The Note: Ordinary debate lands in extraordinary times for Democrats

The Democrats’ final debate of 2019 takes place Thursday night in Los Angeles.

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The Democratic presidential candidates have traveled a long way to be in a place they don’t necessarily want to be.

The Democrats’ final debate of 2019 takes place Thursday night in Los Angeles, reflecting California’s status as a critical Super Tuesday state.

Yet the evening seems primed to occupy space far from the realities of the news cycle -- and runs the risk of straying from the core issues of the primary race itself.

The seven candidates on stage will not reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party, with only Andrew Yang’s late qualification keeping it from being an all-white lineup. It also will not feature every high-profile contender, with Sen. Cory Booker and others failing to make the cut, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg not even trying to qualify.

Then there’s the matter of the news: President Donald Trump has now been impeached. All of the candidates agree that he should be removed from office, though they also agree that Democratic primary voters have other issues they’d rather focus on.

The 2020 race has been taking place in bubble of sorts. In that world, nuances of health-care policy and political-donor transparency have been campaign-shaking issues, and staff hires and Iowa ground games provide meaningful metrics.

The Democratic race has felt strangely normal, in times that are anything but normal. Defeating Trump will require overcoming his domination of the news cycle – even when the news about Trump isn’t of his choosing.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

Republicans are not wrong when they say, as they have over and over this week, that some Democrats have been talking about impeaching Trump since shortly after he won in 2016 and was sworn into office.

Tom Steyer, who is now running for president in the Democratic primary, started a campaign for impeachment in October 2017, citing, among other offenses, the fact that the president continues to profit from foreigners through his hotel brands.

In January of this year, hours after being sworn in, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was famously caught on camera, cursing as she said she planned to impeach the president.

Of course, this argument from Republicans is incredibly disingenuous, too. A few birds do not make a flock and a few members do not make a party. Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the large majority of Democratic members of Congress rejected the idea of impeaching Trump until news of the Ukraine affair broke.

After months of consternation and division among Democrats over this issue, the party voted almost entirely together, save for one future Republican and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.

After anxiety that going down this path could hurt their reelection chances, and with the full knowledge that Democratic voters say they prioritize beating Trump above all else, Democrats on Capitol Hill still decided that the gravity of the moment and threat of ongoing actions by this president warranted any election risk.

Surely some Democrats even argued to themselves and each other that this move could help them make a case to voters that they have a moral high ground over this president.

And Pelosi got the last surprise Wednesday night, too, announcing she is waiting to formally send the impeachment referral over to the Senate in an attempt to exert a little pressure over Mitch McConnell as he decides how to proceed.

"We can't name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side and I would hope that would be soon. So far, we haven't seen anything that looks fair to us," Pelosi said.

Time will tell, but for now one thing is clear: Pelosi knew what exactly would keep her caucus together, even if she was unable to win any Republicans over.

The TIP with Beatrice Peterson

A day after voting "Present" on impeachment, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, will hit the trail with a campaign party in Manchester, New Hampshire. Hours later, her fellow 2020 contenders take the debate stage in California.

Gabbard stressed to reporters earlier in the week, "It's really important that every member of Congress cast their vote based on what's in the best interest of the country rather than based on political implications." Gabbard added that she based her vote on what she felt was the right thing to do -- not the political fallout.

Gabbard is not running for reelection to Congress and said after reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, “I am standing in the center and have decided to vote Present, because I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing."

She added she couldn't vote for the measure "because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country."

Gabbard, who was one poll shy of making the debate stage, announced before missing the debate threshold that she wouldn’t be attending the debate regardless.

The Hawaii congresswoman will have music, guest artists and contributors at her party. Gabbard will also host a Q&A at the Thursday event. Expect her vote on impeachment to be a hot topic.


ABC News’ "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks speak with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois about the future of an impeachment trial in the Senate.


  • Former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Tom Steyer; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Andrew Yang participate in the sixth Democratic primary debate, starting at 8 p.m. ET from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers a speech on the Senate Floor at 9:30 a.m. ET
  • President Trump and first lady Melania Trump deliver remarks at a Christmas reception at 4:15 p.m. ET at the White House. Later, they speak at another Christmas reception at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., attends a community service event with Three Square Food Bank at 9:30 a.m PT in Las Vegas. Later, he travels to Urbandale, Iowa, where he participates in a Cory 2020 phone bank kickoff at 7 p.m. CT.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on human rights in Iran at 10 a.m. ET at the State Department in Washington.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., rolls out her housing and poverty policies with Saint Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Melvin Carter and California state Sen. Susan Rubio at 11 a.m. PT in Santa Monica, California.
  • Biden joins striking McDonald's workers at noon PT in Los Angeles as they demand higher wages and union rights.
  • Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg makes a health care policy announcement at noon CT in Memphis, Tennessee. He then sits down for coffee with Nashville Mayor John Cooper at 4 p.m. CT. Afterward, he opens his Tennessee campaign headquarters at 5:15 p.m. CT.
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick leads a policy roundtable at 12:30 p.m. ET in Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, hosts a Tulsi and Friends event at 6:30 p.m. ET in Manchester, New Hampshire.
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