Updated Nov 21, 2019 - Politics & Policy

An issue-by-issue recap of the Democrats' fifth 2020 debate

2020 Democratic candidate on the debate stage in Atlanta

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg continue to lead the Democratic field, as the top 10 candidates take the stage on Wednesday night in Atlanta for their fifth debate — against the backdrop of the public impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

The big picture: The candidates touched on voting rights, abortion, legalizing marijuana health care, wealth tax, the current impeachment inquiries, foreign policy, climate change, child care and other issues.

Voting rights

Sen. Cory Booker first brought up voting rights when speaking about abortion and the importance of voters having their voices heard after Brian Kemp beat Stacey Abrams in the Georgia governor's race.

  • Buttigieg: “We need federal leadership to establish voting rights for the 21st century because this affects every other issue that we care about.”
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “This is a good example where [Buttigieg] has said the right words but I actually have the experience and of leading 11 of the bills that are in that House-passed bill [Buttigieg] just referred to.”
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: “Securing our elections is essential for our democracy.”


The Democrats debated to which extent abortion rights should be protected, with many candidates calling for Roe v. Wade to be codified.

  • Klobuchar: “I just can't wait to stand across from Donald Trump and say this to him. You know what? The people are with us. Over 70% of the people support Roe v. Wade.”
  • Warren: “I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights.”
  • Sanders: “If there's ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment.”

Legalizing marijuana

Booker pushed Biden on his stance about legalizing marijuana, saying it negatively impacts African Americans.

  • Booker: “I heard [Biden] literally say that ‘I don't think we should legalize marijuana.’ I thought you might have been high when you said it. And let me tell you because marijuana…marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. The war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people.”
  • Biden: “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out. But I do think it makes sense based on data that we should study what the long-term effects are for the use of marijuana.”


Sen. Kamala Harris again called out Buttigieg for using a stock photo of a Kenyan woman to promote his anti-racism plan, the Douglass Plan.

  • Harris: “I think candidates have taken for granted the constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, and have overlooked those constituencies. They show up when it's, you know, close to election time and show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven't been there before.”
  • Buttigieg: “While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country.”
  • Warren: “ I believe everyone on this stage should be embracing student loan debt forgiveness. It will help close the black-white wealth gap.”
  • Gabbard: "It's important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in a very institutional way in our country. Beginning with things that have to do with our criminal justice.”
  • Andrew Yang: “We have to designate white supremacist terrorism as domestic terrorism.”

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