Bloomberg, Sanders attacked by rivals at Democrats’ Nevada debate

LAS VEGAS (AP) — From the opening bell, Democrats savaged New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg and raised pointed questions about Bernie Sanders’ take-no-prisoners politics during a contentious debate Wednesday night. The aggressive confrontation in Las Vegas threatened to further scramble the party’s urgent quest to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, was forced to defend his divisive record on race, gender and Wall Street in his debate-stage debut. He was expecting tough questions and sharp elbows as he joined the presidential debate stage for the first time.

The gloves came off in the opening moments of the Nevada presidential debate, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren taking on Bloomberg for calling “women fat broads and horse faced lesbians.” The Massachusetts senator referred to comments attributed to Bloomberg in a story published online this week by The Washington Post.

Warren went on to say that four years of President Donald Trump is not “substituting one arrogant billionaire for another.”

Bernie Sanders opened the debate by saying the “stop and frisk” program “went after” blacks and Hispanics, allowing police to unfairly target minorities. Former Vice President Joe Biden also criticized Bloomberg and stop and frisk.

Bloomberg didn’t mention the policing program but responded by arguing that he was in a better position to defeat President Donald Trump in November. The former mayor has apologized for stop and frisk and said he should have acted faster to stop police from using it.

It all shows how seriously Democrats are taking Bloomberg, now that he’s rocketed to double-digit support in national polls and qualified for the next two debates. He’s built that support with $400 million in self-funded TV ads.

Biden is accusing Bloomberg of denigrating former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law by calling it “a disgrace” when it was passed. Biden said during Wednesday’s debate that he’s the only candidate “who actually got anything done on health care” when he worked to get the Affordable Care Act passed, but “Mike called it a disgrace.”

Bloomberg disputed that, saying he is a fan of “Obamacare” and wrote an op-ed praising the plan. He said he thinks Democrats should build on the plan and not try something new.

Biden insisted Bloomberg had criticized the law, saying, “Look it up. Check it out.”

Bloomberg tried to fend off demands from several of his Democratic presidential rivals that he release former female employees from any nondisclosure agreements concerning allegations of workplace harassment.

Warren put Bloomberg on the spot, asking the former New York City mayor to release women from these agreements and saying his defense doesn't cut it.

Bloomberg says he sees the agreements as consensual and not up to him to dissolve. He also said none of the agreements “accuse me of doing anything other than, maybe they didn’t like a joke I told." The debate audience booed.

Several Democratic presidential contenders clash over whether massive wealth accumulation is un-American or something that should merely be subject to equitable tax rates.

Asked about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tweet that “billionaires should not exist,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said during Wednesday’s Democratic debate that she supported capitalism but also an appropriate tax rate on wealth, unlike what she felt had been promoted and signed by President Donald Trump.

When Sanders argued that billionaires pay an unfairly low tax rate compared to the middle class, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg asked, “Why do you complain? Who wrote the code?”

Bloomberg’s campaign was armed and ready with releases to rebut any criticism from his fellow Democratic presidential contenders.

The former New York City mayor’s campaign on Wednesday sent out at least 10 rapid-response news releases defending and promoting Bloomberg on a variety of issues, from the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy to his solution for amending the tax code.

Bloomberg’s campaign also blanketed Twitter with videos of women defending Bloomberg and characterizing him as respectful.

One of the skirmishes Wednesday featured candidates taking on Bloomberg for refusing to release former female employees from nondisclosure agreements concerning allegations of workplace harassment.

Sanders, appearing in his ninth debate of the 2020 primary season, tried to beat back pointed questions about his health and his ability to defeat President Donald Trump this fall.

The Vermont senator is “disowning” any of his supporters who lob sexist attacks online. But he defended his supporters after leaders of the influential Culinary Union said that they’ve received attacks from some Sanders backers online and over the phone.

Of his online army, Sanders said that “99.9% of them are decent human beings,” but that “if there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people.”

Questions about Sanders’ health have lingered since he checked into a Las Vegas hospital with chest discomfort on Oct. 1 and had two stents inserted.

Sanders says he doesn’t plan to divulge additional information about his health, months after suffering a heart attack and subsequently pledging to release “comprehensive” medical records.

Now, as Sanders heads into the Nevada caucuses with momentum following strong performances in earlier contests, he’s facing additional pressure from his rivals to divulge more. Some of his rivals say Sanders needs to provide more details. But the Vermont senator says he’s “comfortable” with the three doctors’ letters he’s released.

Amy Klobuchar says she thinks it’s important that evidence related to a high-profile murder case she oversaw as Minnesota prosecutor be reviewed by her successors. Klobuchar was asked during the debate how voters of color should trust her judgment after her handling of the case in which a black teen was sentenced to life after a flawed police investigation.

Questions about the Minnesota senator’s oversight of the case emerged after an Associated Press investigation into the case of Myon Burrell, who was 16 when he was apprehended in the 2002 death of an 11-year-old girl.

Sanders is the only Democratic candidate on the debate stage who thinks the candidate with the most delegates should win the party’s presidential nomination even if he or she doesn’t have a majority. His rivals say the party should let the convention play out according to rules set by the party, which allow for multiple rounds of voting if a candidate is unable to get a majority of the delegates on the first round.

It sets up a clash should the primary season end without a clear winner, giving way to a contested convention.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.