Sanders vs. Warren: This Week in the 2020 Race
With less than three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, tensions escalated between two of the leading Democratic candidates and were on display on national television at a debate in Iowa.
We’ll catch you up on this and other moments you may have missed from a very busy week.
A timeline of the Sanders-Warren tension
The trouble started last weekend with the publication of a script that volunteers on the Sanders campaign had been using, telling voters that Ms. Warren appealed to “highly educated, more affluent people” and brought “no new bases” to the party. Then, on Monday, Ms. Warren said that Mr. Sanders had told her in a private meeting in December 2018 that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency — a claim Mr. Sanders vehemently denied.
The disagreement came to a head on Tuesday. During the debate in Iowa, the two senators had a brief, relatively cordial exchange in which Mr. Sanders again denied making the remark and Ms. Warren pivoted to a broader point about women’s “electability.” But afterward, as the candidates were mingling onstage, Ms. Warren confronted Mr. Sanders directly.
Late on Wednesday, an audio recording revealed what she had said: “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” Mr. Sanders responded that they should talk about it another time, and then said that it was Ms. Warren who had called him a liar.
Our colleagues Jonathan Martin and Sydney Ember wrote about the fracture between Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren. Liberal Democrats are afraid that the infighting in the party’s progressive wing could end up benefiting moderates.
Our colleagues also looked at the challenge Ms. Warren faces in convincing Iowa caucusgoers that her sweeping plans won’t be a liability in a general election.
What else happened at the debate
While that conflict between Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren dominated much of the outside discussion, the debate itself — the seventh of the race — focused on many other things.
It was the smallest debate yet, with six candidates: Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and the former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer. Among the major topics of discussion were foreign affairs, President Trump’s trade policy, climate change and — once again — health care.
Mr. Trump’s dealings with Iran, including his decision to order the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, were the focus of the first part of the debate. All of the candidates onstage agreed that Mr. Trump had mishandled the situation, but as our colleague David E. Sanger wrote, they were more vague about their own diplomatic approaches and under what circumstances they would use military force.
Here is our main story recapping the night.
About 7.3 million people watched the debate live on CNN, down from previous debates. Our chief television critic, James Poniewozik, wrote that “prodded to spar, the candidates more often chose to strike at President Trump” and took a “gloves-on approach.”
Booker is out
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey ended his presidential campaign on Monday. “I got in this race to win,” he told supporters, “and I’ve always said I wouldn’t continue if there was no longer a path to victory.”
Mr. Booker had pitched himself as a positive, unifying candidate — a posture that did not resonate with the Democratic base. Recent polls showed him between 1 and 3 percent, and he did not qualify for the last two debates.
His departure leaves only one black candidate in the race: Deval Patrick, who entered very late and is struggling to reach even 1 percent in polls.
You can read more about Mr. Booker’s decision here.
Impeachment takes candidates off the trail
The start of the trial meant that the four senators in the Democratic race — Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and Michael Bennet of Colorado — were forced to leave the campaign trail less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
While the senators have not dwelled publicly on the trial’s campaign-related implications — Ms. Warren has said repeatedly that some things are more important than politics — there is no denying the timing is bad. Our colleague Stephanie Saul checked in on how they’re framing their absence from Iowa.
Warren wants to cancel debt without Congress
Ms. Warren released a plan on Tuesday to cancel student loan debt by executive action. Essentially, this is an extension of the student debt proposal she released months ago — a more aggressive way of enacting the same policy, which would cancel up to $50,000 in debt for about 95 percent of borrowers.
She argues that existing laws give the Education Department the authority to cancel federal loans as well as to issue them, and released a letter from lawyers at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center that supported her interpretation. Ms. Warren said she would instruct her education secretary to begin canceling debt on her first day in office, and “to amend any regulations or policy positions necessary to get there.”
The proposal “will require clearing a lot of red tape,” she wrote. “But let’s be clear: Our government has cleared far bigger hurdles to meet the needs of big businesses when they came looking for bailouts, tax giveaways and other concessions.”
In other policy news:
Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and another late entrant into the race, released five plans: one to cut pollution from homes and buildings, one to combat vaping, one on climate resilience, one on wildfire resilience and one on clean transportation.
Mr. Steyer introduced a plan to cut taxes by 10 percent for low- and middle-income families, as well as to increase the earned-income and child tax credits. He said he would pay for the plan by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans and taxing capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income.
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