A final question: Tell us about a friendship you have that would surprise us?
Castro: People “older than me, who had a lot to teach me,” and “people who thought differently from me.”
Gabbard: Former Representative Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who led an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Klobuchar: Senator John McCain. She tells stories about traveling with Mr. McCain and visiting him when he was dying. She says she will appeal to independents and moderate Republican voters.
Steyer: A woman in South Carolina who is fighting “for clean water and environmental justice.”
O’Rourke: Former Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican with whom he took a cross-country trip. “Not only had we formed a friendship, but we had formed trust.”
Booker: Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, and Senator Jim Inhofe, with whom he joins in Bible study.
Yang: “We have to evolve in the way we think about ourselves and our work and values. It’s not left or right. It’s forward and that is where we must take the country in 2020.”
Harris: “I do believe that to beat Trump but also to heal our country, we need a leader who has the ability to unify the country. And see that the vast majority have so much more in common than what separates us.”
Buttigieg: Talks generally about “building a sense of belonging in this country” and working together as Americans.
Sanders: “There is no job that I would undertake with more passion than bringing our people together around an agenda that works for every man, woman and child in this country. Rather than the corporate elite and the one percent. A progressive agenda that stands for all, is the way we transform this country.”
Warren: “Look, people across this country, whether they are Democrats, independents or Republicans, they know what’s broken. They know that we have an America, that’s working better and better and better, for a thinner and thinner and thinner slice at the top. And leaving everyone else behind.”
Biden: “We have to unite the country, because folks it’s time we stopped walking around with our heads down. We’re in a better position than any country in the world to own the 21st century. So for God’s sake, get up. Get up and remember this is the United States of America. There’s nothing we’re unable to do, when we decide we’re going to do it. Nothing at all.”
Democrats debate who is best to take on Trump
The entire Democratic argument was distilled into a five-minute discussion with Joe Biden on one side and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the other. Mr. Biden, as he has done since his campaign began, argued that his history of working with Republicans would make him more palatable to independents and some Republicans while at the same time offering an implicit argument that his more doctrinaire opponents would hand a second term to Mr. Trump.
At the same time, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren pitched themselves as capable of expanding the Democratic electorate by exciting voters about bolder proposals. “For me,” Ms. Warren said, “this is about knowing what’s broken, knowing how to fix it and yes, I’m willing to go out there and fight for it.” Her implication, of course, is that Mr. Biden doesn’t know any of those things.
Biggest moment of the night? Biden vs. Sanders and Warren
One of the debate’s closing segments brought a clear example of the two poles in the party: Joe Biden vs Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
After touting himself as “the only one on this stage who has gotten anything really big done,” Mr. Biden slammed both Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders as offering “vague” ideas. Pushing a “Medicare for all” overhaul as they do, Mr. Biden said, “requires you not be vague. Tell people how you’re going to get it done.”
Ms. Warren followed by reciting her history of envisioning and then creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mr. Biden sought to claim credit for that too.
“I went on the floor and I got votes for that bill, I convinced people to vote for that,” he said. “Let’s get that straight.”
Ms. Warren paused, and speaking slowly, said, “I am deeply grateful to President Obama who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law,” specifically not giving credit to Mr. Biden.
Biden, Buttigieg spar on expanding the Supreme Court
As conservatives have taken a decisive majority on the Supreme Court, Democrats publicly grappled with the idea of expanding the court to take back power.
Mr. Biden said he was against adding additional justices to the Supreme Court, calling it “court packing,” worried about the trust in the institution itself.
“We begin to lose any credibility the court has at all,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Buttigieg, who has floated multiple options to expand the high court to as many as 15 justices — an idea, he acknowledged, was attacked as “too bold to even contemplate” — said that he wanted to depoliticize the court.
Now, he said “we have this apocalyptical ideological firefight” with every vacancy.
Ms. Warren said she was open to expanding the court — but stopped short of embracing it outright.
Democrats tackle questions about abortion
Finally, there came a question on abortion.
Ms. Harris said she’d require Justice Department pre-clearance for any state laws restricting abortion access. Ms. Klobuchar asked viewers to imagine her onstage debating abortion rights with Mr. Trump. And then Mr. Booker said he’d create an “office of reproductive rights” in the White House.
There’s little disagreement among the Democratic candidates on abortion rights, it’s more a matter of degree to which.
Ms. Gabbard said she’d prohibit third trimester abortions, a position that puts her nearly along among candidates who have stressed that decisions about ending a pregnancy should be left to women and their doctors.
Harris hits Warren hard over Trump and Twitter
Ms. Harris, who had refrained from attacking her opponents for the debate’s first two hours, asked Ms. Warren why she did not call for Twitter to suspend Mr. Trump’s account.
“Senator Warren, I just want to say that I was surprised to hear that you did not agree with me that on this subject of what should be the rules around corporate responsibility for these big tech companies, when I called on Twitter to suspend Donald Trump’s account, that you did not agree,” Ms. Harris said.
Ms. Warren shot back, “I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter, I want to push him out of the White House.” She did not say whether Twitter should indeed suspend the president from its platform.
Ms. Harris got another shot, and again pressed Ms. Warren. Ms. Warren once again did not take the bait and dodged the question.
Warren pitches breaking up Big Tech
Throughout the primary, Ms. Warren has led the field in her aggressive stance to break up big tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook and she did so again on Tuesday.
“I’m not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy,” she said.
Ms. Warren walked through Amazon’s role as a product marketplace and product seller.
“You get to be the umpire in the baseball game or you get to have a team. You don’t get to be both at the same time,” she said.
While her Democratic rivals do want to go as far, most agree with the sentiment. Mr. O’Rourke said they should not call out particular companies. Mr. Yang said breaking up companies would not solve problems, rattling off a joke that grew broad laughs.
“There is a reason why no one is using Bing today,” he said. “Sorry Microsoft.”
Mr. Booker, meanwhile, called for “regulation and reform,” while acknowledging that tech companies represent a “massive problem in our democracy.”
Sanders says he’s healthy and will mount a ‘vigorous’ campaign
As the debate approached the end of the second hour, Bernie Sanders was asked directly to reassure the American people about his health two weeks after a heart attack. But before the moderator Erin Burnett could get the question out, Mr. Sanders delivered his answer. “I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” he said.
Cory Booker interjected with a joke that Mr. Sanders also supports medical marijuana.”
I’m not on it tonight,” Mr. Sanders retorted.
When Ms. Burnett then asked the question, Mr. Sanders invited people to his rally this weekend in New York. “We are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people,” he said, thanking his rivals for their “love” and “prayers.”
“I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I’m so happy to be back here with you this evening,” he said to applause.
Opioid discussion shows challenge for candidates
The opioid discussion that just took place is a good exhibit of why some of the most vexing issues facing the presidential candidates is so difficult as a debate topic.
Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer each bemoaned prescription drug companies for pushing prescription opioids on Americans to enrich themselves, but didn’t reveal much contrast between themselves or their onstage opponents, or even Mr. Trump.
Yet this is a topic that hits home for millions of Americans and one that candidates are asked about frequently on the campaign trail. It’s a serious problem without easily digestible solutions.
There’s a lot of agreement onstage, with little understanding of what, exactly any of the candidates would do.
O’Rourke and Buttigieg spar in tense exchange over mandatory assault weapon buybacks
Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg sparred aggressively over guns in an intense and personal exchange. Mr. O’Rourke has called for the mandatory buyback of assault weapons by the government. Mr. Buttigieg has called that unrealistic and a plan that damages the Democratic Party.
“If the logic begins with those weapons being too dangerous to sell, then it must continue by acknowledging with 16 million AR-15s and AK-47s out there, they are also too dangerous to own,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “Every single one of them is a potential instrument of terror.”
But Mr. O’Rourke struggled to say how he would handle taking the guns from Americans who do not want to give up those weapons. “Congressman, you just made it clear that you don’t know how this is actually going to take weapons off the streets,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “We can’t wait, we can’t wait for universal background checks.”
“We cannot wait for purity tests,” he concluded, “We just have to get something done.”
After Mr. O’Rourke said it was time to stop listening to polls and be bold, Mr. Buttigieg jumped back in. “I don’t need lessons from you on courage,” Mr. Buttigieg said, saying the real problem was the National Rifle Association, whom they should unite against. He said Democrats could conceivably ban assault weapons and not get “wrapped around the axle” of mandatory buybacks.
“If you’re not going door to door, it’s not mandatory,” Mr. Castro said, opposing the plan, noting that in many communities the idea of police knocking on doors has also led to violence.
Biden challenges Trump on foreign policy
Joe Biden tried once again to present himself as the person onstage with the most direct foreign policy experience.
“I may be the only person who has spent extensive time alone with Putin and Erdogan,” he said, referring to the Russian and Turkish leaders.
During two opportunities to discuss the current situation in Syrian, Mr. Biden didn’t exactly say whether he’d send additional American troops to quell the fighting along the Syria-Turkey border, but blamed Mr. Trump for inflaming a tense situation.
“We have an erratic, crazy president who knows not a damn thing about foreign policy and operates under his own fear for re-election,” he said.
Democrat after Democrat piled onto Mr. Trump on international affairs.
“This president is turning the moral leadership of this country into a dumpster fire,” Senator Cory Booker said.
“This president is caging kids on the border and letting ISIS prisoners run free,” added Julián Castro.
Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar repeatedly target Warren
Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar, three candidates who sorely need to boost themselves in the polls, have adopted the same strategy tonight: Go after Elizabeth Warren.
All three sought to contrast themselves and their plans with Ms. Warren, with Mr. O’Rourke arguing the Massachusetts senator is “more interested in being punitive” than offering a positive vision. Ms. Klobuchar has twice offered “a reality check to Elizabeth.” And Mr. Buttigieg scolded her for not saying whether her health care plan will raise middle class taxes.
Ms. Warren, a polling co-leader with Mr. Biden, serves a useful foil for the three aiming to occupy the party’s moderate lane. Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. O’Rourke are in danger of missing next month’s debate, while Mr. Buttigieg is trying to lift himself into the field of front-runners.
By contrast, there were few attacks on Mr. Biden, who took much of the incoming fire from rivals in the past debates. Going after Ms. Warren lets the would-be moderate standard-bearers avoid a contrast with Mr. Biden, particularly on the Ukraine issue where he has become vulnerable. Attacking Ms. Warren serves as a rehearsal for the party’s moderate voters of how the candidates would fare against her in a presumed one-on-one matchup much later in the primary process.
It also shows which of the liberal candidate is feared most by the moderates. It’s no longer Bernie Sanders, it is only Ms. Warren.
Cory Booker and Kamala Harris seek uplift by avoiding the fray
Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris both came into the debate struggling for support and attention. And it was apparent by the end of the first hour that they had adopted a similar game plan: seeking to rise about the fray and food fight unfolding around them.
“Tearing each other down because we have a different plan is unacceptable,” Mr. Booker said at one point, saying Democratic infighting would be “a disaster for us.”
Earlier, Mr. Booker had been the first candidate to castigate the media for asking Mr. Biden questions about his son’s work in Ukraine.
“I feel like I’m having déjà vu up here,” Mr. Booker said, lashing Mr. Trump for circulating false allegations.
At one point, Ms. Harris aired a complaint that women’s advocates have pressed for months: the lack of questions about abortion.
“This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle. Not one word with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to health care. It’s outrageous,” Ms. Harris said to cheers.
Gabbard hits The New York Times, CNN
Tulsi Gabbard attacked The New York Times, CNN, the “mainstream media” and others who have written about how Russians are praising her and encouraging her presidential campaign.
“Just two days ago The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears,” Ms. Gabbard said. “This morning a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”
The Times article did not describe Ms. Gabbard in these ways. It noted that she has drawn support from Russian state news media sources and others in that country, as well as white nationalist and members of the alt-right.
Her broadside came in response to a question about whether additional U.S. troops should be sent to protect Kurdish communities in Syria, who are under attack by Turkish troops following Mr. Trump pulling U.S. forces out of the country.
Ms. Gabbard repeatedly invoked the phrase “regime change war” to describe American policy abroad and in the Middle East in particular.
“As president I will end these regime change wars by doing two things — ending the draconian sanctions that are really a modern day siege, the likes of which we are seeing Saudi Arabia wage against Yemen that have caused tens of thousands of Syrian civilians to die and to starve,” she said. “And I would make sure we stop supporting terrorists like Al Qaeda in Syria who’ve been the ground force in this ongoing regime change war.”
Mr. Buttigieg, who like Ms. Gabbard is a military veteran, sharply disagreed.
“Well, respectfully, congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong. The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it’s a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president, of American allies and American values,” he said.
Should billionaires exist?
Bernie Sanders got a question right in his wheelhouse: Should billionaires exist? He didn’t quite say yes but did launch into his regular tirade against the ultra-wealthy, saying it is “a moral and economic outrage” that the three richest Americans control as much wealth as half the country.
Mr. Steyer, himself a billionaire, went next. He denounced corporate power and blamed Republicans for passing legislation cutting taxes for the wealthy.
“The results are as shameful as Senator Sanders said,” he said. “It’s absolutely wrong, undemocratic and unfair.”
Ms. Warren then weighed in: “My question is not why do Bernie and I support a wealth tax, it’s why doesn’t — does everyone else on this stage — think it’s more important to protect billionaires than it is to invest in an entire generation.”
Mr. Biden then remarked, “No one is supporting billionaires.”
Ms. Warren didn’t quite roll her eyes, but she threw him a side eye.
Ms. Klobuchar weighed in soon after: “I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth. No one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires. We have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea.”
Health care reveals schism among Democrats
The health care discussion showed the greater schism in the Democratic Party. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are on the side of eliminating private health insurance and installing a Medicare for all system, while Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar are on the other, castigating Medicare for all as a “pipe dream,” as the Minnesotan called it.
It is the broader debate rippling throughout the 2020 Democratic campaign trail. Polls show the party’s voters tend to favor the Warren-Sanders proposals, but are nagged by whether a candidate running on eliminating private health insurance can win a general election. This is the crux of the Democratic debate: a pull between early-state voters’ hearts and heads, with each of them becoming prognosticators guessing about what swing voters in key swing states might prefer.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar hit Warren hard on ending private health insurance
Senator Elizabeth Warren, as she has done for weeks on the campaign trail, refused to entertain the question of whether “Medicare for all” will require a middle-class tax increase.
Instead she aimed to turn the question to overall costs.
“Let me be clear on this,” she said. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle class families.”
She repeatedly refused to say.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg immediately pounced.
“A yes or no question that did not get a yes or no answer,” he said, saying it sounded like the type of things Americans hate about Washington. He added, “Your signature senator is to have a plan for everything: Except this.”
Mr. Buttigieg then pitched his “Medicare for all who want it.” When Ms. Warren’s turn came, she said that Mr. Buttigieg’s vision amounts to “Medicare for all who can afford it.”
Mr. Buttigieg came back and said Ms. Warren would “obliterate” the private health insurance of 150 million Americans. “It’s just better than Medicare for all whether you want it or not,” Mr. Buttigieg said, rebranding Ms. Warren’s plan in a more negative light.
Senator Amy Klobuchar followed up with her own hit on Ms. Warren.
“At least Bernie’s being honest here,” Ms. Klobuchar interrupted, addressing Ms. Warren as “Elizabeth,” saying Americans deserved to know where the “invoice” was going.
Ms. Klobuchar continued, dismissing Ms. Warren’s ideas as unrealistic, declaring there is a “difference between a plan and pipe dream.”
It fell to Mr. Sanders to explain exactly what Medicare for all would require.
“Taxes will go up,” he said, before explaining that costs will go down because, under his plan, medical insurance premiums and co-pays would be eliminated.
Maggie Astor, Thomas Kaplan, Jonathan Martin, Sydney Ember, Katie Glueck and Kevin McKenna contributed reporting.