The top Democratic candidates for president will take the debate stage together on Thursday night, and each member of the diverse field is trying to find a way to stand out of the pack.
Among them, Joe Biden hunkered down for mock debates, Bernie Sanders has no interest in practice sessions and entrepreneur Andrew Yang was planning on trying to stay loose by playing some basketball.
Here’s a look at how they and the other seven candidates who will take the stage are preparing for the ABC-sponsored face off in Houston, the third debate among the Democratic hopefuls.
Biden: Ready to defend
While the former vice president will share the stage for the first time with strong contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden’s advisers say he’s more likely to face direct attacks from other candidates who are seeking to make a splash. Biden has been studying his rivals’ records and is ready to defend his.
“Regardless of who is or isn’t attacking Joe Biden, Biden is focused on running his race,” one adviser said.
Nonetheless, some of his strategies are clearly geared toward contrasting his record and plans from sweeping changes proposed by challengers on the left — Warren and Bernie Sanders. Biden intends to stress there’s a difference between rhetoric and results. “Running for president is about making people’s lives better, and that only happens if the change proposed becomes reality,” the adviser said.
Warren: Won’t shoot first
Aides say she has no plans to go after Biden and wants to use the nationally televised forum to continue to introduce herself to voters, but they note that Warren expects to be asked about their past disagreements. She’ll defend herself if attacked, but has no plans to fire first, the aides said.
Biden, a longtime former Delaware senator, and Warren, a consumer advocate and former bankruptcy lawyer, have clashed at times over the years, notably on the issue of credit cards and their role in driving some holders into debt. Many banks and credit card companies are headquartered in Delaware, and Biden was a reliable advocate for those firms on Capitol Hill.
If needed, Warren will stress differences between her and the other candidates, said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is pro-Warren.
“If Biden paints a picture of a conservative world and she paints a progressive one, it’s not a punch, but there is a clear contrast,” Green said.
Sanders: Someone has his back
His advisers acknowledge the first on-stage match-up of Biden and Warren will get much of the focus — Sanders was next to Biden for the first debate and next to pal Warren in the second — but he’ll work to draw attention to his new policy proposals.
Sanders, who doesn’t do mock debates to prepare, is ready for the more moderate candidates to go on the attack against him.
“You saw in the second debate, some people tried to come at him,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir said. “He was prepared and he was ready.”
He and fellow progressive Warren had each other’s backs in the last debate, and Shakir said he expects that will be the case again.
“The situation is still the same as last time in that you have in Elizabeth Warren, someone who’s been a good ally with Bernie on a lot of these key fights,” Shakir said.
Harris: Trump ‘hatred’
She made a splash in the first debate, sponsored by NBC, with a pointed attack on Biden, but Harris is planning to target President Donald Trump in the third debate.
Harris will “focus on bringing the country together by defeating him and unifying Americans around solutions to our common challenges,” said campaign spokesman Ian Sams. “She’ll make the connection between his hatred and division and our inability to get things done for the country.”
She will also draw attention to issues that impact a broad part of the electorate, like gun violence, living costs and healthcare, Sams said.
Buttigieg: Finding balance
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, headed down to Houston for debate preparation on Tuesday, and is aiming to strike a delicate balance: Scoring points against his opponents without veering into personal attacks.
Buttigieg said he wasn’t interested in a “canned, made-for-TV moment in order to, you know, he the talk of the town that night.”
He’s looking for ways to differentiate himself from his opponents on policy issues rather than perceived flaws in their background or record. He road-tested that approach over the past week with mild critiques of Sanders on economic policies he says are unrealistic.
“For the Houston debate, we have to draw some sharper contrasts for people to show why Mayor Pete has such broad-based appeal, how he’s different from some of the other candidates on the stage,” said Jess O’Connell, a senior Buttigieg adviser.
Yang: The jam
The entrepreneur was working on getting in the right headspace by playing a game of basketball the day before the Houston debate.
Yang’s risen in the polls since the first faceoff in June, and his campaign is readying him to expect fire from other candidates.
“We’d like the debate to be about issues and problems actually facing America and less of a reality TV show,” a senior campaign official told NBC News. “One of the worst things you see candidates do is try to get their viral attack line in.”
But, the official said, Yang will be doing something “big” and “unprecedented” on debate night, declining to provide specific details.
Booker: Unity pitch
The New Jersey senator — who’s been known to do pushups and bicep curls during debate preps —is looking at the forum as an opportunity to lay out his vision, with an emphasis on unity, according to a campaign aide.
“The idea of uniting Americans together is something that is certainly what we want to convey on the debate stage,” the aide told NBC News.
He’s also working on adapting to the time constraints by making sure he is “being concise but direct.”
O’Rourke: No stunts, no swears
Returning to his home state of Texas, the former congressman is “not going to engage in stunts and one-liners, or indulge attempts by the moderators to pit candidates against each other for the benefit of good TV,” a campaign spokesman said. “The seriousness of the moment demands more than that.”
The spokesman said O’Rourke “will be communicating the same message he’s been bringing to the trail the last few weeks,” including calling out Trump and offering solutions on gun violence.
But O’Rourke, who’s drawn attention on social media for cursing on the campaign trail, will have to be family friendly. The Democratic National Committee sent a letter at ABC’s request to candidates this week asking them to refrain from swearing on stage, DNC communications director Xochi Hinojosa confirmed to NBC News.
Castro: Watching the clock
The other Texan in race arrived in Houston with his team on Sunday, and is prepping the same way he did for the first two debates — with mock debates and practice on explaining his policies within the allotted time limits.
While the rules say candidates will have more time to speak than in the first two debates, Castro’s hoping the limit will apply equally to all 10 candidates. In the last debate, he had about 10 and a half minutes of speaking time compared with Biden’s 20.
“I hope the folks at ABC are determining how they’re going to make sure that all of the candidates that are on that stage that met the threshold are able to get roughly equal time. If they don’t do that, that is a failure,” Castro told reporters this week.
The Minnesota senator has been lagging in the polls, and her campaign is hoping her message of policy pragmatism and Democratic unity will shine through in her performance Thursday.
That approach was on full display this past weekend in New Hampshire, where Klobuchar pushed an “optimistic economic and justice agenda” to a fired-up room of Democrats.
Mike Memoli, Marianna Sotomayor, Ali Vitali, Benjamin Pu, Beth Fouhy, Shaquille Brewster, Gary Grumbach , Deepa Shivaram, Vaughn Hillyard, Josh Lederman, Priscilla Thompson, Julia Jester, Garrett Haake, Maura Barrett, Amanda Golden and Alex Seitz-Wald contributed.
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Democrats’ impeachment report cites Trump obstruction and withholding aid, warns of ‘grave harm’
WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee released a report Tuesday containing a summary of the evidence it has collected in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The 300-page report cited two instances of misconduct by the president: obstruction of the House inquiry and withholding an official White House meeting and U.S. military aid from Ukraine on the condition of investigating a Trump political rival.
“This report chronicles a scheme of the President of the United States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president’s political dirty work,” said Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., at a press conference outlining his committee’s findings.
The House Intelligence Committee voted 13-9 in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday evening to send the report to the Judiciary, which will start proceedings on Wednesday.
While the report, which was also prepared by the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, didn’t explicitly include recommendations of articles of impeachment, it strongly implies that obstruction could be one. The report noted that past presidents who were the subject of impeachment inquiries, unlike Trump, complied with subpoenas and requests for information from Congress.
On obstruction, which was described as a “campaign of intimidation,” the report cast Trump’s efforts to “flout” congressional oversight as unprecedented because of his refusal to hand over documents and make certain witnesses available. But it also noted that “the House gathered overwhelming evidence of his misconduct from courageous individuals who were willing to follow the law.”
“No other President has flouted the Constitution and power of Congress to conduct oversight to this extent,” the report said.
“If left unanswered, President Trump’s ongoing effort to thwart Congress’ impeachment power risks doing grave harm to the institution of Congress, the balance of power between our branches of government, and the Constitutional order that the President and every Member of Congress have sworn to protect and defend.”
The report also constructed a detailed timeline of Trump’s alleged efforts to withhold military assistance to Ukraine, as well as an official invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet with Trump in the White House. The timeline was based on the testimony of various aides and diplomats who have been questioned by impeachment investigators.
Ukraine “desperately wanted and needed” U.S. security assistance as well as a White House meeting between its president, Zelenskiy, and Trump, Schiff said.
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“At the same time, there was something President Trump desperately wanted and believed that he needed — and that was an investigation that would damage the rival that he feared the most, Joe Biden, as well as an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in our last election,” he said.
The report included a number of new details that stemmed from AT&T phone records obtained by the House, which showed someone who was using a phone number associated with the Office of Management and Budget called the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in early August during the period when the U.S. aid to Ukraine was frozen. That same day, call records show Giuliani also called the White House Situation Room five times as well as the OMB number.
To freeze the security assistance — which was announced to Trump administration officials on July 18, and not reversed until Sept. 11 — Trump inquired about the aid starting in mid-June and around July 12 “directed that a hold be placed” on the aid to Ukraine, the report said.
“In making the decision to move forward, we were struck by the fact that the President’s misconduct was not an isolated occurrence, nor was it the product of a naïve president,” the report said.
“President Trump does not appear to believe there is any such limitation on his power to use White House meetings, military aid or other official acts to procure foreign help in his re-election.”
The president’s conduct, which put “his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people,” Schiff said, is “exactly why they prescribed a remedy as extraordinary as the remedy of impeachment.”
“We have a very difficult decision ahead of us to make,” said Schiff, who explained that it will be a decision made by the House Judiciary Committee in conjunction with the House Democratic Caucus.
The report puts the White House summary of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president at the center of the inquiry, calling it “stark evidence of misconduct” and “a demonstration of the President’s prioritization of his personal political benefit over the national interest.”
But, the report claimed, this conversation was “neither the start nor the end of President Trump’s efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain.”
“Rather, it was a dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump in which senior U.S. officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Acting Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Energy, and others were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President,” the report said.
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the impeachment inquiry
During his Tuesday remarks, Schiff said Americans should care deeply about whether the president is “betraying their trust in him” and betraying the oath he took to the Constitution.
“If we don’t care about this, we can darn well be sure the president will be back at it doing this all over again,” he said.
The release came ahead of a Tuesday evening meeting scheduled for the panel to consider and vote on adopting the report. The report, along with views provided by Republicans, will then be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which is taking over the next phase of the inquiry.
Much of the evidence came from 17 closed-door interviews with key witnesses, and over two weeks of public hearings last month with a dozen of those witnesses.
In their public testimony, a number of those 12 witnesses confirmed and elaborated on the efforts allegedly made by Trump, his associates and administration officials to get Ukraine to announce investigations into those two issues, and why they believed delayed U.S. aid to Ukraine would only be released once that nation followed through on those demands.
Republicans on the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees released a 123-page minority report Monday evening that argues that Democrats have failed to establish any impeachable offenses by Trump. They said that they didn’t find that Trump engaged in any wrongdoing, and that there was no quid pro quo.
Republicans said there was no evidence that Trump improperly withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine or pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden to help benefit his 2020 re-election campaign, arguing that much of Trump’s action regarding Ukraine actually stems from his “longstanding” skepticism of the country due to “its history of pervasive corruption.”
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first impeachment hearing, which its chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said will “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump.”
Nadler extended an invitation to Trump and his counsel to participate in Wednesday’s hearing, but the White House said Sunday that they had declined the offer. The president is in London this week for the 2019 NATO summit.
It has not yet been decided how many hearings Judiciary might hold or what charges potentially might be wrapped into articles of impeachment. Some lawmakers have recently raised the possibility that other cases could be considered, such as those stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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