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Bloomberg Takes Debate Stage for First Time & Struggles to Face His History of Misogyny, Racism

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Image Credit: MSNBC

Tensions flared at the ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Senator Bernie Sanders sought to defend his position as front-runner in the Democrats’ nomination fight, and former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar tried to attract more supporters. Senator Elizabeth Warren led a night full of attacks on the new person on stage: billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg faced questions about his vast wealth, his defense of stop-and-frisk and his treatment of women.

We host a roundtable on the debate and Saturday’s Nevada caucuses: Katrina vanden Heuvel is editorial director and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine, and a columnist for WashingtonPost.com; journalist and activist Raquel Willis is executive editor of Out magazine, as well as a supporter of Senator Elizabeth Warren; Ana María Archila is co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group that has endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders; Annise Parker is the former mayor of Houston, now president of the Victory Fund, which works to increase the number of openly LGBTQ officials in government and has endorsed Pete Buttigieg for president. The Victory Fund is the largest LGBTQ political action committee in the United States.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Las Vegas, Nevada, the six leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination squared off Wednesday night in one of the most contentious debates of the long primary season. Senator Bernie Sanders defended his position as front-runner in the Democrats’ nomination fight, and former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar tried to attract more supporters. Senator Elizabeth Warren led a night full of attacks on the new person on the stage: Billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who struggled to address questions about his vast wealth, his defense of stop-and-frisk, and treatment of women. The debate began with a question from moderator Lester Holt.

LESTER HOLT: A majority of Democratic voters still say their top priority is beating President Trump. Senator Sanders, the first question to you. Mayor Bloomberg is pitching himself as a centrist, who says he’s best positioned to win in November. Why is your revolution a better bet?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: In order to beat Donald Trump, we’re going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of the United States. Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop-and-frisk which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way. That is not a way you’re going to grow voter turnout. What our movement is about is bringing working-class people together, black and white and Latino, Native American, Asian-American, around an agenda that works for all of us and not just the billionaire class.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump; I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk. Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another. This country has worked for the rich for a long time and left everyone else in the dirt. It is time to have a president who will be on the side of working families and be willing to get out there and fight for them. That is why I am in this race, and that is how I will beat Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to unpack all of this and so much more from the Las Vegas debate, we’re hosting a roundtable discussion. I’m in Indiana. That’s right. That’s the home state of Pete Buttigieg. But joining me from New York is Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine. She’s also a columnist for TheWashingtonPost.com. Raquel Willis is an activist and journalist based in New York City. She’s endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren. Ana María Archila is co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, which has endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders in December. And in Houston, Texas, Annise Parker is with us, former mayor of Houston, now president of the Victory Fund, which works to increase the number of openly LGBTQ officials in government and has endorsed Mayor Pete Buttigieg for president. The Victory Fund is the largest LGBTQ political action committee in the United States.

We welcome you all to this Democracy Now! roundtable. Katrina vanden Heuvel, let’s begin with you. I mean, to say the least, it seems to me that Bernie Sanders was very lucky last night because usually the guns are sort of focused on the number one candidate, but instead they were all focused on the person who’s not on the ballot in Nevada, and that is the newcomer to the stage, billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: That was one of the most fiery Democratic debates I think we’ve all lived through. Mayor Bloomberg seemed to amp everything up. And it’s right that the targets were focused on Mayor Bloomberg. What was important was it seemed that all the candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren — Elizabeth Warren, warrior, back. You didn’t hear the unity. And if debates are any measure, she is the comeback woman of last night. But I think, you know, Bernie Sanders spoke eloquently about what he’s doing. I mean, he is building a majority coalition of workers across race and region. And Elizabeth Warren came out fighting and rightly took on Mayor Bloomberg for his comments about women and, more important, what’s going on not only in his workplace — Bloomberg, the allegations of sexual harassment workplace abuse — but, as The Nation reported, Amy, and you spoke of this earlier, our D.C. correspondent, Ken [Klippenstein], received an NDA, campaign nondisclosure agreement, that transparency experts say is so broad that it could really prohibit campaign staffers from reporting incidents of sexual harassment or workplace abuse.

But I think last night you had, in Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the progressive wing of the party, they have won the ideas primary. Ideas once considered radical are at the center of this Democratic debate. Bernie Sanders is winning the money primary with small donors, a great counter to the orgy of political spending Mayor Bloomberg is pushing out on this country. And you got to wonder: With all that money, where was the debate prep for this guy? I mean, it was lousy. So, we don’t need two dueling plutocrats, as Elizabeth Warren said eloquently. We need people who represent what the Democratic Party could be. So I think it was an important night. And we will see, moving forward, but as we talk this morning, it does look — and one hates to put too much on polls, because they’re unpredictable — but Bernie Sanders is leading across racial, ideological and educational grounds, and certainly leading among a younger cohort. We’ll see what the turnout looks like, Amy, because you heard Sanders. His theory of change is expanding the electorate and bringing in new voters and expanding a turnout that has to be huge in order to overcome the president in — the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I mean, as I understand it, the early voting in Nevada, which is a little confusing since it is a caucus state, more people, something like 70,000 people, have voted. That’s about equal to all that came out in the 2016 caucus. But let’s go to part of the extended exchange between Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren on those allegations of sexual harassment. This begins with a question from Hallie Jackson.

HALLIE JACKSON: Several former employees have claimed that your company was a hostile workplace for women. When you were confronted about it, you admitted making sexually suggestive remarks, saying, quote, “That’s the way I grew up.” In a lawsuit in the 1990s, according to The Washington Post, one former female employee alleged that you said, quote, “I would do you in a second.” Should Democrats expect better from their nominee?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Look, let me say a couple things, and if I can have my full minute and a quarter? Thank you. I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement has exposed. And anybody that does anything wrong in our company, we investigate it, and if it’s appropriate, they’re gone that day.

But let me tell you what I do in my company and my foundation and in city government when I was there. In my foundation, the person that runs it’s a woman. Seventy percent of the people there are women. In my company, lots and lots of women have big responsibilities. They get paid exactly the same as men. And in my — in City Hall, the person that’s the top person, my deputy mayor, was a woman, and 40% of our commissioners were women. I am very proud of the fact that about two weeks ago we were awarded — we were voted the most — the best place to work, second-best place in America. If that doesn’t say something about our employees and how happy they are, I don’t know what does.

HALLIE JACKSON: Senator Warren, you’ve been critical of Mayor Bloomberg on this issue.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes, I have. And I hope you heard what his defense was: “I’ve been nice to some women.” That just doesn’t cut it. The mayor has to stand on his record. And what we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women — dozens? who knows? — to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We have a very few nondisclosure agreements.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: How many is that?


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: How many is that?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told. And let me just — and let me — there’s agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet, and that’s up to them. They signed those agreements, and we’ll live with it.

JOE BIDEN: Come on.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, wait, when you say it is up to — I just want to be clear. “Some” is how many? And when you — and when you say they signed them and they wanted them, if they wish now to speak out and tell their side of the story about what it is they allege, that’s now OK with you? You’re releasing them on television tonight?




SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Is that right? Tonight?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Senator, the company and somebody else, in this case the man or a woman, or could be more than that, they decided, when they made an agreement, they wanted to keep it quiet for everybody’s interests.


JOE BIDEN: Come on.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: They signed the agreements, and that’s what we’re going to live with.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: They could release them now.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: No, the question is —

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I heard your question.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: — Are the women bound by being muzzled by you? And you could release them from that immediately. Because, understand, this is not just a question of the mayor’s character. This is also a question about electability. We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has — who knows how many? — nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against. That’s not what we do as Democrats.

HALLIE JACKSON: Mr. Vice President? … Mayor Bloomberg, final word to you.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I’ve said we’re not going to get — to end these agreements, because they were made consensually, and they have every right to expect that they will stay private.

JOE BIDEN: If they want to release it, they should be able to release themselves.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Could I add a word to this?

JOE BIDEN: Say yes.

AMY GOODMAN: The last voice was former Vice President Joe Biden, but the main part, of course, billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg being attacked and criticized by Senator Elizabeth Warren. We are also joined by Raquel Willis. She is the executive editor of Out magazine, and she personally has endorsed Elizabeth Warren. Can you respond to this back-and-forth?

RAQUEL WILLIS: Absolutely. I feel like Senator Warren came out swinging last night. She was not afraid. And if we’re really going to talk about electability, she really demonstrated that last night. I mean, a lot of the conversation around her as a candidate has been whether people think that she could actually be elected or whether she could actually hold someone like Trump accountable. And we really saw also the failings of Mike Bloomberg. I mean, we see just how much of a demagogue, how disgusting Trump has been in his history and also currently in the policies that he has enacted. And so, why would we think so much would change under a Bloomberg administration? And so, I think Senator Warren really deftly came at him, made sure to hold him accountable in the moment, and really made a point about us not electing leaders who want to silence marginalized people, particularly women.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, this is a key debate for Senator Warren, who has been slipping in the polls and fundraising, made a lot of money just last night as this debate was going on and afterwards.

RAQUEL WILLIS: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that this was the night that all of the supporters for Senator Warren have been wanting. I saw a lot of people saying on social media how — you know, “Where has this Senator Warren been?” And she’s always been there. I think now she is really taking a new strategy. She’s making sure that people understand she’s not just going to be there only to present her plans, but she’s going to hold people accountable for what they have or have not put out plan-wise.

I really think she had another strong moment particularly around healthcare. I think she’s garnered a lot of ire from the progressive wing of our electorate around her plan for Medicare for All, particularly in comparison to Senator Sanders. And I think she really made some great points about not thinking that Klobuchar really had a plan, you know, really thinking that Pete was kind of blowing — Mayor Buttigieg was really kind of blowing past some of the finer notes on what the people actually want. And people want healthcare. People want to be covered.

So I think it was a great night for her. And I think that it also was just important that Bloomberg was fully held accountable fresh out the gate. I think a lot of folks have been worried about what his presence in the election season means. Folks have been very worried and saying, you know, he’s buying the election. And, of course, I think a lot more of it is about buying delegates, more than anything else. But I think it was important for his first showing on the national stage to be one where he was really held to the fire. And we’ll see what it looks like for him to maybe recover, if he tries to do that. But I think Senator Warren had a great night.

AMY GOODMAN: If last night was a dress rehearsal for taking on Trump, with Bloomberg as the stand-in — of course, former Republican — Warren clearly had a very good night, though very interesting how little Trump was raised last night. We’re going to go to a break and then come back to more of this, what some are calling, well, much more than the “Rumble in the Jungle,” perhaps, yeah, Mayor Bloomberg, the piñata in Nevada. Stay with us.

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