All seven of the Democratic presidential candidates who debated Thursday night at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester gave reasons why President Donald Trump should be removed from office while criticizing his policies and practices on various issues.
Higher qualifying standards made the debate hosted by the Public Broadcasting Service and the online political news website Politico have the smallest field of the debates in the campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The first question of the night homed in on the impeachment process. The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to impeach Trump for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. The Senate has not received the articles.
Debate candidates said it was a constitutional obligation of the House to impeach Trump and that he was guilty of the offenses charged against him, but entrepreneur Andrew Yang broke rank and said the election will not be decided by who can win a battle of wits with the president, but rather it's how the candidates address the decimation of American manufacturing jobs, among other domestic issues.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham Wednesday called the impeachment "one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our nation."
"Without receiving a single Republican vote, and without providing any proof of wrongdoing, Democrats pushed illegitimate articles of impeachment against the president through the House of Representatives," Grisham said.
"Democrats have chosen to proceed on this partisan basis in spite of the fact that the president did absolutely nothing wrong. Indeed, weeks of hearings have proved that he did nothing wrong."
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A key issue debated was how to eliminate student debt and make public college free or reduce its cost.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a 2% tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million and a 6% tax on every dollar of net worth above $1 billion as part of a $50 billion plan to eliminate student debt and making public colleges free.
"We need to make an investment in our future and let's do that by investing in the public education of our children," Warren said.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a similar plan, but it would continue to require wealthy families to pay tuition if their children attend a public college. The South Bend mayor said it's important to be able to make good on these promises and not harm the economy at the same time, and he said his plan would make college free for 80% of Americans.
"But it doesn't have to be free for the top," he said. "If you're in that top 10%, how about you pay your own tuition and we save those dollars for something else that we could spend them on that would make a big difference, whether it's infrastructure, childcare, housing, health?"
Health care has been a prime topic in the campaign and earlier this week a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Affordable Care Act's mandate to either enroll in a health care plan or pay a fine was unconstitutional and it sent the rest of the law to a lower court for further deliberation.
Former Vice President Joe Biden engaged in one of the most heated exchanges he and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have had on a public debate stage.
Sanders is an ardent supporter of Medicare for All, which would put the nation on a federal health care system, while Biden has gone to great lengths to defend the pillars of the ACA while proposing a public option if people want federal health care.
Sanders said his universal health care plan will be well-received by voters across the nation.
"When half a million people are going bankrupt because of the dysfunctional and cruel system that we currently have, you know what? I think we will pass a Medicare for All, single-payer system," Sanders said, adding that his message of covering costs such as insulin and pharmaceutical costs will draw people in.
Biden said Sanders' plan was not realistic, mentioning that financial experts have estimated it could cost taxpayers about $30 trillion over 10 years.
Biden said his plan, "It lets you choose what you want. If you don't like it, you can move into the public option. You shouldn't have Washington dictating to you (that) you cannot keep the plan."
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar chimed in and said her plan would pay for all these things by expanding the ACA. She said it would be better to build on the infrastructure they have than start from scratch.
"I promise, when I am president, I will get our pharmaceutical bills done," Klobuchar said. "I don't think anyone has a monopoly on bold ideas. That is why I favor a (nonprofit) public option."
Yang, the only person of color at the debate, said he wants to chip away at social inequities minorities face by investing in their businesses and making a national focus at improving the economics of their communities.
When asked about what kind of message having just one candidate of color on the stage sends to non-white voters, Yang said, "I had many racial epithets used against me as a kid, but black and Latinos have something much more powerful working against them than words, they have numbers," which he said include lower life-expectancy and higher poverty rates.
Yang said if people had disposable income, it could help them raise their voices in American politics. He has promised to give qualifying residents $1,000 a month if he's elected.
"I guarantee if we had a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month, I would not be the only candidate of color on this stage tonight," Yang said.
Billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer said he is a proponent of increasing taxes on the wealthiest. He said he also wants to undo what he called the corporate tax breaks Trump signed into law. Steyer said his business experience makes him uniquely qualified to unseat the president in an election.
"We know Mr. Trump is going to run on the economy," Steyer said. "I built a business over 30 years from scratch. We're going to have to be able to talk about growth, prosperity across the board for everyone in America."
Klobuchar and Buttigieg questioned each other's ability to lead the nation, as the mayor at times implied that his experience was better suited for the role than longtime politicians who have been in Washington for years.
They also jabbed at each other's campaign finance policies, where Klobuchar brought up a "wine cave" fundraiser for Buttigieg Sunday in the Napa Valley that was the butt end of jokes at the podium and on social media for the rest of the night.
Trump, as the debate continued, re-tweeted coverage of him praising now-Republican New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who announced on Thursday in the Oval Office that he was leaving the Democratic Party. Van Drew voted against both articles of impeachment Wednesday as a Democrat.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement the debate "could not have had a more fitting backdrop than Los Angeles, home to out-of-touch Hollywood liberal elites and radical, far-left ideas."
"When they're not touting their extreme, socialist agenda, Democrats are obsessing over the baseless impeachment of a duly elected president," McDaniel said. "President Trump remains committed to keeping America great, and voters will choose his winning record over Democrats' radical, socialist agenda in 2020."