Presidential candidates opened the fifth Democratic debate on Wednesday by addressing the public impeachment hearings that have gripped Washington this week with new revelations about President Donald Trump’s attempted quid pro quo with Ukraine.
But even as they cheered the House impeachment inquiry and argued that Trump needed to be removed from office, most Democrats on the debate stage in Atlanta, Georgia, used the question about impeachment to pivot to their core campaign message.
“He wrote a check for a million dollars and that tells us what is happening in Washington... We are not going to give away these ambassador posts to the highest bidder,” Warren said, referring to bombshell testimony from Trump donor turned European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland earlier in the day.
Sondland, who was appointed in 2017 after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, delivered devastating testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning that implicated Trump and a number of top administration officials in what he acknowledged was a “clear quid pro quo” scheme to exchange official acts for millions of dollars in U.S. government funds.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Democrats need to move forward with the impeachment inquiry, but he also said they must be ready to bring the country together after Trump’s presidency.
“We must confront Donald Trump for his wrongdoings. That means impeachment. But we must do more. I’m running to be the president who will stand amid the rubble of his presidency, pick up the pieces, and unify a divided nation,” Buttigieg said.
He continued on that theme by noting that each Democratic presidential candidate is “running to be the president for that day the sun comes up and the Trump presidency is behind us, which will be a tender moment in the life of this country.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden used the moment to tout his strength among people who view him as most able to beat Trump in 2020.
“Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee, that’s pretty clear,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his family. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin also “doesn’t want me to be president.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tied impeachment hearings to her “justice” campaign platform and her biography as a former prosecutor in California.
“We have a criminal living in the White House,” Harris said, before taking a swipe at Buttigieg, over his “tender moment” comment seconds earlier. “Until we get to that tender moment, justice is on the ballot.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), meanwhile, argued that Trump’s presidency is putting democracy at risk.
“This is a president that not only with regard to his conduct with Ukraine, but every step of the way puts his own private interests, his own partisan interests, his own political interests, in front of our country’s interests, and this is wrong. This is a pattern with this man,” Klobuchar said.