting soundbites over him, and Steyer entered the fray for the first time.
Out of control! WTH #DemDebate— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) February 26, 2020
Sanders was given the chance to respond. He said that Buttigieg’s program was more expensive both financially and with regards to human impact. More chaos ensued before Steyer declared that Democrats are on the cusp of either choosing a “democratic socialist or a lifetime Republican,” and thus handing Trump the win. Bringing up economic, racial, and climate justice, the philanthropist fought for his last seconds on the clock when the moderators tried to silence him.
Buttigieg promised that with Sanders as the nominee, we were facing four more years with Trump, Kevin McCarthy as Speaker, and the continued GOP control of the Senate; he then entreated candidates to pay attention to who was behind the Blue Wave of 2018.
Biden came in hot, noting that the majority of those Blue Wave folks were supporting him for president, and calling out Sanders for few accomplishments in his lifelong tenure in Congress, and Steyer for owning private prisons that he knew were toxic, citing harmful policies in both South Carolina and Georgia. When Steyer angrily protested his innocence, Biden shut him down.
Joe Biden ate his Wheaties this morning. #DemDebate— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) February 26, 2020
The shouting resumed; Steyer insisted that he didn’t know about his prisons’ atrocities and sold them as soon as he learned of them. He then declared his commitment to racial justice. Klobuchar got the floor by shouting over the fray. She then explained that she’s far more effective when it comes to legislation than Warren or Sanders, before noting that many promises have been broken to the African American community by our society.
Bloomberg than noted that he helped fund half of the Blue Wave Democrats, to an audible grunt from Buttigieg.
wait, did Bloomberg just refer to the new House Democratic majority by saying **Ã¢Â�Â�I bought that?Ã¢Â�Â�**— Amanda Fischer (@amandalfischer) February 26, 2020
The former mayor then echoed the same story about Sanders vs. Trump that the other moderates told, namely that he’ll lose and commit the nation to four more years of the madman in the White House. Sanders was greeted by boos when he said only billionaires supported Bloomberg before highlighting his diverse coalition as a counter to the former New York mayor’s prediction that moderates will never vote for him. Warren then asserted that she too has popular progressive plans that will unite moderates, stressing that she knows how to pay for them all.
Then, 38 minutes in, it was time for our first glorious break!
NEW MODERATORS, SAME LACK OF GUN REFORM
The new moderators joined O’Donnell and King, who circled back to Biden, who had been the first to bring up the Mother Emanuel A.M.E church massacre of 2015. She asked why anyone should believe he can finally get meaningful gun reform through Congress. Calling out Sanders’ gun stances, while listing his gun control accomplishments going back to the 90s, Biden asserted that he was the only one on the stage who’d gotten gun legislation through in the past, end promised gun manufacturers that “I’m coming for you.”
Warren used the topic as an opportunity to voice her support to end the filibuster in order to push through gun reform.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks about her plan for passing gun safety legislation as President. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/MaJD0XBAc3— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) February 26, 2020
Sanders was then asked why, out of all the industries he’s gone after, gun manufacturers get a pass. Sanders admitted his vote to shield gun manufacturers from wrongful death lawsuits was “a bad vote,” careful to point out Biden has a few bad votes in his history. He then touted his D- rating with the NRA.
Bloomberg then cited his funding of the gun reform groups Moms Demand Action and Everytown before Klobuchar noted that she wrote the bill that closes the “boyfriend” loophole. She then invoked her ability to win Midwestern voters, again citing her dear “Uncle Dick in the deer stand.”
Noting Sanders’ refusal to support the ending of the filibuster, Buttigieg explained that he was in high school for Columbine and waited for the government to fix things so it never happened again. They never did. Buttigieg next invoked his military experience as giving him an understanding of what guns can do.
Sanders again invoked his D- NRA rating before Steyer brought up popular polling for gun reform and the Senate’s endless blocking of it. He segued his support of term limits as a way to get McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Graham out.
EDUCATION FOR THE NATION
Whitaker brought up the education gap among white and black students in South Carolina. Citing Bloomberg’s heavy-handed expansion of charter schools in New York, he asked if he’d expand them nationwide. Bloomberg claimed that New York’s charter schools are some of the top in the nation, but he couldn’t speak to whether or not such expansion would work nationwide.
Warren boldly stated that her Secretary of Education would be a former public school teacher, who would eliminate high-stakes testing and keep public funds in public schools. She also noted that “education is not free,” and that an investment in education was necessary.
Sanders went further, by naming several of the policies that they agree upon, including universal pre-K and free college tuition. He cited his funding plan—taxing “Wall Street speculation”—clearly in a preemptive strike against criticism of his lack of funding plans.
Noting that he was married to a public school teacher, Buttigieg brought up the fact that teachers are expected to defend their classrooms from gun violence. Warren tried to keep the education discussion going, but Garrett jumped in with the first Twitter-sourced question of the day.
Klobuchar got the first chance to respond: How will she help minimum wage workers with housing and education equity. Klobuchar focused on affordable housing in urban and rural areas. Warren cut her off, pointing out that race-neutral housing policies don’t acknowledge redlining, with a quick jab at Bloomberg for blaming its end for the 2008 crash.
Ã¢Â�Â�We can no longer pretend that everything is race neutralÃ¢Â�Â� @ewarren nails it!!! IÃ¢Â�Â�m tired of this Ã¢Â�Â�I donÃ¢Â�Â�t see race BSÃ¢Â�Â�.... #WokeAF #DemDebate2020 if your plans donÃ¢Â�Â�t incorporate people of color throw them TF out! Period.— DanielleMoodie-Mills (@DeeTwoCents) February 26, 2020
Bloomberg denied that he supported redlining, despite that not being the question, before pausing for a failed joke about winning the last debate. He then segued awkwardly to his early support of marriage equality.
pic.twitter.com/hTf7IGWd1f— Rob Flaherty (@Rob_Flaherty) February 26, 2020
Biden was then asked why black voters should believe he can change centuries of inequality. The former vice president focused on supporting black entrepreneurship and first time homeowners, as well as a pushback against gentrification and the institutionalized devaluing of homes in communities of color. While talking about dismantling institutional racism, he was cut off by moderators. Biden then openly declared that his signature politeness about time limits was a thing of the past in this debate.
Sen. @AmyKlobuchar (D-MN) reacts as former Vice President @JoeBiden and @TomSteyer get into it during the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary debate #DemDebate2020 Ã°Â�Â�Â·: @WinMc pic.twitter.com/HL92lONWFH— Getty Images News (@GettyImagesNews) February 26, 2020
Steyer explained his banking approach to affordable housing, then asserted that he’s the only candidate open to establishing on commission on reparations, but moderators squashed all other attempts to discuss it—O’Donnell even demanded that candidates “respect the rules of the debate.”
Sigh. I like Tom Steyer. I think he could be so useful. Just not on this stage.— Tiffany Cross (@TiffanyDCross) February 26, 2020
She then lobbed a question at Klobuchar, about health care access in rural areas. Klobuchar spoke about making it easier for better and more doctors to get their education, and for immigrant doctors to come to the U.S.
Buttigieg was next, saying that there was no difference between life expectancies along rural and urban Americans when he was born, but there is now. He then cited his Douglass Plan’s voting rights act before Sanders brought up the tenets of his Medicare for All plan that support rural health care.
Bloomberg admitted that what works in New York won’t work everywhere (via a Naked Cowboy joke) before he asserted the value of science, and noting that his policies shaped the nation’s policies. He specifically cited the city’s indoor smoking bans as an example, conveniently omitting the fact that California banned smoking in public places in 1995, while New York City got there eight years later. He also pointed out the crisis at the CDC that Trump’s created.
Biden explained his plan to expand the National Institutes of Health, insisting that it would have bipartisan support, before Klobuchar was asked if it marijuana conviction expunging was realistic; after citing the importance of process, she agreed that it could be done. Bloomberg was less eager to legalize cannabis. saying that while he would not take legal weed away from states who had passed it, it was too soon to move on legalizing marijuana without doing the scientific due diligence about its effects, particularly on young minds.
Sanders then clarified the differences between narcotics and opiates versus marijuana and vowed to effectively legalize it, expunge convictions, and support people of color as they enter the legal-cannabis industry. Biden began to assert that he wrote the “drug court” bill before it was time for yet another break!
Once again, shocking that a dem debate goes this far and does NOT mention Trump post impeachment purge, attacks on independent justice and intelligence, and just today Supreme Court justices...— Susan Glasser (@sbg1) February 26, 2020
COMBAT, CORONAVIRUS, CHINA, AND CASTRO
Back from commercial, O’Donnell asked Warren about how bringing combat troops back from the Middle East will impact national security. Citing a need to use “all the tools in the toolbox,” Warren contrasted her multi-faceted foreign policy against Trump’s. Bloomberg was asked if he’d pull all combat troops, and he made a jab at George W. Bush and the Iraq War looking good on paper.
As the only combat veteran on the stage, Buttigieg noted that he first visited South Carolina as a member of the military, just before he headed to the Middle East. He also focused on his own multi-pronged ideas, starting with restoring American credibility.
Klobuchar was asked about the coronavirus: Should we close the border to those who have been exposed? Klobuchar didn’t answer, instead zooming in on the need to treat and quarantine those who are sick, agreeing with Bloomberg’s earlier assertion of Trump’s failure to properly support the work of the CDC. She then plugged the CDC website, noting that she could have given the one of her campaign instead.
Biden was then asked what he would do. He invoked his work containing the Ebola virus during the Obama administration, including supporting and funding the CDC and NIH, also noting that he had the relationships with world leaders to get them to better cooperate.
After a Trump joke, Sanders essentially agreed with Biden. Bloomberg was then asked about his statements about working with Chinese president Xi Jinping, and asked if Chinese firms should be permitted to help build critical U.S. infrastructure. He vehemently asserted that he did not, but that he also planned to negotiate with Xi as president. Biden got the same question and also answered “No,” before noting that he had a relationship with him. Warren got the same question and, noting that Bloomberg had long relationships with China, brought up the billionaire’s tax returns, which have not been released, before saying that she would not work with China on infrastructure.
Bloomberg, as in the last debate, said the tax returns were on their way, but fellow billionaire Steyer dismissed his excuse, saying he’d already released a decade of his own. He then brought up his commitment to combating climate change. Sanders got into a small bicker with the audience after noting that the communist Chinese had made great strides in education before saying that he wouldn’t work with authoritarians—all referencing former president Barack Obama, who once noted that authoritarian governments are bad thing but still could manage to do good things. Buttigieg took that as an opportunity to allude to the recent Sanders-Castro scandal, and offered general disdain for nostalgia for the mid- to late-1900s, but Sanders was not having it.
Pete pretends to be intelligent, but pretending that the coups from the 1950s and 1960s don't have a bearing on today's foreign policy just shows that you're dumb as an effing rock. #DemDebate— Jonathan "Boo and Vote" Cohn (@JonathanCohn) February 26, 2020
As the audience exploded, Klobuchar got in there to say that the whole conversation was the worst nightmare of a moderate, particularly in Super Tuesday states. Sanders responded by reminding her that he’s got the highest favorability scores among anyone on the stage.
Biden was then asked if he’d launch cyberattacks in retaliation if it was proven that Russia intervered in the 2020 election. Biden asserted that it’s already been proven they are interfering, it was proven they interfered in 2016, and that sanctions should be imposed now. Steyer then asked where Trump was in the face of the “hostile” acts of cyberwarfare, noting that Trump has sided with a hostile foreign power—getting the biggest applause of the night.
Sanders then was asked about being Jewish, and about Jews who might believe he is unsupportive of Israel; he was also asked if he’d move the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. After calling out Benjamin Netayanhu for his corruption and evil deeds, Sanders voiced that he wouldn’t make any action as president without considering the Palestinians. Bloomberg, as the other Jew on the stage, vowed to leave the embassy where it was, and was cut off as he began to explain his own two-state solution.
American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic & are not single-issue voters who favor whatever is in the Israeli government's best interest. Acting like this isn't reality is deeply problematic— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) February 26, 2020
Warren agreed with Sanders that a two-state solution was essential, but that it’s not up to the United States, as allies, to decide what that looks like: It’s up to Israelis and Palestinians. She refused to answer further when pressed about moving the embassy.
Klobuchar was then asked if she, like Trump, would meet with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. She said that she would, but not like Trump has, instead working with allies and having required deliverables. Biden said he would not work with any dictator; noting that Trump has given Jong Un, whom he called a “thug,” legitimacy. Despite his feisty promise to go over time, Biden stopped talking when moderators asked, noting that it must be his “Catholic school training” that made him do it.
The next Twitter question, which centered on the chaos in Idlib, Syria, which is facing violence at the hands of the Syrian regime and Russia, came to Buttigieg first; he cited military action, while Warren voiced a desire for anything but.
It was then time for the final break; King promised the final question would be a personal one, letting candidates share their “words to live by.”
A CORNY CLOSE: MOTTOS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
King asked the final question, a two-parter: What’s the biggest misconception about you, and what’s motto that describes you?
Steyer noted that he draws a cross on his hand every day, as a reminder “to tell the truth and do what’s right no matter what.” He said it’s untrue that he’s defined by his business success and money.
Tom Steyer doesn't want to be defined by his billions even though he's only on stage because of his billions. #DemDebate— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) February 26, 2020
Klobuchar asserted that she is not boring before quoting Paul Wellstone; “Politics is about improving people’s lives.”
Biden didn’t offer a motto; rather he named several mottos about resilience and representation before vowing to put a black woman on the Supreme Court, to huge cheers. He also noted his loyalty. Biggest misconception? “I have more hair than I think I do.”
Sanders declared that “the ideas I’m talking about tonight are not radical,” he said. He quoted Nelson Mandela as his motto: “Everything is impossible until it happens.”
Warren joked that she eats all the time as a joke; but the real misconception was that she’s always thought she was supposed to be president. She returned to Matthew 25 for her motto: “In as much as ye hath done int unto one these, the least of thy brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Buttigieg said that the biggest misconception was that he’s not passionate, since he’s “kinda level”; his motto? “Of you would be a leader you should first be a servant.”
Bloomberg joked that people mistakenly believe that he’s six feet tall; his motto was his own word: “I’ve trained for this job for a long time, and when I get it, I’m going to do something, not just talk about it.”
"What is your motto?" BIDEN: Stay loyal WARREN: Be true to yourself BLOOMBERG: [mouth opens and money shoots out]— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) February 26, 2020
O’Donnell then attempted to end the night—but King said there was time for more debate after the break … yet when they came back, O’Donnell then actually ended the debate.
Wait, did CBS seriously delay the conclusion of the debate to get in another commercial block? Truly insulting to viewers— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) February 26, 2020
Once all was said and done, it was hard to declare a clear “winner”; but talking time was a pretty evenly distributed, according to CNN, as long as you look past Sanders and Steyer, that is.
At the end of the #DemDebate, Sen. Bernie Sanders had a clear lead in speaking time with nearly 16 minutes, followed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all at more than 13 minutes. https://t.co/nSKHArYd3p pic.twitter.com/OSVt6Pc8NA— CNN (@CNN) February 26, 2020