The third presidential debate threw into sharp relief a dividing line among Democrats, as the contenders argued how far to go to insure more Americans, remove guns from the streets and promote fair trade.
Over three hours, former Vice President Joe Biden led the moderate camp, raising doubts about the cost of Medicare for All and defending his four-decade record of public service.
In her first time on stage with Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren held back, training her fire on Wall Street and Washington lobbyists rather than her Democratic rivals and retelling her personal story.
But with Warren rising in the polls, Biden took the chance to press her on her health care proposal.
“Thus far, my distinguished friend, the senator on my left, has not indicated how she pays for it,” he said.
The rest of the field had brief moments that, for better or worse, defined their nights. California Senator Kamala Harris used her time to directly attack President Donald Trump; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro went after Biden on health care and immigration; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg popped in at times to call for civility and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke repeated his call for a mandatory assault weapon buyback.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced that his campaign would give $1,000 a month for a year to 10 families to highlight his proposal for a universal basic income.
There were likely no game-changing moments during the debate, but it provided plenty of fodder for moderates and progressives as they outline two very different approaches to taking on Trump in the months to come.
The contours of the Democratic debate over health care didn’t change Thursday night, but the temperature did, as the familiar split between moderates and progressives intensified.
Biden attacked the Medicare-for-All proposal supported by Sanders and Warren, arguing that it would force people off their health plans and raise taxes on the middle class. The onslaught borrowed a strategy that Republicans once wielded against the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Biden wants to build on the Affordable Care Act by offering people the option to join a public plan. He also echoed a promise by Barack Obama that came back to haunt the former president. “Of the 160 million people who like their health care now, they can keep it. If they don’t like it, they can leave,” Biden said.
Sanders and Warren countered that Medicare-for-All would relieve Americans burdened by rising medical costs, and rely on taxes on the wealthy and large corporations to fund it. “Those at the very top, the richest individuals and the biggest corporations, are going to pay more,” Warren said. “And middle class families are going to pay less.”
Castro sharply criticized Biden, challenging the former vice president’s attempt to claim the legacy of Obama. Castro, like Biden, favors preserving private insurance and adding a public option, but he said his policy would automatically enroll the uninsured, covering more people.
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