Seven candidates met on stage in Los Angeles on Thursday for the PBS NewsHour POLITICO Democratic debate. This was the sixth debate in the primary process and the first debate with a smaller stage of fewer than 10 candidates.

PBS NewsHour POLITICO Democratic Debate (6th Debate)
Thursday, December 19, 2019
Location: Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles
Sponsors: PBS NewsHour, POLITICO
Moderators: PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, Politico chief political correspondent Tim Alberta, PBS NewsHour senior national correspondent Amna Nawaz, and PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor

Full Debate Video

The debate begins at the 30-minute mark, the video should be all queued up but watch from the beginning if you want a preview and some analysis from the PBS NewsHour roundtable:

Debate Candidates

From left to right in podium order on stage:

  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Businessman Tom Steyer

What Happened at the Debate?

As expected, the topic of impeachment started off the questioning. All the candidates agreed in favor of impeachment. Joe Biden called the impeachment vote a “constitutional necessity” and promised to “restore the integrity of the presidency.”

Bernie Sanders called Trump a “pathological liar,” repeating a line he has used before at past debates. The Vermont senator, who would be a juror in the president’s impeachment trial, pledged to “make the case” against giving Trump a second term.

Elizabeth Warren said Trump was the “most corrupt President in history” on the matter of impeachment.

The impeachment topic didn’t last long before it was overtaken by a question to Warren about the potential adverse effect on the economy caused by her proposed tax plan. Warren has proposed a two-cent wealth tax on Americans who have more than $50 million in assets. Warren refuted the naysayers. “Oh they’re just wrong,” the senator responded.

Pete Buttigieg continued trying to a blaze a trail politically between Biden and Warren by saying that voters aren’t being boxed into a choice between one extreme or the other, they could pick a mix of both by signing on to his policies and temperament.

On the topic of climate change, Tom Steyer attacked Buttigieg for not putting the issue high enough on the priority list. Steyer proposed a national emergency on the topic, as did Bernie Sanders, and he pledged to use wind and solar energy as they’re available today to combat greenhouse gasses.

Another important topic in the first hour concerned the “whiteness” of the debate stage. Andrew Yang was asked about being the only candidate of color on stage tonight, following the withdrawal of Kamala Harris and other candidates’ failure to qualify.

“It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight,” Yang said. “I miss Kamala, I miss Cory,” he said, referring to Senator Cory Booker. Yang added, “Although I think Cory will be back.”

The second hour led off with the topic of foreign policy and China in particular. On the topic of climate change, Tom Steyer proposed a partnership with China to fight climate change and referred to the country as a “frenemy.” Andrew Yang warned that China is attempting to export technology which supersedes U.S. technology and could lead to security risks and espionage. Joe Biden suggested remaining tough with China and holding them more accountable which he said President Trump has been unable to do.

On the topic of whether age and gender can play a role in presidential politics, Biden said that his experience is what makes him a valuable candidate. When asked outright about committing to running a single term, Biden said he would not commit “one way or another” to running for a second term in 2024 if he wins in 2020.

On the topic of money in politics and the influence of wealth, Pete Buttigieg made it a point to say he wouldn’t turn down support from anyone who wants to defeat Donald Trump, whether they can chip in “$10 or $1,000,” it doesn’t matter to Buttigieg.

Elizabeth Warren responded to Buttigieg’s comments by accusing him of holding closed-door high-dollar fundraisers and accepting money from ultra-wealthy donors. Buttigieg then commented that his net worth is one of the lowest on the stage, and he needs money from every income level and the campaign shouldn’t be run by purity tests.

The exchange between Buttigieg and Warren was finally interrupted by Klobuchar who said she didn’t come to the debate to listen to this meaningless argument.

On the question of political experience, Amy Klobuchar chastised Pete Buttigieg for the way he discounts the experience of her fellow Senators and the former vice president on stage. Buttigieg responded that he was not denigrating her experience or, but he accused Klobuchar of being the one who was denigrating his experience, not the other way around.

One of the more explosive moments came during a debate on healthcare in the third hour. Joe Biden called Bernie Sanders’ plan “preposterous” to think Medicare For All can cover all healthcare costs without significantly raising taxes. Klobuchar jumped in to make a point that Bernie’s argument shouldn’t be with Biden, but with the rest of Congress and others who would need to sign on to his bold plan.

Klobuchar clearly had some pivotal moments tonight in getting a lot more speaking time and then making the most of the time she had. Her answers were sharpened, her “shaking” from the prior debate was steadied, and she clearly came well prepared.

Andrew Yang received mich more speaking time tonight than prior debates, and he made it a point to use his time wisely. Always ready with a cohesive answer, Yang was a refreshing presence on stage. Having watched him since the first debate back in June, I can say that Yang has developed quite far as a much more skilled debater now than he was some months back.

Joe Biden basically came out of this debate unscathed with no major gaffes and few memorable answers. His job was to get through without much criticism or unforced errors and he seemed to be more on his game tonight than in some prior debates.

Bernie Sanders had a strong night as well, always ready with his unrelenting rhetoric about the influence of money in politics and the concentration of wealth in America. He was consistent and thorough, though he did come off somewhat evasive on a few topics.

Elizabeth Warren didn’t have any particularly standout moments, perhaps her most noteworthy time was arguing with Pete Buttigieg. She stumbled somewhat again with the topic of paying for her tax plans and how that might hurt the economy, though she did offer some strong answers on other topics such as how the federal government may help citizens with disabilities.

Pete Buttigieg did well and withstood a new onslaught of attacks from Warren and Klobuchar in some instances. He was on his game and steady with his answers as he usually is.

Tom Steyer served basically as a bookend on the debate stage demonstrating his ability to regurgitate every liberal policy position to the extreme, but without any real emotion or energy behind it. He tried to contrast himself as the outsider on the stage, the only who could tackle President Trump in 2020, but most of his answers were uninspiring or seemed overly rehearsed.

Wrapping Up

We’re now heading into the Christmas holiday and the New Year’s holiday so campaigning will slow to a crawl. Voters are focused on other matters and won’t be paying much more attention until we get into January. There may be a handful of polls that come out next week and we’ll start to get a sense of where the dust will settle after this debate.

The next Democratic debate is set for January 14, 2020.