The three Democratic 2020 front-runners were united at Tuesday night’s presidential debate in calling for President Trump’s impeachment, even as 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 12 candidates were the largest lineup 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,” Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asserted when asked why Congress should bother with the process given the impending election. “Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over again, without consequences. … The impeachment must go forward.”
Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., agreed: “This is a president who is enriching himself while using the Oval Office to do that, and that is outrageous. In terms of the recent Ukrainian incident. … [it’s] beyond comprehension. … Mitch McConnell has got to do the right thing, and allow a free and fair trial in the Senate.”
Former Vice President Joe 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.”
“These debates are kinda crazy.”
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.
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.
“Look, my son’s statement speaks for itself,” Biden said, adding that he never acted improperly based on payments his son was receiving from several multinational companies. “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.”
The younger 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.
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.
“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 healthcare: “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.”
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.
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, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, 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.
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.
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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