The October Democratic presidential primary debate immediately kicked off Tuesday night with the biggest issue dominating headlines, as the 12 highest-polling Democratic candidates were asked about the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. And while the Democratic candidates have clear differences when it comes to their policy agendas, all were largely united in their support of the House’s impeachment inquiry—and, in many cases, the possibility of Trump’s removal. “Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics. I think that’s the case with this impeachment inquiry,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was the first major candidate to support impeachment, said Tuesday. “Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences.”
Many of the candidates onstage Tuesday were enthusiastic about impeachment, quick to highlight Trump’s failings, and, as Vice President Joe Biden put it, his status as “the most corrupt in modern history and I think all of our history.” “If we do not hold [Trump] to account . . . we have failed everyone who has sacrificed and laid their lives down on the line,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would like to hear Trump respond to how his policies, including his recent withdrawal of troops in Northern Syria, “makes America great again.” “He should be removed,” Julián Castro said simply of Trump. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has long waged a “Need to Impeach” campaign, emphasized the popular support for impeachment, saying how he took his campaign to the people after realizing two years ago “that there was something desperately wrong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” “Impeaching and removing this president is something the people are demanding, that’s what they want,” Steyer said.
As sitting members of Congress, several candidates will play a direct role in deciding Trump’s fate on impeachment. “Mitch McConnell has got to do the right thing and allow a free and fair trial in the Senate,” Sen. Bernie Sanders emphasized during his response supporting impeachment. Sen. Kamala Harris stood strong on her opposition to Trump ahead of a likely Senate vote, responding when asked if already deciding that she wants to remove Trump was being fair to the president: “Well, it’s just being observant.” “He has committed crimes in plain sight,” Harris said, adding that “as a former prosecutor, i know a confession when I see it.” Sen. Cory Booker was similarly asked whether he could be fair at an impeachment trial, given that he once said that Trump’s “moral vandalism disqualifies him from being president.” The New Jersey senator emphasized the importance of taking his impeachment vote seriously, saying that “this has got to be about patriotism and not partisanship” and this is a “moral moment and not a political one.” “We have to conduct this process in a way that’s honorable, in a way that brings our country together and doesn’t rip us apart,” Booker said. As the sole member of the House onstage—and a lawmaker who only recently supported an impeachment inquiry—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard held the most cautious view of impeachment onstage, emphasizing that her support for the inquiry was based specifically on Ukraine and urging the importance of “gather[ing] all the information” and seeing how the inquiry “play[s] out.” “If impeachment is driven by these hyper-partisan interests, it will divide an already divided country,” Gabbard said.
For Biden, the impeachment inquiry is a more personal affair, given that it stems in part from a baseless right-wing conspiracy theory concerning his son Hunter Biden‘s board of directors role with a Ukrainian energy company. When asked specifically about Trump and Rudy Giuliani‘s allegations about him and his son—which there is no evidence to support—Biden emphasized, “My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.” Biden said that Hunter’s statement on the matter “speaks for itself” and that he “never discussed a thing” about Ukraine with his son, stressing that the issue instead is Trump’s corruption and “why it’s so important to remove this man from office.” “Rudy Giuliani, the president, and his thugs have already proven that they are flat lying,” Biden said. “[Trump] is going after me because he knows if I get the nomination I will beat him like a drum.”