Elections 2020FederalLast Democratic Debate Before Iowa Caucuses Highlights Foreign Policy, Divide Between Moderate and Progressive Candidates

The seventh and final Democratic debate before the Iowa Caucuses occurred in Des Moines last night, highlighting the divides between the more moderate candidates and progressives.
January 15, 2020
At Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa last night, six of the remaining twelve Democratic candidates squared off in the last debate before the Iowa caucuses on February 3. 

Featuring topics that included foreign policy, gender, trade, and healthcare among others, the candidates in attendance included:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Businessman Tom Steyer

In light of the recent U.S. mission in Iraq the resulted in the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, foreign policy was a central debate topic for one of the first times. 

While the foreign policy topics discussed included President Trump’s decision to act without the consultation of Congress and the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal among others, Biden was given the chance to highlight his past experience in the international affairs arena. 

 While Biden faced criticism from Sanders for his vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq in 2002, he appeared to be the most knowledgeable and in the foreign policy arena compared to other candidates.

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Despite describing his vote to use military force as a “mistake,” Biden relayed the many meetings he’s had with world leaders in addition to other diplomatic arrangements throughout the years. 

Though Buttigieg had fewer standout moments overall than in previous debates, the discussion of foreign policy also afforded him an opportunity to discuss his military service in the U.S. Navy, where he served overseas in Iraq. 

One of the night’s most contentious moments arose between Sanders and Warren when Sanders was asked about a statement he made to Warren in 2018, in which he allegedly told her that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency. 

When asked about this, Sanders flat-out denied having ever made such a statement though Warren contested his denial. 

“As a matter of fact, I didn’t say it, “ Sanders said before launching into a defense about the many ways he has supported and defended women in politics throughout the years. 

In response to Sanders’ comments, Warren asked the audience to look at the men on stage before saying, “Collectively, they have lost ten elections. The only person on this stage who has won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”

Additionally, Warren argued she was the only Democratic candidate present to beat a Republican incumbent in 30 years, to which Sanders argued he beat a Republican in 1990, creating an awkward moment for both the candidates and those watching. 

Though the exchange de-escalated rather quickly and both candidates seemed willing to move on, at the end of the debate, Warren refused to shake hands with Sanders following a brief conversation between the two.

As the debate continued, the USMCA, the trade war with China, and college tuition were among other topics discussed, though with less fanfare than the gender politics exchange.

As usual, healthcare proved to be a central topic of the evening that continues to highlight divides between the progressive and moderate candidates, particularly between Buttigieg and Warren. 

This divide between the two wings of the party persisted throughout the evening, as Biden and Buttigieg routinely clashed with the progressives, Warren and Sanders. 

Although Klobuchar remains fifth in the polls, she aimed to use this divide to her advantage, highlighting her relatively moderate stance on a number of policy issues. 

According to data from Real Clear Politics, Biden currently leads the national polls at 27 percent followed by Sanders at 19 percent, Warren at 16 percent, Buttigieg at 7 percent, Klobuchar at 3 percent, and Steyer at 2 percent.

The evening’s discussions were largely focused on the top four candidates, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and Biden.

While Warren and Sanders squared off on a number of issues, including Sanders’s claim that a woman could not be president, Biden left unmarred by the other candidates. 

Overall, the night was a repeat performance for many of the candidates featuring conversations about the same issues discussed during previous debates. 

Since dropping out of the race, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has endorsed Warren to be the Democratic nominee in the 2020 election. 


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Sarah McConnell, Reporter for The Texan

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.