Frontrunner Bernie Sanders Forced on Defense As Debate Rivals Come Out Swinging

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Even Sanders’s progressive ally Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has largely been cordial toward Sanders during the primary, made an overt case onstage Tuesday for why she is a stronger candidate than her colleague from Vermont. “Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think that I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard, and it’s gonna take someone who digs into the details to make it happen,” Warren said. “Bernie and I both wanted to help rein in Wall Street. In 2008 we both got our chance, but I dug in, I fought the big banks, I built the coalitions and I won. Bernie and I both want to see universal health care. But Bernie’s plan doesn’t show how we’re gonna get there, doesn’t show how we’re going to get enough allies into it, and doesn’t show enough about how we’re going to pay for it. I dug in, I did the work, and then Bernie’s team trashed me for it.” “Progressives get one shot, and we need to spend it on a leader who will get things done,” Warren emphasized.

Warren, however, once again saved her sharpest words for Bloomberg, who she went after for his comments on redlining, refusal to release his tax returns, and history of donating to Republican candidates, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and her own congressional opponent in Massachusetts. “I don’t care how much money Bloomberg has, the core of the Democratic Party will never trust him,” Warren said. But the senator most forcefully took on Bloomberg over the nondisclosure agreements used against female employees at Bloomberg LP—which Bloomberg has partially backed down from since the last debate—particularly Bloomberg allegedly telling a pregnant employee to “kill it.” Warren explained how she had been fired as a young teacher after she got pregnant, adding, “at least I didn’t have a boss who said to me ‘kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees.” “Let us have the women have an opportunity to speak,” Warren emphasized. Bloomberg pushed back against Warren’s insinuation, saying that he “never said it. Period end of story.” When Warren was asked what evidence she had for the alleged “kill it” comment, meanwhile, she responded: “Her own words.” A former employee did allege that Bloomberg made the comment to her in a 1997 lawsuit, which was later settled. Former Bloomberg employee David Zielenziger has also backed up the female employee’s allegation, telling the Washington Post that he heard Bloomberg make the comment and describing the business leader’s treatment of the woman as “outrageous.”

While Warren’s takedown of billionaire Bloomberg made her the decisive winner of last week’s debate, however, her barbed criticisms of the former mayor didn’t land quite as forcefully this time, and Bloomberg didn’t collapse under the weight of her attacks as blatantly as his first turn on the debate stage. Sanders, similarly, faced numerous attacks but managed to hold his own, staying on-message about his political revolution without getting taken down by the continued criticisms of his candidacy. With South Carolina and Super Tuesday on the horizon and the vote still heavily fractured, the debate appeared unlikely to help winnow the field, with no clear winner or loser—except maybe its moderators, whose poor organization of the debate drew immediate criticism. Candidates shouted over each other and aggressively jockeyed for speaking time, leading to an often-chaotic proceeding that made clear the Democratic race—and the party in-fighting—shows no signs of slowing down. “If we spend the next four months tearing our party apart,” Klobuchar warned at one point during the contentious debate, “we’re going to spend the next four years watching Donald Trump tear the country apart.”

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