On Wednesday night, the 2020 Democratic candidates met in Atlanta for the fifth Democratic debate. Hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, the event was filled with hot-button issues such as a long opening discussion on the current impeachment inquiry hearings.

Debate Details

MSNBC/Washington Post Democratic Debate (5th Debate)
Date: Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Location: Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia
Sponsors: MSNBC, The Washington Post
Moderators: Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker, and Ashley Parker

Debate Video

Here is the complete debate video:

Debate Transcript: Democratic debate transcript, November 20, 2019

Alternate Video Link: NBCNews.com

Debate Candidates

The final candidate list for the November debate in podium order, from left to right, includes:

  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  • Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Businessman Tom Steyer

Debate Highlights

As expected, the topic of the Congressional impeachment hearings started off the debate with a question about where candidates stand on the issue. The notable answer came from Sen. Bernie Sanders who said that Congress should be able to “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Sanders insisted that impeachment was important, but Congress shouldn’t shirk issues that matter directly to the American people.

The divisions also came quickly over the topic of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax with Sen. Cory Booker saying her plan was unworkable. Warren was ready to defend her plan and insisted it would help millions of Americans with things like universal preschool.

Working toward the topic of healthcare, which has been a very thoroughly explored topic at every Democratic debate, the lines are drawn between candidates for and against some variation of Medicare For All. Former vice president Joe Biden was quick to claim that Democrats don’t have the votes in the House to pass such a sweeping plan and that voters simply won’t want to give up their private insurance.

Biden stuck with his plan providing a choice to join some kind of Medicare for all plan without imposing it.

The Gabbard/Harris feud continued with Harris saying that Gabbard has done nothing but bash the Democratic Party and basically doesn’t deserve to even be on the stage. Gabbard responded that Harris would continue the Bush/Trump foreign policy of regime change. Gabbard has played the outsider card during the campaign, as she did tonight, saying that she will put the interests of America over the interests of her party.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar took a question about her comment that Mayor Pete Buttigieg wouldn’t be on the debate stage, with his limited experience, if he was a woman. Klobuchar explained that she does, in fact, think that Buttigieg is qualified, but she is saying that gender bias has kept strong female candidates from excelling in the primary.

One interesting topic, that hasn’t been discussed in this way, was about whether the next president should use social media the way President Trump has by speaking directly to the people. Sen. Cory Booker said he thinks Trump has used the technology repugnantly, but that the next president should be one that speaks to the people using these new technologies but uses them to bring people together.

Many candidates tried to bring the focus of the discussion back to fighting against President Trump rather than emphasizing differences among themselves. In this vein, Pete Buttigieg was asked about farm subsidies and stated that farms shouldn’t need subsidies as a result of the President’s trade war with China while he mildly avoided answering the question.

Joe Biden agreed with Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard calling climate change an “existential threat” when asked about how, as president, he would enact long-term solutions to the issue. There was some disagreement between Steyer and Biden over Biden’s record on the issue, but it didn’t amount to much of an exchange. Bernie Sanders interrupted the discussion to say that the premise of the question is wrong since, in Sanders’ opinion, the world doesn’t have decades, only the current time to act. Sanders also called fossil fuel companies criminals for withholding information about carbon emissions and questioned whether they should be prosecuted.

The topic of the war in Afghanistan came up with Sanders taking a shot at Biden over his support of what Bernie calls “endless wars.” Sanders said he would end the war in Afghanistan but would do so in an organized way and would cut a deal with the Taliban if needed to secure the region.

The final battle of the night between Tulsi Gabbard and Pete Buttigieg was the only time two candidates were locked in a thorny exchange. Gabbard went on the attack against Buttigieg questioning his judgment over statements that he would send the U.S. military into Mexico. Buttigieg responded claiming that’s not what he said, but Gabbard wouldn’t buy it. Then the two got in a tangle over Gabbard saying Buttigieg lacked courage in his foreign policy experience. In the end, though, the exchange likely won’t move the needle for either candidate but Gabbard, for some reason, did pull out the long knives to specifically go after Buttigieg.

Overall, by and large, on the night, every candidate had a decent showing. There were few if any major incidents where two candidates were pitted against each other in a way that turned sour. It appears that the panel of moderators did their best to stay focused on the issues and specifically avoid making candidates respond to statements about one another. There were a few “gotcha” questions, but they were minimal compared to the September and October debates which were much more confrontational.

In that regard, all the front runners came out largely unscathed. Pete Buttigieg turned in his usual solid showing, while Biden, Warren, and Sanders also stayed focused on their answers and didn’t seem to be on the losing end of any exchanges with other candidates.

The next Democratic debate comes up on December 19, 2019.