The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took pains Wednesday to emphasize that the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump in Washington shouldn’t consume the campaign to beat him at the ballot box.
All of the candidates on stage at the fifth Democratic debate Wednesday night who were asked about the impeachment inquiry were quick to forcefully condemn Trump’s conduct. But they made clear they have their own visions to pitch to American voters on the campaign trail.
“We simply cannot be consumed by Donald Trump,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, citing health care, economic inequality, and climate change as major concerns for Americans. “Otherwise we’re going to lose the election."
“Congress can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time,” Sanders added. “We can deal with Trump’s corruption, but we also have to stand up for the working families of this country.”
The debate in Georgia was held hours after Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry heard testimony from Gordon Sondland, Trump’s hand-picked diplomat to Europe, who told lawmakers there was an explicit "quid pro quo” tying a White House visit to Trump’s push for investigations into his political rivals. Sondland also told lawmakers he worked with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine policy at Trump’s direction, and that “everyone was in the loop,” including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, while saying Trump should be both impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate, also questioned why Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and Trump donor, was made an ambassador in the first place.
“How did Ambassador Sondland get there?" Warren asked. "You know, this is not a man who had any qualifications except one: He wrote a check for a million dollars. And that tells us what is happening in Washington, the corruption.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said he was running to be president in a post-Trump world, where issues like gun violence “didn’t take a vacation.”
“We are absolutely going to confront this president for his wrongdoing,” Buttigieg said. “But we are also each running to be the president who will lead this country after the trump presidency comes to an end, one way or another.”
"The day that the Trump presidency is over, Buttigieg said, “will be a tender moment in the life of this country. And we are going to have to unify a nation that will be as divided as ever.”
Democrats have alleged Trump abused his power by withholding a coveted White House visit and congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine while pushing for the investigations. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and Republicans in Congress have dismissed the impeachment inquiry as illegitimate, even as a growing number of witnesses have bolstered the allegations against Trump.