- Democrats lay into each other on debate stage as candidates face crucial phase in primary fight
- Bloomberg in the hot seat
- A tense night
- Bloomberg takes a beating, Sanders defends socialism in fiery debate
- Sanders, the millionaire socialist
- Bloomberg appears to step in it on women and NDAs
- Warren savages Bloomberg, the rest pile on
- Dems criticize Sanders for online behavior of his supporters
- Serious as a heart attack
- Buttigieg blasts Bloomberg, Sanders
- Warren takes aim at, well, everyone
- Bloomberg ducks question on stop and frisk
- Too much money for Turbo Tax
Democrats lay into each other on debate stage as candidates face crucial phase in primary fight
(CNN)With time running out in the race for delegates, the leading Democratic presidential candidates turned on one another Wednesday night with fiery attacks, underscoring the desperate need for candidates Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden to deliver standout performances in order to survive the next few contests — and often doing it at the expense of Michael Bloomberg.
In the most negative debate of the 2020 cycle, it was the newcomer who took the most incoming, with the five longer-term candidates offering scathing critiques of Bloomberg's campaign spending, his record on policing policy as mayor of New York and misogynistic comments he allegedly made about women at his company in the 1980s and 1990s.
During the two-hour NBC debate at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg repeatedly sparred over experience. Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, framed Buttigieg's health care plan as being a “PowerPoint” presentation and compared Klobuchar's to a “Post-it Note.
” Buttigieg described Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Bloomberg as deeply polarizing figures who would lead the Democratic Party to defeat in November. Bloomberg clashed over ideology with Sanders and Warren, describing one of their ideas as a tried-and-failed tenant of communism, and rolling his eyes in exasperation when he was confronted by Warren.
But many of the night's most memorable moments grew Warren's fierce, take-no-prisoners posture toward many of her rivals.
Making no effort to conceal her contempt for the billionaire candidate standing beside her, Warren set the tone in the opening minutes of the debate when she called for a more fulsome apology from Bloomberg for his alleged past comments about women who worked for him and demanded that he release women who had sued his company for sexual harassment or gender discrimination from the nondisclosure agreements they had signed.
“I'd to talk about who we're running against. A billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump.
I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” Warren said, referring to quotes attributed to Bloomberg that were circulated in a “Wit and Wisdom” booklet handed out at his company.
It's not clear that Bloomberg ever made those comments, according to a CNN fact check.
When pressed by moderators to explain the comments attributed to him in the booklet and several lawsuits, which were detailed in a Washington Post article earlier this week, Bloomberg said he didn't have any tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement exposed. He then attempted to pivot by touting the number of women he has elevated to senior roles, noting his company was voted one of the best places to work.
“I hope you heard his defense: 'I've been nice to some women,' ” Warren retorted as Bloomberg rolled his eyes. “That just doesn't cut it. … We need to know what's lurking out there.”
In a lengthy exchange that was clearly uncomfortable for the former New York mayor, Warren repeatedly pressed Bloomberg to say how many nondisclosure agreements he had asked women to sign for sexual harassment or gender discrimination suits (he eventually said “very few”).
“None of them accuse me of doing anything other than — maybe they didn't a joke I told,” Bloomberg replied, as some in the crowd audibly gasped or groaned. He added that the women had signed the agreements because they wanted to keep the matter “quiet.”
“They signed those agreements and we'll live with it,” Bloomberg said. (“Come on,” an exasperated Biden said in the background).
“I just want to be clear. Some is how many?” Warren continued, pressing him as the moderators let the exchange play out.
“And when you say they signed (the agreements) and they wanted them, if they wish now to speak out and tell their side of the story about what it is they alleged, that's now OK with you? You're releasing them on television tonight?” she asked.
“I'm simply not going to end these agreements because they were made consensually and they have every right to expect they will stay private,” Bloomberg said.
“Are the women bound by being muzzled by you? You could release them from that immediately,” Warren persisted. “Because understand, this is not just a question of the mayor's character. This is also a question about electability.
We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has, who knows how many, nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against.
That's not what we do as Democrats.”
Biden joined Warren in demanding greater transparency from Bloomberg: “Look, let's get something straight here. It's easy. All the mayor has to do is say, 'You are released from the nondisclosure agreement.' Period.”
“You think the women in fact were ready to say, 'I don't want anybody to know about what you did to me?' That's not how it works,” the former vice president continued.
“The way it works is they say, 'Look, this is what you did to me, and the mayor comes along and his attorneys say, I will give you this amount of money if you promise you'll never say anything.
That's how it works,” Biden said to applause.
Bloomberg in the hot seat
Bloomberg repeatedly clashed with Warren and Sanders, not just over ideology — but also over the more than $400 million the billionaire has spent on television ads thus far.
The former New York mayor was asked whether Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, could win in November.
“I don't think there's any chance of the senator beating President Trump,” Bloomberg said, criticizing Sanders' embrace of “Medicare for All,” which would get rid of private health insurance and replace it with a government-run system.
“You don't start out by saying I've got 160 million people — I'm going to take away the insurance plan that they love. That's just not a way that you go and start building the coalition that the Sanders camp thinks that they can do,” Bloomberg said. “If he goes and is the candidate, we will have Donald Trump for another four years. And we can't stand that.”
Sanders, who got the first opportunity to take on Bloomberg, critiqued his former embrace of the controversial “stop and frisk” policing policy in New York City, which disproportionately targeted blacks and Latinos. Bloomberg began apologizing for the policy in 2019; his aides say he realized it was a mistake during his time in office.
Sanders said the policies went after blacks and Latinos in “an outrageous way.”
“That is not a way you're going to grow voter turnout,” Sanders said. “What our movement is about is bringing working-class people together — black and white and Latino, Native American, Asian American — around an agenda that works for all of us and not just the billionaire class.”
Sanders also took issue with Bloomberg's wealth, defending his past statement that billionaires shouldn't exist.
“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That's wrong,” Sanders said. “That's immoral.
That should not be the case, when we have a half a million people sleeping out on the street; where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college; when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt.”
Bloomberg replied that he had earned his wealth by working hard.
“I can't speak for all billionaires. All I know is I've been very lucky; made a lot of money and I'm giving it all away to make this country better. And a good chunk of it goes to the Democratic Party,” he said.
The sustained criticism from the candidates Wednesday night was an intense entry to the race for Bloomberg, who has been holding campaign events without facing the heat of the debate stage as the other candidates have for months. Bloomberg chose to forgo the four early state contests in favor of running a more national primary campaign dependent on the Super Tuesday states, which will vote in March.
But as much as the other candidates have mocked Bloomberg's spending, it has catapulted him into contention. He leapfrogged Biden and Buttigieg in a new national poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, landing in second place, with 19%, behind Sanders, who drew 31%.
A tense night
While Bloomberg was the focus of many barbs, the other candidates didn't spare each other from withering criticism throughout the night.
Warren, who is attempting to mount a comeback as she has fallen to low double digits in the polls, described Buttigieg and Klobuchar's health care plans as thin and insufficient.
“Mayor Buttigieg really has a slogan that was thought up by his consultants to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to afford their health care. It's not a plan. It's a PowerPoint,” she said, as Buttigieg raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Amy's plan is even less. It's a Post-it Note, 'Insert Plan Here.' “
Warren went on to criticize Sanders' handling of Medicare for All, calling it “a good start” but charging that “his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work.”
“Then his own advisers say, 'Yeah, probably won't happen anyway,' ” Warren said. “Look, health care is a crisis in this country. … My approach to this is we need as much help for as many people as quickly as possible.”
The long-running rivalry between Buttigieg and Klobuchar was on full display in Nevada, with Buttigieg looking to build momentum after his first-place finish in Iowa and second-place showing in New Hampshire.
The former mayor seized the opportunity to call out Klobuchar for not being able to name the President of Mexico in a recent interview with Telemundo, arguing that misstep was proof that Washington experience is overrated.
Klobuchar had explained the moment as “momentary forgetfulness” and “error.”
“I think having a president that maybe is humble and is able to admit that here … wouldn't be a bad thing,” she said, referencing Trump.
“You're on the committee that oversees border security,” Buttigieg interjected. “You're on the committee that does trade. You're literally in the part of the committee that's overseeing these things.”
Klobuchar turned sharply on Buttigieg: “Are you — are you trying to say that I'm dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?”
“I'm saying you shouldn't trivialize that knowledge,” Buttigieg replied without backing down. “This is a race for president.”
Warren came to Klobuchar's defense, calling Buttigieg's criticism of her “not right.”
“Missing a name all by itself does not indicate that you do not understand what's going on. And I just think this is unfair,” Warren said.
Later, Buttigieg and Klobuchar clashed again over the importance of Washington experience, when he noted that Klobuchar had voted to confirm the head of Customs and Border Protection, one of the officials who oversaw family separations at the border.
“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” Klobuchar replied. “But let me tell you what it's to be in the arena.”
She defended her vote: “That official that you are referring to was supported by about half the Democrats, including some in this room. And I will say this: He was highly recommended by the Obama officials,” Klobuchar said.
The Minnesota senator added that she was proud of her work on immigration: “You have not been in the arena doing that work. You've memorized a bunch of talking points,” she said.
“You know, maybe leading a diverse city that was facing ruin doesn't sound the arena to you,” Buttigieg responded. “I'm used to senators telling mayors that senators are more important than mayors, but this is the arena, too. You don't have to be in Washington to matter.”
Buttigieg also questioned whether Sanders was doing enough to keep his supporters from spreading vitriol and harassing others online.
Sanders noted he has more than 10 million followers on .
“If there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people, they are not part of our movement,” Sanders said, referring to recent attacks on leaders of the powerful Culinary Union in Las Vegas, which has taken issue with his health care plan because its workers would lose the generous benefits it had negotiated.
Buttigieg, who is looking to pick up the support of culinary workers who dis Sanders' plan, said he believes the senator disowns the attacks.
“But at a certain point,” Buttigieg continued, “You've got to ask yourself: Why did this pattern arise? Why is it especially the case among your supporters?”
“I don't think it is especially the case,” Sanders replied. He noted that women on his campaign have experienced “ugly sexist, racist attacks” on social media.
The Vermont senator also cited Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including social media troll farms that had worked to affect voters' moods during the campaign: “I'm not saying that's happening. But it would not shock me.”
This story has been updated with further developments.
CNN's Eric Bradner, Annie Grayer, Donald Judd and Sarah Mucha contributed to this report.
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Bloomberg takes a beating, Sanders defends socialism in fiery debate
Here are some of the night's biggest moments.
Sanders, the millionaire socialist
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that two-thirds of voters are uncomfortable with a socialist candidate for president, which could be a problem for Sanders. But when asked about it, Sanders pointed out that he was leading in that very poll.
“Let's talk about democratic socialism,” Sanders said, adding: “We are living in many ways in a socialist society right now. The problem is, as Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, 'We have socialism for the very rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”
Applause rang out.
“When Donald Trump gets $800 million in tax breaks and subsidies to build luxury condominiums, that's socialism for the rich,” Sanders said.
“We have to subsidize Walmart’s workers on Medicaid and food stamps because the wealthiest family in America pays starvation wages. That's socialism for the rich. I believe in Democratic socialism for working people.
Not billionaires. Health care for all. Educational opportunity for all.”
Bloomberg quipped: “What a wonderful country we have. The best-known socialist in the company happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?”
Sanders: “You missed that I work in Washington.”
Bloomberg then cut in: “That's the first problem.”
Sanders continued, saying he has a home in Burlington, Vt. “I do have a summer cabin. Forgive me for that. Where is your home?”
“New York City, thank you very much,” Bloomberg responded. “And I pay all my taxes. And I'm happy to do it because I get something for it.”
Bloomberg appears to step in it on women and NDAs
One debate moment can cause a candidate to slip badly, and Bloomberg’s refusal to release women from non-disclosure agreements struck with his company marked a low point for his nascent candidacy.
“I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior the #MeToo movement has exposed. Anybody that does anything wrong in our company, we investigate it, and if it's appropriate, they're gone that day,” Bloomberg said when asked about complaints women have made against him over the years. Bloomberg pointed out that his company was rated as the second-best place in America to work.
That’s when Warren moved in for the kill: “I hope you heard his defense was: 'I've been nice to some women.' That just doesn't cut it.”
She added: “What we need to know is exactly what's lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women — dozens, who knows? — to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements? So we can hear their side of the story?”
Cheers and applause followed.
Bloomberg started to say, “We have a very few nondisclosure agreements,” when Warren interrupted him, asking, “How many is that?”
Bloomberg didn’t answer, but said none of the women “accuse me of doing anything other than, maybe, they didn't a joke I told.”
The audience jeered.
“There’s agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet. And that's up to them. They signed those agreements, and we'll live with it.”
Warren: “I want to be clear. Some is how many? And when you say they signed them, and they wanted them, if they wish now to speak out and tell their side of the story about what it is they alleged, that's now OK with you?”
She went on: “This is also a question about electability. We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against. That's not what we do as Democrats.”
Bloomberg responded finally: “I said we're not going to get — to end these agreements because they were made consensually, and they have every right to expect that they will stay private.”
More jeers followed.
Warren savages Bloomberg, the rest pile on
Elizabeth Warren welcomed Mike Bloomberg to the stage and whacked him rhetorically in a way so far unseen in the Democratic primary.
“I'd to talk about who we're running against: A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” Warren said to kick off the debate.
“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies redlining and stop and frisk,” she continued. “Look, I'll support whoever the Democratic nominee is, but understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Amy Klobuchar followed up, saying the Bloomberg campaign arrogantly said three moderate Democrats should just step the way to help him win the nomination and defeat President Donald Trump.
“I think we need something different than Donald Trump,” she said. “I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say, 'We need somebody richer in the White House.'”
After noting that an NBC poll showed he leads Trump by the widest margin of anyone in the Democratic field, Joe Biden piled on.
“The mayor says that he has a great record. The fact of the matter is, he has not managed his city very — very well when he was there. He didn't get a lot done,” Biden said. “He has stop and frisk, throwing close to 5 million young black men up against a wall.”
Dems criticize Sanders for online behavior of his supporters
A question to Warren about whether behavior of some Sanders supporters would hurt unity in the general election sparked a pile-on to the self-described democratic socialist.
“I've said many times before, we are all responsible for our supporters and we need to step up,” Warren said. “That's what leadership is all about.”
Sanders responded to Warren, saying of the millions of followers, “99.9 percent of them are decent human beings, are working people, are people who believe in justice, compassion and love.
And if there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people.
” He then pivoted to harassment he said some of his campaign’s female and African American staffers had received.
Buttigieg jumped in soon after, prefacing that he did not believe Sanders was directing the online activity, but then saying, “I think you have to accept some responsibility and ask yourself what it is about your campaign, in particular, that seems to be motivating this behavior more than others.”
Serious as a heart attack
Sanders backed away from his pledge to provide full transparency after he had a heart attack late last year. When asked about it, Sanders made sure to pivot to how Bloomberg had a medical procedure as well.
“I think the one area maybe that Mayor Bloomberg and I shared, you have two stents as well,” Sanders said.
Bloomberg chimed in: “25 years ago.”
“Well, we both have two stents. It's a procedure that is done about a million times a year,” Sanders said, pointing out that numerous physicians have attested to his health. “Hey, follow me around the campaign —three, four, five events a day, see how you're doing compared to me.”
Buttigieg chimed in and said it wasn’t enough.
“First of all, let me say we're all delighted that you are in fighting shape,” Buttigieg said and then transitioned to how Sanders has not provided enough details about his health care plan’s costs.
Sanders was happy to fight on more solid ground concerning health care, and pointed out that “Yale epidemiologists in ‘Lancet’ — one of the leading publications in the world — what they said, my friends, is Medicare for All will save $450 billion a year.”
Buttigieg blasts Bloomberg, Sanders
Buttigieg ripped into Bloomberg and Sanders, noting that after Super Tuesday, “the two most polarizing figures on this stage” could be the only two candidates left competing for the nomination.
“Most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve gotta choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks that money oughta be the root of all power,” the former South Bend, Ind., mayor said.
He urged the party to “wake up” and nominate someone him.
“Let’s put forward somebody who actually lives and who works in a middle-class neighborhood in an industrial Midwestern city.
Let’s put forward somebody who’s actually a Democrat,” Buttigieg said, jabbing Sanders, an independent, and Bloomberg, a former Republican and independent.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out. We can do better.”
Warren takes aim at, well, everyone
Warren didn’t come to make friends at the debate and, in one paragraph, swiped at Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Sanders over health care.
“Mayor Buttigieg really has a slogan that was thought up by his consultants to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to afford their health care. It's not a plan, it's a Power Point,” she said. “And Amy's plan is even less. It's a Post-it note: ‘insert plan here.
’ Bernie has started very much — has a good start. But instead of expanding and bringing in more people to help, instead his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work. And then his own advisers say, ‘Eh, probably won't happen anyway.
All three candidates who were criticized wanted to respond, starting with Buttigieg.
“I'm more of a Microsoft Word guy,” drawing laughs. “If you look at my plan, I don't know if there are any Power Points on it but you definitely find the document on PeteForAmerica.com.”
Then it was Klobuchar’s turn: “I must say, I take personal offense, since Post-it notes were invented in my state.”
Bloomberg ducks question on stop and frisk
Asked what his recently leaked 2015 comments that minority neighborhoods are where all the crime is and that the way to get guns people’s hands is to throw them against a wall and frisk them says about how he views people of color and minority neighborhoods, Bloomberg opted instead to talk about stop and frisk, a policing policy that disproportionately affected male African Americans.
The former mayor said he was “embarrassed” by how the policy turned out but emphasized that he inherited it from his predecessor. “What happened, however, was it got control,” Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg added that he has spoken to black clergy, business people and kids who had been stopped “to try to learn.” “If we took off everybody that was wrong off this panel, everybody that was wrong on criminal justice at some time in their careers, there’d be nobody else up here,” he said.
Though Bloomberg said he has apologized, Warren said to “listen very closely to the apology.”
“The language he used is about stop and frisk. It’s about how it turned out,” she said. “Now this isn’t about how it turned out. This is about what it was designed to do to begin with.”
It targeted black and brown men from the beginning, Warren continued, challenging Bloomberg to “issue a real apology.”
“If you want to issue a real apology, then the apology has to start with the intent of the plan as it was put together and the willful ignorance day by day by day of admitting what was happening even as people protested in your even street, shutting out the sounds of people telling you how your own policy was breaking their lives,” she said. “You need a different apology here, Mr. Mayor.”
Too much money for Turbo Tax
Bloomberg said he will release his tax returns — eventually.
“It just takes us a long time,” he said, explaining why he hasn’t released his returns before voting started earlier this month. “Fortunately, I make a lot of money, and we do business all around the world, and we are preparing it. The number of pages will probably be in the thousands of pages. I can’t go to Turbo Tax.”
Bloomberg said his returns will include his investments and donations.
“They’ll be out in a few weeks, and that’s as fast as I can do it,” he added. “Remember, I only entered into this race 10 weeks ago. All my associates here have been at this for a couple of years.”
Warren urged Bloomberg to “pay overtime and get it done!”
“I wish it were that simple,” Bloomberg responded.
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