It was knives out for Michael Bloomberg at the Democratic presidential debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas, three days ahead of the Nevada caucus.
The billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor, making his first appearance in a debate, was the object of barbs from the other five candidates on the stage.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, for instance, started by saying, “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
She was referring to statements that have been attributed to Bloomberg, and he did not confirm or deny them. She did not mention some of the comments he’s been recorded making about transgender people, using the pronoun “it” or referring to trans women as men in dresses. (The debate didn’t include any discussion of LGBTQ issues in general, either, nor of reproductive rights or gun control, expect former Vice President Joe Biden’s mention of the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017 — the deadliest in U.S. history.)
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Bloomberg can’t win the presidency. “In order to beat Donald Trump we’re going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of the United States,” he said. “Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop-and-frisk, which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way. That is not a way you’re going to grow voter turnout.”
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and the only gay candidate in the race, positioned himself as a moderate and electable alternative to Sanders or Bloomberg. “Most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil, and a billionaire that thinks ... money ought to be the root of all power,” Buttigieg said. “Let’s put forward somebody who actually lives and works in a middle-class neighborhood, in an industrial Midwestern city. Let’s put forward somebody who’s actually a Democrat.” Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, is officially an independent, and Bloomberg has been a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent.
Biden criticized Bloomberg’s record as New York’s mayor, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar denounced the New Yorker’s suggestions that she get out of the race.
Later, NBC’s Hallie Jackson, one of the debate’s moderators, brought up Bloomberg’s record with women, noting the claims of sexual harassment and discrimination against his eponymous financial information company, with details largely hidden because of nondisclosure agreements.
“We have very few nondisclosure agreements,” he responded. “None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.” He also mentioned his support for the #MeToo movement and said his company has been rated as one of the best places to work in the nation.
Warren then jumped in, saying, “I heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women.” She urged him to release the other parties from nondisclosure agreements, and he said he would not do so because the agreements were made consensually. Biden joined Warren in encouraging the release, noting that Buttigieg was released from his NDA with McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm he once worked for, so he could disclose his clients and what he did for them.
Candidates touted their records and positions on many other issues. Bloomberg said he reduced the use of the stop-and-frisk strategy to prevent crime when he said it was disproportionately targeting Black and Latino people. But Biden said, “Let’s get something straight. The reason that stop-and-frisk changed is because Barack Obama sent moderators to see what was going on.” Warren said the problem with the policy was not in how it was handled but how it was designed from the start.
Klobuchar commented on an interview in which she was unable to remember the name of the president of Mexico, attributing it to a momentary lapse. She pointed out that she has been in the arena of foreign policy and Washington, D.C., for many years. Buttigieg responded that D.C. isn’t the only arena for governing, and that his experience as mayor of a mid-sized industrial city counted. Klobuchar had previously said that a woman with Buttigieg’s experience wouldn’t be seriously considered for president, although she has said she considers him qualified.
Candidates also compared health care plans. Sanders said the U.S. should join the rest of the industrialized world by providing universal health care insurance. Bloomberg said that would deprive many Americans of insurance plans they love. While Sanders and Warren favor universal coverage by making Medicare, a plan for older Americans, available to all, the other candidates favor a public option through the Affordable Care Act, passed under President Obama, or what Buttigieg has called “Medicare for all who need it.” Biden mentioned that Bloomberg had once opposed the ACA — which is true.
They appeared agreed on the need to repeal Trump’s tax policy, which has greatly reduced rates for top earners and corporations. “We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income,” Sanders said, while Biden promoted the need to “reward work, not just wealth.”
For all the comments directed at Bloomberg, there was plenty of wrath directed at the current occupant of the White House. In his closing statement, Sanders said, “All of us are united in defeating the most dangerous president in the modern history of our country.” And in hers, Klobuchar said, “You need someone who has the heart to be a president … we have a president who doesn’t have a heart.”
Find more summation of the debate here.