Democratic presidential candidates wasted little time during the second night of the first 2020 primary debates going on the attack against President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, a stark difference from the night before.
Front-runners former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) targeted Trump in early statements, while other candidates sharply criticized the president’s tax cut bill and his immigration policies.
“Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America. Ordinary, middle-class Americans built America,” Biden said in fielding his first question of the evening.
Biden added that Trump “put us in a horrible situation” with worsening income inequality, and later used his closing statement to chastise Trump over his handling of a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sanders, a self-identified democratic socialist who has pushed progressive policies including “Medicare for All,” was asked whether he believed his nomination would lead to Trump’s reelection as some detractors have argued.
He noted that some recent polls show him leading Trump in a hypothetical match-up “because the American people understand that Trump is a phony, that Trump is a pathological liar and a racist, and that he lied to the American people during his campaign.”
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.) lamented that Trump has “torn apart the moral fabric of who we are” in criticizing his zero tolerance policy that led to the separation of hundreds of migrant families.
An audience question later in the debate asking how candidates would reverse damage done by Trump to democratic institutions teed Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSome realistic solutions for income inequality Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd 21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests MORE (D-Colo.) up to take direct aim at the president.
“We have to restore our democracy at home,” he said. “The rest of the world is looking for us for leadership. We have a president who doesn’t believe in the rule of law, he doesn’t believe in the freedom of the press, he doesn’t believe in independent judiciary, he believes in the corruption that he’s brought to Washington, D.C., and that is what we have to change.”
Other candidates took more indirect swipes at the president.
Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) criticized a GOP-backed tax cut bill that Trump has championed, arguing that it has disproportionately helped the wealthy while increasing the national debt.
Andrew YangAndrew YangGeorge Floyd protests show corporations must support racial and economic equality Andrew Yang discusses his universal basic income pilot program Andrew Yang on the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis MORE, a former tech entrepreneur, warned that Trump was elected because of automation of jobs in the rust belt in laying out his platform.
The prominence of Trump during Thursday night’s debate was a shift from night one, where candidates sparingly mentioned the president.
He was largely mentioned on Thursday by front-runners like Biden and Sanders who have framed their campaigns as a challenge to Trump rather than their follow Democratic candidates.
An NBC News tracker of how often each candidate mentioned Trump by name or title showed that the president came up 52 times total on Thursday.
Biden mentioned him nine times, more than any other candidate, while Gillibrand and author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson touts endorsements for progressive congressional candidates The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Warren becomes latest 2020 rival to back Biden The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden looks to stretch lead in Tuesday contests MORE referenced Trump seven times each.
The president, who is in Japan for the Group of 20 summit, appeared to have an eye on the debate in between meetings with world leaders. He criticized the candidates over their support of covering undocumented immigrants with their health care plans ahead of taking a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“How about taking care of American Citizens first!?” he tweeted. “That’s the end of that race!”
Seated next to Merkel a short time later, Trump offered his thoughts on the debate.
“They definitely have plenty of candidates, that’s about it. I look forward to spending time with you, rather than watching,” he said, referring to the German leader.
Updated at 11:14 p.m.
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