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Thursday December 5th, 2019 11:03PM

Harris joins call for impeachment during 2020 Dem town halls

By The Associated Press
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MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — California Sen. Kamala Harris joined the call for President Donald Trump's impeachment on Monday as five leading Democratic presidential contenders clashed in a series of prime-time town hall meetings that exposed deep divisions in a party desperate to end the Trump presidency.

Harris' unexpected support for impeachment follows Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's push for Congress to begin the process to remove the Republican president following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report — a plan all but certain to fail without significant Republican support.

"There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution," Warren said. "If any other human being in this country had done what's documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail."

Five 2020 hopefuls representing different wings of the party addressed young voters in first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire on Monday night. While they took turns on stage, the forum marked the first time this young presidential primary season in which multiple candidates appeared on national television for the same prime-time event.

The five-hour marathon marked a preview of sorts for the party's first formal presidential debate, set for late June. On Monday, they clashed from afar while taking questions from college students about free college, free health care, gun control and impeachment.

A central question loomed over much of the debate: Who is best positioned to deny Trump a second term? In some cases, the question forced the leading candidates to address their greatest political liabilities.

Bernie Sanders, a front-runner in the crowded Democratic field who has pushed much of his party to the left in recent years, was asked to defend his decision to embrace democratic socialism.

"It's a radical idea. Maybe not everyone agrees. But I happen to believe we ought to have a government that represents working families and not just the 1 percent," he said.

Republicans, led by Trump, have spent much of the last year warning voters that Democrats would take the country toward socialism should they win in 2020.

Klobuchar, who has cast herself as a Midwestern pragmatist well positioned to appeal to the middle of the country, refused to embrace "Medicare for All," free college or Trump's impeachment.

"I wish I could staple a free college diploma to every one of your chairs," Klobuchar told the audience of college students. "I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth."

Warren, a champion for her party's more liberal wing, called for an "ultra-millionaires' tax" on income over $50 million to help pay for free college, free child care for all children 5 and younger, free universal prekindergarten and student-debt forgiveness.

"We say good for you that you have now gotten this great fortune," she said of the nation's wealthiest taxpayers. "But you gotta pay something back so everybody else gets a chance."

Sanders was asked whether his support for restoring the voting rights of felons included people like the Boston Marathon bomber, who killed three people and injured hundreds in 2013 with a pair of pressure-cooker bombers and was sentenced to death.

"I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy," Sanders said. "Yes, even for terrible people."

There was virtually no discussion of immigration, an issue that has largely defined Trump's presidency, but Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel attacked Warren on social media for supporting "amnesty." Most of the Democrats seeking the presidency support a pathway to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally, particularly those brought to the country as children.

Foreign policy was also an afterthought for most of the night, though Sanders drew cheers from the young crowd when he condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for treating Palestinians "unfairly."

The Vermont senator said he believes the United States should "deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis." The goal, he continued, must be to try to bring people together and "not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government."

Just five of the roughly 20 Democratic presidential candidates participated in Monday's forum. Former Vice President Joe Biden, expected to announce his candidacy later in the week, was among the missing.

CNN did not explain how it chose the participants. The cable network has held prime-time town halls for many of the candidates, including four of the five who appeared Monday.

On impeachment, an issue that has exposed deep divisions within the Democratic Party in recent days, both Harris and Warren broke from Sanders and Klobuchar by openly calling for elected officials to begin proceedings to remove the president from office. Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have urged a more cautious approach because impeachment would be nearly impossible politically without significant Republican support.

Harris said the special counsel's recently released report "tells us that this president and his administration engaged in obstruction of justice."

"I believe Congress should take the steps toward impeachment," she said.

Klobuchar, like Sanders, sidestepped direct questions about impeachment. Sanders warned that pushing too hard to remove the president before the next election might distract from Democrats' priorities on health care and the economy.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was also set to face voters Monday night.

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