2020 Democratic debates
8:53 a.m.

After five Democratic debates, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough wonders if former Vice President Joe Biden is being graded on a curve.

Scarborough on Thursday morning panned Biden's performance at the latest Democratic debate, saying he was once again "having trouble findings words" and his "sentences are jumbled." While Scarborough noted he still believes Biden is the Democratic candidate with the best chance of beating President Trump "if he's on his game," he wondered if the media is grading the former vice president on a "low curve" amid these subpar showings.

"Are we afraid to say that a lot of his sentences don't make sense?" Scarborough asked. "That he's having trouble completing thoughts?"

Willie Geist responded to Scarborough's question with a flat "yes," noting the Democrat's "performances publicly are shaky." Still, co-host Mika Brzezinski came to Biden's defense, arguing voters care about more than just these debate soundbites.

"You've got to be able to complete a sentence if you're running for president," Scarborough shot back. During much of this segment, the chyron on the screen was just as brutal as Scarborough himself, reading, "Joe Biden struggles through another debate." Brendan Morrow

November 20, 2019

After Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) accused South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of being woefully inexperienced when it comes to national security and foreign policy, Buttigieg fired back by saying he would never have met a "murderous dictator" like she did.

In 2017, six years after the start of the Syrian Civil War, Gabbard traveled to the country to meet with its leader, Bashar al-Assad. The United States considers him a war criminal who killed his own citizens, and facing criticism for her trip back home, Gabbard refused to denounce Assad or apologize for the meeting.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) brought this up earlier in the debate, mentioning Gabbard's reluctance to call Assad a war criminal.

After Gabbard accused Buttigieg of having no experience and making a "careless statement" saying he would "be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels," Buttigieg picked up where Harris left off. He first accused Gabbard of taking the remarks out of context, telling her it was preposterous to think he proposed invading Mexico.

"If your question is about experience, let's also talk about judgment," Buttigieg said. "One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I have in my experience, such as it is whether you think it counts or not since it wasn't accumulated in Washington, enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that." Gabbard told Buttigieg this was proof he "would lack the courage to meet with both adversaries and friends," and brought up Franklin Roosevelt meeting with Josef Stalin and John F. Kennedy convening with Nikita Khrushchev. Buttigieg interrupted to bring up another dynamic duo: "Like Donald Trump met with Kim [Jong Un]," he said. Catherine Garcia

November 20, 2019

Andrew Yang didn't get much speaking time at Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta, but he made memorable use of the time he got. Near the end of the debate, Yang was asked what he would say, if elected, in his first call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Well, first I'd say I'm sorry I beat your guy," he said. "Or not sorry," he added, after a pause for applause. "And second, I'd say the days of meddling in American elections are over, and we will take any undermining of our democratic processes as an act of hostility and aggression."

Yang continued with a substantive answer, though he got a little in the weeds of mixed metaphors with his proposal for a "new World Data Organization, like a WTO for data, because right now, unfortunately, we're living in a world where data is the new oil and we don't have our arms around it." Peter Weber

November 20, 2019

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has a wake- and bake-up call for former Vice President Joe Biden.

A few days ago, Biden set himself apart from the rest of the top 2020 Democrats by calling marijuana a "gateway drug" and saying "legalization is a mistake." Booker brought that comment up in Wednesday's Democratic primary debate, saying while he has "a lot of respect" for Biden, when he heard that remark, he "thought you might have been high when you said it."

After his well-timed zing, Booker explained why he had a problem with Biden's remark. "Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people," he said, pointing out how black and brown people are disproportionately hurt by current drug policies.

Biden immediately got heated — and slipped into a string of slips of the tongue. He clarified that he does support decriminalizing marijuana as part of his presidential platform, and that no one should be in jail for pot possession. And then he pivoted to how that ties to his support from black voters, saying he "come[s] out of the black community" before quickly adding "in terms of my support." And then he declared he had the endorsement of the "the only African American woman that had ever been elected to the United States Senate" — with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) standing just a few feet away. Kathryn Krawczyk

November 20, 2019

With eight women — four candidates and four moderators — participating, this is the first time in history that women make up the majority on a presidential primary debate stage, the Democratic National Committee says.

Wednesday night's debate — featuring candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — is being moderated by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' Kristen Welker, and The Washington Post's Ashley Parker.

NPR notes that women also dominated the speaking time during the first half of the debate, with Warren talking for 6 minutes, 35 seconds and Klobuchar for 5 minutes, 49 seconds. Klobuchar used some of her time to discuss what it's like for women in politics, saying they are "held to a higher standard. Otherwise we could play a game called 'Name Your Favorite Woman President,' which we can't do because it has all been men, including all vice presidents being men." She also took a swing at President Trump, declaring that "if you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day." Catherine Garcia

November 20, 2019

That didn't take long.

Only minutes after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) criticized the Democratic Party during Wednesday night's primary debate, the Trump War Room Twitter account posted video of her remarks. In the short clip, Gabbard says, "Our Democratic Party, unfortunately, is not the party that is of, by, and for the people."

The Trump War Room account is managed by Trump's 2020 campaign, and amplifies pro-Trump news stories and Republican talking points. The fact that the Trump War Room posted the video likely won't sit well with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who responded to Gabbard's comment by saying it was "unfortunate" that the Hawaii representative spent "four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama" and became buddy-buddy with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon. Catherine Garcia

November 20, 2019

The Democratic debate just got... nice?

Things were pretty tame as the fifth Democratic primary debate kicked off on Wednesday night, with candidates only jabbing each other slightly on wealth taxes and other platform differences. But when entrepreneur Andrew Yang got his first question of the night, he used it to give the contender standing next to him some genuine praise.

As the furthest left candidates tout plans to get big-money donors out of politics, the only billionaire on the stage, Tom Steyer, discussed how he'd long used his money to support his political ideals. In his view, his donations were used to "push power down to the American people" and to "take power away from the corporations who bought our government," he said.

While some candidates would likely go after Steyer for how his anti-corporate words seem at odds with his big-money spending, Yang, the next candidate to respond, took another approach. "I want to stick up for Tom," Yang said. "We have a broken campaign finance system, but Tom has been spending his own money fighting climate change, and you can't knock somebody for having money and spending it in the right way." Steyer then thanked Yang for the compliment, and Yang said "no problem," earning a big laugh from the crowd. Watch the surprisingly kind moment below. Kathryn Krawczyk

November 20, 2019

Medicare-for-all was once again the hot topic early in Wednesday's Democratic primary debate, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden sparring on the best way to ensure all Americans have health care.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the proud author of "the damn bill" that would establish Medicare-for-all, said there are candidates who do not believe in taking on the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, but "now is the time." He vowed that in the first week of a Sanders administration, "we will introduce Medicare-for-all. Medicare-for-all, that means no deductibles, no co-payments, no out-of-pocket expenses."

Biden responded that it won't be that easy to enact. "Right now, the vast majority of Democrats do not support Medicare-for-all," he said. "It couldn't pass the United States Senate right now with Democrats. It couldn't pass the House." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is skeptical of the plan, and the best move forward would be to "build on Obamacare," Biden said.

There are 160 million people who like their private insurance, he continued, and "if they don't like it, they can buy into a Medicare-like proposal in my plan. Drug prices go down, premiums go down across the board. But here's the deal: They get to choose." Catherine Garcia

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