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Sanders, at Dem debate, draws fire from all sides as heated forum nearly flies off the rails

Sanders, at Dem debate, draws fire from all sides as heated forum nearly flies off the rails

Feb 26, 2020

Washington (USA) Feb 26: Bernie Sanders faced quick criticism from all sides in Tuesday night's Democratic debate, as the self-described democratic socialist for the first time is considered the race's undisputed frontrunner -- even as he has rankled several members of his own party with some head-turning comments on communism in Cuba.
Seconds into the event, Sanders downplayed historic-low unemployment numbers by saying the economy was only going well for "people like" former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg -- prompting Bloomberg to quickly bring up recent reports that Russia is working to help Sanders' campaign.
"I think that Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he's president -- I do not think so," Bloomberg said. "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."
Sanders shot back by referencing Bloomberg's support for Chinese President President Xi Jinping.
Additonally, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar hit Sanders' unprecedented proposed expenditures, saying "the math does not add up -- in fact, just on '60 Minutes' this weekend, he said he wasn't gonna rattle through the 'nickels and dimes.' Well, let me tell you how many nickels and dimes we're talking about. Nearly $60 trillion. Do you know how much that is, for all of his programs? That's three times the American economy. Not the federal government. The entire economy."
"I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight -- I wonder why," Sanders quipped at one point, after Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, took him on as well.
Buttigieg mocked Sanders' "incredible shrinking price tag" for his plans, saying Sander's figures had constantly changed and would lead to a crushing election loss in November not only in the presidential race, but in down-ballot House and Senate races.
"If you want to keep the House in Democratic hands, you might want to check with the people who actually turned the House blue [in 2016]," Buttigieg said. "40 Democrats who are not running on your platform -- they are running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can. ... Let's listen to them, when they say they don't want to be out there defending your programs."
Added Bloomberg, later, "Can anyone in this room imagine moderate Republicans voting for [Sanders]?" Bloomberg predicted "catastrophe" for Democrats if Sanders became the nominee. (In an awkward moment, Bloomberg apparently started to say, "I bought that," when referring to the Democratic congressional candidates whose campaigns he financially supported.)
Sanders insisted that his health care plan would actually save money, citing a disputed Yale University study that cited some administrative cost savings. Sanders also derided Bloomberg by saying that "all" of his supporters were billionaires -- a move that drew loud boos in the debate hall, apparently surprising Sanders. (Some debate tickets to guarantee a seat at the event reportedly cost more than $1,700.)
Buttigieg separately challenged Bloomberg over his past stop-and-frisk policy, before employing intersectionalist rhetoric: "There's seven white people on this stage talking about racial justice," none of whom have the "lived experience" of feeling bigotry in their day-to-day life, he said.
Not every candidate had equal speaking time. "I guess the only way to do this is to jump in and speak twice as long as you should," Biden joked at one point, when the moderators finally asked him a question. "Bernie hasn't passed much of anything," he eventually jabbed.
Then, when billionaire candidate Tom Steyer said Biden was "out of time," the former vice president yelled: "I'm not out of time, you spoke over time, and I'm gonna talk!"
Biden would later claim that "150 million" people "have been killed" by guns in America since 2007, a number that would constitute approximately half of the country's population. "More than all the wars, including Vietnam, from that point on!" Biden declared.
The flareups came after a day of simmering tensions. With the notable exception of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all of the other prominent candidates debating in South Carolina savaged Sanders in the hours leading up to the 8 p.m. EST affair. Tuesday's forum comes just four days before South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary and one week before more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday.
During the debate, Warren again focused heavily on Bloomberg and avoided going after Sanders.
"In 2012, [Bloomberg] scooped in to try to defend another Republican senator against a woman challenger," Warren said. "That was me. It didn't work, but he tried hard. I don't care how much money Mayor Bloomberg has, the core of the Democratic Party will never trust him."
Warren later repeated her disputed story that she lost her teaching job because of her pregnancy -- a claim that contradicted Warren's own previous statements on the matter, and which conservatives have said is an apparent fabrication.
"At least I didn't have a boss who said to me, 'Kill it,' the way Mr. Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees."
As boos broke out in the debate hall, Bloomberg replied, "Oh, come on. I never said that. And for the record, if she was a teacher in New York City, she would have never had that problem."
Bloomberg, questioned later about his nondisclosure agreements with women, said he was "probably wrong to make the jokes" that led to the agreements, although he couldn't remember the specific comments.
"If it bothered them, I was wrong, and I apologize for that," Bloomberg said. "But what's happened here is we went back 40 years and we could only find three cases where women said they were uncomfortable."
Ahead of the debate, Biden accused Sanders of trying to undermine President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection. Buttigieg highlighted Sanders' call for a government-financed health care system as an example of his "polarization."
Former Bloomberg and his surrogates were especially aggressive -- with Bloomberg senior advisor Tim O'Brien even bringing up Sanders' past writings on rape fantasies live on CNN. (Bloomberg, who has begun spending on a massive media blitz against Sanders, spent extra time preparing for the showdown after a weak performance in last week's debate.)
Sanders also drew renewed fire for doubling down on comments praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's "literacy program," saying it was a positive outcome from the violent Cuban Revolution that literacy rates quickly rose.
"We are very clear in the Democratic party that we speak out against brutal dictatorships like Castro," Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa told Fox News earlier Tuesday, before encouraging candidates like Sanders to visit Florida and speak with Cuban refugees. Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was more direct.
"As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders' comments on Castro's Cuba absolutely unacceptable," Mucarsel-Powell wrote on Twitter. "The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families. To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society."
Other have highlighted Sanders' previous remarks that were highly critical of immigration: "If poverty is increasing, and wages are going down, I don't know why we need millions of people coming into this country as guest workers," Sanders had told CNN years ago.
Five Bloomberg supporters, all current or former black elected officials, blasted Sanders' record on gun control as well as other priorities for the black community on Tuesday.
"Too often, Bernie Sanders has been on the wrong side of history, missing in action or unable to make progress on virtually every issue for black voters," New York Rep. Gregory Meeks told reporters, predicting that viewers would "see a 180-degree shift tonight" from Bloomberg after his lackluster showing in last week's Democratic debate.
The new wave of infighting came as Democrats were set to meet for the party's 10th - and perhaps most consequential - debate of the 2020 primary season. Bloomberg was the focus last week for his highly anticipated debut, but now the knives are out for the 78-year-old Vermont senator.
The night marks a major moment in Sanders' political career. After spending decades as an outside agitator accustomed to attacking the party establishment, he's suddenly the one on defense as the Democratic establishment fears he could build an insurmountable delegate lead as soon as next week.
Only Warren has resisted attacking Sanders, her ideological ally. The Massachusetts senator has instead trained her focus on Bloomberg, whom she savaged last week on the debate stage and on the campaign trail leading up to Tuesday's meeting.
Biden is looking to make a big impression in South Carolina, where he was long viewed as the unquestioned front-runner because of his support from black voters.
Campaigning in the state the day before the debate, he predicted he would win "by plenty" on Saturday.
Having finished on top in three consecutive primary contests - including a tie in Iowa - Sanders is eyeing a knockout blow, however. He has shifted new staff into the state from Nevada, expanded his South Carolina advertising and added events to his schedule.
Sanders may benefit most from the sheer number of candidates still in the race. They are still fighting among themselves -- and splitting up the anti-Sanders vote -- to emerge as the strongest alternative to him.
Heading into the debate, there was no sign that any of those candidates was close to getting out.
Klobuchar, who finished in a distant fifth or sixth place in Nevada over the weekend, announced plans to launch a $4.2 million ad buy across several Super Tuesday states.
A pro-Warren super PAC was also adding television advertising in seven Super Tuesday states, including Alabama, California, Minnesota and Virginia.
Sanders was also in a dispute with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group comprised of Jewish Americans which advocates for strong U.S.-Israel relations. Sanders said he would skip the group's conference and essentially boycott the organization because he was concerned about the event giving airtime to "leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights."
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called that characterization "offensive" and "irresponsible."
Source: Fox News