Tonight’s Democratic Debate: What Time Is It and How to Watch

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  • The debate is 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern, and you can watch it on ABC and Univision. It is being held in Houston and will also be available on streaming services.

  • Ten Democratic candidates will debate: Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Senator Cory Booker, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former housing secretary Julián Castro.

  • The candidates will have 60-second opening statements, followed by 60 seconds to answer questions from the four moderators: George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis and Jorge Ramos. There will be no closing statements.

  • The New York Times will have extensive debate coverage, including a live analysis throughout the event by Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Astead W. Herndon, Annie Karni, Sydney Ember, all hosted by Lisa Lerer.

Join us for live analysis on debate night. Subscribe to “On Politics,” and we’ll send you a link.

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Quick, name the most substantive discussion of foreign policy you have heard during the nearly 10 hours of debates so far. Struggling? Yes, foreign affairs has played a minimal role so far in the Democratic primary debates but that could change on Thursday night.

In particular, Mr. Sanders has suggested that he wants to differentiate himself on international matters from Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, especially focusing on Mr. Biden’s initial support for the Iraq War in 2003.

But there are plenty of international developments for the candidates to weigh in on:

  • President Trump’s plan to invite Taliban leaders to Camp David, before their secret Afghanistan peace talks collapsed.

  • The ouster of John Bolton, the former national security adviser.

  • The turmoil in the British Parliament over Brexit.

  • The pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank.

  • Turkey returning refugees to Syria, and refugees from the Bahamas arriving in Florida.

Like on so many matters, Mr. Biden’s long record leaves openings for his rivals to pick over. But it could also give him gravitas in the eyes of many voters, and an ability to position himself as a steady hand at a moment of turbulence.

Disagreements within the field over what to do on health care — the issue that most Democratic strategists believe propelled the party’s gains in the 2018 midterms — offer some of the clearest fissures in the race.

They are likely to be a major issue of debate on Thursday. One reason for that? Multiple campaigns see political advantage in highlighting their differences.

For Mr. Sanders, whose campaign has adopted the “no middle ground” mantra, his uncompromising push for “Medicare for all” is almost definitional. Of the 10 candidates onstage, only two have unequivocally stated that they support phasing out private insurers from the American marketplace as part of their plan to implement a “Medicare for all” system: Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.

Advisers to other campaigns have seen that as politically treacherous — possibly ceding the party’s advantage on the issue back to the Republican Party.

Mr. Biden has portrayed his health care plan as building upon the Affordable Care Act, while positioning his pro-“Medicare for all” rivals as undermining that achievement.

As Mr. Biden said in a recent television ad, “Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president try to tear it down, and others propose to replace it and start over, that’s personal to me, too. You’ve got to build on what we did.”

Our colleague Zolan Kanno-Youngs had a story on Wednesday looking at the immigration plans — or lack thereof — of the Democratic hopefuls. The story began:

One Democratic candidate would post asylum officers at the border to decide immigration cases on the spot. Others would create an entirely new court system outside the Justice Department. Some have suggested reinstating a program that would allow Central American minors to apply for refugee status in their home countries.

The Democrats running for the White House do not lack ideas on the hot-button issues of immigration and border control. But as they prepare to take the stage on Thursday for their debate in Houston, most would rather talk about the hard-line policies of the man they seek to replace, President Trump.

The candidates have disagreements: whether to repeal a statute that makes crossing the border without permission a criminal offense, for instance, and whether to provide undocumented immigrants with taxpayer-subsidized health care. And there are also a lot of unknowns about what the candidates favor in terms of who to deport and other areas of immigration that may be unpopular with some Democrats. The debate could bring additional clarity to one of the most hotly discussed and intensely felt issues facing Americans.

Ever since they sparred from across a Senate hearing room in 2005, Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren have represented the Democratic Party’s poles on economic policy. Now they will meet on a debate stage for the first time Thursday, an encounter that many Democrats have been eagerly awaiting.

There has been relatively little sword-crossing between the two on the campaign trail. Ms. Warren had a lone quip about Mr. Biden previously being “on the side of the credit card companies.” Mr. Biden pooh-poohs Ms. Warren’s plans without mentioning her name.

But pressed by Thursday night’s moderators and, perhaps, their fellow candidates, there will be little room for Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren to hide from the fight — one that Ms. Warren appears far more eager to re-enact than does Mr. Biden, who Ms. Warren told The Boston Globe in 2012, once referred to her as “that woman who cleaned my clock.”

With so much anticipation toward and attention to the Biden-Warren showdown, the big question is how long the moderators wait to tee up the confrontation. In the first two sets of debates, NBC and CNN spent the first 30 minutes focusing the candidates on health care policy. Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren differ there, too, but for two candidates hoping to focus on the future, real fireworks may come when they discuss the past.

Once upon a time — in 2015 — Ms. Warren and Ms. Harris were very close. Ms. Warren was among the first to endorse Ms. Harris’s Senate run, sending a fund-raising solicitation the day her senate campaign began.

The two were ideological partners, having worked together when Ms. Harris, as California’s attorney general, sued the big banks over her state’s mortgage crisis.

But in the 2020 campaign they have taken different paths while competing for the same set of Democratic voters — those with college degrees, especially women. Ms. Warren’s rise over the last four months has come as Ms. Harris has fallen.

Now they will appear on a debate stage for the first time Thursday night in Houston. Ms. Harris has edged away from the firebrand liberalism Ms. Warren espouses. She’s hedged on her support for a single-payer, “Medicare for all” health care system and stumbled when talking about policy specifics, both areas in the Warren wheelhouse.

Ms. Warren, far ahead of Ms. Harris in public polling, is unlikely to go on the attack first, but she is certain to be ready if Ms. Harris seeks to draw a contrast between them or declares that Ms. Warren’s politics are too risky for a general electorate.

For Ms. Harris, who has shown great skill at made-for-social media moments, the stakes are much higher. Having seen her debate moment with Mr. Biden dissipate over the summer, she must find a way to strike a permanent vision in voters’ minds in Houston. That may mean taking a bite out of Ms. Warren’s popularity.

It spotlights the key candidate pairings and political dynamics onstage, assessing how the top-tier Democrats are likely to engage and how the rest of the contenders will try to find breakout moments. Read the guide here.

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