All The Key Moments From The November Democratic Debate (Spoiler: Women Won)

2020 presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, from left, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, arrive on stage for the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Westerville, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. The candidates meet for the fourth debate after an extraordinary series of events that has dramatically altered the race since the last forum in September. Photographer: Allison Farrand/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Women are leading the charge during the fifth Democratic primary debate — in more ways than one. For starters, all four moderators — Rachel Maddow, Kristen Welker, Ashley Parker, and Andrea Mitchell — are women. And, four out of the 10 candidates taking the stage are women, which is a historically high proportion given that only five women candidates participated in any presidential debates prior to the 2020 race in all of U.S. history.

While women are in the spotlight, all eyes on this Wednesday evening are also expected to be on Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has emerged as the surprise frontrunner in Iowa. Based on past experience, we can expect the other candidates to pick apart Buttigieg’s policies and record as mayor.

Here are the 10 candidates to watch on the debate stage: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.

Ahead, read our live recap of the evening, including the best quotes, moments, and surprises.

Bernie Sanders Brings It Back To Economic Inequality

It feels like deja vu all over again as the candidates kick off the debate by discussing impeachment. Maddow started by asking candidates where they stood on the ongoing impeachment inquiry, and most reconfirmed (again) that they support the trials. But of course, Sanders brought the conversation back to inequality, reminding the audience and his fellow candidates that we have to “walk and chew gum at the same time.” Sanders, who waxed poetic about how Trump’s impeachment is a distraction from a larger issue, repeated his old (but true) talking points about lack of healthcare and the disproportionate power of billionaires. We’re also feeling this night for Sen. Kamala Harris, who emphasized “we need the same set of rules for everybody,” connecting impeachment with economic injustice. “We have to bring justice back to America for all people not just for some,” she said.

Elizabeth Warren Gets Challenged On Medicare For All

Moderator Kristen Welker asked: Could Warren’s position on Medicare for All cost her votes? Warren had a ready-made retort, rattling off her plan to pass an M4A plan by her third year in office and lower the Medicare age to 50: “In the third year when people had a chance to feel it and taste it and live with it, we’re going to vote, and we’re going to want Medicare for all.”

Elizabeth Warren’s new Medicare-for-all plan, explained (for those watching this debate)

— Kay Steiger (@kaysteiger) November 21, 2019

Kamala Harris Goes Off On Tulsi Gabbard

It started when moderators asked Tulsi Gabbard about her recent harsh words about Hillary Clinton, when she said “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” As Gabbard went on about “regime-change wars,” the mic turned to Harris, who pointed out the irony of having Gabbard as a Democratic candidate after attacks she made on multiple past Democratic candidates — including President Obama for the duration of his presidency. The question went back and forth between Gabbard and Harris, who both criticized each other not on a policy level, but on an ability one. And it was, well, heated.

Did Kamala end Tulsi so completely she doesn’t get to talk anymore?

— jess mcintosh (@jess_mc) November 21, 2019

Klobuchar Brought Up Her Ex’s Donations…Again

Amy Klobuchar heroically reminded the audience that her exes donated $17,000 to her Senate run.

Listen all critical opinions about Amy Klobuchar aside, getting your ex boyfriends to give you $17,000 is big dick energy

— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) November 21, 2019

Amy Klobuchar Is On Fire Tonight

The moderators pulled out receipts for comments Klobuchar made about Buttigieg’s experience level, saying that a woman with his level of experience would never be seriously considered for president. In an absolutely fire moment, she told Buttigieg, “we could play a game called ‘name your favorite woman president,’ which we can’t do.”

Finally, A Paid Family Leave Question

For the first time on the debate stage this cycle, candidates discussed paid family leave in substantive detail. Andrew Yang kicked it off by referring to “new moms” staying at home, somehow setting the clock back 50 years in one fell swoop. Luckily, Klobuchar and Harris were able to shift the conversation to how supporting families (without calling out specific genders of caretakers) would require substantial leave. Harris in particular was strong and impassioned on her plan, the most generous yet, to provide families with six months of paid time off. Some commented on how having four women moderators made a difference.

Four female moderators asking two female presidential candidates to debate their paid family leave plans is real progress.

— Laura Bassett (@LEBassett) November 21, 2019

please let’s stop equating parental leave with “moms” we need to have gender neutral language when discussing parenthood! #demdebate

— Liz Plank (@feministabulous) November 21, 2019

Kamala Harris Says Trump Got “Punked” By North Korea

In a breakout moment, Harris said “Donald Trump got punked” by Kim Jong Un. And then this happened…

You. She’s awesome.

— Douglas Emhoff (@douglasemhoff) November 21, 2019

MTV weighed in:

y'all remember Punk'd? #DemDebate

— MTV NEWS (@MTVNEWS) November 21, 2019

Joe Biden Says “We Gotta Keep Punching” At Violence Against Women

Biden, who recently put out an ad spotlighting his work on the Violence Against Women Act, was asked by Welker about #MeToo and said first step is to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and emphasized his work to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. “We have to fundamentally change the culture of how women are treated,” he said. “No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger, other than self defense, and that rarely occurs. We have to keep punching at it and punching at it.” (The audience could be heard snickering at the last part.)

Kamala Harris Says It’s Time To Show Up For Black Women

“There are plenty of people who applauded Black women for the success of the 2018 election,” said Harris. “When Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in connection to childbirth in America, when Black women make 61 cents on the dollar. The question is where have you been, and what are you gonna do?”

Senator Kamala Harris explains why black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party.

— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) November 21, 2019

Cory Booker To Joe Biden: “Are You High?”

“I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker told Biden, referring to his recent statement against legalizing marijuana.

The Question On Abortion We Were Waiting For 

Klobuchar leads the question with a familiar battle cry: “we need to codify Roe v. Wade.” Maddow then asked Warren about Gov. John Bel Edwards, the anti-abortion Democrat Louisiana just reelected: Is there a place for people like that in the Democratic party? Warren’s response? Not an unequivocal no, but a promise to fight for abortion rights. “If someone makes abortion illegal, rich women will still get abortions.” Warren went on to list all of the people that are involved in a woman’s abortion: her mother, her partner, her friends, but “the one entity that should not be in the middle of that decision is the government.” At the end of the discussion, Sanders had an ally moment: “This is a time in American history when the men of this country must stand with the women.”

If Kamala Harris Didn’t End Tulsi Gabbard, Pete Buttigieg Definitely Did

Buttigieg fact-checked Gabbard when she suggested that he wants to invade Mexico — and called her out for cozying up to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. “If you want to talk about experience, let’s talk about judgment … I have enough judgment [that] I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”

Me watching Pete and Tulsi enter the Colosseum for millennial vs millennial gladiator combat #DemDebate

— Charlotte Alter (@CharlotteAlter) November 21, 2019

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