Ten Democrats will be taking the stage Wednesday night for the fifth presidential debate, which will take place in Atlanta. It will be co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.
The debate comes less than 100 days from the first contest of the Democratic primary season, the Iowa caucuses.
Watch CBSNews.com and CBSN for updates and analysis all day and all night ahead of this pivotal debate.
Warren pressed on “Medicare for All” plan, which Biden suggests is unrealistic
9:20 p.m.: Warren was forced to defend her “Medicare for All” plan, which is unpopular among Republicans and critics say could turn off many independent voters.
“I look out and I see tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to pay their medical bills, Warren said.
Warren has been criticized for the cost of her plan, which she says will still lead to overall lower costs for average Americans.
Sanders was then invited into the conversation, bringing up one of his favorite lines — that he “wrote the damn bill.”
Biden, considered a more moderate candidate, insisted Americans don’t want their health care taken away. The former vice president said he trusts Americans to make the best choice for themselves. “Medicare for All,” he said, will never succeed.
“It couldn’t pass the United States Senate now with Democrats, it couldn’t pass the House,” he said.
“If you go the route of my two friends on my rights and my left, you have to give up your private insurance,” Biden added.
— Kathryn Watson
Warren says her wealth tax is “not about punishing anyone”
9:13 p.m.: Warren pushed back against criticism that her proposal for a tax on the wealthy is punitive, saying that it’s about fairness.
“Doing a wealth tax is not about punishing anyone,” Warren said. She referred to a speech she gave in her 2012 Senate campaign where she argued that wealthy people had built their fortunes based on the work of others, such as teachers and public servants.
“Pitch in two cents so that everyone else gets the chance to make it,” Warren urged the millionaires and billionaires who would pay the tax.
“Two-cent wealth tax and we can invest in an entire generation’s future,” Warren added.
Booker responded by saying that he believes in investing in public services, but that he disagreed with Warren’s proposal for a wealth tax.
“The tax the way we’re putting it right now, I’m sorry, it’s cumbersome,” Booker said of the wealth tax. He added that it would be hard to evaluate as well. He also suggested the same revenue could be had from an income tax, rather than a wealth tax. “We as Democrats have got to start talking about not just how we tax from this stage,” he said.
— Grace Segers
Biden asked how he’d work with Republicans who want him and his family investigated
9:09 p.m.: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Biden how he could work with Republicans who are calling for investigations into both him and his son, Hunter Biden.
The former vice president said he can win states others can’t, pushing his electability argument.
“I think we have to ask ourselves the honest question, who is most likely to do what needs to be done,” Biden said.
Biden did not directly address Republican concerns about his son’s work on the board of Ukraine company Burisma while he was vice president.
As the impeachment inquiry continues, Republicans keep questioning the Bidens’ actions, even as officials in the impeachment inquiry have said they have no evidence of anything illegal about Hunter Biden’s time spent on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
— Kathryn Watson
Candidates address first open impeachment hearings
9:02 p.m.: After three witnesses testified in open hearings on Wednesday, the first question of the night was about impeachment. Warren took the opportunity to slam the main witness today, U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, noting that he had been nominated ambassador after he donated $1 million to President Trump’s inauguration.
“How did Ambassador Sondland get there?” Warren asked, referencing his donation, adding that Sondland’s nomination “tells us about what’s happening in Washington: the corruption.” It’s about “how money buys its way into Washington,” she said, and she warned big donors not to ask to be ambassadors in her administration.
Sanders noted the importance of the impeachment inquiry, but said that it shouldn’t be the main focus of the campaign.
“Sadly we have a president who is not only a pathological liar, he is likely the most corrupt president in modern history,” Sanders said, although he argued that focusing on impeachment alone would be a mistake. “The American Congress can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time,” Sanders added.
Buttigieg struck a similar note, saying that candidates should focus on what happens after Mr. Trump is defeated, as well as “absolutely” confronting the president “for his wrongdoing.”
— Grace Segers
Which candidates qualified for the debate?
There will be two fewer candidates on stage than in October because former Housing Secretary Julián Castro failed to qualify this time and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke ended his bid for the White House.
Here are the 10 candidates who have qualified to appear:
- Joe Biden, former vice president
- Cory Booker, New Jersey senator
- Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana
- Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii representative
- Kamala Harris, California senator
- Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota senator
- Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator
- Tom Steyer, businessman
- Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator
- Andrew Yang, entrepreneur
The Democratic National Committee raised the polling and donor criteria that candidates must meet to qualify for the November debate. Candidates could either reach 3% in four national or early-state, DNC-approved polls, or reach 5% in two early-state polls. They also had to demonstrate that they have 165,000 unique donors, including at least 600 each in at least 20 states, U.S. territories or the District of Columbia.
How to watch the 5th Democratic debate
Warren will still have a target on her back
Although she’s slipped in the polls since the last Democratic debate, Elizabeth Warren will still have a target on her back Wednesday night, particularly when it comes to her plan to implement “Medicare for All.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign blasted Warren’s $20.5 trillion plan to pay for the program as “mathematical gymnastics” at the start of the month. To Warren’s left on the issue, Senator Bernie Sanders made a characteristically indirect attack on her three-year transition plan to Medicare for All, with a tweet quoting a nurses association leader’s assertion that any watering down of his plan is a mistake.
Asked by CBS News last week to differentiate her transition plan from the more moderate “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan from Buttigieg, Warren said her plan “is about actually giving people Medicare for All that is going to be full healthcare coverage.” A Buttigieg spokesperson fired back, saying that “unlike Senator Warren, he wouldn’t kick tens of millions of American families off their private health care plans.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar also clashed with Warren on the issue from the stage in October, asserting that Medicare for All is impossible without raising middle class taxes, a claim Warren’s campaign disputes.
— Zak Hudak
Four candidates call on Comcast to probe NBC/MSNBC
Two days before the fifth Democratic primary debate, hosted by MSNBC, four Democratic presidential hopefuls called on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to demand Comcast, MSNBC’s parent company, commit to conducting an independent investigation into the company’s “toxic culture” that allowed the sexual harassment and abuse of staffers.
Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez on Tuesday ramping up the pressure on the party to reiterate its support for victims of sexual misconduct.
“We, the undersigned candidates, are very concerned about the message it would send to sexual assault survivors if our next debate is sponsored by MSNBC without clear commitments from Comcast, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, to conduct an independent investigation into the toxic culture that enabled abusers and silenced survivors,” the 2020 hopefuls wrote.
Despite the letter, Booker, Harris, Sanders and Warren will all take the stage Wednesday night.
— Melissa Quinn
All eyes will be on Buttigieg
This is the first debate where 37-year-old Buttigieg is poised to be the focus, given his new top standing in Iowa and a general surge in the early states. He’ll be alongside the other frontrunners — former Vice President Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Don’t be surprised if they call out Buttigieg’s low standing among black and Latino voters — two constituencies needed to win the nomination.
And while polls show Democratic voters are closely watching the impeachment hearings, they want their candidates focus on the issues. And on Wednesday night, they will, especially health care — and how to pay for it — plus the economy and climate change.
Democrats are holding the debate here in Georgia because it’s a state they’d like to win. But it hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992.
— Ed O’Keefe
First debate since public impeachment hearings began
Wednesday night marks the first Democratic debate since the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry entered its public phase last week. To what extent Democrats will focus on the inquiry remains to be seen.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he was not part of “some irregular or rogue diplomacy,” and he referred to emails showing that leadership at the State Department, National Security Council and White House had been informed about the announcement of Ukraine investigations sought by Mr. Trump of the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee server and the energy company Burisma, which employed Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Should the House impeach President Trump, half a dozen of the candidates running for president could find themselves sidelined from the campaign trail for much of January in the crucial closing weeks before the earliest voting contests. The subsequent Senate trial requires the presence of all sitting senators, which means that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet would be in Washington after the first of the year, should a Senate trial take place in the new year.
Biden campaign outlines debate points
Debate watchers can anticipate three main tactics from Joe Biden’s campaign Wednesday night:
- Make an argument about who has the experience and steady leadership needed to be commander-in-chief;
- promote the “progressive wins” of the Obama era;
- and continue to contrast Biden’s health care approach to that of other rival Democrats.
Senior Biden campaign officials discussed the upcoming debate with reporters on a background call today.
On health care, Biden officials say it’s clear with recent Democratic victories in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana that building on the Affordable Care Act is the way for Democrats to win.
Senior campaign officials frequently mentioned Warren on this point, noting her plan would come out of the checks of the middle class.
Regarding polls that show Biden lagging behind Buttigieg in Iowa, a senior campaign official said, “We are in a very good position.”
— Bo Erickson and Kathryn Watson
Trump and the debate
There’s no word on whether the president will be watching tonight’s Democratic debate, but his campaign will be making his presence known in Atlanta beforehand with an aerial banner reading, “Democrats’ socialism will destroy Atlanta jobs” and a full-page newspaper ad in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.