What You Need To Know About The Fifth Democratic Primary Debate

From student loan debt to outreach to Black voters, here’s what the candidates had to say.

The fifth Democratic Presidential debate took place Wednesday (Nov. 20) night in Atlanta, Georgia and the candidates spoke on issues of white supremacist terrorism in America, the #MeToo Movement, student loan debt, and the importance of outreach to Black voters, among other things. 

RELATED: Democratic Candidates Tackle Racism On Third Debate Stage At HBCU Texas Southern University

BET watched the debate and here’s what the candidates had to say. 


    The U.S. Senator from California was asked about her critique of fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg’s recent campaign blunder when a photo of a Black woman appeared on his website specific to his Douglass Plan, but the woman was not American, she was Kenyan, and the stock photo wasn’t taken on American soil, but instead in Kenya. 

    She said of Buttigieg, “The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are as the diversity of the American people.”

    At Wednesday night’s debate she wanted to focus on the “larger issue.” 

    “I’ll speak to the larger issue, I believe that the Mayor has made apologies for that,” Harris began.

    “The larger issue is that for too long I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic party and have overlooked those constituencies,” she continued. “Close to election time they show up in a Black church and want to get the vote, but just haven’t been there before.”

    Harris explained that while Black women have been applauded for successes of elections in the past, “at some point folks get tired of saying, ‘thank me for showing up’ and say ‘well show up for me.’”

    “Because when Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth in America. When the sons of Black women will die because of gun violence more than any other cause of death,” she said. “When Black women make 61 cents on the dollar as compared to all women, who tragically make 80 cents on the dollar. The question has to be: Where you been? And what are you gonna do? And do you understand who the people are?”

    Harris went on to say that she’s running for President “because I believe that we have to have leadership in this country who has worked with and have the experience of working with all folks. We’ve got to recreate the Obama coalition to win and that means about women, that’s people of color, that’s our LGBT community, that’s working people, that’s our labor unions, but that is how we are going to win this election and I intend to win.” 

    After Buttigieg was given an opportunity to respond, Harris spoke up again and reiterated the importance of recreating the Obama coalition, saying, “I keep referring to that because that’s the last time we won.” 

    Harris had to remind former Vice President Joe Biden that she too is a Black woman in the Senate after he said Carol Moseley Braun, the former senator from Illinois, who he claims endorsed him, was the “only” Black woman elected to the Senate, NBC reports.

  • Harris also had a lot to say on fellow candidate Gabbard’s previous remarks criticizing President Obama on Fox News while he was still in office. 

    “I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on this stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” she said.

  • Gabbard called Harris’ claim “ridiculous.” 

    “I rest my case,” Harris later tweeted.

  • While Harris was candid in her approach during the debate, some critics accused Harris of affecting a “fake southern accent.”


    The Mayor of South Bend, Indiana was on the hot seat after the recent snafu with the photo of a Kenyan woman in Kenya on his campaign website page for the Douglass Plan, aimed at equality for African Americans. 

    When responding to Harris’ comments about connecting to Black American voters, Buttigieg said, “My response is that I completely agree.” 

    He then went on to explain his point further, saying, “I welcome the challenge of connecting with Black voters in America, who don’t yet know me.”

    Buttigieg went for the heartfelt explanation more than the plans of his administration and said, “As Mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial equity that is built up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.” 

    He went on to say that his “faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized and cast aside and oppressed in society. 

    “I care about this because while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country,” Buttigieg added, alluding to the fact that his is gay and married to his partner.  

    He added, “Turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate. And seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me working side-by-side shoulder-to-shoulder making it possible for me to be standing here wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn’t have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line everyday even if they are nothing like me in their experience.”


    The former Vice President had a blunder himself during last night’s debate when asked to speak on the issue of the #MeToo Movement, which was not so much about domestic violence, but more about sexual assault and rape against women. 

    He was asked what specific actions he would take early in his administration to address this problem. 

    “The first thing I would do is make sure we pass the violence consuming act reauthorization, which I wrote,” he began, and then immediately back peddled to correct himself. “I didn’t write the reauthorization, I wrote the original act … We have to fundamentally change the culture of how women are treated.”

    Biden then turned to making college campuses safer for women and spoke about a recent Town Hall call he had with “30,000 students between the ages of 15 and 25.” 

    When he asked them, “What do you need to be safer on college campuses?” he said their response was as follows.  

    “You know what they said, ‘get men involved. Engage the rest of the community,’” Biden explained. 

    “No man has the right to raise a hand to a woman in anger other than in self-defense and that rarely ever occurs,” he continued. 

    Here’s when things got a little ambiguous. Biden continued to explain his point with a closed fist mimicking a punch and said, “we have to change the culture period. And keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it.”

    His choice of words “punching at it,” when talking about violence against women, received snickers from the crowd and fellow candidates. 

    “No I really mean it,” he said. “It’s a gigantic issue and we have to make it clear from the top, from the president on down that we will not tolerate it. We will not tolerate this culture.” 

    On the issue of resonating with Black voters, Biden said, “I’m part of that Obama coalition. I come out of the black community in terms of my support. They know who I am.” 

    But then he stumbled a bit on his following remarks, aimed at explaining his allies among Black lawmakers in Washington, the Los Angeles Times reports, “Three former chairs of the Black caucus, the only African American woman that’s ever been elected to the United States Senate, a whole range of people.” 

    Both Harris and Booker interjected saying it wasn’t true, the Los Angeles Times reports.


    The Senator of Massachusetts, who is set to speak at Clark Atlanta University today (Nov. 21), spoke on the issue of race in America during Wednesday (Nov. 20) nights debate, following Senator Harris’ response.

    “I think it is really important that we actually talk about what we’re willing to get in the fight for,” Warren said, immediately turning the discussion to focus on economic justice specific to student loan debt. 

    “Right now in America, African Americans are more likely to borrow money to go to college, borrow more money while they’re in college and have a harder time paying that debt off after they get out,” she said before referring to a new study that showed the disparities.

    “Twenty years out, whites who borrowed money, 94 percent of them have paid off their student loan debt, five percent of African Americans have paid it off,” Warren explained. “I believe that means everyone on this stage should be embracing student loan debt forgiveness. It will help close the Black-white wealth gap. Let’s do something tangible and real to make change in this country.” 


    The American entrepreneur, who pointed out on Twitter how little speaking time he had, did get a chance to speak up on the issue of white supremacist violence in America.

  • “First we have to designate white supremacist terrorism as domestic terrorism so that the department of justice can properly measure it,” he said to rousing applause. 

    Yang then went on to give an example of a white man he spoke to, who was recruited into a hate group at the age of 14, but is now an activist of anti-hate. 

    “Now he’s out and converting people out of those hate groups and back into the rest of society,” he said. “[He] said if anyone would have reached out to him at 14 he would have gone with them…”

  • But it  just so happened to be a hate group that reached out. 

    “So what we have to do is we have to get into the roots of our communities and create paths forward for men in particular, who right now are falling through the cracks,” Yang said. “And when you look at gun violence in this country, 96 plus percent of the shooters we’re talking about are young boys and young men. We have to as a country find ways to turn our boys into healthy, strong young men who do not hate but instead feel like they have paths forward in today’s economy.”


    The U.S. Rep. for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district spoke on the issue of white supremacist terrorism in America. 

    “We have seen for far too long the kind of racist, bigotry divisiveness and attacks that have unfortunately taken the lives of our fellow Americans,” she began. 

    “Leadership starts at the top. It’s important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in a very institutional way in our country,” Gabbard added. “Beginning with things that have to do with our criminal justice system or predominantly the failed war on drugs that has been continuing to be waged in this country has disproportionately impacted people of color and people in poverty. This is something I’ll do as President and commander in chief.”


    The Minnesota senator remarked on how women are held to a different standard than men in politics, USA Today reports

    “Otherwise, we could play a game called ‘Name Your Favorite Woman President,’ which we can’t do because it has all been men,” she said, adding that female candidates “have to work harder, and that’s a fact.” 

    She added how voters need not worry about a woman’s ability to beat Trump because “Nancy Pelosi does it every single day,” USA Today reports.

  • Viewers commented on how Klobuchar was a little bit shaky during the debate, literally.


    New Jersey Senator Cory Booker echoed Harris’ sentiments about America’s Black voters, saying they’re “pissed off and they’re worried” about the party’s ability to win the 2020 presidential election, the Los Angeles Times reports

    He went on to say how Black voters are tired of empty promises from politicians to end poverty, racism, and unfairness in the justice system, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

    On the issue of legalization of marijuana in America, Booker poked fun at former Vice President Biden’s recent remarks about not legalizing it. 

    “I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker said, laughing. 

    That received laughs from the audience, too. 

    “Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on Black and brown people,” Booker added.


    While the issues of immigration was largely missed during Wednesday (Nov. 20) nights debate, Bernie Sanders mentioned his personal relationship to immigration, USA Today reports.

    “I am the son of an immigrant. I will stand with the some 11 million undocumented immigrants of this country. I will lead an administration that will look like America, will end the divisiveness of Trump, and will end hate in America.”

    On the subject of equality in America, he said, “In college, I was arrested fighting segregation. I will always stand against racism, bigotry and hate.”

  • On the topic of abortion, Sanders said, “It is women who control their own bodies, not politicians.”

  • He also echoed Warren’s sentiments on student loan forgiveness. 


    While the American billionaire was on stage during the debate, he had little to say. However, he did say his “number one priority” is climate change, reports Townhall.

  • “I’m the only person on this stage who will say climate [change] is the number one priority for me,” he said, Townhall reports. “Vice President Biden won’t say it. Sen. Warren won’t say it. It’s a state of emergency and I would declare a state of emergency on day one. I would use the emergency powers of the presidency.” 

    He also took to twitter to comment on abortion, voter suppression, race, reparations, and Trump.


    The former Housing and Urban Development Secretary was absent from the debate stage on Wednesday (Nov. 20) night because he didn’t qualify.

    He tweeted, “In the communities I grew up in, people didn’t quit when it got tough. Those folks deserve a candidate who has lived their struggles, who champions the issues that impact them.”

  • To qualify, candidates had to poll at 3 percent or higher in four qualifying state or national polls, according to the Democratic National Committee. While he reached the necessary number of donors, his campaign did not reach the poll threshold, The Hill reports

    Still, he took to Twitter to explain his policy proposals while the debate was taking place.

    “If we want Black voters to show up for us, we need to show up for them,” he wrote. “As mayor of a big, diverse city and as HUD Secretary I’ve shown up for Black and Brown people -- and all Americans. Not every candidate on stage can say that.” 

  • In a series of tweets about climate change, foreign policy, white supremacy in America and marijuana legalization, Castro wrote:

    “Quick reminder that poor, working class, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities are the first and most greatly impacted by climate change,” he tweeted.

  • He also commented via tweet about the other candidates lack of touching on issues like gender identity and transgender communities on Transgender Day of Rememberance, The Hill reports.

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