The top presidential candidates of the Democratic Party sparred in the final debate confrontation on Afghanistan, conflict, and foreign policy on Tuesday night, Jan. 14, before the primary vote started.
New friction between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is the starting point for the first debate of 2020. Warren said on Monday night that, in 2018, Sanders told her personally that he did not think a woman could beat President Donald Trump. Sanders has vehemently denied comment.
“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” Warren exclaimed, “The only people on this stage who have one every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”
On Iraq war
Sanders compared directly with rival Joe Biden by stating that he had campaigned vigorously against a 2002 bill requiring military action against Iraq.
Sanders called the Iraq invasion “the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country.”
“I did everything I could to prevent that war,” Sanders said. “Joe saw it differently.”
Biden admitted that his vote in 2002 to approve military action was “a mistake,” but emphasized his position in the Obama administration trying to reduce the region’s U.S. military involvement.
Throughout his campaign, Biden has mostly defended portions of his record that have been criticized by the progressive side of his party.
On the American military abroad
Warren and Sanders have blasted the trillions of dollars the United States has spent on wars in the Middle East since the terror attacks of Sept. 11.
Other candidates countered that a U.S. presence is necessary for the Middle East, though former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the focus should be on small special forces.
Sanders and Warren don’t go so far as to suggest they’d never order deployments from the military. Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg are careful to show caution when it comes to massive, extended ground troop missions.
The gaps reflect two distinct Democratic Party foreign-policy factions.
Sanders said that he opposes the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) in part because it “does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world.”
Asked if she favored the deal Warren said it was a “modest improvement” to existing agreements and could be a roadmap for potential reform.
Former Biden said that, as president, he wouldn’t push a trade deal that didn’t include buy-in from environmentalists and unionists.
Klobuchar said she backed the deal, as did former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who said it “has been improved. It is not perfect.”
Biden and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer said that without “preconditions” they would not meet with North Korea’s dictator, as President Donald Trump did.
Biden said that Trump’s meetings with Kim Jong Un gave the North Korean leader “legitimacy,” and he criticized Trump for weakening sanctions against the country. He said his approach to North Korea would include working with China and Japan.
Biden also noted that Kim once described him as a “rabid dog” who “must be beaten with a stick.”
Steyer said the United States would need to work with its allies in regard to North Korea. He said staff could meet “and see how far we can get.”
‘Be candid’ about health costs
Biden said Sanders should be more frank with voters about how much it would cost to move the country to a “Medicare for All” single-payer system.
Asked if voters needed more information on the price of his flagship plan, Sanders reiterated his point that his initiative “would not bankrupt the country” because it would end the costs of medications that are out of reach.
Biden proposes reforming the current Affordable Care Act program, and Buttigieg suggests something of a hybrid.
Noting that she would use executive power to slash prescription drug prices, Warren said her $20 trillion proposal cost more than those plans because they only reflect incremental changes.