Seven Democrats met onstage Thursday the day after the historic impeachment of President Donald Trump, touching off their discussion by debating who among them could make the most persuasive case that Trump should be removed from office at a time when the public is divided.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called the President, who was impeached on Wednesday, a "pathological liar" who is "running the most corrupt administration in the modern history of this country."
"We have a President who is a fraud, because during his campaign he told working people one thing and he ended up doing something else," Sanders said. "I believe, and I will personally be doing this in the coming weeks and months, (we should be) making the case that we have a President who has sold out the working families of this country, who wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid after he promised he would not do that."
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she would try to show voters "the impact of corruption."
"This President has made corruption, originally, his argument, that he would drain the swamp. And yet he came to Washington, broke that promise and has done everything he can for the wealthy and the well-connected," Warren said.
Most of the candidates were in agreement that impeaching Trump was necessary, but entrepreneur Andrew Yang said his party needs to stop obsessing over impeachment.
Yang said the push to impeach Trump has glossed over the deeper problems facing the country, including the polarization between the parties and the fact that voters are increasingly getting their news from sources that share their views.
"The more we act like Donald Trump is the cause of all our problems, the more Americans lose trust that we can actually see what's going on in our communities and solve those problems," Yang said. "What we have to do is we have to stop being obsessed over impeachment -- which unfortunately strikes many Americans like a ballgame where you know what the score is going to be -- and start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place."
Yang added that leaders "have to take every opportunity to present a new, positive vision for the country, a new way forward to help beat him in 2020, because make no mistake, he'll be there at the ballot box for us to defeat.
Taking on Trump over the economy
The candidates also tried to address the major conundrum they will face next year -- the fact that America's economic numbers under Trump look strong and unemployment is at an all time low, giving him a much better chance of being re-elected next year.
Former Vice President Joe Biden argued that middle-class neighborhoods aren't feeling those economic gains.
"The middle class is getting crushed," Biden said. "We have to invest in those things that make a difference in the lives of middle class people so they can maintain their standard of living. That's not being done. And the idea that we're growing, we're not growing. The wealthy, very wealthy are growing. Ordinary people are not growing. They are not happy with where they are."
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg agreed with Biden's assessment.
"The biggest problem in our economy is simple. People are not getting paid enough. That is not the result of some mysterious cosmic force. It's the result of bad policy. And we've got to change it by raising wages and empowering workers," he said.
PBS moderator Judy Woodruff challenged Warren to answer criticisms from some economists that her plans would hike taxes by $8 trillion over the decade.
"Oh they're just wrong," Warren said, referring to the economists. She said she would tell voters that she's argued for a wealth tax on millionaires that would create a 2 cent tax on every dollar they make over $50 million and above.
Final debate of 2019
The Democratic contenders are meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday for the final debate of 2019, facing many voters who are still undecided less than two months before the primary season kicks off at the Iowa caucuses in early February.
Many voters across America are still looking to the debates to assess which Democrat has the mettle to take on Trump in next year's general election contest.
The debate at Loyola Marymount University will look less diverse and more male-dominated than during any other match-up this year.
A number of notable debaters -- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro -- did not meet the Democratic National Committee's criteria to take part. And California Sen. Kamala Harris earlier this month became the latest major candidate to drop out of the race.
At a time of Democratic indecision, the remaining contenders are all facing their own challenges. Biden is clinging to his front-runner status after a series of uneven performances. Sanders has experienced something of a resurgence after having a heart attack earlier this year, but he and Warren are still splitting the far left of their party while trying to demonstrate that they can build a coalition to vanquish Trump in the general election.
Biden led the field at 26% in CNN's latest poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, with Sanders holding second place at 20% and Warren in third at 16%.
The rest of the field did not break double digits with Buttigieg at 8% and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at 5%. But Buttigieg has shown strong appeal in Iowa, where a win could give him a huge boost in momentum going into the other contests.
Three other candidates -- Yang, Booker and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota -- rounded out the field at 3% in the CNN poll. Businessman Tom Steyer, who will be on the stage on Thursday, registered at 1% in the poll.