In the fourth Democratic presidential debate, and the first since the impeachment inquiry was launched against President Trump, rising front runner Senator Elizabeth Warren was fending off attacks from the 11 other candidates on the stage.
Former Vice President Joe Biden defiantly defended his son’s business practices overseas and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
All of the 12 Democrats onstage in Westerville, Ohio, meanwhile, backed the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Trump. In a sign of apparent disunity and hesitation among Democrats, though, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said only minutes before the debate began that there would be no vote on formally commencing the inquiry.
The candidate lineup set a record for most politicians on a single debate stage, topping the 11 Republican 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,” Warren, D-Mass., asserted at the outset of the debate, when asked why Congress should bother with the process given the impending election.
Biden Faces Some Tough Questions Over Ukraine
Joe Biden has been at the top of the crowded field for months, but has come under assault from the White House concerning his son Hunter’s lucrative overseas business dealings, which has been tapping into his lead.
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.”
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 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, which Republicans immediately ceased upon as a tacit admission of previous poor judgment or even wrongdoing.
“Look, my son’s statement speaks for itself,” Biden said. “My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government which was to root out corruption in Ukraine, and that’s what we should be focusing on.”
Biden insisted he never discussed Ukraine matters with Hunter, although Hunter separately told The New Yorker magazine that the dealings had come up in one instance.
As in previous debates, Biden stumbled a bit. When asked about Trump’s policy in Syria, Biden appeared to give an extended answer in which he meant to talk about Turkish President Recep Erdoğan — but kept referencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead.
Warren’s Accent Draws Fire
Meanwhile Warren accent to frontrunner status, put a target squarely on her back.
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.
“I appreciate Elizabeth’s work, but again, the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said to Warren. “At least Bernie’s being honest here. … I’m sorry, Elizabeth.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lambasted Warren on health care: “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.”
“We heard it tonight,” Buttigieg said. “A yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer.” He said he wanted a plan that could be summed up as “Medicare-for-All” if you choose it, not whether you want it or not.
Also during the debate, Democrats piled onto Warren for her signature proposal, a 2 percent wealth tax to raise the trillions needed for many of her ambitious proposals. Technology entrepreneur Andrew Yang noted that such a measure has failed in almost every European country where it’s been tried.
The event, hosted by CNN and The New York Times, was 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.