PREVIOUSLY: Bernie Sanders frequently takes aim at the wealth of billionaires, and he directed his campaign theme at Michael Bloomberg’s vast fortune as indicative of income inequality.
“Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans, and that’s obscene,” Sanders said.
Moderator Chuck Todd asked Bloomberg, “Should you exist?”
“I can’t speak for all billionaires. All I know is, I’ve been very lucky, made a lot of money, and I’m giving it all away to make this country better,” Bloomberg responded.
Bloomberg delivered his sharpest attacks on Sanders when he criticized his economic policies.
“I can’t think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg said. “It’s ridiculous. We are not going to get rid of capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It’s called communism. It just doesn’t work.”
PREVIOUSLY: Michael Bloomberg was asked about recent reports of former employees who have accused him of sexist and misogynistic remarks, detailed in a recent story in The Washington Post.
“I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the Me Too movement has exposed,” Bloomberg said.
Elizabeth Warren pounced on his answer.
“I hope you heard what his defense was: I have been nice to some women,” Warren said. Bloomberg rolled his eyes.
“What we need to know is what is lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign non-disclosure agreements for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace.” She asked Bloomberg whether he would release those women from the agreements “so we can hear their side of the story.”
“We have a very few non-disclosure agreements,” he said.
“How many is that?” Warren interrupted.
“None of them accuse me of me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.” Some in the audience booed. He said that they were agreements between two parties who “maybe wanted to keep it quiet, and that is up to them. They signed those agreements, and we will live with it.”
Warren then pressed him. “Some is how many?” She said that if the women wanted to tell their story, “you are releasing them on television tonight?’
The audience then cheered.
“They decided when they made the agreement they wanted to keep it quiet. That is in everybody’s interests.”
Warren said, “Understand. This is not just a question about the mayor’s character. This is also a question about electability. We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many non-disclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and saying they have been discriminated against.”
PREVIOUSLY: Michael Bloomberg made his debut on a presidential debate stage on Wednesday and, as predicted, he very quickly became the target of fierce attacks from his Democratic rivals.
As NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt posed the first question — having to do with who is best prepared to beat Donald Trump — Elizabeth Warren took the cue to give the most blistering criticism of the former New York mayor.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Warren said. “No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Michael Bloomberg.”
She added, “Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Bloomberg did not respond directly to her criticism, but said that he was the best prepared to beat President Donald Trump.
“I am a New Yorker,” he said. “I know how to take on an arrogant con man.”
Bernie Sanders, who may emerge as his chief rival in the primary race, slammed Bloomberg for New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy
“That is not a way you are going to grow voter turnout,” Sanders said.
Bloomberg said that he did not think that there was “any chance” of Sanders, currently leading in the polls, beating Trump.
“If he is the candidate we will have Donald Trump another four years,” Bloomberg said. “We cannot have that.”
The stakes in the debate were higher than perhaps any previous debate this cycle, what with the pending Nevada caucuses on Saturday, the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, and Super Tuesday on March 3. That was apparent with the aggressive tone among the candidates right off the start.
Pete Buttigieg, who has a slight lead in the delegate count, chided Bloomberg and Sanders, calling them “the two most polarizing figures on this stage,” and warning that if the presidential race came down to a contest between the two, it would only exacerbate party divisions. He later focused on Sanders for failing to win the support of the Culinary Workers Union and for the tone of the rhetoric of some of his supporters, known as “Bernie Bros.”
Bloomberg has spent almost $339 million on TV and radio ads, according to Advertising Analytics, setting an all-time record. But up to now, he has not faced off against any of his Democratic rivals on a debate stage.