ABC restarted debate while Clinton was still offstage

APphoto_Dem 2016 Debate

Hillary Clinton returns to the stage after the Democratic presidential primary debate had resumed from a break, as Bernie Sanders stands at his podium.

(Jim Cole / AP)

The Democratic presidential debate offered many moments for the Internet to ponder, but one of them touched on issues of gender.

About halfway through the evening, when the commercials ended and ABC's cameras came back on, audience members could be seen returning to their seats.

Moderator David Muir started speaking, even as it was clear the podium in the center of the stage had no one standing behind it: Hillary Clinton was missing. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley were in place.

"Welcome back tonight. As you can see, we have a packed audience here in New Hampshire, and we're going to continue. We've already had a spirited conversation here at the top of the broadcast about ISIS, about the concerns of terror here on the homefront, and as we await Secretary Clinton backstage, we're going to begin on the economy," Muir said.

The camera zoomed in closer on the stage.

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Muir's fellow moderator Martha Raddatz had a grim expression on her face as Muir continued.

On Twitter, bathroom jokes erupted.

The moderator went on.

"We want to turn to the American jobs, wages and raises in this country. And we believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute. But in the meantime, we want to start with this eye-opening number. And Sen. Sanders, this question goes to you first, anyway," Muir said.

As he asked about median household income versus CEO pay, the audience began cheering. Clinton strolled across the stage, crossing behind Sanders. "Sorry," she said.

Muir said, "We're going to continue here, and Secretary, you'll get a chance on this too."

Reactions went beyond joke-cracking. "Seriously? We waited 30 min 4 the #DemDebate to start while @ABC chats but they could not wait 2 min for Hillary?" tweeted @EileenSoffer.

An ABC spokesperson pointed out the campaigns were aware that each break would be five minutes and that the debate is on live television. Also, when campaigns negotiated debate terms, they did not include the empty podium issue in discussions.

At the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas in October, Clinton apparently was late to her podium following a break. But CNN's Anderson Cooper did not start without her.

"And welcome back to this CNN democratic presidential debate. It has been quite a night so far. We are in the final block of this debate. All the candidates are back, which I'm very happy to see. It's a long story. Let's continue. Secretary Clinton, welcome back."

"Well, thank you," Clinton said. "You know, it does take me a little longer. That's all I can say."


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