What You Need to Know From the December Democratic Debate

Despite the debate coming after a chaotic news week and just before the holidays, the night proved to be the strongest yet for some of the group, with intense but substantive exchanges and plenty of jokes.

Thursday night's debate marked the sixth time Democratic presidential candidates met on stage — but only the first time they've done so since the current president has been impeached. Despite coming after a chaotic news week and just before the holidays, the night proved to be the strongest yet for some of the group, with intense but substantive exchanges (and plenty of jokes).

President Donald Trump's impeachment one night earlier made the debate especially timely, considering that Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar will be part of the Senate trial when it happens. 

Joining them on stage were former VP Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, billionaire Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, for a total of seven candidates — and a lot less diversity. Both Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing Sec. Julián Castro didn't qualify, and Sen. Kamala Harris (who would have qualified) dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Yang said he was disappointed to be the "lone person of color" on the stage and cited his plan for a universal basic income as one way to prevent such a lack of diversity — explaining that having "disposable income" is required to donate to campaigns.

Warren and Buttigieg sparred over their opposing fundraising tactics — Buttigieg has been particularly scrutinized lately over his closed-door meetings with wealthy donors. He later announced he would open them up to reporters.

Warren, who touts her grassroots funding, blasted the fundraisers and referred to a recent event Buttigieg held in a "wine cave" — the phrase spiked on social media earlier in the week after photos were posted from inside a Napa Valley dinner (at a winery owned by billionaires). 

"Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States," she said.

Buttigieg played defense, saying he was the only person on stage that isn't a millionaire or billionaire.

"This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass. If I pledge never to be in the company of a progressive Democratic donor, I couldn't be up here. Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine ... We need the support from everybody who is committed to helping us defeat Donald Trump," Buttigieg responded.

Eventually, Klobuchar interrupted and called on a moderator to say that she "did not come here to listen to this argument" and has never "even been to a wine cave."

Buttigieg and Klobuchar also had a palpably tense back and forth, this time about years of experience (and the lack thereof). The exchange was an extension of a previous one in the last debate in November; Klobuchar said Buttigieg, the current mayor of South Bend, IN and the youngest candidate in the race, lacks the experience necessary to be president. He rebutted by suggesting there's little to show for the combined "100 years of experience" on the debate stage that night.

“When we were in the last debate, Mayor, you basically mocked the 100 years of experience on the stage ... And I have not denigrated your experience as a local official, I have been one," she said.

“You actually did denigrate my experience, Senator, and it was before the break, and I was going to let it go because we have bigger fish to fry here,” Buttigieg responded. 

“I don’t think we have bigger fish to fry than picking a president of the United States,” Klobuchar said.

The moderators asked about two topics that usually get left out: care for people with disabilities and safety of transgender people.

When asked about how they would integrate young people with disabilities into the workforce, Steyer said he would undo tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Steyer pointed to needing more resources to integrate them fully, adding, "The answer on disabilities is a question of focus and money."

But the moderators wanted a more specific answer, so they asked Yang, who brought up his own family. "I have a son with special needs. And to me, special needs is the new normal in this country," he said.

"Special needs children are going to become special needs adults in many cases. And here's the challenge. We go to employers and say, hey, this special needs person can be a contributor in your workplace, which may be correct, but that's not the point," he continued. "We have to stop confusing economic value and human value. We have to be able to say to our kids ... that you have intrinsic value because you're an American and you're a human being."

On trans rights, Sanders was asked what he would do stop violence against transgender people. He pushed to his Medicare for All plan, saying that, "what we also need for the transgender community is to make sure that health care is available to every person in this country, regardless of their sexual orientation or their needs."

Warren was asked the same, but focused on visibility and identification. Warren said she will promise to "go to the Rose Garden once every year to read the names of transgender women, of people of color, who have been killed in the past year ... so that as a nation we are forced to address the particular vulnerability on homelessness."

"I will change the rules now that put people in prison based on their birth sex identification rather than their current identification," she continued. 

Viewers had mixed reviews about the candidates' answers.

Sanders roasted his rivals, remarking that his campaign has "received more contributions from more individuals than any candidate" ever at this point in an election without any billionaire donors.

He jokingly pitted Buttigieg and Biden against each other in the contest for billionaires — saying Biden's had contributions from "44 billionaires," and "Pete is trailing, you only got 39 billionaires contributing! So Pete, we look forward to you, I know you're an energetic guy ... to see if you can take on Joe on that issue."

"What is not a laughing matter my friends, this is why three people own more wealth than the bottom half. This is why Amazon and major corporations pay zero in taxes," Sanders said. "We need to get money out of politics."

Biden was asked if he would only serve one term given his age (currently 77) — if elected in 2020, he would be the oldest first-term president in history. 

“No I won’t commit one way or another,” Biden said. “Let’s win this election, then see where we are. Let’s see what happens.”

Warren (currently 70) would be the oldest president inaugurated if she wins. She was asked about her age, too, but her response got the biggest applause.

"I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated," she said. 

We won't leave you hanging: Here's a roundup of all the jokes (good and bad) from the night.

In case you want to relive tonight moment by moment, check out our Twitter thread below.