Takeaways From the Democratic Presidential Debate in Las Vegas

The ninth debate of Democratic presidential candidates in Las Vegas was more of a free-for-all than previous editions. The vows to unite to defeat President Donald Trump were overshadowed by the contenders’ sharp jabs as they jumped among topics from socialism to gender discrimination to stop-and-frisk to the number of seats in the Israeli Knesset.

Everyone piled on the newcomer, Michael Bloomberg, who was getting his first turn on the stage.

Stop-and-Frisk Haunts Bloomberg

Bloomberg took fire over the stop-and-frisk policy he oversaw as mayor of New York, with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden all weighing in.

Under the policy, New York police routinely stopped and questioned residents who were overwhelmingly black and Latino.

Sanders began the debate by arguing that Bloomberg’s record would hurt voter turnout if he were the nominee. Warren then called it a racist policy. Biden argued that Bloomberg only backed down from the policy after the Obama administration intervened.

Bloomberg, who apologized for the practice shortly before announcing his campaign last fall, defended it as a well-meaning idea to protect the safety of all New Yorkers that “got out of control” and said that he has asked for forgiveness already.

But Warren rebutted that it wasn’t the policy’s implementation that was problematic, but its intent, which she said was to target black and Hispanic communities, adding that it took “willful ignorance” to not see that after residents began protesting.

“You need a different apology,” she said.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Bernie Disavows Some ‘Bros’

Sanders was asked about his supporters’ reputation for being vicious toward his critics and opponents online.

“We have over 10.6 million people on Twitter, and 99.9% of them are decent human beings, are working people, are people who believe in justice, compassion, and love,” he said. “And if there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people. They are not part of our movement.”

Sanders was addressing an accusation from Biden that some of his supporters, dismissively known as “Bernie Bros,” had mounted online attacks against the leaders of the Culinary Workers Union, which had come out against Medicare for All.

Sanders said his own supporters are also subject to “vicious, racist, sexist attacks” and denied that his fans were worse than others. “I don’t think it is especially the case, by the way.”

Buttigieg scoffed at his assertion. “Look, people know the way your supporters treat them,” he said.

Warren Calls Out Bloomberg on Gender Discrimination

Warren wasted no time taking the fight to Bloomberg, comparing him to Trump for his treatment of women.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians,’” she said, in her first remarks of the night. “And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

The quotes came from a book compiled in 1990 by Bloomberg’s colleagues that included a number of off-color jokes he had purportedly made, including references to two British royals as a “fat broad” and a “horsey-faced lesbian.”

“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” she said.

A Bloomberg spokesman said in 2019 that he now sees that some of his past comments were “disrespectful and wrong.”

Later in the debate, Bloomberg said that he had appointed women to leadership positions at his business, his private charity and the mayor’s office, and he said that he has “no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the Me Too movement has exposed.”

But he rebuffed Warren’s plea that he release women from non-disclosure agreements signed when they settled complaints against his company citing sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Bloomberg said that none of the women who filed complaints against his company accused him “of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like the joke I told.”

Warren posted a new attack ad featuring parts of her exchange with Bloomberg shortly after the debate ended.

Battle of the Midwesterners

Like any good Vegas boxing match, the debate came with an undercard: Pete Buttigieg vs. Amy Klobuchar.

The two candidates, who are fighting to be the moderate alternative to Sanders, spent more of the debate fighting each other than criticizing the race’s current front-runner.

Klobuchar and Buttigieg sparred over whether Klobuchar’s career in the Senate was more important experience than Buttigieg’s career as mayor, their win-loss records and their policy views. Klobuchar criticized Buttigieg’s argument that Mexican cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations, while Buttigieg went after her votes to confirm judges appointed by Trump.

“You know what, you have not been in the arena, doing that work,” she said to Buttigieg. “You’ve memorized a bunch of talking points.”

“I’m used to senators telling mayors that senators are more important than mayors,” he responded.

Even on an area where they agreed — how much of their health records the candidates should release — Klobuchar worked in a dig. “We might all be surprised if my blood pressure is lower than Mayor Pete’s,” she said.

Waiting for Bloomberg’s Tax Returns

Bloomberg came under fire for not yet releasing his tax returns, and said he will release them in the next few weeks, but argued that it will take a “long time” to prepare for release because the returns will be in the thousands of pages.

“I can’t go to Turbo Tax,” the billionaire said.

Klobuchar said that she probably could use the popular tax-filing software to release her own returns, but argued that the more important issue is transparency. “I think it’s great you got a lot of money, but I think you’ve got to come forward with your tax returns,” she said.

Bloomberg said that he had released his tax returns during three terms as mayor, adding that he has only been in the presidential race for 10 weeks, while the other candidates have had years to put together their personal information for the public.

“Then pay overtime and get it done,” Warren said.

Sanders, Bloomberg Bare Their Hearts

Sanders says he and Bloomberg have something in common: They both have “two stents.”

Sanders, who suffered a heart attack last year, was questioned about his decision not to release his full health records despite having vowed to do so. He took the chance to highlight that Bloomberg had two stents inserted in his heart.

“I think the one area, maybe, that Mayor Bloomberg and I share, you have two stents, as well,” he joked. “Well, we both have two stents,” Sanders said of the procedure to open clogged or narrowed arteries. “It’s a procedure that is done about a million times a year.”

Bloomberg, 78, released a letter in December from his internist at John Hopkins University saying he is in “outstanding health” and that he underwent coronary stent placement for a blocked coronary artery in 2000 with normal annual cardiac stress testing since then.

Sanders, also 78, left the campaign trail in October after having two stents inserted to treat a blocked artery. He was diagnosed with a myocardial infarction, his doctors said in a statement on Oct. 4. He released letters from his doctors in December saying he was fit to lead the country.

In her closing remarks, Klobuchar returned to the theme. “They were talking a lot about heart conditions up here,” she said. “We have a president that doesn’t have a heart.”

Warren Rides to Klobuchar’s Rescue

Klobuchar got some unexpected support from Warren when the Minnesota senator was asked again about her inability to name the president of Mexico in a recent interview.

Klobuchar defended what she said was “momentary forgetfulness” during an interview with Telemundo last week when asked the name of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. But Buttigieg wouldn’t let go of the flub, which he said was a significant misstep for a candidate who has staked her presidential bid on her Washington experience.

“Are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete? I said I made an error,” she responded. She then criticized him for losing a statewide race for treasurer in Indiana, noting her own record of statewide wins in Minnesota.

Buttigieg, who was born in 1982, countered that if winning races in Minnesota were a good stepping stone to the White House, “I would have grown up under the presidency of Walter Mondale,” a reference to the Democratic vice president who was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election.

Warren then jumped in to defend Klobuchar and said the mistake was inconsequential compared to Klobuchar’s expertise on Latin American policy.

“I understand she forgot the name, “ she said. “It happens. It happens to everyone on this stage.”

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