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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN Hosts Democratic Primary Debate. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

O'ROURKE: But in addition to that, will they see a tax increase?

WARREN: Raising the wages -- no, raising the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in this country. This is about universal college, about investment in our HBCUs, about making sure that we get rid of the student loan debt burden that is crushing...

BURNETT: Thank you, Senator...

(CROSSTALK)

O'ROURKE: ... I just want to know if working families are going to see a tax increase.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: I want to get Secretary Castro in here, please, Congressman. Go ahead, Secretary.

CASTRO: Thanks a lot, Erin. And you see that everybody has their own plans. And let me just say that the way that I view this is born out of my own experience.

I grew up like I bet a lot folks in this room grew up and folks that are watching on TV. I grew up with my twin brother, Joaquin, in a single-parent household where my mom was working hard to support us and also her mom, my grandmother. And we knew what it was like to wonder whether we were going to be able to pay the rent at the first of the month or sometimes have the electricity turned off.

And when I was a kid, to look at the grocery list that seemed to get shorter and shorter, and that's what's happening to a lot of families these days. I was in Las Vegas a few months ago, and I visited people who were homeless, who are living in storm drainage tunnels under the Las Vegas strip in the shadow of hotels and casinos that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, where people from around the world are spending so much money on vacations.

We can do better than that. I believe that wealth and equality tax, as I've proposed, is part of the answer, but also I've proposed an inheritance tax, raising the top marginal tax rate...

BURNETT: Thank you, Secretary. CASTRO: ... and investing in things like universal childcare and affordable housing.

BURNETT: All right. Senator Booker, please respond.

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I just want to be respond by -- you know, we've got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president. And how we talk about each other in this debate actually really matters.

I've had the privilege of working with or being friends with everybody on this stage, and tearing each other down because we have a different plan to me is unacceptable. I have seen this script before.

(APPLAUSE)

It didn't work in 2016, and it will be a disaster for us in 2020. And so I have a different plan than Elizabeth Warren. I have a different plan than many people on this stage. And it involves, again, fair taxes for the richest. We have a lot of work to do there. But we've had 20 years of presidential debates, and we have never talked about the violence in America of child poverty.

We have got to begin to talk more eloquently and persuasively and urgently about doing the things not just to make sure fair taxes are paid by people on the top, but that we deal with the moral obscenity of having the highest levels of child poverty in the industrial world.

My plan will focus on that, and these are some of the issues we should be talking about, not defining ourselves just by what we're against, but we need to win this election by talking about who and what we are for.

BURNETT: Thank you, Senator Booker.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We've got to take a quick break right now. The CNN-New York Times debate live from Otterbein University in Ohio will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to the CNN-New York Times Democratic presidential debate live from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

[21:08:07]

I want to turn now to foreign policy. President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all American forces from northern Syria, abandoning America's long-time Kurdish allies. As a result, Turkey has now evaded Syria, ISIS detainees have escaped, and the Kurds have announced a new deal with the government in Damascus, a victory for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and Russia, and Iran.

Vice President Biden, we know you would not have withdrawn troops from northern Syria in this way, but that is already in process. So would you send American troops back into northern Syria to prevent an ISIS resurgence and protect our Kurdish allies?

BIDEN: I would not have withdrawn the troops and I would not have withdrawn the additional thousand troops who are in Iraq, which are in retreat now, being fired on by Assad's people. And the president of the United States saying, if those ISIS folks escape from the prisons they're in, they'll only go to Europe and won't affect us.

It has been the most shameful thing that any president has done in modern history -- excuse me, in terms of foreign policy. And the fact of the matter is, I've never seen a time -- and I've spent thousands of hours in the Situation Room, I've spent many hours on the ground in those very places, in Syria and in Iraq, and guess what? Our commanders across the board, former and present, are ashamed of what's happening here.

What I would do is I would be making it real clear to Assad that, in fact, where he's going to have a problem -- because Turkey is the real problem here. And I would be having a real lockdown conversation with Erdogan and letting him know that he's going to pay a heavy price for what he has done now. Pay that price.

COOPER: Just to clarify, Mr. Vice President, would you want American troops back in northern Syria?

BIDEN: I would want those thousand troops to be protected by air cover, those thousand troops that are being -- having to withdraw under fire, make it clear that they're not going anywhere, and have them protected, and work my way back toward what, in fact, needs to be done, protecting those Kurds.

[21:10:00]

They lost their lives. This is shameful, shameful what this man has done.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Congresswoman Gabbard, last week you said that American troops should get out of Syria now. You don't agree with how the president handled the withdrawal. What would you have done differently? How would you have pulled out troops without the bloodshed we're seeing now?

GABBARD: Well, first of all, we've got to understand the reality of the situation there, which is that the slaughter of the Kurds being done by Turkey is yet another negative consequence of the regime change war that we've been waging in Syria.

Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war. Not only that, but the New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war. Just two days ago, the New York Times put out an article saying that I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I'm an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.

As president, I will end these regime change wars by doing two things -- ending the draconian sanctions that are really a modern-day siege the likes of which we are seeing Saudi Arabia wage against Yemen, that have caused tens of thousands of Syrian civilians to die and to starve, and I would make sure that we stop supporting terrorists like Al Qaida in Syria who have been the ground force in this ongoing regime change war.

COOPER: Thank you.

GABBARD: I'd like to ask Senator Warren if she would join me in calling for an end to this regime change war in Syria, finally.

WARREN: So, look, I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don't think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way.

What this president has done is that he has sucked up to dictators, he has made impulsive decisions that often his own team doesn't understand, he has cut and run on our allies, and he has enriched himself at the expense of the United States of America. In Syria, he has created a bigger-than-ever humanitarian crisis. He has helped ISIS get another foothold, a new lease on life.

I sit on the Armed Services Committee. I talk with our military leaders about this.

COOPER: Thank you, Senator.

WARREN: I was in Iraq and went through the neighborhoods that ISIS destroyed.

COOPER: Thank you.

WARREN: We need to get out, but we need to do this through a negotiated solution. There is no military solution in this region.

COOPER: Thank you, Senator. Mayor Buttigieg, Mayor Buttigieg, like many of your fellow candidates on the stage, you've been calling for an end to endless wars. What's your response on Syria?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, respectfully, Congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong. The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence. It's a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.

Look, I didn't think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place. I think we need to get out of Afghanistan. But it's also the case that a small number of specialized, special operations forces and intelligence capabilities were the only thing that stood between that part of Syria and what we're seeing now, which is the beginning of a genocide and the resurgence of ISIS.

Meanwhile, soldiers in the field are reporting that for the first time they feel ashamed -- ashamed -- of what their country has done. We saw the spectacle, the horrifying sight of a woman with the lifeless body of her child in her arms asking, what the hell happened to American leadership?

And when I was deployed, I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the fact that the flag on my shoulder represented a country known to keep its word. And our allies knew it and our enemies knew it.

COOPER: Thank you, Mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: You take that away, you are taking away what makes America America.

COOPER: Thank you, Mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: It makes our troops and the world a much more dangerous place.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Congresswoman Gabbard, your response?

GABBARD: Yeah, absolutely. So, really, what you're saying, Mayor Pete, is that you would continue to support having U.S. troops in Syria for an indefinite period of time to continue this regime change war that has caused so many refugees to flee Syria, that you would continue to have our country involved in a war that has undermined our national security, you would continue this policy of the U.S. actually providing arms in support to terrorist groups in Syria, like Al Qaida, HTS, al-Nusra and others, because they are the ones who have been the ground force in this regime change war? That's really what you're saying?

COOPER: Mayor Pete -- Mayor Buttigieg?

[21:15:00]

BUTTIGIEG: No, you can embrace -- or you can put an end to endless war without embracing Donald Trump's policy, as you're doing.

GABBARD: Will you end the regime change war, is the question.

BUTTIGIEG: What we are doing...

GABBARD: What is an endless war if it's not a regime change war?

COOPER: Allow him to respond. Please allow him to respond.

BUTTIGIEG: What we are doing -- or what we were doing in Syria was keeping our word. Part of what makes it possible for the United States to get people to put their lives on the line to back us up is the idea that we will back them up, too.

When I was deployed, not just the Afghan National Army forces, but the janitors put their lives on the line just by working with U.S. forces. I would have a hard time today looking an Afghan civilian or soldier in the eye after what just happened over there. And it is undermining the honor of our soldiers. You take away the honor of our soldiers, you might as well go after their body armor next.

This president has betrayed American values. Our credibility has been tattered.

COOPER: Thank you.

BUTTIGIEG: I will restore U.S. credibility before it is finally too late.

COOPER: Senator Sanders, is Turkey still a U.S. ally? Should they remain in NATO?

SANDERS: I'm sorry. Say that again?

COOPER: Is Turkey still a U.S. ally? Should they remain in NATO?

SANDERS: No, Turkey is not a U.S. ally when they invade another country and engage in mass slaughter.

The crisis here, as I think Joe said and Pete said, is when you begin to betray people, in terms of the Kurds, 11,000 of them died fighting ISIS, 20,000 were wounded. And the United States said, "We're with you, we're standing with you." And then suddenly, one day after a phone call with Erdogan, announced by tweet, Trump reverses that policy.

Now, you tell me what country in the world will trust the word of the president of the United States. In other words, what he has done is wreck our ability to do foreign policy, to do military policy, because nobody in the world will believe this pathological liar.

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: But this is really important, because what this president has done shows that American leadership shapes the behavior of our allies, or sometimes allies, too. Remember, the problem right now is not just that -- with our competitors. And, for example a place like China, the people of Hong Kong rise up for democracy and don't get a peep of support from the president. It's just not the behavior of adversaries like Russia.

But our one-time allies, like Saudi Arabia, which the CIA just concluded was responsible, as we all knew, for murdering and dismembering an American resident and journalist.

And Turkey, which was an American ally. That's the point. We had leverage. But when we abandon the international stage, when we think our only choices are between endless war or total isolation, the consequence is the disappearance of U.S. leadership... COOPER: Thank you, Mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: ... from the world stage.

COOPER: Senator...

BUTTIGIEG: And that makes this entire world a more dangerous place.

COOPER: Senator Klobuchar, should Turkey remain in NATO? Your response?

KLOBUCHAR: We need to work with our allies, to work with Turkey and bring them out. This is an outrageous thing that happened here. And I think we need to talk about this not only in terms of the horror of what happened here with Turkey, but the fact that our president blew it and now he's too proud to say it.

And what do we do now? We continue that humanitarian aid, but then we work with our allies to say come back, Turkey, and stop this, because what Mayor Pete has just said is true. Think about our other allies, Israel. How do they feel right now? Donald Trump is not true to his word when they are a beacon of democracy in the Mideast.

Think about our allies in Europe when he pulls out of the Iranian agreement and gives them holding the bag and gives the power to China and Russia.

COOPER: Thank you, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: Think about the nuclear agreement with Russia that he precipitously pulled out of. This is part of a pattern. It's not an isolated incident.

COOPER: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Harris, given that the U.S. abandoned our Kurdish allies, what would you do as president to convince the rest of the world that we can still be trusted?

HARRIS: That's a great question, Anderson, because the commander-in- chief of the United States of America has as one of her greatest priorities and responsibilities to concern herself with the security of our nation and homeland.

I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I have over a period of time received classified information about the threats to our security and hot spots around the world.

What has happened in Syria is yet again Donald Trump selling folks out. And in this case, he sold out the Kurds, who, yes, fought with us and thousands died in our fight against ISIS.

And let's be clear. What Donald Trump has done, because of that phone call with Erdogan, is basically giving 10,000 ISIS fighters a "get out of jail free" card. And you know who the winner is in this? There are four: Russia, Iran, Assad, and ISIS. This is a crisis of Donald Trump's making. And it is on a long list of crises of Donald Trump's making. And that's why dude got to go. And when I am commander-in-chief, we will stop this madness.

[21:20:00]

COOPER: Secretary Castro, your response.

MORE

XXX Castro, your response.

(APPLAUSE)

CASTRO: Well, I mean, you asked the question of, how are we going to get people to trust us again? The first thing is we got to boot Donald Trump out of the Oval Office so that people will trust us again.

You know, I also want people to think -- the folks this week that saw those images of ISIS prisoners running free to think about how absurd it is that this president is caging kids on the border and effectively letting ISIS prisoners run free.

(APPLAUSE)

He has made a tremendous mistake, a total disaster there in Syria. And just to connect the dots for a second, if you're Kim Jong-un, for instance, why in the world would you believe anything that this president says to contain your nuclear weapons program, when he tore up an Iran nuclear agreement that we just signed four years ago, which was the strongest agreement to contain Iran's nuclear weapons program, and now he's abandoned the very people that we gave our word to?

I would make sure that we work with our allies to pressure Syria to stop the aggression, and I support efforts at stronger sanctions than this president has announced.

COOPER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

LACEY: Senator Booker, the American intelligence community says that Russia is trying to capitalize on the power vacuums around the world as we're seeing right now in northern Syria. What specifically would you do as president to check Vladimir Putin's power on the world stage?

BOOKER: So, first of all, understand that this president is turning the moral leadership of this country into a dumpster fire. We literally have great generals like Mattis who said on the world stage, the United States of America, there can be no better friend than the United States of America and no better -- no greater enemy than the United States of America. This president has turned that upside down and now is doing things to undermine our critical alliances and partner with Russia.

And so clearly, to your question, number one, we cannot allow the Russians to continue to grow in influence by abandoning the world stage. We cannot allow Russia to not only interfere in the democracies of the Ukraine, and Latvia, and Lithuania, but even not calling them out for their efforts to interfere in this democracy are unacceptable.

Russia and Putin understand strength, and this president time and time again is showing moral weakness. He makes promises to the American people that he's going to protect this nation. Well, instead of doing something to defeat ISIS, he's now given them a foothold again.

This is an American president that even right now is lying to the American public and saying he's bringing our troops home, at the same time he's increasing troop presence with the Saudis, while they're involved in an unjust war that is killing tens of thousands of children in Yemen.

This president is making us less safe. He is partnering more with Putin than he is with Merkel and Macron. And as president of the United States, I will stop this and restore American integrity abroad.

LACEY: Thank you, Senator. Vice President?

BIDEN: I think I maybe -- it doesn't make me any better or worse, but maybe the only person who spent extensive time alone with Putin, as well as with Erdogan. And Erdogan understands that -- you talk about should he stay in or out of NATO -- he understands if he's out of NATO, he's in real trouble.

But the fact of the matter is, we have been unwilling in this administration, because we have an erratic, crazy president who knows not a damn thing about foreign policy and operates out of fear for his own re-election.

(APPLAUSE)

Think what's happened. The fact of the matter is, you have Russia influencing and trying to break up NATO. What does the president do? He says, "I believe Vladimir Putin. I believe Vladimir Putin. I don't believe our intelligence community."

SANDERS: You're suggesting I'm Vladimir Putin here.

BIDEN: No, no, I'm not. No, I'm not. I'm not.

SANDERS: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: But here -- look, but here's the deal. Think what that did. He turns around and he questions whether or not he'll keep the sacred commitment of Article 5 for the NATO members. If he is re-elected, I promise you, there will be no NATO. Our security will be vastly underrated, under -- we will be in real trouble.

And with regard to regime change in Syria, that has not been the policy we change the regime. It has been to make sure that the regime did not wipe out hundreds of thousands of innocent people between there and the Iraqi border. And lastly, and I apologize for going on, but lastly, what is happening in Iraq is going to -- I mean, excuse me, in Afghanistan, as well as all the way over to Syria, we have ISIS that's going to come here. They are going to, in fact, damage the United States of America. That's why we got involved in the first place and not ceded the whole area to Assad and to the Russians.

LACEY: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Congressman O'Rourke, Senate Democrats put out a report last year on Russia's hostile actions around the world. They suggest the next president could fight back by publicly

[21:25:00]

revealing what the U.S. knows about Putin's corruption and work with allies to freeze his bank accounts. Would you take either of those actions, even in the face of possible retaliation?

O'ROURKE: Yes. We must be unafraid in ensuring that we hold Russia accountable for invading the world's greatest democracy and being able to do it thanks to Donald Trump functionally with impunity so far, so much so that they are invading this democracy right now as we speak, still at the invitation of this president. So if there are not consequences, we will continue to see this problem going forward.

But in addition, y ademas, to answer the previous question that you asked, how do we stand up to Russia on the global stage, we do that by renewing our alliances and our friendships. That is what makes America stronger. There isn't enough money in this country, there aren't enough servicemembers as brave and courageous as they are to do everything that we want to accomplish militarily around the world.

And the Kurds are case in point. In fact, because we turned our backs on them, those Kurds who fought for us in Syria, helped to defeat ISIS not just for themselves, but for the United States of America, it makes it more likely that we will have to send another generation of servicemembers to fight those battles there.

And then lastly, as General Mattis, who was invoked earlier, has said, we have two powers, one of intimidation and one of inspiration. We need to now focus on that latter power and make sure that we invest in diplomacy and our State Department and peacefully and non-violently resolving our foreign policy goals not on the backs of 18-, and 19-, and 20-year-olds any more, but making sure that our diplomats are invested in, have the focus necessary by this next president to make that they can accomplish those goals for this country and for the world.

LACEY: Thank you, Congressman. Thank you, Congressman.

Mr. Steyer, would you publicly reveal what the U.S. knows about Putin's corruption or work to freeze his bank accounts? Please respond.

STEYER: Absolutely. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Trump's America first program, which involves having no plans, having no process, and having no partners, has proved to be a disaster in Syria, it's proved to be a disaster in terms of our response to Russia's attacking our democracy, and more than that, when we look at the problems around the world, the idea that the United States is going to act unilaterally against a country without the support of our traditional allies makes absolutely no sense.

Let's go to the most important international problem that we're facing, which no one has brought up, which is climate. We can't solve the climate crisis in the United States by ourselves. It's an international crisis. I've been working on it for 10 years, taking on the corporations. But we have to work with our allies and our frenemies around the world.

So if you look at what Mr. Trump is doing, of course he's been bought by the oil and gas companies. But any problem that we're going to do, but specifically climate, we're going to have to lead the world morally, we're going to have to lead it technologically, financially, and commercially.

This is the proof that this kind of America first, go-it-alone, trust nobody and be untrustworthy is the worst idea I have ever heard and I would change it on day one in every single light.

LACEY: Mr. Yang, your response to Putin and Russia.

YANG: Of course. We have to look at the chain of events. How did we get here? The fact is, we were falling apart at home, so we voted in Donald Trump, and he's now led us down this dangerous path with erratic and unreliable foreign policy.

We have to let Russia know, look, we get it. We've tampered with other elections, you've tampered with our elections. And now it has to stop. And if it does not stop, we will take this as an act of hostility against the American people. I believe most Americans would support me on this.

But Russian hacking of our democracy is an illustration of the 21st century threats. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, climate change, loose nuclear material, military drones, and non-state actors, these are the threats that are going to require our administration to catch up in terms of technology.

We all know we are decades behind the curve on technology. We saw when Mark Zuckerberg testified at Congress the nature of the questioning. As commander-in-chief, I will help pull us forward...

LACEY: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

KLOBUCHAR: I want to respond to Mr. Yang.

YANG: ... and that's going to be the responsibility of the next president. KLOBUCHAR: I want to respond to Mr. Yang. I don't see a moral equivalency between our country and Russia. Vladimir Putin is someone who has shot down planes over Ukraine, who has poisoned his opponent, and we have not talked about what we need to do to protect ourselves from Russia invading our election.

This wasn't meddling. That's what I do when I call my daughter on a Saturday night and ask her what she's doing. Sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

KLOBUCHAR: This was much more serious than that. This was actually invading our election. So to protect ourselves in 2020, what we need, one, backup paper ballots in every single state. That is a bill that I need, and we need to stop Mitch McConnell from stopping that from happening.

[21:30:02]

And then we need to stop the social media companies from running paid political ads, including ones last time in rubles, without having to say where those ads came from and who paid for them. That's the Honest Ads Act. That's a bipartisan bill that I lead. And we can't wait...

LACEY: Thank you, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: ... to become president to get that done. We need to get it done now.

LACEY: Thank you, Senator.

COOPER: We want to turn back to domestic issues and the epidemic of gun violence in this country. We're less than 100 miles from Dayton, Ohio, where two months ago a gunman killed nine people using an AR-15- style weapon with a high-capacity magazine.

Congressman O'Rourke, in the last debate, you said, quote, "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," but when you were asked how you'd enforce a mandatory buyback, you said police wouldn't be going door to door. So how exactly are you going to force people to give up their weapons? You don't even know who has those weapons.

O'ROURKE: Look, we're going to make sure that the priority is saving the lives of our fellow Americans. I think almost everyone on this stage agrees that it's not right and as president would seek to ban the sale of AR-15s and AK-47s.

Those are weapons of war. They were designed to kill people effectively, efficiently on a battlefield. You mentioned the massacre in Dayton. Nine people killed in under 40 seconds. In El Paso, Texas, 22 were killed in under three minutes. And the list goes on throughout the country.

So if the logic begins with those weapons being too dangerous to sell, then it must continue by acknowledging, with 16 million AR-15s and AK- 47s out there, they are also too dangerous to own. Every single one of them is a potential instrument of terror.

Just ask Hispanics in Texas. Univision surveyed them. More than 80 percent feared that they would be a victim of a mass terror attack like the one in El Paso that was targeted at Mexican Americans and immigrants, inspired in part by this president's racism and hatred that he's directed at communities like mine in El Paso.

COOPER: Congressman...

O'ROURKE: So I expect my fellow Americans to follow the law, the same way that we enforce any provision, any law that we have right now.

COOPER: OK.

O'ROURKE: We don't go door to door to do anything in this country to enforce the law. I expect Republicans, Democrats, gun-owners, non-gun- owners alike to respect and follow the law.

COOPER: Congressman, let me follow up. Just to follow up, your expectations aside, your website says you will fine people who don't give up their weapons. That doesn't take those weapons off the street. So to be clear, exactly how are you going to take away weapons from people who do not want to give them up and you don't know where they are?

O'ROURKE: If someone does not turn in an AR-15 or an AK-47, one of these weapons of war, or brings it out in public and brandishes it in an attempt to intimidate, as we saw when we were at Kent State recently, then that weapon will be taken from them. If they persist, they will be other consequences from law enforcement.

But the expectation is that Americans will follow the law. I believe in this country. I believe in my fellow Americans. I believe that they will do the right thing.

COOPER: Thank you. Mayor Buttigieg, just yesterday, you referred to mandatory buybacks as confiscation and said that Congressman O'Rourke has been picking a fight to try to stay relevant. Your response on guns?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, Congressman, you just made it clear that you don't know how this is actually going to take weapons off the streets. If you can develop the plan further, I think we can have a debate about it. But we can't wait. People are dying in the streets right now.

We can't wait for universal background checks that we finally have a shot to actually get through. We can't wait to ban the sale of new weapons and high-capacity magazines so we don't wind up with millions more of these things on the street. We can't wait for red flag laws that are going to disarm domestic abusers and prevent suicides, which are not being talked about nearly enough as a huge part of the gun violence epidemic in this country. We cannot wait for purity tests. We have to just get something done.

COOPER: Congressman O'Rourke, your response. O'ROURKE: This is not a purity test. This is a country that loses 40,000 of our fellow Americans every year to gun violence. This is a crisis. We've got to do something about it.

And those challenges that you described are not mutually exclusive to the challenges that I'm describing. I want to make sure we have universal background checks and red flag laws and that we end the sale of these weapons of war, but to use the analogy of health care, it would be as though we said, look, we're for primary care, but let's not talk about mental health care because that's a bridge too far. People need that primary care now, so let's save that for another day.

No, let's decide what we are going to believe in, what we're going to achieve. And then let's bring this country together in order to do that. Listening to my fellow Americans, to those moms who demand action, to those students who march for our lives, who, in fact, came up with this extraordinary bold peace plan...

COOPER: Thank you, Congressman.

O'ROURKE: ... that calls for mandatory buybacks, let's follow their inspiration and lead and not be limited by the polls and the consultants and the focus groups. Let's do what's right...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Mayor Buttigieg, your response? Mayor Buttigieg?

BUTTIGIEG: The problem isn't the polls. The problems is the policy. And I don't need lessons from you on courage, political or personal. Everyone on this stage is determined to get something done.

[21:35:05]

Everyone on this stage recognizes, or at least I thought we did, that the problem is not other Democrats who don't agree with your particular idea of how to handle this.

The problem is the National Rifle Association and their enablers in Congress, and we should be united in taking the fight to them.

(APPLAUSE)

O'ROURKE: That's a mischaracterization. Anderson, I've got to answer this. Never took you or anyone else on who disagrees with me on this issue. But when you, Mayor Buttigieg, described this policy as a shiny object, I don't care what that meant to me or my candidacy, but to those who have survived gun violence, those who've lost a loved one to an AR-15, an AK-47, marched for our lives, formed in the courage of students willing to stand up to the NRA and conventional politics and poll-tested politicians, that was a slap in the fact to every single one of those groups and every single survivor of a mass casualty assault with an AR-15 and an AK-47.

COOPER: Thank you.

O'ROURKE: We must buy them back.

COOPER: Congressman...

BUTTIGIEG: What we owe to those survivors is to actually deliver a solution. I'm glad you offered up that analogy to health care, because this is really important. We are at the cusp of building a new American majority to actually do things that congressmen and senators have been talking about with almost no impact for my entire adult life.

COOPER: Thank you, Mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: No, this is really important, OK? On guns, we are this close to an assault weapons ban. That would be huge. And we're going to get wrapped around the axle in a debate over whether it's "hell, yes, we're going to take your guns"? We have an opportunity...

COOPER: Thank you, Mayor. Your time is up.

BUTTIGIEG: ... to deliver health care to everybody, and some on this stage are saying it doesn't count unless we obliterate...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I want to give somebody -- I want to give other -- I want to give other candidates a chance. Senator Booker, what's your response to Mayor Buttigieg?

BOOKER: Well, look, I again, worry about how we talk to each other and about each other and what this last week has shown. There was a young man in my neighborhood, I watched him grow up. I lived in some high- rise projects with him named Shahad, and he was murdered on my block last year with an assault rifle.

I'm living with a sense of urgency on this problem, because when I go home to my community, like millions of Americans, we live in communities where these weapons, where these gun shots are real every single day.

And I know where the American public is. This is not about leadership. This is why when I talk about things like gun licensing and point out the differences between us, I'm not attacking people or their character or their courage on these issues. We all have courage.

But it's frustrating that when the American people, 77 percent of Americans agree on licensing, we don't need leadership right now. We just need folks that are going to stand up and follow where the people already are, because there are millions of Americans where this is a daily nightmare, where we're surrendering our freedoms...

COOPER: Thank you.

BOOKER: ... to fear in this country. This is the first time in American history, this fall, where we have sent our children to school, the strongest nation on the Planet Earth, and said to them, "We can't protect you"... COOPER: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: ... "so in school, we're going to teach you how to hide." There are more duck-and-cover drills and shelter-in-place drills in America now than fire drills.

COOPER: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: If I'm president of the United States, I will bring an urgency to this issue and make sure that we end the scourge of mass violence in our country.

COOPER: Senator Klobuchar -- Senator Klobuchar, Senator Warren -- Senator Warren supports a voluntary -- excuse me, Senator Klobuchar, you support a voluntary buyback, if I'm correct, right. What is wrong with a mandatory buyback? Your response.

KLOBUCHAR: I just keep thinking of how close we are to finally getting something done on this. I'm looking at the mayor of Dayton. I met one of the survivors from that shooting, 30 seconds, nine people killed.

The public is with us on this in a big way. The majority of Trump voters want to see universal background checks right now. The majority of hunters want to see us move forward with gun safety legislation. There are three bills right now on Mitch McConnell's desk, the background check bill, my bill to close the boyfriend loophole so domestic abusers don't get guns, the bill to make it easier for police to vet people before they get a gun. That's what we should be focusing on.

And I just don't want to screw this up. When I'm president, I do want to bring in an assault weapon ban and I do want to put a limitation on magazines so what happened in Dayton, Ohio, will never happen again. But let's not mess this up with this fight.

COOPER: Senator Warren, you support a voluntary gun buyback of assault-style weapons, as well. Why not a mandatory one?

WARREN: So, look, I want to get what works done. I want to use the method we used, for example, with machine guns. We registered them, we put in a huge penalty if you didn't register them, and a huge tax on them, and then let people turn them in, and it got machine guns out of the hands of people.

But the problem here that we need to focus on is, first, how widespread gun violence is. As you've rightly identified, it's not just about mass shootings. It's what happens in neighborhoods all across this country. It is about suicide, and it is about domestic violence.

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XXX about domestic violence.

This is not going to be a one and done, that we do one thing or two things or three things and then we're done. [21:40:00]

We have to reduce gun violence overall. And the question we have to ask is, why hasn't it happened?

You say we're so close. We have been so close. I stood in the United States Senate in 2013...

COOPER: Thank you.

WARREN: ... when 54 senators voted in favor of gun legislation and it didn't pass because of the filibuster.

COOPER: Thank you, Senator. Senator...

WARREN: We have got to attack the corruption and repeal the filibuster or the gun industry will always have a veto over what happens.

COOPER: Senator Harris? Senator Harris, you disagree with Senator Warren. You think the buyback should be mandatory. Please respond.

HARRIS: Five million assault weapons are on the streets of America today. During the course of this debate, eight people will die from gun violence. The leading cause of death of young black men in America is gun violence, more than the top other six reasons total.

This is a serious matter. I have personally hugged more mothers of homicide victims than I care to tell you. I have looked at more autopsy photographs than I care to tell you. I have attended more police officer funerals than I care to tell you. I'm done. And we need action.

And Congress has had years to act and failed because they do not have the courage. When I'm elected, I'll give them 100 days to pull their act together, put a bill on my desk for signature, and if they don't, I will take executive action and put in place a comprehensive background check requirement and ban the importation of assault weapons into our country because it is time to act.

COOPER: Senator Biden -- Vice President Biden, your response.

BIDEN: I'm the only one on this stage who has taken on the NRA and beat them, and beat them twice. We were able to get assault weapons off the streets and not be able to be sold for 10 years. Recent studies show that mass violence went down when that occurred.

The way to deal with those guns and those AR-15s and assault weapons that are on the street -- or not on the street, that people own, is to do what we did with the National Firearms Act as it related to machine guns. You must register that weapon. You must register it. When you register it, the likelihood of it being used diminishes exponentially.

I'm the only one that got -- got -- moved the -- to make sure that we could not have a magazine that had more than 10 rounds in it. I've done this. I know how to get it done. If you really want to get it done, go after the gun manufacturers and take back the exemption they have of not being able to be sued. That would change it.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Secretary Castro, the vast majority of homicides committed with a gun in this country are from handguns, not assault-style weapons. What's your plan to prevent those deaths?

CASTRO: Thank you very much for the question. You know, I grew up in neighborhoods where it wasn't uncommon to hear gunshots at night. And I can remember ducking into the back seat of a car when I was a freshman in high school, across the street from my school, my public school, because folks were shooting at each other.

You know, in the neighborhoods -- let me answer this question about voluntary versus mandatory. There are two problems I have with mandatory buybacks. Number one, folks can't define it. And if you're not going door to door, then it's not really mandatory.

But also, in the places that I grew up in, we weren't exactly looking for another reason for cops to come banging on the door. And you all saw a couple days ago what happened to Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth. A cop showed up at 2:00 in the morning at her house when she was playing video games with her nephew. He didn't even announced himself. And within four seconds, he shot her and killed her through her home window. She was in her own home.

And so I am not going to give these police officers another reason to go door to door in certain communities, because police violence is also gun violence, and we need to address that.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Secretary Castro, thank you.

LACEY: Turning to another key issue here in Ohio and around the country, the opioid epidemic, Senator Klobuchar, CNN reached out to Ohio Democratic voters for their most pressing questions. Brie, a teacher in Proctorville, asks, in rural Ohio, the opioid epidemic has affected our communities and schools. I have many high school students who have lost one or both parents to heroin. Teachers are on the front lines daily, witnessing these tragedies. How will you tackle this problem in general, but specifically what will you offer people in rural communities where rehabilitation is not easily accessed and access to jobs is difficult?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I want to thank her for this question. This is something that should never have happened to begin with. I remember, when I was a prosecutor, these were not the kind of cases that were coming in our door. And it's gotten worse and worse. And we now know why.

[21:45:00]

As the evidence is coming out of those lawsuits, probably one of the most horrible things that I saw was the e-mail from one of the pharma executives that actually said, "Keep pumping them out. They're eating them like Doritos."

So my first answer to that question, and which is included in my plan, is that the people that should pay for this, that should pay for the treatment, are the very people that got people hooked and killed them in the first place. And that is the people that are manufacturing these opioids. That's the first way.

And you can, with a 2 cents per milligram tax, bring in the money, plus with the federal master settlement, to help rural areas where they're so isolated, and also in urban areas, where it's, by the way, not just opiates. There are still mental health issues and crack cocaine issues.

This is personal for me. My dad, he struggled with alcoholism his whole life. And by his third DWI, they said to him, the prosecutor, you've got to face jail or you got to go to treatment. He picked treatment, and he was pursued by grace. And he has been sober ever since. And now he's 91 and in assisted living, and he said to me last year, it's hard to get a drink around here, anyway. But he still has an AA group that visits him there.

And so for me, I believe that everyone in this country, including the people in rural America, have that same right to be pursued by grace.

LACEY: Thank you, Senator. Mr. Steyer, how would you address the opioid epidemic that exists here in Ohio and around the country? Please respond.

STEYER: Well, I think this is one of the most heartbreaking experiences that America has had, 72,000 people died of opioid overdoses last year, and that's not only a tragedy for them, it's a tragedy for their family and their communities.

And so I think we have to treat this as a health citizens. We have to move the resources and the support there to try and help people.

But I think that Senator Klobuchar makes a good point. The reason I'm running for president is that we have a broken government. And we have a broken government because corporations have bought it. And every single one of these conversations is about that broken government. It's about drug companies buying the government and getting what they want. It's about the gun manufacturers buying the government and get what we want.

We need to break the corporate stranglehold on our government. I've put forward actual structural changes, including term limits, a natural referendum, the end to the idea that corporations are people and have the rights of American citizens politically, and make it a lot easier to vote

These corporations have taken over our government. And 72,000 deaths...

LACEY: Thank you, Mr. Steyer. STEYER: ... last year are the tragic result.

LACEY: Thank you, Mr. Steyer. Mr. Yang, you want to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of opioids, including heroin. How would that solve the crisis?

YANG: That's exactly right. And we have to recognize this is a disease of capitalism run amok. There was a point when there were more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than human beings in the state of Ohio. And for some reason, the federal government thought that was appropriate.

They ended up levying a $600 million fine against Purdue Pharma, which sounds like a lot of money, until you realize that company made $30 billion. They got a 2 percent fine, and they killed tens of thousands of Americans, eight an hour.

So if the government turned a blind eye to this company spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put the resources to work in our community so our people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem. We all know this is a human problem.

And part of helping people get the treatment that they need is to let them know that they're not going to be referred to a prison cell. They will be referred to treatment and counseling. I talked to an EMT in New Hampshire, and he said he saves the same addicts over and over again, because the fact is, after you save someone who's OD'ing, you just bring them back to their house and they OD again the following week.

So we need to decriminalize opiates for personal use. We have to let the country know this is not a personal failing. This was a systemic government failing. And then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country, because they save lives.

LACEY: Thank you, Mr. Yang. Congressman O'Rourke, is decriminalizing opioids part of the solution? Please respond.

O'ROURKE: Yes, it is, for many of the reasons that Mr. Yang just described. And also just from some personal experiences I've had as a member of Congress where constituents of mine have come forward, in some cases publicly, at a town hall meeting to describe their addictions.

I remember a veteran telling me that he bought heroin off the street because he was originally prescribed an opioid at the V.A. Now, imagine if that veteran, instead of being prescribe an opioid, had been prescribed marijuana because we made that legal in America, ensured the V.A....

YANG: Yes, preach, Beto.

O'ROURKE: ... could prescribe it, expunge the arrest records for those who've been arrested for possession, and make sure that he was not prescribed something to which he would become addicted. I also want to agree with Senator Klobuchar. Until we hold those responsible accountable for their actions, Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, we're going to continue to have this problem going on again.

[21:50:00]

So that veteran that I met, and anyone with drug addiction today, is not a problem for the criminal justice system.

LACEY: Thank you.

O'ROURKE: They're an opportunity for our public health system in America.

LACEY: Thank you, Congressman. Senator Harris, you want to hold the drug manufacturers that fueled the crisis accountable. Are you in favor of sending those drug company executives to jail?

HARRIS: I am. And I will tell you, as a former prosecutor, I do think of this as being a matter of justice and accountability, because they are nothing more than some high-level dope dealers. They have been engaged...

(APPLAUSE)

And I've seen it happen before. I've taken on the pharmaceutical companies when I was attorney general of California and led the second largest Department of Justice. I've seen what they do.

The biggest pharmaceutical companies, the eight biggest pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies last year profited $72 billion on the backs of people like the families that we are talking about that have been overwhelmed by this crisis, which is a public health epidemic.

And they knew what they were doing. They were marketing false advertising. They knew what they were pushing in communities and states like Ohio, without any concern about the repercussions because they were profiting and making big bucks. And, yes, they should be held accountable. This is a matter of justice.

And so as president of the United States, I would ensure that the United States Department of Justice, understand that you want to deal with who is really a criminal? Let's end mass incarceration and end that failed war on drugs, and let's go after these pharmaceutical companies for what they've been doing to destroy our country and states like Ohio.

LACEY: Thank you, Senator. Secretary Castro, are you in favor of sending those drug company executives to prison? Please respond.

CASTRO: Yes, I am. They need to be held accountable, not only financially, but also with criminal penalties. And, you know, you can draw a straight line between making sure that we hold executives accountable, whether it's these drug manufacturers or Wall Street executives that should have been held accountable a decade-and-a-half ago.

LACEY: Thank you.

BURNETT: Now to the issue of candidates and their health. Senator Sanders, I want to start with you. We're moving on, Senator. I'm sorry.

SANDERS: I'm healthy. I'm feeling great, but I would like to respond to that question.

BURNETT: I want to -- I want start by saying...

(APPLAUSE)

BOOKER: And Senator Sanders is in favor of medical marijuana. I want to make sure that's clear, as well.

BURNETT: Senator Sanders, this debate does mark your...

SANDERS: I do. I'm not on it tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: This debate -- this debate, sir, does mark your return to the campaign trail. Go ahead and finish your point and then I'll ask my question, Senator.

SANDERS: I'm more than happy to answer your question, but I wanted to pick up on what Kamala and Cory and others have said. Let's take a deep breath. Take a look at this opioid epidemic.

You have executives, CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies, making tens of millions of dollars a year. And in this particular case with the opioids, they knew that they were selling a product to communities all over this country which were addicting people and killing them. And last year, the top 10 drug companies made $69 billion in profit.

This is what unfettered capitalism is doing to this country. And it's not just the drug companies. Right now, the CEOs in the fossil fuel industry know full well that their product is destroying this world. And they continue to make huge profits.

BURNETT: Senator...

SANDERS: That is why we need a political revolution...

BURNETT: Thank you, Senator.

SANDERS: ... that says enough is enough to this behavior.

(APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: Senator, we are all very glad you're feeling well...

SANDERS: Thank you. BURNETT: ... as you just said. But there is a question on a lot of people's minds, and I want to address it tonight. You're 78 years old, and you just had a heart attack. How do you reassure Democratic voters that you're up to the stress of the presidency?

SANDERS: Well, let me invite you all to a major rally we're having in Queens, New York, berniesanders.com. We're going to have a special guest at that event. And we are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people.

But let me take this moment, if I might, to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I'm so happy to be back here with you this evening.

(APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: Vice President Biden, if you're elected, you will turn 80 during your first term. Last month, former President Jimmy Carter said he could not have undertaken the duties of the presidency at 80 years old. Why are you so sure that you can?

[21:55:00]

BIDEN: Because I've watched it. I know what the job is. I've been engaged.

Look, one of the reasons I'm running is because of my age and my experience. With it comes wisdom. We need someone to take office this time around who on day one can stand on the world stage, command the respect of world leaders, from Putin to our allies, and know exactly what has to be done to get this country back on track.

It is required now more than any time in any of our lifetimes to have someone who has that capacity on day one. That's one of the reasons why I decided to run, why I decided to run this time, because I know what has to be done. I've done it before. I've been there when we pulled the nation out of the worst financial recession in history. I've been there, and I've got so many pieces of legislation passed, including the Affordable Care Act, as well as making sure that we had the Recovery Act, which kept us from going into a depression.

I know what has to be done. I will not need any on-the-job training the day I take office. And I will release my medical records, as I have 21 years of my tax records, which no one else on this stage has done, so that you can have full transparency as to my health and what I am doing.

BURNETT: Just to be clear, Mr. Vice President, when will you release those records?

BIDEN: Before the first vote.

BURNETT: Before Iowa? BIDEN: Yes.

BURNETT: Not by the end of this year?

BIDEN: Well, before Iowa. I mean, look, I've released them before. I released 55 pages of my -- I'm the only guy that's released anything up here.

BURNETT: Senator Warren, like Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden, if you win the presidency, you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated in a first term. You would be 71. Forty percent of Democratic primary voters say they think a candidate under the age of 70 is more likely to defeat President Trump. What do you say to them?

WARREN: Well, I say, I will out-work, out-organize, and outlast anyone, and that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence, or whoever the Republicans get stuck with.

(LAUGHTER)

Look, the way I see this, the way we're going to win is by addressing head-on what millions of Americans know in their bones, and that is that the wealthy and the well-connected have captured our democracy, and they're making it work for themselves and leaving everyone else behind.

And political pundits and Washington insiders and, shoot, people in our own party don't want to admit that. They think that running some kind of vague campaign that nibbles around the edges of big problems in this country is a winning strategy. They are wrong.

If all Democrats can promise is after Donald Trump it will be business as usual, then we will lose. Democrats win when we call out what's broken and we show how to fix it. Democrats will win when we fight for the things that touch people's lives, things like childcare and health care and housing costs. Democrats will win when we give people a reason to get in the fight.

BURNETT: Thank you, Senator Warren.

Congresswoman Gabbard, you're 38 years old, and you would be the youngest president if elected. Should age matter when choosing a president?

GABBARD: I'm glad you asked, because I was going to say it's not fair to ask these three about their health and their fitness to serve as president but not every other one of us. I am grateful to have been trained very well by the Army and do my best to stay in shape.

But here's the real question I believe you should be asking is: Who is fit to serve as our commander-in-chief? This is the most important responsibility that the president has. What Donald Trump has been doing in Syria and what we have just seen with him, inviting Turkey to come in and slaughter the Kurds, show what an unfit president looks like. It highlights how critical it is that we have a president and commander-in-chief who is ready on day one, bringing experience and understanding in foreign policy and national security.

Bringing the experience that I have, both serving in Congress now for nearly seven years, serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee, serving on the Armed Services Committee, subcommittees related to terrorism and upcoming threats, serving on the Homeland Security Committee, the experience that I have as a soldier, serving for over 16 years in the Army National Guard, deploying twice to the Middle East, being able to serve in different capacities, joint training exercises, training the Kuwait National Guard.

I understand the importance of our national security. I am prepared to do this job, to fulfill this responsibility as commander-in-chief on day one.

BURNETT: Thank you, Congresswoman.

GABBARD: I'd like to ask our other candidates this question. I'd like to start with Senator Warren...

BURNETT: Sorry, Congressman, I'm sorry.

GABBARD: ... what her experience and background is to serve as commander-in-chief.

BURNETT: I'm sorry, thank you. We're going to take another break now. The CNN-New York Times debate live from Otterbein University here in Ohio will be back in just a few moments.

[21:55:59]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)