What Happened At The "Rollercoaster" Las Vegas Debate
Up for debate: Billionaires, communism, sexism, non-disclosure agreements... and those don't even scratch the surface of what unfolded Wednesday night.
The latest Democratic debate in Las Vegas Wednesday night opened with a fiery start as the candidates piled onto former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was making his debate stage debut.
Bloomberg, who has a net worth of around $62 billion, has faced accusations of trying to buy his way into the primary, as the DNC was criticized for changing their debate qualifications in order to allow Bloomberg to join the debate stage. Others have said the DNC’s move was a way to force him to face his fellow candidates on a national stage.
Those candidates included former VP Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The night kicked off with the moderators asking immediately about Bloomberg’s presence there — the start of what ultimately turned into a "rollercoaster" of a debate.
Warren responded by imagining him alongside President Trump: “So I'd like to talk about who we're running against, a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist polls like redlining and stop and frisk.”
“Look, I'll support whoever the Democratic nominee is,” Warren continued. “But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."
After her first standout moment of the night, Warren sparked a wave of online support following a week of media coverage that noticeably excluded her, despite her polling above other candidates. But about one hour into Wednesday’s debate, Warren’s chief marketing officer tweeted that the candidate had just had her “best hour of fundraising to date.”
On Bloomberg, Sanders said he “went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way” with his stop-and-frisk policy, while Klobuchar said she refused to step aside.
“I thought that he shouldn't be hiding behind his TV ads, and so I was all ready for this big day. And then I looked at the memo from his campaign staff this morning, and it said that he actually thought that three of us should get out of the way,” Klobuchar said, later adding, “I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House.”
Bloomberg’s enforcement of stop-and-frisk has been scrutinized in recent weeks after audio surfaced in which he can be heard making racist remarks and defending the policy during his time as mayor.
In 2015, he was heard saying police should go “where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods,” later going on to say, “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the walls and frisk them.”
When asked about the policy as well as the leaked audio, Bloomberg said he was “embarrassed.”
“Well, if I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I'm really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with stop and frisk,” he said, later adding, “What happened, however, was it got out of control. And when we discovered -- I discovered that we were doing many, many, too many stop and frisks, we cut 95 percent of it out. And I've sat down with a bunch of African-American clergy and business people to talk about this, to try to learn.”
Bloomberg was also asked about allegations of workplace harassment at his company.
“I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the "Me, Too" movement has exposed. And anybody that does anything wrong in our company, we investigate it, and if it's appropriate, they're gone that day.”
Bloomberg touted his working relationship with women in power both his time in finance, New York's City Hall, and his media company.
“In my company, lots and lots of women have big responsibilities. They get paid exactly the same as men. And in my -- in City Hall, the person, the top person, my deputy mayor was a woman, and 40 percent of our commissioners were women,” he said.
Warren called out his answer: “I hope you heard what his response was: ‘I've been nice to some women.’”
The back and forth did not end there:
WARREN: The mayor has to stand on his record. And what we need to know is exactly what's lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?
BLOOMBERG: We have very few non-disclosure agreements.
WARREN: How many is that?
BLOOMBERG: Let me finish.
WARREN: How many is that?
BLOOMBERG: None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told. And let me just -- and let me -- there's agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that's up to them. They signed those agreements, and we'll live with it.
Warren finished by telling Bloomberg directly, “... are the women bound by being muzzled by you and you could release them from that immediately? Because, understand, this is not just a question of the mayor's character. This is also a question about electability.
“We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against,” Warren said.
Biden and Sanders eventually jumped in to point out that Bloomberg used to be a Republican.
“But maybe we should also ask how Mayor Bloomberg in 2004 supported George W. Bush for president, put money into Republican candidates for the United States Senate when some of us -- Joe and I and others -- were fighting for Democrats to control the United States Senate,” Sanders said, with Biden adding that Bloomberg “didn’t support Barack.”
Klobuchar was then asked about her flubbing of the president of Mexico’s name during a Telemundo interview.
“I don't think that that momentary forgetfulness actually reflects what I know about Mexico and how much I care about it … I said that I made an error. I think having a president that maybe is humble and is able to admit that here and there maybe wouldn't be a bad thing.”
Buttigieg then gave a pointed response to her, saying, “You're on the committee that oversees border security. You're on the committee that does trade. You're literally in part of the committee that's overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south.”
Klobuchar responded by asking, “Are you -- are you trying to say that I'm dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?”
“I'm saying you shouldn't trivialize that knowledge,” he replied.
Klobuchar and Buttigieg continued their attacks on each other throughout the night, a recurring theme in recent debates, and viewers noticed.
Klobuchar and Buttigieg going at it is a delightful, low-stakes subplot— Connor Finnegan (@ConnorFinnegan) February 20, 2020
Bloomberg and Sanders went back and forth about capitalism, socialism, and even communism as they argued over the best way to run the American economy — and whether billionaires should "exist."
"We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That's wrong. That's immoral," Sanders said. "That should not be the case when we got a half a million people sleeping out on the street, where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college, when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt."
Moderator Chuck Todd then asked, "Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?" and "Should you have earned that much money?"
"Yes," Bloomberg said. "I worked very hard for it. And I'm giving it away."
The conversation then morphed into a discussion about if workers should reap the benefits of those in power.
"What we need to do to deal with this grotesque level of income and wealth inequality is make sure that those people who are working -- you know what, Mr. Bloomberg, it wasn't you who made all that money. Maybe your workers played some role in that, as well," Sanders said. "And it is important that those workers are able to share the benefits, also."
Asked if he would support a plan like the one Sanders proposed, Bloomberg answered: "Absolutely not. I can't think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get re-elected than listening to this conversation."
He then added, "It's ridiculous. We're not going to throw out capitalism. We tried. Other countries tried that. It was called communism, and it just didn't work."
What's next: The Nevada caucuses are on Feb. 22 — but despite his debate appearance, Bloomberg is not actually on the ballot for that.
Bloomberg has intentionally chosen to skip every state that votes in February: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. The Bloomberg campaign has said they’re skipping the first four voting states in favor of focusing on Super Tuesday states — on Tuesday, March 3, 14 states will hold primaries, accounting for about a third of all delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination
The candidates will meet again on the debate stage Tuesday, Feb. 25.