In his first appearance on a debate stage with the rest of the field, Mike Bloomberg became the clear target for the remaining Democratic candidates who grilled the billionaire on his tax returns, history of sexual harassment allegations, and his controversial past support of racist policing tactics while mayor of New York City.
Bloomberg entered the Democratic race in November, nearly a year after most other candidates launched their presidential campaigns, and has largely avoided answering to critics who came rushing at him early in Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Sen. Bernie Sanders largely came out of Wednesday’s debate unscathed as he enters this weekend’s Nevada Caucus as the Democratic Party’s unlikely frontrunner, ahead of Bloomberg, the rising Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who many expected to be running away with the presidential race this time last year.
If you missed last night’s debate, here’s what you need to know.
Elizabeth Warren Presses Mike Bloomberg on History of Sexual Harassment
Warren looked in top shape at last night’s debate, giving Bloomberg a not-so-warm welcome to a long-running Democratic race that looks to be ramping up its rhetoric as the primaries roll on. In what will probably be the most memorable moment from the Las Vegas debate, Warren remained hard pressed on Bloomberg to release women who alleged sexual harassment and gender discrimination against him from non-disclosure agreements they signed with his eponymous media company.
Bloomberg has admitted in the past that he’s made offensive remarks, but denied Warren’s request to say live on national television that he would release the women from their NDAs.
“I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement has exposed,” Bloomberg said, before defending himself by listing off statistics about the percentage of women who work for his company and the number of women who have worked in leading roles for him and his company.
“I hope you heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women,'” Warren responded. “That just doesn’t cut it. What we need to know is what’s lurking out there.”
Warren continued: “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?”
And Bloomberg replied: “None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” as the Vegas crowd loudly groaned at his response.
The former New York City mayor said he would not release the women from their NDAs, as Warren continued to grill the billionaire on whether he’d say live on the debate stage, and on national television, that he would do so.
“Are the women bound by being muzzled by you and you could release them from that immediately?” Warren asked. “Because, understand, this is not just a question of the mayor’s character. This is also a question about electability.”
Bloomberg Faces Tough Questions on Past Support for Racist Policies
The questions about Bloomberg’s electability didn’t stop with the NDA agreements, though. As Wednesday night’s debate was Bloomberg’s first side-by-side appearance with other Democratic candidates, it was their first chance to grill the billionaire candidate on every bit of criticism that’s been building against him. The biggest: Bloomberg’s support for a “stop-and-frisk” police policy while mayor of New York City that led to discriminatory behavior from the city’s police department who used the policy to stop disproportionate amounts of people from racial minority groups.
“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,” Bloomberg said, echoing an apology he’s made since first announcing his campaign in November.
But his apologies didn’t stop the other candidates from continuing to reference the stop-and-frisk policy while criticizing Bloomberg’s leadership throughout the night.
“The reason that stop and frisk changed is because Barack Obama sent moderators to see what was going on,” Biden said, linking his candidacy to his two terms as President Obama’s vice president, while Warren used the opportunity to tie the billionaire Democrat to the billionaire Republican in the White House: Donald Trump.
“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,” Warren said. “Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Bloomberg Faces Criticism Over Enormous Wealth
While every candidate in the Democratic race is extremely well off, Bloomberg’s wealth is inseparable from his 2020 campaign due to the hundreds of millions he’s spent on a nationwide ad blitz that’s propelled him near the top of the polls.
Ahead of “Super Tuesday” on March 3, where 1,357 delegates are up for grabs in 14 states (1,991 are needed to win the Democratic nomination), the Los Angeles Times reports that Bloomberg has already spent more than $124 million in ad buys. Sanders, who currently leads the Democratic race with Buttigieg, has spent less than $10 million.
Warren — who holds a $12 million net worth herself — was again fiery in her criticism against Bloomberg: “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,” she said, as the Las Vegas crowd cheered.
Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist who has built his campaign on leveling out the nation’s wealth, is worth a couple million himself and got into a heated exchange with Bloomberg about the number of houses he owns.
“The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?” Bloomberg said, in a brief moment where the candidate seemed confident and composed.
“Well, you’ll miss that I work in Washington, house one. [I] live in Burlington, house two,” Sanders responded as Bloomberg continued to quip in the background. “And like thousands of other Vermonters, I do have a summer camp. Forgive me for that. Where is your home? Which tax haven do you have your home?”
Amy Klobuchar vs. Pete Buttigieg Boils Over
Believe it or not, Wednesday night’s two-hour debate featured more drama than the onslaught of Bloomberg bashing. Klobuchar and Buttigieg, who both made surprisingly strong finishes in the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, briefly went after each other in a particularly memorable moment when Klobuchar put Buttigieg on the hot spot for his rhetoric.
Moderators asked Klobuchar why she recently couldn’t name Mexico’s president and what that says about her ability to run the country, as Mexico is one of the United States’ biggest trade partners. Klobuchar said she made a mistake and Buttigieg seemed emphasize with her before saying, “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 paused to steer the conversation towards Buttigieg’s language: “Are you…are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?” she asked.
The two Midwestern candidates have had a long-bubbling rivalry building throughout the nine debates thus far, but Wednesday’s seemed to see their jab-trading boil over. They’ve argued over experience and sexism in the past, but Wednesday’s debate floated into personal territory — especially after Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for voting to approve Trump’s head of Customs and Border Protection, who helped orchestrate the administration’s family separation policy at the border.
“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” Klobuchar shot back, while pointing out his lack of experience in national politics. “But let me tell you what it’s like to be in the arena.”
Policy, Policy, Policy
Between the jabs and clip-worthy quotes lobbed at one another throughout the night, the Democratic candidates’ debate on policy and issues largely centered around healthcare and climate change while major issues like gun control were barely brought up.
While every candidate harped on healthcare coverage, Warren used the discussion to point out she’s the only candidate who has released a detailed plan: “We need to get everybody’s healthcare plan out here,” she said, going on a roundtable roast of the other candidate’s inability to release details on their healthcare plans.
“Mayor Buttigieg really has a slogan that was thought up by his consultants to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to afford their health care. It’s not a plan. It’s a PowerPoint,” Warren said. “And Amy’s plan is even less. It’s like a Post-It note, ‘Insert Plan Here.'”
In a rare showing throughout the debate, the candidates did seem united on the fight against climate change and reversing President Trump’s rollbacks on environmentally friendly initiatives.
Klobuchar said the United States needs to “get back into that international climate change agreement,” referring to the Paris Climate Agreement that Trump backed the U.S. out of in 2017, while Buttigieg emphasized the Democrats’ united point that the country needs to elect a president who takes climate change seriously.
“Let’s be real about the deadline,” Buttigieg said. “It’s not 2050, it’s not 2040, it’s not 2030. It’s 2020. Because if we don’t elect a president who actually believes in climate science now, we will never meet any of the other scientific or policy deadlines that we need to.”
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