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Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In the absence of frontrunner Joe Biden, the first night of the second round of Democratic presidential debates on Tuesday saw former Rep. John Delaney, who is polling at less than 1%, assume the unlikely role of moderate foil to progressive heavyweights Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The big picture: CNN moderators largely (and predictably) framed the debate as whether Democrats are drifting too far to the left with policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal proposal and free college tuition. Those that expected Warren and Sanders to turn on one another were likely disappointed — the pair spent most of the night tag teaming moderates like Delaney, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Rep. Tim Ryan, urging them to dream big on policy and "stop using Republican talking points."

Highlights

The first 40 or so minutes of Tuesday's debate saw candidates engage in a substantive, at times fiery debate over health care policy and the political implications of Medicare for All. Delaney used his opening statement to attack Sanders' signature health care plan as "bad policy," arguing for a form of universal health care that would not eliminate private insurance. Given a chance to respond, Sanders said flatly: "You're wrong."

  • Sanders later hit back at Ryan for suggesting that Sanders couldn't know whether Medicare for All would guarantee benefits as good as the ones union workers fought to negotiate, quipping: "I do know, I wrote the damn bill!" His campaign is already selling merchandise with the crowd-pleasing one-liner.

On immigration, the question raised during the last debates by Julián Castro over whether to decriminalize the border was once again a point of contention. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who was seeking to reset his campaign after a poor debate performance last month, stood by his refusal to decriminalize the border, despite the policy earning support from a broad array of candidates including Castro, Sanders, Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and others.

  • The candidates overall showed far more unity on the question of immigration than they did on health care, though there was a clear divide over whether decriminalizing the border and offering free health care to undocumented immigrants would encourage illegal border crossings. Ryan summed up the position of most moderates on stage with the line: "If you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell."

Mayor Pete Buttigieg's debate preparedness shone through on Tuesday, as he rehashed one of his favorite campaign talking points urging Democrats to ignore Trump's "crazy socialist" attacks.

  • The 37-year-old gay veteran quoted scripture to condemn Republicans for their "moral hypocrisy," pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in his first year in office and declined an opportunity from moderator Don Lemon to attack Bernie Sanders over his age — turning in an all-around strong performance.

Author Marianne Williamson, a long-shot candidate who found herself on the receiving end of many Twitter jokes after her first debate performance, earned perhaps the loudest audience reaction of the night with her answers on how to heal the country's racial divides and combat President Trump's divisive rhetoric.

  • On Flint, Michigan, Williamson argued: "This is part of the dark underbelly of American society. The racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we're having here tonight, if you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I'm afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days."
  • Williamson was the most Googled candidate in every state except Montana, where Bullock ranked No. 1, according to Google Trends.

What's next: The second night of debates, featuring a Joe Biden vs. Kamala Harris rematch, will kick off Wednesday night on CNN, CNN en Español and CNN International at 8 p.m. ET.

  • Other candidates debating include Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that the next debate is Wednesday, not Thursday.

Go deeper

Updated 6 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement on Sunday.

State of play: All four hostages were safely released after the day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

  • "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.
  • Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Driving the news: The Colleyville Police Department said in a statement nearly an hour after the synagogue's 10 a.m. CST Shabbat services began that officers arrived on the scene and "observed an emergency situation that warranted an evacuation of the surrounding areas."

  • The FBI's Dallas Field Office, including crisis negotiators, and Texas Department of Public Safety worked alongside local authorities as the situation unfolded, according to CPD.
  • Abbott tweeted around 9:30 p.m. CST, "Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe."

Matt DeSarno, the special agent in charge at the FBI's Dallas Field Office, said Saturday night that the suspect was focused on "one issue that was not specifically threatening to the Jewish community."

  • According to Texas Department of Public Safety, the suspect said he wanted to see Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, who is serving an 86-year sentence nearby. Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 for assaulting U.S. federal agents, employees and nationals in Afghanistan.

"We strongly condemn the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX," Siddiqui's attorney Marwa Elbially, said in a statement earlier on Saturday, per CNN. "We implore the hostage taker to immediately release all hostages and turn himself in."

  • "We want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia's brother who is a respected architect and member of the community. Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family," the statement continued.

What they're saying: "Thanks to the courageous work of state, local and federal law enforcement, four Americans who were held hostage at a Texas synagogue will soon be home with their families," President Biden said in a statement.

  • "We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community," Biden added.
  • "There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate—we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country."

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

5 hours ago - Sports

Novak Djokovic loses Australian visa appeal

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2022. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Tennis star Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening, facing a three-year visa ban after an appeals court in the country revoked his visa.

Driving the news: Djokovic will not be able to defend his Australian Open title when the tournament starts in Melbourne. The World No. 1 is looking to break a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most Grand Slam men's singles titles.