ATLANTA –– So much for Minnesota nice.
During the fifth Democratic candidates debate here Wednesday night, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar cut the fresh-faced South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg down to size, and all it took was one devastating quip.
“I have all of the appreciation for your good work as a local official,” she said.
He wasn’t the only one subject to barbs by his competitors.
By the night’s end, the pack’s most high-profile candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, had gaffed his way into a series of bruising confrontations. And Tulsi Gabbard, the right wing’s favorite Democrat, fielded her fair share of flak from Democrats sick of hearing her trash the party.
Here are some of the night’s most noteworthy moments.
Dems try to take Mayor Pete down a notch –– but nicely
So naturally, onlookers waited for the candidates to knock Buttigieg down a peg or two. Instead, they treated him with kid gloves.
When moderators asked Sen. Kamala Harris to respond to a recent Buttigieg campaign fumble by using a stock photo of a Kenyan woman in a list of prominent black South Carolinians endorsing his “Douglass Plan for Black America,” she politely declined.
“I believe that the mayor has made apologies for that,” Harris said, though she previously mocked Buttigieg for it with sustained laughter.
Before she delivered her backhanded compliment, Klobuchar declined to say more about whether she thinks Buttigieg is too green to be president.
“I've made very clear I believe Pete is qualified to be up on this stage, and I'm very proud to stand next to him," Klobuchar said. But she did go on to imply that his mere presence standing next to her on stage — next to a sitting senator — is evidence of how much harder women have to work to get ahead.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who like Buttigieg is also a former mayor and a Rhodes Scholar, landed only a gentle barb at Buttigieg, whom the media often notes was a Rhodes Scholar. “I happen to be the other Rhodes Scholar on this stage,” Booker said with a chuckle.
The ‘Blafrican’ American vote
Former Vice President Joe Biden made gaffe after appalling gaffe as the night wore on. Asked about the #MeToo movement and ending violence against women, Biden chose a poorly worded metaphor for the moment.
“We have to keep punching at it, and punching at it, and punching at it," Biden said, “it” referring to domestic violence.
Later in the night, Sen. Booker joked that he thought the former veep was “high” this week when he said he believes marijuana might be a “gateway drug” and shouldn’t be legalized. Booker pointed out that marijuana is “already legal for privileged people,” a reference to the fact that black Americans are six times likelier to be jailed for drug crimes.
Responding to Booker’s criticisms, Biden tried to claim a special affinity with the black community. Instead, he shoved both his feet in his mouth, saying that he “comes out of the black community, in terms of my support.”
Then, it got worse.
“If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me, because they know me,” Biden said, adding that among those endorsements was “the only bl– African-American woman that had ever been elected to the United States Senate.”
He was referring to former Sen. Carol Mosley Braun. Unfortunately, he made the comment with Sen. Kamala Harris, the second black African-American woman elected to the Senate, looking on.
“That’s not true. That’s not true,” Booker said, laughing, while Harris drily chimed in, “The other one’s here.”
Democrats seemed to agree on what happens to Trump post-impeachment
Democrats also waded into the question of whether Trump has committed crimes — and if so, what should be done about that after he loses his presidential shield against criminal indictment.
A Department of Justice policy holds that a sitting president can’t be indicted, but nothing says an ex-president can’t be charged.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said Americans are catching on “to the degree that this president thinks he is above the law.”
Biden said Trump has “indicted himself,” but he added that any decision to charge Trump with a crime should be left to an independent attorney general.
Over 1,000 former prosecutors have signed an open letter stating that Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice for his actions in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation if he weren’t president.
Warren finally got to explain her Medicare for All 3-year phase-in
At the outset of the debate, Warren got to lay out her case for why her approach to healthcare reform is Democrats’ best chance to install anything resembling a single-payer system.
“On Day One as president, I will bring down cost of prescription drugs, like insulin and epi-pens,” Warren said of her controversial, newly released health plan, the policy area that’s proven to be her Achilles heel.
After saying for months that she supports Medicare for All, the national single-payer health system endorsed by her democratic socialist colleague Bernie Sanders, Warren released a healthcare plan this month that appears to cool her support for the initiative.
Progressives and moderates in the party both criticized Warren’s new plan, which wouldn’t attempt to install a national single-payer health system until Warren’s third year in office.
“In the third year, when people have had a chance to feel it and taste it and live with it, we’re going to vote. And we’re going to want Medicare for all,” Warren said at the debate.
Warren added that her plan, which would extend Medicare eligibility to people under 18 and over 50, as well as certain families in poverty, would give 135 million more Americans access to Medicare.
Democrats acknowledged that the rent is too damn high
For the first time at a Democratic primary debate this election cycle, moderators asked candidates to discuss the country’s affordable housing crisis.
Moderators tossed the cycle’s first housing question to billionaire Tom Steyer, a Californian, asking how he would address the state’s rampant homelessness problem –– despite the fact that Steyer is among the minority of Democrats running for president who haven’t released a plan for how they'd tackle housing affordability.
“What we’ve seen in California is that as a result of policy, we have millions too few housing units,” Steyer said, promising to build “literally millions” of those units.
Cory Booker turned the housing discussion into one about racial equality. “We are not talking about something going on all over America, which is gentrification,” he said. The New Jersey senator endorsed a plan that would allow renters to receive a tax rebate if they pay more than one-third of their income in rent.
Elizabeth Warren also discussed her plan to end housing discrimination.
“The federal government has subsidized housing for decades for white people” while failing to do the same for black Americans, Warren said, an issue in no small part because investments in homes are largely how American families build their wealth.
Voters finally got a climate change debate
Another subject that got more minutes than ever before? Climate change.
Steyer, the hedge fund manager and philanthropist, declared that he was the only candidate running who takes climate change seriously enough.
“I am the only person on this stage who will say climate is the No. 1 priority for me,” Steyer said.
That irritated Biden, who quipped, "I don’t really need a lecture from my friend."
Biden proceeded to rattle off a list of his clean energy bona fides, including his support in the mid-1980s of a bill that urged the president to establish a global warming task force.
At the same time, Biden said, “My friend [Steyer] was producing more coal mines, producing more coal around the world, according to the press, than all of Great Britain produces.”
If Steyer looked vaguely perplexed, that’s because he didn’t own the mines Biden was referring to, though the hedge fund Steyer managed did make sizable investments in them.
Candidates tried to take out Tulsi –– again, and again
It was Kamala Harris who first dinged Tulsi Gabbard on the debate stage, over the Hawaiian lawmaker’s tendency to dunk on the Democratic Party whenever possible.
”It’s unfortunate that we have somebody on this stage that is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president, who during the Obama administration spent four years full-time on Fox News criticizing President Obama, [who] buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in Trump Tower,” Harris said, adding that Gabbard “spends [time] during the course of this campaign, again, criticizing the Democratic Party.”
But she certainly wasn’t the last to criticize Gabbard.
Pete Buttigieg also had his share of harsh words for the Hawaii congresswoman, who called out Buttigieg for his lack of diplomatic or legislative experience.
"I have in my experience… enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator,” Buttigieg snapped, referring to a now-infamous meeting Gabbard took with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a 2017 trip to Syria.
Cover: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks as former Vice President Joe Biden listens during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Tyler Perry Studios November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)