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5 memorable moments from Thursday's Democratic debate

A second group of 10 Democratic presidential candidates faced off Thursday night in their first debate of the 2020 campaign in Miami. Here are five memorable moments — leading off with the discussion of busing in America between two top contenders in the field.

We drew on The Washington Post's transcript as a source, and checked quotes against that.

Harris challenges Biden on busing in America

Former Vice President Joe. Biden, left, Sen. Bernie
Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

The central moment of the debate came when California Sen. Kamala Harris challenged former Vice President Joe Biden to agree that he was wrong to oppose busing in America.

"I do not believe you are a racist," she told the former longtime Delaware senator. But, she said, "it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing."

Harris said that as a little girl she was part of the second class of students to integrate public schools in Berkeley, and she was bused to school.

"I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed was busing ordered by the Department of Education," Biden said.

The exchange began when Harris called Biden's recent comments about how he worked with two segregationist senators "hurtful."

"It's a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I did not praise racists," Biden responded.

He leaned toward local decision-making -- prompting Harris to say "that's where the federal government must step in." That is why there is the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, she said, and why the Equal Rights Amendment needs to be passed, "because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people."

"I supported the ERA from the very beginning. I'm the guy that extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years," Biden responded.

An attack on age

Democratic presidential hopeful former US Representative for California's
Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

The generational gaps onstage surfaced early in the debate when Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is 38, brought up a candidate who made a pronouncement back when the Bay Area congressman was 6.

"That candidate was then-Sen. Joe Biden. Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He is still right today," Swalwell said.

Biden, 76, smiled on the split screen. "I'm still holding on to that torch," he said, going on to give a long policy answer but not responding further to Swalwell's age jab.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, in turn mentioned that he was "the youngest guy on the stage," and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders jumped into the fray to say "As part of Joe's generation, let me respond."

Harris struck a chord with this zinger: "Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table."

Buttigieg: 'It's a mess. And we're hurting'

Democratic presidential hopeful Mayor of South Bend, Indiana
Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

Buttigieg addressed the recent fatal shooting in South Bend of a black man, Eric Logan, by a white police officer.

"It's a mess. And we're hurting," he said.

Buttigieg, the city's mayor, said that when he looks into Logan's mother's eyes, "I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back."

Buttigieg said he wants to bring about the day when a white driver and a black driver feel the same thing when they see a police officer approaching -- "a feeling not of fear but of safety."

Swalwell challenged Buttigieg as mayor to fire the police chief.

The threat of climate change

Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator for California Kamala
Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

Harris called climate change "a climate crisis. It represents an existential threat to us as a species."

She said she supports a Green New Deal -- and said the greatest national security threat is President Donald Trump, citing climate change, his embrace of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and how he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the U.S. intelligence community.

Buttigieg said "the reality is we need to begin adapting right away" -- and prevent climate change from getting worse.

He said he had to activate South Bend's emergency operations center twice in less than two years, for a 1,000-year flood and a 500-year flood. "This is not just happening on the Arctic ice caps," he said of climate change. "This is happening in the middle of the country."

After Biden and Sanders spoke, Swalwell jumped in to say the solution is passing the torch "to the generation that's going to feel the effects of climate change." That brought a rebuke from author Marianne Williamson: "The fact that somebody has a younger body doesn't mean you don't have old ideas."

And the first issue you would push in office is ...

Democratic presidential candidate author Marianne Williamson speaks during
Credit: AP / Wilfredo Lee

Moderator Chuck Todd's question about the first issue the candidates would push in office as president drew an interesting variety of responses.

Swalwell said "ending gun violence." Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet gave two answers (climate change and the lack of economic mobility), and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand gave three. 

Biden said his first thing "is make sure that we defeat Donald Trump, period" -- which didn't answer the question.

Williamson took the cake, however, saying her first call would be to the New Zealand prime minister, "who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the place where it's the best place in the world for a child to grow up, and I would tell her, girlfriend, you are so wrong, because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up."

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