Seven candidates faced off in Charleston, South Carolina Tuesday night for the last time before both the Palmetto State primary and the nationwide contests scheduled to take place on March 6 dubbed “Super Tuesday.”
Similar to last week’s debate in Las Vegas, the candidates scrambled to thwart the momentum of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sweeping the first three states heading into the biggest day of the Democratic primary next week and frame themselves as the viable alternative to a self-described socialist.
In a fiery debate in which the moderators appeared practically absent, the candidates traded angry barbs at each other. This provoked explosive crosstalk to erupt on stage at several times throughout the night, stalling the event in primetime.
— Abigail Jackson 🇺🇸 (@abigailmarone) February 26, 2020
Here are last night’s highlights.
Sanders Takes The Heat
High off a 26-point win in Nevada last weekend after capturing the popular vote in Iowa and a first-place finish in New Hampshire, Sanders is steamrolling into South Carolina and Super Tuesday as the frontrunner despite polling second in the first southern primary state to former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sanders was the clear target in center stage, taking flak from each candidate throughout the night including harsh criticism from fellow leftist Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who, until recently, had refrained from launching attacks on Sanders.
To start, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg jabbed Sanders for recent leaked intelligence alleging that the Russian government is propping up the polarizing senator in an effort to interfere in U.S. elections.
“I think Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he’s president. I do not think so. I think Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected,” Bloomberg charged.
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) February 26, 2020
Within the first ten minutes of the debate, each candidate on stage had taken shots at Sanders except for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobucharm who didn’t speak for much of the first 30 minutes but whose criticism was not far behind.
“I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight,” Sanders joked on stage. “I wonder why.”
Bloomberg Faces Rematch With Warren Over NDAs
Warren dove into Bloomberg again over the New York billionaire’s use of nondisclosure agreements with female employees who accuse the businessman of running a hostile work environment and allege sex discrimination.
“The Bloomberg corporation and Mayor Bloomberg himself have been accused of discrimination. They are bound by nondisclosures so that they cannot speak,” Warren said. “If he says there is nothing to hide here, then sign a blanket release and let those women speak.”
Bloomberg’s response was a sharp turn from last week’s event, in which his cold answer drew him the ire of the crowd. He had said, “maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
“I don’t remember what they were,” Bloomberg said of his past comments Tuesday night. “If it bothered them, I was wrong, and I apologize. I’m sorry for that.”
People want a chance to hear from the women that Mike Bloomberg and his company have gagged with nondisclosure agreements.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 26, 2020
At the start of the exchange, Warren also repeated an often-used lie claiming she was fired from her first teaching job for being “visibly pregnant.” Documents unearthed by the Washington Free Beacon however, revealed her school board had voted unanimously to extend Warren’s contract for another year when she decided to quit.
Sanders Is Pressed On His Socialist Math
CBS moderator Norah O’Donnell pushed Sanders to explain the enormous cost of his socialist programs Tuesday night, throwing the stage into chaos as the rest of the candidates leaped at the opportunity to expose the impossibility of funding socialism in a nation that is already running massive budget deficits and the largest federal debt load in history.
“Can you do the math for the rest of us?” O’Donnell asked.
“How many hours do you have?” Sanders responded.
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) February 26, 2020
Almost each candidate got a word in to jab Sanders on the senator’s unrealistic plans. Klobuchar quoted Sanders’s recent comments on a “60 Minutes” interview where Sanders even admitted he didn’t know exactly how much his plans would cost.
“He said he wasn’t going to rattle through the nickels and the dimes,” Klobuchar said. “Well, let me tell you how many nickels and dimes we’re talking about: nearly $60 trillion… That is three times the American economy.”
Sanders repeated talking points saying his “Medicare for All” program would save taxpayers money in the end with lower costs than what health care costs today.
Bernie Sanders can't do #Math. Oh wait that doesn't sound right, let me rephrase that. Bernie Sanders can do the math but he knows bums will buy into his lies. Who cares about the math? #freestuff #DemDebate2020 #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/E5wny9K6R6
— Political Dissident (@KashJackson2018) February 26, 2020
Candidates Warn Of Red Wave With Sanders Nomination
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, along with Biden and Bloomberg, cautioned Democrats that nominating the far-left Vermont senator would threaten to wipe out Democrat gains in the House and flip control of the lower chamber back to Republicans in addition to losing the White House again.
Choosing Sanders, Buttigieg argued, “adds up to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as the speaker of the House… If you want to keep the House in Democratic hands, you might want to check with the people who actually turned the House blue.”
“Forty Democrats are not running on your platform,” Buttigieg added. “They are running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can.”
.@PeteButtigieg: If we want to keep the House in Democratic hands, we might want to check with the people who actually turned the House blue: 40 Democrats who are not running on Senator Sanders' platform. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/bU5fdXbIOJ
— Manuel Bonder (@manuel_bonder) February 26, 2020
Biden corrected Buttigieg that it was 41 House Democrats who helped flip the lower house of Congress, and pointed out that more of those freshman Democrats have endorsed the former vice president’s White House bid than anybody else’s in the race.
Bloomberg also took the moment to flex his influence in the party, noting that 21 of these Democrats benefitted from Bloomberg’s money in the 2018 midterms. Bloomberg slipped up, however, and almost said he “bought” those seats.
“All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge, and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I bough – got them,” Bloomberg said.
Sanders On Defense Over Cuba Comments
Over the weekend, Sanders praised the communist Cuban regime for its “literacy program” during an interview with “60 Minutes.” On Tuesday night, Sanders was put on defense over the comments that drew sharp criticism from the candidates in the days following.
“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that,” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator also attempted to paint parallels between his own comments and the Obama administration’s friendly policy with the island nation south of Florida, which drew prompt pushback from Biden.
“What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education,” Sanders said, which met boos from the audience.
“He did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government,” Biden responded.
Bernie Sanders defended his controversial comments about Cuba, saying he has “opposed authoritarianism all over the world.”
“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that.”
— POLITICO (@politico) February 26, 2020
Bloomberg Refused to Call Xi Jinping a Dictator
When asked about previous comments declining to call Chinese President Xi Jinping a dictator, Bloomberg refused again, saying the Chinese leader “plays to his constituency.”
“In terms of whether he’s a dictator, he does serve at hest of the politboro,” Bloomberg said. “There’s no question he has an enormous amout of power, but he does play to his constituency.”
Michael Bloomberg doubles down on refusing to call Xi Jinping a dictator pic.twitter.com/JtHl1M7oQv
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) February 26, 2020
Candidates Criticize Trump Over Coronavirus
A new issue that emerged onto the Democratic debate stage as a topic of discussion Tuesday night was the commander-in-chief’s ability to combat a potential global pandemic.
Earlier in the day, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned that an outbreak of the virus in the United States is now inevitable, and that the question now is not whether it will spread as a pandemic but when.
“Now is the time for hospitals, schools, and everyday people to begin preparing,” said Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Candidates on stage each directed their fire to the current occupant in the White House, criticizing Trump for slashing funding to the nation’s public health institutions such as the CDC and proposing cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Klobuchar directed viewers to the CDC’s website while Biden touted his experience in the Obama administration dealing with the Ebola outbreak.
“I was part of making sure that pandemic did not get to the United States,” Biden said. “I helped set up that office in the presidency, in the president’s office on diseases that are pandemic diseases.”
🇺🇸 — DEBATE: Joe Biden points to the Obama administration’s handling of ebola as evidence that he could handle a global outbreak like coronavirus: “No one up here has ever dealt internationally with any of these world leaders. I'm the only one that has.” pic.twitter.com/rKL6m4zw1f
— Belaaz News (@TheBelaaz) February 26, 2020
Biden Claims Gun Violence Wiped Out Half the U.S.
While discussing gun violence, Biden said guns killed 150 million people over the last 13 years.
“Imagine if I said we give immunity to drug companies, we give immunity to tobacco companies. That has caused carnage on our streets. 150 million people have been killed since 2007 when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability,” Biden said.
The population of the United States is 328.2 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sanders Open to Reversing U.S.-Israeli Embassy Shift
When CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Major Garrett asked Sanders whether he would be open to removing the U.S. embassy in Israel from Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, which was placed there under the Trump administration, Sanders said he “would take it into consideration.”
Sanders also chastised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist who is now running the country.”
In 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed w/ bipartisan support.
From 1995-2016, every U.S. president delayed moving the U.S. embassy — until @realDonaldTrump.
If elected, Bernie Sanders would consider reversing the historic move of the embassy to Israel’s eternal capital city. pic.twitter.com/PIUni9oeX6
— Chandler Thornton (@chandlerUSA) February 26, 2020