The fifth Democratic presidential debate Wednesday night opened with fierce and unanimous denunciation of President Donald Trump, but quickly moved on to wider and more far-reaching topics.
There were 10 candidates on stage in Atlanta: former vice president Joe Biden; Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NJ), Kamala Harris (CA), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Bernie Sanders (VT); Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI); South Bend IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and wealthy businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.
“On a day when the country’s sharp divides were on clear display in the impeachment proceedings that continued on Capitol Hill, two of the candidates [Booker and Biden] sought to strike unifying notes,” said the Washington Post.
“The next president, whoever they are, is going to have be someone who can heal and bring this nation together,” said Booker.
Declaring he is the candidate best positioned to accomplish that, Biden said Trump must be defeated to “restore the soul of this country.”
There was no disagreement about beating Trump, but as the Associated Press put it, the debate then devolved into “squabbles” over a variety of issues, notably health care.
Sanders said the current health care system “is not only cruel, it is dysfunctional.”
Warren touted her plan “to raise $20-plus trillion in new government revenue on universal health care,” the AP says, adding that she says implementation of the program may take three years.
That, in turn, drew criticism from moderates Biden and Buttigieg, who think Warren is “trying to distance herself from an unpopular idea” that could put off general-election voters wary of government-run health care.
Buttigieg, the youngest candidate and one who has risen in the standings of late, sought to set himself apart after it was pointed out that he drew just 11,000 votes in his mayoral election victory.
“I’m literally the least wealthy person on the stage,” he said proudly, adding that he knows “how to get things done,” implying that some of his adversaries do not.
Klobochar said that electing the nation’s first female president is overdue: “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.”
Klobuchar also amused the studio audience with several comments, including that in her first election campaign she “raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends.”
Yang called for focusing on “the true threats of tomorrow,” warning that “we are 24 years behind on technology.” He also asserted that there are only two countries in the world without paid family leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea and the United States. “That’s the entire list, and we need to get off of it,” Yang said.
All the candidates emphasized the deep divisions in American society — particularly the ultra-rich versus the middle and working classes.
Booker declared that “we Democrats need to talk about a just tax system.”
Warren agreed, pushing her plan for a wealth tax on those she called “freeloading billionaires.”
Steyer, himself a billionaire, called for putting together organizations of Americans “to take on corporate interests” and pushing power “down to the American people.”
Turning to climate change — a topic neglected in previous Democratic debates — Steyer called it a “state of emergency”; Biden declared it the “number-one issue” facing the country and the world; Sanders said the fossil-fuel industry is “probably criminally liable” for the crisis.
But Yang may have had the last, and best, word, when asked what he would say as president in his first conversation to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“Well, first I’d say I’m sorry I beat your guy,” Yang said.