Women led the charge during the fifth Democratic primary debate, in more ways than one. For starters, all four moderators — powerhouse journalists Rachel Maddow, Kristen Welker, Ashley Parker, and Andrea Mitchell — were women. And, four out of the 10 candidates taking the stage were women, which is a historically high proportion given that only five women candidates participated in any presidential debates prior to the 2020 race in all of U.S. history.
Here are the 10 candidates who were on the debate stage: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.
Ahead, read our live recap of the evening, including the best quotes, moments, and surprises.
Bernie Sanders brings it back to economic inequality.
It feels like déjà vu all over again as the candidates kick off the debate by discussing impeachment. Maddow started by asking candidates where they stood on the ongoing inquiry. But Sanders brought the conversation back to inequality, reminding the audience and his fellow candidates that we have to “walk and chew bubblegum at the same time.” Sanders, who waxed poetic about how Trump’s impeachment is a distraction from larger issues, repeated his old (but true) talking points about working families and the disproportionate power of billionaires. We’re also feeling this night for Sen. Kamala Harris, who emphasized “we need the same set of rules for everybody,” connecting politicians getting away with crimes to widespread economic injustice. "We have to bring justice back to America for all people, not just for some," she said.
Elizabeth Warren gets challenged on Medicare For All.
Moderator Kristen Welker asked: Could Warren’s position on Medicare for All cost her votes? Warren had a ready-made retort, rattling off her plan: "In the first 100 days, I want to bring in 135 million people into Medicare for All at no cost to them. Everybody under the age of 18, everybody who has a family of four income less than $50,000. I want to lower the age of Medicare to 50 and expand Medicare coverage to include vision and dental and long-term care," she said. "And in the third year, when people had a chance to feel it and taste it and live with it, we're going to vote, and we're going to want Medicare for All."
Kamala Harris goes off on Tulsi Gabbard.
It started when Parker asked Gabbard about her recently calling Hillary Clinton the "personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party." After Gabbard railed against the military-industrial complex and "regime-change wars," the mic turned to Harris, who pointed out the irony of having Gabbard as a Democratic candidate after constant criticisms of other Democrats and "[buddying] up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in the Trump Tower." The back-and-forth got, well, heated.
Amy Klobuchar brings up donations from her exes...again.
Drawing a contrast between her own humble beginnings and billionaire candidate Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar heroically reminds the audience that her exes donated $17,000 to her Senate run. We're here for it. "I am someone that doesn’t come from money," she said. "I see my husband out there. My first Senate race, I literally called everyone I knew and I set what is still an all-time Senate record: I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends. And I’d like to point out: It is not an expanding base."
Amy Klobuchar is on fire tonight.
The moderators pulled out receipts for comments Klobuchar had made about Buttigieg’s experience level, saying that a woman with his level of experience would never be seriously considered for president. In an absolutely fire moment, she said that while she's honored to stand on stage with Buttigieg, "Women are held to a higher standard. Otherwise we could play a game called ‘Name Your Favorite Woman President,’ which we can’t do because it has all been men."
Finally, a paid family leave question.
For the first time on the debate stage this cycle, candidates discussed paid family leave in substantive detail. Andrew Yang kicked it off by referring to “new moms” staying at home, somehow setting the clock back 50 years in one fell swoop. Luckily, Klobuchar and Harris were able to shift the conversation to how supporting families (without calling out specific genders of caretakers) would require substantial leave. Harris in particular was strong and impassioned on her plan, the most generous yet, to provide families with six months of paid time off.
Kamala Harris says Trump got “punked” by North Korea.
In a breakout moment, Harris said "Donald Trump got punked" by Kim Jong Un. And then this happened...
MTV weighed in:
Joe Biden says "we gotta keep punching" at violence against women.
Biden, who recently put out an ad spotlighting his work on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), was asked by Welker about #MeToo. He discussed the importance of reauthorizing VAWA and emphasized his work to prevent sexual assault on college campuses and on the "It's On Us" anti-domestic violence campaign he led as vice president. "We have to fundamentally change the culture of how women are treated," he said. "No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger, other than self-defense, and that rarely occurs. We have to keep punching at it and punching at it." (The audience could be heard snickering at that last part.)
Kamala Harris: It's time to show up for Black women.
Black women are showing up for the Democratic Party — but is it showing up for them? "There are plenty of people who applauded Black women for the success of the 2018 election," said Harris. "When Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection to childbirth in America, when Black women make 61 cents on the dollar. The question is, where have you been, and what are you gonna do?"
Cory Booker to Joe Biden: "Are you high?"
"I thought you might have been high when you said it," Booker told Biden, referring to his recent statement against legalizing marijuana. Cue the internet erupting.
The question on abortion we've been waiting for.
Finally, a real question on reproductive rights. (Could it be all the women moderators?) Klobuchar led the answers with a familiar battle cry: "We need to codify Roe v. Wade." (Hear, hear.) Maddow then asked Warren about Gov. John Bel Edwards, the anti-abortion Democrat Louisiana just reelected: Is there a place for people like him in the Democratic Party? Warren’s response: Not an unequivocal no, but a promise to fight for abortion rights. "If someone makes abortion illegal, rich women will still get abortions," she said. Warren went on to list all of the people that are involved in supporting a woman during her abortion: her mother, her partner, her friends, but emphasized that "the one entity that should not be in the middle of that decision is the government." At the end of the discussion, Sanders had an ally moment: "This is a time in American history when the men of this country must stand with the women."
If Kamala Harris didn't end Tulsi Gabbard, Pete Buttigieg definitely did.
Gabbard criticized Buttigieg for his inexperience in foreign policy, bringing up his "careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels." Buttigieg fact-checked Gabbard, explaining that he was talking about "U.S.-Mexico cooperation." "Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?" he asked. He then called her out for cozying up to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. "If you want to talk about experience, let’s talk about judgment… I...have enough judgment [that] I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that."