Democratic lawmakers were left shaken and worried by Wednesday night’s bruising presidential debate, which left some fearing the fight will hurt the party and result in a damaged nominee.
Senate Democrats are frustrated that candidates are spending too much time and effort attacking each other for relatively small policy differences, while not focusing their ire on President TrumpDonald John TrumpComedy Central shoots down Trump Jr. after he joked network should host Democratic debates Booker: If Obama was running for a third term, ‘I wouldn’t be running’ De Blasio releases plan to substantially raise taxes on the rich, corporations MORE.
They worry the intraparty food fight is overshadowing what they see as the main goal: Drawing a clear contrast between the Democratic candidates and Trump on health care and other key issues.
“I’m of the view that we have always been a party of ideas,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Democrats demand Trump order review of White House security clearances Graham threat to bust panel rules roils Senate tensions Congress looks to rev up discussion around self-driving car legislation MORE (Calif.). “I think everybody should sort of consider that.”
She said there is “concern” within the caucus of the increasingly vicious attacks, particularly against the front-runner, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBooker: If Obama was running for a third term, ‘I wouldn’t be running’ De Blasio releases plan to substantially raise taxes on the rich, corporations Biden Surrogate: His opponents have taken the tactics of Donald Trump MORE.
“People take sides and then they become hypersensitive and that just makes divisions all over the party and we don’t want that,” she said. “I want every one of our candidates to do well.”
Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate confirms Kelly Craft as UN ambassador George Conway opposes #unfollowTrump movement MORE (D-Conn.) blamed the debate moderators for much of the negativity.
“I think these debates are really silly,” he said. “Just the incessant focus on these relative minor divisions between candidates might make for good TV but I don’t think gives people an accurate portrayal of the stakes of this election.”
Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDe Blasio defends Al Sharpton amidst Trump attacks GOP chairman to move ‘swiftly’ on Ratcliffe nomination to intelligence post Sharpton: Trump has ‘particular venom’ for blacks, people of color MORE (N.Y.) also voiced concern about the tone of the debates, in what could have been a signal to the candidates.
“No circular firing squads,” he said during an interview Thursday with SiriusXM’s Joe Madison.
Schumer focused on the infighting over health care.
“If we get all focused on the differences between, say Bernie [Sanders] and Cory [Booker] and Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] and [John] Hickenlooper, we’ll lose sight of the fact that it’s Donald Trump who’s now trying to reduce health care, destroy health care, get it rid for everybody,” Schumer said, adding, “That’s a trap we shouldn’t fall into.”
Both the Tuesday and Wednesday night debates featured arguments between Democratic candidates, but the second night was much more personal, with Biden coming under fire for the crime bill he authored in the 1990s and an op-ed he wrote in 1981.
Harris came under fire from Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThese Democratic candidates should drop out now #KamalaHarrisDestroyed trending after Democratic debate Harris on Gabbard criticism: ‘I’m obviously a top-tier candidate’ so I expect to ‘take hits’ MORE (D-Hawaii), who attacked her record as a prosecutor and attorney general.
Gabbard accused Harris of blocking evidence “that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so” and keeping convicts “in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.”
Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats see Warren, Sanders proposals as unfeasible Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate confirms Kelly Craft as UN ambassador MORE (D-W.Va.) called the attacks hurled back and forth among the presidential hopefuls “awful.”
“It’s not who I am, it’s not what I believe in, I don’t think it helps anybody — to attack each other and try to annihilate each other,” he said. “It’s just awful. The whole scenario is bad.”
“Run for something, don’t run against something,” he added.
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThese Democratic candidates should drop out now Mark Penn: Democrats’ debate was a panderfest The Hill’s Morning Report – Attacked repeatedly, Biden fires back MORE (D-N.Y.) accused Biden of being opposed to women in the workplace based on a 1981 op-ed he wrote.
“What did you mean when you said when a woman works outside the home, it’s resulting in ‘the deterioration of family?’” Gillibrand said, challenging Biden’s decades-old opposition to a bill that would have expanded the child tax credit to richer couples.
Biden defended himself by insisting that he wanted the economic aid to go to families earning less than $100,000.
Biden came under attack from Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker: If Obama was running for a third term, ‘I wouldn’t be running’ The Hill’s Morning Report – Attacked repeatedly, Biden fires back Booker, Biden’s ‘Kool-Aid’ exchange was second debate’s top-tweeted moment MORE (D-N.J.) for his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill, which critics said fueled mass incarceration across the United States.
“There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that ‘tough on crime’ phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine,” Booker said during the debate.
Biden for his part criticized Booker’s crime-fighting record as Newark mayor and his use of controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactics.
The battling could feel personal in the Senate, since so many of the people on stage are senators or former senators. Harris, Booker, Sanders and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDe Blasio releases plan to substantially raise taxes on the rich, corporations These Democratic candidates should drop out now Mark Penn: Democrats’ debate was a panderfest MORE (Mass.) Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDe Blasio releases plan to substantially raise taxes on the rich, corporations These Democratic candidates should drop out now The Hill’s Morning Report – Attacked repeatedly, Biden fires back MORE (Colo.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThese Democratic candidates should drop out now The Hill’s Morning Report – Attacked repeatedly, Biden fires back Winners and losers from the Democratic debates in Detroit MORE (Minn.) are the Senate contenders for the White House. Biden served in the Senate for more than three decades.
Feinstein said colleagues are concerned that the candidates are pulling out the long knives six months before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses. That leaves plenty of time for resentments and factions to become fixed.
“This is so unusual because it’s so far ahead of an election,” she said, noting that attack ads are often reserved for the final weeks of a campaign.
Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSchumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus Murray move raises impeachment pressure on Schumer Hillicon Valley: FTC fines Facebook B in privacy settlement | Critics pan settlement as weak | Facebook also faces FTC antitrust probe | Senate panel advances ‘deepfakes’ legislation | House passes anti-robocall bill MORE (D-Wash.) said she wanted to hear more discussion about the candidates’ plans for boosting the economy and creating jobs.
“I definitely want them to be more focused on job creation,” she said. “I thought there was more that could be said about our economic strategy.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill’s Morning Report – Attacked repeatedly, Biden fires back Graham threat to bust panel rules roils Senate tensions Booker, Durbin and Leahy introduce bill to ban death penalty MORE (Ill.) said he’s concerned the party infighting over health care obscures what he sees as the more important topic of the 2020 election: the difference between Trump and the Democrats.
“I think we’re digging into this whole Medicare debate in such detail that we’re missing the obvious. What this president is trying to do with existing health care should be the issue,” he said.
“Getting lost in the minutia of this, I think, confuses voters and is a waste of time,” Durbin said of the Democrat-on-Democrat attacks on competing health care ideas.
Nathanial Weixel contributed.