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The hot topics 2020 Democrats could debate tonight

Twelve candidates will take the debate stage in Westerville, Ohio, Tuesday night. The event comes soon after former Vice President Joe Biden's son spoke publicly about his former role as a board member of a Ukranian gas company. Will it come up in the debate? Yamiche Alincdor joins Judy Woodruff for a preview.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to the Democratic presidential race.

    Twelve candidates will take the debate stage in Westerville, Ohio, tonight. It comes after former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden spoke publicly for the first time about his role as a board member of a Ukrainian gas company during the time that his father was in office.

    President Trump has spread unsubstantiated claims that the Bidens engaged in illegal dealings in Ukraine, and sparked the current impeachment inquiry by pressuring the country's leader to look into it.

    In an interview with ABC News, the younger Biden admitted poor judgment in taking the position, but he denied any wrongdoing.

  • Hunter Biden:

    Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe, in the grand scheme of things, yes. But did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not.

    I made a mistake, in retrospect, as it related to creating any perception that was wrong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche Alcindor is at the debate site in Ohio, and she joins me.

    Yamiche, hello.

    So, how much do we expect this issue of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden to come up tonight? What do you — you have been talking to these campaigns. What are they saying?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this is first Democratic debate since Nancy Pelosi launched that formal impeachment inquiry.

    So Ukraine is going to be a hot topic tonight. Sources I'm talking to on a number of campaigns have been prepping for that question, and they're also questioning Hunter Biden coming out the morning before this debate.

    Now, other campaigns, not the Joe Biden campaign, say that this is Joe Biden wanting to put this to bed, wanting to have Hunter Biden out there to kind of talk about his business dealings, to try put — get out ahead of this.

    But other campaigns say, look, this is a problem because Hunter Biden does look as though he was profiting off of Joe Biden's name. And that is problematic, especially as Democrats are trying to make the case that President Trump had children that were profiting off of his name.

    But the Biden campaign has been very clear. They say that they didn't arrange this interview and that Hunter Biden wanted to come out and defend himself.

    But I think Ukraine is going to be a big topic during tonight's debate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche, I also want to ask you about Senator Bernie Sanders.

    As we know, he had a heart attack a couple weeks ago. He has been off the cam pawn trail ever since. Tonight will be the first time he has come back since then.

    What do we know about how he's doing and about how the other campaigns have reacted to all that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Senator Bernie Sanders is eager to tell people that he is back and stronger than ever.

    I spoke to a campaign aide for him for a long time today. And that person said, Bernie Sanders really had a piercing moment of clarity when he had that heart attack. And that person told me that he really wants to talk about how health care is now such a fundamental part of his campaign.

    He sees Medicare for all as an even more important thing that all Americans should have, because he says that, if other Americans had a heart attack like he did, they might have all been bankrupted.

    I did push the Bernie Sanders campaign and say, well, is he healthy enough to go on, and, frankly, is he going to — is the Democratic Party possibly going to be in a bad situation if he gets sick again if he wins the nomination, and then is getting — and then has issues during the general election against President Trump?

    They told me — their response was, anybody could get hit with anything, people can die in plane crashes, people can also get in car crashes, all sorts of tragedies can happen. And they say, we want people not to move in fear and that they should feel comfortable voting for and supporting Bernie Sanders.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, Yamiche, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has been — was already one of the leaders in this race, she's risen even more in her status as a front-runner.

    What are the other candidates — how are they responding to her pickup in the polls?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, I should tell you, Judy, Elizabeth Warren is very happy, but very cautious about the fact she's been seeing a rise in the polls.

    Her campaign tells me that she understands that there are going to be phases in this race, and that, even though she is rising now, that that could change.

    Senator Harris' campaign was — a really interesting take on this, because they say that she saw a bump, Senator Harris saw a bump after the first debate, but they saw that as a — quote — "sugar high."

    So other campaigns are starting to look at Elizabeth Warren and trying to really prepare to make contrasts. They say that they want to talk about her health care stances. So we should explain — we should really expect people to be possibly criticizing Elizabeth Warren in a different way, because she is now seen as an emerging front-runner here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Yamiche, you sat down today with one of the candidates, Tom Steyer, of course, the billionaire entrepreneur.

    This is going to be his first debate that he's participated in. What did you learn about how he plans to approach this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tom Steyer told me that he really sees this as introducing himself to the American people.

    He understands that he's starting a little bit later than other people. He understands that he has a lot of work to do, but he tells me that, really, he's going to be talking about climate change, he's going to be talking about really changing Washington to help everyday working people.

    I put the question to him, how, as a billionaire, are you going to relate and make the case that you understand grassroots people, understand working-class people?

    He said, I'm going to be saying that I traveled with people, I have talked to a lot of people, I understand what people are going through.

    He also said that he wants to make it clear that, even though he's a billionaire, he sees himself as a grassroots person. He also made the case that he was out front very early calling for the impeachment of President Trump. He made the case to me that Nancy Pelosi wouldn't have launched an impeachment inquiry if not for him pushing for it.

    He launched his campaign to impeach Donald Trump in October 2017. Of course, Nancy Pelosi would probably take issue with that. But Tom Steyer is trying to put himself out there as someone who is a front-runner and rally leading on the issue of impeachment, which, of course, is going to be another big topic during this debate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're — he's absolutely right about the fact that he was the one candidate who was out there running ads specifically about impeachment well before we got to the point where we are today.

    Yamiche Alcindor, we will be watching.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes, October 2017.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche, you're going to be watching that debate tonight, Westerville, Ohio, Otterbein College.

    Thank you very much.

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