Fiery exchanges over costs of health care insurance
Biden lashes out at Sanders and ‘Medicare for All’
HOUSTON — Joe Biden vigorously defended his health care plan against Democratic rivals in Thursday night’s presidential debate, a high-stakes clash in which health insurance played proxy for the broader fight for the direction of the party.
Biden lashed out at his more progressive rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, as a socialist who hadn’t explained how he and his progressive allies would pay for his government-backed “Medicare for All” plan.
As Sanders noted that citizens of the U.S. spend much more on health care than Canadians or people in other countries, Biden interrupted, “This is America.” He added, “I’m for Barack,” emphasizing his idea that former President Barack Obama’s “Obamacare” should be updated, not replaced.
A fiery Sanders punched back, charging that Biden has to defend millions of Americans going bankrupt under the health care system Obama implemented.
The debate took place as the Democratic Party’s leading candidates shared the stage for the first time in a prime-time showdown displaying sharply opposing notions of electability in the party’s presidential nomination fight.
Biden’s remarkably steady lead in the crowded contest has been built on the idea that the former vice president is best suited to defeat President Donald Trump next year — a contention based on ideology,
experience and perhaps gender. Sanders and Warren, meanwhile, have repeatedly criticized Biden’s measured approach, at least indirectly, by arguing that only bold action on key issues like health care, the economy and climate change can build the coalition needed to win in 2020.
The faceoff between Biden, Warren and Sanders at center stage dominated the pre-event talk, yet each of the other seven candidates hopes for a breakout moment with the attention of the nation beginning to increase less than five months before the first primary votes are cast.
Beyond Biden and Sens. Warren and Sanders, the candidates on stage Thursday night include Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; California Sen. Kamala Harris; New York businessman Andrew Yang; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Obama Housing chief Julian Castro.
The debate was the first limited to one night after several candidates dropped out and others failed to meet new qualification standards. A handful more candidates qualified for next month’s debate, which will again be divided over two nights.
Viewers saw the diversity of the modern Democratic Party.
The debate, held on the campus of historically black Texas Southern University, included women, people of color and a gay man, a striking contrast to the Republicans. It unfolded in a rapidly changing state that Democrats hope to eventually bring into their column.
There were also 10 candidates that didn’t make the stage. Here’s what some of them did on debate night:
Marianne Williamson won’t be on the debate stage when Democratic presidential candidates face off on Thursday. But she’s stepping onto her own stage afterward to tell voters “what she would have said, and what should have been asked.”
The self-help author, one of 10 candidates who failed to qualify for the Houston event, planned to be “live post-debate” from Beverly Hills, her campaign announced this week. After the debate watch party it is hosting, her campaign will livestream her commentary for fans not in Beverly Hills.
So far, Williamson appears to be the only Democratic hopeful who planned to offer commentary on debate night. Many of the other nine prominent candidates who failed to qualify will campaign and host public events on the day they are missing what many view as a critical steppingstone to winning the nomination.
Candidates needed to receive at least 2% of support in four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee and have 130,000 unique donors. The new standards cut the field in half; instead of 20 candidates over two nights as in the previous debates, Thursday’s event will feature 10 on one night.
The debate appeared to be a litmus test for many candidates. As the deadline to qualify neared, four candidates bowed out in the course of two weeks. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dropped out when it became clear they would not meet the deadline. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton left the race after struggling to gain traction.
Others set their sights on the October debate; they have until Oct. 1 to meet the same qualifications. Several candidates, including Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, had events Thursday in Iowa.
California billionaire Tom Steyer, who was the 11th candidate to qualify for the October debate — pushing that event to two nights — will hold a town hall in Davenport, Iowa. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who is trying to get enough qualifying polls to get on stage in October, was also campaigning in the state.
“Rep. Gabbard emphasized her campaign is not focused on the debates, and is instead spending her time on the ground campaigning, talking to the American people directly — without the ridiculous 60-second time constraints of the debate stage,” her campaign said in an email.
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was in New York for media appearances and interviews, his campaign said. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan is scheduled to speak at an event hosted by New Hampshire’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter hours before the debate. This week, Ryan released a Spotify playlist of his “New and Better Agenda,” which includes segments about education, climate change and immigration.
Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam will not be on the campaign trail. Messam has struggled to gain traction but does not appear to have put in as much time in early voting states as many of his rivals. “Mayor Wayne Messam will be performing his mayoral duties” on debate night, his campaign said, presiding over a budget hearing.
Democratice presidential hopefuls take the stage before debating Thursday night at Texas Southern University in Houston.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., right, listens as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, speak Thursday, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston.