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The top 6 moments of the South Carolina Democratic debate

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  • Everyone went after Sen. Bernie Sanders, as expected, but the Senator from Vermont delivered forceful defenses of his positions.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren again attacked former Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his alleged comments to women, and his company’s use of nondisclosure agreements.
  • Candidates were asked to explain how they would handle the coronavirus outbreak, the most pressing health issue facing the international community.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With the heat turned up on the Democratic primary, the seven contenders on Tuesday night’s debate stage came out swinging.

The debate featured Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Klobuchar, along with former Mayors Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, investor Tom Steyer, and former Vice president Joe Biden, who has the most to lose heading into the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

It was, for the most part, a confusing melee, with candidates frequently talking over each other and revisiting old battles from past debates. But Tuesday’s debate also featured timely questions about the threat posed by coronavirus and a rematch of Warren versus Bloomberg.

Here are some of the top moments from the debate.

Everyone went after Bernie Sanders

The debate opened, as expected, with all the candidates coming after Sanders. One by one, they took turns lobbing criticism at the Senator over his healthcare stance, his electability, and ability to effectively govern.

Sanders seemed prepared, and he delivered a forceful defense of his Medicare for All plan after numerous candidates attacked it.

While Warren acknowledged similarities between herself and Sanders, she bluntly stated that “I think would make a better president than Bernie.”

“Progressives have got one shot, and we need to spend it with a leader who’s going to get stuff done,” she said.

“Imagine spending the rest of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump,” Pete Buttigieg chimed in, before pointedly saying most Americans “just want to turn on the TV, see their president, and have their blood pressure go down…instead of through the roof.”

Bloomberg claimed that “Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected, so you’ll lose to him.” Bloomberg appeared to be referencing a Washington Post report that Sanders’ campaign had been briefed on Russian interference in the 2020 election.

Coronavirus, one of the most pressing issues of the week, is finally addressed — and Trump responded in real time on Twitter.

As the Trump Administration drew criticism from Congress and health officials for its response to the threat of coronavirus, the 2020 Democrats were asked how they would handle the situation instead. Biden cited the Obama administration’s work on preventing ebola from spreading to the United States in 2014.

“I would be on the phone with China and making it clear, we are going to need to be in your country, you have to be open, you have to be clear,” he said.

When asked if she would close America’s borders to citizens who were exposed to coronavirus, Klobuchar said that “What we have to do is make sure we have treatment for those Americans, and they’re in a quarantined situation. We don’t want to expose people, but we want to give them help.”

The Senator from Minnesota also gave out the CDC’s website, rather than plugging her own campaign site. “This is so serious,” she said.

Bloomberg criticized the Trump administration for failing to prepare for an scenario like the one the US currently faces with the coronavirus, accusing the president of gutting officials who could have dealt with the pandemic.

Trump responded to these accusations on Twitter in real time, insisting the “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus.”

Sanders explains his position on Israel and Palestine

Earlier this week, Sanders’ criticism of the the American Israel Public Affairs Committee drew a rebuke from the organization.

As one of two Jewish candidates on the debate stage, Sanders was asked on Tuesday whether the US embassy should be moved back to Tel Aviv after the Trump administration made the controversial choice to shift it to Jerusalem.

“The answer is it’s something we should take into consideration,” Sanders said of relocating the embassy.

“I am very proud of being Jewish; I actually lived in Israel for some months,” Sanders continued. “But what I happen to believe is that sadly, tragically, in Israel, through [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”

Sanders said he supported “protecting the security and independence in Israel … but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Bloomberg, the other Jewish candidate on the stage, supported brokering a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Bloomberg and Buttigieg spar on race

Buttigieg pointed out an uncomfortable truth: as the primary calendar approached the first state with a significant share of black Democratic voters, only white candidates remained on the stage.

When Bloomberg’s record on stop and frisk came up, Buttigieg did not hesitate to answer affirmatively that Bloomberg’s policy of stop-and-frisk was racist.

“Yes, in effect, it was, because it was about profiling people based on their race,” he said.

Read more on the full exchange here.

Warren vs. Bloomberg, Part II

Anyone who tuned into tonight’s debate anticipating a rematch between Warren and Bloomberg was not disappointed.

Warren had a strong showing during the February 19 debate after she relentlessly criticized Bloomberg for his company’s use of non-disclosure agreements. 

She hit him on the issue again Tuesday night, but that wasn’t all she had in store for Bloomberg.

Warren cited a Washington Post investigation into claims that Bloomberg made degrading comments to female employees and fostered a hostile work environment at his eponymous company.

In one instance, Bloomberg allegedly told a pregnant female employee to “kill it,” The Post reported.

Bloomberg denied the statements, but Warren used that comment to attack him on Tuesday night. After beginning with a well-tread story of how she was let go from a teaching job after becoming pregnant, Warren added a new line.

“At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees,” Warren said.

Warren repeatedly trained her fire on Bloomberg during the debate, and also criticized Bloomberg’s backing of Republican senate candidates like former Sen. Scott Brown, Warren’s opponent in her 2012 Senate race in Massachusetts.

“The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him,” Warren said.

Tom Steyer reminded voters he’s there, too

Investor Tom Steyer has appeared only a handful of times during the Democratic debates but is currently in third place in South Carolina, behind Biden and Sanders, according to a CBS News poll released Sunday.

And he made his presence to South Carolina voters known by finding a couple key moments to break through on Tuesday night. Notably, he called for reparations and a “formal commission on race.” 

“Every single policy in the United States has a gigantic subtext of race,” he said. “We’re talking about education, we’re talking about criminal justice, we’re talking about loans.”

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