Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden assured supporters Wednesday night that his message to President Donald Trump is “I’m not going anywhere” as he laid out his most forceful pushback yet to Trump’s baseless attacks.
In a rebuke of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the former vice president said during a 20-minute speech at a rally that he’s not surprised Trump asked a foreign government for help to defeat him. Trump’s effort to enlist Ukraine has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led House.
Trump and his allies have accused Biden and his son Hunter, without evidence, of participating in the kind of corruption that has plagued Ukraine. They point to Hunter Biden’s service on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while Biden was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Yet no one has produced evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
“Let me make something clear to Trump and his hatchet men and the special interests funding his attacks against me. I’m not going anywhere,” Biden said to loud cheers.
“It’s not about Donald Trump’s antics. It’s about what has brought Donald Trump, and the nation, to this sobering moment in our history and to the choice facing us in 2020,” he said. “What has brought us here is simply this: the abuse of power.”
A complaint by a government whistleblower helped make public Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president. House investigators said Wednesday they will issue a subpoena demanding all White House and Trump administration documents related to efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son.
“Desperate and defensive, Trump sends one crazed tweet after another _ insinuating that the whistleblower should be dealt with extensively, using the word ‘executed,’ threatening to prosecute the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warning direly of civil war if he is impeached,” he said.
Biden praised the whistleblower and accused Trump of repeatedly smearing the Biden family.
“Now because of the courageous actions of a whistleblower, Trump’s scheme has been exposed,” he said. “He did it because, like every bully in history _ he’s afraid. He’s afraid of just how badly he may be beaten in November.”
More than 400 people crowded into the student center at Truckee Meadows Community College for Biden’s rally after he joined eight other White House hopefuls at a gun policy forum in Las Vegas earlier in the day. It marked the first time this year the early Democratic presidential front-runner had brought his campaign to northern Nevada.
Nevada’s caucuses in February follow Iowa and New Hampshire as third in the nominating process. It was one of the few key swing states that Trump failed to carry in 2016. Biden historically has enjoyed strong support from labor unions and others in Washoe County, including Reno and Sparks.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign said Wednesday that the Democratic presidential candidate had a heart procedure for a blocked artery and was canceling events and appearances “until further notice.”
The 78-year-old Sanders experienced chest discomfort during an event Tuesday and sought medical evaluation, according to a campaign statement. It said two stents were “successfully inserted” and that Sanders “is conversing and in good spirits.”
Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, was en route to Las Vegas on Wednesday and said in an email to The Associated Press that her husband was “doing really well.”
The Democratic field’s oldest candidate, Sanders sometimes jokingly refers to his age at town halls and other events, especially when interacting with younger participants. His aides have tried to project him as a candidate with energy levels that surpassed his 2016 presidential campaign.
He is one of three candidates over age 70 in the Democratic primary, which has spurred debate over whether the party should rally behind a new generation of political leaders, and President Donald Trump is 73. Sanders’ health issue is certain to revive that discussion in the weeks before the next presidential debate this month.
Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, was on a telephone call with supporters Tuesday night but didn’t mention any health concerns about the candidate. Shakir said the “state of the campaign is strong” and he played up Sanders’ strong fundraising total for the third quarter. The Vermont Senator’s campaign raised $25 million, the highest among the candidates who have reported so far, and scheduled its first television ads in Iowa. On Wednesday, it suspended those spots, too.
Sanders had been among 10 Democratic candidates scheduled to appear later Wednesday at a forum on gun control in Las Vegas. He recently canceled some appearances in South Carolina because he lost his voice. The campaign said at the time he felt fine.
During the first debate in June, Sanders heatedly defended his 76-year-old rival, Joe Biden, after California Rep. Eric Swalwell, 38, said it was time to step aside for a new generation. Sanders told reporters later the question smacked of “ageism.”
“The issue is, who has the guts to take on Wall Street, to take on the fossil fuel industry, to take on the big money interests who have unbelievable influence over the economic and political life of this country?” Sanders said on the stage that night.
The hospitalization also comes as Sanders’ campaign has been trying to turn a corner after a summer that saw him eclipsed as the premier liberal in the field by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 70. Sander has dropped well behind Warren and Biden in most polls and recently reshuffled his staffing in early states to become more competitive.
“Given his recent stalls in the polls, the timing is pretty bad here,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley said of Sanders’ heart procedure.
Sanders’ rivals were quick to wish him well. “We want to send our best wishes for a quick recovery to @BernieSanders today,” tweeted Julian Castro, an Obama administration housing chief. Added Sen. Kamala Harris of California: “If there’s one thing I know about him, he’s a fighter and I look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail soon.”
Sanders’ 2016 campaign nearly overtook Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination. He is a top contender in the 2020 primary, and announced Tuesday that he raised more than $25 million over the past three months. But he is facing stiff competition from former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who have overtaken him in many polls.
Sanders is not the first candidate to face health issues in recent years while seeking the presidency. Clinton had to take time off from campaigning in 2016 after being treated for pneumonia.
In 2000, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, the leading Democratic challenger to then-Vice President Al Gore, had to cut short a campaign swing for treatment of an atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that is treatable but potentially serious. Bradley later resumed his campaign.
In Sanders’ case, when doctors insert a stent, they first thread a tiny balloon inside a blocked artery to widen it. The stent is a small wire mesh tube that then is propped inside to keep the artery open. The number of stents needed depends on the size of the clog.
The treatment can immediately improve symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. The stents are threaded into place through blood vessels in the groin or wrist, requiring only a tiny incision. Most are coated with medication to prevent the targeted artery from reclosing. That is still a risk, requiring monitoring, and patients also often are prescribed blood thinners to prevent clots from forming in the stents.
A letter released by Sanders’ physician in 2016 cited a history of mildly elevated cholesterol but no heart disease.
Zeke Miller and Will Weissert in Washington, DC and Wilson Ring in Burlington, Vermont contributed to this report.
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $125 million in the third quarter of the year, a presidential fundraising record.
The pro-Trump effort said Tuesday that it has raised more than $308 million in 2019 and has more than $156 million in the bank. Republicans aim to use the fundraising haul to fight off Democrats’ impeachment effort.
Former President Barack Obama and the DNC raised just over $70 million in the third quarter of 2011.
“President Trump has built a juggernaut of a campaign, raising record amounts of money at a record pace,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel credited Democratic attacks on Trump for motivating supporters to donate in record numbers.
“We are investing millions on the airwaves and on the ground to hold House Democrats accountable, highlight their obstruction, and take back the House and reelect President Trump in 2020,” she said.
The fundraising announcement comes as the pro-Trump efforts launched their first major advertising campaign of the cycle. Trump’s team aims to devote $1 billion to his reelection.
Last week, as House Democrats launched their impeachment effort, the Trump campaign announced it would spend $8 million to air an ad attacking Democrats for trying to “steal” the 2020 campaign. The RNC said it would spend $2 million attacking Democrats for their support of impeachment.
Kamala Harris will “exponentially” increase the time she’s spending in Iowa. Bernie Sanders is shaking up his operations there and in New Hampshire. And Beto O’Rourke is going broader, turning up at such places as a San Quentin prison and an Arkansas gun show.
With just over four months until the Iowa caucuses usher in the battle for the Democratic nomination, candidates are shifting their approaches to the state. Some are betting the changes will pay off closer to the caucuses. Others are lowering expectations by looking beyond Iowa.
All are confronting the reality that the heady early days of their campaigns will soon collide with actual voting that could quickly force them out of the race.
“This is the place where you would see larger-scale course corrections,” said Democratic strategist Karen Finney. “Over the summer, there’s tinkering here or there, but with voting starting in four months, you have to be thinking about where you want to be by that point.”
Harris was the latest candidate to pivot after a challenging summer in which she’s struggled to catch up to early front-runner Joe Biden or capture the same energy as Elizabeth Warren. Juan Rodriguez, Harris’ campaign manager, told reporters Thursday that the California senator is going big in Iowa, dedicating 60 paid staffers to the state.
“We want to make sure we have a strong, top-three finish,” Rodriguez said, arguing that the Feb. 3 caucuses could “slingshot” Harris into the contests that quickly follow in New Hampshire, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states, including California.
As Harris and virtually every other Democratic contender descend on Iowa this weekend for the annual steak fry fundraiser, they’re well aware of what’s on the line. Iowa has repeatedly proved decisive in winnowing the presidential field — or providing a path to victory.
John Kerry, once the 2004 campaign’s early front-runner, was lagging behind upstart Howard Dean in the fall of 2003, only to shake up his campaign in October, reinvest heavily in Iowa and race to victory in the closing weeks. Likewise, Barack Obama’s late 2007 surge past better-known names including Hillary Clinton capped a once-unlikely win in Iowa that set him on the road to the nomination and presidency.
Joe Trippi, who ran Dean’s campaign, said no one should be counted out despite polls that show a largely static top tier of candidates including Biden, Sanders and Warren.
“Iowa moves frickin’ fast and hard at the end, and it’s not necessarily who you’d expect that comes out on top,” he said. “You can go the whole way thinking Howard Dean has it locked up, and you find out the hard way that’s not how it works.”
With that in mind, many candidates are building sizable operations in Iowa. Biden will soon have 110 staffers in the state, including more than 80 in the field. Sanders has 72 staffers on the ground, and Warren has more than 65 staffers in the state.
Harris’ decision to add roughly 60 staffers in Iowa and spend more time on the ground there is a significant shift from the campaign she ran this summer. Until she arrived on Thursday, she was absent from Iowa for more than a month. Her campaign says she’ll be there every week starting in October.
Speaking to reporters after a campaign stop in Coralville, Harris said she’d be spending as much time in Iowa as possible in the coming months and joked that she “got very little sleep last night trying to figure out where my sweaters and my boots are.” But she called the decision to refocus her time on Iowa a “tradeoff” that was “frustrating” for her to make.
“The realities of the campaign, I cannot only be in Iowa because South Carolina is also a state that is very important, that I care about,” Harris said.
Matt Paul, who ran Clinton’s Iowa campaign in 2016, said Harris’ team caught the issue early enough.
“Give her credit,” he said. “She had a problem here, she hadn’t been here in a while, she listened, she corrected it, and she’s coming here.”
But Harris’ vulnerabilities aren’t limited to Iowa. With much of her summer spent on fundraising, she had a similarly light footprint in other early voting states.
She campaigned in New Hampshire once in the last two months. She also hasn’t been in South Carolina, where she’s counting on a strong showing among black voters, in two months but plans to double her organizing staff.
Other candidates are also planning a fall surge in Iowa. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has rapidly expanded his paid staffers in the state, bringing his total to 100, one of the field’s most expansive Iowa footprints.
His campaign is convening more than two dozen donors in Iowa this weekend to discuss strategy, according to an aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.
Buttigieg plans to crisscross the state by bus this weekend, with visits to smaller cities in central and northern Iowa. He’s inviting the media to join him on the bus to engage more casually than he has in the past.
Sanders, meanwhile, recently severed ties with his Iowa political director, one of a series of staff shake-ups in key early voting states. The campaign also replaced Sanders’ New Hampshire state director.
Amy Klobuchar, who has focused heavily on Iowa since joining the race, is zeroing in this week on a “blue wall” tour of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states that supported Democrats for decades before flipping to President Donald Trump in 2016.
The Minnesota senator is stressing the similarities between her home state and the blue wall states, and her ability to win over voters in areas that backed Trump — an argument, she says, for why she would be the best Democratic nominee.
O’Rourke is also taking a wider view of the map. Since suspending his campaign for nearly two weeks to remain in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, after a mass shooting there that killed 22 people, he’s vowed to take the quest to deny Trump a second term directly to the president.
He’s still visiting early voting states but is traveling to unusual places like the Mississippi towns where recent immigration raids led to nearly 700 people arrested and an Arkansas gun show.
The idea is to distinguish O’Rourke in a crowded field. But Trippi said the strategy could prove fatal.
“It’s Iowa or nothing,” he said. “Touring every state but the early states is a big mistake.”
Summers reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Sara Burnett in Chicago and Will Weissert in Boston contributed to this report.
Beto O’Rourke’s “hell yes” moment at the Democrats’ presidential debate is scrambling his party’s message on guns.
The Democrats have long contended their support of gun control laws does not mean they want to take away law-abiding citizens’ firearms. But on Friday, they struggled to square that message with their presidential contender’s full-throated call on national TV for confiscating assault rifles.
“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore,” the former Texas congressman declared during Thursday night’s debate.
O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso was the site of a mass shooting last month that killed 22 people, and he has put the issue of gun violence at the center of his campaign effort. On Friday, his campaign hawked T-shirts emblazoned with his debate vow.
However, some fellow Democrats chastised him and fretted that his remarks may have made things harder for gun control supporters as they negotiate with President Donald Trump on legislation to respond to this summer’s mass shootings.
“I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying Democrats are coming for your guns,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told CNN Friday. “I don’t think a majority of the Senate or the country is going to embrace mandatory buybacks. We need to focus on what we can get done.”
His fears about new rages against gun control supporters seem sure to be borne out.
“This is what their goal is. We’ve always said it, now they’re saying it,” said Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, based in Washington state. “Now they’ve said it and we’re going to make them eat it.”
Meanwhile, Coons is working with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on a measure to require that law enforcement officials be notified when someone fails a gun-purchase background check. Toomey, who is also working with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia on the firearms issue, agreed that O’Rourke’s comments could backfire.
“This rhetoric undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts, like expanding background checks,” he said.
O’Rourke was less provocative in his language but still determined Friday.
“Much respect to Sen. Coons for leading the fight on background checks,” he tweeted. “But the time for letting status quo politics determine how far we can go is over. If we agree that having millions of weapons of war on the streets is a bad idea, we have to do something about it.”
One worry among Democrats is that calling for outright confiscation plays into claims by Trump and other Republicans that Democrats are coming for people’s firearms.
On Thursday night, just as O’Rourke made his call to take back the rifles, Trump warned at a Republican retreat in Baltimore, “Democrats want to confiscate guns from law-abiding Americans, so they are totally defenseless when somebody walks into their house.”
Republicans, Trump promised, “will forever uphold the fundamental right to keep and bear arms.” That line got huge applause at the GOP retreat, and again Friday when it was repeated there by Vice President Mike Pence.
By all accounts, Trump needs to run up the score in rural areas to win reelection next year. The 2020 outcome is expected to depend heavily on a trio of Rust Belt states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that have large numbers of rural voters, many of whom are gun-owners or sympathetic to owners on this issue. And Democrats’ hope of winning control of the Senate rests on states with high rates of gun ownership, like Arizona and Texas.
Several gun control groups stressed Friday that they were not advocating confiscation, but they also didn’t follow Coons’ lead in condemning O’Rourke’s declaration.
“I think it is very understandable that he is taking a policy position that the larger gun safety community hasn’t taken and he’s trying to push the envelope,” said Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, the gun control group named after Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who survived a gunshot wound to the head in 2011. “If the American voter does not think this is an appropriate solution, they’ll let us know.”
Gun rights groups have seemed to be somewhat on their heels recently as the unabated series of mass shootings has increased pressure for new control measures. Even the staunchly conservative lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, said he supports background checks for all gun purchases after the El Paso attack and a second mass shooting in the state. Infighting and investigations at the National Rifle Association and election wins by pro-gun-control Democrats last November have convinced some politicians that the winds have shifted on the gun issue.
Indeed, O’Rourke isn’t alone. None of the other nine candidates on the debate stage contradicted him on his proposal to require owners of the two popular styles of assault rifles to sell them to the government. Two candidates — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris — have also called for mandatory buybacks of assault weapons. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, asked if she agreed with O’Rourke Thursday night, allowed only that she preferred a voluntary buyback to a mandatory one.
All 10 of the Democrats onstage have called for an assault weapon sales ban, the latest sign of how the party has become emboldened on gun control.
“It’s hard to overstate how much the politics of gun safety has changed — whereas candidates once avoided gun safety entirely, now they’re jockeying to be the boldest,” said Taylor Maxwell of Everytown, the gun control group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Proposals like background checks and so-called red flag laws, which allow authorities to confiscate guns from people who are deemed threats, are “urgent,” she said. “Too many lives are on the line not to take these simple, broadly popular and bipartisan steps immediately.”
But O’Rourke’s remarks worry Democrats like Warren Varley, who lost a race for a state legislative seat in Iowa last year.
“The lines like, ‘We’re gonna come and take your AR-15,’ just play into the fears that the NRA has been stoking, and a proposal like that is just going to make rural Iowa and I think probably rural areas elsewhere more red,” Varley said. “I think that’s just a bridge too far for most rural folks, and it conjures up images of the government coming in and invading your home and images of big government trampling over the rights of individuals.”
Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun control measures with members of Congress, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those found guilty of committing mass shootings.
A formal announcement on the president’s plan is expected as soon as next week.
Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
A Republican Texas lawmaker tweeting he had an assault rifle “ready” for Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke drew criticism Friday for the apparent threat amid heightened tensions over guns after two mass shootings in the state.
The tweet by Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain came after O’Rourke pledged Thursday during the Democratic debate that “hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47” when asked about a mandatory assault weapons buyback proposal he’s endorsed.
Cain tweeted: “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” using O’Rourke’s full name.
O’Rourke called the tweet “a death threat” that proved his argument that such weapons shouldn’t be readily available. A Twitter spokesman said Cain’s tweet was removed for violating the company’s terms of service.
Cain didn’t immediately respond to a reporter’s request for comment.
The U.S. Secret Service said Friday that O’Rourke is not currently under the agency’s protection and declined to comment further.
O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, has made gun control his signature issue in the aftermath of a mass shooting last month in his hometown of El Paso. A gunman who told police he was targeting Mexicans opened fire at a Walmart on Aug. 3 and killed 22 people, most of whom had Hispanic last names.
O’Rourke’s outspokenness on guns since the El Paso attack earned praise from his rivals on the debate stage in Houston, although it hasn’t elevated his standing in the race.
He told CNN on Friday that Cain’s tweet “drives home the point, better than I could’ve made” that such weapons shouldn’t be readily available.
“No one should have an AR-15 that they could hold over someone else in this country, say, ‘Look, if we disagree on something, let me introduce you to my AR-15.’ Absolutely wrong,” O’Rourke said.
Cain is a lawyer who was first elected in 2016 and is part of the small Freedom Caucus in the Texas House that represents the GOP’s most socially conservative wing. Last year, Cain called for recouping tax dollars from any public school that allowed students to walk out in support of gun control measures following a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
His tweet came during a politically charged moment in Texas over gun control following the El Paso shooting and a Labor Day weekend rampage in West Texas that left seven people dead.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has resisted calls from Democrats to hold an emergency legislative session on guns, and on Friday, O’Rourke tweeted that Abbott wasn’t going far enough by calling to make voluntary background checks for private sellers easier.
Democratic lawmakers in Texas also rebuked Cain’s tweet.
“In case you forgot, people were just killed in El Paso. People were murdered,” tweeted Democratic state Rep. Mary Gonzalez. “The language you are using and the way you are using it is dangerous. We need leaders who want to change our culture of violence.”
Polls have shown the majority of Americans favor more restrictions on guns and most of the Democratic field has called for a ban on assault weapons.
Joe Biden is the Democratic front-runner. And there were moments in Thursday night’s debate when he looked the part.
Standing between a pair of liberal senators offering radical change, he unabashedly embraced his more moderate position on health care, forcefully pressuring Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to level with Americans about the steep cost of implementing a fully government-run system. He was more polished and practiced than in previous contests. And he repeatedly leaned on the legacy of former President Barack Obama, who remains the most popular Democrat in the nation.
“I’m for Barack — I think the Obamacare worked,” he declared.
But the debate was punctuated by moments that highlighted why Biden can’t shake questions about his consistency and whispers about his fitness for office, despite his lead in most national polls and early state surveys. Most glaringly: a meandering answer near the end of the debate about his past statements on racial inequality. Biden said poor parents should play the “record player” for their children before veering off into comments about Venezuela.
Biden’s standing in the Democratic contest is the source of much debate within the party. Is he an experienced elder statesman who can calm an anxious nation and peel back some of the white working class voters who helped send President Donald Trump to the White House? Or is the 76-year-old past his prime and out of step with a party that is growing younger, more diverse and more liberal?
Thursday night’s contest provided fresh fodder for each of those theories.
Biden was at his best in his lengthy exchange with Sanders and Warren over the future of health care in America. He confidently pressed them over the cost of their sweeping “Medicare for All” proposals, exposing Warren’s unwillingness to say whether middle class Americans would see a tax increase under her plan (Sanders says they would, but argues the rise would be offset by lower health care costs).
In a retort to Sanders, who has said he expects employers would pass on health care savings to their workers, Biden exclaimed: “For a socialist you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”
Biden was the focus of fierce criticism from his rivals in both of the previous Democratic debates. But those attacks did little to diminish Biden’s standing atop polls, nor has a series of verbal flubs and misstatements throughout the summer.
The other reality: The candidates who have launched the sharpest attacks on Biden have gained little ground or already dropped out of the race. Sen. Kamala Harris, for example, bested Biden in the opening debate with a highly personal critique over his decades-old position on federally mandated school busing, but any boost for her candidacy was short-lived.
Perhaps mindful of that reality, most candidates sidestepped overt criticism of the vice president in Thursday’s debate.
The one notable exception was Julián Castro, who served as Obama’s housing secretary and is in need of a jolt to break out of the lower tier of candidates. In a highly charged moment, Castro challenged Biden’s memory — a barely veiled reference to questions about the former vice president’s age.
“Are you forgetting already what you just said two minutes ago?” Castro said during an exchange on health care.
In a post-debate interview, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker laid into Biden as well, saying there were many people concerned about Biden’s ability to carry the ball “across the end line without fumbling.”
Castro and Booker were zeroing in on real questions that are being asked about Biden. Is he too old to serve as president? If he were the nominee, would he make a mistake at a critical moment that could clear the way for Trump?
Biden’s stumbles later in the debate magnified those questions. He struggled through an answer about the war in Iraq and gave a grab-bag answer to a question about how to repair the legacy of slavery in America. He appeared to suggest that poorer families needed help learning how to raise their children.
Biden’s supporters argue that ultimately, those answers — and the questions they raise — matter less to voters than their overall impressions of the former vice president. Indeed, there is a deep reservoir of goodwill for Biden in the Democratic Party, shaped in large part by the eight years he served as Obama’s No. 2.
Which leaves little doubt as to why Biden spent much of the debate reminding Americans about those years, urging them to see him as the rightful heir to legacy of the last Democrat to occupy the Oval Office.
“I stand with Barack Obama all eight years — good, bad, indifferent,” Biden said.
Editor’s note: Washington bureau chief Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
Joe Biden parried attack after attack from liberal rivals Thursday night on everything from health care to immigration in a debate that showcased profound ideological divides between the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive wings.
The prime-time debate also elevated several struggling candidates, giving them a chance to introduce themselves to millions of Americans who are just beginning to follow the race.
Biden dominated significant parts of the evening, responding strongly when the liberal senators who are his closet rivals — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — assailed him and his policies.
Unlike prior debates, where Biden struggled for words and seemed surprised by criticism from fellow Democrats, he largely delivered crisp, aggressive responses. He called Sanders “a socialist,” a label that could remind voters of the senator’s embrace of democratic socialism. And Biden slapped at Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax.
A two-term vice president under Barack Obama, Biden unequivocally defended his former boss, who came under criticism from some candidates for deporting immigrants and not going far enough on health care reform.
“I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good bad and indifferent,” Biden declared.
His vulnerabilities surfaced, however, in the final minutes of the debate, when he was pressed on a decades-old statement regarding school integration. Biden rambled in talking about his support of teachers, the lack of resources for educators and at one point seemed to encourage parents to play records for their children to expand their vocabulary before segueing into talk of Latin America.
“That’s quite a lot,” quipped Julian Castro, the former Housing secretary who was Biden’s frequent foe during the debate.
The candidates debated with polls showing a strong majority of voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction under the first-term Republican president’s leadership. But nine months into their nomination fight, divided Democrats have yet to answer fundamental questions about who or what the party stands for beyond simply opposing President Donald Trump.
The party’s 2020 class, once featuring two dozen candidates, has essentially been cut in half by party rules requiring higher polling and fundraising standards. Just 10 candidates qualified for Thursday’s affair, though more than that have qualified for next month’s round.
Those in the second tier, after Biden, Warren and Sanders, are under increasing pressure to break out of the pack. They all assailed Trump.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called Trump a racist. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called him a white supremacist. And Kamala Harris, a California senator, said Trump’s hateful social media messages provided “the ammunition” for recent mass shootings.
“President Trump, you have spent the last two-and-a-half years full time trying to sow hate and vision among us, and that’s why we’ve gotten nothing done,” Harris charged.
In addition to Trump, Biden’s rivals also turned against Obama’s legacy at times as they sought to undermine the former vice president’s experience.
Sanders insisted that Biden bears responsibility for millions of Americans going bankrupt under the “Obamacare” health care system. Castro raised questions about the Obama-Biden record on immigration, particularly the number of deportations that took place.
Castro, a 44-year-old Texan, appeared to touch on concerns about Biden’s age when he accused the former vice president of forgetting a detail about his own health care plan. At 76, Biden would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term.
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” an incredulous Castro asked, challenging Biden on health care. “I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that you have to buy in and now you’re forgetting that.”
He added: “I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”
The ABC News debate was the first limited to one night after several candidates dropped out and others failed to meet new qualification standards. A handful more candidates qualified for next month’s debate, which will again be divided over two nights.
As well as policy differences, the Democratic debates have been shaped by broader questions about diversity.
In a nod to the diverse coalition they need to defeat Trump, the Democrats held this debate on the campus of historically black Texas Southern University. It unfolded in a rapidly changing state that Democrats hope to eventually bring into their column.
The party cheered when America elected the most diverse congressional class in history in last fall’s midterm voting. But some Democrats still fear that anyone other than a white man may struggle in a head-to-head matchup against Trump.
Biden was one of four white men onstage.
Along with health care, gun violence emerged as a flashpoint Thursday night in a state shaken by a mass shooting last month that left 22 people dead and two dozen more wounded.
O’Rourke noted that there weren’t enough ambulances at times to take all the wounded to the hospital.
“Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said as the crowd cheered.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar noted that all the candidates on stage favor a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. She favors a voluntary buy-back program on assault weapons, however.
The national economy got surprisingly little attention, though several of the candidates criticized Trump on foreign trade and his trade war with China.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Trump had said scornfully of his candidacy “he’d like to see me making a deal with Xi Jinping,” the Chinese president.
“I’d like to see HIM making a deal with Xi Jinping.”
Trump was silent on social media during the event. But Kayleigh McEnany, his campaign’s national press secretary, said in a statement: “Thank you to ABC and the Democrat Party for another infomercial for President Trump!”
Earlier in the day, Trump said he’d likely have to watch a re-run because of travel conflict. He predicted the Democratic nominee would ultimately be Biden, Warren or Sanders.
Peoples reported from Washington. AP writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
Democratic debate night No. 3: Attacks and counter-attacks. Love for one former president, loathing for the current one. A 76-year-old front-runner essentially got called old, and he turned around and called another rival a “socialist.”
But will it change the fundamentals of a nominating fight that remains remarkably stable at the top with five months until voting begins? Here’s a look at some takeaways and potential answers:
STATUS QUO PREVAILED
The third Democratic debate seemed to end in a 10-way tie.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was sure-footed (until the end), at least for him and compared with the previous two debates. There were more attacks on President Donald Trump than on each other. No one dominated.
Biden took on the most fire, but parried it and, as front-runner, benefits the most from a no-decision. Sen. Bernie Sanders faced sharp criticism about his universal health care plan from several candidates, but his base has demonstrated its loyalty. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was more in the background than in prior debates but didn’t damage herself, and she closed with a compelling personal story. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were both crisp but got lost on the crowded stage at times.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar helped form a sensibility caucus, offering pragmatism and civic-mindedness. Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur, spoke eloquently about immigration and assured himself a mention with his proposal to give 10 families $1,000 a month, from his campaign. The normally mild-mannered Julián Castro, a former Housing secretary, decided that attacking Biden, often in personal terms, was one way to get noticed.
The likely result: little change in a primary that has been remarkably static for months.
FIGHT THAT DIDN’T BREAK OUT
The first matchup between Biden and Warren had so much anticipation — and so little fireworks.
There were a few criticisms of Warren on health care, though she not directly answer whether her plan would raise taxes on the middle class.
During a discussion on trade, Biden even said he agreed with Warren’s call to bring labor to the table.
Certainly, the head-to-head confrontation will come if Biden continues as the front-runner and Warren maintains her momentum as perhaps the most likely progressive alternative. But perhaps the two campaigns were right after all when they said privately before the debate that September — five months before the Iowa caucuses — isn’t necessarily the time for a titanic fight at the top of the field.
BERNIE BATTERED ON HEALTH CARE
Sanders took heavy fire on his single-payer health insurance proposal, with Biden and others hammering the Vermont senator for the cost and the political palatability of effectively eliminating the existing private insurance market.
The former vice president went hardest at Sanders when the senator argued that his estimated $30 trillion cost over a decade is cheaper than the “status quo,” which he put at $50 trillion — with most of the money being what Americans spend privately on premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. Sanders’ argument is that most U.S. households would pay less overall under his system, even if their taxes go up.
Biden roared that Sanders would effectively be handing Americans a pay cut, arguing employers who now pay a share of workers’ premiums would pocket that money instead of giving workers raises if the government were to cover all health care costs. Biden punctuated the point with one of the quotes of the night: “For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”
Buttigieg piled on Sanders, too. Buttigieg said he “trusts the American people to make the right decision” between private insurance and a public option. “Why don’t you?” he asked Sanders.
OF AGE AND EXPERIENCE
At the center of the debate stage were three candidates in their 70s who have had a collective headlock on the upper tier for months. Of the seven younger contenders, Castro, 44, was most explicit in arguing it was time for a new generation — and he specifically targeted the front-runner, 76-year-old Biden.
“Our problems didn’t start with Donald Trump,” Castro said in his opening statement. “We won’t solve them by embracing old ideas.”
Castro also seemed to allude to speculation about Biden’s mental acuity during an exchange about health care. When Biden denied that his health plan required people to buy into Medicare, Castro exclaimed, “Are you forgetting what you said 2 minutes ago?” He continued to suggest Biden didn’t remember what he’d just said about his own plan.
Later, during a discussion about deportations under the Obama administration, Castro mocked Biden for clinging to former President Barack Obama, but then saying he was only vice president when Obama’s conduct was questioned. “He wants to take credit for Obama’s work but not answer any questions,” Castro said.
MONEY FOR NOTHING
Yang is an unorthodox candidate, and he came to the debate with an offer to match his persona: a proposal to use his campaign funds to pay 10 randomly-selected families $1,000 a month.
Yang announced the maneuver in his opening statement. It’s intended to illustrate the center of his quixotic campaign, to provide monthly $1,000 payments to all Americans 18 and over. After lamenting how the country is in thrall to “the almighty dollar,” Yang, 44, urged viewers to go to his campaign website and register for the contest to win the money.
His offer drew cheers from the audience and chortles from some of the other candidates onstage. “It’s original, I’ll give you that,” Buttigieg said.