Dems unite behind impeaching Trump at debate, even as Pelosi says there wont be a vote
Rising Democratic co-frontrunner Elizabeth Warren came under attack from all sides during Tuesday night’s presidential debate, as former Vice President Joe Biden defiantly defended his son’s business practices overseas and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
All of the 12 Democrats on stage, meanwhile, backed an impeachment inquiry against the president. In a sign of apparent disunity and hesitation among Democrats, though, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said only minutes before the debate began that there would be no vote on formally beginning an impeachment inquiry.
The debate marked the first time the candidates met since Pelosi held her press conference last month unilaterally declaring that the inquiry had begun — a move that the White House has said is legally insufficient to actually begin the proceedings. The candidate lineup set a record for most politicians on a single debate stage, topping the 11 GOP candidates who assembled in 2016.
“Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics, and I think that’s the case with this impeachment inquiry,” Warren, D-Mass., asserted when asked why Congress should bother with the process given the impending election.
Biden has been at the top of the crowded field for months, but has come under withering assault from the White House concerning his son Hunter’s lucrative overseas business dealings.
The elder Biden faced something of a timid confrontation over the issue during the debate, when CNN anchor and debate moderator Anderson Cooper broached the topic by stating, without evidence, that President Trump’s accusations of misconduct by the Bidens were “false.”
But Cooper pressed Joe Biden on Hunter’s admission in a televised interview earlier in the day that he made a mistake by obtaining a lucrative role on the board of a Ukraine company, with no relevant expertise, while his father was the vice president and handled Ukraine policy. (“I know I did nothing wrong at all. Was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is a swamp in many ways? Yeah,” the younger Biden said Tuesday morning.)
Joe Biden recently pledged that no members of his family would engage in foreign deals if he were to be elected president — a tacit admission, Republicans said, of previous poor judgment or even wrongdoing.
Devon Archer, far left, with former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, far right, in 2014. Archer served on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings with Hunter, and began serving before this picture was taken. Joe Biden has denied ever speaking to his son about his overseas business dealings.
“Look, my son’s statement speaks for itself,” Biden said. “My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government which was to root out corruption in Ukraine, and that’s what we should be focusing on.”
He concluded: “The fact of the matter is, this is about Trump’s corruption. That’s what we should be focused on.”
Later on, as the debate heated up, Biden remarked: “These debates are kinda crazy.” In a head-turning moment, he also said wealthy individuals might be found “clipping coupons in the stock market.”
Separately, asked about Trump’s policy in Syria, Biden appeared to give an extended answer in which he meant to talk about Turkish President Recep Erdoğan — but kept referencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead.
Asked about his health towards the end of the debate, Biden vowed to release his medical records before the Iowa caucuses are held, and said his age gives him “wisdom.”
Hunter Biden obtained other high-paying board positions domestically and internationally, with no relevant expertise, while his father was a senator and vice president. For example, Hunter became an executive at the financial services company MBNA just two years after leaving law school. MBNA sources told Fox News this week that the company was trying to curry favor with Joe Biden, who was shepherding a bill favored by MBNA to passage in the Senate.
“These debates are kinda crazy.”
— Joe Biden
Meanwhile, Warren has climbed to co-front runner status but faces new questions about her dubious claims to Native American ancestry.
She was under attack from all sides at the debate for refusing to answer whether her “Medicare for All” plan would raise taxes for the middle class. Warren once again dodged the issue, insisting only that “costs will go down” for the middle class.
“I appreciate Elizabeth’s work, but again, the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done,” Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said to Warren. “At least Bernie’s being honest here. … I’m sorry, Elizabeth.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lambasted Warren on health care: “Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this,” he said.
Buttigieg specifically knocked Warren for the nonanswer, saying her failure to offer a direct answer is “why people are so frustrated with politicians” and arguing that Medicare for All would “unnecessarily divide this country.”
“We heard it tonight,” Buttigieg said. “A yes or no question that didn’t get a yes or no answer.” He said he wanted a plan that could be summed up as Medicare for All if you choose it, not whether you want it or not.
Beto O’Rourke also pressed Warren on the tax issue, to no avail. (Later on, O’Rourke had no answer when Cooper asked how he could confiscate Americans’ firearms, given that the government has no way of knowing where the vast majority of AR-15s are located. He said only that he believes Americans “will do the right thing” voluntarily.)
Bernie Sanders, who wrote the Medicare for All legislation that Warren has embraced, said it was “appropriate to acknowledge taxes will go up.”
The event, hosted by CNN and The New York Times, is on the campus of Otterbein University, just outside Columbus in Ohio, a state that has long helped decide presidential elections but has drifted away from Democrats in recent years.
Democratic presidential candidate businessman Tom Steyer, left, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., right, listen as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Many of the candidates were struggling just to get noticed — trying to make up ground in a race that kicks off officially in just over three months with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. Buttigieg and California Sen. Kamala Harris are trying to crack the top tier.
Also debating were New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Obama housing chief Julián Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Making his debate debut — and likely angling for a splash — is billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
Gabbard hit The New York Times and CNN — who were hosting the debate — for waging what she called a propaganda campaign against her, while also promoting endless “regime change wars.”
“The New York Times and CNN have smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war,” Gabbard said. “Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”
Gabbard has criticized Trump for how he’s conducted the withdrawal in Syria, but said Tuesday that while Trump has “the blood of the Kurds on his hands … so do many of the politicians in both parties who supported this regime change war.”
When Gabbard later turned to directly challenge Warren on her foreign policy credentials, the debate moderators quickly cut to a commercial.
The debate’s foreign policy discussion concluded without any mention of the ongoing push by China to censor American companies, including the NBA and Blizzard Entertainment, from making or tolerating pro-Hong Kong statements.
Yang’s plan for a universal basic income spurred a discussion on stage concerning whether a federal jobs guarantee is a better plan — something of a remarkable achievement for Yang, who has struggled in the polls while advancing his own unique agenda.
The 2020 field, which once had swelled to two dozen, has been shrinking as the Democratic Party’s rules have mandated that candidates meet higher donor and fundraising thresholds to debate.
Just 10 White House contenders qualified for September’s debate, but Gabbard and Steyer made Tuesday’s a record.
Earlier contests featuring 20 candidates were divided between two nights.
Author Marianne Williamson, who was not physically present at the debate on Tuesday because she failed to meet polling thresholds, remarked on Twitter as it unfolded: “No, they’re not the only Democratic candidates for President of the United States.”
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and The Associated Press contributed to this report.