Politics & National Security

National Security Highlights from the Seventh Democratic Primary Debate

By Hannah Kris
Wednesday, January 15, 2020, 3:40 PM

On Tuesday, CNN and the Des Moines Register hosted the seventh debate of the 2020 Democratic Primary campaign. Wolf Blitzer, Abby Phillipand Brianne Pfannenstiel moderated the discussion. We’ve selected parts of the transcript relevant to national security. These excerpts are organized both thematically and chronologically.

A complete transcript is available through the Des Moines Register here.


BLITZER: Sen. Klobuchar, you're going to be a juror in the trial in the Senate that's about to start. Do you worry President Trump will be emboldened by acquittal?

KLOBUCHAR: No. We have a constitutional duty to do — to perform here. And when I look at what the issue is, it's whether or not we're going to be able to have witnesses. We've asked for only four people as witnesses. And if our Republican colleagues won't allow those witnesses, they may as well give the president a crown and a scepter. They may as well make him king. And last time I checked, our country was founded on this idea that we didn't want to be ruled by a king.

And I think the best way to think about this is trial and what we're facing in this election is a story of a man from Primghar, Iowa. His name was Joseph Welch. He came from humble beginnings, a son of immigrants. He became the Army counsel. And he was the one that went to the Joseph McCarthy hearings. And when McCarthy was blacklisting people and going after people because of their political beliefs or supposed political beliefs, there was only one man.

Everyone that was afraid, they were afraid of being blacklisted, Joseph Welch, he stood up and looked at McCarthy and said, have you no sense of decency, sir? Have you no sense of decency. This is a decency check on our government. This is a patriotism check. Not only is this trial that...

KLOBUCHAR: ... but also this election. And no matter if you agree with everyone here on the stage, I say this...

KLOBUCHAR: ... to Americans, you know this is a decency check on this president.

BLITZER: Mr. Steyer, you have spent millions and millions of dollars telling the American people that President Trump deserves to be impeached. Will it have been worth if it he has been impeached but not removed from office?

STEYER: Well, Wolf, actually what I have done is to organize a petition drive of 8.5 million Americans to sign and say this president deserves to be impeached and removed from office. And those 8.5 million people have called their congresspeople, have emailed their congresspeople, and have actually dragged Washington, D.C., to see that in fact this is a question of right and wrong and not of political expediency.

So if you ask me whether standing up for what's right in America, standing up for the American people and our safety, standing up for the Constitution, whether doing that and trying to bring the truth in front of the American people in televised hearings so we can decide what the truth is for ourselves, if you think that that isn't worth it, then you don't share the idea that I do about what America is about.

Standing up for what's right is always worth it, Wolf. And I will never back down from that.

BLITZER: Sen. Warren, a Senate trial is expected to keep you in Washington in the weeks leading up to the Iowa Caucuses here. How big of a problem is that for you as you're making your closing pitch to voters here?

WARREN: Look, some things are more important than politics. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. It says that no one is above the law. That includes the president of the United States. We have an impeachment trial. I will be there because it is my responsibility.

But understand this, what that impeachment trial is going to show once again to the American people, and something we should all be talking about, is the corruption of this administration. That is what lies at heart of it. It is about Donald Trump putting Donald Trump first. Not the American people. Not the interests of the United States of America. Not even helping Ukraine defend against Russia.

It is about him helping himself. That is what we need to do to win this election. We need to draw that distinction and show that as Democrats we're not going to be the people who are just out for the big corporations, people who want to help themselves, that we are going to be the party that is willing to fight on the side of the people. That's why we're here.

Climate Change

PFANNENSTIEL: Mr. Steyer, even though farmers and manufacturers here in Iowa and around the country could see some relief from the China deal, they've been crushed by the current administration's trade war. What will you do as president to help them get back on their feet?

STEYER: Look, on the first day, I would undo Mr. Trump's tariffs. On the first day, I would get rid of his waivers that Sen. Klobuchar was referring to, to oil refiners, so that not having to use corn-based ethanol.

In fact, these trade deals have been exactly what Sen. Sanders and Warren have been saying, which is that they've been designed to grow the American GDP for the corporations of America, not for the working people of America, and not to protect the climate.

So let me say this. I'm the only person on this stage who says climate is my number one priority. I would not sign this deal, because if climate is your number one priority, you can't sign a deal, even if it's marginally better for working people until climate is also taken into consideration.

Look, I've got four kids between the ages of 26 and 31. I cannot allow this country to go down the path of climate destruction. Everybody in their generation knows it. Frankly, Mayor Buttigieg, you're their generation. I think you would be standing up more — look, that's why I'm standing up for it.

We cannot put climate on the backseat all the time and say we're going to sign this one more deal, we're going to do one more thing without putting climate first. That's why it's my number one priority. We can do it in a way that makes us richer, but we have to do it.

PFANNENSTIEL: Mayor Buttigieg, your response?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, that's right. This issue is personal for me. It's why we're going to tackle climate from day one. It's why we've got to make sure that we have better answers than we do today. Now, what I've noticed is, pretty much all of us propose that we move on from fossil fuels by the middle of the century, starting with actions that we take right now.

The question is, how are we going to make sure any of this actually gets done? Because people have been saying the right things in these debates for literally decades. The other day in Winterset, there was a kid at one of my events, raised his hand and he pointed out that he expects to be here in his 90s in the year 2100.

He will sit in judgment over what we do, not just what we on this stage do, anyone old enough to vote right now, whether we actually put together the national project it will require to meet our climate goals, to act aggressively, not just re-joining the Paris Climate Accord, that's table stakes, but to actually move on from the fossil-dependent economy we live in today.

PFANNENSTIEL: Let's turn now to the climate crisis. Here in Iowa parts of the state remain under water after record-breaking flooding began last spring, racking up an estimated $2 billion in damages. Today many Iowans are still displaced from their homes.

Mayor Buttigieg, you have talked about helping people move from areas at high risk of flooding. But what do you do about farms and factories that simply can't be moved?

BUTTIGIEG: That's why we have to fight climate change with such urgency. Climate change has come to America from coast to coast. Seeing it in Iowa. We have seen it in historic floods in my community. I had to activate our emergency operation center for a once-in-a-millennium flood. Then two years later had to do the same thing.

In Australia there are literally tornadoes made of fire taking place. This is no longer theoretical and this is no longer off in the future. We have got to act, yes, to adapt, to make sure communities are more resilient, to make sure our economy is ready for the consequences that are going to happen one way or the other.

But we also have to ensure that we don't allow this to get any worse. And if we get right, farmers will be a huge part of the solution. We need to reach out to the very people who have sometimes been made to feel that accepting climate science would be a defeat for them, whether we're talking about farmers or industrial workers in my community, and make clear that we need to enlist them...

BUTTIGIEG: ... in the national project to do something about it.

PFANNENSTIEL: ... to clarify, what do you do about farms and factories that cannot be relocated?

BUTTIGIEG: We are going to have to use federal funds to make sure that we are supporting those whose lives will inevitably be impacted further by the increased severity and the increased frequency. And by the way, that is happening to farms, that is happening to factories, and that disproportionately happens to black and brown Americans, which is why equity and environmental justice have to be at the core of our climate plan going forward.

Mr. Steyer, what's your response?

STEYER: Look, what you're talking about is what's called managed retreat. It's basically saying we're going to have to move things because this crisis is out of control. And it's unbelievably expensive. And of course we'll come to the rescue of Americans who are in trouble.

But this is why climate is my number one priority. And I'm still shocked that I'm the only person on this stage who will say this. I would declare a state of emergency on day one on climate.

I would do it from the standpoint of environmental justice and make sure we go to the black and brown communities where you can't breathe the air or drink the water that comes out of the tap safely. But I also know this, we're going to create millions of good-paying union jobs across this country. It's going to be the biggest job program in American history.

So I know we have to do it. I know we can do it. And I know that we can do it in a way that makes us healthier, that makes us better paid, and is more just. But the truth of the matter is, we're going to have to do it and we're going to have to make the whole world come along with us. And it's going to have to be...

STEYER: ... priority one.

PFANNENSTIEL: Sen. Warren, President Trump is rolling back major environmental rules to allow pipeline and other major infrastructure projects to be built without strict environmental review. Will you restore those protections and in a way that the next president can't overturn?

WARREN: Yes. Climate change threatens every living thing on this planet. And the urgency of the moment cannot be overstated. I will do everything a president can do all by herself on the first day. I will roll back the environmental changes that Donald Trump is putting in place. I will stop all new drilling and mining on federal lands, and offshore drilling. That will help us get in the right directions. I'll bring in the farmers. Farmers can be part of the climate solution.

We should see this for the problem it is. Mr. Steyer talks about it being problem number one. Understand this, we have known about this climate crisis for decades. Back in the 1990s we were calling it global warming, but we knew what it was. Democrats and Republicans back then were working together because no one wanted a problem.

But you know what happened? The industry came in and said, we can make big money if we keep them divided and make no change. Priority number one has to be taking back our government from the corruption. That is the only way we will make progress on climate, on gun safety, on health care, on all of the issues that matter to us.

PFANNENSTIEL: Thank you, Sen. Warren.

Sen. Klobuchar, some of your competitors on this stage have called for an all-out ban on fracking. You haven't. Why not?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I would note that I have 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. And that is because I have stood tall on every issue that we have talked about up here when it comes to this administration, this Trump administration, trying to reverse environmental protections. I think it is going to lead to so many problems.

And one thing that hasn't been raised, by the way, is the rules on methane, which is actually one of the most environmentally dangerous hazards that they have recently embarked on. And I would bring those rules back as well as a number of other ones.

When it comes to the issue of fracking, I actually see natural gas as a transition fuel. It's a transition fuel to where we get to carbon neutral.

Nearly every one of us has a plan that is very similar. And that is to get to carbon neutral by 2045 to 2050, to get to by 2030 to a 45 percent reduction.

And I want to add one thing that no one's really answered. When we do this, we have to make sure that we make people whole. And when we put a tax on carbon, which we will do either through cap-and-trade or through a renewable electricity standard or through a fee on carbon...

KLOBUCHAR: ... then we have to make sure the money goes back to the people...

KLOBUCHAR: ... that will be hurt by it.

KLOBUCHAR: ... to help with their energy bills and to bring jobs to areas that will lose jobs.


SANDERS: Let's be clear. If we as a nation do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, not by 2050, not by 2040, but unless we lead the world right now — not easy stuff— the planet we are leaving our kids will be uninhabitable and unhealthy.

We are seeing Australia burning. We saw California burning. The drought here in Iowa is going to make it harder for farmers to produce the food that we need.

This is of course a national crisis. I introduced legislation to indicate it's a national crisis. We have got to take on the fossil fuel industry and all of their lies and tell them that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet. That's what the Green New Deal does. That's what my legislation does. And that is what we have to do.

PFANNENSTIEL: Vice President Biden, your response?

BIDEN: My response is, back in 1986, I introduced the first climate change bill — and check PolitiFacts (sic); they said it was a game-changer. I've been fighting this for a long time. I headed up the Recovery Act, which put more money into moving away from fossil fuels to — to solar and wind energy than ever has occurred in the history of America.

Look, what we have to do is we have to act right away. And the way we act right away is, immediately if I'm elected president, I'll reinstate all the mileage standards that existed in our administration which were taken down. That's 12 billion gallons of gasoline — barrels of gasoline to be saved immediately.

And with regard to those folks who in fact are going to be victimized by what's already happened, we should be investing in infrastructure that raises roads, makes sure that we're in a position where we have — that every new highway built is a green highway, having 550,000 charging stations.

We can create — and this is where I agree with Tom — we can create millions of good-paying jobs. We're the only country in the world that's ever taken great crisis and turned it into great opportunity. And one of the ways to do it is with farmers here in Iowa, by making them the first group in the world to get to net zero emissions by paying them for planting and absorbing carbon in their fields right — there's more to say, but I know my time is...

North Korea

PHILLIP: Vice President Biden, I want to ask you about North Korea. President Trump has met with Kim Jong-un three times. President Obama once said he would meet with North Korea without any preconditions. Would you meet with North Korea without any preconditions?

BIDEN: No, not now. I wouldn't meet with them without any preconditions. Look, what — we gave him everything he's looking for, legitimacy. The president showed up, met with him, gave him legitimacy, weakened the sanctions we have against him.

I would be putting what I did as vice president — I met with Xi Jinping more than anyone else. I would be putting pressure on China to put pressure on Korea, to cease and desist from their nuclear power, make — their efforts to deal with nuclear weapons. I would move forward as we did before — and you reported it extensively, Wolf — about moving forward the whole notion of defense against nuclear weapons, that we would — and when China said to me, when Xi Jinping said to me, that's a threat to us, I said, we're going to move and protect our interests unless you get involved and protect it.

I would reignite the relationship between Japan and South Korea, and I would put enormous pressure, enormous pressure on China, because that's also in their interests for them to put pressure on North Korea to cease and desist.

But I would not, I would not meet with — absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, "Supreme Leader," who said Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick. I count that ...

PHILLIP: Mr. Steyer, would you meet with North Korea without any preconditions?

STEYER: No. It's very clear that if we're going to do something with North Korea, we're going to have to do it in concert with our allies, that meeting with him without preconditions is not going anywhere, that the staff can meet to try and see how far we can get.

Middle East Troop Presence and War Powers

BLITZER: So just to be clear, Vice President Biden, would you leave troops in the Middle East or would you pull them out?

BDEN: I would leave troops in the Middle East in terms of patrolling the Gulf, where we have — where we are now, small numbers of troops, and I think it's a mistake to pull out the small number of troops that are there now to deal with ISIS.

What's happened is, now that he's gone ahead, the president, and started this whole process moving, what's happening? ISIS is going to reconstitute itself. We're in a position where we have to pull our forces out. Americans have to leave the entire region. And quite frankly, I think he's flat-out lied about saying the reason he went after — the reason he made the strike was because our embassies were about to be bombed.

BLITZER: Sen. Klobuchar, what's your response?

KLOBUCHAR: I would leave some troops there, but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now. Afghanistan, I have long wanted to bring our troops home. I would do that. Some would remain for counterterrorism and training.

In Syria, I would not have removed the 150 troops from the border with Turkey. I think that was a mistake. I think it made our allies and many others much more vulnerable to ISIS. And then when it comes to Iraq, right now, I would leave our troops there, despite the mess that has been created by Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Sen. Warren, leave combat troops, at least some combat troops in the Middle East, or bring them home?

WARREN: No, I think we need to get our combat troops out. You know, we have to stop this mindset that we can do everything with combat troops. Our military is the finest military on Earth and they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.

Our keeping combat troops there is not helping. We need to work with our allies. We need to use our economic tools. We need to use our diplomatic tools.

Now, look, I understand, there are people on this stage, when it comes to Afghanistan, for example, who talk about 5 more years, 10 more years. Shoot, Lindsey Graham talks about leaving troops there for a hundred more years. No one has a solution and an endpoint. We need to get our combat troops out. They are not helping create more safety for the United States or the region.

BLITZER: Vice President Biden, is Sen. Warren right?

BIDEN: Well, I tell you what, there's a difference between combat troops and leaving special forces in a position. I was part of the coalition to put together 68 countries to deal with stateless terror as well as failed states. Not us alone, 68 other countries.

That's how we were able to defeat and end the caliphate for ISIS. They'll come back if we do not deal with them and we do not have someone who can bring together the rest of the world to go with us, with small numbers of special forces we have, to organize the effort to take them down.

BLITZER: Mayor Buttigieg, you served in Afghanistan. Who's right?

BUTTIGIEG: We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops. But what's going on right now is the president's actually sending more. The very president who said he was going to end endless war, who pretended to have been against the war in Iraq all along — although we know that's not true — now has more troops going to the Middle East.

And whenever I see that happen, I think about the day we shipped out and the time that was set aside for saying goodbye to family members. I remember walking with a friend of mine, another lieutenant I trained with, as we walked away, and his one-and-a-half-year-old boy was toddling after him, not understanding why his father wasn't turning back to scoop him up. And it took all the strength he had not to turn around and look at his boy one more time.

That is happening by the thousands right now, as we see so many more troops sent into harm's way. And my perspective is to ensure that that will never happen when there is an alternative as commander-in-chief.

BLITZER: We're going to get to everyone, but, Vice President Biden, you criticized President Trump's decision to kill the Iranian general, Soleimani, without first going to Congress. Are there any circumstances, other than a direct attack on the United States, where you would take military action without congressional approval?

BIDEN: I ran the first time as a 29-year-old kid against the war in Vietnam on the grounds that the only way to take a nation to war is with the informed consent of the American people. The informed consent of the American people.

And with regard to this idea that we can walk away and not have any troops anywhere, including special forces, we — there's no way you negotiate or have been able to negotiate with terrorists. You have to be able to form coalitions to be able to defeat them or contain them. If you don't, we end up being the world's policeman again.

They're going to come to us. They've come to us before. They'll come to us again. So it's a fundamental difference than negotiating with other countries. It's fundamentally the requirement that we use our special forces in small numbers to coordinate with other countries to bring together coalitions.

BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, just to be clear, the Obama-Biden administration did not ask Congress for permission multiple times when it took military action. So would the Biden doctrine be different?

BIDEN: No, there was the authorization for the use of military force that was passed by the United States Congress, House, and Senate, and signed by the president. That was the authority. It does not give authority to go into Iran. It gave authority to deal with these other issues.

BLITZER: Mayor Buttigieg?

BUTTIGIEG: That authorization needs to be replaced.

BIDEN: Exactly. And we tried to.

BUTTIGIEG: When we lost troops in Niger, there were members of Congress who admitted they didn't even know we had troops there. And it was all pursuant to an authorization that was passed to deal with Al Qaida and 9/11. And often, Congress has been all too happy to leave aside its role. Now, thanks to Democrats in Congress, that's changing. But the reality is, year after year, Congress didn't want to touch this, either, because it was so politically difficult.

Fundamental truth is, if our troops can summon the courage to go overseas into harm's way, often on deployment after deployment, then we've got to make sure that Congress has the courage to take tough up-or-down votes on whether they ought to be there. And when I am president, anytime — which I hope will never happen — but anytime I am compelled to use force and seek that authorization, we will have a three-year sunset, so that the American people are included ...

BUTTIGIEG: ... not only in the decision about whether to send troops, but whether to continue.

BLITZER: Thank you. Sen. Warren — we're going to get to everyone — but, Sen. Warren, what about you? Are there any circumstances, other than a direct attack on the United States, where you would take military action without congressional approval?

WARREN: Well, imminent threat. But we need an authorization for the use of military force before we take this nation into combat. That is what the Constitution provides and that is what as commander-in-chief I will do.

But I just want to be clear. Everyone on this stage talks about nobody wants endless war. But the question is, when and how do you plan to get out of it?

You know, on the Senate Armed Services Committee, we have one general after another in Afghanistan who comes in and says, you know, we've just turned the corner and now it's all going to be different. And then what happens? It's all the same for another year. Someone new comes in and we've just turned the corner.

We've turned the corner so many times, we're going in circles in these regions. This has got to stop. It's not enough to say some day we're going to get out. No one on the ground, none of our military can describe what the conditions are for getting out. It's time to get our combat troops home.

BLITZER: Mr. Steyer, would a President Steyer use military force as a deterrent? And if not, under what circumstances would you take military action?

STEYER: I would take military action to protect the lives and safety of American citizens. But what we can see in the Middle East and what this conversation shows is that there is no real strategy that we're trying to accomplish in what we're doing in the Middle East.

Obviously, Mr. Trump has no strategy. He is going from crisis to crisis, from escalation to escalation. But if you look further over the last 20 years, including in the war in Afghanistan, we know from the Washington Post that, in fact, there was no strategy. There was just a series of tactical decisions that made no sense.

So we really have to ask ourselves in the Middle East, what are we trying to accomplish? I agree with Vice President Biden. To do it, we should definitely be doing it in coalition with other countries. And I want to point out that, as we do that, we're confronted by this issue which everyone is talking about.


BLITZER: Sen. Sanders, in the wake of the Iran crisis, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei has again called for all U.S. troops to be pulled out of the Middle East, something you've called for, as well. Yet when American troops last left Iraq, ISIS emerged and spread terror across the Middle East and, indeed, around the world. How would you prevent that from happening again?

SANDERS: O.K., I'm going to tell you, but before I tell you that, let me tell you something else.

And that is — and I don't know if my colleagues here will agree with me or not. Maybe they will. But what we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes were the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. Both of those wars were based on lies. And right now, what I fear very much is we have a president who is lying again and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq.

To answer your question, what we need to do is have an international coalition. We cannot keep acting unilaterally. As you know, the nuclear deal with Iran was worked on with a number of our allies. We have got to undo what Trump did, bring that coalition together, and make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: Vice President Biden?

BIDEN: I was part of that deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, bringing together the rest of the world, including some of the folks who aren't friendly to us. And it was working. It was working. It was being held tightly. There was no movement on the part of the Iranian government to get closer to a nuclear weapon.

And look what's happened. He went ahead — and it was predictable from the day he pulled out of the agreement, Trump, what exactly would happen. We're now isolated. We're in a situation where our allies in Europe are making a comparison between the United States and Iran, saying both ought to stand down, making a moral equivalence.

We have lost our standing in the region. We have lost the support of our allies. The next president has to be able to pull those folks back together, re-establish our alliances, and insist that Iran go back into the agreement, which I believe with the pressure applied as we put on before we can get done.

PHILLIP: Mayor Buttigieg, another critical issue you'd face as president is the threat of nuclear weapons. Last week, President Trump said, quote, "As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon." Would a President Buttigieg make that same promise?

BUTTIGIEG: Ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons will, of course, be a priority, because it's such an important part of keeping America safe. But unfortunately, President Trump has made it much harder for the next president to achieve that goal.

By gutting the Iran nuclear deal — one that, by the way, the Trump administration itself admitted was working, certified that it was preventing progress toward a nuclear Iran — by gutting that, they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events that we are now dealing with as it escalates even closer to the brink of outright war.

BUTTIGIEG: In order to get that done, we've got to work with our partners. The Iran nuclear deal, the technical term for it was the JCPOA. That first letter "J" stood for "Joint." We can't do this alone, even less so now after everything that has happened.

Which is why it will be so critically important to engage leaders, including a lot of new leaders emerging around the world, and ensure that we have the alliances we need to meet what I believe is not just an American goal, but a widely shared goal around the world to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear-armed country.

PHILLIP: Mayor Buttigieg, to be clear, would you allow Iran to become a nuclear power, yes or no?

BUTTIGIEG: No. Our security depends on ensuring that Iran does not become nuclear. And by the way, we've got a lot of other challenges with nuclear proliferation around the world.

Despite this president's coziness with Vladimir Putin, we actually seem to be further away from being able to work with Russia on things like the renewal of START. We've got to move toward less, not more nuclear danger, whether it is from states, from stateless potential terrorist actors, or anywhere else around the world.

Sen. Klobuchar, if you become president, it's very possible there won't be an Iran nuclear deal for the United States to rejoin. Given that, how would you prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon?

KLOBUCHAR: I would start negotiations again. And I won't take that as a given, given that our European partners are still trying to hold the agreement together. My issue is that, because of the actions of Donald Trump, we are in a situation where they are now starting — Iran is starting to enrich uranium again in violation of the original agreement.

So what I would do is negotiate. I would bring people together, just as President Obama did years ago, and I think that we can get this done. But you have to have a president that sees this as a number-one goal.

And in answer to the original question you asked the mayor, I would not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And then you have to get an agreement in place. I think there are changes you can make to the agreement that are sunset, some changes to the inspections, but overall, that is what we should do.

And I am the one person on this debate stage, on the first night of the very first debate, when we were asked what we saw as the biggest threat to our world, I said China on the economy, but I said Iran, because of Donald Trump. Because I feared that exactly what happened would happen: enrichment of uranium, escalation of tensions, leaving frayed relations with our allies. We can bring them back, understanding this is a terrorist regime that we cannot allow to have a nuclear weapon.

STEYER: But this is a classic situation where the United States' idea of going it alone makes no sense. And when you are talking about Iran, let's face it. Iran is under great pressure economically. So every single discussion we've had about Iran has had to do with military power and America versus Iran, whereas, in fact, what worked with President Obama was an alliance of our allies and us putting economic pressure on them for them to give up their military tactic. That, to me, is called strategy. Having a goal to make America safer, by looking more broadly...

STEYER: ... than just us, as the policeman of the world spending money.

Iraq War

Wolf Blitzer: Sen. Sanders, why are you best prepared — the best prepared person on this stage to be commander-in-chief?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Yes, I think my record speaks to that, Wolf. In 2002, when the Congress was debating whether or not we go into a war in Iraq, invade Iraq, I got up on the floor of the House and I said that would be a disaster, it would lead to unprecedented levels of chaos in the region. And I not only voted against the war, I helped lead the effort against that war.

Just last year, I helped, for the first time in the modern history of this country, pass a War Powers Act resolution, working with a conservative Republican, Mike Lee of Utah, which said that the war in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia, was unconstitutional because Congress had not authorized it. We got a majority vote in the Senate. We got a majority vote in the House. Unfortunately, Bush vetoed that and that horrific war continues.

BLITZER: Vice President Biden, you talk a lot about your experience, but some of your competitors have taken issue with that experience, questioning your judgment in voting to authorize the Iraq war. Why are you the best prepared person on this stage to be commander-in-chief?

JOE BIDEN: I said 13 years ago it was a mistake to give the president the authority to go to war if, in fact, he couldn't get inspectors into Iraq to stop what — thought to be the attempt to get a nuclear weapon. It was a mistake, and I acknowledged that.

But right — the man who also argued against that war, Barack Obama, picked me to be his vice president. And once we — once we were elected president, he turned — and vice president, he turned to me and asked me to end that war.

I know what it's like to send a son or daughter, like our colleague has gone to war in Afghanistan, my son for a year in Iraq, and that's why I do it very, very reluctantly. That's why I led the effort, as you know, Wolf, against surging tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan. We should not send anyone anywhere unless the overwhelming vital interests of the United States are at stake. They were not at stake there. They were not at stake in Iraq. And it was a mistaken vote.

BLITZER: Sen. Sanders, you have been attacking Vice President Biden's vote on the Iraq war, but you recently acknowledged that your vote to authorize the war in Afghanistan was also a mistake. So you both acknowledged mistakes. Why should the American people trust your judgment more?

SANDERS: Well, it's a little bit of a difference. On that particular vote, every single member of the House, including myself, voted for it. Only Barbara Lee voted against it.

But what I understood right away, in terms of the war in Iraq, the difference here is that the war in Iraq turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country. As Joe well knows, we lost 4,500 brave troops. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. We have spent trillions of dollars on that endless war, money which should go into health care and education and infrastructure in this country.

Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. I didn't believe them for a moment. I took to the floor. I did everything I could to prevent that war. Joe saw it differently.

BLITZER: Vice President Biden?

BIDEN: I was asked to bring 156,000 troops home from that war, which I did. I led that effort. It was a mistake to trust that they weren't going to go to war. They said they were not going to go to war. They said they were just going to get inspectors in.

The world, in fact, voted to send inspectors in and they still went to war. From that point on, I was in the position of making the case that it was a big, big mistake. And from that point on, I've voted to — I moved to bring those troops home.

BLITZER: Sen. Klobuchar, you've publicly questioned Mayor Buttigieg's experience when it comes to being commander-in-chief. Why is your time as a U.S. senator more valuable than his time as a U.S. naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan and as mayor?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Wolf. And I have been very clear that I respect the mayor's experience very much in the military. I just have different experience.

I've been in the U.S. Senate for over 12 years. And I think what you want in a president is someone who has dealt with these life-and-death issues and who has made decisions.

I will look at my position on the Iraq war first. I wasn't in the Senate for that vote, but I opposed that war from the very beginning. In my first campaign for Senate, I ran against a Republican who ran ads against me on it, but I stood my ground. When I got to the Senate, I pushed to bring our troops home.

Then I have dealt with every issue, from Afghanistan to keeping our troops with good health care after what we saw with Walter Reed and being part of an effort to improve the situation for our troops in a very big way with our education and with their jobs and also with their health care.

BLITZER: Thank you, Sen. Klobuchar. We're going to continue talking about who's best prepared to be commander-in-chief. Mayor Buttigieg?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, I bring a different perspective. There are enlisted people that I served with barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9/11, on the war in Iraq. And there are people now old enough to enlist who were not alive for some of those debates.

The next president is going to be confronted with national security challenges different in scope and in kind from anything we've seen before, not just conventional military challenges, not just stateless terrorism, but cybersecurity challenges, climate security challenges, foreign interference in our elections. It's going to take a view to the future, as well as the readiness, to learn from the lessons of the past. And for me, those lessons of the past are personal.