‘Wine Cave’ Jabs Leave Pete Buttigieg Backpedaling: Debate Takeaways
(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg took heat over a fundraiser in a wine cave that took the luster off his unexpected rise in the polls. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren swatted away questions about their age.
Andrew Yang had to yell “I’m over here” to get a moderator’s attention.
At the sixth Democratic debate in Los Angeles on Thursday, the candidates sought to draw sharp lines over everything from their donors to their ages and their takes on what’s wrong with American politics.
Here were some of the most compelling moments.
‘Wine Cave’ Is Phrase of the Night
An old cliché in Democratic primaries was that there was a “wine track” of coastal elites and a “beer track” of Midwestern moderates.
So it was perhaps inevitable that a high-dollar fundraiser for Buttigieg held at a Napa Valley winery Sunday would become a flashpoint at the debate.
The Sanders campaign had already criticized Buttigieg on Twitter, but it was Warren who brought up the “wine cave” where the fundraiser was held.
“The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900 bottles of wine,” she said.
Amy Klobuchar later broke in to say that the in-fighting was not productive.
“And I have never even been to a wine cave. I have been to the wind cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to,” she said.
And entrepreneur Yang argued that his plan to give every American $1,000 a month would allow more women to run for office, using something of a mixed metaphor.
“You’ll see many more women running because they won’t have to shake the money tree in the wine cave,” he said.
What’s Right Age for President?
Moderator Tim Alberta asked the candidates about comments from President Barack Obama, who recently said that many of the world’s problems can be attributed to “old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.”
Sanders, 78, jumped in. “And I’m white as well!” he said.
In response to the same question, Biden, noted that Winston Churchill was prime minister of Great Britain at the same age he is, 77.
When Alberta noted that Obama probably “didn’t clear that by your office” before he made the remark, Biden responded, “I’m going to guess he wasn’t talking about me either,” suggesting that Obama had been criticizing Sanders.
But it was Warren’s riposte that got the biggest response from the audience.
“I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated,” she quipped.
Earlier, Tom Steyer, 62, hit Buttigieg, 37, during a discussion of climate change, saying that “as a young person” he should put it higher on his campaign agenda.
“I would call on Mayor Buttigieg to prioritize this higher,” Steyer said.
Buttigieg countered by noting that he lives near a river in South Bend, Indiana, which has recently had two historic floods.
Yang Takes a Swing at the Media
Yang had a false start at the beginning of the debate, as moderator Judy Woodruff called his name while looking at Steyer at the opposite end of the stage.
“I’m over here!” Yang yelled, waving at Woodruff.
Sanders Flubs Race Question
Sanders misjudged the moment when he attempted to change the subject after a question on race.
“First, I want to go back to climate change,” he said.
Moderator Amna Nawaz cut him off.
“Senator, with all due respect, this question is about race,” she said. “Can you get back to the question at hand?”
Sanders pressed on, arguing that climate change will affect communities of color most directly.
At another point in the debate, Yang noted that he was the only minority candidate left on stage. California Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the race and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker failed to meet the criteria to participate in the debate.
“I miss Kamala and I miss Cory, although I think Cory will be back,” he said, to applause.
A Biden Gaffe on Gas Jobs?
Biden may have made a gaffe when he was asked by Alberta if he would be willing to sacrifice some economic growth “even knowing potentially that it could displace thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers.”
“The answer is yes,” he said. “We should, in fact, be making sure right now that every new building built is energy contained, that it doesn’t leak energy, that in fact we should be providing tax credits for people to be able to make their homes turn to solar power.”
The line was reminiscent of an incident involving Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, when she faced harsh criticism after she said at a town hall that “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
The quote was part of a longer answer about how she wanted to bring clean power jobs to help those laid-off coal workers, but the soundbite hurt nonetheless.
Impeachment Gets a Moment
The impeachment of Trump got surprisingly little attention at the debate.
Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator, pressed the president to let some of his top aides testify in a Senate impeachment trial.
Trump blocked some members of his administration from testifying during the House inquiry, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he would prefer a speedy trial with no further testimony.
But Klobuchar, who will be deciding on the two articles of impeachment in a Senate trial, noted that even President Richard Nixon allowed White House staffers to testify.
“If President Trump thinks that he should not be impeached, he should not be scared to put forward his own witnesses,” she said.
Two other senators on the debate stage who will also be sitting in judgment also had harsh words for Trump.
Warren said the impeachment is a “constitutional moment” that called on senators to put the country ahead of “the most corrupt president in history,” while Sanders said that Trump is “running the most corrupt administration in the modern history of this country.”
Biden Brings Up His Stutter
Biden worked through a childhood stutter to have a successful career in a job that requires extensive public speaking, something he briefly alluded to on stage.
Noting that many people he sees at campaign events talk to him about personal problems, Biden briefly imitated a child with a stutter asking for advice.
The moment blew up online not long afterward, when former Trump White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about.”
The tweet sparked a strong rebuke from thousands, leading her to tweet that she was “not trying to make fun of anyone with a speech impediment” and “simply pointing out I can’t follow much of anything Biden is talking about.”
Biden then joined in after the debate.
“I’ve worked my whole life to overcome a stutter. And it’s my great honor to mentor kids who have experienced the same,” he tweeted. “It’s called empathy. Look it up.”
Sanders then deleted the tweet. “I actually didn’t know that about you and that is commendable,” she tweeted. “I apologize and should have made my point respectfully.”
In a recent interview about his speech impediment, Biden said that his advice to stutterers is that “you can’t let it define you.”
(Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.