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January Democratic Debate: Live Updates




Mr. Sanders defended his opposition to the U.S.M.C.A. North American trade deal, even though he said it is an improvement on Nafta.

“We can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal,” Mr. Sanders said. Pressed on whether he is willing to compromise at all on trade, Mr. Sanders pivoted to climate change.

“Every environmental organization in this country, including the Sunrise organization, who is supporting my candidacy, opposes it,” he said.

Ms. Warren followed by arguing that the U.S.M.C.A. is better than the status quo, and should be seen as the first step toward getting a better deal.

“Let’s help the people who need help now,” she said. Asked why he disagrees with Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders said implementing the U.S.M.C.A. will “set us back a number of years,” though he passed on an opportunity to draw additional contrast with Ms. Warren.

Mr. Biden mocked the North Korean regime, which has lashed Mr. Biden with graphic insults — and the former vice president received backup from his rival, Mr. Sanders.

“I would not meet with — absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, Supreme Leader, who said ‘Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick,’” Mr. Biden said.

“Other than that, you like him,” Mr. Sanders interjected wryly, referencing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“Other than that, I like him, and he got a love letter from Trump right after that,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders took another opportunity to obliquely swipe at Mr. Biden’s vote to authorize the war in Iraq when asked about America’s role in the Middle East.

“What we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes, with the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. Both of those wars were based on lies,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that he feared President Trump could lead the nation into another war amid tensions between the United States and Iran.

Mr. Biden did not take on Mr. Sanders of Iraq, choosing to emphasize another element of his foreign policy record: the nuclear deal with Iran, achieved during the Obama administration.

“I was part of that deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, bringing together the rest of the world, including some of the folks who aren’t friendly to us,” Mr. Biden said. “And it was working.”

Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg each said they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, though neither of them stipulated what they would do beyond negotiations to stop Iran from doing so.

Another split in the candidates emerged on foreign policy. Ms. Warren, Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Sanders said they’d remove combat troops from Iraq, while Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Biden said they would leave some in place.

“I would leave some troops there, but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now,” Ms. Klobuchar said.

Ms. Warren said that it is time to bring the troops home. “I think we need to get our combat troops out,” she said. “You know, we have to stop this mind-set that we can do everything with combat troops. Our military is the finest military on Earth. And they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.”

And Mr. Buttigieg said: “We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops. But what’s going on right now is the president’s actually sending more.”

Mr. Buttigieg said if he is elected president and asks Congress to authorize military force overseas, he would ask for the legislation to expire after three years.

“When I am president, anytime — which I hope will never happen — but anytime I am compelled to use force and seek that authorization, we will have a three-year sunset, so that the American people are included, not only in the decision about whether to send troops, but whether to continue,” he said.

The moderator Wolf Blitzer opened the debate on foreign policy, asking Mr. Sanders why he’d be the best commander in chief. Mr. Sanders wasted no time in going on the attack against Mr. Biden, drawing a contrast on foreign policy by reiterating his opposition to the Iraq War, and his 2002 vote against authorizing the conflict. That left Mr. Biden to defend his 17-year-old vote.

“I said 13 years ago it was a mistake to give the president the authority to go to war,” Mr. Biden said. “It was a mistake; I acknowledged that.” He then quickly mentioned that Barack Obama opposed the war from the state and noted that Mr. Obama chose him as his running mate.

“I think my record overall on everything I’ve ever done, I’m prepared to compare it to anybody on this stage,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders shot back: “Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. Joe saw it differently.”

Ms. Klobuchar, who has sought to portray herself as a unifier while other candidates are drawing contrasts with each other, said the real issue is beating President Trump.

“What we should be talking about is what is happening right now with Donald Trump,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “Donald Trump is taking us pell mell toward another war.”

While Mr. Blitzer tried to pit Ms. Klobuchar against Mr. Buttigieg on the issue, the two moderate rivals barely engaged. Instead, Mr. Buttigieg, 37, drew an implicit contrast over age with Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, who are in their late 70s. Mr. Buttigieg, a former Naval intelligence officer, stressed his own military experience while offering an unsubtle reminder of how long Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders have served in Washington.

“There are enlisted people that I served with, barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9/11 on the war in Iraq,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were out first, and they gave each other a warm handshake and shared a few words. Elizabeth Warren was out next, shaking Mr. Biden’s hand and then reaching over to Mr. Sanders, who was looking elsewhere; he noticed her, smiled and joined in a handshake.

There was no evident tension in the moment, even though Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren spent Monday in a standoff over her accusation that he told her in 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency. He has denied the remark.

Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar rounded out the candidates taking their places onstage.

Mr. Biden often claims he’s not engaging in “hyperbole” — but as Democratic candidates work to appeal to voters of color, that’s exactly what he did as he highlighted his standing with those constituencies in an interview published Tuesday, hours before a debate for which only white candidates qualified.


“I get more support from black and brown constituents than anybody in this race. That’s where I come from. I come from the African-American community,” Mr. Biden, who is white, told The Sacramento Bee. “That’s my base. We’re the eighth largest black population (as a percentage) in the United States in my state. That’s how I got started.”

Those remarks came in response to a question about the all-white debate stage, a disappointment to many Democratic voters and activists who were energized by the diversity of the field at the outset of the campaign.

“I think there’s some really qualified people, but it’s the way, you know, the way the polls are running, the way things are moving,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m not sure this whole debate setup has made any sense anyway to begin with. But it is what it is. But I tell you what: If I’m elected president, I promise you my administration is going to look like America.”

The debate comes a day after Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, dropped out of the race, leaving just one black person — Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts — in the Democratic contest.

Polls do show Mr. Biden with a commanding lead among African-American voters over all, though the contest for younger black voters, as well as for Latino voters, is far more competitive, and Mr. Sanders in particular has shown strength with those constituencies.

Ms. Warren’s top aides and her new surrogate Julián Castro have been telegraphing a message of unity, promoting Ms. Warren as the candidate who can bridge the party’s progressive and moderate wings.

That’ll be hard if she’s stoking a war with Mr. Sanders.

Ms. Warren is going to try anyway, having already adopted most of Mr. Sanders’s platform without some of his harder edges. She’s sure to be asked about reports in recent days that Sanders volunteers disparaged her election chances in calls to Iowa Democrats and the report, followed by her confirmation, that Mr. Sanders told her a woman could not be elected president.

There’s little evidence that Sanders supporters can be moved away from the Vermont senator, but it is incumbent upon Ms. Warren to demonstrate to moderate and undecided Iowans that she can appeal to all elements of the party and, as she often says in her remarks, win Republican votes for proposals like her wealth tax.

Hours before Tuesday’s debate, Ms. Warren released a plan to cancel student debt by executive action.

She argues that existing laws give the Education Department the authority to cancel federal loans as well as to issue them, and that as a result, she can direct the department to do so without congressional approval.

Essentially, she is proposing a more aggressive way of carrying out the student debt plan she released months ago, which would cancel up to $50,000 in debt for about 95 percent of borrowers.

She 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.” She said she had consulted with experts on the legality of her proposal, and attached a letter from lawyers at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center that bolstered her case.

The proposal “will require clearing a lot of red tape,” Ms. Warren 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.”

Mr. Patrick, the only black candidate remaining in the presidential race, is not be participating in Tuesday’s debate, and he is not taking his exclusion quietly.

“Tonight, six candidates will take the debate stage, all remarkable public servants,” Mr. Patrick, a former governor of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Yet tonight America will not see herself in full.”

He was referring to the all-white debate line-up. As the Democratic field has been winnowed, the candidates on the stage no longer reflect a racial or ethnic cross-section of America.

Since December, three candidates of color have withdrawn — Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Julián Castro of Texas, the former housing secretary.

Two other nonwhite candidates, the tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, remain in the race but did not qualify to participate tonight under debate rules.

To close out the debate last month, Mr. Yang struck a self-aware note: “I know what you’re thinking, America,” he remarked. “How am I still on this stage with them?”

As it turns out, Mr. Yang will not be on the debate stage in Iowa on Tuesday night. After earning a spot in the first six Democratic debates, Mr. Yang failed to qualify for this one because he did not receive 5 percent support in enough qualifying polls.

Mr. Yang has urged the Democratic National Committee to commission more polls. And his campaign, emboldened by a high-profile poll of Iowa caucusgoers that was released on Friday, has sharpened its criticism of the D.N.C., arguing that if it had done its “due diligence,” Mr. Yang “would certainly be on the debate stage.”

Mr. Yang himself weighed in on Twitter on Monday: “I want us to be on that stage,” he wrote. “I think we earned it.”

Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Michael M. Grynbaum, Stephanie Saul, Matt Stevens and Marc Tracy.

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