LOS ANGELES — It was a tale of two debates, as Democratic presidential candidates offered very different conversations during their final forum of 2019.
In the first half of the debate they spent much of their time making the case for their electability in contest with President Donald Trump. The second half was filled with friction over money in politics, Afghanistan and experience.
The last Democratic presidential debate of the year came Thursday night, in the wake of Trump’s impeachment about 24 hours prior. The event at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles featured the fewest number of candidates so far, just seven, a result of the Democratic Party’s stricter rules for qualifying:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
- Billionaire Tom Steyer
The first of the six debates without a black or Latino candidate, concerns about the diversity of the Democratic field increased since Harris announced on Dec. 3 that she was dropping out.
During the debate, Biden acknowledged that the blue-collar workers whose causes he champions may suffer in a push to make American business greener. Biden was asked if such jobs will likely be lost with a move toward cleaner energy. He responded that "the answer is yes."
But the former vice president said those same workers would benefit from the higher-paying jobs created in such an economy.
Steyer agreed with Biden on job creation, while Sanders pushed for a declaration of a national emergency on the need to address climate change.
On the issue of trade, Democratic senators were demonstrating divergent views, with Sanders vowing to vote against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Klobuchar promising to support it.
Though Sanders said it would make “modest” improvements in the economy, he says nowhere in the agreement do the words “climate change” appear. What’s more, the Democratic Socialist said, it’s “not going to stop corporations from moving to Mexico” to take advantage of cheaper labor.
However, Klobuchar said the deal includes improved environmental and labor standards, and a better agreement for the U.S. on pharmaceutical sales.
Klobuchar said the agreement can “encourage work made in America.”
As the national impeachment debate turns toward the Senate, the Democrats vying for a nomination to replace Trump were united in pushing for his removal from office.
Klobuchar said Trump's situation is even more serious than the events that brought down Richard Nixon, calling Trump's alleged misdeeds "a global Watergate." Referencing the 1974 book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Klobuchar wondered of Trump, "If he is so innocent, then why doesn't he have all the president's men testifying?"
Sanders and Warren — who, along with Klobuchar, will likely participate in an impeachment trial early next year — were focusing on the need to eradicate what they see as Trump's corruption. Biden called Trump's removal “a constitutional necessity.”
The debate's host state, California, offers the largest haul of delegates, giving candidates their biggest host venue of the campaign. Yet with impeachment leading the news, the holidays at hand, and with thousands of moviegoers swarming to the theaters for the new "Star Wars" sequel, the debate wasn’t expected to draw that much attention from voters. But it was also the last big impression the candidates had to give before the new year.
The debate hosted by PBS and Politico started at 8 p.m. EST, airing on PBS and simulcast on CNN. The moderators included PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff, Politico political correspondent Tim Alberta, PBS NewsHour national correspondent Amna Nawaz and PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.
The next four debates are scheduled for January and February in the first four primary voting states. The Democratic National Committee has yet to announce the qualification criteria.