Questions about impeachment gave Kamala Harris and Tom Steyer the chance to stand out on the most crowded presidential debate stage in history Tuesday night, with the two Californians making impassioned arguments for yanking President Trump from office.
All of the candidates in the 12-person debate in Ohio backed House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, arguing that Trump’s alleged effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden merited starting the process. Both Golden State candidates highlighted their own records on the issue, with Harris playing up her prosecutorial background and Steyer pointing out he endorsed impeachment before any other White House hopeful.
“He did it in plain sight,” she said, accusing Trump of “selling out our democracy.”
In his first ever appearance in a political debate as a candidate, Steyer — a former hedge fund chief and major Democratic donor from San Francisco — reminded viewers that he’d been ahead of the pack, first bankrolling a campaign calling for Trump to be removed from office two years ago.
“I knew there was something desperately wrong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that we did have the most corrupt president” in history, Steyer said. “Only the voice and the will of the American people would drag Washington to see it as a matter of right and wrong, not a political expediency.”
Harris also scored points among Democrats in the debate hall with an impassioned call for protecting reproductive rights. Pivoting away from a back-and-forth over Medicare-for-all — a topic that’s tripped her up in the past — Harris denounced past debates’ lack of attention on new state laws restricting abortion.
“People need to keep their hands off of women’s bodies and let women make the decisions about their own lives,” she said to cheers.
And Steyer defused a potentially awkward question about his wealth, after Sen. Bernie Sanders declared “we cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with working class families.”
“Senator Sanders is right,” Steyer — the only billionaire on the stage — responded, talking up his support for a wealth tax and increased protections for labor rights, and calling excessive corporate power “absolutely wrong, undemocratic and unfair.”
“Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar quipped a few minutes later.
The debate comes as Harris has faced a precipitous drop in the polls, down to a near-low of 5.2 percent this week in RealClearPolitics’ national average. Meanwhile, Steyer has racked up some surprisingly high poll numbers in the early primary and caucus states, thanks to a barrage of TV ads paid for out of his own fortune.
Both Harris and Steyer have already qualified for the next debate on Nov. 20. But several of the other contenders on stage Tuesday night have not, giving them more incentive to take swings at the frontrunners.
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