3rd Democratic debate: Candidates clashed on health care, immigration and more

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren split center stage in the one-night matchup.

September 13, 2019, 12:07 AM

The 10 highest-polling candidates appeared for a single night of debate in Houston hosted by ABC News and Univision -- the smallest roster yet in the third matchup of Democratic National Committee-sanctioned primary debates, with a field that still counts 20.

Here's how the night is unfolding. Please refresh for live updates.

11:52 p.m. Native Texas O'Rourke doubles down on his mandatory buyback stance post-ABC debate

Following one of the key moments of the ABC News/Univision debate, when former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke passionately said, "Hell yes, we're going to take away your AR-15, your AK-47," in the spin room, he expanded on his stance, with no spin.

"I used to brag about how safe El Paso was," he said. "One of the safest cities in America and I did so, in part, to make the point we're safe not despite, but because we're a city of immigrants, and the sons and daughters of immigrants. Yet that very fact is what drew that killer to us with a weapon of war he should have never been able to buy."

"We're a nation of laws and I fully believe in this country in my fellow Americans," he continued. "Gun owners and non-gun owners alike, Republicans, independents, and Democrats. I went to a gun show the day after I announced that proposal and listened to people who own AR-15s. Many of them said, I would willingly give that weapon up, I don't need it."

He then added: "I think that's the way forward is make sure that we ask every American to do the right thing. But then we take action. After years, decades of doing nothing in the face of this violence."

11:46 p.m. Warren tells ABC's post-debate panel how she separated herself

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recapped her debate performance, fielding a question on how she separated herself from the other frontrunners.

"I got out there and talked about what I believe in," she said. "I got out there and talked about the things I'm fighting for. I got a chance to talk with America about the importance of public schools. How I've wanted to be a school teacher sinceI was in second grade. I just think it's a terrific opportunity, these debates, for each one of us on that stage to be able to talk with the American people about who we are, and if you give us the chance, where we want to lead this country. All I hope for is that I was as clear as I could be."

11:37 p.m.: Klobuchar pitches herself as a candidate who can unite a unique Democratic coalition, says it's too early to say she hasn't 'caught on'

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that it is too early in the Democratic primary process to say who the eventual nominee of the party will be."First of all, I'm ahead of 18 people including every governor and the mayor of New York City, so let's keep it in perspective. And secondly, fall is when things start. In Minnesota, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, people are in little league games," Klobuchar told ABC News Chief National Affairs Correspondent Tom Llamas in the spin room after the debate.

11:31 p.m.: Harris defends her prosecutorial record, says she's still introducing herself to the American people

Sen. Kamala Harris defended her prosecutorial record in the spin room after ABC News' Democratic debate, and challenged the notion that she does not have support in the African-American community.

"I did the work that I did was the work of, first of all, becoming a prosecutor, because I just have a very strong and natural desire to want to protect people. In particular our most vulnerable. A large part of my career as a courtroom prosecutor was handling cases that affected crimes against women and children," Harris said.

"There's an incredible amount of support there. Listen, I am still introducing myself to the American people. I have not run before for president. We have a couple of people on the stage who have run once and some many times. I am still introducing myself to people and working on earning the votes of people," Harris said about her strategy to court African-American voters.

11:17 p.m.: Castro defends his attack on Biden during the debate

Former Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro defended a contentious exchange with former Vice President Biden on the debate stage over healthcare, telling ABC News Chief National Affairs Correspondent Tom Llamas: "No, we were having a debate about health care policy."

When asked if the exchange was meant as a slight at Biden's age, Castro said definitively, no.

"I wasn't taking a shot at his age, I was taking a shot at the fact that he had just said the words "Buy in." You would have to buy in," Castro said.

"It's not an attack on Vice President Biden. It's not something about personality. It's about the health care policy. That was my focus," he added.

11:11 p.m.: Buttigieg takes aim at liberals Warren, Sanders from the spin room

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg went after his Democratic rivals, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as he pitched his vision for the country.

"No question that my vision is different," he said. "It's not just about what's attainable, it's about what the right policy is. I view it differently from Senators Sanders and Warren who think we can throw the switch on this big part of the American economy. With health care, I think it's better to trust Americans to make that decision for themselves."

He also tackled the question of electability, when asked by ABC News' Senior Washington reporter, Devin Dwyer, "Electability is one of the main reasons I think people should support me. Every time Democrats have won, not just in my lifetime -- we're going to get out there and campaign are. The best way to demonstrate you're electable is to win. That's what we're seeking to do in the early states. Think about this. Every single time, the democratic party has won not just in my lifetime, the last 50 years, it's been with somebody who came from outside Washington. Somebody who represented a new generation in a different set of ideas. By contrast, every time we've tried the safe choice."

11:07 p.m.: Booker says debate went 'really, really well'

Sen. Cory Booker told ABC News Chief National Affairs Correspondent Tom Llamas in the spin room that Thursday's debate put on display the differences in the Democratic field, but also demonstrated his ability to unify the party.

"I think this was yet another opportunity for me to not only show my ideas, but also the spirit of our party. That stage and all the differences that people were trying to make amongst democrats, to me that's important and our differences matter," Booker said."But what matters a lot more is who can unify our party and the disparate voices so we can beat Donald Trump. Even more importantly than that, who can help unify this country that has suffered, really, under a president that's demeaning and degrading and dividing people. So I think I got a chance to show my ability to pull people together," he added.

11:03 p.m.: Stepping off the debate stage, Sanders touts his performance in the spin room

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders reiterated the differences that divide him from the primary's polling frontrunner, Joe Biden.

"I hope so," he said when asked if he made a clear difference between him and former Vice President Biden. "Joe and I have a very different vision for this country. Joe is a good friend of mine. I like him very much. He's a very decent human being. But Joe and I have a very different voting record and a very different vision for this country."

In the post-debate interview, when pressed on if there is room in the field for both him and Warren, Sanders said, "You can ask Senator Warren that. I’m sure she has a good answer. All I can focus on is my campaign. I have been there. Four years ago, I made a decision that I did not want democratic primary to simply be a primary in which the needs of working people were not represented. And I got into that primary. I took on the whole bloody establishment."

10:45 p.m. The debate has ended

The candidates are all smiles and Andrew Yang even blew a kiss as they left the stage.

10:42 p.m.: Klobuchar, Castro highlight family history in closing question

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar highlighted her struggles with her father's alcoholism as the catalyst for leading her into public service.

"My challenges and resilience have brought me up here," she said. "I grew up with a dad who struggled with alcoholism his whole life and after his third DWI, he had a choice between jail and treatment. He chose treatment...And that made me interested in public service, because I feel like everyone should have that same right, to be pursued by grace."

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro talked about growing up in a single-parent household to talk about his resiliency, "I shouldn't be here on this stage. You know, Castro is my mother's name and was my grandmother's name before her. I grew up in a single-parent household on the west side of San Antonio, going to the public schools."

He added: "There's nobody that gets tested more in a position of public trust than the president of the United States. This president has failed that test. But I want you to know that if you elect me president, I won't."

10:40 p.m.: Booker reflects on his political legacy, O'Rourke invokes El Paso's resiliency

Reflecting on resiliency, Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke shared the stories of the communities that they call home.

"My biggest professional setback is embarrassing, because a lot of folks know about it. I, with a bunch of tenant leaders in Newark, New Jersey, in 2002 took on the political machine, and boy did they fight back," Booker said.

"The lesson I learned of resilience is to trust people because the power of the people is always greater than the people in power. And the test of America right now is not a referendum on Donald Trump, it's a referendum on us and who we are and who we're going to be together," Booker said.

O'Rourke told the story of a soccer coach who was shot in El Paso last month, and his desire to continue to do his job, and spoke to the city's ability to come together in the face of tragedy.

"Everything that I've learned about resilience I've learned from my hometown of El Paso, Texas. In the face of this act of terror that was directed at our community, in large part by the president of the United States, that killed 22 people and injured many more, we were not defeated by that, nor were we defined by that," O'Rourke said.

10:36 p.m.: Yang highlights his struggles with entrepreneurship

"I was an unhappy lawyer for five whole months and I left to start a business," Andrew Yang began. "My company flopped. I lost investors, hundreds of thousands of dollars, still owed 100,000 in school debt. My parents still told people I was a lawyer."But he said he persisted: "I kept working in small growth companies for another ten years and eventually had some success. After I had some success, I still remembered how hard it was."

Yang pointed to one of his guests in the audience, Shawn Wynn, a young entrepreneurs who was supported by Yang's nonprofit, Venture for America. He told him he hoped his path was a little bit easier than his own.

10:34 p.m.: Buttigieg gets candid about coming out and the struggles afterwards

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, got candid about his decision to come out and the response he got afterwards.

"As a military officer serving under don't ask, don't tell, and as an elected official in the state of Indiana when Mike Pence was governor, at a certain point, when it came to professional setbacks, I’d wonder whether just acknowledging who I was, was going to be the ultimate career-ending professional setback," Buttigieg said.

"I had no idea what kind of professional setback it would be, especially because inconveniently, it was an election year in my socially conservative community. What happened was that when I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and re-elected me with 80% of the vote," he added.

10:29 p.m.: Warren, Sanders and Harris show resiliency through their personal backgrounds

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, taking the final question on personal resiliency, said, "I've known what I wanted to be since second grade. I wanted to be a public school teacher...By the time I graduated from high school, my family didn't have money for a college application, much less to send me off to four years at a university...I made it as a special needs teacher."

She continued: "Here's resilience. I said, I'll go to law school. I practiced law for about 45 minutes and then went back to my first love, which is teaching...the reason I'm standing here today is because I got back up, I fought back. "

PHOTO: Democratic presidential hopefuls stand onstage ahead of the third Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision at Texas Southern University in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.
Democratic presidential hopefuls, from left: Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro stand onstage ahead of the third Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision at Texas Southern University in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders talked about his upbringing in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and his unlikely political rise to the U.S. Senate.

"Resilience, to me, means growing up in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York, the son of an immigrant who came to this country without a nickel in his pocket. Professional resilience means to me, George, running for U.S. Senate in Vermont and getting 1% of the vote," Sanders said in response to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos' question.

California Sen. Kamala Harris answered by ticking through her many uphill battles on her way to becoming a U.S. Senator: "I was the only black elected -- woman black elected attorney general in the state, in the country. And each time, people would say, it's not your time, it's not your turn, it's going to be too difficult, they're not ready for you, and I didn't listen."

10:25 p.m.: Biden interrupted by protests in the debate hall

Former Vice President Biden was interrupted by protesters during an answer on what the most significant professional setback he's faced was.

It was not immediately clear what the protesters were shouting.

"My dad had an expression. He said, Joey, it's not a question of succeeding, whether you get knocked down, it's how quickly you get up, and he said, you never explain and never complain," Biden said after the protesters were removed rom the debate hall.

10:17 p.m. Who has had the most speaking time in the Democratic debate?

Former Vice President Joe Biden led the first half of Thursday night’s Democratic debate in speaking time. Biden spoke for 9:52. He spoke the most words in both previous debates, according to FiveThirtyEight.

10:19 p.m.: Booker returns to his roots in Newark to debate charter schools

Seeking to find a lane amid a debate on charter schools, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker invoked his mayoral tenure, saying, "People are talking about raising teacher salary. We actually did it in Newark, New Jersey."

"We didn't stop there," he said. "We closed poor-performing charter schools, but we expanded high-performer charter schools. We were a city that said, we need to find local solutions that work for our community."

10:15 p.m.: Biden pressed on his record on race relations

Former Vice President Joe Biden was pressed by ABC News' National Correspondent Linsey Davis on his record on race relations, which he defended vigorously.

"Look, there's institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red lining, banks, making sure we are in a position where -- look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year," Biden said.

Biden also used his time to answer a previously asked question about Venezuela.

"I'm going to go like the rest of them do, twice over. Okay? Because here's the deal. The deal is that we've got this a little backwards. By the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I've confronted Maduro. Number two, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America," Biden said.

10:10 p.m.: Warren touts her past career as a public school teacher

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren chimed in on the debate over public education, touting her background as a public school teacher.

"I think I'm the only person on this stage who has been a public school teacher," Warren said. "I’ve wanted to be a public school teacher since I was in second grade. And let's be clear in all the ways we talk about this, money for public schools should stay in public schools. Not go anywhere else. I've already made my commitment."

"We will have a secretary of education who has been a public school teacher," she insisted.

10:08 p.m.: Buttigieg goes after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as he advocates for paying teachers more

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, garnering loud cheers from the crowd, went after President Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

"Step one is appoint a Secretary of Education who actually believes in public education. I believe in public education. And in order to strengthen it, some things are very complex, for preparing for a future where knowledge is at your fingertips, but we got to teach more to do with critical thinking and social and emotional learning," Buttigieg said.

"If we want to get the results that we expect for our churn, we have to support and compensate the teaching profession. Respect teachers the way we do soldiers and pay them more the way we do doctors," he argued.

10:06 p.m.: Yang defends his support for charter schools

Andrew Yang, one of the most vocal proponents for charter schools, said on his support, "I am pro-good school. I've got a kid, one of my little boys just started public school last week, and I was not there because I was running for president.

He then paused for a second, before adding, "We need to pay teachers more, because the data clearly shows that a good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold."

"The answer is to put money directly into the families and neighborhoods to give our kids chance to learn and our teachers a chance to teach," he concluded.

10:12 p.m.: Harris touts her plan for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

Sen. Harris, a graduate of Howard University, touted her plan to invest more in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Texas Southern University.

"I also want to talk about where we are here at TSU, and what it means in terms of HBCUs. I have -- as part of my proposal, that we will put $2 trillion into investing in our HBCUs for teachers, because -- because -- because, one, as a proud graduate of a historically black college and university, I will say -- I will say that it is our HBCUs that disproportionately produce teachers and those who serve in these positions," Harris said.

10:05 p.m.: Warren again casts corporate America as the culprit for lack of action on climate change, Harris calls out Republicans on the issue

The discussion on climate change continued with Senators Warren on Harris, who each cast the issue as one of the utmost importance.

"We need to work on every front on climate change. It is the threat to every living thing on this planet and we are running out of time," Warren said.

Harris went after congressional Republicans over the issue, saying that their inaction shows a "lack of courage."

"When I've been in the United States Senate for now the last two and a half years and I look at our counterparts, the Republicans in the United States Senate, they must be looking at their children and then when they look at the mirror, I don't know what they see, but it's a lack of courage," Harris said.

10:02 p.m.: Klobuchar pitches a Midwesterner's approach to climate change

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar leaned into her Midwestern roots to outline her approach to tackling the climate crisis, "I think having someone leading the ticket from the midwest will allow us to talk about this in a different way and get it done."She continued: "On day one, I will get us back into the international climate change agreement. On day two, I will bring back the clean power rules that president Obama had worked on."

10:00 p.m.: O'Rourke says he will take action on climate change 'regardless of political consequences'

Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, responding to a question on climate change, said action on the issue is crucial "regardless of political consequences."

"We will follow through, regardless of the political consequences or who it offends, because this is the very future of our planet and our ability for our children and grandchildren to be able to survive on it," O'Rourke said.

"We will make sure that we get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than the year 2050, that we are halfway there by 2030, that we mobilize $5 trillion over the next ten years to do that, that we invest here in Houston, Texas, with pre-disaster mitigation grants to protect those communities that are vulnerable to flooding, given the fact that this town has seen three 500-year floods in just five years," O'Rourke added.

9:52 p.m.: Sanders contrasts his Iraq war vote with Biden's

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called out former Vice President Joe Biden's 'yes' vote on the Iraq war in 2003 - when he was a senator from Delaware.

"The big differences between you and me, I never believed what Cheney and Bush said about Iraq and I voted against the war in Iraq and help lead the opposition," Sanders said. "I think also I am the only person up here to have voted against all three of trump's military budgets."

9:49 p.m.: Biden defends his record on Iraq, Afghanistan

Former Vice President Biden, who has taken criticism recently for his record on foreign policy, and his vote in favor of the Iraq War, defended his record, and said he was wrong to say he opposed the war immediately after it started.

"With regard to Iraq, the fact of the matter is that, you know, I should have never voted to give bush the authority to go in and do what he did," Biden said.

"I said something that was not meant the way I said it. I said, from that point on. What I was arguing against in the beginning, once he started to put the troops in, was that in fact we were doing it the wrong way, there was no plan," Biden said.

He later leaned on the trust President Obama put in him to ensure an effective end to U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"And it was later when we came into office, that Barack - the president - turned to me, he said, Joe, we have a plan to get out. He turned, he said, Joe will organize this, get the troops home.."

9:46 p.m.: Buttigieg, only military veteran on stage, advocates against 'endless wars'

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a U.S. Navy veteran and the only candidate on stage Thursday with military experience, advocated for a drawdown of the War in Afghanistan.

"If there's one thing we've learned about Afghanistan, from Afghanistan, it’s that the best way not to be caught up in endless war is to avoid starting one in the first place. And so when I am president, an authorization for the use of military force will have a built in three-year sunset," Buttigieg said.

"By the way, we also have a president right now who seems to treat troops as props, or worse, tools for his own enrichment," he added, taking a swipe at Trump.

9:44 p.m.: Warren takes up the issue of bringing troops home

When asked by "World News Tonight" Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir about keeping her promise to bring troops home starting now, without a deal with the Taliban, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded, "What we're doing right now in Afghanistan is not helping the safety and security of the United States, it is not helping the safety and security of the world, it is not helping the safety and security of Afghanistan."

"We need to bring our troops home," she said. "Then we need to make a big shift. We can not ask our military to keep solving problems that cannot be solved militarily."

During a follow up, Warren invoked her trip to Afghanistan with the late Sen. John McCain, to elevate her foreign policy credentials.

"I was in Afghanistan with John McCain two years ago this past summer," she said. "We talked to military leaders, American and local leaders, we talked to people on the ground and asked the question...Show me what winning looks like...no one can describe it. And the reason no one can describe it is because the problems in Afghanistan are not problems that can be solved by a military."

9:42 p.m.: Booker gives a shoutout to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his hair

Hitting President Trump over his aggressive trade policies, including slapping tariffs on Canadian goods, Booker gave a shoutout to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"You literally have him using a national security waiver to put tariffs on Canada. I'm the only person on this stage that finds Trudeau's hair very menacing, but they are not a national security threat," the famously bald Booker said.

"We cannot go up against China alone. This is a president that has a better relationship with dictators like Duterte and Putin than he does with Merkel and Macron," Booker said, invoking President Trump's foreign policy strategy, which Democrats charge is too cozy with authoritarian regimes.

9:40 p.m.: Moderate Biden finds common ground with liberal warren

In a rare moment of comity, former Vice President Joe Biden said he agreed with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.Amid the debate on trade, he said, "I think Elizabeth -- Senator Warren is correct, at the table has to be labor, and at the table have to be environmentalists. The fact of the matter is, China, the problem isn't the trade deficit, the problem is they're stealing our intellectual property."

9:36 p.m.: Harris navigates the debate on trade

California Sen. Kamala Harris, who was asked how her trade policy would differ than former President Obama's, said, "When we look at this issue, my trade policy, under a Harris administration, is always going to be about saying, we need to export American products, not American jobs. And to do that, we have to have a meaningful trade policy. I'm not a protectionist Democrat. Look, we need to sell our stuff. And that means we need to sell it to people overseas."

PHOTO: Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019.
Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019.
Mike Blake/Reuters

As she has done several times throughout the debate, Harris then hit at President Trump, asserting in jest, "But the bottom line is this, Donald Trump in office on trade policy, you know, he reminds me of that guy in "The Wizard of Oz," you know, when you pull back the curtain, it's a really small dude?"

9:31 p.m.: Klobuchar says Trump is treating farmers and workers like 'poker chips'

As she directed her criticism at President Trump, the frequent target of attacks Thursday night, Minnesota Amy Klobuchar said, "What [Trump] has done here, has assessed these tariffs on our allies, he's put us in the middle of the trade war and treating our farmers and workers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos."

9:31 p.m.: Klobuchar says Trump is treating farmers and workers like 'poker chips'

As she directed her criticism at President Trump, the frequent target of attacks Thursday night, Minnesota Amy Klobuchar said, "What [Trump] has done here, has assessed these tariffs on our allies, he's put us in the middle of the trade war and treating our farmers and workers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos."

9:29 p.m.: Yang, Buttigieg criticize Trump's trade strategy with China

Both Yang and Buttigieg criticized President Trump's strategy in dealing with China, and the South Bend Mayor calling him an "empty chair" on the global stage.

"We have to let the Chinese know that we recognize that President Trump has pursued an arbitrary and haphazard trade policy that has had victims on both sides," Yang said.

"Well, the president clearly has no strategy. You know, when I first got into this race, I remember president Trump scoffed and said he'd like to see me make a deal with Xi Jinping. I'd like to see him making a deal with XI Jinping. Is it just me or was that supposed to happen in like April?" Buttigieg asked rhetorically.

Pete Buttigieg on trade: "When I first got into this race, I remember President Trump scoffed and said he'd like to see me making a deal with Xi Jinping. I'd like to see him making a deal with Xi Jinping" https://t.co/T37EaVOvlU #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/P3kK7Om1hr

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 13, 2019
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