Democratic debate: Biden spars with Warren and Sanders while others battle for survival – as it happened

Last modified: 04: 12 AM GMT+0

The three frontrunners clashed on healthcare and other issues while lower-polling candidates vied to break through

Here are the key takeaways from the debate

It was a long night that frequently dove into the weeds of candidates’ specific proposals with a couple explosive moments thrown in along the way. Here are some of the night’s key takeaways:

  1. Joe Biden turned in an overall solid performance that was a far cry from his disastrous first debate. But the former vice president’s reference to “record player” prompted, along with many Twitter jokes, yet another moment of, “What is he talking about?” And the debate’s most divisive moment came when Julián Castro accused Biden of flip-flopping on healthcare by repeatedly asking him, “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro later denied the remark was an attack on Biden’s age, but the question elicited gasps from the audience and immediately recalled Biden’s repeated gaffes in recent weeks. He has, for example, mixed up the locations of recent mass shootings and misidentified the state he was campaigning in. (But it later appeared Castro had mischaracterized Biden’s original comments.)
  2. The biggest question going into the debate was whether Biden and Elizabeth Warren, two front-runners who were meeting on a debate stage for the first time, would go after each other. The answer turned out to be: not really. With the exception of Biden’s fumbled reference to “the senator to my left” at the beginning of the debate, the pair focused on defending their proposals more than anything else. Meanwhile, the other top-polling candidate, Bernie Sanders, successfully inserted himself into many of the night’s most policy-driven discussions on healthcare and foreign policy.
  3. The narrowed debate field undeniably changed the dynamics of the event. Without the 10 additional candidates spread across two nights, there appeared to be fewer desperate attempts for attention and more calls to unify as one Democratic field. That suggestion didn’t sit well with Castro, who told Pete Buttigeg at one point, “That’s called an election.”
  4. Of the lower-polling candidates, Beto O’Rourke appeared to have the most standout moments. His answers about gun control, coming just a month after the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, attracted enthusiastic applause from the audience, and O’Rourke’s campaign said it had the best hour of fundraising this quarter during the debate.
  5. One clear winner of tonight’s debate: Barack Obama. Candidates like Kamala Harris and Castro started several answers by applauding the work done by the former president’s administration – which was quite a contrast from the second debate, after which Biden complained that some of his opponents were disparaging Obama’s robust legacy.

That’s it from me on this debate night. Thanks for following along with the live blog, and be sure to read the Guardian’s other coverage of the night.

The question of whether Castro’s attack on Biden was fair appears to be dominating the post-debate chatter, with Cory Booker becoming the latest to weigh in.

Booker offered a more mild reproach than Amy Klobuchar, emphasizing that “tone and tenor” are important when having such conversations.

But interestingly, Booker heavily implied that he has his own concerns about Biden’s ability to “get the ball over the line.” When specially asked if he was concerned about Biden’s age, Booker offered an emphatic “no,” but the whole answer seems to have a heavy “wink and a nudge” element to it.

Fuller Booker exchange on CNN talking Castro-Biden

— Tal Kopan (@TalKopan) September 13, 2019

Here’s an interesting take from the conservative writer Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. He suggests that all three of the Democratic frontrunners represent an electoral risk and if that he was a Democrat he’d be urging the party to look elsewhere. Stacy Abrams, perhaps?

If I were a Democrat, I’d still be very open to looking beyond the top three, all whom—for either performance or ideological reasons—represent real electoral risks

— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) September 13, 2019

Julián Castro claimed his attack on Joe Biden’s healthcare proposals, in which he accused the former vice president of flip-flopping by sarcastically asking if he was “forgetting” what he had said moments before, was not a criticism of Biden’s age.

Julián Castro says he doesn't regret his clash with Joe Biden, in which he asked whether Biden was "forgetting what you said two minutes ago?"

"I wasn't taking a shot at his age," Castro tells @ABC News. "It's about the health care policy." #DemDebate

— ABC News (@ABC) September 13, 2019

Castro’s repeated question of whether Biden was forgetting what he had said elicited gasps from the audience, who assumed (pretty understandably) that Castro was referencing Biden’s repeated gaffes in recent weeks.

The former vice president has, for example, mixed up the sites of recent mass shootings and misidentified the state he was currently campaigning in.

The group Sunrise Movement has issued a damning statement on tonight’s debate and what they say is a failure to adequately address the climate crisis.

In a statement on Twitter, they said “I don’t know how @DNC leaders can look themselves in the mirror tonight [...] they promised us that they would ensure this issue got the attention it deserved. Tonight their check bounced.”

You can read the full statement via their thread here:


Climate change is the greatest existential threat we face as a nation. Yet, even as poll after poll show that it’s a top concern for voters in the 2020 election, tonight’s debate almost entirely ignored it.

— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) September 13, 2019

Pete Buttigieg’s final debate answer on coming out while running for office reminded many viewers of his history-making candidacy as the first major openly gay presidential candidate.

Buttigieg talking about coming out is really a story we have never heard on the national debate stage in a presidential election. Every so often, it's easy to forget how novel that is.

— Asma Khalid (@asmamk) September 13, 2019

.@PeteButtigieg tells his story about coming out on a national, presidential stage.

Regardless of where his candidacy goes, this moment is powerful and important for every kid watching.

"I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love."

— Elena Schneider (@ec_schneider) September 13, 2019

And Buttigieg’s own husband applauded his “courage” in discussing the experience:

Those of us who are LGBT know that we come out every day. Every single day. A presidential candidate just did, again, in front of millions of Americans. That take courage and I couldn’t be prouder to be his husband.

— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chas10Buttigieg) September 13, 2019

Here is Buttigieg’s answer, which came in response to a question on the meaning of resilience, in case you missed it:

Trust can be reciprocated. Part of winning is knowing what’s worth more to you than winning—and that’s what we need in the presidency right now. #DemDebate

— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) September 13, 2019

Beto O’Rourke is already moving to capitalize on his biggest line of the night, when he pledged to enact a mandatory buyback of assault weapons.

Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15.

Buy your shirt now:

— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 13, 2019

Donald Trump was uncharacteristically silent during the debate, but that’s probably because he spent the beginning of it addressing a House Republican retreat in Baltimore.

That didn’t stop his campaign spokesperson from mocking all the Democratic presidential candidates and calling the debate an “infomercial” for Trump’s re-election.

Trump spox @kayleighmcenany: "President Trump’s record of accomplishment easily eclipses any of these weak candidates. Thank you to ABC and the Democrat Party for another infomercial for President Trump!”

— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) September 13, 2019

The debate may be over but Joe Biden’s latest gaffe is still spinning.

After urging viewers to visit a non-existent website called “Joe 30330” at the end of the last debate, he’s now told children to “make sure you have the record player on at night” in response to a question about how families should spend their evenings.

You can watch it here:

Joe Biden says we need to "play the radio" and "make sure you have the record player on at night" for children

— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) September 13, 2019

And here’s how people have responded

"Alexa, turn up the record player!" -Joe Biden, probably #DemDebate

— Fitz Maro (@fitzmaro) September 13, 2019

"Make sure you have a record player on at night" is it for me. I'm out.

— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 13, 2019

“Make sure you have the RECORD PLAYER on at night,” Biden says to the 2019 millennials.#DemDebate

— Ivy Marie (@ivysaysrawr) September 13, 2019

Either Uncle Joe traveled in a time machine, or he is trying to appeal to hipsters. "Listen to the record player!!!" ?!?! #demdebate

— A C (@sportzchic3589) September 13, 2019

Amy Klobuchar said she found Julián Castro’s criticism of Joe Biden, when he appeared to criticize the former vice president’s age, “not cool” and compared it to a Trumpian line of attack.

“I just thought - this is not cool” @amyklobuchar says on @CNN of Castro’s hit at Biden’s memory on stage tonight. She says it was unnecessary, personal and “felt like something Donald trump might tweet out”

— Sarah Boxer (@Sarah_Boxer) September 13, 2019

Most of the attention going into tonight’s debate was on whether Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren would directly confront each other as they met for the first time on a debate stage.

But with the exception of a somewhat haphazard effort by Biden at the beginning to criticize “the senator to my left,” the two leading candidates remained focused on defending their policies more than anything else.

The only candidate who directly confronted Biden was Julián Castro, but that effort didn’t seem to land and may have even be misleading, an ABC News reporter said.

"It seemed to me that Biden was right and that Julián Castro mischaracterized what he had said," @jonkarl says on Castro's health care quip to Biden that the former vice president was "forgetting" what he said "two minutes ago" #DemDebate

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 13, 2019

Protesters are escorted off the stage during the debate.
Protesters are escorted off the stage during the debate. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Update: the demonstrators who interrupted Joe Biden during the final question of the debate appear to have been immigration protesters, according to a Daily Mail reporter.

Protester at #DemDebate was wearing a “Defend DACA, abolish ICE, citizenship for all” t- shirt according to wire photos from inside the room. Also photos show at least protester made it on to the debate stage

— Emily Goodin (@Emilylgoodin) September 13, 2019

Moderator Jorge Ramos pushed Biden on the high number of deportations under the Obama administration, but the former vice president defended Obama, arguing the president had done the best he could at the time.


Beto O’Rourke’s team appears to be taking a victory lap after his debate performance, which has attracted donors and plaudits.

From his rapid response director:

Beto for America has had our best hour of fundraising this quarter tonight

— Lauren Hitt (@LaurenHitt) September 13, 2019

CNN homepage right now

— Lauren Hitt (@LaurenHitt) September 13, 2019

O’Rourke’s answers on gun control, in which he repeatedly mentioned the recent mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, in particular attracted enthusiastic applause from the Houston crowd.

Beto O’Rourke’s answers on gun control drew applause from the crowd.
Beto O’Rourke’s answers on gun control drew applause from the crowd. Photograph: David J Phillip/Associated Press


The debate has ended

The debate has concluded – about 15 minutes earlier than expected, but this blogger is not complaining.

We’ll have more post-debate analysis and spin as it comes in, so stay tuned.

Beto O’Rourke gave a stirring answer on resiliency by honoring his hometown of El Paso as it continues to heal from the mass shooting that killed 22. He referenced those who are still recovering from their injuries.

Amy Klobuchar talked about pushing her state legislature to change the law on hospital stays for mothers with ill newborns after her daughter was born unable to swallow.

Julián Castro recounted quitting his high-paying law firm job so that he could vote against a controversial land deal as a member of San Antonio’s city council.


Anti-socialism advert with burning photo of AOC sparks outrage

A bizarre advert showing a burning photo of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has prompted outrage after playing during an earlier debate break.

Paid for by the group New Faces GOP, the ad describes the progressive congresswoman as “the face of socialism” while issuing a very morbid warning against the economic model.

You can see the advert here:

This is the very strange PAC ad featuring a burning pic of @AOC that aired during the #DemDebate:

— jordan (@JordanUhl) September 13, 2019

Here’s how Ocasio-Cortez has responded:

Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist.

Life is weird!

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2019

Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color - that was the pretense.

What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2019

Many others have also expressed their alarm at the advert:

This is the ad @ABC allowed to run during tonight's #DemDebate: right-wing propaganda depicting @AOC set on fire, burning into images of skeletons.

This is right out of the white nationalist playbook. No news network should be profiting off such

— Bend the Arc: Jewish Action (@jewishaction) September 13, 2019

Trump officials and GOP senators were asked to leave a few restaurants and we had a whole news cycle about a lack of 'civility' on the part of the left.

The GOP, on the other hand, just set @AOC's face on fire.#bothsides

— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 13, 2019

This ad is abhorrent. Literally burning @AOC and promoting violence against a sitting member of congress. How did you let this on the air @ABCNetwork? #DemDebate

— UltraViolet (@UltraViolet) September 13, 2019


Meanwhile, the debate has passed by without any question on reproductive rights, which was a central campaign plank of senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York senator dropped out of the race late last month.

A former adviser to Gillibrand argued the oversight demonstrated the need for a candidate focused on those issues.

Reproductive rights are under greater threat than they've been since before Roe v. Wade.

We've had a three-hour, 10-candidate #DemDebate for the presidency and not a single question *or mention* about that crisis.

But ok. We don't need a candidate who runs on women's rights.

— Emmy Bengtson (@EmmyA2) September 13, 2019

This question of what resiliency means to each candidate has given them the chance to dive more into their personal histories.

Elizabeth Warren spoke about being discriminated against as a teacher because she was pregnant.

Bernie Sanders talked about repeatedly losing races and finally seeing his vision prevail with voters.

Kamala Harris repeated her common line of being the first African-American woman to hold several offices and not listening to people telling her it wasn’t her time.

Pete Buttigieg talked about coming out as gay while running for office and learning to trust voters with that knowledge.

Biden interrupted by protesters

A protester is escorted out by security during the debate.
A protester is escorted out by security during the debate. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Biden was just beginning his answer on resilience when he was interrupted by a group of protesters in the Houston audience.

Once the protesters were cleared out, Biden spoke about his personal tragedies, losing his wife and daughter before being sworn in as a senator and later seeing his son die from brain cancer while he was serving as vice president.

A Daily Beast reporter said the optics weren’t the best for the protesters.

yeah. Great time to protest guys as he’s about to talk about the personal horrors he’s faced in his life.

— Sam Stein (@samstein) September 13, 2019


Moderator Linsey Davis, who previously asked Kamala Harris a tough question about her record on criminal justice, has now posed a similarly difficult question to Joe Biden.

Davis specifically asked about Biden’s 1975 comment that he didn’t “feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather” when it came to segregation.

Debate moderators Jorge Ramos of Univision, Linsey Davis of ABC News and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.
Debate moderators Jorge Ramos of Univision, Linsey Davis of ABC News and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

“There is institutional segregation in this country,” Biden acknowledged off the bat, claiming he has worked against such discrimination from the beginning of his career. But the former senator has attracted criticism for his past opposition to government-mandated busing to racially integrate schools.

When Davis tried to cut off Biden, he said he was going to blow past the time limit like all of his opponents, prompting laughter. But he then oddly segued into an answer on Venezuela, which came up about 20 minutes ago.


Kamala Harris used her education answer to trumpet the importance of historically black colleges and universities, one of which she attended (Howard University in Washington).

The site of tonight’s debate, Texas Southern University, is also a historically black university – which may partly explain the healthy applause Harris’ answer attracted.

The audience was similarly receptive to Harris’ citations of statistics showing that black children with black teachers are more likely to go on to college.

Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang emphasized he was “pro-good school”.
Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang emphasized he was “pro-good school”. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

The discussion has turned toward education. Andrew Yang was pressed about his stance toward public education, and the tech entrepreneur emphasized he was “pro-good school”.

Pete Buttigieg emphasized teachers need to be better paid so that the positions can attract the best possible candidates.

And Elizabeth Warren dismissed claims that she was “in bed with the teacher unions.” Warren emphasized she was the person onstage who has previously been a teacher and argued that educational funding needs to stay in public schools.


A Warren supporter watches the Democratic debate in West Hollywood, California.
A Warren supporter watches the Democratic debate in West Hollywood, California. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke’s campaign is trying to capitalize on his gun-control answers, which attracted some of the loudest applause of the debate so far, by spinning Elizabeth Warren’s catchphrase, “I’ve got a plan.”


— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 13, 2019


First climate question two hours into the debate

The first climate question has arrived two hours into the debate, much to the chagrin of environmental activists no doubt.

Beto O’Rourke pledged to spend $5 trillion to combat the crisis and pursue policies that may be politically unpopular. He referenced the site of the debate, Houston, which suffered devastating losses from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The former congressman said he would pursue disaster relief grants to aid cities like Houston.

After O’Rourke completed his answer, many candidates wanted to offer their own plans, so Jorge Ramos said he would try to “quickly” get through them. That sound you hear is every climate activist banging their head against the wall.

Along with the climate crisis there’s another topic the candidates haven’t been questioned on tonight: LGBT rights.

From Trump’s ban of trans people in the military to his push to allow employers to fire employees based on sexuality and gender identity, the White House’s discriminatory policies have caused huge alarm. Yet so far the issue hasn’t come up once in the debate.

The organization Glaad has pointed this out and taken the opportunity to promote its upcoming LGBT forum for candidates.

👋 #DemDebate viewers. If you've noticed the lack of LGBTQ specific questions so far tonight, there will be a #LGBTQforum for candidates on 9/20 and it will be live streamed.

Click this link and hit the 🔔 to be notified once it's live:

— GLAAD (@glaad) September 13, 2019

Continuing with the foreign policy discussion, Julián Castro argued the Trump administration should offer Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

Trump’s government has backed the opposition government in Venezuela but has refrained from offering TPS, even as it has struggled to oust Maduro.

Senator Bernie Sanders, left, speaks to former vice-president Joe Biden.
Senator Bernie Sanders, left, speaks to former vice-president Joe Biden. Photograph: David J Phillip/Associated Press

Bernie Sanders went after Joe Biden for voting in favor of authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the Vermont senator boasting he “never believed” George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

Biden recently acknowledged he “misspoke” in an interview when he claimed he quickly came around to opposing the Iraq War.


Okay, back to policy. Discussing the potential withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Elizabeth Warren said the United States needed to stop using the military to address problems that cannot be solved militarily.

Pete Buttigieg, the only veteran onstage, accused Congress of ignoring its responsibility to determine the necessity of military action. And he criticized Trump for using troops as “props.”

And Cory Booker just used a foreign-policy question involving Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to make a crack about his baldness, so things are getting a little loose on the debate stage.

"I’m the only person on this stage that finds Trudeau’s hair really menacing." @CoryBooker #DemDebate

— Nikki Schwab (@NikkiSchwab) September 13, 2019

A PBS NewsHour reporter predicted Kamala Harris’ comparison of Trump to the “small dude” in “The Wizard of Oz” would likely provoke a response from the president.

Senator Kamala Harris says President Trump's trade policy is motivated by his "fragile ego."

She said Trump reminds her of the Wizard of Oz.

"When you pull back the curtain it's a really small dude."

(I'll be watching for those Trump tweets on Harris later...)

— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) September 13, 2019

It reminded some of Republican senator Marco Rubio’s reference to Trump’s “small hands” during a 2016 primary debate.

The candidates have been debating for about an hour and a half now, and there have so far been no questions on the climate crisis. This hasn’t gone unnoticed:

Climate change is still the #1/#2 issue among democratic voters but I guess since we had one relatively inaccessible 7-hour television event on it we never have to talk about it again

— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) September 13, 2019

Hey @abcnews. Did you know climate change is happening?

— Dave Anthony’s Husk (@daveanthony) September 13, 2019

when this is all over, I need someone to tally up how many times the moderators in Democratic debates asked some version of "OK but will taxes go up" vs how many times they asked about climate change

— Leah #DefundHate Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) September 13, 2019

Kamala Harris seems determined to direct all of her criticism toward Trump after confronting Joe Biden in the first debate.

Directly asked how her trade policy would differ from Barack Obama’s, Harris instead immediately pivoted to saying how her policy would be different from Trump, criticizing him for navigating a trade war over Twitter.

She then referenced “The Wizard of Oz.” “You know, when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude?” Harris said.

Host George Stephanopoulos, who is about 5’5”, replied in a deadpan manner, “Okay. I’m not going to take the bait.”

Here’s how long each candidate has spoken so far tonight (we’re now halfway through).

NEW: Joe Biden, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren are leading in speaking time during tonight's #DemDebate.

— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) September 13, 2019


The candidates are being asked about tariffs and whether they would repeal them on day one of their administrations. Andrew Yang said he wouldn’t.

Pete Buttigieg took the opportunity to criticize Trump for fumbling at a crucial moment for “American leadership.” He referenced the president skipping a climate session at the G-7 summit.

Asked again about Trump’s trade policy, Buttigieg said he would use the tariffs as leverage as part of his broader strategy. (So that seems like a “no” on the day one question.)

Here’s where things stand at halftime:

  • Candidates are directing more of their criticisms toward Trump and away from Barack Obama. Joe Biden had complained after the second debate that some of his opponents were disparaging the former president’s robust legacy.
  • Beto O’Rourke attracted a lot of applause for discussing his gun policies after the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso.
  • Julián Castro has repeatedly attacked Biden, a potentially risky gamble for a lower-polling candidate.

The debate has just returned from its commercial break, so here we go again.

The debate has reached its first commercial break, much to the relief of your blogger. About an hour and a half down, an hour and a half to go.

Julián Castro’s repeated attacks on Joe Biden are definitely attracting the attention of political reporters, but it’s very difficult to say whether the gamble will pay off.

Julian Castro is making a big bet tonight with his repeated attacks on Biden.

— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) September 13, 2019

Julian Castro’s secret debate power is a shamelessness in speaking over his fellow candidates.

— michaelscherer (@michaelscherer) September 13, 2019

Actually, that was Booker’s line from the last debate — so it’s stale *and stolen!

— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) September 13, 2019

Julián Castro is striking a notably different tone on Barack Obama’s legacy this time around.

During the second debate, Castro, who served as Obama’s housing and urban development secretary, argued the former president had fallen short on immigration.

But tonight, Castro began his answer on immigration by emphasizing that Obama was nothing like Trump on the issue. Castro went on to argue that he was continuing the true legacy of Obama.

Biden grilled on immigration record

Moderator Jorge Ramos asked Joe Biden about the high number of deportations under the Obama administration. “Are you prepared to say tonight that you and President Obama made a mistake on deportations?” Ramos asked. “Why should Latinos trust you?”

Biden initially deflected, arguing that Obama is nothing like Trump on immigration -- citing the heart-wrenching images of migrant children being held in apparent cages.

Former vice-president Joe Biden speaks during the debate.
Former vice-president Joe Biden speaks during the debate. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

When pressed by Ramos to answer the initial question, Biden said. “The president did the best thing that was able to be done.” Ramos asked, “What about you?” Biden simply replied, “I’m the vice president of the United States.” (Well, he was, but you get the idea.)


Elizabeth Warren is calling for the end of the Senate filibuster to enact gun-control legislation.

If the filibuster was done away with, it would only take 50 Senate votes to pass a bill; legislation can currently be blocked if it attracts less than 60 votes.

Bernie Sanders said he would not end the filibuster but argued there were other legislative means to pass major legislation on issues like gun control and climate change.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AK-47,” said Beto O’Rourke
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AK-47,” said Beto O’Rourke Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

O’Rourke did not shy away from saying he would require citizens to turn in their military-style weapons, despite Republicans’ frequent accusations that Democrats are coming to take Americans’ guns.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AK-47,” O’Rourke said in one of the biggest lines of the night so far.


O'Rourke receives major applause for discussing gun control

The moderators specifically turned to Beto O’Rourke to answer a question on gun policy, given that his hometown just suffered a mass shooting.

Discussing his policy for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons, the former congressman received some of the biggest applause of the night.

Harris: Trump has been 'tweeting out the ammunition'

Kamala Harris took a question on gun control and also applauded Beto O’Rourke for his attention to El Paso after the mass shooting there.

The California senator then implicated Trump in the white nationalist shooting, saying that the president may not have pulled the trigger but has been “tweeting out the ammunition.”

Joe Biden is taking a question on gun control and once again arguing he has the best (and certainly the longest) record on the issue. “I’m the only one up here who’s ever beat the NRA,” the former vice president and senator said.

Biden then similarly applauded Beto O’Rourke for his efforts to help his hometown of El Paso heal from the mass shooting that killed 22. Biden originally referred to the former congressman as “Beto.” He then apologized and O’Rourke interjected, “Beto is good.”


In the midst of a discussion on race and criminal justice, Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot, has made this important point:

You know what else is racist? Preventing people from voting. There have been 29 presidential debates in 2020 & 2016 and no questions about voting rights

— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) September 13, 2019

Here’s the tense moment Castro went after Biden over his healthcare proposals – and accused him of contradicting himself onstage.

Julián Castro tangles with Joe Biden on health care.

Biden: "They do not have to buy in."

Castro: "You just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy in ... Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?" #DemDebate

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 13, 2019

Amy Klobuchar was similarly asked about her record on criminal justice reform, demonstrating how multiple candidates (including Joe Biden) have complicated histories on the issue.

There’s obviously a lot of attention on Harris and her criminal justice record, but this question to Amy Klobuchar shows that there are others on this stage who have to answer for their record on this issue.

— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) September 13, 2019

Harris addresses contradictory history on criminal justice

Kamala Harris was asked about how her criminal justice plan does not match with the policies she pursued as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general.

Moderator Linsey Davis asked this searing question: “When you had the power, why didn’t you try to affect change then?”

The question attracted applause, and Harris thanked Davis for asking it. She went on to say her plan has been praised by criminal justice advocates and arguing she tried to affect change from the inside as a prosecutor.

Harris cited certain changes she made in her past roles, but the question itself demonstrated how this is a lingering controversy hanging over her candidacy.

Beto O’Rourke pledged to sign a reparations bill into law as president, something that Marianne Williamson spoke of in the last debate. (But Williamson is not onstage tonight.)

O’Rourke also touched on the white nationalist shooting in his hometown of El Paso, prompting a compliment from Castro about how eloquently the former congressman has spoken about the violence that impacted his community.

Castro went after O’Rourke, his fellow Texan, in the first debate, so the compliment was noteworthy.

Andrew Yang has unveiled his surprise announcement of the night to mixed reviews. During his opening remarks he told the audience his campaign is giving 10 American families $1,000 a month for a year – mirroring his plan to roll out a universal basic income scheme nationwide.

His competition has been welcomed by his supporters but received quite a cynical response from other camps:

Buttigieg shade toward Andrew Yang? Didn't see that coming.

"That’s original, I’ll give you that," Buttigieg says after Yang described his freedom dividend offer to 10 U.S. families.

— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) September 13, 2019


— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 13, 2019

Yang is basically bribing the audience.

Oprah-style "You get a UBI, You get a UBI, You get a UBI"#DemocraticDebates

— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 13, 2019

Pete Buttigieg having to speak after Andrew Yang.#DemDebate

— Benjamin Siemon (@BenjaminJS) September 13, 2019


Democrats can't decide if they're coming together or taking the knives out

After Castro and Biden’s tense exchange, Pete Buttigieg tried to bring the candidates together by saying that moments like these are why primary debates are becoming “unwatchable.”

But Castro interjected, “That’s called an election.”

Harris then tried to also strike a note of harmony by saying, “A house divided cannot stand.” But that comment did not seem to elicit much applause.

Castro to Biden: 'Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?'

Biden and Castro just got into a tense exchange about health care, in which Castro accused the former vice president of flip-flopping from what he said just moments ago.

In a moment that elicited gasps from the audience, Castro asked Biden, “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”

The repeated question likely struck a chord, given Biden’s repeated gaffes in recent weeks where he has mixed up, for example, the sites of mass shootings.

Key event

Julián Castro continued with the Obama praise, saying the American people owe the former Democratic president a debt of gratitude.

Castro, Obama’s former housing and urban development secretary, distanced himself from the president’s immigration policy in the last debate.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders continue to dive into the weeds of their health care plans. When Sanders specifically referenced the potential case of a cancer patient, Biden interjected, “I know a lot about cancer, and let me tell you something.”

Biden lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015.

Candidates walk back their Obama criticism

Okay, so this is a notable and clearly purposeful shift from the second debate. Biden complained after that debate that he felt his opponents were too critical of Obama’s legacy, a gripe that seemed to register with some Democratic voters.

So this time around, candidates are making a point to thank Obama for his contribution. Kamala Harris started her answer on health care by thanking Obama and Sanders for their contribution to the US health care system before calling out Trump’s efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act.

But that allowed her to sidestep a question on why she rescinded her support for Medicare-for-all.

Buttigieg said Medicare-for-all doesn’t “trust the American people” because it takes options away, such as private insurance.

Sanders replied that private insurance can be unstable because of its connection to employment, resulting in people losing health coverage if they lose their jobs.

Klobuchar on Medicare-for-all: 'While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill.'

Klobuchar, who slammed some of her opponents for being too extreme in her opening statement, used her answer on health care to note she and Sanders have worked together to lower prescription drug prices.

But then she went in for the kill. “While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” Klobuchar said of Medicare-for-all. She emphasized the tens of millions of people who would lose their private insurance under the plan. “I don’t think that’s a bold idea; I think that’s a bad idea,” Klobuchar said.

Biden asserted his plan, which would expand upon Obamacare, would give Americans more options than Medicare-for-all. He noted people would have the option to stay with their plans if they liked it.

Warren replied with this line that could be one of her biggest of the night: “I’ve never actually met anybody who likes their health-insurance company,” she said.

Sanders, taking his first question on health care, reiterated his line from the second debate writing “the damn bill” on Medicare-for-all. It seemed to get a bigger response last time.

The Vermont senator said America could not afford to continue with the “status quo” and argued that it would cost less money over time to go with a single-payer system.

Warren defended her health care proposals, saying they would allow middle-class families to pay less for their insurance.

She emphasized that costs would go up for wealthy Americans and corporations, but they would go down for average families.

Biden: Warren is for Bernie, I'm for Barack

Joe Biden took his first question, on health care, to tie Elizabeth Warren to Bernie Sanders while linking himself to Barack Obama.

The former vice president said Warren is “for Bernie,” while he is “for Barack.”

Biden oddly avoided saying either Warren or Sanders’ names, repeatedly referring to them as “the senator.”

Joe Biden touted the message of American exceptionalism, arguing opportunities will be limitless once the country removes its current president.

“There’s enormous, enormous opportunities once we get rid of Donald Trump,” Biden said.

After an awkwardly long pause, Bernie Sanders launched into his opening statement, which was somewhat hobbled by his apparent cold. That could be a problem over the next three hours as the Vermont senator debates his opponents.

Elizabeth Warren referenced her history to the University of Houston just down the road from the debate site and promised to offer the same opportunities to American families.

Harris directly addresses Trump in opening statement

Pete Buttigieg referenced the September 11 anniversary in his opening statement. The Indiana mayor is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Kamala Harris directly addressed Trump in her opening statement, saying the only reason he was not indicted was because of a policy warning against indicting a sitting president.

The California senator said she knew Trump was watching the debate. When she concluded, Harris told the president he could “go back to watching Fox News.”

Yang does his giveaway

Presidential candidate or game show host? Andrew Yang just followed through on his promise to offer a year of his promised universal basic income to 10 people if they go to his campaign website.

The offer was met with laughter – both in the media room here in Houston and apparently onstage, as one of the other candidates could be heard chuckling.

O'Rourke references El Paso shooting

Beto O’Rourke used his opening statement to remind the audience of the mass shooting that shook his hometown of El Paso last month.

The attack by a white nationalist left 22 people dead, and O’Rourke has since been even more vocal about his support for gun control, including a mandatory buyback of assault weapons.

Julián Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, pledged in his opening statement that Texas would turn blue next year.

Amy Klobuchar offered this punny warning about Trump’s presidency: “Houston, we have a problem.” Get it? Because we’re in Houston, guys! Brilliant.

But Klobuchar also took aim at the more progressive candidates onstage, offering a “better way” to combat the nation’s problems.

Ramos says to Latinos: 'This is our country, too'

ABC News host George Stephanopoulos opened the debate by emphasizing that it is a first for the 2020 Democratic primary. “A single debate in a single night with all the top candidates facing off,” the host said.

Anchor Jorge Ramos, another moderator, offered a Spanish introduction that he then translated into English. Ramos said in his translation that Latinos in America were facing “difficult times,” but he added, “This is our country, too.”


The debate has started

The candidates have taken the stage, and ABC News’ montage of the participating candidates has started. Stay tuned for the opening statements.

ABC News made a point to emphasize to candidates before the debate that this is a family network, folks.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to remind you that, as the debate will air on the ABC broadcast network, we are governed by Federal Communications Commission indecency rules,” Rick Klein, the network’s political director, wrote in a memo forwarded to the campaigns.

Klein added: “Candidates should therefore avoid cursing or expletives in accordance with federal law.”

One candidate in particular, Beto O’Rourke, has made headlines for repeatedly cursing to express his frustration with inaction on gun control. Maybe if he says it in Spanish, the network won’t bleep him?

Here is the format for tonight's debate

The format of tonight’s debates will be very similar to the first two with candidates receiving one minute and 15 seconds for direct responses to questions and 45 seconds for responses and rebuttals.

The candidates will deliver opening statements, but no closing statements – which is a change from the second debate.

And the debate will be moderated by four of ABC News’ hosts: George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis and Jorge Ramos.

Biden and Warren face off for the first time

Most debate viewers’ eyes will be glued to center stage tonight, where two front-runners will confront each other for the first time: Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

Joe Biden speaks on the second night of the second Democratic debate.
Joe Biden speaks on the second night of the second Democratic debate. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Despite a number of recent gaffes, Biden has held on to his polling edge, but Warren has recently chipped away at his advantage as the Massachusetts senator has repeatedly finished neck-and-neck with Bernie Sanders. But unlike Sanders, whose polling has been relatively stagnant, Warren has enjoyed a steady rise over the summer.

The contrast between Biden and Warren reflects the question at the heart of this primary race: should Democrats play it safe with a well-known establishment candidate promising to build on Barack Obama’s legacy, or bet the house with a more progressive candidate demanding systematic change?

Moderators will likely ask this very question tonight in an attempt to bait Biden and Warren into a fight over their grander vision for the future. If they do, will Sanders try to jump into the fray by presenting himself as the truer progressive? Or will he and Warren tag-team the more moderate candidates, as they did during the second debate?

We’ll find out in the next couple of hours.

Many environmental activists are hoping climate change will be a central theme of tonight’s debate, particularly given that the city hosting the debate has experienced the most devastating effects of extreme weather.

Rescue boats float on a flooded street as people are evacuated from rising floodwaters brought on by Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
Rescue boats float on a flooded street as people are evacuated from rising floodwaters brought on by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

Hurricane Harvey struck Houston two years ago, destroying thousands of homes and claiming at least 68 lives. In recent years, such “500-year” storms have become increasingly common. The Bahamas are the latest tragic example of that trend, as the country wrestles with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian.

Environmental activists complained that the first two debates spent too little time discussing what they consider the defining crisis of our time. And they have lost their greatest champion in the 2020 field, Washington governor Jay Inslee – who based his campaign around combating the climate crisis but dropped out last month.

In the time since, more candidates have released their climate proposals, and CNN hosted a seven-hour (yes, seven-hour) town hall solely dedicated to the issue. But many who fear time is running out on halting the earth’s warming hope the issue will receive more coverage in tonight’s debate.

She occupied a unique space in the first two debates, framing the problem of taking on Donald Trump as a national psychic challenge, asking America to let love rule and making a powerful call for slavery reparations.

But tonight, self-help author Marianne Williamson, not having garnered the requisite polling and donor numbers to make the cut, will be watching the debate from home. Assuming she doesn’t TiVo it.

If the point of the presidential debates is to showcase the range of ideas about how to lead the country and in which direction, it’s tempting to wonder what good it does to have seven members or former members of Congress onstage – with all the repetitive and dull political speech that mix is bound to produce – but to exclude a candidate who made herself a standout, and was a clear crowd-pleaser, back in July with lines like this:

“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days. We need to say it like it is... “

Maybe next time? Williamson hit the debate’s donor threshold, so she could still appear in No.4 if she gets those polling numbers up.

Here are the candidates participating tonight

We’re about a half an hour away from the debate’s start time, so here is a refresher on who will appear onstage tonight.

  • Joe Biden, the former vice president who continues to lead in polls despite a number of recent gaffes. But Biden’s polling advantage appears to be narrowing in recent weeks. Can he pick up lost supporters tonight?
  • Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who enjoyed a steady climb in the polls this summer. Warren has already turned in two solid debate performances, so expectations will be high for the third debate. And it’s the first time she’s faced Biden, but more on that later.
  • Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and two-time presidential candidate running on a progressive platform based around Medicare-for-all. But Sanders has had trouble getting ahead of his fellow progressive senator, Warren.
  • Kamala Harris, the California senator who has slipped back to single-digits in polls after a bump from her first debate performance. Harris appears to have slipped from the top tier of candidates and might need a bold move tonight to recover lost ground.
  • Pete Buttigieg, the millennial mayor from Indiana who enjoyed a burst of enthusiasm this spring. But the military veteran has been relatively stagnant since then and could benefit from a standout performance.
  • Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur who has crept ahead of more “establishment” candidates with his campaign promise of enacting universal basic income. But the real question is: will he wear a tie?
  • Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman who is back in his home state for this debate. O’Rourke took time away from the campaign trail to help his home town of El Paso heal from a mass shooting that left 22 dead. He will likely reference the shooting tonight to demand action on gun control.
  • Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator who has struggled to break past 2 percent in polls. He and Biden had a heated discussion about criminal justice reform in the last debate, and the topic is likely to resurface tonight.
  • Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who has argued she has the right message and profile to appeal to Midwestern voters who went for Trump in 2016. But she has so far been largely unable to pull voters away from Biden, who has made a similar “electability” argument.
  • Julián Castro, the former housing and urban development secretary who has put immigration at the center of his campaign. The former San Antonio mayor will almost certainly be asked tonight about his plan to decriminalize border crossings, a proposal that has now drawn the support of several of his competitors.

All ten of those candidates will soon take the stage, so stay tuned.

The Democrats have visions of turning the Lone Star state blue.

They point to 2018, when now-presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of beating incumbent senator Ted Cruz. The last time a Democrat was elected statewide in Texas was 1994.

Down ballot, Democrats flipped two congressional seats in the state and made major gains at the local level, sweeping Harris County and picking up House and Senate seats.

The party is gaining traction in the once-reliably Republican suburbs, where college-educated voters and particularly women recoiled from Trump as well as from an expanding Latino electorate that trends overwhelmingly Democratic.

Five Republican members of Congress from Texas have announced their retirement in recent weeks, a trend Democrats have gleefully dubbed the “Texodus”. They say the Republican departures are indicative of Democrats growing strength in the state. Not all the congressional districts are competitive - but it is a sign that their hope of recapturing the House is increasingly unlikely. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she considers Texas “ground zero for us next election”.

Two Texans are running for president: O’Rourke and Julián Castro. Both have suggested that Texas’s electoral treasure chest would be up for grabs if they were on the ticket.

But demographic shifts won’t happen overnight and the odds remain long that the state will turn the state blue in 2020.

Still, Democrats are poised to make some gains – and if everything’s bigger in Texas, the political fight here will be one to watch.


We may have an answer to what big, unprecedented surprise Andrew Yang will reveal at tonight’s debate, and it is ... rather underwhelming.

Earlier this week, Yang's campaign promised he’ll do something that’s never been seen before at the debate.

Tonight, the answer: Yang will announce a contest where 10 people will get his proposed Freedom Dividend of $1K a month for one year, according to a senior adviser.

— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) September 12, 2019

But the Democratic presidential candidates who missed the debate stage this time around – including Steve Bullock, Tom Steyer and Tim Ryan– are showing no signs of calling it quits.

Bullock, the Montana governor, offered this oh-so-subtle Twitter message earlier today:

See you in Iowa today, and over the next 143 days!

— Steve Bullock (@GovernorBullock) September 12, 2019

And Ryan and Steyer are holding events in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Media is all set up and ready to go for @TomSteyer here at Davenport’s River Center.

— Tahera Rahman (@TaheraTV) September 12, 2019

While many eyes will be on the stage in Houston tonight, I'm doing things the old-fashioned way—talking with voters directly. Thanks to @ACLU_NH for hosting tonight's town hall event!

— Tim Ryan (@TimRyan) September 12, 2019

Ryan has said he may continue on with his bid even if he doesn’t make the cut for the fourth debate, so he’s definitely in this for the long haul. “If I’m doing well in September, October in polling, we’ll probably just keep going,” Ryan told Bloomberg News last week.

How the debate shrank to a one-night event

Ten candidates! Three hours! One night only!

How we got from 20 candidates over two nights to 10 candidates over a single night says a lot about where we are in the Democratic primary race.

The stakes are getting higher and the threshold for qualifying is getting tougher.

To qualify for the debate in Houston and the next one in Ohio, candidates had to amass 130,000 individual donors and capture 2% in four qualifying polls. The threshold is the same for the October debate. To be sure, this isn’t an impossibly hard task, especially considering the position they’re running for and how jazzed Democrats are about 2020. But a massive field and a Trump-obsessed media landscape have made it difficult for candidates to break through.

Four candidates bowed to that reality and left the race after it was clear they wouldn’t qualify for the debates: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and Seth Moulton.

I look forward to explaining my vision to the American people on the debate stage in October—onward!

— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) September 8, 2019

There are still 10 candidates running for president who did not qualify for the debate. Among them, Tom Steyer, the activist billionaire, says he has met the threshold for the October debate and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is close to qualifying. Their inclusion could push the debates back to two nights.

The remaining candidates spend much of their time on the trail defending their continued presence in a race that many primary voters believe is simply too big.

Democrats like Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, both Democrats elected in states that voted for Trump, are testing new ways to draw attention. Bullock published a BuzzFeed listicle of “dad jokes that are just as groan-worthy as they are funny” while Ryan released a Spotify playlist of his key policy planks.


The Democratic presidential candidates participating in tonight’s debate have been preparing for the big event with their families. Amy Klobuchar and Julián Castro both posted tweets with their children in the hours before the debate:

A little #DemDebate prep with my daughter Abigail:

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) September 12, 2019

Bringing my understudy to the #DemocraticDebate

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) September 12, 2019

And Kamala Harris’ husband shared a photo of the California senator before she hits the stage:

She’s ready. ⁦

— Douglas Emhoff (@douglasemhoff) September 12, 2019

It’s well known that healthcare was the biggest issue among voters in the 2018 midterms. But it’s still astonishing to see just how much this is the case when measured in Google search interest.

In the below maps, which show the most searched for issues in three early-voting states in the Democratic primary, you can see how much healthcare (colored grey) dominates almost every district in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.


New Hampshire

South Carolina

Senator, senator, mayor, senator, ex-veep, senator, senator, former congressman, former secretary, Andrew Yang.

One of these things is not like the other, and he is Yang, an entrepreneur and philanthropist whose personal charisma and unique platform – curb automation, add a universal basic income – have produced a surprisingly potent presidential bid.

Yang not only racked up the poll numbers and donor totals to win a place in the third debate – he is noticeably, and remarkably, closer to the center of the stage than some pretty big names like Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker. Positions onstage are awarded by polling average, with the best performers in the middle.

Here’s the order: senator Amy Klobuchar, Booker, mayor Pete Buttigieg, senator Bernie Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden, senator Elizabeth Warren, senator Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, O’Rourke and former HUD secretary Julián Castro.

Will Yang take advantage of tonight’s debate to move even closer to the middle next time? Apparently he has a plan in store for tonight:

Andrew Yang’s campaign manager just called to tell me that at tomorrow night’s debate, Yang will be doing "something no presidential candidate has ever done before in history.” He declined to go further than that.

— Sam Stein (@samstein) September 11, 2019

And he’s not offering any spoilers before the big event:

What could #YangsDebateSurprise be? You'll have to wait and see! #DemDebate #TonightAt8 #YangGang

— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) September 12, 2019


Third Democratic debate will soon be under way

Good evening, live blog readers!

I’m here in Houston waiting for the third Democratic debate to kick off in about an hour and half at Texas Southern University, a historically black university.

As a reminder, tonight is the only night of the third debate – unlike the first two, which were two-night events. Because only 10 candidates qualified this time around, the stage has shrunk considerably. But don’t worry: ABC News has kindly scheduled the debate to last for three hours to make up for that loss.

The blog will dive more into who missed the debate stage – and why – a bit closer to the event’s 8pm ET start time, but for now, enjoy this video of senator Cory Booker preparing for the debate by repeatedly trying to adjust his podium.

Debate prep is hard.

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 12, 2019

All the fireworks are still to come, so stay tuned.


Joan E Greve in Houston

The GuardianTramp

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