Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg engaged in a fiery exchange over campaign finance and “big dollar donors” during the Los Angeles leadership debate among seven Democrats competing to challenge Donald Trump for the US presidency in 2020.
Ms Warren, the US senator from Massachusetts, attacked Mr Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for having a fundraiser “in a wine cave full of crystals” that served $900-a-bottle wine.
“He promised that every fundraiser would be open door, but this one was closed door,” said Ms Warren, who has sought to fund her campaign from small donors.
Mr Buttigieg hit back: “According to Forbes Magazine, I am literally the only person on this stage who’s not a millionaire or a billionaire. This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”
When Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator, launched her own attack on Mr Buttigieg over his lack of political experience, he responded: “If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 per cent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.”
Ms Klobuchar shortly after urged her rivals to discuss “what unites us here . . . rather than what divides us”.
Sparring the day after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump, the candidates broadly welcomed the vote, with only entrepreneur Andrew Yang dissenting that the party should stop being “obsessed” with impeachment.
“For many Americans, this is like a ball game where you know what the score will be,” said Mr Yang, who said the party should “start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place”.
The first part of the debate saw the candidates discuss the need to restore the US’s leadership role in the world, whether it be tackling climate change, the Israel-Palestine conflict or China and the unrest in Hong Kong.
Answering a question on whether the US should boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Mr Buttigieg said: “I think that any tool ought to be on the table, especially diplomatic, economic and social tools.”
In another striking moment, Joe Biden, the former vice-president, when asked about his position on the US’s war in Afghanistan, said he had been against deploying more troops. “I’m the guy from the beginning who argued that it was a big, big mistake to surge forces to Afghanistan. Period. We should not have done it. And I argued against it constantly.”
The candidates found agreement on the need to tackle Mr Trump on the economy, with Tom Steyer repeatedly arguing his background as a businessman made him a credible and trustworthy rival to Mr Trump.
Mr Biden argued that voters did not “really” like the current state of the economy. “The middle class is getting killed, the middle class is getting crushed,” said Mr Biden. “This idea that we’re growing — we’re not growing, the very wealthy are growing.”
Ms Warren agreed: “Rising GDP and rising corporate profits are not being felt by millions of families across this country. We’ve got a government that works great for those with money and doesn’t work much for anyone else.”
The debate came as the remaining 15 Democratic contenders prepare for the final campaign push before the February 3 Iowa caucuses, which kick off voting in the 2020 race, and the first primary in New Hampshire the following week.