empty podium for debate

Democratic Candidates Debate in Atlanta, Georgia

November 20, 2019

Former Vice President Jospeh Biden;
Senator Cory Booker (NJ);
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, IN);
Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2);
Senator Kamala Harris (CA);
Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN);
Senator Bernie Sanders (VT);
Tom Steyer;
Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA); and
Andrew Yang

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC);
Andrea Mitchell (NBC News);
Ashley Parker (The Washington Post); and
Kristen Welker (NBC News)

MADDOW: Hello, and welcome to the MSNBC-Washington Post Democratic candidates debate. At least some of us are very, very happy to be here tonight. I'm Rachel Maddow here in Atlanta, Georgia, tonight with my fellow moderators. Andrea Mitchell is NBC news foreign affairs correspondent and the host of "Andrea Mitchell Reports" on MSNBC. Ashley Parker is White House reporter for the Washington Post. And Kristen Welker is NBC News White House correspondent.

MITCHELL: We'll be covering a wide range of topics tonight, including national security, race, and climate. Each candidate will have one minute and 15 seconds to answer our questions and 45 seconds if we need to follow up. And we ask the audience to respect the candidates and please don't interrupt.

MADDOW: There's 10 candidates here tonight. No time to waste. Let's get right to it.

We're in the middle of the fourth presidential impeachment proceedings in our nation's history. Ambassador Gordon Sondland delivered testimony today in the House impeachment inquiry that buttressed the case that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting with President Zelensky because he wanted the Ukrainian president to announce investigations that would benefit President Trump politically.

Senator Warren, you have said already that you've seen enough to convict the president and remove him from office. You and four of your colleagues on this stage tonight who are also U.S. senators may soon have to take that vote. Will you try to convince your Republican colleagues in the Senate to vote the same way? And if so, how?

WARREN: Of course I will. And the obvious answer is to say, first, read the Mueller report, all 442 pages of it, that showed how the president tried to obstruct justice, and when Congress failed to act at that moment, and that the president felt free to break the law again and again and again. And that's what's happened with Ukraine.

We have to establish the principle: no one is above the law. We have a constitutional responsibility, and we need to meet it.

But I want to add one more part based on today's testimony, and that is, how did Ambassador Sondland get there? You know, this is not a man who had any qualifications, except one: He wrote a check for a million dollars. And that tells us about what's happening in Washington, the corruption, how money buys its way into Washington.

You know, I raised this months ago about the whole notion that donors think they're going to get ambassadorships on the other side. And I've taken a pledge. Anyone who wants to give me a big donation, don't ask to be an ambassador, because I'm not going to have that happen.

I asked everyone who's running for president to join me in that and not a single person has so far. I hope what we saw today during the testimony means lots of people will sign on and say we are not going to give away these ambassador posts to the highest bidder.

MADDOW: Senator Warren, thank you.

Senator Klobuchar, you've said that you support the impeachment inquiry but you want to wait for a Senate trial to hear the evidence and make a decision about convicting the president. After the bombshell testimony of Ambassador Sondland today, has that view changed for you?

KLOBUCHAR: I have made it very clear that this is impeachable conduct and I've called for an impeachment proceeding. I just believe our job as jurors is to look at each count and make a decision.

But let me make very clear that what this impeachment proceeding about is really our democracy at stake. This is a president that not only with regard to his conduct with Ukraine, but every step of the way puts his own private interests, his own partisan interests, his own political interests in front of our country's interest, and this is wrong.

This is a pattern with this man. And it goes to everything from how he has betrayed our farmers and our workers to what he has done with foreign affairs, leaving the Kurds for slaughter, sucking up to Vladimir Putin every minute of the day. That is what this guy does.

And I think it is very, very important that we have a president that's going to put our country first. I was thinking about this when I was at the Carter Presidential Museum. And on the wall are etched the words of Walter Mondale when he looked back at their four years, not perfect. And he said this: We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace. We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace. That is the minimum that we should expect in a president of the United States.

MADDOW: Senator, thank you.

Senator Sanders, I'd like to go to you. Americans are watching these impeachment hearings. At the same time, they're also focused on their more immediate, daily economic and family concerns. How central should the president's conduct uncovered by this impeachment inquiry be to any Democratic nominee's campaign for president? How central would it be to yours?

SANDERS: Well, Rachel, sadly, we have a president who is not only a pathological liar, he is likely the most corrupt president in the modern history of America. But we cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump, because if we are, you know what? We're going to lose the election.

Right now, you've got 87 million people who have no health insurance or are underinsured. We're facing the great existential crisis of our time in terms of climate change. You've got 500,000 people sleeping out on the street and you've got 18 million people paying half of their limited incomes for housing.

What the American people understand is that the Congress can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. In other words, we can deal with Trump's corruption, but we also have to stand up for the working families of this country. We also have to stand up to the fact that our political system is corrupt, dominated by a handful of billionaires, and that our economy is rigged with three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of America. We can do it all when we rally the American people in the cause of justice.

MADDOW: Mayor Buttigieg, let me put the same question to you. How central should the president's conduct uncovered by the impeachment inquiry be to a Democratic nominee's campaign? How central would it be to yours?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the constitutional process of impeachment should be beyond politics. And it is not a part of the campaign. But the president's conduct is. The impeachable conduct that we have seen in the abuse of power that we're learning more about in the investigations -- but just to be clear, the president's already confessed to it on television. But that's just part of what we've seen.

Under normal circumstances, a president would leave office after something that was revealed recently that barely got any attention at all, which was the president had to confess in writing, in court, to illegally diverting charitable contributions that were supposed to go to veterans. We are absolutely going to confront this president for his wrongdoing, but we're also each running to be the president who will lead this country after the Trump presidency comes to an end one way or the other.

I'm running to be the president for that day the sun comes up and the Trump presidency is behind us, which will be a tender moment in the life of this country. And we are going to have to unify a nation that will be as divided as ever and, while doing it, address big issues that didn't take a vacation for the impeachment process or for the Trump presidency as a whole: a climate approaching the point of no return, the fact we've still got to act on health care, kids learning active shooter drills before they learn to read, and an economy where even when the Dow Jones is looking good, far too many Americans have to fight like hell just to hold on to what they've got.

MADDOW: Mr. Mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: Those are the crises that will be awaiting the next president and will be at the heart of our campaign.

MADDOW: Mr. Mayor, thank you. Andrea?

MITCHELL: Vice President Biden, you've suggested in your campaign that if you defeat President Trump, Republicans will start working with Democrats again. But right now, Republicans in Congress, including some of whom you've worked with for decades, are demanding investigations not only of you but also of your son. How would you get those same Republicans to work with you?

BIDEN: Well, look, the next president of the United States is going to have to do two things. Defeat Donald Trump, that's number one. And, number two, going to have to be able make be -- be able to go into states like Georgia and North Carolina and other places and get a Senate majority. That's what I'll do.

You have to ask yourself up here, who is most likely to be able to win the nomination in the first place, to win the presidency in the first place? And, secondly, who is most likely to increase the number of people who are Democrats in the House and in the Senate?

And by the way, I learned something about these impeachment trials. I learned, number one, that Donald Trump doesn't want me to be the nominee. That's pretty clear. He held up aid to make sure that -- while at the same time innocent people in the Donbas are getting killed by Russian soldiers.

Secondly, I found out that Vladimir Putin doesn't want me to be president. So I -- I've learned a lot about these things early on from these hearings that -- that are being held. But the bottom line is, I think we have to ask ourselves the honest question: Who is most likely to do what needs to be done, produce a Democratic majority in the United States Senate, maintain the House, and beat Trump?

MITCHELL: Senator Harris, your thoughts about that?

HARRIS: Well, first of all, we have a criminal living in the White House. And there is no question that in 2020 the biggest issue before us, until we get to that tender moment, is justice is on the ballot.

And what we saw today is Ambassador Sondland by his own words told us that everyone was in the loop. That means it is a criminal enterprise engaged in by the president, from what we heard today, the vice president, the secretary of state, and the chief of staff.

And so this not only points to the corrupt nature of this administration and the need for these impeachment proceedings to go forward, but it also points to another issue, and back to the question that you asked earlier, which is, what does this mean for the American people?

Because what it means, when I watch this, is that there are clearly two different set of rules for two different groups of people in America: the powerful people who with their arrogance think they can get away with this and then everybody else.

Because here's the thing. For those working people who are working two or three jobs, if they don't pay that credit card by the end of the month, they get a penalty. For the people who don't pay their rent, they get evicted. For the people who shoplift, they go to jail. We need the same set of rules for everybody. And part of the reason I'm running for president is to say that we have to bring justice back to America for all people, and not just for some.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Warren, you have cast yourself as a fighter. If you were elected, though, you would be walking into an existing fight, a country that is already very divided over the Trump presidency, among other things. Do you see that divide as permanent? Or do you need to bring the country together if you become president to achieve your goals?

WARREN: So I think the way we achieve our goals and bring our country together is we talk about the things that unite us, and that is that we want to build an America that works for the people, not one that just works for rich folks.

You know, I have proposed a two cent wealth tax. That is a tax for everybody who has more than $50 billion in assets, your first $50 billion is free and clear. But your 50 billionth and first dollar, you've got to pitch in 2 cents. And when you hit a billion dollars, you've got to pinch in a few pennies more.

Here's the thing. Doing a wealth tax is not about punishing anyone. It's about saying, you built something great in this country? Good for you. But you did it using workers all of us helped pay to educate. You did it using -- you're getting your goods on roads and bridges all of us helped pay for. You did it protected by police and firefighters all of us helped pay the salaries for.

So when you make it big, when you make it really big, when you make it top one tenth of one percent big, pitch in two cents so everybody else gets a chance to make it.

And here's the thing. That's something that Democrats care about, independents care about, and Republicans care about, because regardless of party affiliation, people understand across this country, our government is working better and better for the billionaires, for the rich, for the well-connected, and worse and worse for everyone else. We come together when we acknowledge that and say we're going to make real change.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator. Thank you.

Senator Booker, do you agree with that strategy?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I think we all agree that we need to bring in a lot more revenue in this country. We actually have a real problem with the tax rates, tax loopholes, tax cheats. And I don't agree with the wealth tax, the way that Elizabeth Warren puts it, but I agree that we need to raise the estate tax. We need to tax capital gains as ordinary income. Real strategies will increase revenue.

But here's the challenge. We as Democrats need to fight for a just taxation system. But as I travel around the country, we Democrats also have to talk about how to grow wealth, as well.

When I stood in church recently and asked folks in a black church how many people here want to be entrepreneurs, half the church raised their hands. If we as a country don't start -- if we as a party don't start talking not just about how to tax wealth, but how to give more people opportunities to create wealth, to grow businesses, to have their American dream -- because, yeah, we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, $15 an hour.

But the people in communities I frequent, they're not -- aspiration for their lives is not just to have those fair wages. They want to have an economy that provides not just equalities in wealth, but they want to have equalities in opportunity. And that's what our party has to be about, as well.

MITCHELL: Senator Warren, you wanted to respond?

WARREN: Sure. So let me just tell you what we can do with that two cent wealth tax. Two cents on the top one-tenth of one percent in this country, and we can provide universal child care for every baby in this country ages zero to five. That is transformative.

We can provide universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America. We can stop exploiting the women, largely black and brown women, who do this work. And we can raise the wages of every childcare worker and pre-schoolteacher in America.

We can put $800 billion new federal dollars into all of our public schools. We can make college tuition-free for every kid. We can put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities. And we can cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the folks who've got it. Two cent wealth tax and we can invest in an entire generation's future.

MITCHELL: All right. Let me let Senator Booker respond.


BOOKER: You know, again, I agree with the need to do all of those things. We're all united in wanting to see universal preschool. And I'll fight for that. We're all united in wanting to fund HBCUs. Heck, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for two parents that went to HBCUs.

But the tax the way we're putting it forward right now, the wealth tax, I'm sorry, it's cumbersome. It's been tried by other nations. It's hard to evaluate. We can get the same amount of revenue through just taxation.

But, again, we as Democrats have got to start talking not just about how we tax from a stage, but how we grow wealth in this country amongst those disadvantaged communities that are not seeing it. Look at VC dollars in this country. Seventy-five percent of them go to three metropolitan areas. There is worth in the inner city. There is value in our rural areas.

If I am president of the United States, we're going to have a fair, just taxation where millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share, but, dear God, we're going to have pathways to prosperity for more Americans. We're going to see a change in what we see right now. Small businesses, new startups are going down in this country.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: We need to give more new entrepreneurs access to wealth.

MITCHELL: Senator Warren, briefly, just your last thoughts on this.

WARREN: So I just -- the idea behind what is fair, today, the 99 percent in America are on track to pay about 7.2 percent of their total wealth in taxes.

BOOKER: I'm not disagreeing with that.

WARREN: The top one-tenth of one percent that I want to say pay two cents more, they'll pay 3.2 percent in America. I'm tired of freeloading billionaires. I think it's time that we ask those at the very top to pay more so that every single one of our children gets a real...


MITCHELL: ... Senator Booker, Senator Warren...

BOOKER: Everybody's tired of corporations getting away with paying zero taxes.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

BOOKER: I'm not disagreeing with that.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Senator Warren. Thank you.

Mayor Buttigieg, you have said, quote, "I will never allow us to get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point." The Republican Party never stopped fighting President Obama in his eight years in office. So what would you do that President Obama didn't do to change that?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, as President Obama commented recently, we are now in a different reality than we were even 12 years ago. And to me, the extraordinary potential of the moment we're in right now is that there is an American majority that stands ready to tackle big issues that didn't exist in the same way even a few years ago.

Even on issues where Democrats have been on defense, like immigration and guns, we have a majority to do the right thing, if we can galvanize, not polarize that majority. For example, on health care, the reason I insist on Medicare for all who want it as the strategy to deliver on that goal we share of universal health care is that that is something that as a governing strategy we can unify the American people around, creating a version of Medicare, making it available to anybody who wants it, but without the divisive step of ordering people onto it whether they want to or not.

And I believe that commanding people to accept that option, whether we wait three years, as Senator Warren has proposed, or whether you do it right out of the gate, is not the right approach to unify the American people around a very, very big transformation that we now have an opportunity to deliver.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Kristen Welker?

WELKER: Let's talk about Medicare for all. Senator Warren, you are running on Medicare for all. Democrats have been winning elections even in red states with a very different message on health care: protecting Obamacare. Democrats are divided on this issue. What do you say to voters who are worried that your position on Medicare for all could cost you critical votes in the general election?

WARREN: So I look out and I see tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to pay their medical bills, 37 million people who decided not to have a prescription filled because they just can't afford it, people who didn't take the tests the doctor recommended because they just can't afford it.

So here is my plan. Let's bring as many people in and get as much help to the American people as we can as fast as we can. On day one as president, I will do -- bring down the cost of prescription drugs on things like insulin and EpiPens. That's going to save tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars for people. I'm going to defend the Affordable Care Act from the sabotage of the Trump administration.

And 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.

And then in the third year, when people have 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.

WELKER: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Sanders, let me bring you into this conversation and ask you the question...

SANDERS: Thank you. I wrote the damn bill. [laughter]

WELKER: I want to ask you the question this way, Senator Sanders. You described your campaign, including your plans for Medicare for all, as a political revolution.


WELKER: President Obama explicitly said the country is, quote, "less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement. The average American doesn't think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it," end quote. Is President Obama wrong?

SANDERS: No, he's right. We don't have to tear down the system, but we do have to do what the American people want. And the American people understand today that the current health care system is not only cruel, it is dysfunctional.

Now, you tell me how we have a system in which we spend twice as much as do the people of any other country, and yet we've got 87 million uninsured, underinsured. In some cases, we pay 10 times more for prescription drugs as do the people of Canada or other countries. Five hundred thousand people go bankrupt because of medically related issues. They come down with cancer, and that's a reason to go bankrupt?

Now, some of the people up here think that we should not take on the insurance industry, we should not take on the pharmaceutical industry. But you know what? If you think back to FDR and if you think back to JFK and Harry Truman and Barack Obama, as a matter of fact, people have been talking about health care for all. Well, you know what? I think now is the time.

And in the first week of my administration, we will introduce Medicare for all. Medicare for all, that means no deductibles, no co-payments, no out-of-pocket expenses. That's where we've got to go.

WELKER: Thank you, Senator Sanders. Vice President Biden?

BIDEN: You know, we can do this without charging people -- raising $30 trillion, $40 trillion. The fact is that right now the vast majority of Democrats do not support Medicare for all.

SANDERS: Not true.

BIDEN: It couldn't pass the United States Senate right now with Democrats. It couldn't pass the House. Nancy Pelosi is one of those people who doesn't think it makes sense.

We should build on Obamacare, provide the plan I put forward before anybody in here, adding a Medicare option in that plan, and not make people choose. Allow people to choose, I should say. If you go the route of my two friends on my right and my left, you have to give up your private insurance. A hundred and sixty million people like their private insurance. And if they don't like it, they can buy into a Medicare-like proposal in my plan. Drug prices go down, premiums go down across the board.

But here's the deal, they get to choose. I trust the American people to make a judgment what they believe is in their interest and not demand of them what the insurance companies -- they want no -- no competition. And my friends say you have to only go Medicare for all.

WELKER: Vice President Biden, thank you.


PARKER: Congresswoman Gabbard, you have criticized Hillary Clinton as the, quote, "personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party." What is the rot you see in the Democratic Party?

GABBARD: That our Democratic Party, unfortunately, is not the party that is of, by, and for the people. It is a party that has been and continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment in Washington, represented by Hillary Clinton and others' foreign policy, by the military industrial complex, and other greedy corporate interests.

I'm running for president to be the Democratic nominee that rebuilds our Democratic Party, takes it out of their hands, and truly puts it in the hands of the people of this country. A party that actually hears the voices of Americans who are struggling all across this country and puts it in the hands of veterans and fellow Americans who are calling for an end to this ongoing Bush-Clinton-Trump foreign policy doctrine of regime change wars, overthrowing dictators in other countries, needlessly sending my brothers and sisters in uniform into harm's way to fight in wars that actually undermine our national security and have cost us thousands of American lives.

These are wars that have cost us as American taxpayers trillions of dollars since 9/11 alone, dollars that have come out of our pockets, out of our hospitals, out of our schools, out of our infrastructure needs. As president, I will end this foreign policy, end these regime change wars, work to end this new cold war and arms race, and instead invest our hard-earned taxpayer dollars actually into serving the needs of the American people right here at home.

PARKER: Thank you, Congresswoman.

Senator Harris, any response?

HARRIS: Oh, sure. [laughter]

I think that it's unfortunate that we have someone on this stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama...

GABBARD: That's ridiculous, Senator Harris. That's ridiculous.

HARRIS: ... who has spent full time -- who has spent full time criticizing people on this stage as affiliated with the Democratic Party, when Donald Trump was elected, not even sworn in, buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in the Trump Tower, fails to call a war criminal by what he is as a war criminal, and then spends full time during the course of this campaign, again, criticizing the Democratic Party.

What we need on the stage in November is someone who has the ability to win. And by that, we need someone on that stage who has the ability to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump and someone who has the ability to rebuild the Obama coalition and bring the party and the nation together. I believe I am that candidate.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator. [applause]

Congresswoman Gabbard, I'll give you a chance to respond.

GABBARD: What Senator Harris is doing is unfortunately continuing to traffic in lies and smears and innuendos because she cannot challenge the substance of the argument that I'm making, the leadership and the change that I'm seeking to bring in our foreign policy, which only makes me guess that she will as president continue the status quo, continue the Bush-Clinton-Trump foreign policy of regime change wars, which is deeply destructive.

This is personal to me because I served in Iraq. I left my seat in the state legislature in Hawaii, volunteered to deploy to Iraq where I served in the medical unit where every single day I saw the terribly high human cost of war. I take very seriously the responsibility that the president has to serve as commander-in-chief, to lead our armed forces, and to make sure always -- no, I'm not going to put party interests first. I will put the interests of the American people above all else.

PARKER: Thank you, Congresswoman. I want to -- I want to briefly give Senator Harris a final second to respond.

HARRIS: I believe that what our nation needs right now is a nominee who can speak to all people. I've spent my entire career standing mostly in a courtroom speaking five words: Kamala Harris for the people. And it was about all the people, regardless of their race, regardless of their gender, regardless of where they lived geographically, regardless of the party with which they're registered to vote or the language their grandmother speaks.

We need someone on this debate stage in November who has the ability to unify the country and to win the election. And I believe, again, I am that candidate.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: Thank you.

PARKER: Mr. Steyer, you have denounced the special interests that pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process to influence it. But, in fact, you have spent over $300 million of your own money in support of your political goals. How do you respond to critics who see you as the embodiment of a special interest?

STEYER: What I've done over the last decade is to put together coalitions of ordinary American citizens to take on unchecked corporate power. We have a broken government in Washington, D.C. It's been purchased by corporations. Over the last decade, with the help of the American people, we have taken on and beaten the oil companies, we have taken on and beaten the tobacco companies, we have taken on and beaten utilities, we've taken on and beaten the drug companies.

I've also built one of the largest grassroots organizations in the United States. Last year, NextGen America did the largest youth voter mobilization in American history, also, in partnership with seven national unions, knocked on 15 million doors in 2016 and 10 million in 2018.

What I've done is to try to push power down to the America people, to take power away from the corporations who've bought our government. And I'm talking now about structural reform in Washington, D.C.

Term limits. If you want bold change in the United States, you're going to have to have new and different people in charge. I'm the only person on this stage who will talk about term limits. Vice President Biden won't. Senator Sanders won't. Even Mayor Pete Buttigieg will not talk about term limits and structural change. I would let the American people pass laws themselves through direct democracy. It's time to push the power back to the people and away from D.C.

PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Steyer. Mr. Steyer, thank you. Senator Klobuchar, a brief response.


KLOBUCHAR: Well, I just -- I'm someone that doesn't come from money, and I appreciate the work of Mr. Steyer. But right now, we have a system that's not fair, and it's not just fair for money. And so I would do is start a constitutional amendment and pass it to overturn Citizens United. That's what we should do, so that we stop this dark money and outside money from coming into our politics.

I have led the way on voting. And I can tell you right now, one solution that would make a huge difference in this state would be to allow every kid in the country to register to vote when they turn 18. If we had a system like this, and we did something about gerrymandering, and we stopped the voting purges, and we did something significant about making sure we don't have money in politics from the outside, Stacey Abrams would be governor of this state right now. [applause]

PARKER: Thank you, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: And that's what should happen. So while I appreciate his work, I am someone that doesn't come from money. 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. [laughter]

And I'd like to point out, it is not an expanding base.


KLOBUCHAR: So I don't just think this with my head. I feel it in my heart.

PARKER: Thank you. Thank you, Senator Klobuchar.

BUTTIGIEG: Since I was named, I'd like to have time...


PARKER: Mr. Yang, I want to bring you in. Mr. Yang -- Mr. Yang, you've made a virtue of your outsider status. You've never served in military or in government. What has prepared you to respond to a terrorist attack or a major disaster?

YANG: Well, first, I just want to stick up for Tom. We have a broken campaign finance system, but Tom has been spending his own money fighting climate change. You can't knock someone for having money and spending it in the right way, my opinion. [applause]

STEYER: Thanks, Andrew.

YANG: No problem. [laughter]

As commander-in-chief, I think we need to be focused on the real threats of the 21st century. And what are those threats? Climate change, artificial intelligence, loose nuclear material, military drones, and non-state actors.

And if you look up, we're in the process of potentially losing the AI arms race to China right now, because they have more access to more data than we do, and their government is putting billions of dollars to work subsidizing the development of AI in a way that we are not.

We are 24 years behind on technology. And I can say that with authority, because we got rid of the Office of Technology Assessment in 1995. Think about that timing. I guess they thought they'd invented everything.

The next commander-in-chief has to be focused on the true threats of tomorrow. And that's what I will bring to the table as commander-in-chief.

PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Yang.

Andrea? [applause]

MITCHELL: Mayor Buttigieg, let's talk about your record as a candidate. You were elected mayor in a Democratic city receiving just under 11,000 votes. And in your only statewide race, you lost by 25 points. Why should Democrats take the risk of betting on you?

BUTTIGIEG: Because I have the right experience to take on Donald Trump. I get that it's not traditional establishment Washington experience, but I would argue we need something very different right now.

In order to defeat this president, we need somebody who can go toe-to-toe who actually comes from the kinds of communities that he's been appealing to. I don't talk a big game about helping the working class while helicoptering between golf courses with my name on them. I don't even golf. [laughter]

As a matter of fact, I never thought I'd be on a Forbes magazine list, but they did one of all the candidates by wealth, and I am literally the least wealthy person on this stage.

I also wore the uniform of this country and know what is at stake in the decisions that are made in the Oval Office and in the Situation Room. And I know how to bring people together to get things done. I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small, but frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small. The usual way of doing business in Washington is what looks small.

And I believe we need to send somebody in who has a different kind of experience, the experience on the ground, solving problems, working side by side with neighbors on some of the toughest issues that come up in government, recognizing what is required of executive leadership, and bringing that to Washington so that Washington can start looking a little more like our best-run communities in the heartland before the other way around starts to happen.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Mayor. Thank you, Mayor.

Senator Klobuchar, you've said this of Mayor Buttigieg, quote, "Of the women on the stage, do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience he had? No, I don't. Maybe we're held to a different standard." Senator, what did you mean by that?

KLOBUCHAR: First of all, I've made very clear I think that Pete is qualified to be up on this stage, and I am honored to be standing next to him. But what I said was true. 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. [applause]

And including all vice presidents being men. And I think any working woman out there, any woman that's at home knows exactly what I mean. We have to work harder, and that's a fact.

But I want to dispel one thing, because for so long why has this been happening? I don't think you have to be the tallest person on this stage to be president. I don't think you have to be the skinniest person. I don't think you have the loudest voice on this stage. I don't think that means that you will be the one that should be president. I think what matters is if you're smart, if you're competent, and if you get things done.

I am the one that has passed over a hundred bills as the lead Democrat in that gridlock of Washington in Congress on this stage. I think you've got to win. And I am the one, Mr. Vice President, that has been able to win every red and purple congressional district as a lead on a ticket every time. I govern both with my head and my heart. And if you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day. [applause]

MITCHELL: Mr. Vice President, Mr. Vice President, just a quick response?

BIDEN: I think a woman is qualified to be president, and there's no reason why -- if you think the woman is the most qualified person now, you should vote for them. The reason why I think I should be president and be the nominee is, number one, I have brought people together my entire career. In the United States Senate, I've passed more major legislation than everybody on this stage combined, from the Violence Against Women Act to making sure we have the chemical weapons treaty to dealing with Milosevic, the whole range of things that I've been engaged in my whole career.

I've done it. I've brought people together. I'm always told by everybody around here things have changed, you can't do that anymore. If we can't -- I thought the question was initially asked of the senator, how do you unify this country? We have to unify this country. I have done it. I have done it repeatedly.

And lastly, to be commander-in-chief, there's no time for on-the-job training. I've spent more time in the Situation Room, more time abroad, more time than anybody up here. I know every major world leader. They know me, and they know when I speak, if I'm the president of the United States, who we're for, who we're against, and what we'll do, and we'll keep our word. [applause]

MITCHELL: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.


PARKER: Senator Booker, one of the defining characters of the Trump presidency is that the American people hear from him directly all the time about everything, on Twitter and just about everywhere else. Setting aside your views of his tone, is that unfiltered communication something you as president would continue? Is this one of the norms broken by President Trump that needed to change?

BOOKER: So, look, this president has broken norms, as you've said. He used his platforms to demean, degrade, and divide this country in ways that are repugnant and appalling. But the next president, whoever they are, is going to have to be someone who can heal and bring this nation together, this whole nation.

So, absolutely, in that office I will do whatever it takes to make sure we bring this country together. But it's not for a Kumbaya moment. We are a nation that achieves great things when we stand together and work together and fight together. So, absolutely.

When I was mayor of the largest city in my state -- and this is where I agree with Mayor Pete -- mayoral experience is very important. And I happen to be the other Rhodes Scholar mayor on this stage. [applause]

And what I learned there is that you have to be an executive that can heal. In my city, we have racial divides, we have geographic divides that go from wealth to people that are struggling. The success of my city was because we brought us all together and did things that other people said couldn't be done.

When I am president of the United States, my campaign from the very beginning has not changed. My charge is to see a nation right now which has so much common pain, to channel that back into a sense of common purpose. And I will do whatever it takes, bringing creativity to that office like has never been seen before.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator.


MADDOW: Chants of "Lock Her Up" are still heard at President Trump's rallies today. Now some opponents of the president are turning the same slogan against him. They've chanted "Lock Him Up" at a recent World Series game in Washington and at a Veterans Day event in New York and, Senator Sanders, at at least two of your campaign events recently. Senator, should Democrats discourage this? Or are you OK with it?

SANDERS: Well, I think the people of this country are catching on to the degree that this president thinks he is above the law. And what the American people are saying: Nobody is above the law. And I think what the American people are also saying is, in fact, that if this president did break the law, he should be prosecuted like any other individual who breaks the law.

But at the end of the day, what we need to do is to bring our people together not just in opposition to Trump. The initial question I think that you wrote -- that somebody raised here was that we are a divided nation. You know what? I kind of reject that.

I think when you talk about the pain of working families in this country, majority of the American people want to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. When you talk about the climate crisis, the overwhelming majority of the American people know that it is real, they know we have to take on the fossil fuel industry, they know we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy sufficiency and sustainable energy.

Even on issues like guns, the American people are coming together to end the horrific level of gun violence. So I believe, yeah, we've got to deal with Trump, but we also have to have an agenda that brings our people together so that the wealth and income doesn't just go to the people on top but to all of us.

MADDOW: Vice President Biden, let me ask you to pick up on the issue that Senator Sanders just raised about no one being above the law. When President Ford pardoned President Nixon, he said it was to heal the country. Would you support a potential criminal investigation into President Trump after he leaves office, even if you thought it might further inflame the country's divisions?

BIDEN: Look, I would not direct my Justice Department like this president does. I'd let them make their independent judgment. I would not dictate who should be prosecuted or who should be exonerated. That's not the role of the president of the United States. It's the attorney general of the United States, not the president's attorney, private attorney.

And so I would -- whatever was determined by the attorney general I supported, that I appointed, let them make an independent judgment. If that was the judgment that he violated the law and he should be, in fact, criminally prosecuted, then so be it. But I would not direct it.

And I don't think it's a good idea that we mock -- that we model ourselves after Trump and say lock him up. Look, we have to bring this country together. Let's start talking civilly to people and treating -- you know, the next president starts tweeting should -- anyway. [laughter]

Look, it's just -- look, it's about civility. We have to restore the soul of this country. And that's not who we are, that's not who we've been, that's not who we should be. Follow the law, let the Justice Department make the judgment as to whether or not someone should be prosecuted, period.

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, let me ask you briefly to respond to that, the difference of opinion there with Vice President Biden.

SANDERS: Well, I think Joe is right. I think that it is the function of the attorney general. But what I am of the opinion is that the American people now do believe, and the more they see these impeachment hearings on television, they do believe that we have a president who thinks he's above the law. We have a president who has engaged in corruption. We have a president who has obstructed justice and, in my view, somebody who's violated the emoluments clause.

I think Joe is right, that is the function of an independent Department of Justice. But my inclination is that the American people do believe that this president is in violation of the law.

BIDEN: Can I respond very quickly?

MADDOW: Briefly, Senator.

BIDEN: Distinction, should he be impeached and should he be thrown out of office? That's one question. He's very close to -- he's indicted himself. Number two, after he's thrown out of office or after he's defeated, should he be then prosecuted? Should he be prosecuted for a criminal offense while he was president? That's a judgment to be made by an attorney general.

MADDOW: Mr. Vice President, thank you.


PARKER: We now focus on an issue facing many Americans, childcare and paid family leave. Here in Georgia, the average price of infant daycare can be as much as $8,500 per child per year. That's more than instate tuition at a four-year public college in Georgia. Mr. Yang, what would you do as president to ease that financial burden?

YANG: There are only two countries in the world that don't have paid family leave for new moms, the United States of America and Papua New Guinea. That is the entire list. And we need to get off this list as soon as possible. [laughter]

I would pass paid family leave as one of the first things we do. I have two kids myself who are four and seven, one of whom is autistic and has special needs, and it's breaking families' backs. We need to start supporting our kids and families from the beginning, because by the time they're showing up to pre-K and kindergarten, in many cases, they're already years behind.

Studies have shown that two-thirds of our kids' educational outcomes are determined by what's happening to them at home. This is stress levels, number of words read to them as children, type of neighborhood, whether a parent has time to spend with them.

So we need to have a freedom dividend in place from day one, $1,000 a month for every American adult, which would put in many cases $2,000 a month into families' pockets, so that they can either pay for childcare or if they want stay home with the child. We should not be pushing everyone to leave the home and go to the workforce. Many parents see that tradeoff and say if they leave the home and work, they're going to be spending all the money on childcare anyway. In many cases, it would be better if the parent stays home with the child.

PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Yang. [applause]

Sticking with this topic, no parent in the United States is federally guaranteed a single day of paid leave when they have a new baby. A number of you on stage tonight have plans to address this. Senator Harris, you're one of the candidates proposing legislation to guarantee up to six months of paid family leave. And Senator Klobuchar, you're one of the candidates proposing up to three months. I want to hear from both of you on this, starting with you, Senator Klobuchar. Why three months?

KLOBUCHAR: I've looked at this economically, and I want to make sure that we help people. Because as just pointed out, we are way behind the curve, our country is, when it comes to providing paid family leave and childcare. We must do this and we will do this if we have the right person heading up the ticket so we can win big.

But what I have done with all of my plans is I have shown how I'm going to pay for them meticulously. I think that is really, really important when we have a president in the White House right now one who has told over 10,000 lies.

So when you look at my website, at amyklobuchar.com, you will see my plans and you're also going to see how I'm going to pay for it. And I think that is so important, because this president is literally increasing the debt, treating our farmers and workers like poker chips in a bankrupt casino, and really putting this country in a worst financial situation every single day.

So, yes, my plan is three months. I think that's good. I'd love to do more. As I've said before, I'd love to staple free diplomas under people's chairs. I just am not going to go for things -- and this is not -- I'm talking about Senator Harris' plan here, but I'm talking about some of the other ideas that have been out here. I am not going to go for things just because they sound good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car.

I think that we have an obligation -- we have an obligation as a party to be, yes, fiscally responsible, yes, think big, but make sure we have people's backs and are honest with them about what we can pay for. And that is everything from sending rich kids to college for free, which I don't support, to kicking 149 million off their health insurance -- current health insurance in four years.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator. Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: I just think we have to be smart about how we do this.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator. And, Senator Harris, why six months? And also, how would you pay for that?

HARRIS: Sure. And, everybody, please visit my website, kamalaharris.org, for the details on everything I talk about. Six months, so part of how I believe we're going to win this election is, it is going to be because we are focused on the future, we are focused on the challenges that are presented today and not trying to bring back yesterday to solve tomorrow.

So on paid family leave, it is no longer the case in America that people are having children in their 20s. People are having children in their 30s, often in their 40s, which means that these families and parents are often raising young children and taking care of their parents, which requires a lot of work, from traveling back and forth to a hospital to daycare to all of the activities that are required, much less the health care needs that are required.

And what we are seeing in America today is the burden principally falls on women to do that work. And many women are having to make a very difficult choice whether they're going to leave a profession for which they have a passion to care for their family, or whether they are going to give up a paycheck that is part of what that family relies on. So six months paid family leave is meant to and is designed to adjust to the reality of women's lives today.

The reality also is that women are not paid equal for equal work in America. We passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, but fast forward to the year of our lord 2019, and women are paid 80 cents on the dollar, black women 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents, Latinas 53 cents.

PARKER: Thank you.

HARRIS: So my policy is about -- there's a whole collection of the work that I am doing that is focused on women and working women in America and the inequities and, therefore, the injustice that women in America are facing that needs to be resolved and addressed.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator.


WELKER: Mr. Steyer, millions of working Americans are finding that housing has become unaffordable, especially in metropolitan areas. It is particularly acute in your home state of California, in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Why are you the best person to fix this problem?

STEYER: When you look at inequality in the United States of America, you have to start with housing. Where you put your head at night determines so many things about your life. It determines where your kids go to school. It determines the air you breathe, where you shop, how long it takes you to get to work.

What we've seen in California is, as a result of policy, we have millions too few housing units. And that affects everybody in California. It starts with a homeless crisis that goes all through the state, but it also includes skyrocketing rents which affect every single working person in the state of California.

I understand exactly what needs to be done here, which is we need to change policy and we need to apply resources here to make sure that we build literally millions of new units.

But the other thing that's going to be true about building these units is, we're going to have to build them in a way that's sustainable, that, in fact, how we build units, where people live has a dramatic impact on climate and on sustainability.

So we are going to have to direct dollars, we're going to have to change policy and make sure that the localities and municipalities who have worked very hard to make sure that there are no new housing units built in their towns, that they have to change that and we're going to have force it, and then we're going to have to direct federal dollars to make sure that those units are affordable so that working people can live in places and not be spending 50 percent of their income on rent.

WELKER: Thank you, Mr. Steyer. Thank you, Mr. Steyer. Senator Warren, I see your hand raised.

WARREN: Yes. Think of it this way. Our housing problem in America is a problem on the supply side, and that means that the federal government stopped building new housing a long time ago, affordable housing.

Also, private developers, they've gone up to McMansions. They're not building the little two bedroom, one bath house that I grew up in, garage converted to be a bedroom for my three brothers.

So I've got a plan for 3.2 million new housing units in America. Those are housing units for working families, for the working poor, for the poor poor, for seniors who want to age in place, for people with disabilities, for people who are coming back from being incarcerated. It's about tenants' rights.

But there's one more piece. Housing is how we build wealth in America. The federal government has subsidized the purchase of housing for decades for white people and has said for black people you're cut out of the deal. That was known as red-lining.

When I built a housing plan, it's not only a housing plan about building new units. It's a housing plan about addressing what is wrong about government-sponsored discrimination, how we need to address it, and we need to say we're going to reverse it.

WELKER: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Senator. Senator Booker? [applause]

BOOKER: I'm so grateful, again, as a mayor who was a mayor during a recession, who was a mayor during a housing crisis, who started my career as a tenants' rights lawyer, these are all good points, but we're not talking about something that is going on all over America, which is gentrification and low-income families being moved further and further out, often compounding racial segregation.

And so all these things we need to put more federal dollars in it, but we've got to start empowering people. We use our tax code to move wealth up, the mortgage interest deduction. My plan is very simple. If you're a renter who pays more than a third of your income in rent, then you will get a refundable tax credit between the amount you're paying and the area median rent. That empowers people in the same way we empower homeowners.

And what that does is it actually slashes poverty, 10 million people out. And by the way, for those people who are facing eviction, it is about time that the only people when they show up in rentals court that have a lawyer is not the landlord, it is also low-income families struggling to stay in their homes.

WELKER: Thank you, Senator.


MADDOW: We're going to take a quick break, but we'll be right back with these candidates from the MSNBC-Washington Post Democratic candidates debate in Atlanta, Georgia. Stay with us.

[commercial break]

MADDOW: Welcome back to the MSNBC-Washington Post Democratic candidates debate. Let's get right back into it.

American farmers are struggling under the effects of President Trump's trade war with China. The Trump administration's payments to farmers to offset those losses already have a price tag that is more than double what was spent on the Obama administration's auto bailout.

Mayor Buttigieg, would you continue those farm subsidies?

BUTTIGIEG: We shouldn't have to pay farmers to take the edge off of a trade war that shouldn't have been started in the first place. I will support farmers, but not long ago, I was in Boone, Iowa, a guy came up to me, he said I got my Trump bailout check, but I would have rather spent that money on conservation.

By the way, this isn't even making farmers whole. If you're in soybeans, for example, you're getting killed. And it's not just what this president has done with the trade war. In a lot of parts of the country, the worst thing is these so-called small refinery waivers, which are killing those who are involved in ethanol.

Look, I don't think this president cares one bit about farmers. He keeps asking them to take one for the team, but more and more I'm talking to people in rural America who see that they're not going to benefit from business as usual under this president.

I believe that so many of the solutions lie with American farmers, but we have to stand up for them, not just with direct subsidies and support, but with making sure we do something about the consolidation, the monopolies that leave farmers with fewer places to purchase supplies from and fewer places to sell their product to.

And American farming should be one of the key pillars of how we combat climate change. I believe that the quest for the carbon negative farm could be as big a symbol of dealing with climate change as the electric car in this country. And it's an important part of how we make sure that we get a message out around dealing with climate change that recruits everybody to be part of the solution, including conservative communities where a lot of people have been made to feel that admitting climate science would mean acknowledging they're part of the problem.

MADDOW: Mr. Mayor, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need you to answer the question. Would you continue those subsidies or not?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, but we won't need them because we're going to fix the trade war.

MADDOW: Thank you, sir.

The U.N. recently reported that what was once called climate change is now a climate crisis, with drastic results already being felt. Climate is also an issue important to our audience. We received thousands of questions from our viewers, and many of them were about climate.

Calista from Minneapolis writes this. Leading the world in resolving the climate crisis will be a multi-decade project, spanning far beyond even a two-term presidency. If you are elected president, how would you ensure that there is secure leadership and bipartisan support to continue this project?

Congresswoman Gabbard?

GABBARD: This is an issue that impacts all of us as Americans and people all over the world. This is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. This is about the environmental threats that each and every one of us face. These are the kinds of conversations that we're having in our town hall meetings and house parties in different parts of the country where we have Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, and independents coming together, saying, hey, we are all concerned about making sure that we have clean water to drink for our families, that we have clean air to breathe, that we're able to raise our kids in a community that's safe.

It is the hyper-partisanship in Washington, unfortunately, that has created this gridlock that has stood in the way of the kinds of progress that I would bring about as president, transitioning our country off of fossil fuels and ending the nearly $30 billion in subsidies that we as taxpayers are currently giving to the fossil fuel industry, instead investing in a green renewable energy economy that leads us into the 21st century with good-paying jobs, a sustainable economy, investing in infrastructure, and transitioning our agriculture -- that is a great contributor to the environmental threats we face -- towards an agriculture system that focuses on local and regional production of food, healthy food that will actually feed the health and well-being of our people, leading as a -- as a leader in the world to make the global change necessary to address these threats.

MADDOW: Thank you. Thank you, Congresswoman. I want to bring in Mr. Steyer on this. You've made climate change a central point of your political career. To this issue of making change -- changes that last, making changes that are permanent, could you address that, sir?

STEYER: Rachel, I'm the only person on this stage who will say that climate is the number-one priority for me. Vice President Biden won't say it. Senator Warren won't say it. It's a state of emergency, and I would declare a state of emergency on day one. I would use the emergency powers of the presidency.

I know that we have to do this. I've spent a decade fighting and beating oil companies, stopping pipelines, stopping fossil fuel plants, ensuring clean energy across the country. I know that we have to do this. I also know that we can do this.

I would make this the number-one priority of my foreign policy, as well. We can do this and create literally millions of good-paying union jobs across this country. I would make sure that my climate policy was led by environmental justice and members of the communities where this society has chosen to put our air and water pollution, which are low-income black and brown communities. And when we ask, how are we going to pull this country together, how about this: We take on the biggest challenge in history, we save the world, and we do it together. Do you think that would pull America together? I do.

MADDOW: Quickly, Vice President Biden, you were name-checked there. I'd like to give you a chance to respond.

BIDEN: Yeah, I was. I think it is the existential threat to humanity. It's the number-one issue. And I might add, I don't really need a kind of a lecture from -- from my friend. While I was passing the first climate change bill and that PolitiFact said was a game-changer, while I managed the $90 billion recovery plan, investing more money in infrastructure that related to clean energy than any time we've ever done it, my friend was introducing more coal mines and produced more coal around the world, according to the press, than all of Great Britain produces.

Now, he's -- I welcome him back into the fold here, and he's been there for a long while. But the idea that we talk about where we started and how we are, let's get this straight. I think it is the existential threat of all time.


STEYER: Can I respond to that, Rachel?

MADDOW: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You may respond, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: Look, I came to the conclusion over 10 years ago that climate was the absolute problem of our society and it was the unintended consequence of our whole country being based on fossil fuels. Everybody in this room has lived in an economy based on fossil fuels. And we all have to come to the same conclusion that I came to over a decade ago.

If we're waiting for Congress to pass one of the bills -- and I know everybody on this stage cares about this. But Congress has never passed an important climate bill ever. This is a problem which continues to get worse. That's why I'm saying it's a state of emergency. That's why I'm saying it's priority one. If it isn't priority one, it's not going to get done.

And this is something where we absolutely have to address it upfront. We have to make it the most important thing. And we can use it to rebuild and reimagine what the United States is. We can be the moral leaders of the world again, while we clean up our air and water and create millions of good-paying jobs.

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, I'm going to ask you to jump in here.

WARREN: I was also named in that.

SANDERS: Tom, you stated...

MADDOW: You were.

SANDERS: You talked about the need to make climate change a national emergency. I've introduced legislation to just do that.

Now, I disagree with the thrust of the original question, because your question has said, what are we going to do in decades? We don't have decades. What the scientists are telling us, if we don't get our act together within the next eight or nine years, we're talking about cities all over the world, major cities going underwater, we're talking about increased drought, talking about increased extreme weather disturbances.

The United Nations is telling us that in the years to come there are going to be hundreds of millions of climate refugees causing national security issues all over the world.

What we have got to do tonight, and I will do as president, is to tell the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet. And by the way, the fossil fuel industry is probably criminally liable, because they have lied and lied and lied when they had the evidence that their carbon products were destroying the planet, and maybe we should think about prosecuting them, as well.

MADDOW: Thank you, Senator Sanders. [applause]


MITCHELL: President Trump has dramatically changed America's approach to our adversaries by holding summits with Kim Jong Un, getting out of the Iran nuclear deal, and at times embracing Vladimir Putin and other strongmen. So let's talk about what kind of commander-in-chief you would be.

Senator Harris, North Korea is now threatening to cancel any future summits if President Trump does not make concessions on nuclear weapons. If you were commander-in-chief, would you make concessions to Kim Jong-un in order to keep those talks going?

HARRIS: With all due deference to the fact that this is presidential debate, Donald Trump got punked. He was -- he has conducted foreign policy since day one born out of a very fragile ego that fails to understand that one of the most important responsibilities of the commander-in-chief is to concern herself with the security of our nation and homeland. [applause]

And to do it in a way that understands that part of the strength of who we are as a nation -- and therefore, an extension of our ability to be secure -- is not only that we have a vibrant military, but that when we walk in any room around the globe, we are respected because we keep to our word, we are consistent, we speak truth, and we are loyal.

What Donald Trump has done from pulling out of the Paris agreement to pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal to consistently turning a back on people who have stood with us in difficult times, including most recently the Kurds, points out that Donald Trump is the greatest threat to the national security of our nation at this moment.

MITCHELL: But would you make concessions to North Korea to keep talks...

HARRIS: Not at this point. There are no concessions to be made. They -- he has traded a photo-op for nothing. He has abandoned the -- by shutting down the operations with South Korea for the last year-and-a-half, so those operations, which should be -- and those exercises, which should be active, because they are in our best national security, the relationship that we have with Japan, he has in every way compromised our ability to have any influence on slowing down or at least having a check and balance on North Korea's nuclear program.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator.

Mr. Vice President, President Trump inherited the North Korea problem from past presidents, over decades. What would a President Biden do that President Obama didn't do in eight years?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, I'd go back in making sure we had the alliances we had before since he became president. He has absolutely ostracized us from South Korea. He has given North Korea everything they wanted, creating the legitimacy by having a meeting with Kim Jong-un, who's a thug -- although he points out that I'm a rabid dog who needs to be beaten with a stick, very recently was his comment.

SANDERS: But other than that, you like him.

BIDEN: Other than that, I like him. [laughter]

And in Japan and Australia, and being a Pacific power, and putting pressure on China in order -- for them to make sure that it is a non -- it is a nuclear-free peninsula. And the way we do that is, we make clear to China, which I have done personally with -- with the president of China, and that is we're going to move up our defenses, we're going to continue to make sure we increase our relationship with South Korea, and if they view that as a threat, it's an easy thing to respond to. They, in fact, can, in fact, put pressure on North Korea.

But the fact is that we're in a position where he has done this across the world. He's embraced thugs. Look what Putin is doing in Europe. Putin is -- his whole effort is to break up NATO, to increase his power. Look what he's done to -- and so this guy has no idea what he's doing. He has no notion how to go about it. And we need a commander-in-chief who when he stands everybody knows what he or she is talking about.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Two more U.S. soldiers were killed today in Afghanistan tragically in America's longest war. Senator Sanders, you've long said you wanted to bring the troops back home from Afghanistan. Would you cut a deal with the Taliban to end the war, even if it means the collapse of the Afghan government that America has long supported?

SANDERS: Well, let me just say this. One of the big differences between the vice president and myself is he supported the terrible war in Iraq and I helped lead the opposition against it. And not only that, I voted against the very first Gulf War, as well.

And I think we need a foreign policy which understands who our enemies are, that we don't have to spend ten -- more than -- more money on the military than the next 10 nations combined.

But to answer your question, yeah, I think it is time after spending many trillions of dollars on these endless wars, which have resulted in more dislocation and mass migrations and pain in that region, it is time to bring our troops home.

But unlike Trump, I will not do it through a tweet at 3 o'clock in the morning. I will do it working with the international community. And if it's necessary to negotiate with the Taliban, of course we will do that. But at the end of the day, we have to rethink the entire war on terror, which has caused so much pain and lost so many lives, not only for our own men and women in the armed forces, but for people in that region, as well.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator.


PARKER: Thank you. Mr. Yang, if you win the 2020 election, what would you say in your first call with Russian President Vladimir Putin? [laughter]

YANG: Well, first, I'd say I'm sorry I beat your guy. [laughter and applause]

WARREN: It's a sorry, not sorry.

YANG: Or not sorry. [laughter]

And, second, I would say the days of meddling in American elections are over and we will take any undermining of our democratic processes as an act of hostility and aggression. The American people would back me on this. We know that they've found an underbelly and they've been clawing at it, and it's made it so that we can't even trust our own democracy.

The third thing I would say is that we're going to live up to our international commitments. We're going to recommit to our partnerships and alliances, including NATO. And it was James Mattis that said that the more you invest in diplomats and diplomacy, the less you have to spend on ammunition.

That has to be the path forward to help build an international consensus not just against Russia, but also to build a coalition that will help us put pressure on China, in terms of their treatment of their ethnic minorities, and what's going on in Hong Kong.

I want to propose a new world data organization, like a WTO for data, because right now, unfortunately, we're living in a world where data is the new oil and we don't have our arms around it. These are the ways that we'll actually get Russia to the table and make it so they have to join the international community and stop resisting appeals to the world order.

PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Yang. [applause]


MADDOW: On the issue of China, Senator Booker, China is now using force against demonstrators in Hong Kong where millions have taken to the streets advocating for democratic reforms. Many of the demonstrators are asking the United States for help. If you were president, would the U.S. help their movement, and how?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, this is president who seems to want to go up against China in a trade war by pulling away from our allies and, in fact, attacking them, as well. We used a national security waiver to put tariffs on Canada. And so at the very time that China is breaking international rules, is practicing unfair practices, stealing technology, forcing technology transfer, and violating human rights, this nation is pulling away from critical allies we would need to show strength against China.

There's a larger battle going on, on the planet Earth right now between totalitarian, dictatorial countries and free democracies. And we see the scorecard under this president not looking so good, with China actually shifting more towards an authoritarian government, with its leader now getting rid of even his -- getting rid of term limits.

And so I believe we need a much stronger policy, one that's not led, as President Trump seems to want to do, in a transactional way, but one that's led by American values. So, yes, we will call China out for its human rights violations.

But not only that, we will stop engaging in things that violate American rights. Because it is a human rights violation when people at our border, children are thrown in cages. It's a human right violations without coming to the United States Congress for an authorization for the use of military force for us to refuel Saudi jets to bomb Yemeni children. It is about time that this country is led by someone who will say the values of freedom and democracy are what we are going to lead with and begin to check China, check Putin, and the other folks that are trying to undermine American values and democratic values around the globe.

MADDOW: Thank you, Senator. Andrea?

MITCHELL: Mr. Vice President, the CIA has concluded that the leader of Saudi Arabia directed the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The State Department also says the Saudi government is responsible for executing nonviolent offenders and for torture. President Trump has not punished senior Saudi leaders. Would you?

BIDEN: Yes, and I said it at the time. Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince. And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There's very little social redeeming value of the -- in the present government in Saudi Arabia.

And I would also, as pointed out, I would end -- end subsidies that we have, end the sale of material to the Saudis where they're going in and murdering children, and they're murdering innocent people. And so they have to be held accountable.

And with regard to China, we should -- look, unless we make it clear that we stand for human rights, we should be going to the United Nations seeking condemnation of China, what they're doing with the million Uighurs that are there, essentially in concentration camps in the west. We should be vocally, vocally speaking out about the violation of the commitment they made to Hong Kong. We have to speak out and speak loudly about violations of human rights.

MITCHELL: Senator Klobuchar, just to follow up, would you go against the Saudis, even though that would potentially help Iran, their adversaries?

KLOBUCHAR: We need a new foreign policy in this country, and that means renewing our relationships with our allies. It means rejoining international agreements. And it means reasserting our American values.

And so when the president did not stand up the way he should have to that killing and that dismemberment of a journalist with an American newspaper, that sent a signal to all dictators across the country that -- across the world that that was OK, and that's wrong.

And I want to add a few things to what my colleagues have said, first of all, the question about Russia. When we look at international agreements, we must start negotiating back with Russia, which has been a horrible player on the international scene, but the president precipitously got out of the nuclear agreement with Russia and we must start negotiating, even though they were cheating, for the good of this world. And we must also start the negotiations for the New START Treaty.

And when it comes to China, we need someone that sees the long term, like I do, just like the Chinese do, because we have a president that literally makes decisions based on his next tweet, and they are in it for the long game.

MITCHELL: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: I think I may have been the first person up here to make it clear that Saudi Arabia not only murdered Khashoggi, but this is a brutal dictatorship which does everything it can to crush democracy, treats women as third-class citizens. And when we rethink our American foreign policy, what we have got to know is that Saudi Arabia is not a reliable ally.

We have got to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in a room under American leadership and say we are sick and tired of us spending huge amounts of money and human resources because of your conflicts.

And by the way, the same thing goes with Israel and the Palestinians. It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel. But we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity that they deserve. [applause]

What is going on in Gaza right now, where youth unemployment is 70 percent or 80 percent, is unsustainable. So we need to be rethinking who our allies are around the world, work with the United Nations, and not continue to support brutal dictatorships.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator. Rachel?

MADDOW: Senator Warren, only about 1 percent of Americans serve in the United States military right now. Should that number be higher?

WARREN: Yes, I think it should be. You know, all three of my brothers served in the military. One was career military. The other two also served. I think it's an important part of who we are as Americans. And I think the notion of shared service is important.

It's how we help bring our nation together. It's how people learn to work together from different regions, people who grew up differently. It's also about how families share that sacrifice.

I remember what it was like when I was a little girl. My brother, my oldest brother, who served five-and-a-half years off and on in combat in Vietnam, what it was like for my mother every day to check the mailbox, had we heard from Don Reed? How is he doing? And if there was a letter, she was brighter than the day. And if there wasn't, she would say, well, maybe tomorrow.

This is about building for our entire nation. And I believe we should do that. I also believe we should have other service opportunities in this country. So, for example, what I want to do is for our federal lands, I want to bring in 10,000 people who want to be able to serve in our federal lands to be able to help rebuild our national forests and national parks as a way to express both their public service and their commitment to fighting back against climate change. We can do this as a nation.

MADDOW: Thank you, Senator. In President Trump's first two years in office, the Pentagon budget ballooned. Mayor Buttigieg, would you cut military spending? Or would you keep it on the same upward trajectory?

BUTTIGIEG: We need to re-prioritize our budget as a whole and our military spending in particular. It's not just how much, although we certainly need to look at the runaway growth in military spending. It's also where.

Right now, we are spending a fraction of the attention and resources on things like the artificial intelligence research that China is doing right now. If we fall behind on artificial intelligence, the most expensive ships that the United States is building just turned into bigger targets.

We do not have a 21st century security strategy coming from this president. After all, he's relying on 17th century security technologies, like a moat full of alligators or a big wall. [laughter]

There is no concept of strategic planning for how civilian, diplomatic, and military security work needs to take place for the future.

BOOKER: Can I respond?

MADDOW: Mayor Buttigieg, thank you.

WARREN: Could I respond on this?

WELKER: Coming up, we will have much more from the candidates. We're going to take a quick break, just a moment. Stay with us.

[commercial break]

WELKER: Welcome back, everyone, to the fifth Democratic debate. Let's move now to the issue of race in America. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told Congress, quote, "The majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we've investigated are motivated by white supremacist violence."

Congresswoman Gabbard, to you. As president, would you direct the federal government to do something about this problem that it is not currently doing?

GABBARD: Yes, I would. We have seen for far too long the kind of racial bigotry, divisiveness, and attacks that unfortunately have taken the lives of our fellow Americans. Leadership starts at the top. It's important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in a very institutional way in our country, beginning with things that have to do with our criminal justice system, where predominantly the failed war on drugs that has been continuing to be waged in this country has disproportionately impacted people of color and people in poverty.

This is something that I'll do as president and commander-in-chief, is to overhaul our criminal justice system, working in a bipartisan way to do things like end the failed war on drugs, end the money bail system, enact the kinds of prison reforms and sentencing reforms that we need to see that will correct the failures of the past.

The most important thing here is that we recognize that we have to treat each other with respect, all of us as fellow Americans, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, orientation, and our politics. That kind of leadership starts at the top. As president, I will usher in a 21st century White House that actually represents the interests of all Americans, first and foremost.

WELKER: Congresswoman Gabbard, thank you for that.

Mr. Yang, what would you do about the issue of white supremacist violence?

YANG: Well, first, we have to designate white supremacist terrorism as domestic terrorism so that the Department of Justice can properly measure it. [applause]

I talked to an anti-hate activist named Christian Picciolini who told me about how he was radicalized over a 10-year period. He said he was a lonely 14-year-old and that he was reached out to by a hate group and he wound up joining it for a decade. Now he's out and he's helping convert people out of those hate groups and back into the rest of society.

But what he told me was that if anyone had reached out to him when he was that hurt, broken 14-year-old boy, he would have gone with them. He said if it had been a coach, I would have gone with him, if it had been a mentor or a teacher, I would have gone with them, but instead it was a hate group.

So what we have to do is we have to get into the roots of our communities and create paths forward for men in particular who right now are falling through the cracks. And when you look at gun violence in this country, 96 percent-plus of the shooters we're talking about are young boys and young men. We have to as a country start finding ways to turn our boys into healthy, strong young men who do not hate, but instead feel like they have paths forward in today's economy.

WELKER: Mr. Yang, thank you for that.

Vice President Biden, the "Me, Too" movement has forced a cultural reckoning around the issue of sexual violence and harassment against women in America. Are there specific actions that you would take early in your administration to address this problem?

BIDEN: Yes. And by the way, it's one of the reasons -- the first thing I would do is make sure we pass the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, which I wrote. The fact -- I didn't write the reauthorization. I wrote the original act.

The fact is that what happens now is that we, in fact, have to fundamentally change the culture, the culture of how women are treated. That's why as vice president -- and when I asked the president, I could start the movement on the college campuses to say it's on us. It's everyone's responsibility.

We do not spend nearly enough time dealing with -- I was stunned when I did a virtual town meeting that told me 30,000 people were on the call, young people between 15 and 25, and found out I said, what do you need -- what do you need to make you safer on college campuses and on your schools? You know what they said? Get men involved, engage the rest of the community.

And that's when we started this movement on the college campuses to fundamentally change the culture. No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger, other than in self-defense, and that's -- rarely ever occurs. And so we have to just change the culture, period, and keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it. It will be a big -- no, I really mean it. It's a gigantic issue. And we have to make it clear from the top, from the president on down, that we will not tolerate it. We will not tolerate this culture.

WELKER: Mr. Vice President, thank you.

Senator Harris, this week, you criticized Mayor Pete Buttigieg's outreach to African-American voters. You said, quote, "The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are, as the diversity of the American people," end quote. What exactly prompted you to say that, Senator Harris?

HARRIS: Well, I was asked a question that related to a stock photograph that his campaign published. But, listen, I think that it really speaks to a larger issue, and I'll speak to the larger issue. I believe that the mayor has made apologies for that.

The larger issue is that for too long I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party and have overlooked those constituencies and have -- you know, they show up when it's, you know, close to election time and show up in a black church and want to get the vote, but just haven't been there before.

I mean, you know, the -- there are plenty of people who applauded black women for the success of the 2018 election, applauded black women for the election of a senator from Alabama. But, you know, at some point, folks get tired of just saying, oh, you know, thank me for showing up and -- and say, well, show up for me.

Because when black women... [applause]

When black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth in America, when the sons of black women will die because of gun violence more than any other cause of death, when black women make 61 cents on the dollar as compared to all women, who tragically make 80 cents on the dollar, the question has to be, where you been? And what are you going to do? And do you understand who the people are? [applause]

And I'm running for president because I believe that we have to have leadership in this country who has worked with and have the experience of working with all folks. And we've got to re-create the Obama coalition to win. And that means about women, that's people of color, that's our LGBTQ community, that's working people, that's our labor unions. But that is how we are going to win this election, and I intend to win.

WELKER: Senator Harris, thank you.

Mayor Buttigieg, your response to that.

BUTTIGIEG: My response is, I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don't yet know me.

And before I share what's in my plans, let me talk about what's in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built-up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.

I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized, and cast aside and oppressed in society.

And I care about this because, while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here. Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn't have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.

WELKER: Mayor Buttigieg, thank you very much. [applause]

Senator Harris, quick response?

HARRIS: Look, there's a lot at stake in this election, and I've said it many times, I think justice is on the ballot in 2020. And it's about economic justice. It's about justice for children. It's about justice for our teachers. I could go on down the list.

And so the issue really is not what is the fight. The issue has to be, how are we going to win? And to win, we have to build a coalition and rebuild the Obama coalition. I keep referring to that because that's the last time we won.

And the way that that election looked and what that coalition looked like was it was about having a leader who had worked in many communities, knows those communities, and has the ability to bring people together. And everyone is going to have to be judged on their experience and, therefore, ability to bring folks together around our commonalities, of which I believe there are many.

WELKER: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Warren, quickly?

WARREN: So I think it is really important that we actually talk about what we're willing to get in the fight for. And I just want to give one example around this. Senator Harris rightly raised the question of economic justice.

Let me give a specific example, and that is student loan debt. Right now in America, African-Americans are more likely to borrow money to go to college, borrow more money while they're in college, and have a harder time paying that debt off after they get out. Today in America, a new study came out, 20 years out, whites who borrowed money, 94 percent of them have paid off their student loan debt, 5 percent of African-Americans have paid it off.

I believe that means everyone on this stage should be embracing student loan debt forgiveness. It will help close the black-white wealth gap. Let's do something tangible and real to make change in this country.

WELKER: Senator Warren, thank you. Ashley?

PARKER: Senator Warren, back to you. You've said that the border wall that President Trump has proposed is, quote, "a monument to hate and division." Would you ask taxpayers to pay to take down any part of the wall on the nation's southern border?

WARREN: If there are parts of the wall that are not useful in our defense, of course we should do it. The real point here is that we need to stop this manmade crisis at the border.

Trump is the one who has created this crisis, and he has done it in no small part by helping destabilize the governments even further in Central America. He has withdrawn aid. That means that families have to flee for their lives, have to flee for any economic opportunity.

You know, when I found out that our government was actually taking away children from their families, I went down to the border. I went down there immediately. I was in McAllen, Texas, and I just hope everyone remembers what this looks like. There's like a giant Amazon warehouse filled with cages of women, cages of men, and cages of little girls and little boys.

I spoke to a woman who was in the cage of nursing mothers, and she told me she'd given a drink to a police officer and that the word had come down from the gangs that she was helping the police. She knew what that meant. She wrapped up her baby and she ran for the border.

We need to treat the people who come here with dignity and with respect. A great nation does not separate children from their families. We need to live our values at the border every single day. [applause]

PARKER: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Booker, a quick response.

BOOKER: Look, I want to be quick on this because I'd like to get back to something I wasn't included in, is...

WARREN: So would we all.

BOOKER: Absolutely, if this is not effective, we see people cutting holes in this wall, his wall, the way he brags about it, it's just wrong. We need to have policies that respect dignity, keep us safe and strong.

I wanted to return back to this issue of black voters. I have a lifetime of experience with black voters; I've been one since I was 18. [laughter]

Nobody on this stage should need a focus group to hear from African-American voters. Black voters are pissed off, and they're worried. They're pissed off because the only time our issues seem to be really paid attention to by politicians is when people are looking for their vote. And they're worried because the Democratic Party, we don't want to see people miss this opportunity and lose because we are nominating someone that doesn't -- isn't trusted, doesn't have authentic connection.

And so that's what's on the ballot. And issues do matter. I have a lot of respect for the vice president. He has sworn me into my office as a hero. This week, I hear him literally say that I don't think we should legalize marijuana. I thought you might have been high when you said it. [laughter]

And let me tell you, because -- because marijuana -- marijuana -- marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. And it's -- the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people. [applause]

And so let me just -- let me just say this. With more African-Americans under criminal supervision in America than all the slaves since 1850, do not roll up into communities and not talk directly to issues that are going to relate to the liberation of children, because there are people in Congress right now that admit to smoking marijuana, while there are people -- our kids are in jail right now for those drug crimes. [applause]

And so these are the kind of issues that mean a lot to our community. And if we don't have somebody authentically -- we lost the last election. Let me just give you this data example.

PARKER: Quickly. Quickly, please.

BOOKER: We lost in Wisconsin because of a massive diminution -- a lot of reasons, but there was a massive diminution in the African-American vote. We need to have someone that can inspire, as Kamala said, to inspire African-Americans to the polls in record numbers.

PARKER: Thank you, Senator Booker. Vice President Biden, you can respond to that.

BIDEN: I'll be very brief. Number one, I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think everyone -- anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.

But I do think it makes sense, based on data, that we should study what the long-term effects are for the use of marijuana. That's all it is. Number one, everybody gets out, record expunged.

Secondly, I'm -- you know, I'm part of that Obama coalition. I come out of a black community, in terms of my support. If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me because they know me, they know who I am. Three former chairs of the black caucus, the only African-American woman that's ever been elected to the United States Senate, a whole range of people...

HARRIS: No, that's not true.

BOOKER: That's not true.

HARRIS: The other one is here. [laughter]

BIDEN: No, I said the first. I said the first African-American woman. The first African-American woman. [laughter]

So my point is -- my point is that one of the reasons I was picked to be vice president was because of my relationship, longstanding relationship with the black community. I was part of that coalition.

PARKER: Thank you. Kristen?

WELKER: And we do have to take another quick break, but we are going to hear much more from the candidates when we come right back here in Atlanta, Georgia. Stay with us.

[commercial break]

MADDOW: Welcome back to the MSNBC-Washington Post Democratic candidates debate. Many states, including right here where we are tonight in Georgia, have passed laws that severely limit or outright ban abortion. Right now, Roe v. Wade protects a woman's right to abortion nationwide. But if Roe gets overturned and abortion access disappears in some states, would you intervene as president to try to bring that access back?

Senator Klobuchar?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, of course. We should codify Roe v. Wade into law. That is what we should do. [applause]

And this president indicated early on what he was going to do, and he's done it. When he was running for office, he literally said women should go to jail. Then he dialed it back and said doctors should go to jail. So no surprise that we're seeing these kinds of laws in Georgia, in Alabama, where his allies are passing these bills.

And what we have to remember is that the people are with us. And I predict this will be a big election -- issue in the general election. And I just can't wait to stand across from Donald Trump and say this to him. You know what? The people are with us. Over 70 percent of the people support Roe v. Wade. Over 90 percent of the people support funding for Planned Parenthood and making sure that women can get the health care they need. [applause]

He is off the track on this, and he will hear from the women of America, and this is how we're going to win this election.

MADDOW: Just this weekend, Louisiana re-elected a Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards. He has signed one of the country's toughest laws restricting abortion. Is there room in the Democratic Party for someone like him, someone who can win in a deep red state but who does not support abortion rights?

Senator Warren?

WARREN: Look, I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights. And protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party.

Understand this. When someone makes abortion illegal in America, rich women will still get abortions. It's just going to fall hard on poor women. It's going to fall hard on girls, women who don't even know that they're pregnant because they have been molested by an uncle. I want to be an America where everybody has a chance.

And I know it can be a hard decision for people. But here's the thing. When it comes down to that decision, a woman should be able to call on her mother, she should be able to call on her partner, she should be able to call on her priest or her rabbi. But the one entity that should not be in the middle of that decision is the government. [applause]

MADDOW: Senator Warren, I'm going to push you on this a little bit for a specific answer to the question. Governor John Bel Edwards in Louisiana is an anti-abortion governor who has signed abortion restrictions in Louisiana. Is there room for him in the Democratic Party with those politics?

WARREN: I have made clear what I think the Democratic Party stands for. I'm not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I'm not here to try to build fences. But I am here to say, this is what I will fight for as president of the United States. The women of America can count on that.

MADDOW: Senator Warren, thank you. Senator Sanders, I'll give you 30 seconds.

SANDERS: Let me just -- Amy mentioned that women feel strongly on it. Well, let me just tell you that if there's ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment. [applause]

And I get very tired, very tired of hearing the hypocrisy from conservatives who say get the government off our backs, we want small government. Well, if you want to get the government out of the backs of the American people, then understand that it is women who control their own bodies, not politicians.

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, thank you.

BOOKER: This is a voting issue.

MADDOW: Senator Booker?

BOOKER: This is a voting issue. This is a voter suppression issue. Right here in this great state of Georgia, it was the voter suppression, particularly of African-American communities, that prevented us from having a Governor Stacey Abrams right now. [applause]

And that is, when you have undemocratic means, when you suppress people's votes to get elected, those are the very people you're going to come after when you're in office. And this bill, opposed by over 70 percent -- the heartbeat bill here -- opposed by over 70 percent of Georgians, is the result from voter suppression. This gets back to the issue about making sure we are fighting every single day, that whoever is the nominee, they can overcome the attempts to suppress the votes, particularly of low-income and minority voters, and particularly in the black community, like we saw here in Georgia.

MADDOW: Senator Booker, thank you.

And to that point, individual states, as you all know, set their own rules for voting and for elections. Depending on where you live, you may be required to show ID or not. You might have a lot of days for early voting or fewer days or none. You might have a polling place in walking distance or you might have to drive or take a bus to the edge of town.

With that in mind, our next question comes from Jenna in Maryland, who asks, what will you do at the executive level to ensure that every American has equal access to the ballot box?

Mayor Buttigieg?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we need federal leadership to establish voting rights for the 21st century, because this affects every other issue that we care about. Now, the House of Representatives passed a pro-democracy, anti-corruption bill, which is one of many good bills to die in Mitch McConnell's hands in the United States Senate.

We know that with the White House in the right hands, we can make, for example, Election Day a federal holiday. We can use carrots and sticks to induce states to do the right thing with automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, making it easier for people to vote and, in particular, recognizing that we cannot allow the kind of racially motivated or partisan voter suppression or gerrymandering that often dictates the outcome of elections before the voting even begins.

Right now, we have politicians picking out their voters, rather than the other way around. That compounding with what is being done to restrict the right to vote means that our democracy is not worthy of the name.

KLOBUCHAR: I just -- I want to add this...

BUTTIGIEG: And while these process issues are not always fashionable, we must act to reform our democracy itself, including when it comes to choosing our presidency...


MADDOW: Senator Klobuchar...

BUTTIGIEG: ... like we do in every other election, giving it to the person who got the most votes.

KLOBUCHAR: I want to point out...


KLOBUCHAR: I agree with what the mayor has just said, but this is a good example where he has said the right words, but I actually have the experience and of leading 11 of the bills that are in that House-passed bill you just referred to.

And I think this kind of experience matters. I have been devoted to this from the time that I've got to the Senate. And I think having that experience, knowing how you can get things done, leading the bills to take the social media companies to task, a bipartisan bill to say, yeah, you have to say where these ads come from and how they're paid for, and stop the unbelievable practice where we still have 11 states that don't have backup paper ballots. That is my bipartisan bill. And I am so close to getting it done. And the way I get it done is if I'm president.

But just like I have won statewide and mayor, I have all appreciation for your good work as a local official, and you did not when you tried, I also have actually done this work. I think experience should matter.

MADDOW: Mayor Buttigieg, I'll let you respond to that.

BUTTIGIEG: So, first of all, Washington experience is not the only experience that matters. There's more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country?

I have the experience of bringing people together to get something done. I have the experience of being commanded into a war zone by an American president. I have the experience of knowing what is at stake as the decisions made in those big white buildings come into our lives, our homes, our families, our workplaces, and our marriages. And I would submit that this is the kind of experience we need, not just to go to Washington, but to change it before it is too late.

MADDOW: Mr. Mayor, thank you. Congresswoman Gabbard, on the original question of voting rights, please.

GABBARD: Thank you. I mean, voting rights are essential for our democracy. Securing our elections is essential for our democracy. I've introduced legislation called the Securing Americas Elections Act that mandates paper ballots to make sure that every single voter's voice is heard.

But I want to get back to Pete Buttigieg and his comments about experience. Pete, you'll agree that the service that we both have provided to our country as veterans by itself does not qualify us to serve as commander-in-chief. I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels.

As commander-in-chief, leader of our armed forces, I bring extensive experience, serving for seven years in Congress, on the Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Armed Services Committee, on the Homeland Security Committee, meeting with leaders of countries around the world, working with military commanders of different commands...

MADDOW: Congresswoman, thank you.

GABBARD: ... dealing with high-level national security briefings, understanding what's necessary, the preparation that I've gotten to walk in on day one to serve as commander-in-chief.

MADDOW: Congresswoman, thank you. Mr. Mayor, I'll allow you to respond.

BUTTIGIEG: So I've got to respond to that. I know that it's par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish even by the standards of today's politics.

GABBARD: Are you saying that you didn't say that?

BUTTIGIEG: I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We've been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years, with law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships, for example. Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico? [laughter]

GABBARD: That's not what I said. That's not what I said.

BUTTIGIEG: I'm talking about building up -- I'm talking about building up alliances. And if your question is about experience, let's also talk about judgment. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I have in my experience, such as it is, whether you think it counts or not since it wasn't accumulated in Washington, enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that. [applause]

MADDOW: Congresswoman Gabbard, let me allow you to respond.

GABBARD: Thank you. You were asked directly whether you would send our troops to Mexico to fight cartels and your answer was yes. The fact-checkers can check this out.


GABBARD: But your point about judgment is absolutely correct. Our commander-in-chief does need to have good judgment. And what you've just pointed out is that you would lack the courage to meet with both adversaries and friends to ensure the peace and national security of our nation. I take the example of those leaders who have come before us, leaders like JFK, who met with Khrushchev, like Roosevelt, who met with Stalin.

BUTTIGIEG: Like Donald Trump who met with Kim.

GABBARD: Like Reagan, who met -- like Reagan, who met and worked with Gorbachev. These issues of national security are incredibly important. I will meet with and do what is necessary to make sure that no more of our brothers and sisters in uniform are needlessly sent into harm's way fighting regime change wars that undermine our national security. I'll bring real leadership and experience to the White House. [applause]

MADDOW: Congresswoman Gabbard...

BUTTIGIEG: I've got to respond to this. This is a direct...


MADDOW: Senator Sanders, I'm going to have you respond.

SANDERS: To your original point, the American people understand that the political system we have today is corrupt. And it is not just voter suppression, which cost the Democratic Party a governorship here in this state, not just denying black people and people of color the right to vote, but we also have a system through Citizens United which allows billionaires to buy elections.

So what we need to do, simple and straightforward, in every state in this country through the federal government, if you are 18, you have a right to vote, end of discussion. [applause]

We have to overturn Citizens United. We need to move toward public funding of elections.

MADDOW: On this last point, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: I agree exactly with what Bernie said, but I want to talk about how we're going to win in 2020. I don't mean to change the subject, but I think it's sort of important that the Democratic Party not only beat Donald Trump in 2020 but have a sweeping victory across the country. And what that's going to mean is turnout.

In the United States of America, the Democratic Party keeps talking about trying to persuade a few people who are Republicans to like us, when up to half the people don't vote at all because they think neither party tells the truth, no one deals with my issues, the system is broken, why would we vote?

But what we've found at NextGen America is that is the start of a conversation about why votes are so important. And if you look at 2018 and flipping the House, what really happened was Democratic voting went up by three-quarters. In the 38 congressional districts where NextGen America was turning out young people, the turnout went up by more than 100 percent, more than double.

MADDOW: Thank you, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: So for us to win, for everybody on this stage, for whoever's the candidate, to have a Senate that's Democratic, for us to have the sweeping victory that we absolutely...

MADDOW: Mr. Steyer, thank you.

STEYER: ... are going to have next year, it's a turnout question. We're going to have to tell the truth and we're going to have organize across this country.

MADDOW: Thank you very much.

SANDERS: Exactly right. That's exactly right.

MADDOW: It is time -- at this point, it is well past time, if I'm honest, to start closing statements. And we are going to start tonight with Senator Booker. The floor is yours.

BOOKER: Thank you, Rachel. It's an honor to be here tonight.

I have not yet qualified for the December stage and need your help to do that. If you believe in my voice and that I should be up here, please go to corybooker.com. Please help.

I had a closing statement prepared, but I saw in the audience during the break a man named John Lewis. And perhaps it's interesting and important for me to mention why I'm so grateful to him.

I've been calling in this whole election for our need to fight and fight the right way, by bringing people together to create transformative change, not just beat Donald Trump. That's the floor. We need to go to the ceiling. We need to go to the mountaintop.

I am literally here on this stage right now because 50 years ago there was a lawyer on a couch who changed his life, changed his mind to get up and start representing families, one of them mine, who were discriminated against. The house I grew up in is because of that lawyer's activity.

When I asked him why, why he did what he did, he told me that on March 7, 1965, he was watching a movie called "Judgment at Nuremberg" on TV and they interrupted that movie to show a bridge in Alabama called the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And there he saw John Lewis and other marchers who were beaten viciously by Alabama state troopers.

We all owe a debt that we cannot repay. We all drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty that we did not dig. This is the moment in America where we need a leader that can inspire us to get up and fight again, that we have truly a moral moment in America, like it was back in 1965.

If you give me a chance to lead, I will cause what John Lewis says is good trouble. I will challenge us. I will ask more from you than any other president has ever asked before, because we...

MADDOW: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: ... need to mobilize a new American movement. Keep me on this stage. Keep me on this race. It is time we fight and fight together. Please go to corybooker.com.

MADDOW: Senator Booker, thank you very much. [applause]

MITCHELL: Mr. Steyer, your closing statement.

STEYER: Last time I was on this stage, I started by saying that everybody here is more patriotic and more competent than the criminal in the White House. And I stand by that statement.

But I'm different from everybody else on this stage. I know that the government in Washington, D.C., is broken. I know that it's been purchased by corporations. And I've spent a decade putting together coalitions of ordinary American citizens to beat those corporations.

I'm the only one on this stage who's willing to talk about structural change in Washington itself, term limits, that if we're going to make bold changes, we're going to need new and different people in charge. I'm the only person on this stage who spent decades building an international business. Whoever of us is the Democratic nominee is going to have to face Mr. Trump or the Republican and talk about the economy, talk about growth, understand that we can make Mr. Trump what he is, a fraud and a failure, on the economy, which is his strong point.

I'm the only person on this stage who will say that climate is my first priority, that it's our biggest challenge, but it's our biggest opportunity to recreate this country.

If you want to beat Mr. Trump, if you want to break the corporate stranglehold on this government, if you want to pass all of the progressive policies that everyone on this stage wants, I'm the person who can do it.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: I have spent a decade trusting the American people...[laughter]

MITCHELL: Thank -- thank -- thank you, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: I'm asking you to trust me.

MITCHELL: Thank you. [applause]

PARKER: Congresswoman Gabbard, go ahead.

GABBARD: My personal commitment to you, to all of my fellow Americans, is to treat you with respect and compassion, something that we in Hawaii called aloha. Every single person deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of race, religion, or gender, or even your politics. Inclusion, unity, respect, aloha, these will be the operating principles for my administration.

Now, Dr. Martin Luther King visited Hawaii first back in 1959, where he expressed his appreciation for what we call the aloha spirit. He said we look to you for inspiration as a bold example for what you have already succeeded in the areas of racial harmony and racial justice, where we are still struggling to achieve in other sections of the country. He later went on to say, as I looked out at the various faces and various colors mingled together like the waters of the sea, I see only one face, the face of the future.

Working side by side, let's defeat the divisiveness of Donald Trump, come together and usher in a 21st century of racial harmony, of racial justice, peace, inclusion, and true equality, working side by side. Let's make Dr. King's dream our reality.

PARKER: Thank you, Congresswoman.

WELKER: Mr. Yang, your turn.

YANG: I'm here with my wife, Evelyn, tonight. We have two young boys, Christopher and Damian. How many of you all are parents like us here in the room?

So if you're a parent, you've had this thought. Maybe you've been afraid to express it. And it is this: Our kids are not all right. They're not all right because we're leaving them a future that is far darker than the lives that we have led as their parents.

We are going through the greatest economic transformation in our country's history, the fourth industrial revolution, and it is pushing more and more of our people to the side. We talk as if Donald Trump is the cause of all of our problems. He is not. He is a symptom. And we need to cure the disease.

Now, my first move was not to run for president of the United States, because I am not insane. [laughter]

My first move was to go to D.C., talk to our leaders and say technology is ripping us apart, immigrants are being scapegoated, our kids are being left behind, and the American dream that my parents came here to find is dying before our eyes. And the people in Washington, D.C., had nothing for this. They don't want to touch it. They don't want to talk about an issue they don't think they have a solution for.

I'm not running for president because I fantasized about being president. I'm running for president because, like many of you here in this room tonight, I'm a parent and a patriot and I have seen the future that we're leaving for our kids, and it is not something I'm willing to accept.

We need to create a new way forward for our people. If you want to join us in rewriting the rules of the 21st century economy, go to yang2020.com and make it so that we can look our kids in the eyes and say to them, and believe it: Your country loves you, your country values you, and you will be all right.

WELKER: Thank you, Mr. Yang.

MADDOW: Senator Klobuchar?

KLOBUCHAR: The nation was riveted this week by the testimony in Washington. One of the people we heard from yesterday was Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. And what he said was -- as he spoke to his immigrant father and he said, in this country, you can tell the truth and it's going to be fine. It reminded me of Army counsel years and years ago in the McCarthy hearing, someone from Iowa, actually, Mr. Welch, who said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

I want us to remember that this election is, yes, an economic check on this president, and I have bold ideas that we can do to go forward as a country to make college more affordable and bring down the costs of health care, yes.

But this is also a patriotism check, a value check, a decency check. And when you look at the people that turned out in Kentucky and turned out in Virginia, people turned out that didn't vote in 2016, African-Americans are turning out like we didn't see before. But we also -- and they must be with us, and we must get our fired-up Democratic base with us.

But we also, let's get those independents and moderate Republicans who cannot stomach this guy anymore. This is how we build a coalition, so we don't just beat Donald Trump. We bring the U.S. Senate to some sense. We send Mitch McConnell packing. This is how we win.

So if you want to join us -- and remember that this won't be for me a personal victory, it will be a national victory, of someone that wins in red districts and suburban, purple districts, and bright blue districts every single time. If you want to join us and if you believe that our work doesn't end on Election Day, but begins on Inauguration Day, join us, amyklobuchar.com.

MADDOW: Senator Klobuchar, thank you. [applause]

MITCHELL: Senator Harris?

HARRIS: So, we're in a fight. This is a fight for our rule of law, for our democracy, and for our system of justice. And it's a fight we need to win.

And to fight this fight, I believe we have to have the ability to not only have a nominee who can go toe to toe with Donald Trump -- and I have taken on Jeff Sessions, I've taken on Bill Barr, I have taken on Brett Kavanaugh. I know I have the ability to do that.

We also need someone who can unify the party and the country and who has the experience of having done that. I've done that work. I believe we need someone who has the ability to speak to all the people regardless of their race, their gender, their party affiliation, where they live geographically or the language their grandmother speaks.

My entire career has been spent having one client and one client only: the people. I have never represented a corporation. I've never represented a special interest. And in this election, justice and the various injustices people are facing regardless of where they live or their race or gender are very much on the ballot, from economic justice to reproductive justice to health care justice to educational justice.

And I truly believe that when we overcome these injustices, we will then unlock the potential of the American people and the promise of America, and that's the America I believe in. That's the America I see. And that is why I'm running for president.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Senator Harris. [applause]

PARKER: Mayor Buttigieg, go ahead.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, I want to remark that we're in the city of Atlanta, a city where a great local leader, Maynard Jackson, helped create the black middle class that Atlanta is known by, by ensuring that taxpayer dollars were spent in a way that reflected the need to expand opportunity to those who were excluded.

And just as local leaders have shown great leadership, we need to use the powers of the presidency on challenges like this, expanding opportunity and expanding a sense of belonging to those who have been excluded in this country.

I'm not only running to defeat Donald Trump. I am running to prepare for the day that begins when Donald Trump has left office, to launch the era that must come after Trump. That era must be characterized not by exclusion, but by belonging. And so must our campaign.

I am inviting progressives who have agreed on these issues we've been talking about tonight all along, moderates who are ready to be part of this coalition, and a lot of future former Republicans, who I know are watching this, disgusted by what is happening in their own party and in this country. I want you to know that everybody is welcome in this movement that we're building and everybody is welcome in this future that we must create.

I hope you go to peteforamerica.com, join this effort, and help us create a better era for the American people beginning in November 2020.

PARKER: Thank you.

WELKER: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: Thank you. Let me say a word about myself, unusual as it may seem. [laughter]

I am the son of an immigrant, young man of 17 who came to this country without a nickel in his pocket. I have some sense of the immigrant experience. I will stand with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

At the age of 21, as a member of a civil rights group at the University of Chicago, I was arrested, spent the night in jail, and I have been committed to the fight against all forms of discrimination -- racial discrimination, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and religious bigotry. I will lead an administration that will look like America, will end the divisiveness brought by Trump, and bring us together.

During this campaign, I am proud to say that I have received more campaign contributions than any candidate at this point in an election in American history, over 4 million contributions, averaging $18 apiece. [applause]

If you want to be part of a movement that is not only going to beat Trump, but transform America, that doesn't have a super PAC, doesn't do fundraisers at wealthy people's homes, please join us at berniesanders.com. Thank you. [applause]

MADDOW: Senator Warren, the floor is yours.

WARREN: So, thank you. You know, I've listened to this debate tonight and I hear a lot of really good ideas. But I take a look at the issues we've talked about. We've talked about climate change. We've talked about defense spending. We've talked about private health insurance. We should have talked about gun violence.

What do these issues have in common? Well, first, they touch people all over this country in their everyday lives. And what is the second thing they have in common? We know what we need to do. We have a lot of good ideas for how to fix it, and the majority of Americans are with us on it, and yet we don't make change. Why not?

Because of corruption. Because we have a government that works better for big drug companies than it does for people trying to fill a prescription. It works better for a giant defense industry than it does for everyone who worries about the money that goes into arms instead of into our public schools. We have a government that works for those at the top and not for anyone else.

I have the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate. It involves ending lobbying as we know it, blocking the revolving door between industry and Washington, making everyone who runs for federal office put their tax returns online. [applause]

We have to have the courage not to make just individual changes, not to fight for little pieces. We want to make real progress on climate. Then we have to start by attacking the corruption that gives the oil industry and other fossil fuel industries a stranglehold over this country.

I am so grateful to be here and I am grateful to an America that gave the daughter of a janitor a chance to become a public school teacher, a chance to become a college professor, a chance to become a United States senator...

MADDOW: Thank you, Senator.

WARREN: ... and a chance to become candidate for president of the United States. Thank you. [applause]

MITCHELL: Vice President Biden, your closing statement.

BIDEN: I assume we're only talking about the corruption of the federal government. We weren't talking about Barack Obama and his spotless administration who made so much progress.

But one thing we haven't talked about here today, we haven't talked -- we talked about everything, but we haven't talked about the one thing I think is most consequential.

You know, the American people have an enormous opportunity. There's an incredible -- incredible -- I've never been more optimistic about our prospects in my entire career, and I got elected when I was a 29-year-old kid to the United States Senate.

Folks, we are in a position where we have -- we're the wealthiest nation in the world, our workers are more productive than workers around the world, three times as productive as workers in Asia. We have more great research universities that the people own than all the rest of the world combined. We're in a position where we've led not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

I'm so tired of everybody walking around like woe is me, what are we going to do? Let's remember, this is the United States of America. There has never, ever, ever been a time when we have set our mind to do something we've been unable to do it. Never. Never, never.

So it's time to remember, get up, let's take back this country and lead the world again. It's within our power to do it. Get up and take it back. [applause]

MADDOW: Vice President Biden, thank you.

And let me take this opportunity to thank all of the candidates for a spirited and excellent debate. I want to thank all of you, and I want to tell you that on MSNBC tonight, my colleague, Brian Williams, is going to pick up our coverage in just a moment. I also, before we go, want to thank everybody here in the audience. I want to thank the city of Atlanta. And from all of us here at the dais, thank you so much for watching. Good night.

Presidential Candidate Debates, Democratic Candidates Debate in Atlanta, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/342209

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