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The Fourth Democratic Debate Is Now In The History Books

Sanders & Warren Blast Joe Biden, After 4 Debates Democrates finally talk about Abortion Rights, Plus the Elizabeth Warren Pile On.

More than two-thirds of the way into the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden took a casual swipe at his rivals without specifying whom he was speaking about exactly.

“We can’t be running any vague campaigns. We’ve got to level with people,” Biden said. “I’m going to say something that is probably going to offend some people here, but I’m the only one on this stage who has gotten anything really big done.”

When a CNN moderator pressed Biden to clarify which candidates he thought were being vague, he pointed first to his left at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and then to his right, at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), claiming they were both obfuscating about the cost of “Medicare for All.”

What happened next was the most direct and contentious exchange among the three candidates ― the septuagenarian trio leading in the public polls ― thus far in the primary. Sanders and Warren both took Biden to task for what they argued were either policy mistakes that hurt ordinary people or exaggerations of his role in the passage of positive reforms. 

Sanders began by seizing on Biden’s insistence that he alone had shepherded “anything really big” into law. He drew a no-holds-barred contrast with Biden’s record on war, trade and bankruptcy reform, aiming to expose him as a false populist.

“Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done. But you know what you also got done? And I say this as a good friend ― you got the disastrous war in Iraq done,” Sanders said. “You got a bankruptcy bill, which is hurting middle-class families all over this country, you got trade agreements, like NAFTA, PNTR with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs.”

Sanders and Biden subsequently had a brief back-and-forth about Medicare for All, with Biden insisting that adopting a single-payer system was not necessary for achieving universal coverage.

Then it was Warren’s turn to answer Biden’s implicit charge that she is vague and impractical. She focused on her brainchild: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

“Following the financial crash of 2008, I had an idea for a consumer agency that would keep giant banks from cheating people. And all of the Washington insiders and strategic geniuses said, ‘Don’t even try because you will never get it passed,’” she recalled. “And sure enough, the big banks fought us, the Republicans fought us, some of the Democrats fought us. But we got that agency passed into law.” 

Warren promised to leverage her knowledge from that fight to use every lever in her power as president, including executive actions, to enact “structural reform.”

“I know what we can do by executive authority, and I will use it,” she said. “In Congress, on the first day, I will pass my anti-corruption bill, which will beat back the influence of money and repeal the filibuster.”

Biden tried to share in the credit for passing the law that created the CFPB.

“I agreed with the great job she did, and I went on the floor and got you votes. I got votes for that bill!” he declared. “I convinced people to vote for it, so let’s get those things straight, too.”

Warren wasn’t having it.

“I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law, and I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it and who helped pass it into law,” she responded, notably omitting Biden’s name.

The first question about reproductive health care and abortion rights finally came up on Tuesday night during the Democratic presidential debate in Ohio. 

Seven of the 12 candidates on stage discussed how they planned to approach reproductive health if voted into office in the wake of recent anti-abortion legislation passed in several states across the country. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro weighed in on the first question about abortion rights in the Democratic presidential debates.

Gabbard, Klobuchar and Warren agreed that Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions in the U.S., should be codified. Both Buttigieg and Castro supported enforcing term limits for Supreme Court justices and de-politicizing the court as much as possible.  

Booker said that if he were voted in as president he would create an office of reproductive freedom that would oversee reproductive protections. The senator from New Jersey also pointed out that the attack on reproductive rights is about privilege as much as it is about sexism. 

“First of all, let’s be clear about these laws we see from Alabama to Ohio,” Booker said. “They’re not just attacks on one of the most sacrosanct ideals in our country — liberty, the ability to control your own body — but they are particularly another example of people trying to punish, trying to penalize, trying to criminalize poverty.”

“Because this is disproportionately affecting low-income women in this country, people in rural areas in this country, it is an assault on the most fundamental ideal that human beings should control their own body,” he added.

Most of the candidates did not use the word “abortion” and instead chose to use more encompassing and less controversial terms, like reproductive rights and reproductive health care. Gabbard and Warren were the only two candidates to use the word “abortion.”

Warren later piggybacked on Booker’s point, adding that when abortion was illegal, rich women were still able to get abortions. 

“I lived in an America where abortion was illegal and rich women still got abortions because they could travel and go places where it was legal,” she said. “What we’re talking about now is people who are denied access to abortion are the poor, are the young, are the 14-year-olds molested by a family member.”

She added that a woman’s right to choose should not be left to the Supreme Court but should be done “through democracy, because we can.” 

Klobuchar took a moment to address Donald Trump directly, telling the audience what she would say to the president if he were on the stage on Tuesday night.

“You know what I would say to him? I’d say, ‘You said you wanted to do this, in your race for president. You actually said that you wanted to put women in jail and then you tried to dial it back and said you wanted to put doctors in jails. That’s exactly what the Alabama law is,’” she said. “You, Donald Trump, are not on the side of women.”

In the last six months, states including Georgia, Ohio and Missouri have all banned abortion as early as the first trimester. Alabama passed the strictest abortion restriction in the country in May, banning the procedure in all cases, including rape and incest. The only exception is if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk. Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers were considering the death penalty for any woman who gets an abortion. 

Harris was the first to bring up reproductive rights earlier in the night when moderators asked about health care access. 

“This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word ― with all of these discussions about health care ― on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today,” she said. 

“It is not an exaggeration to say women will die — poor women, women of color will die,” Harris added. “Because these Republican legislatures in these various states who are out of touch with America are telling women what to do with our bodies.” 

Public polls are mixed about whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is now the leading candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary field. But the behavior of the other candidates on the stage at the fourth Democratic debate on Tuesday night indicated she is.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas all took shots at Warren in the first hour of the debate at Otterbein University in this suburb of Columbus. 

Buttigieg and Klobuchar both attacked Warren for her support of a “Medicare for All” plan, arguing she was lying to voters about whether middle-class taxes would go up. 

“Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this,” Buttigieg said. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multitrillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”

Warren responded by repeating her standard answer when challenged on this point and pledging she wouldn’t support a plan that raised overall costs on middle-class families. She also attacked Buttigieg’s health care plan as insufficient to cover all Americans.

“Let’s be clear, whenever someone hears the term ‘Medicare for all who want it,’ understand what that really means: It’s Medicare for all who can afford it,” she responded. “Medicare for All is the gold standard. It’s the way we get health care coverage for every single American.”

Klobuchar made perhaps the most sustained attack on Warren, trying to challenge her on specific issues and on the very essence of her candidacy. 

“The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” Klobuchar said.

O’Rourke made perhaps the most unexpected attack on Warren, arguing she hasn’t made it clear if her plans would increase taxes on the middle class and “is more focused on being punitive or pitting one part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up.” (Warren has proposed a 2% wealth tax on the richest Americans.)

“I’m really shocked that anyone thinks I’m punitive. I don’t have a beef with billionaires,” Warren responded, again repeating she wouldn’t raise taxes on middle-class families.