WESTERVILLE, Ohio (AFP) — Democratic White House hopefuls united in searing condemnation of Donald Trump during their fourth debate Tuesday, saying the US president has broken the law, abused his power, and deserves to be impeached.
From the opening moments, most of the dozen candidates on stage launched fierce broadsides against Trump over the Ukrainian scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
“The impeachment must go forward,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is neck and neck with former vice president Joe Biden at the head of the 2020 nominations race.
“Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences,” she thundered.
But Warren, and others, warned the goal was not just to sanction Trump, but to restore the dignity of the office.
“Understand,” she went on, “it’s about the next president, and the next president, and the next president, and the future of this country.”
Washington’s impeachment brawl has dominated US politics for weeks, centered on Trump’s effort to press Ukraine to dig up dirt on his 2020 rival Biden — and for a 10 solid minutes Trump was the focus of attacks.
Biden made clear he believes Trump should be impeached — saying lawmakers “have no choice but to move” — but he also pushed back hard on Trump’s charge that he had intervened in Ukraine to protect his son Hunter.
“My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong,” Biden said, when asked about his son’s employment with a Ukrainian company, which even some Democrats say held the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“I carried out the policy of the United States in rooting out corruption in Ukraine. That’s what we should be focusing on,” Biden said.
The Democrats were facing off in an extraordinary moment.
The progressive Warren is on the rise and challenging Biden for frontrunner status, while liberal Sanders is under pressure to project fortitude two weeks after he was sidelined by a mild heart attack.
Beyond impeachment, candidates clashed robustly on kitchen table issues like health care.
Warren faced stiff blowback from moderates Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg who criticized her for declining to come clean on how much her “Medicare for All” health plan would cost.
“The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” said Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and the first major openly gay presidential hopeful, said Warren has been too evasive on the issue.
“Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this,” he zinged.
“No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion dollar hole in this plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”
Also on stage Tuesday were Senator Kamala Harris — her campaign floundering following a well-received rollout — Senator Cory Booker, ex-congressman Beto O’Rourke; entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Obama-era cabinet member Julian Castro, congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
Each struggled to get heard in the crowded showdown, although Yang got substantial time discussing his concerns about how automation has begun replacing millions of American workers.
An embattled Trump has come out with guns blazing against Biden and his son Hunter, repeatedly claiming without evidence that they are corrupt.
Biden has begun criticizing the president more forcefully, perhaps because he stands to lose the most in the clash.
Sanders, 78, is grappling with his own setback following a heart attack that put his health and age into question.
It tangentially raises concerns about Biden, who turns 77 next month and has been criticized for lacking vitality in debates.
Ohio voted twice for Barack Obama and then flipped to Trump in 2016. Democrats are aiming to take it back next year.