In first debate with Bloomberg, Dems slam the former mayor

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

For the first time, a national debate stage was waiting for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Unfortunately for him, his Democratic rivals were waiting, too. 

Bloomberg, who has risen fast in Democratic primary polls, was the center of attacks on Wednesday night, including his city’s now-condemned “stop-and-frisk” law enforcement policy, his achievements as a three-term mayor, his reputation for crude comments to female employees at the company that bears his name, along with the nearly $400 million he’s already spent on his campaign.  

“We have not been talking enough about Donald Trump,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said after more than an hour of sparring in Las Vegas with five other presidential candidates who appeared to believe that to rise up required kicking down.

In the second half of the two-hour event, the battle between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bloomberg intensified as the two went at it over capitalism and socialism. Repeatedly, Bloomberg defended his wealth, noting that he has given hundreds of millions of dollars to philanthropic causes, including his 12-week campaign. The former mayor has pledged to spend upward of $2 billion during his bid to beat President Trump.

“We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that,” Bloomberg told Sanders. “It was called communism, and it just didn’t work.” 

At another point, Bloomberg knocked Sanders over the senator’s accumulated wealth, noting that the “best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What’d I miss here?”

“Communism, that’s a cheap shot,” Sanders told the billionaire New Yorker who is not on the Nevada ballot. Sanders is leading in the Silver State by double digits ahead of Saturday’s caucuses, but Bloomberg repeatedly warned that Trump will be reelected if Democrats nominate Sanders, along with his embrace of “Medicare for All” and socialism in America.

The Hill: Democrats pile on Bloomberg in opening minutes of debate.

The Hill: Five takeaways from the Nevada debate.

The New York Times: Billions of targets on his back, Bloomberg joins the debate fray.

The Hill: Rivals rip Bloomberg over stop-and-frisk policy at debate.

Concerned that her poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire called for a knockout performance on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at every turn used her answers to lay into her fellow competitors. “I grew up fighting,” she told Nevada voters.

While talking about health care, she jabbed at Buttigieg, calling his health reform proposal a “PowerPoint,” and likened Klobuchar’s plan to a Post-It note. “OK, that’s it,” Klobuchar sputtered as Buttigieg joined her in shaking his head while Warren was rewarded by applause inside the hall.

Warren also had the upper hand in a notable back-and-forth with Bloomberg over his refusal to release women from confidentiality agreements with his companies. Tripping over his words, Bloomberg said the nondisclosure deals were reached “consensually” and would stand.

The night was a boon for the Massachusetts Democrat, who raised $2.8 million on the day.

The Washington Post: At fiery Democratic debate, a sour welcome for Bloomberg and criticism for Sanders.

Frank Bruni: Despite his billions, Bloomberg busts.

The Hill: Warren hits Bloomberg over #MeToo answer: Being “nice to some women” just “doesn’t cut it.”

Outside of the Bloomberg-centric battles, the war of words between Buttigieg and Klobuchar was evident throughout the evening. The former South Bend, Ind., mayor hit her for her inability to name the president of Mexico during a recent interview, and her Senate vote to confirm Kevin McAleenan, the former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Later, Klobuchar turned on Buttigieg, accusing him of “memorizing a bunch of talking points,” instead of leading and legislating in the Washington “arena.” The Minnesota senator’s strategy was to call for Democratic unity against Trump while accusing some of her rivals of being too liberal, too inexperienced and perhaps too prosperous to be electable. I don’t think we look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House,” she said, gesturing toward Bloomberg.

“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” Klobuchar said dryly about Buttigieg at another point.

The Hill: Buttigieg hits Bloomberg, Sanders: “Let’s put forth someone who is actually a Democrat.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose wobbly campaign may be over if he loses the South Carolina primary next week, appeared to hold back from many of the heated skirmishes, content with loud, rapid-fire delivery to repeat his themes of governing experience, aisle-crossing legislative mastery and an embrace of policy solutions that he says will help defeat Trump across key states in a general election.

Toward the end of the debate, NBC’s Chuck Todd brought up the possibility of a brokered convention and asked whether the individual with the most delegates should be the nominee even if he or she has not amassed the requisite number. Bloomberg, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar agreed that the convention should work its will, while Sanders disagreed.

Niall Stanage: Winners and losers from the Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

Amie Parnes, The Hill: Former skeptics now warning of brokered convention “nightmare” for Democrats.

The Hill: Buttigieg says Sanders needs to release full medical records.

San Antonio Express News: Sanders to campaign in Texas on Nevada’s caucus Saturday.

Colorado Politics: Klobuchar campaign staffs up in Colorado, indicating hopes for a long horizon.

The next Democratic debate, moderated by CBS News, will take place in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday before the state’s primary on Feb. 29 and lead into Super Tuesday on March 3, when primary voters in 14 states and one territory head to the polls.

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