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Analysis of Democratic Debate. TRANSCRIPT: 12/19/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Pete Buttigieg, Jason Johnson, Elizabeth Warren

 BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Last discussed in this studio when she voted present after being missing in action for a lot of the say of debate.

The hour has arrived, 11:00 Eastern.

We are normally on the air at this hour as part of the THE 11TH HOUR, but as we cross the top of the hour, we`re continuing our special coverage tonight of the Democratic debate from Los Angeles that we just witnessed this evening.  The sixth debate of the election cycle, the smallest group yet on stage, only seven candidates.  It came less than 24 hours after the President of the United States became the third in our history impeached by the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Candidates hit on a wide range of topics tonight from the economy to climate change and, of course, impeachment.  But at one point candidates were asked about comments that President Obama made this week at a leadership summit in Singapore.  He said significant improvement would be made if countries were led by women.  He also said if you look at problems around the world, it was usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.  Here`s what we heard from the candidates.


TIM ALBERTA, POLITICO CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Senator Sanders, you are the oldest candidate on stage this evening.


ALBERTA:  How do you respond to what the former president had to say?

SANDERS:  Well, I got a lot of respect for Barack Obama.  I think I disagree with him on this one.  Maybe a little self-serving, but I do disagree.

ALBERTA:  I`m going to guess that President Obama did not clear that remark through your campaign ahead of time.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m going to guess he wasn`t talking about me either.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you for asking a woman this question.  I think -- first of all, we have not had enough women in our government.  When I was on Trevor Noah`s show once, I explained how in the history of the Senate there was something like 2,000 men and only 50 women in the whole history.  And he said if a nightclub had numbers that bad, they would shut it down.

ALBERTA:  Senator Warren, you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated.  I like you to weigh in as well.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.


WILLIAMS:  That got a big response in the room.  We have a full complement.  Our extended family and friends here in New York all the way west to Los Angeles to cover what was another big night for the Democrats.  Here with us in New York, Claire McCaskill, former Democratic senator from the great state of Missouri, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post," Jason Johnson, Politics Editor for The Root and at the big board, of course, our National Political Correspondent, Steve Kornacki.  Vaughn Hillyard is in the spin room, and I see in the monitor in the corner of my eye he has Mayor Pete standing by.  Hey, Vaughn.

VAUGHN HILLYARD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Mayor Buttigieg, we`re on with Brian and the team.  The question coming out of this year, you saw the conversation here being back and forth.  And I want to go real fast to the point about the fundraisers real fast.  Last week you had no public events outside of the education forum.  Held 18 fundraisers there.  Critical up stage.  I got to ask you, why have those fundraisers in the first place?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We need all of the resources that we can bring to the fight to end the Trump presidency.  And, you know, this is how we`re going to win.  It`s got to be everybody contributing.  Now we`ve opened our fundraisers to the press, which is extremely rare in U.S. presidential politics.  But I think it`s the right thing to do for transparency.  More broadly --

HILLYARD:  But could you tell folks why do you need that face-to-face?  I think that was the point that Elizabeth Warren was hitting on.  Why do you need those face-to-face.

BUTTIGIEG:  We want to make sure we do everything we can to build a campaign and to build a party.  And that`s everything from somebody who chips in five or 10 bucks online to somebody who comes to an event.  And as you can tell, because of course we invite the press to those events.  What I say in those events is the same thing that I say if I`m in a backyard in Iowa.  But the point is, we got to make sure that we motivate and engage everybody who wants to be part of ending the Trump presidency and moving us toward a better future.

HILLYARD:  Senator Klobuchar was critical perhaps of your own experience compared to others up on that stage.  And to that very point, she was talking about -- the senator was talking about going back and forth there and suggesting that, you know, you should turn to somebody from the Midwest.  And when it comes to that, into your own experience, I guess, why was the senator off base with her assertion towards you?

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I completely agree about having a nominee at a president from the Midwest.  I guess what I view differently is I don`t think Washington experience is the only thing that matters.  Folks are frustrated with Washington.  And frankly especially where I live in the Midwest.  And there`s a desire for executive experience, there`s a desire for different kinds of experience that can help change Washington before Washington changes us.

HILLYARD:  I got to ask you here, because Senator Klobuchar also made mention of your race where you lost by 25 percentage points.  Two years earlier, Barack Obama won in Indiana.  And two years later Joe Donnelly actually beat the opponent that you lost to.  What evidence can you actually suggest that you would be able to actually win there in the Midwest?

BUTTIGIEG:  I mean, 2010 was one of the worst years for Democrats in American history.  And especially as a Democrat with no name recognition, not a lot of money, running state wide in 2010, during the peak of the Tea Party season, in Indiana, one of the most conservative states in the country, it was really different from 2008, really different from 2012.  But I`m so glad that I did it even though it was unlikely from the get-go that we were going to win.

It was worth it because I was running on a platform of defending Barack Obama`s decision to rescue the American auto industry.  And I believe somebody needed to stand up for auto workers and needed to stand up for working families against this ideological obsession of the incumbent state treasure.  So, you know, you`re now going into a race like that, how uphill it is.  But I`m still proud of what we did.

And of course, I`m also proud of what we`ve been able to do in my hometown in Indiana.  And I believe that experience is highly relevant.  I get that it`s not Washington establishment experience, but I think it`s the kind of experience you need more of going into the White House.

HILLYARD:  Last question real fast.  We hear from folks that are concerned that if you do incremental, you talked about a public option, you said you want to get to Medicare for All ultimately.


HILLYARD:  But to folks who are concerned that if you were to go the public option route and ultimately there is backlash, it is not as effective as Medicare for All, but the party damages in that case.  That is the most effective message or in healthcare.  What do you say to those voters?

BUTTIGIEG:  If Medicare for All really is the right answer, then you would certainly expect the public option to work well, otherwise it kind of defeats the whole case.

Look, what I`m proposing we do would be one of the biggest transformations we`ve made in American history in a half century.  And at the same time, it`s done in a way that`s organic, let the Americans decide. I just trust Americans to make their decision when it comes to their health care.

HILLYARD:  And do you agree with Speaker Pelosi`s decision to hold the impeachment articles from advance --

BUTTIGIEG:  I`ll leave that to the Speaker.  I know there`s a lot of conflicts, dynamics in the House.  My focus is on defeating President Trump.

HILLYARD:  Mayor Buttigieg, thank you.  Appreciate it.

Brian, Mayor Buttigieg.

WILLIAMS:  Vaughn Hillyard with Mayor Pete.  Thank you both.

Also during the debate tonight we wanted to play this exchange.  Joe Biden was asked generally about the topic of getting along with the other party.


BIDEN:  I refuse to accept the notion as some on this stage do that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again.  If that`s the case, we`re dead as a country.  We need to be able to reach consensus.  And if anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate, it`s me.  The way they attacked me, my son, and my family, I have no, no, no love.  But the fact is we have to be able to get things done.  And when we can`t convince them, we go out and beat them like we did in the 2018 election in red states and in purple states.


WILLIAMS:  Senator, that was an interesting answer because it kind of wove a path through, let`s -- can`t we all get along, look what`s happened to my family and if we can`t get along, let`s beat them.

MCCASKILL:  Yes.  I think -- and I think he is definitely the candidate who continues to talk about uniting everyone and that we can find common ground.  He is assuming that most Americans want to get beyond this --


MCCASKILL:  -- constant fight, the food fight that`s going on, the tribalism, this incredible back and forth between the two parties where there doesn`t seem to be anything moving in Washington if it`s not all one way or all the other way.

And I think probably that`s one of the reasons that he is considered the most likely to beat Trump because there`s a lot of people that will vote in the general that are not, you know, in the base of the Democratic Party, that are not Republicans.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, we always ask this question.  Was there a president on that stage tonight?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST:  You know, I think potentially -- I mean, I think a number of the candidates really sounded good.  They were on their game tonight.  Biden was on his game more than he has been in certainly most of the other debates, arguably any off the other debates.  He handled that question very well.

There was another question about reparations for African-Americans that he did not answer at all but he did it in an artful way.  He changed the subject to immigration and just completely blew it.  He didn`t want to answer the question, so he didn`t answer it.  It was a pro move.  You know, so he was on top of what he was doing.

I thought Klobuchar, as Jason said, had a very good night.  She was forceful.  She has been trying to make a moment for herself.  And I think she believes she may actually be on the cusp of that.


ROBINSON:  Her campaign has had some encouraging signals out of Iowa.  That`s kind of her first and last stand in a lot of ways.  She has to do well --

MCCASKILL:  Iowa was it for her.

ROBINSON:  -- in Iowa.  That`s part of the reason she piled in on Buttigieg because he`s doing so well there now.  But I thought she sounded good.  I thought that -- you know, Bernie got a Bernie.  You know, Bernie Sanders is always Bernie Sanders, and while I kind of doubt that Bernie Sanders is going to be the nominee just because of the way the math works out, but I thought he had a pretty decent night too.

WILLIAMS:  Jason, watching these clips, I`m reminded that the phrase purity test was introduced tonight by Mayor Pete.  A lot of centrist Democrats find purity testing absolutely maddening.

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT POLITICS EDITOR:  Right.  And here is the thing.  You know, first of all, people complain about purity tests usually when they`re impure.  And that`s part of the issue.  That`s part of the issue that he has.  And it answers (INAUDIBLE).

Look, I saw like four or five people would be president, right?


JOHNSON:  That`s very easy because a lot of people are qualified.  But I think the idea of the purity test when you`re talking about, say, Medicare for All, right, because that`s one of the things that Mayor Pete -- it`s like, look, we can`t be ridiculous about this.  I completely understand it.

But here is something that I think every single person on that stage missed tonight, the nation writes about this, a lot of constitutional scholars write about this, people who study Supreme Court talk about this.  Given what happened in the Supreme Court this week, you can`t do anything about Medicare for All if you don`t have a plan for the courts.  And not one person tonight on this stage except a little bit of Amy Klobuchar talked about what you will have to do with the American court system to even have your Medicare for All plan go forward.  So I think if you`re going to talk about purity tests, you have to be practical about it and that`s something I think everybody on the stage mostly everyone missed.

WILLIAMS:  Steve Kornacki, let`s talk about diversity or more specifically, the lack of it on that stage tonight.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATL. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, you saw that come up in the debate.  In fact, less racial ethnic diversity than before.  Of course, Kamala Harris dropped out since the last debate.  Cory Booker wasn`t there.  Julian Castro wasn`t there.

One of the reasons, though, I think it`s worth pointing out, this is the most recent polling we have on black voters, their preference in the Democratic primary, remember. one out of four votes that will be cast next year in the Democratic primaries will be from black voters.  And they continue overwhelmingly in the polling to back Joe Biden.  Joe Biden, very, very distant second in his Quinnipiac as Elizabeth Warren.  Michael Bloomberg just getting in the race, spending a lot of money, 7 percent, Sanders at 6 percent.  You got to get down to Cory Booker at 2 percent among black voters right now.

And again, that`s pretty steady.  That has been the story, really, for six, seven months right now.  When you poll black voters, Joe Biden continues to lead overwhelmingly.  It`s why he`s got that supposed firewall in South Carolina, one of the reasons he leads overall nationally.  And if you look at those numbers, it`s one of the reasons Cory Booker wasn`t on stage tonight.

WILLIAMS:  Steve, thank you for that.  Also a reminder that Bloomberg is there third in the stack.  Andrew yang talked tonight about the lack of diversity on the stage.  Let`s listen to that again.


ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The question is, why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage.  Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns.  You know what you need to donate to political campaigns?  Disposable income.  The way we fix this is we take Martin Luther King`s message of a guaranteed minimum income, our freedom dividend of a $1,000 a month.  For all Americans, I guarantee if we had a freedom dividend of a $1,000 a month, I would not be the only candidate of color on this stage tonight.



JOHNSON:  He got the policy wrong.  OK.  It`s supposed to be democracy dollars, right?  Like -- and I tweeted about this.  Number one, if you give the working poor America an extra $1,000 a month, they`re not spending it on a political campaign.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s be donors.

JOHNSON:  Come on.  That`s the last thing that you got to do.

MCCASKILL:  Very out of touch.

WILLIAMS:  Food around (ph) are overrated.  Let`s be political donors.

JOHNSON:  It`s like I really want to give $10 to Andrew Yang when I could feed my daughter, right?  It doesn`t make any sense.

What he talk about later on, he has this idea of democracy dollars as basically giving monopoly money to people and they can give in the campaigns.  Well, that`s a wonderful idea.  But at the end of the day, Andrew Yang`s answer is indicative of why somebody in these candidates have difficulty with African-American voters in particular, because it`s a nonsense answer.  OK?  A nonsense answer.

The reason that you don`t have more black people on stage is because you have a lot of white voters in America who don`t think that a black person can get elected against Donald Trump.  That`s a fact.  Why be afraid of saying something so common.  Something so reasonable to any political scientist proposal who`s out there.

So, when candidates can`t be honest, that`s the kind of thing that drives regular folks who are watching, my friends in Georgia and Tennessee and Michigan, that`s what drives them nuts because you just want to hear the truth, even if the truth makes people uncomfortable.

WILLIAMS:  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we invited Jason to be part of the group tonight because of thoughts that way, expressed that way.  A break for our coverage.  We`ll be back with the whole gang right after this.


YANG:  It`s both an honor and disappointment to be a lone candidate of color on the stage tonight.  I miss Kamala, I miss Cory.  Though I think Cory will be back.




SANDERS:  Trump thinks mistakenly that he is going to win re-election by dividing us up.  We are going to win this election by bringing our people together, black and white and Latino, Native American, Asian-American, that`s what this campaign is about.  That`s what America must be about.


WILLIAMS:  Bernie sanders on stage tonight in Los Angeles.  Elizabeth Warren is standing by live with our own Vaughn Hillyard.  Vaughn?

HILLYARD:  Brian, we`re here with Senator Warren who just came up to the spin room.

Senator, a big part of this message here tonight came from the former Vice President Joe Biden where he was talking about bipartisanship.  You suggested over the last week that it was perhaps "naive hope" to suggest that bipartisanship even with a Democratic president was possible there.  For folks that are trying to make their decision, why is it naive hope?

WARREN:  Look, If you`re expecting Mitch McConnell to have an epiphany, and that`s what you`re hanging your whole agenda on, it`s not going to happen.  The best way we deal with Mitch McConnell is we build a grassroots movement across this country and we put him out of office.

But here`s the deal.  For me, we can build bipartisan work.  This is what I talked about at the end.  But let`s focus on the things that unite Americans.

I got three older brothers.  They`re all retired, all back in Oklahoma.  One is a Democrat, two are Republicans.  You know what unites them?  Amazon.  Because they`re furious that Amazon makes $10 billion in profits and pays nothing in taxes.  They are all in on an anti-corruption bill, not the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate.  Let`s build on the things we want to do together.

HILLYARD:  Outside your anti-corruption bill, you have other big plans. --

WARREN:  I do.

HILLYARD:  -- and proposals here, particularly Medicare for All, college tuition.  How do you ultimately get that passed?  You mentioned passing the filibuster, yet at the same time, it seems that it suggest you are not looking for support from Republican colleagues.  How do you then going make that message next November to Republican voters and independents that you are going to be there to represent them?

WARREN:  Well, we just impeached the president yesterday.  The country did.  And the best way we`re going to have a chance to win come 2020 is to draw as much of a contrast between Donald Trump and his corrupt administration and our democratic nominee.  It`s why I`ve decided --

HILLYARD:  But you`re going to need Republicans and Independents in order to do that, no, next November?

WARREN:  What we`re going to need to do is roll back the influence of money on Washington.  And that`s true for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

HILLYARD:  But you`re going to need those Republicans and Independents.

WARREN:  We`re going to need to roll back the influence of money on campaign contributions, on lobbyists, on lawyers, on bought and paid for experts, on think tanks.  That`s why I have a big anti-corruption plan.  And I`m going to get people across this country, I`m going to ask them after I`m elected push, help me get through an anti-corruption bill first, because if we can disrupt the influence of money on Washington, if we can actually hold Congress accountable to do the work of the people, there`s an amazing list of things that we can do.

HILLYARD:  You`re talking about the influence of money.

WARREN:  You bet, I am.

HILLYARD:  And part of your back and forth with Mayor Pete Buttigieg today was over his fundraisers that he has --


HILLYARD:  -- held there.  Does you have a point though that it`s going to take all the Democratic resources possible to win?  The campaign`s apparatus of the Trump campaign has already raised several $100 million.  They have $150 million on hand.  You have about $25 million.  Does he not have a point?

WARREN:  We have to build a grassroots movement across this nation.  And we have to be able to say credibly to the American people that unlike Donald Trump, who sold an ambassadorship for $1 million, who appointed his cronies to those spots, who has helped out the wealthy and well connected one time after another, after another, we have to make the credible case.  We`re here on the side of the people, that we`re actually going to fight to block the corruption.  We`re going to fight to expand social security by a couple hundred bucks a month.  We`re going to fight for a 2-cent wealth tax.  Those are things Democrats and Republicans both support.

HILLYARD:  You`re 46 days away from the Iowa caucus.  And that`s why I think I`m asking these contrast questions here.  When it comes to the numbers, Medicare for All, Joe Biden as well as Pete Buttigieg putting forward a plan in which they would allow a public option to be presented.  Would their numbers work?

WARREN:  So here`s the problem, 36 million Americans last year couldn`t get a prescription filled and that`s people with health insurance and people without, because they couldn`t do the copays, they couldn`t do the deductibles, because some of the prescriptions were covered -- let me finish -- by the insurance companies.

So, what the vice president, what the mayor and what others on the stage have proposed is a modest improvement over what we have.  But it`s not going to get prescriptions covered for 36 million people.  It`s not going to be enough help to enough people.

So, I`m all for making things better, but let`s get the maximum amount of help to the maximum number of people as quick as we can.  That`s why I say on first day, I`m going after the drug companies and I`m going after the pricing on insulin and EpiPens and other commonly used drugs.  That`s something a president can do all by herself.  And when we do that, it`s going to save families hundreds of millions of dollars right off the top.

HILLYARD:  Senator, we appreciate you`re stopping by.  Last question here.  Can I ask you what are your thoughts on Speaker Pelosi holding up the articles of impeachment from being sent to the Senate, do you agree?

WARREN:  So, I have a lot of confidence in the Speaker.  I know that she`ll work it in the way she thinks best.  Nancy is smart.  Nancy is tough.

HILLYARD:  And what does next month looking like for you with the Senate trial taking place?

WARREN:  If have a trial in the Senate, I will be there.  Some things are more important than politics.  I took an oath, and that oath is not to a president, it is not to a political party.  It is an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.  I`ll be there.

HILLYARD:  Where you are heading next?

WARREN:  Next I`ll be back to Iowa.

HILLYARD:  Putting you on the spot there.

WARREN:  No, I`ll be back to Iowa and then Oklahoma.

HILLYARD:  Iowa then Oklahoma.

WARREN:  You bet.

HILLYARD:  Senator Warren, thank you.

WARREN:  Good to see you.

HILLYARD:  Brian, she`s on her way to Iowa.

WARREN:  All right.

WILLIAMS:  Vaughn, thank you.  Senator, thank you. And we keep back referencing this moment.  If you have just joined our coverage, if perhaps you saw some or none of the debate, this was the tension moment between Buttigieg and Warren.  It was over fundraising and something we all learned tonight is a thing called a wine cave.


WARREN:  The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900 a bottle wine.  Think about who comes to that.  He had promised that every fundraiser he would do would be open door, but this one was closed door.  We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.

BUTTIGIEG:  This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.  If I pledge -- if I pledge never to be in the company of a progressive Democratic donor, I couldn`t be up here.  Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine.

WARREN:  I do not sell access to my time.  I don`t do call time with millionaires and billionaires.

BUTTIGIEG:  Sorry, as of when, senator?


WILLIAMS:  As we said earlier, it kind of went on like that.  A guy standing by to talk to us does not hang around wine caves.  I can say that with some confidence, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS the host network of tonight`s event.

Robert, thank you for standing by to talk to us.  Let`s take the conversation forward to the next battleground, the first official battleground, a very unique place where the voting public is concerned, the state of Iowa and the stakes there for so many of the people on that stage tonight.

ROBERT COSTA, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Everyone on that stage has been watching Mayor Buttigieg rise in the polls in Iowa ahead of the caucuses.  And he took shots tonight not only from the left from Senator Warren, but from another moderate in Senator Klobuchar because they see him as a real threat now.

This is not just the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.  This is a viable contender for the Democratic nomination, and those fights were notable because he is being tested and he will continue to be tested up until Iowa and then New Hampshire and see if he lasts until Super Tuesday.

But while all those skirmishes happened, Brian, it`s important to also pay attention to the consistent message from Senator Bernie Sanders.  He is often sometimes seen as an outlier on the stage, but in polling he is consistently second or near the top of the many polls in both early states and nationally.  And he has a base and he has shown after his heart attack a reinvigorated campaign.  And he`s moving forward in a powerful position nationally with the base he helped establish in 2016.

Notable also, Senator Sanders talking about race tonight trying to address African-American voters and voters of color, an issue he struggling on at times in 2016.

WILLIAMS:  Robert, a question that hopefully calls for analysis and not opinion.  What`s the chance that in our lifetime Iowa loses its status as the first contest in the nation for the Democrats?

COSTA:  It`s under increasing pressure from Democratic activists and voters to take it out of that first slot in the nominating process because they look at their party and they see a diverse party as they talked about repeatedly on stage tonight, a party that they would love to see Nevada or South Carolina or places -- even Georgia with its diversified population as representative of where the party should go.

And Iowa as much as -- or has many key voters, farmers, agricultural voters, businessmen, suburban voters, it`s a mostly white state, majority- white state.  And for Democrats, they would like to see other states have a chance, other voters have a chance to determine who gets the important first boost.

WILLIAMS:  And final question. Claire McCaskill as we started our coverage said that Joe Biden probably won tonight because he did not lose.  It is something we hear frequently.  In calling around and texting around to the people you talk to, is that the view?

COSTA:  So much of Vice President Biden`s campaign is not about candidate performance.  The nation knows him.  Democratic voters in many respects are comfortable with him.

When I was at a majority-black church in South Carolina a few months ago, so many voters there told me they like Vice President Biden.  They respect him from his tenure with President Obama.

And so that name ID, that whole persona has propelled him forward in this Democratic race.  And it will likely continue to keep him in this race, at least until Super Tuesday according to most Democratic strategists in may source notebook.  Because they say he is someone who is moderate and he`s crowding out Mayor Buttigieg and Senator Klobuchar for the moment and he`s still winning over working class support and eating into Senator Sanders and others basis in this fight.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST:  Robert Costa on the grounds of the US capital, thank you very much for being part of our coverage tonight.

Steve Kornacki, take us to Iowa, the same conversation we were just having.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.  Robert Costa set it up well.  Just look at this contrast.  This is the national numbers, these are the national polling average right now for the Democratic race, Biden way in front, Buttigieg back in single digits.

Keep that in mind when you look at Iowa, completely different story.  Buttigieg actually leads right now, slightly in the average of polls.  Sanders is right on his heels, only two points behind.  Biden very close, but technically that is third place for Biden.  And Elizabeth Warren right behind him by a few points.

We got four candidates who are within six points of each other in Iowa.  And there are two things we`ve seen traditionally in Iowa.  We`ve seen a number of races where very, very late.  The race will change dramatically in Iowa.

Famously, that`s how John Kerry basically won the Democratic nomination back `04, a late, like last week of the campaign surged to win Iowa.  And of course, if you can win Iowa, eight days later is New Hampshire.  If you can win Iowa and New Hampshire, so far in the modern history of Democratic presidential nominating contest, candidates who`ve done that are undefeated.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Steve Kornacki, thank you.  Senator, we`ll recognize you with the remainder of my time when we come back from this commercial interruption.



SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think everyone will remember what happened at the Kavanaugh hearing.  When that nominee went after me, I stood my ground and he had to apologize.  So I have been very strong on these judges.


WILLIAMS:  Before the break, I promised to recognize the gentlelady from Missouri.  Let`s talk about Amy Klobuchar and the challenge she has as a Midwestern Democratic senator who has to lay it all on the line in Iowa.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), FORMER MISSOURI SENATOR:  Yes.  First of all, let me say both Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren did an amazing job tonight.


MCCASKILL:  Women across the country watching those two women debate.  You could see they were both very presidential and strong.  And there`s a lot of young girls that watch this debate tonight that are now aspiring.  By the way, it`s the same night as the Miss America contest.  I`m hoping that -- not that I don`t want anybody to watch NBC, but I`m hoping that there were more young girls watching this debate tonight than watching Miss America.

But having said that, she`s got to go all in Iowa.  She said from the very beginning, you know, I can see Iowa from my front porch.  She spent a lot of time in Iowa.  I think the reason she went after Pete tonight is that`s where she`s got to get some votes.  She`s got to get some votes from either Elizabeth, or Joe, or Bernie, or Pete.  And if she doesn`t finish in the top three in Iowa, it makes it really difficult for her.  So, this is -- this was -- she had to do well tonight, and she did well tonight.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, it is my view, and I`ll let this be mine and mine alone, that every four years we commit vile acts of journalistic malpractice on the results from Iowa and New Hampshire.  It is we who -- we insist on these rules.  This is prohibitive.  This is fatal to that campaign.


WILLIAMS:  And we don`t want to wait until South Carolina.  We often make these declarations the night of Iowa and New Hampshire that are equally unfair.  This is a cruel business.

ROBINSON:  Yes, it`s a cruel business.  You know, politics ain`t bean bag, as someone usually would said, and I guess neither is political journalism but, you`re right.  We do -- we want to move the story along.  We want the next chapter of the story.  And we see these primaries as chapters, and so Iowa is a very important first chapter and we make all sorts of conclusions based on what happens in there.

WILLIAMS:  However, unrepresentative it is.

ROBINSON:  Well, Iowa is totally unrepresentative.  I mean, I remember going in late 2007 to cover the Iowa caucuses.  I just remember this one time, because I hadn`t been out for the caucuses before quite that late.  It was so cold, you know.


ROBINSON:  The caucuses were early in 2008.  And I remember going to an Obama rally.  And I played a game, like, look for a person of color here.  And this was a big full, you know, high school gym full of people.  And I`d spotted one, but it turned out to be a reporter.

It was, you know, it was like part of the camera crew for somebody.  I did not find one, you know.  And it was a useful exercise, because that was the rally -- the audience at the end of that rally came out walking about three feet off the ground.


ROBINSON:  He had -- you know, that was Obama in his --

WILLIAMS:  Funny how that happens.

ROBINSON:  -- prime with that stump speech of his and ended, let`s go change the world.  And people just floated out of there, and that was the first moment I realized that, you know, he could win this state and he did.  You know, so here`s -- my question is, I haven`t heard of anybody doing that in Iowa yet, you know.

WILLIAMS:  That is true.

ROBINSON:  And that is the question.  So, you know, this will be my contribution to the cruelty of political journalism, but to draw that line, who is inspiring voters to that level of hope -- the hopey-changey stuff that Obama did.  I`m not sure we`ve quite seen that yet.  I haven`t really been much on the ground this time in Iowa, so I can`t say that I`ve seen it personally, but I haven`t read about a lot of it.


JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT POLITICS EDITOR:  Yes.  So we`re never going to get another Jordan as good as Lebron is, right?


JOHNSON:  And we`re never going to get another Barack Obama.  So I don`t think you even have to be Obama to win this election this time.

ROBINSON:  No, I don`t think you do.

JOHNSON:  You just have to be, you know, maybe even Steph Curry, just as somebody who can hit a shot every once in a while.  That might be Joe Biden.  That might be Mayor Pete.  That might be Amy Klobuchar after tonight.

I think, though, this speaks to this larger question about why Iowa is problematic.  I`ve written about this.  I completely agree with Julian Castro.  I think either you move Iowa or, hey, I think it would be cool to have a lottery and rotate it, maybe have a regional primary for Midwest and in the south or something else like that.

And I believe because of what we`re seeing this year, because there have been articles in the Washington Post about now even Iowa voters are saying, man, we don`t know if we`re actually the best place to start.

If you`ve got Iowa voters who are challenging their own roll in this, I think no matter what happens in 2020, but I think especially if the Democrats lose, I don`t think Iowa is going to be first in 2024.

I think the next time we have an election within the Democratic Party for the party leader, if Tom Perez is not that person, I think people will be running within the Democratic Party on.  If I`m the new party leader, we are changing this primary process because it`s just no longer reflective.

MCCASKILL:  Well, we`re still on Iowa, I want to point out, when Steve is at the big board talking about when John Kerry flew up to the top.  To do context there, and I think it`s important because we saw them -- some conflict on the stage tonight, what happened there, that was Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean going after each other.

They got really down in the dirt.  They really start going after each other.  They`re running negative ads.  And all of a sudden the nice people in Midwest with good manners --


ROBINSON:  Yes, they don`t like those negative ads.  They don`t like that.

MCCASKILL:  They said, man, we`re going to go for the guy who`s not tearing it up.  And that`s how John Kerry won and that`s how he ultimately got the nomination.  So, it`ll be interesting to see how this fighting on stage tonight if that plays into the Iowa sensibility or not.

ROBINSON:  So what if the party had the first four primaries on the same day, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina?

WILLIAMS:  Do you know any columnists who could advance that idea?

ROBINSON:  I know a guy.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  Eugene Robinson knows a guy.  We`re going to take another break in our coverage.  We`ll be right back on the other side after this.


ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I know Americans look up.  If you`re a casual observer, you`re like, wow, the Asian guy is still there.  You know, because I didn`t have any name recognition coming in.  But our campaign has demonstrated staying power and growth in a field where many of the other campaigns are pulling back.  We`re one of the only growths stories in the race right now.  We`re going to grow and grow and pick at the right time.

Because we have to team up to solve the problems and beat Donald Trump.  You know, we have to come together as a team pretty quickly.




PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The world is making plans on what to do, ignoring the United States because we`re no longer considered reliable.  It`s not just the mockery at a cocktail party on the sidelines of the conference.  There`s the looks on the faces of the leaders at the UN as they looked at the United States president with a mixture of contempt and pity.  As an American, I never again want to see the American president looked at that way by the leaders of the world.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My wife and I have a call list of somewhere between 20 and 100 people that we call at least every week or every month to tell them I`m here.  I give them my private phone number.  They keep in touch with me.  The little kid who says I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I can`t talk.  What do I do?  I have scores of these young women and men who I keep in contact with.  And the reason I give everyone here a gift, because they want to do something like I do, making their lives better because there`s a lot of people who are hurting very, very, very badly.


WILLIAMS:  That was a personal and emotional moment for Joe Biden.  But, Claire, it might have been an unreferenced moment.  Joe Biden was a childhood stutterer.  A recent article in the Atlantic monthly talked about his struggle and his membership in that affinity group of millions of people across this country and how he does stay in touch and he will -- people will seek him out and he will seek out young stutterers at his events.  And I suppose now that he did that, it was -- I just -- it would be terrible if people thought that was in a way mockery of any sort.  It was the opposite.

MCCASKILL:  It was the opposite.  But he didn`t give enough context.


MCCASKILL:  He didn`t explain before he gave the example that he had had these painful incidents when he was a child.  In the story it talked about how nuns made fun of him in front of his other classmates and how he was really torn by this for many years of his life.  He had a lot of therapy for stuttering.  And so he was talking about helping someone who had the same affliction he had, but I worried when he was doing it that people didn`t understand the background.


ROBINSON:  You had to know the background.  And so, I knew the background.  I understood immediately.  But if you came to it cold, you would like, what is he doing?

WILLIAMS:  It was Jason that was meant to be an empathetic moment.

JOHNSON:  Yes.  It`s supposed to be meaningful, but this is Joe Biden.  And I mean, on the scale of gaffes and mistakes that he`s made in the course of the debate, this was actually a fairly minimum one.  But I do think both for Joe Biden and for Andrew Yang, I`m very happy that we occasionally get politicians on this debate stage that talk about people with disabilities, because it really doesn`t happen enough.


JOHNSON:  You don`t have enough people talking about what it is to have a child with special needs, what it is to grow up with these kinds of difficulties.  So, I wish that amongst many other issues was something that we heard about a lot more.  It`s connected to Medicare for All.  It`s connected to the economy.  We have millions of Americans who are taking care of blind, deaf, and disabled children, grandparents, and adults, and no one out there is speaking to them.

WILLIAMS:  Senator, will we ever see anything approaching Medicare for All in our lifetime?

MCCASKILL:  Oh, I don`t know.  I guess it depends on how long we`re all going to live.  I do think if the Democrats win the White House next November, I do think you`ll see -- and, frankly, if the Supreme Court puts the nail in the coffin of the ACA, then I do think health insurance will end up being the issue of the 2020 campaign.  I think it will -- because the Republicans have pushed to get rid of all of the ACA, including the protections that Americans hold dear now, especially for pre-existing conditions.  So I think that you`ll have enough votes to get some kind of program that would be a public option.  And if it`s done right, people will flock to the public option and that would make the transition to Medicare for all politically possible.

But for somebody who went around my state trying to explain that having to buy health insurance was really not the government putting a boot on your neck, it was about making sure that everybody took responsibility so that you didn`t end up paying higher bills and your work insurance.  It`s really hard when people hear the government is going to tell you what you can get.  And that`s what the political problem is and that`s why I think Medicare for all in the short-term is unrealistic.


JOHNSON:  One the election happen, if Donald Trump gets reelected and the Supreme Court guts the ACA, it will be the most important issue in 2024.  Democrats will take over everything in the next mid-term elections and they will win the presidency in 2024.  People can complain about the ACA all they want, but if it gets snatched from everybody`s pockets and their homes, the suffering across this country will be immense.

ROBINSON:  Well, I think a lot of Republicans in the Senate actually realized that.  They don`t quite know what to do about it.

MCCASKILL:  Yes.  I mean, we had ---

ROBINSON:  But they realized that.

MCCASKILL:   We had bloodhounds after a place.  I mean, bloodhounds have searched the closets, under the desks.  There is no replace.  They have no replace.  They have been saying it for years now.  They have nothing.  They`ve got nothing to replace it with.

WILLIAMS:  Our true crime drama including the first mention of bloodhounds this evening, we`ll continue after this break.

MCCASKILL:  And well in caves.




BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Day one, executive order.  We start the legal status of 1.8 million young people in the DACA Program, day one.  We change border policy so that federal agents never snatch babies from the arms of their mothers.


WILLIAMS:  Bernie Sanders on DACA tonight, one of the issues that did break through in the conversation and a good time for us to bring in another contributor of ours tonight.  And that is Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto who gets to be a professor at a great place, the LBJ School of Public Affairs out of the University of Texas, Austin.  We are duty bound to say at this point, " Hook `em Horns."

Doctor, I`m happy to have you as part of our coverage.  How did you view tonight through the prism of your life`s work and what you teach to young students at UT?

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, LBJ SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS:  Right.  Thank you, Brian. First of all, thank you for the "Hook `em Horns."

WILLIAMS:  Well, you know, I love Austin.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO:  Texas A&M, you know, sorry about it.  In terms of the immigration discussion, I thought it ended up being a very good discussion.  However, I was taken aback by the beginning of that discussion where the question started off directed towards Andrew Yang, the only person there with a more direct connection to immigration.  He is the son of immigrants, and he tried to dodge the question.  He didn`t even want to answer the question of immigration.

And this concerns me, Brian, not because he`s a second generation immigrant but because as the president of the United States immigration is a major issue that you have to have a response for, that you have to have a vision for. So that took me aback.  But then I was heartened by seeing what the rest of the candidates did.

So we saw Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg bring in the human face of what immigration is.  So not just about DACA but looking at the crisis at the border where we`re seeing children separated, pulled from the arms of their mothers.

So speaking about that.  We saw Tom Steyer bring in the racial element. So it`s not just about immigration, but it`s about the immigration of brown individuals into this country that Trump and his base are going after.  And finally, I thought that what Biden did was genius in that he really harnessed that Ellis Island vision of immigration.

He said, hey, we are a country of immigrants.  We were built through immigration, so here he is speaking to the fourth, fifth, sixth generation immigrant whose grandparents, great, great-grandparents came in through Ellis Island or came in before that.  He was speaking to them.

So he wasn`t trying to connect on immigration in terms of empathy like these poor children who are getting separated at the border but more about immigration is about you, John Smith, Johnson, all these American names we have come to identify with being more American.  At one time they were immigrants, so I thought that was a very robust discussion that connected to the larger American polity.

WILLIAMS:  How troubled were you by the optics of tonight, the seven candidates who did end up on stage?  Were you as troubled by the lack of diversity as some of the folks we`ve been talking with tonight, and do you sympathize with Chairman Perez and the party in the fact they`ve got to have standards, there has to be a filter of some sort or we`ll end up with multi-nights and stages that simply can`t hold the candidates in.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO:  I do. Well, descriptively I was troubled by that but also substantively, because it`s not just about having somebody who is a person of color on stage.  It`s also the substance that they bring.

That being said, I think what troubles me the most and here`s my nerdy hat coming on, Brian, is the primary system in this country.  If we did not have Iowa and New Hampshire as our first two primaries in this country, I don`t think we would see the debate stage we saw tonight.

I think we need to think very deeply how we hold our primaries because that really does has a big impact.  I know Jason was talking about this earlier, on who is going to end up getting momentum and being strong as we go into primary season.  So I think for me that is the bigger concern that has an impact on what the debate stage ends up looking like.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  In combination with, as I said, the way we cover the results from Iowa and New Hampshire.  We tend to say, well, that`s over, here`s the result of what just happened.  Here`s who can`t possibly go forward in the campaign.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO:  Absolutely.  And I think it`s a good move that we`ve seen Nevada be moved up in the calendar as well as South Carolina.  But here, we`re in Texas.  We need to take into account states like Texas and California that are mirrors of the nation.

In one generation the United States will be a majority minority nation.  We need to reflect that in our primary system.

WILLIAMS:  Give our best to everybody in the great city of Austin, Texas. Thank you very much for being part of our coverage tonight, and for listening and following along with us.  We`ve reached the top of a new hour.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END