Qualifying Democratic Candidates Head To Debate Stage Thursday Night

Qualifying Democratic Candidates Head To Debate Stage Thursday Night

On Thursday night, some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates will battle it out on the debate stage, but CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe says that they're all in agreement on impeaching President Trump.  

Talking to reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro said, "The evidence is very clear: this president violated his oath of office." Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted, "Trump is the most corrupt president in our modern history."  

Calls from the 2020 field for impeachment began back in April with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said, "We have a constitution of the United States, and it says when a president engages in this kind of activity, then it's time for impeachment." One by one, Warren's opponent's jumped on board. Former Vice President Joe Biden was the last major candidate to call for Mr. Trump's impeachment, saying in October that the president "has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation, and committed impeachable acts.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who will not be on the stage Thursday, was the only Democratic presidential candidate to cast a vote on impeachment Wednesday. And that vote came as a surprise — on both articles of impeachment, she was the sole "present" vote.

"After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no. I am standing in the center and have decided to vote present," Gabbard said in a statement. Although Gabbard is running for president, she is not running for re-election

CBS News polls show Democrats overwhelmingly support impeaching Mr. Trump, but still care more about defeating him in next year's election. 

Five Democratic presidential candidates are senators, meaning they'll have to leave the campaign trail and head back to Washington for an impeachment trial. This comes with just weeks to go before voting begins in the Democratic primary in February. 

Ahead of the final debate of 2019, the CBS News Political Unit gives a rundown of what to watch for from the seven presidential candidates who made it on stage plus other political news of the day in this special DEBATE edition of Trail Markers.



VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER BO ERICKSON: Joe Biden once again will be in the center of the stage on Thursday, a testament to his resilient lead in national polls despite dealing with numerous jabs from other candidates at previous debates. His rivals have targeted him for his views on busing, immigration, health care, and more. 

But at this debate we may see a new line of attack from Biden. The 77-year-old former VP appears to be boosting his campaign's call for unity and using it as a battle axe against his more progressive rivals — notably Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — who have criticized what they see as Biden's coziness to the Republican Party. At fundraisers and most recently in San Antonio on Friday, Biden derides his rivals who "seem to think the country is so divided that it can never be united again." 

With an emphasis on the word "united," Biden said to cheers, "Last time I checked this was called the United States of America!" He also mocked those on the left who said working with Republicans is "just throwing in the towel," and equated their rhetoric with that of President Trump, whom he called "the Divider-in-Chief." 


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER JACK TURMAN: In the last Democratic debate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was rarely targeted by other candidates despite his rising poll numbers in Iowa. Since then, Buttigieg faced mounting pressure over his lack of transparency regarding his closed door fundraisers and work at the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company from some of his Democratic rivals, especially Elizabeth Warren.

Buttigieg, who worked at the McKinsey from 2007-2010, disclosed his clients while working at the firm and gave brief descriptions of how he served each client. He had previously said a non-disclosure agreement barred him from sharing his clients, and after asking McKinsey to waive his NDA, the company obliged. Buttigieg also disclosed his bundlers, who are donors who collect large amounts of money to support the campaign, and opened his high-dollar fundraisers to the press. 

A recent Politico article said that the campaign did not release a full list of bundlers, although the campaign has pushed back on that allegation. "As with every other campaign, every single donor and the amount they contribute to our campaign is public," said Chris Meagher, Buttigieg's national press secretary, in a statement on the campaign omitting bundlers. 


"Some bundler names, which were on a list over the summer that some reporters had, should have been on the list the campaign released last week. They mistakenly were not. We are adding those names to our current bundler list to keep the information up to date."


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER BO ERICKSON Senator Amy Klobuchar qualified for this higher-threshold debate early in November, an indication she hit her marks in the October debate and successfully introduced herself as "the senator next door." 

While other similarly lesser-well known candidates have struggled with staff layoffs and reboots, Klobuchar says her campaign's thriftiness has paid off, and in recent weeks has added staff. But with just weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, Klobuchar still  needs to stand out. And her most successful method of doing that so far has been to contrast her more moderate vision with that of her progressive opponents. 

At previous debates, Klobuchar has politely criticized Warren's big-spending goals with her Minnesota niceness. But the focus of her campaign remains voters in Iowa who are looking for a more moderate candidate but who might go with Biden or Buttigieg instead. Polls indicate she's gained some ground in Iowa, but she's still playing catch-up with the other Democrats in the center lane. 


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER CARA KORTE: Not that many people have been tuning into the Democratic debates so far. In November, only 6.5 million people tuned in. For comparison, more than 10 million watched Sanders, Secretary Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley spar in January 2016. On the Republican side, meanwhile, more than 15 million people were tuning in by later in the primary cycle. 

Of the 6.5 million who watched the last Democratic debate, only 1.67 million were between the ages of 25-54. But it's young people who make up Sanders' base, despite the fact that he's the oldest candidate in the race. 

Why haven't young people been watching the debates? Sanders Campaign Manager Faiz Shakir told CBS News earlier this month that the debates have been, "really, really crappy." Shakir said they've been lacking substance, and haven't given candidates enough time to properly convey their opinions. 

Sanders could come to blows with Biden or Buttigieg on Thursday. But for a better look at Sanders' strategy, look not at the debate stage but at his campaign schedule. While Warren, Biden, and Buttigieg leave for Iowa on Friday, Sanders is spending two days campaigning in California and Nevada alongside Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, where they're expected to emphasize the Vermont senator's progressive policies on immigration and a "Green New Deal."



VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER ZAK HUDAK: Now that Mike Bloomberg is in the race, Tom Steyer is no longer the richest person running for president, but he will be the richest one on Thursday's debate stage. Sanders and Warren, meanwhile, are sure to talk about inequality and the need for new taxes on people in Steyer's tax bracket. 

But Steyer will likely be more concerned with finding a way to gain momentum. His ad blitzes in early states have put him ahead of some more seasoned campaigners, but he remains relatively unknown nationally, and he's struggled to carve out space for himself on the progressive end of the field. 

Steyer was the first of the candidates for president to call for Mr. Trump's impeachment, and he's likely to tout that as the House continues with impeachment proceedings. Like Warren, he also supports a wealth tax, which might help blunt any allegations from rivals that he's bought his place on the debate stage. And of the remaining candidates, Steyer has arguably focused more on climate change than any Democratic hopeful. 

Any of those topics would be in Steyer's wheelhouse, but he may get drowned out by the other progressives on stage. Only Andrew Yang got less speaking time on the stage in November than he did.


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER ZAK HUDAK: Since the last debate, we've seen Warren at her most aggressive. The new billionaire in the race, Michael Bloomberg, is a frequent punch line in her stump speech, and she and Buttigieg spent much of the past month exchanging jabs in daily press gaggles. 

Warren loves focusing her fire on Bloomberg, but the former New York City mayor won't be there Thursday night. But her other main foil as of late, Buttigieg, will be. The two have fought over their respective education plans. The same goes for health care, where Warren wants a full single-payer system while Buttigieg advocates instead for a public option. 

Warren has recently used language similar to Buttigieg on the issue, emphasizing the word "choice" in her plan to transition to Medicare for All. It's unlikely Sanders will take that opportunity to attack Warren, as the two stay generally avoid taking shots at one another, but it could offer a chance for Buttigieg to paint her as a flip-flopper. 

Warren and Buttigieg could also move back to their fight over transparency, especially if Warren needs to pull the conversation from health care. Warren's campaign still hasn't released her tax returns from before 2009, as Buttigieg has called for, while the South Bend mayor has been accused of being less than forthcoming about who his bundlers are. 


VIA CBS NEWS POLITICAL UNIT ASSOCIATE PRODUCER BEN MITCHELL: Andrew Yang has come quite far in this race and Thursday's debate could provide a major boost. With only 6 other candidates on stage, he's guaranteed more speaking time than ever before and a better shot at making a lasting impression. 

However, up until this point he's mostly stuck to his same talking points on "human-centered capitalism," universal basic income, automation and the changing economy. For him to maximize this opportunity, he'll need to bring something new to the table. 


Voters already know he's the UBI guy, and so far his best talking points have failed to generate a "clippable" moment - the real prize from these events. That's in part because he has yet to get into a real back-and-forth with anyone on stage. A moment could come in the inevitable tussle over health care plans. Earlier this week, he released a more in-depth policy on the issue. 



Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who did not qualify for the California debate, said this week that he plans to spend Thursday night answering the questions asked "in real time" on social media. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says Patrick also called on party chair Tom Perez to make the debate format less of a "cage fight." Patrick's comments came Tuesday in Las Vegas, amid his second campaign swing through the state, where he toured two local small businesses with the state party chair's father and stopped at a nearby community garden.

Meanwhile, while Julian Castro did not qualify for the December debate, he is in Los Angeles this week anyway. On Wednesday, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says the former HUD secretary toured Skid Row before holding a roundtable at the Downtown Women's Center. Afterwards, he took some questions from reporters where he blasted billionaires' spending in the presidential race and accused them of buying their way onto the debate stage. 

While Castro will not get to participate in Thursday's debate, his campaign announced he plans to return to his hometown of San Antonio, where he will be live-tweeting the event with the hashtag #JulianDebates.

At the same time, Senator Cory Booker and Tulsi Gabbard will not appear on the debate stage. Booker, who did not qualify in polling, wrote an op-ed saying that instead of participating he'll be "meeting voters where they are, listening to them, hearing about the most pressing challenges in their communities and working on organizing a coalition that is capable of beating Donald Trump next year." Booker has scheduled stops in Nevada this week. 

Meanwhile, Gabbard, who did not qualify in polling, previously tweeted that whether she did or not, she would not attend and would instead by meeting with people directly in New Hampshire and South Carolina. 



The Iowa Democratic Party has released the 99 satellite locations for the upcoming caucuses. CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says the party announced satellite caucus plans earlier this year as a way to expand access to the caucuses, after plans for a "virtual caucus" were shot down by the Democratic National Committee. 

The party says 81% of applications were approved. Seventy-one sites will be in-state, 25 percent will be held in another state and 3 satellite caucuses will be held abroad in France, Scotland and the Republic of Georgia. 

After the 2016 election, the DNC required caucus states to expand access to the caucuses for people who couldn't necessarily turn out on a specific night at a specific time to caucus. There will be satellite caucus locations at work-related sties, college campuses, places that accommodate "accessibility needs including aging service centers," and locations that accommodate "language and needs." 

"From Paris to Palm Springs, Iowa Democrats will be caucusing on February 3, 2020. Our goal has remained steadfast throughout this process - to make these caucuses the most accessible in our party's history, and the satellite caucuses do just that," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in statement. "I'm glad that so many Iowans are able to take advantage of this expanded opportunity to have their voices heard on caucus night, whether in their precinct caucuses or through one of these sites."


The Republican National Committee dismissed the director of their New Hampshire operations Friday, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga confirms. State Director Eric Mitchell departed the campaign just four months after his initial recruitment, tasked with leading the joint operation between the incumbent president's 2020 campaign and the GOP state party. 

RNC spokesman Rick Gorka said in a statement: "This is a small personnel change, which is bound to happen in any large organization. I can tell you we are so far ahead right now versus where we were in 2016." The Trump campaign has repeatedly suggested flipping the "target state" of New Hampshire, which went to Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2016 by less than 2700 votes. 

"President Trump brought states onto the map that are Trump states, that haven't been republican states," Trump Campaign Spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany previously told CBS News. "States like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. We're looking to move New Hampshire into that column. This is a winnable state for us." 

Mitchell previously served as the deputy director of the Michigan Republican Party throughout the 2018 midterm elections. His position will be replaced in the coming days, according to an RNC official



From state party conventions to President Trump's rallies, few of California's problems have provoked as much passion and controversy as the state's affordable housing and homelessness crisis, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin

California has one the nation's highest rates of homelessness and greatest shortages of affordable housing. And a skyrocketing share of the Super Tuesday state's residents, reportedly including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, now rank housing or homelessness as one of their top issues. Every candidate on stage Thursday in Los Angeles has called for expanding affordable housing, among a number of popular federal policy tweaks. A handful have sought also to highlight the issue while campaigning here in recent months, touring the city's infamous Skid Row neighborhood.


Thursday's debate is taking place in the state that has the largest number of children who have been given relief from removal or deportations under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute

The Trump administration announced the wind down of DACA in 2017, but courts have held it up for now. CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson reports that the presidential candidates on the stage Thursday have promised to reinstate the program in some way even if the Supreme Court strikes it down, but they have not articulated clear plans for the parents of the Dreamers. The Obama administration proposed a similar program for parents, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), but its implementation was blocked by the federal courts.         



Ahead of tonight's California debate, some of the candidates have ramped up their efforts to court a coveted slice of the state's diverse Democratic coalition: Latinos, who made up an estimated 31 percent of California voters in 2016. While they have powered Bernie Sanders' lead in some recent California pollsCBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says some of the state's Latino leaders and groups have backed his rivals. Joe Biden last week detailed his long-awaited immigration plan. And on Tuesday, Pete Buttigieg unveiled a platform explicitly targeted to Latinos.



Republican Senator Susan Collins officially launched her reelection campaign on Wednesday with a letter to supporters that said she believes there's a role for a centrist in the Senate who can get things done. CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson reports that according to FiveThirtyEight and CQ, Collins is the Republican senator who votes the least often with President Trump. 

Although her reelection campaign officially launched Wednesday, Collins' campaign started running ads in October for what will be a closely watched race in 2020. She will likely face Maine's House Speaker, Democrat Sara Gideon, in a general election next November. Gideon has already received the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and outraised Collins by more than one million dollars in the third quarter even though Collins, due in part to incumbent advantage, has more than double Gideon's cash on hand as of the end of the last fundraising quarter.


The Democratic Campaign House arm continues to keep raking in the cash, raising $9 million in November, says CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) says this is the best off-year November in its history and that they have brought in a total of $110 million so far this year. 

While their Republican counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) have not yet released their numbers for November, they have been out-raised every month by the DCCC. The large and growing war chest for House Democrats comes as Republicans will look to pounce on Wednesday's impeachment vote. 

The NRCC has been retweeting Twitter videos following and asking vulnerable Democratic members in Trump-won districts about impeachment. They've also been highlighting Democratic House candidates in swing districts who support impeachment. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the only Democrat who represents a Trump-won district and hasn't weighed in on impeachment was Ron Kind of Wisconsin. 

In an effort to keep the focus on other work by House Democrats, last week, the DCCC launched a set of ads highlighting the House's passage of H.R.3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The House Majority Forward PAC also announced their biggest buy so far this year, putting $2.5 million towards ads about H.R.3.