Democrats Debate Healthcare, Trump, Foreign Policy in New Hampshire

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In New Hampshire Ahead Of First Primary Contest

Seven Democrats took the stage at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, Friday night, ahead of the state's primary on Tuesday. The evening was filled with a spirited and sometimes confrontational debate as the candidates made their last minute pitch on why they deserved the Democrats' 2020 presidential nomination.

Tonight's debate participants included:

  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Billionaire Tom Steyer

The debate was moderated by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Lindsey Davis, alongside Adam Sexton and Monica Hernandez of WMUR. Candidates were given 1 minute, 15 seconds to answer a direct question and 45 seconds for a rebuttal.

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Friday's debate was a make-or-break moment for many candidates on stage for the debate, which moderators began by asking about electability and whether someone who labels themselves a "Democratic socialist" can win in 2020.

"We got to bring young people in the political process," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said when asked how to counter Trump's attacks on Democratic socialism. "I'm very proud that in Iowa we won the popular vote by 6,000 votes, but what was most significant is we increased voter turnout for young people under 29 by over 30%."

"No matter who wins this damn thing," Sanders said, "we're all going to stand together to defeat (Donald Trump)."

Vice President Joe Biden defended his worse-than-expected fourth place finish in Iowa, saying that he "took a hit" in Iowa and that he'd "probably take a hit here."

"No matter what, I'm still in this for the same reason," he said. "We have to restore the soul of this country."

When moderators asked if they any of the candidates were concerned about having someone who called themselves a "Democratic Socialist" at the top of the ticket, Sen. Klobuchar's hand went up.

"Bernie and I work together all the time, but I think we are not going to be able to out divide the divider in chief," Klobuchar said. "I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out...And truthfully, Donald Trump's worst nightmare is a candidate that will bring people in from the middle, the people that are tired of the noise and the nonsense and they are tired of the tweets and the mean stuff and they are looking for someone else. I would submit that that is me."

Mayor Pete Buttigieg shied away from an opportunity to launch a direct attack on Sanders, who he tied with in the Iowa Caucuses on Monday, saying he wasn't "interested in labels."

"The biggest risk we could take at a time like this would be to go up against that fundamentally new challenge by trying to fall back on the familiar or trying to unite this country at a moment when we need that kind of unification when our nominee is dividing people with a politics that says if you don't vote all the way to the edge, it doesn't count," he said.

When Buttigieg was asked if he was talking about Sanders, the other possible winner in Iowa, Buttigieg said "yes."

"Because we've got to bring as many people as we can into this process. Look, all of us have been saying that we can build the majority that it's going to take in order to win. But the process of actually proving it is now underway," Buttigieg added. "And now it comes to New Hampshire, a state that thinks for itself, is not going to be told what to do by anyone and that has a very independent streak that is going to respond to those who are reaching out in a politics of addition and inclusion and belonging. Not one that beats people over the head and says they shouldn’t even be on our side if we don’t agree 100 percent of the time."

Sanders responded by saying "Needless to say, I've never said that. But let me tell you what I do say. The way you bring people together is by presenting an agenda that works for the working people of this country, not for the billionaire class."

The candidates continued a familiar debate that has played out on the campaign trail and in previous debates over the past few months - the viability of "Medicare for All" - something that Sens. Bernie Sanders and other candidates on stage have supported.

However not every candidate said they were comfortable with replacing the private insurance industry. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar criticized her opponents over their support for the idea, calling it unrealistic.

"I keep listening to the same debate, and it is not real," Klobuchar said. "It is not real, Bernie. Because two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate are not on your bill, and because it would kick 149 million Americans off their current health insurance in four years."

She continued: "Elizabeth (Warren) wants to do it in two years, and Pete (Buttigieg), while you have a different plan now, you sent out a tweet just a few years ago that said henceforth, forthwith, indubitably, affirmatively, you are for Medicare for All for the ages."

"And so, I would like to point out that what leadership is about is taking a position, looking at things and sticking with them," the senator said. 

Klobuchar said she supported a program that would build on the Affordable Care Act with a non-profit option.

"The Affordable Care Act is now nearly ten points more popular than the President of the United States," Klobuchar said. 

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Biden joined in on criticizing Sanders' plan, saying that the Vermont Senator won't say how much it might cost.

"How much is it going to cost? Who’s going to pay for it? It’ll cost more than the entire federal budget we spend now — more than the entire budget," Biden said. "I busted my neck getting Obamacare passed, getting every Democratic vote. I know how hard it is."

Democrats also briefly discussed President Donald Trump's acquittal in the Senate this week, with Republican Senator Mitt Romney receiving a shout-out from two of the candidates on stage for his vote to convict Trump to big applause from Democrats in the audience.

The moderators went on to ask Pete Buttigieg about Republican attacks on Joe Biden and his son's business dealings in Ukraine, to which the former mayor offered a forceful defense.

"We’re not going to let them change the subject. This is not about Hunter Biden or Vice President Biden or any Biden. This is about an abuse of power by the President,” Buttigieg said. 

"Look, the vice president and I and all of us are competing, but we’ve got to draw a line here," Buttigieg said. "To be the kind of president, to be the kind of human being, who would seek to turn someone against his own son, who would seek to weaponize a son against his own father, is an unbelievably dishonorable thing that is just one more example of why we as a party have to be completely united."

The impeachment trial began after Trump attempted to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden. Trump and others around him have repeatedly alleged that both Bidens acted improperly in Ukraine.

As the only candidate on stage who served in the military, Buttigieg was also asked if he agreed with Trump killing Iran's top general Qasem Soleimani and if he would order a similar strike.

"There is no evidence that that made our country safer," Buttigieg says. "It's also the case that if we learned nothing else from the war in Iraq, it's that taking out a bad guy is not a good idea if you do not know what you are doing."

"This president has insulted the intelligence community, but they put their lives on the line to gather the information that will help the decision-maker evaluate whether or not something like that is justified. I don't think he even reads it," he added.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In New Hampshire Ahead Of First Primary Contest

The opioid crisis was also discussed by the candidates with entrepreneur Andrew Yang advocating for an increase in treatment facilities and resources for those affected by the epidemic.

"This is not a money problem, fundamentally, this is a human problem, but money cannot be the obstacle. This is something that happened on the government's watch," Yang says. He talked about hearing some of the "heartbreaking" stories from families in New Hampshire who have been "destroyed" by the opioid epidemic.

"You have to look at the companies that profited to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in profits of essentially blood money," Yang said. 

About ninety minutes into the debate, Tom Steyer brought up the fact that race had not come up at all so far.

“We have not said one word tonight about race. Not one word. Are you kidding me?” he said. 

"We have the most diverse party. We have a very diverse country. We have a very diverse party. The heart and soul of this party is diversity," he said. "The question we have is how are we getting that diverse group of people to the polls?"

Buttigieg was asked to defend his record on race during his time as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where his handling of issues like policing in black neighborhoods have been roundly criticized by the other candidates.

"Systemic racism has penetrated to every level of our system and my city was not immune," Buttigieg said.

"Earlier we are talking about opioids and thankfully, America has come to a better understanding that opioid addiction is a medical problem," Buttigieg said. "But there are a lot of people, including African American activists in my community, who have made the very good point, it's great that everybody's so enlightened about drug policy now… but where were you when it came to marijuana, where are you when it came to the crack epidemic in the 1990s?"

The mayor’s answer wasn’t enough for Senator Elizabeth Warren who was asked if his answer was sufficient.

"No," Warren said to applause. "You have to own up to the fact. And it is important to own up to the fact, about how race has totally permeated our criminal justice system."

Sen. Klobuchar made a pitch for automatic voter registration as a way to help combat voter suppression.

"There's something else insidious going on we haven't addressed, and that is the systemic racism when it comes to voting that moves across the country to limit people's right to vote. That is why I have been leading on these bills to automatically register every kid to vote in this country when they turn 18. There is no reason we can't do that across the country to stop the gerrymandering by setting up independent commissions in every state and yes, to stop the voting purges," Klobuchar says.

"We are not going to be able to get any of these things done if we don't give people the right to vote."

Tom Steyer called racism an ongoing problem in the United States, restating his support for reparations for African Americans.

“Something wrong happened,” Steyer said. "I am for reparations to African Americans in this country, and anyone who thinks that racism is a thing of the past and not an ongoing problem is not dealing with reality.”

Steyer went on to call out Joe Biden for a prominent supporter of his in South Carolina, referencing a story about a $43,000 payment made by Steyer’s campaign to state Rep. Jerry Govan, the Chair of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. State Senator Dick Harpoolian was quoted by the Charleston Post and Courier that: “[Govan] told me he was with Joe Biden until Mr. Moneybags showed up...This is what happens when billionaires get involved, whether its Donald Trump or Tom Steyer. They just buy things. They don’t have to persuade anybody, they just buy them.”

"I think you should come over and disavow the statements that this man made that were openly racist, that were wrong, and the legislative black caucus is against. I'm asking you to join us and do the right thing," Steyer said to Biden.

Steyer asked Biden to repudiate those comments, which Biden acknowledged, saying he’d spoken with Harpootlian, who apologized.

"I've already spoken to Dick Harpootlian, and he in fact is -- was -- is -- I believe is sorry for what he said," Biden responded.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In New Hampshire Ahead Of First Primary Contest

The final question of the night was posed by the moderators in honor of the late ABC News journalist Cokie Roberts, who once asked in 1999 about what the candidates would say about where American is today, given issues like child poverty.

Yang was given the opportunity to answer first, who pointed out the Democrats’ campaign should be to “disentangle economic value and human value. Say they are not the same things.”

“Right now we have fallen into this trap where we’ve allowed the market to tell us what we are all worth,”

“And make this case to our fellow Americans,” Yang added, “that we each have intrinsic value, as citizens, as human beings, and as owners and shareholders of the richest country in the history of the world."

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg was next who said it was time for “a different kind of politics.”

“To turn the page, leave the politics of the past in the past, and deliver a better future before it is too late."

“When I'm president, we're going to measure the performance of our economy not by the Dow Jones, but by the income growth of the 90%. A good economy is one where children are being lifted out of poverty."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren pointed to the time she spent as a special education teacher.

"I started my grown-up life as a special education teacher. I learned early on about the worth of every single human being," Warren said. "And I believe that the best investment we can make as a nation, the best investment we can make as a nation, the best investment we can make as human beings is to invest in our children."

Senator Sanders said American would need to change its national priorities.

“The answer to your question is why we have the highest rate of child poverty of almost any major country on Earth, disproportionately high for the African American community by the way – is the same reason we give massive trillion dollar tax breaks to the rich and large corporations.”

“And that reason is that our priorities are determined by the one percent and by wealthy campaign contributors. Our priorities are determined by those who want to see the rich get richer and turning their backs on the working families in this country.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden called America’s children, “all our children.”

 "Like I said, they are all our children and they're not somebody else's kids. Everyone, everyone, everyone, as my father would say, is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect, and we're not doing it."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar took aim at Trump, accusing him of lacking empathy and that she knew Americans.

“I will tell you this, there is a complete lack of empathy in this guy in the White House right now, and I will bring back to you -- if you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent, I know you, and I will fight for you."

She added, "If you have trouble deciding if you're going to pay for your child care or your long-term care, I know you, and I will fight for you."

Finally, billionaire Tom Steyer answered the question by talking about his “new dream of America.”

"What we need to do is have a new conception, a new dream of America, dream it and make it happen. Imagine the mountain and then we climb it together. We are in perilous times. I am asking for your vote. Let's rise together."

The next Democratic debate is scheduled to Feb. 19 and will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and the Nevada Independent. It will be held in Las Vegas at the Paris Theater.

Photos: Getty Images

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