Twenty Democratic presidential hopefuls are slated to take the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami for a highly anticipated debate that will stretch over two nights on June 26 and 27.
Who will be there? Who won’t? What questions will the candidates be asked? Who will jab at whom? What will we learn? Read on for everything you need to know going into the first of a dozen Democratic primary debates.
Who will be there, and in what order?
Night 1 — June 26 (in order of stage placement)
New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioProtesters splash red paint on NYC streets to symbolize blood De Blasio: Robert E Lee’s ‘name should be taken off everything in America, period’ House Democratic whip pushes back on calls to defund police: We need to focus on reform MORE (D)Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanMinnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen Congress must fill the leadership void Pelosi pushes to unite party on coronavirus bill despite grumbling from left MORE (D-Ohio)Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián CastroSen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.)Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.)Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (D-Hawaii) Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeInslee calls on Trump to ‘stay out of Washington state’s business’ Seattle mayor responds to Trump: ‘Go back to your bunker’ Trump warns he will take back Seattle from ‘ugly Anarchists’ if local leaders don’t act MORE (D)Former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE (D-Md.)
Night 2 — June 27 (in order of stage placement)
Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson touts endorsements for progressive congressional candidates The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Warren becomes latest 2020 rival to back Biden The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden looks to stretch lead in Tuesday contests MOREFormer Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperGun control group rolls out first round of Senate endorsements The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ Hickenlooper ethics questions open him up to attack MORE (D)Andrew YangAndrew YangGeorge Floyd protests show corporations must support racial and economic equality Andrew Yang discusses his universal basic income pilot program Andrew Yang on the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis MORESouth Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D)Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORESen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.)Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.)Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.)Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSome realistic solutions for income inequality Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd 21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests MORE (D-Colo.)Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellNASCAR bans display of Confederate flag from events and properties Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts MORE (D-Calif.)
What are people saying about the debate placement?
The initial takeaway among various political watchers on the placements last week was that Warren got the short end of the stick.
Warren’s chance to directly hit Biden and Sanders was taken away when she was placed on a different stage, despite polls showing her closing the gap with Sanders, who has trailed Biden.
However, the placement could give Warren a chance to further capitalize on her detailed policy plans, which have earned her widespread praise on the campaign trail and inspired one of her slogans: “Warren has a plan for that.”
Warren’s placement on the first night’s stage also gives candidates like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) an opportunity to break out of the crowded Democratic pack and hit at the progressive Massachusetts senator.
Who won’t be there?
Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators Overnight Energy: US Park Police say ‘tear gas’ statements were ‘mistake’ | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE
Bullock, who entered the race just last month, did not make the cut for the first debate. His campaign released an ad featuring a Montanan named Jock, who called Bullock’s absence from the stage “horseshit.”
However, the governor will get a chance to debate his opponents in July for the second round.
Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonEx-CBO director calls for more than trillion in coronavirus stimulus spending Overnight Defense: Trump’s move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd’s death ‘a national tragedy’ Democrats blast Trump’s use of military against protests MORE
The Massachusetts congressman also failed to qualify for the forum but sought to reassure supporters in an email last week.
“I knew that getting in the race so late there was a strong chance I’d miss the first debate—and yes, I will. But fear not! I’m not losing any sleep over it, and neither should you,” he wrote. “This race is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Mayor Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamKey moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Wayne Messam suspends Democratic presidential campaign 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum MORE
The Miramar, Fla., mayor also did not make the cut but said he was still hoping to qualify for the July debates.
“I’m still encouraged and I still have an opportunity to qualify for the July debates and full steam ahead,” Messam told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week.
Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel
Gravel is also not giving up hope on qualifying for July, but attributed the decision to leave him out of the debates to bias within the media and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“The political and media establishment didn’t play hardball with us—they just don’t want to play hardball at all,” Gravel’s campaign manager David Oks said in a statement.
What we will learn about the candidates?
The forum will allow viewers and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE a look at each candidate’s debate style, as well as any emerging fissures between the Democrats, who have mostly pledged to rise above the political fray.
While Warren could have ample opportunity to delve deep into her policy proposals, which have been linked to her recent success in the polls, her opponents, who have been struggling to gain traction, will likely take every opportunity to swipe at her.
Front-runners Biden and Sanders will likely face-off on a series of issues, illustrating the divide between the establishment and progressive figures in the party.
Harris and Buttigieg will also look to get in on the action and will both have an opportunity to take aim at Biden and Sanders.
Candidates who have lagged in the polls, like Delaney and Williamson, will need to use the opportunity to make news, whether it’s through expanding more on their policy plans or targeting the front-runners.
Who’s asking the questions?
While Fox News brought in a record 24 million viewers for the first 2016 Republican presidential primary debate in August of 2015, the network will notably have no role in hosting the DNC debates.
The DNC announced in March that it would not allow Fox News to host a Democratic primary debate, citing alleged ties between the network and the Trump administration.
NBC will host Wednesday and Thursday’s forums, which will air across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.
Five news anchors have been recruited the moderate the two-night event:
“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt“Today” anchor and NBC chief legal analyst Savannah Guthrie“Meet the Press” anchor and NBC News political director Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddChris Wallace to Colbert: US hasn’t seen this level of unrest since 1968 Demings: ‘We are long overdue for every law enforcement agency in our nation to review itself’ DC mayor: ‘I think that the president has a responsibility to help calm the nation’ MORE“The Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowWebb: The modern age of dissent versus riot Cable news audience numbers jump amid coronavirus, protests Demings: ‘America is on fire’ and Trump ‘is walking around with gasoline’ MORE Show” host Rachael Maddow”Noticias Telemundo” and “NBC Nightly News Saturday” anchor José Diaz-Balart
What topics could come up?
While NBC has not yet announced the debate topics, here are some areas that could be covered during the two-night event:
While Trump will not be in attendance, his presence will likely be felt throughout the debate.
While Democrats have focused on a number of policy issues, recent polling suggests that Trump is very much at the forefront of Democratic primary voters’ minds.
A USA Today–Suffolk University poll released in March found that 55 percent of Democratic voters said their top priority was electability, while 35 percent said it was ideological purity.
While Trump may resort to his favored medium of Twitter to offer his input during the forum, his reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee will likely issue responses after the debates.
Health care has proven to be a winning issue for Democrats, playing a major role in getting the party the House majority in 2018.
The primary has already been rocked by a slew of ideas, from major overhauls like “Medicare for All” to building upon the success of ObamaCare.
The differences between progressives and moderates on the issue will likely be spotlighted during the debate.
Trump’s policies on immigration have repeatedly triggered major backlash from Democrats, even before he took office.
The administration’s treatment of migrants at the border has recently sparked outrage among Democrats, leading progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezAttorney says 75-year-old man shoved by Buffalo police suffered brain injury How language is bringing down Donald Trump Highest-circulation Kentucky newspaper endorses Charles Booker in Senate race MORE (D-N.Y.) to compare the administration’s migrant detention facilities to concentration camps and setting off a week of back-and-forth.
If the topic is brought up, expect the contenders to be asked about the situation at the border.
The debates come amid escalating tensions with Iran and less than a week after Trump pulled back a planned airstrike targeting the country in retaliation for a downed U.S. surveillance drone. Candidates will likely be asked how they would handle the situation if elected, as well as deal with other international issues.
Democrats have repeatedly condemned the current state of U.S. gun laws following mass shootings across the country and around the world.
The March for Our Lives movement, which was started in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in 2018, has put pressure on lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to address gun laws in the U.S.
Swalwell has made gun control his campaign’s key platform.
While Trump and Republicans have praised economic growth under the administration, Democrats have come out with countermessaging, saying the current economy is good for Wall Street, not Main Street.
Expect candidates like Sanders and Warren to drive home their progressive economic messages if the topic is covered.
The impact of Trump’s trade policies and tariffs could also come up in an economic discussion.
Regardless of whether it’s debated on Wednesday and Thursday, election security will be at the forefront of the 2020 campaign, given Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN’s Toobin warns McCabe is in ‘perilous condition’ with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill’s 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s subsequent investigation.
Democratic presidential contenders wasted no time pouncing on Trump’s remarks to ABC News earlier this month that he would listen if a foreign entity offered damaging information on a political opponent.
Other topics that could come up include regulating Silicon Valley, slavery reparations and climate change, among others.
Where can I watch the debate?
NBC will host Wednesday and Thursday’s forums, which will air across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on Wednesday and Thursday.
The debate can also be livestreamed on the NBC News and Telemundo apps, in addition to NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com and Telemundo.com. Follow @TheHill on Twitter for breaking news and live coverage before, during and after the debates.
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