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Democratic debate recap: Who did well, who went on the attack, and what was that about wine caves?

Democratic candidates
The Democratic candidates on the debate stage at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Democratic debate recap: Catch up on what happened as presidential primary candidates talked to the nation from Los Angeles.

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Takeaways from the Democratic debate in Los Angeles

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Seven of the party’s White House hopefuls laid aside notions of peace on Earth and good will toward man — and woman — to joust in the year’s sixth and final presidential debate.

Brightly wrapped presents, holiday cheer and a crackling discussion of healthcare and income inequality.

Democrats certainly know how to celebrate the spirit of the season!

On Thursday night, seven of the party’s White House hopefuls laid aside notions of peace on Earth and goodwill toward man — and woman — to joust in the year’s sixth and final presidential debate, a testy back-and-forth on the campus of Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University.

As the year winds down and the first balloting — on Feb. 3 in Iowa — rapidly approaches, here are five takeaways from the evening’s antidote to all that gauzy yuletide sentiment.

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Democratic debate brings long-simmering rivalries into the open

Biden and Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, and former Vice President Joe Biden argue at the Democratic presidential primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Thursday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

United in their disdain for President Trump, top Democratic presidential candidates aired their differences over healthcare, foreign policy and the influence of money in politics in a pugnacious year’s-end primary debate.

The battle lines reflected the current state of play in the race. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., continued their long-simmering rivalry, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar resurfaced her critiques of the millennial mayor’s limited resume. The two most consistent front-runners of the race, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, largely trained their sights on each other.

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Debate photo gallery

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Pete Buttigieg talks about coalition-building in Mike Pence’s Indiana

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Democratic presidential candidates get testy over ‘Medicare for all’

The sharply contrasting plans the Democratic presidential candidates have proposed for repairing the nation’s healthcare system created a clash on the debate stage Thursday, as they argued the merits of vastly expanding government healthcare.

After Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders laid out his case for transitioning to government-run healthcare under a “Medicare for all” system in which existing private insurance would be eliminated, former Vice President Joe Biden attacked the Sanders blueprint as unrealistic and unworkable.

“I don’t think it is realistic,” Biden said. He warned that ending private insurance could upend the lives of millions of Americans who have negotiated their healthcare costs with their employers, and advocated for a “public option” that would allow those who want to buy into a Medicare-like system to do so.

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Have the candidates been naughty or nice this campaign season?

The candidates onstage.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Debate moderator Judy Woodruff asked the presidential hopefuls whether they would like to give a gift to or seek an apology from any of the others onstage. It’s the type of question that campaigns tend to hate, and the type that offers an opportunity to see how slickly a candidate can pivot to their favored talking point.

The seven Democrats appeared flummoxed, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jokingly suggested that they could all “do a labor action” and strike over the question. Ultimately, the two women on the stage asked forgiveness while the men offered gifts.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said he would like to give each candidate a copy of his book, which is about how automation is going to wholly upturn the nation’s economy.

“If you like data, this book is for you.”

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg would like to give the nation the gift of having any Democrat on the stage elected president “compared to what we’ve got.”

Warren said she would ask for forgiveness because she gets so moved by hearing of people’s hardships during her selfie lines. “I know that sometimes I get really worked up and sometimes I get a little hot.”

Vice President Joe Biden said he too met many people during selfie lines who struggled, and that as candidates, they owe the voters a gift.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while noting that he had written four books, said he believed that all the candidates could give a gift to the American people of “a very, very different vision” than Trump.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, like Warren, asked for forgiveness for “any time any of you get mad at me. I can be blunt. I am doing this because I think it is so important to pick the right candidate here.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer said the candidates could give the gift of teamwork to bring the nation together and work for values, freedom, equality and justice.

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Some of the best quotes from the Democratic presidential debate

"The truth is that real change always takes place -- real change -- always takes place from the bottom on up, never from the top on down.”
"I am not working for millionaires and billionaires. I’m here to work for the tens of millions of people here across this country who are ready to build an American that won't just work for those at the top but will work for everyone.”
 "I have a significant record of getting things done.”

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Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Los Angeles

The Democratic candidates on the debate stage.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles)

Brightly wrapped presents, holiday cheer and a crackling discussion of healthcare and income inequality.

Democrats certainly know how to celebrate the spirit of the season!

On Thursday night, seven of the party’s White House hopefuls laid aside notions of peace on Earth and good will toward man — and woman — to joust in the year’s sixth and final presidential debate, a testy back-and-forth on the campus of Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University.

READ MORE >>>>

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Andrew Yang answers the question lots of people were asking

I know what you’re thinking, America: How am I still on this stage with them?

(Required)

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Democrats vow to recognize slain transgender Americans

Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar in the debate.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The killing of nearly two dozen transgender people in the U.S. this year got rare attention from the Democratic presidential candidates when a moderator asked in Thursday’s debate what they would do to stop the violence.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told moderator Yamiche Alcindor that he would provide moral leadership from the White House, along with wider access to healthcare regardless of sexual orientation.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren promised to “lift up their voices.”

“I will go to the Rose Garden once every year to read the names of transgender women, people of color who have been killed in the past year … so that as a nation we are forced to address the particular vulnerability on homelessness.”

Warren also vowed to change prison rules that separate inmates based on their birth sex identification rather than their current one.

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Buttigieg vows to compensate and ‘fast-track’ to citizenship children separated at border

Pete Buttigieg speaks during the debate.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles)

When the topic in the Democratic debate turned to immigration, the candidates uniformly pilloried President Trump’s agenda of dramatically accelerating detainments and deportations. But one candidate went further.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg pledged that he would work to remedy the damage done to families separated at the border by providing payments to the children and moving them to the front of the line for American citizenship.

Asked if he would support financial compensation for those thousands of children, he responded: “Yes, and they should have a fast track to citizenship. It was wrong and we should fix was what broken.”

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Feud between Klobuchar and Buttigieg grows more personal and ugly

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar
Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are shown on TV screens.
(Robyn Beck / AFP-Getty Images)

The feud between Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — both competing to be moderate pragmatic Midwestern alternatives in the Democratic presidential contest — grew increasingly personal and ugly during Thursday’s debate.

Klobuchar accused Buttigieg, 37, of previously scoffing at the experiences of the senators on the stage.

“You basically mocked the 100 years of experience on the stage,” she said, before highlighting accomplishments by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and herself. She said that she had not denigrated his experience as a small-town mayor and that he should be similarly respectful of their experiences in the nation’s capital. “I think this experience works.”

Buttigieg shot back that Klobuchar had denigrated his experience when she earlier dismissed his words about the 1st Amendment as “talking points.” When he served in the military, he said, he took an oath to defend the Constitution with his life. “That is my experience and it may not be the same as yours, but it counts, senator,” he said.

Klobuchar responded that, while she respected his military experience, the debate was about selecting who was best qualified to be president and which candidate could gather the support of a coalition of moderate Republicans, independents and the Democratic base. She said she had done so multiple times in her home state.

Buttigieg retorted, “Try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80% of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.”

Klobuchar responded that he had failed to win statewide office, a reference to his bid for state treasurer in 2010. “Had you won in Indiana, that would be one thing. You tried and you lost by 20 points.”

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Elizabeth Warren: ‘I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated’

Former Vice President Joe Biden applauds for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles)

Former President Obama sparked a spirited exchange in the Democratic debate Thursday with his recent comment in Singapore that the world would be a better place if more women were in charge, and that old men “not getting out of the way” had caused many of its problems.

“I think I disagree with him on this one,” said 77-year-old Joe Biden, who was vice president under Obama. He declined to commit to seeking a second term if he wins the 2020 election.

Moderator Tim Alberta of Politico told Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren she’d be the oldest president ever inaugurated if she defeats President Trump.

“I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated,” she deadpanned.

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Warren chides Buttigieg over his ‘wine cave’ fundraiser

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren took South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg to task for his recent big-money fundraiser at a winery in Napa Valley during Thursday night’s debate, saying “billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

But Buttigieg was ready for it. He accused Warren of hypocrisy by pointing out that he was the only candidate among the seven onstage who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire. And he warned Warren against imposing “purity tests” on her competitors that she couldn’t pass.

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Amid a fight over fundraisers, a plea for unity

Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles)

Apparently frustrated by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg taking up precious time on the debate stage arguing about fundraising events and courting wealthy donors, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar cut in.

“I did not come here to listen to this argument. I came here to make a case for progress,” she said, adding: “And I have never even been to a wine cave” — a reference to one of the sites where Buttigieg hosted a fundraiser for his campaign.

“I’ve been to the wind cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to,” she continued, likely referring to the Wind Cave National Park, before making a case for presenting a united front for campaign finance reform as candidates of the same party.

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Amy Klobuchar criticizes President Trump’s foreign policy

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar criticized President Trump’s foreign policy and said he had allowed criticism from other world leaders to get under his skin – a reference to the recent NATO anniversary celebration in London where foreign leaders were captured on video laughing about the president. Trump later left the NATO gathering early.

“The point of it is that he couldn’t even tolerate it. He was so thin-skinned that he walked, he quit,” Klobuchar said. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., followed up by saying he was less bothered by Trump’s sensitivity to criticism and more worried about how the president has adopted the vocabulary of dictators around the world and how he has branded the press as an “enemy of the people.”

“It’s one more reminder of what is at stake,” he said, adding that it was more than just talking points. Klobuchar shot back that the issue of jailed journalists is not “just a talking point.” “I just want to be clear, mayor, that the freedom of the press is deep in my heart,” she added, noting that her father was a newspaperman.

She added that she had asked every candidate for attorney general under Trump to commit to not jailing journalists for doing their job. “So this is not just talking points to me. This is the real world. And I think the experience that I would bring to the White House, protecting the 1st Amendment, is worth more than any talking point,” she concluded.

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Elizabeth Warren responds to question about her age

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Democrats decry climate change, and say fighting it could unite the country

Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar in debate.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

On the debate stage at Loyola Marymount University, Democrats described climate change as an existential threat — and said tackling it was a cause that could bring the country together.

The candidates were asked whether they would be willing to relocate entire cities threatened with climate-related disasters, in California due to fires or to floods in the Midwest. But the discussion expanded to one about the need for the entire country to take the lead in addressing the issue.

Agreeing with the relocation idea, New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang said that “part of plan is literally called move people to higher ground.” He added that as president, he’d put all options on the table, including nuclear energy use, to reduce the nation’s reliance on oil as a way to clean the air.

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Cory Booker, who isn’t at the Democratic debate, spends time campaigning in Iowa

URBANDALE, Iowa — Sen. Cory Booker, who did not qualify for the Democratic debate in Los Angeles, spent Thursday evening greeting volunteers at a campaign field office here.

He didn’t mention his absence from the debate stage, but instead argued that his campaign’s momentum is growing in the state that holds the first nominating contest in the nation.

“You guys don’t pay attention to the national polls. You pay attention to people, to their heart and their character,” he told about 30 supporters gathered to run a phone bank.

The Democratic National Committee raised fundraising and donor thresholds to qualify for Thursday night’s debate. Booker met the donor requirements but failed to receive enough support in polls. (The threshold was 4% in four national polls or 6% in two early-state polls.)

It’s a larger quandary dogging Booker’s campaign — while his approval ratings are high and he is well received on the stump, his optimistic message of hope and love has failed to resonate with Democratic voters.

Booker, whose voice remained hoarse after suffering a bout of the flu last week, said he disagreed with critics who have argued that voters want to see a fighter to take on President Trump rather than hear a message about “love, grace and decency.”

“I just think that’s so wrong,” he said, before jumping on the phone to call potential caucus supporters.

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Democrats question U.S. economy’s health under Trump: ‘The middle class is getting killed’

Elizabeth Warren in Thursday's debate.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Democratic presidential candidates challenged the idea that the nation’s economy is in good shape under President Trump, arguing at Thursday’s debate in Los Angeles that most Americans are not benefiting from robust corporate profits and stock market gains.

“The middle class is getting killed,” former Vice President Joe Biden said. “The middle class is getting crushed.”

Biden and several of the six others onstage at Loyola Marymount University called for higher taxes on corporations and the rich to spread the nation’s wealth more fairly.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said government was working only for the wealthy and well-connected. “That is corruption, pure and simple, and we need to call it out for what it is,” she said.

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What’s it like to be the only candidate of color at the debate?

Andrew Yang speaks during the debate.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Businessman Andrew Yang was asked what kind of message having mostly white candidates on the debate stage was sending to voters of colors, who make up a core electorate of the Democratic Party. Yang was the only candidate of color on the stage.

“It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the only candidate of color onstage tonight. I miss Kamala, I miss Cory, but I think Cory will be back,” Yang said, making a flashy hand gesture that prompted laughter from the crowd. Black and Latinos have power in numbers, he said, but they face obstacles like health disparities and lack the financial power that dominates politics.

“You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income,” he said, getting in a plug for his proposed “freedom dividend” program, which would give every American $12,000 a year.

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Candidates struggle to explain lack of voter enthusiasm for impeachment

Amy Klobuchar makes a point in the debate.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Democratic debate got underway just 24 hours after the U.S. House voted to impeach President Trump, and the candidates struggled to explain why more Americans were not enthusiastic about that move.

Public opinion is nearly evenly divided on impeachment. Throughout the weeks of impeachment proceedings, with testimony arguably damaging to the president dominating the news day after day, voter feelings about impeachment barely budged from where they were before the hearings began. The candidates rarely talk about the issue on the campaign trail, choosing to focus instead on bread and butter economic issues.

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Warren says critics are wrong about her wealth tax proposal

During the first 20 minutes of the debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked about her proposed tax on the wealthy and how she would respond to critics who say it would stifle growth in the economy. Warren has proposed a 2-cent wealth tax on assets over $50 million. “Oh they’re just wrong,” the senator responded.

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Democratic presidential candidates take stage at Loyola Marymount

The candidates onstage at Loyola Marymount University.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Democratic presidential candidates have taken the stage inside the Gersten Pavilion on Loyola Marymount University’s Westside campus, and it’s clear that Thursday night’s debate will be fought in closer quarters than previous matches.

There are only seven candidates onstage this time, likely meaning more time for each to talk and less chance that candidates will go silent for long stretches.

Notably absent are high-profile figures including Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who had qualified for this round but dropped out of the campaign largely due to a lack of funding, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, who did not qualify.

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As 2019 comes to a close, here are the key dates on the the 2020 presidential election calendar

Tonight’s Democratic presidential primary debate marks the last major political event of 2019. But as you can imagine, the presidential election calendar is jammed packed with events and key dates to remember.

We’ve created a curated calendar feed that you can subscribe to. The 2020 election calendar will contain key national events leading up to election day. We’re keeping close tabs on important dates and events in California, and will add important reminders for voters here. We’ll point you to stories to help you understand how these events impact campaigns and the election.

Here are key dates and events on the the 2020 presidential election calendar, including dates of debates, caucuses, primaries and conventions.

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Warren’s once high-flying campaign has lost altitude. She has a plan for rising again

Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

Last winter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wowed Tom Courtney by cold-calling the former Iowa state senator and talking for half an hour. After a campaign event in his hometown of Burlington, she sweet-talked his 8-year-old great-granddaughter. Warren impressed him as she built an imposing political organization across Iowa.

Now he’s not so sure about her. The Massachusetts senator has suffered from weeks of attacks by rivals, and Courtney is coming back to an issue Warren has struggled to put to rest: electability.

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Billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer rolls out a risky strategy: touting his hedge fund past

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer in 2013.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

Billionaire Tom Steyer is trying to turn his biggest weaknesses into strengths in the Democratic presidential contest, saying his past experience managing a hedge fund makes him the strongest candidate to take on President Trump.

“If Democrats don’t nominate someone who can go toe-to-toe with him on the economy, Donald Trump will win in 2020,” Steyer told a modest crowd gathered at a co-working space here, adding that none of the front-runners in the race had experience building a business or creating wealth.

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Progressive activists have a new punching bag: Pete Buttigieg

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a conference in January.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

There’s something about Mayor Pete.

As the Midwestern political upstart climbs in Democratic presidential primary polls, Pete Buttigieg also has managed to get deep under the skin of progressive activists.

Social media networks now light up with the latest Buttigieg-induced controversy over his policy positions, his turns of phrase, even the swanky locales of his private fundraisers. The Gen Z crowd mocks him as “Mayo Pete,” his events have been disrupted by liberal protesters and his fresh-faced newness is seen as a drawback.

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Trump impeachment? Democratic presidential candidates want to talk about anything but

Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, campaigning in Carroll, Iowa.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The historic drive to impeach and remove President Trump has consumed Washington like a fever dream for months, but for politicians and activists girding for the 2020 elections, it’s been another story.

Democratic presidential candidates barely mention it. Republicans running in swing states have been trying to change the subject. In battleground states like Wisconsin, Democrats are trying to engage voters on kitchen-table issues, not impeachment.

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Who are the candidates in the Democratic debate in Los Angeles?

(Los Angeles Times)

Democrats taking the stage for the final presidential debate of the year — this one in Los Angeles — have a prime opportunity to sway those Democrats still making up their minds about who should challenge President Trump in 2020.

They face the cameras at Loyola Marymount University with just over six weeks left until the first contest of the nominating fight.

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Will Democrats tear up the script for their final debate of 2019?

After five rounds of debate, a fleeting set of viral moments and enough soundbites to fill a large concert hall, the Democratic race for president stands largely where it was six months ago, when the year’s first face-to-face meeting took place on a soupy night in Miami.

The final debate of 2019 will air Thursday night, live from Los Angeles, with the smallest number of participants to date: just seven candidates who met the polling and fundraising requirements set by the Democratic National Committee. Earlier meetings crammed as many as 12 candidates on stage, or took place over two nights to accommodate a lineup of 20 contestants.

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What time is the Democratic debate in Los Angeles?

The Democratic debate drama started well before the candidates even arrived in Los Angeles for Thursday’s faceoff, with speculation swirling about whether they would show up. Would the event even take place?

Were the candidates feuding? Why would they not show?

Sure, maybe some of them aren’t on the chummiest of terms, but that’s not what put the debate at risk. A labor dispute at host Loyola Marymount University led the candidates, one by one, to announce on Friday that they would not cross a picket line to climb onstage. But that’s settled, mostly (more about that later), and the sixth Democratic debate is expected to go ahead as scheduled, right here in sunny SoCal.

So pour yourself a glass of cheer and get ready for the holiday tradition of political arguments and finger pointing, this time with seven presidential candidates doing the honors over three — yes, three — hours.

READ THE WHERE, WHEN AND WHY OF THE DEBATE >>>

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December Democratic presidential debate in L.A. back on track as union reaches tentative deal

Union members and clergy supporting Unite Here met with Loyola Marymount University officials in Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, to push for a resolution to a contract dispute that is threatening this week's Democratic presidential debate.
(Matt Pearce / Los Angeles Times)

A Democratic presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles is back on track after a labor dispute there was ended Tuesday morning.

The televised debate, set for Thursday, had been in peril since last week, when Democratic presidential candidates announced they would boycott the event because a labor union was planning to picket on debate night. The dispute was between Sodexo, a food services contractor on the private university’s Westside campus, and Unite Here Local 11, which represents about 150 campus employees.

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How would Democratic debate candidates fix the housing and homelessness crises?

Leneace Pope, 34, known as Niecy is cleaning outside of her tent on the sidewalk in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, November 12, 2019.
Leneace Pope, 34, known as Niecy is cleaning outside of her tent on the sidewalk in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, November 12, 2019.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

The surge in homelessness in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other West Coast cities has troubled many Americans as rents have risen further out of reach for those with the least. Yet most of the Democrats running for president rarely mention the housing crisis that has struck hardest in regions with a high cost of living.

Some candidates have released bold and costly plans to increase access to low-cost housing. Others, at least so far, have promised little or nothing.

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Where the 7 candidates in the debate stand on healthcare, guns, immigration, climate and housing

The Democrats vying to take on President Trump agree on many prescriptions for the country’s problems, including undoing many of Trump’s policies. But on a wide range of issues, their ideas diverge in ways large and small.

Medicare for all” has been a flash point for the party’s competing factions, bringing heated exchanges on debate stages and accusations of naivete and foot-dragging. Beyond that issue, the candidates have also differed to one degree or another on immigration, environmental policy, gun control and how to solve persistent homelessness.

The more progressive candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, call for sweeping structural changes and say the party must go beyond the kind of policies pursued by the last two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Bold approaches will help mobilize young people and minority voters who will propel a Democrat to victory, they say.

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