Biden and Warren had a long history of squabbles before 2020

Image: Joe Biden Elizabeth Warren
Copyright Reuters; AP
Copyright Reuters; AP
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — Tonight's Democratic presidential debate will be the first time when frontrunner Joe Biden will share the same stage with Elizabeth Warren — due to random drawings from the two previous rounds of debates.

But this isn't the first time they've squared off.

In fact, their history goes back at least 17 years.

In a 2002 New York Times op-ed, Warren (then a Harvard law professor) blasted Biden (then a U.S. senator) for supporting legislation making it harder for individuals to file bankruptcy.

Perhaps due to that op-ed and history, Biden was cold with Warren at a Feb. 10, 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over the same bankruptcy bill:

Biden: "Maybe we should -- I'm being deadly earnest here -- because you make a very compelling and mildly demagogic argument, that talks about what is true. All of these things are true, and so my question is: is it —from a philosophic standpoint — is it the responsibility of the gas company and the drug store and whoever else you name to make sure that these people do not have to make these hard choices, or is that a responsibility of the government or the people at large? And that's my only question I'll ask. And I'm asking you, professor."

Warren: "Senator, I think you've put your finger on the heart of what the bankruptcy bill — or bankruptcy in general, not this bill ..."

Biden: "Forget bankruptcy, I'm asking a larger question. Forget about bankruptcy."


Warren: "With these and others, I submit, senator, that there are many in the credit industry right now who are getting their bankruptcies prepaid. That is, they have squeezed enough out of these families, in interest and fees and payments that never ..."

Biden: "Sounds like you're talking about usury rates, then. Maybe that's what we should talk about, not bankruptcy."

Warren: "Senator, I'll be the first. Invite me."

Biden: "I know you will, but let's call a spade a spade. Your problem with the credit card companies is usury rates, from your position. It's not about the bankruptcy bill."

Warren: "But senator, but if it's not going to fix that problem, you can't take away the last shred of protection for these families!"

Biden: "I got it, okay. You're very good, professor. Thank you."

Given that back-and-forth over the bankruptcy bill, Biden joked when he swore in Warren to be a U.S. senator in Jan. 2013, "You gave me hell."

Then, as Biden jumped into the 2020 race back in April, Warren said he "was on the side of credit card companies."

And last night, top Biden surrogate Ed Rendell accused Warren of being a hypocrite — for gladly accepting campaign donations from wealthy donors (like him) in past cycles, but criticizing Biden from doing it now.


So as Biden and Warren finally go toe-to-toe tonight, there's plenty of current and past disagreements for the debate moderators to explore.

The other storylines to watch tonight

There are five other storylines we're watching tonight:

  1. Is there another Bernie-Elizabeth tag-team effort? In July's round of debates, we saw Warren and Bernie Sanders team up against the pragmatists. Does that tag-team effort play out again with Biden joining them on the stage? Or do we finally see some disagreements between the two progressives?
  2. Can Kamala bounce back? Speaking of those who've gone toe-to-toe with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris enjoyed a standout debate performance in June - but then she struggled in July. Which Harris do we get tonight?
  3. Can Pete and Beto stand out? Both Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke - representing the younger generation on tonight's debate stage - are looking to recapture the excitement from earlier in their campaigns, per NBC's Josh Lederman and Garrett Haake.
  4. Will the 2-percenters have a moment? The previous debates haven't been kind to the Dem candidates who have been at 1 to 2 percent in the polls. Even if they've stood out — like Julian Castro and Cory Booker have — that hasn't helped them in the polls. Does that change?
  5. Is everything still bigger in Texas? Finally, tonight's debate takes place in Houston, Texas - a state Democrats are hoping to turn blue. And there are two Texans on the stage: O'Rourke and Castro.

The debate begins at 8:00 pm ET, and it's being broadcast by ABC News and Univision.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 1987


That's the year of the last and only other time there was a televised Democratic presidential debate in Houston.


The debate was on "Firing Line," a public affairs program hosted by William F. Buckley Jr.

And among those on the stage was 45 year-old Joe Biden, who was making his first run for the White House.

Other contenders included Michael Dukakis (who ultimately won the nomination), Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Gore.

Tweet of the day

Guess who's coming to dinner in Baltimore

Two months after attacking the city of Baltimore and its congressman, Democrat Elijah Cummings, calling it "disgusting," "filthy" and rat/rodent infested, guess who's coming to dinner in Baltimore.

Answer: President Trump.


That's right, at 7:10 pm ET, Trump delivers remarks to congressional Republicans at their retreat dinner in Baltimore.

2020 Vision

Team Obama vs. Warren: Elizabeth Warren hasn't just tangled with Joe Biden.

She also squared off against Barack Obama and his economic team, Politico writes.

"[I]nterviews with more than 50 top officials in the Obama White House and Treasury Department, members of Warren's inner circle at the time, and Warren herself, reveal a far more combative relationship between her and the administration than she usually discusses on the campaign trail. Tensions between Warren and Obama were palpable to White House aides, even as she reserved her real fury for Geithner and White House National Economic Council chief Larry Summers, whom she regarded as predisposed towards big banks over families struggling to save their homes."

On the campaign trail today

The Democratic debate, from Houston, takes place beginning at 8:00 pm ET… Meanwhile, Tom Steyer and Steve Bullock are in Iowa… And Tim Ryan campaigns in New Hampshire.


Dispatches from NBC's embeds

As the top Democratic candidates spent their evenings preparing for tonight's debate, Tom Steyer finished his swing through South Carolina. NBC's Jordan Jackson reports that Steyer held nine public events during his South Carolina trip, and he picked up an endorsement from former South Carolina State Rep. Harold Mitchell.

At his event in Columbia, S.C., last night, Steyer commented on being left out of the debate tonight, but appearing to secure a spot on the stage in October: "My goal has always been to get around and speak directly to the American people to hear what they have to say to learn what their concerns are. And then to put forward a positive vision for everybody going forward. And that won't change."

The Lid: Stuck on you

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how the political environment just… seems… stuck.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn't miss

Here's how the top 2020 candidates are preparing for tonight's debate.

Gun control advocates are putting more pressure on U.S. companies to break ties with the NRA.


Michael Cohen met with prosecutors who are investigating the Trump Organization.

Don't miss how North Carolina Republicans moved to override a budget veto during a surprise vote when the chamber was half empty.

And here's yet more on Sharpiegate.

Trump Agenda: "Kafkaesque"

The president has a "sometimes Kafkaesque management style," writes the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to enforce its toughest restrictions on asylum seekers, even as the legal fight continues in the courts.


The Trump administration is planning to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

The administration is looking for ways to relocate homeless people in California.

Behind the scenes, Judiciary Committee Democrats are quietly laying out possible articles of impeachment.

2020: Ed Rendell vs. Warren

Ed Rendell is going after Elizabeth Warren as a "hypocrite" for using big-dollar donations from her 2018 Senate campaign in her presidential run.

TheWashington Post explores some… alternative ideas for primary debates.


Which candidate is getting the most $1 donations?

The DCCC has a new executive director.

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