Democratic presidential hopefuls took pains to downplay economic gains under the Trump administration at the first debate of the 2020 presidential cycle—blasting large corporations and calling for more taxes for the wealthy.
The answers came minutes after the debate began, as 10 candidates squared off in the first debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida.
“Who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great for thinner and thinner slices at the top,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said right out the gate.
“When you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money…it is corruption pure and simple. We need to call it out and we need to attack it head-on. We need to make structural changes in our government, our economy and our country.”
Minutes later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was the first on the debate stage to mention President Trump by name.
“The economy—we know that not everyone is sharing in this prosperity. And Trump just sits in the White House and gloats about what’s going on when there are so many people having trouble paying for college and trouble paying for their prescriptions,” Klobuchar said, laying out her plans to “make it easier” to pay off student loans and attend college.
“Billionaires can pay off their yachts, then students should be able to pay off their student loans,” Klobuchar said.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke then weighed in, blasting the economy, saying it “does not work for everyone”—in both English and Spanish.
And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also took a swipe at the president, saying: “There is plenty of money in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands.”
But while the Democrats challenged the sense of economic gains in recent years, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee rapid response team sent email blasts and tweets “fact-checking” and defending the president’s economic record and the creation of “6 million jobs” since Election Day 2016.
Warren was the highest-polling candidate among those on stage Wednesday but others were looking for their breakout moment or to recapture lost momentum, especially contenders like O’Rourke of Texas. Top-polling candidates including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are set to face off Thursday night on the same stage.
The format and sheer number of candidates, though, means candidates have limited opportunity even during two hours of debate to make their case.
The rules, set by the Democratic National Committee, gave candidates 60 seconds to answer questions from the NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo moderators, and 30 seconds to respond to their follow-up questions. The candidates could not give opening statements, but were offered the chance to give closing remarks later in the night.
Also on stage Wednesday: Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio and former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland.