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Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, hosted by CNN and The New York Times, ended with a question that prickled Democratic candidates and viewers alike.
After three hours, moderator Anderson Cooper asked his final question, which was about Ellen DeGeneres’ unlikely friendship with former President George W. Bush that recently ignited a social media firestorm.
“Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized after she and former President George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, ‘We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK, that we’re all different,'” Cooper said to the 12 candidates onstage.
DeGeneres was criticized for fraternizing with Bush given his administration’s opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, among other issues. The openly gay talk show host later defended her friendship with Bush, urging her viewers to “be kind to everyone.”
“So in that spirit,” Cooper continued Tuesday, “we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impacts it’s had on you and your beliefs.”
Two candidates named the late Republican Sen. John McCain: Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden, who delivered the eulogy at McCain’s funeral.
Others also mentioned GOP colleagues. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Utah Sen. Mike Lee; Sen. Kamala Harris said Sen. Rand Paul; and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said former Rep. Trey Gowdy. Billionaire Tom Steyer said Deanna Berry, a black woman from South Carolina who serves as a community organizer for his campaign.
But later, several of the Democratic candidates shared their disappointment in Cooper’s question via social media.
“Three hours and no questions tonight about climate, housing, or immigration. Climate change is an existential threat. America has a housing crisis. Children are still in cages at our border,” Julian Castro tweeted. “But you know, Ellen. #DemocraticDebate.”
Added Harris: “Three hours. Not one question about the climate crisis. Not one question about LGBTQ+ rights. Not one question about immigration. These issues are too important to ignore. #DemDebate.”
Viewers, including The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah, were similarly upset. “When you’re eight hours into the debate and Anderson Cooper asks a question about Ellen,” Noah tweeted, later mocking Cooper in a follow-up post: “ANDERSON COOPER: Irreversible climate change is going to doom all mankind to a painful heat death if we don’t act soon. So, obviously, I’ve gotta ask: Who’s your shittiest friend and why?”
Pose co-creator and director Steven Canals wrote: “Wait…. Did they really just ask an Ellen question? I can’t. I’m out. #DemDebate”
“So y’all have time to ask questions about Ellen and friendship but not climate change? Ridiculous. #DemocraticDebate,” one angry Twitter user wrote, while another added: “Why on earth is the final question of the #DemDebate about Ellen?! There are so many actual issues getting no air time, and we are wasting time on this?”