What to expect from the third Democratic presidential debate

This is a rush transcript from "The Story," September 12, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we need is big, structural change in this country.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VT, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every credible poll done in the last year has us defeating Trump, sometimes in double digits.

JOE BIDEN, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Donald Trump is reelected, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: You have three people that are leading. I sort of think that those three people are going to take it to the end. Biden would be able to make it if he doesn't make any major mistakes.


BAIER: President Trump weighing in on the debate tonight, the stage, 10 Democratic candidates, the top candidates on the same stage together. A lot of people looking at Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, the top three. As you look at the latest polls, national, Iowa, New Hampshire, the average polls, you can see that Biden still holds a lead, especially nationally, but let's see that poll again -- there you go. In Iowa, still big, in New Hampshire, not that big over Sanders. And Warren has been surging as of late.

Let's bring in our panel here in Houston, Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics, and Byron York, chief political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." OK, Mo, your thoughts as the stage is set here? What are people looking for at this debate?

MO ELLEITHEE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: It's the first time Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have shared the stage. They are emerging as the two frontrunners. And she's been ascendant. She's been moving. She's the only one who's had sustained momentum. So how that dynamic plays out is number one.

Number two, the dynamic between Warren and Sanders who sort of occupy the same space in the Democratic field and are really preventing each other from taking Biden had on, do they start to mix it up? They've been lockstep up until now.

And then the third dynamic, people like Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, who seem kind of stagnant, can they finally have their breakthrough moment that they can then sustain coming out of this?

BAIER: I talked to John Delany earlier in the show, Byron. The moderates are largely off the stage except for Joe Biden. Maybe you can put Amy Klobuchar in that bucket. So it changes the dynamic.

BRYON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Absolutely. Amy Klobuchar just barely got in, as a matter of fact. Going to that poll you mentioned just a moment ago, Biden does have a 9.5 percentage point lead, but on September 1st, it was 13.5 percent, and on July 1st it was 15.5 percent. It actually is getting smaller.

I think for this group, even though we've gone from 20 candidates now to 10 candidates, I think the real fight for the people in the bottom of the pack is fighting the perception that there really is just three candidates now.

BAIER: You have Biden and Warren. The going but is that they are going to at least have some fireworks. Both of them released ads before this debate. Take a look.


BIDEN: I think we should step back and say something we don't often say enough as a party or as a nation. Barack Obama is an extraordinary man. I watched up close. He had character, courage, and vision.


WARREN: So this is the place, my first full-time teaching job in law. I taught contract law and commercial. I taught legal writing.


BAIER: So they are setting up the dynamic there. What do you make? Do think Biden is coming out swinging or plays prevent defense?

ELLEITHEE: He's still the frontrunner, and frontrunners don't often go on offense, but he might. She really has been ascendant. The challenge that Warren has is if she wants to go after Biden, how does she do that? Everyone that has gone right at him up until now in a debate has faltered. Why? Because Democrats still like Joe Biden. And so they kind of react badly when someone has gone right at him.

BAIER: But what about the gaffes, some of them big, some of them bigger than others. Does that come up with a candidate confronting Biden on details? Bernie has done it on the trail, but does it come up in the debate, do you think?

YORK: The one thing we don't know about the gaffes, we get all excited about them. We don't know how much they really affect voters. We do know he is still leading. I think one thing that strategists and other candidates would want to do is use the gaffes. It's kind of a proxy for whether he's too old to be president, that he's kind of forgetting things, he's slowed down a bit. He can't pull a fact to mind immediately like younger candidates do. Whether they're going to go there or not, I don't know. But they have to break out of this idea that it's only Sanders -- Biden, Sanders, and Warren, and nobody else.

BAIER: We'll see if there's another moment in this debate. We'll watch it. We'll have 11:00 to 1:00 coverage tonight after the debate.

The other big news today, Democrats on the House going forward with impeachment, or investigation of impeachment, or the announcement of investigation of impeachment. A lot of rhetorical back-and-forth. Democrats divided on this issue. Take a listen.


REP. ANTHONY BRINDISI, D-N.Y.: I'm worried that as investigations ramp up it does take the attention away from some of the issues that are important to voters in districts like mine and other districts represented by moderate Democrats.

REP. AL GREEN, D-TX: Very disappointed that nothing was said about impeachment for his bigotry, his racism, his policies that have racist overtones to them that are impacting people.


BAIER: We're not the only ones noting this. Obviously you had "Politico" with the headline "The Democrats' Impeachment Dumpster Fire," CNN saying "Democrats are already botching the impeachment fight." "Slate," "Democrats can't figure out if they're trying to impeach Trump or not." Mo, what about this?

ELLEITHEE: What are they doing?


ELLEITHEE: Look, here's what we know, right, that Democrats -- that the House has an oversight responsibility which Democrats in the House have chosen to exercise and they are holding investigations. The problem is not in what they are doing. The problem is in what they're calling it. If this is like a quintessential messaging problem the have right now were some of them want to call impeachment, some of them don't want to call it impeachment. Both of them wanting to do that for very different political reasons. My argument to Democrats is just pick one. You are doing the thing, just pick what you want to call it and stick to it.

BAIER: Speaker Pelosi had a tough time at this press conference saying, you know what, I'm not talking about it anymore.


YORK: That's it, I'm not going to say anything else. You believe the vast majority of House Democrats think Trump should be impeached, right?

ELLEITHEE: I think a vast majority of Democrats believe that there ought to be -- that we ought to move to like a formal inquiry.

YORK: But they just can't do anything, and time is really passing. In 1998 when Bill Clinton was impeached, Ken Starr delivered his reports to Congress on September the 9th. They immediately started impeachment. The House voted for an impeachment inquiry, and by December the House voted to impeach him. It would be very hard to see, given the state of Democrat disarray on this right now, see them doing that.

BAIER: Monmouth poll out just days ago has, should Trump be impeached or compelled to leave the presidency, August 2019, 35 percent, no should not, 59 percent. And then the House Judiciary Committee, good idea or bad idea, and it's 51-41. Nadler making the case that they're going to make the investigation stand on their own, but what are the exactly the impeachment articles, and how this all goes out doesn't seem to be set in stone. Does it become a problem for the 10 people on the stage tonight? I assume they can't not address this, or ABC can't not ask it, right?

ELLEITHEE: No, they'll get the question. But what's interesting -- they will get the question here. They're not getting the question out on the stump though, which is really --

BAIER: They're not choosing to talk about it on their own.

ELLEITHEE: When they're doing their townhalls -- right, no one is putting it in their stump speech. Why? Because just because --

BAIER: Doesn't poll well.

ELLEITHEE: Well, it doesn't poll well. But what does poll well in all the samples is that a majority of the American people believe that the president should not be reelected. So that's what they want to focus on. The Democratic candidates for president want to focus on making the electoral argument against them, not this argument.

YORK: But haven't they really been off balance since the Mueller Report? So many of them thought this was going to be it, it's going to be handed to us, tied up in a bow, and then we can impeach him, and everybody will agree. And it just didn't happen. And they've not been on their feet since then.

BAIER: Last debate, two words were used, "impeachment" and "Mueller." Tonight, I bet they will. Thank you, guys. See you afterwards.

When we come back, a very colorful birthday for a young cancer patient.


BAIER: Finally tonight, a community celebrates one of its own.


CROWD: Happy birthday dear --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy birthday Whitaker!


BAIER: Four-year-old Whitaker Weinberger is in remission after battling stage four neuroblastoma for most of his life. Whitaker loves the Transformers character Bumblebee, and he's thrilled when he sees a yellow car. Bumblebee transforms from a car into the Transformer. His mom Erin posted on Facebook asking for their Alexandria, Virginia, community to line the street with yellow cars during his walk to preschool on his birthday. Word spread on social media, and the surprise, as you can see, did not disappoint. They didn't transform into Transformers, but Whitaker even got his customized yellow car, his own, and he thought it was pretty cool. That's great, happy birthday.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced, and unafraid.

I will be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight for up-to-the-minute coverage of the debate here in Houston - 11 to 1 am, we've got you covered.

"The Story," hosted by Martha MacCallum starts right now.

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