The winners of the crowded Democratic presidential debate weren't on stage on Wednesday
REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
- Ten of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday night for the fifth round of presidential debates after a long day of bombshell impeachment hearings.
- But none of the candidates emerged as winners. Instead, House Democrats came out on top on Wednesday night because the low-conflict debate ensured the vast majority of media attention will stay on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
- Civility also won the night. The candidates spent the vast majority of the debate agreeing on policy basics and calling for a unifying nominee.
- Biden was the biggest loser of Wednesday night's debate. The former vice president is known for putting his foot in his mouth, and he didn't disappoint on Wednesday.
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Ten of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday night for the fifth round of presidential debates.
This was the second debate to occur since the launch of the House impeachment probe into President Donald Trump in the House, and it came after a full day of public hearings on Wednesday.
The debate was moderated, for the first time ever, by four women: MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, and Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker.
House Democrats and civility win the night
House Democrats came out as winners on Wednesday night because the low-conflict debate ensured the vast majority of media attention will stay on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Civility also won the night. The candidates spent the vast majority of the debate agreeing on everything from the existential threat of climate change to the need for paid family leave. They also agreed that the presidential nominee needs to bring the country together.
Biden made the case that he's the best candidate to heal the country's divisions. And he said he doesn't think "it's a good idea" for Democrats to condone "lock him up" chants about the president.
"We have to unify this country. I have done it. I have done it repeatedly," he said. "We have to restore the soul of this country."
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Democrats need to "galvanize, not polarize, the majority" of Americans who already support gun, healthcare, and immigration reform. He framed single-payer healthcare, which both Sens. Warren and Sanders support, as "divisive."
The candidates did spar over a range of policy issues, including taxes, healthcare, and foreign policy. But there were few vicious attacks.
AP Photo/John Bazemore
Sen. Cory Booker criticized Sen. Elizabeth Warren's proposal to dramatically raise taxes on the ultra-rich, instead pushing for an expansion of the estate tax, taxes on capital gains, and more moderate measures to raise government revenue.
"The wealth tax, I'm sorry, it's cumbersome," Booker said, arguing that Democrats should need to focus on growing wealth and "pathways to prosperity," instead of just raising taxes.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard attacked the Democratic Party writ large, arguing that her party is in the pocket of corporate interests. Sen. Kamala Harris shot back by accusing Gabbard of being a stooge for Fox News.
Tom Steyer derided frontrunners Warren and Biden for not saying climate change would be their top issue. "I would make this the number one priority" both in domestic and foreign policy, he said.
Biden replied by agreeing with Steyer.
"I think it is an existential threat," he said of climate change. "It's the number one issue."
When Harris was asked to elaborate on her criticism of Buttigieg's approach to issues of race, the senator pivoted, instead talking in broad generalities about how Democratic candidates shouldn't take the black vote for granted.
"I think for too long candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party," Harris said. "The question has to be where have you been and what are you going to do ... We've got to re-create the Obama coalition to win."
Buttigieg replied, "I completely agree."
Biden's gaffes draw attention
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Biden was the biggest loser of Wednesday night's debate. The former vice president is known for putting his foot in his mouth, and he didn't disappoint on Wednesday.
When explaining how he'd work to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Biden chose unusual phrasing.
"We have to change the culture," he said. "We have to keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it."
Biden was also the butt of one of the most successful one-liners of the night when Booker attacked him for opposing the legalization of marijuana.
And while defending his appeal among black voters, Biden misspoke and said he had the support of the "only" black woman ever elected to the Senate.
That provoked laughter and a clapback from Harris, the second black woman ever elected to the Senate.
"Nope, that's not true. The other one is here," Harris quipped.