The gloves came off in the final Democratic presidential debate before caucus night in Iowa.
The six candidates who qualified for the debate stage at Drake University in Des Moines traded barbs and made their cases to potential caucusgoers of why they should be president.
The back-and-forths kicked-off with several foreign policy questions by moderator Wolf Blitzer.
Blitzer mentioned the ongoing crisis in Iran and asked Sen. Bernie Sanders why he should be commander in chief.
Sanders said he voted against the Iraq War and “helped lead the effort against that war.” Sanders added former Vice President Joe Biden had voted in favor of authorizing that conflict.
The former vice president and frontrunner in national polls of likely Democratic primary voters responded to Sanders.
“I said 13 years ago it was a mistake to give the president the authority to go to war if, in fact, he couldn't get inspectors into Iraq to stop what — [was] thought to be the attempt to get a nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “It was a mistake, and I acknowledged that.”
Blitzer posed a similar question of why they should be commander in chief to all of the candidates.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for the United States to cut its defense budget and not allow the defense industry to dominate discussions of American foreign policy.
“We have a problem with a revolving door in Washington between the defense industry and the Department of Defense and the Pentagon,” Warren said. “That is corruption, pure and simple. We need to block that revolving door, and we need to cut our defense budget. We need to depend on all of our tools — diplomatic, economic, working with our allies — and not let the defense industry call the shots.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar cited her experience as a U.S. senator for more than 12 years as a line on her resume qualifying her for the presidency.
Blitzer noted businessman Tom Steyer has never served in elected office, and asked the candidate how he is prepared to be commander in chief.
Steyer said his previous experience as a businessman who constantly traveled the world and met with world leaders gave him an insight into “how America interacts with other countries.” He also referred to former President Barack Obama’s anti-Iraq War stance before being elected to the U.S. Senate.
“[I]f you look who had the judgment, it was a state senator from Illinois with no experience named Barack Obama who opposed the war,” Steyer said.
The candidates were asked whether they would withdraw American troops from the Middle East.
Klobuchar and Warren said they would withdraw all remaining combat troops from Afghanistan if elected president.
Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who served a tour in Afghanistan, said he thinks “about the time [he] shipped out and the time that was set aside for saying goodbye to family members” whenever he hears about more troops being “sent into harm’s way.”
“That will never happen when there is an alternative as commander in chief,” Buttigieg said.
Moderator Abby Phillip asked Buttigieg whether if elected he would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The former South Bend, Ind., mayor brought up President Donald Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. He said it adds to instability in the region.
“No, our security depends on ensuring Iran does not become nuclear,” Buttigieg said. “By the way, we’ve got a lot of [other challenges] around the world. [...]We seem to be further away from working with Russia on [anti-nuclear weapons treaties].”
Moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel asked Sanders why he plans to vote against the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
“I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very strong principles [to combat climate change],” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator said if “we do not get our act together on climate change” the planet will be “unlivable” for future generations.
Warren was asked why she supports the USMCA.
“We have farmers here in Iowa who are hurting and they are hurting because of Donald Trump’s initiated trade wars,” Warren said. “This new trade deal is a modest improvement. It will give some relief to our farmers, it will give some relief to our workers.”
Warren added she would work to improve the agreement after this temporary relief is provided.
Klobuchar, who also supports the USMCA, said she is “glad” improvements for workers were added in the deal. She brought up a factory she visited in Iowa where a worker showed her the names of employees who had lost their jobs, she said as a result of current trade policies. She added she thinks a North American trade area is necessary to stand up to China.
“I believe we need a big trading bloc in North America to take on China, and the way to take on China is with your allies,” Klobuchar said.
Pfannenstiel asked Biden why he is the best candidate to challenge Trump on trade.
Biden said there would be no trade agreements signed in a future administration led by him without labor and environmental representatives at the negotiation table.
Sanders was asked about a statement by Warren released Monday that said Sanders told her a woman could not win the 2020 presidential election.
“Well as a matter of fact, I didn’t say that,” Sanders said. “[...]Anybody who knows me knows it’s incomprehensible that a woman could not be president of the United States.”
“Bernie is my friend and I’m not here to try to fight with Bernie,” Warren said. “It’s time for us to attack [this issue] head on.”
Warren said the men on the stage had collectively lost 10 elections between them, and “the only people who have never lost an election on this stage are the women.”
The debate discussion shifted to health care.
“Thirty-six million people went to the doctor last year” and could not afford their prescription, having to decide between groceries and a prescription, Warren said.
“I’ll use the power that’s already given to the president to reduce the cost of insulin and EpiPens and HIV/AIDS drugs,” Warren said.
Biden, Klobuchar and Steyer called for the improvement of the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of a “public option,” allowing Americans to buy into Medicare.
Sanders defended his “Medicare for All” proposal from criticism from Biden and Klobuchar.
“What we will do through a Medicare for All single-payer system is substantially lower the cost of health care for workers,” Sanders said. “[...]Health care is a human right, every other country on earth is guaranteeing health care for all. The time is long, long overdue for us to make clear that health care in America must be a right, not a privilege for the few.”
The candidates were given time for closing statements.
Klobuchar said the election isn't about Trump, it's about the American people.
"We need a candidate who is actually going to bring people with her," Klobuchar said.
Buttigieg said "this is our one shot to defeat Donald Trump."
"We cannot take the risk with so much on the line of trying to confront this president with the same Washington mindset and political warfare that led us to this point," Buttigieg said.