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'Healthcare is a basic human right' - Elizabeth Warren to the fore as Democrats hold first presidential debate

The senator stood out on a night when economic inequality was the main line of discussion.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

TEN DEMOCRATS RAILED railed against a national economy and Republican administration they argued exist only for the rich, as presidential candidates debated onstage for the first time in the young 2020 season.

Economic inequality was a defining theme for the night as the Democrats begin their fight to deny President Donald Trump a second term in office.

Health care and immigration, more than any other issues, led the debate.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, more than anyone else, stood out — on her own at times — in calling for “fundamental change” across the nation’s economy and government to address a widening gap between the rich and the middle class.

Warren was the highest-profile candidate in the first evening of two nightly debates after a random draw put candidates in groups of 10. 

“I think of it this way. Who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top,” Warren declared shortly before raising her hand as one of the only Democrats on stage willing to abolish her own private health insurance in favour of a government-run plan.

Healthcare is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights.

The debate marked a major step forward in the 2020 presidential campaign as Democrats fight to break out from a crowded field.

Source: NBC New York/YouTube

The candidates will spend the next eight months before primary voting scrapping over that question and the broader fight for the direction of their political party.

Another 10 candidates, including early front-runner Joe Biden, take their turn debating tonight. 

While Trump is the ultimate target of many Democratic voters, the president wasn’t a major feature for most of last night, despite tweeting throughout the debate.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee was one of the few to go hard after Trump, declaring, “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump.”

Instead of Trump, Democrats leaned into the issue that helped deliver the party the House majority last year: Health care. All supported the concept of providing universal health care, but they differed on how they would reach that goal.

Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio backed abolishing private health insurance. Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar favoured preserving the private insurance market.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

O’Rourke said people who like their health care plans should be able to keep them: “We preserve choice,” he said.

The exchange is almost certain to be revived tonight when Bernie Sanders is among the candidates who will be on stage. The Vermont senator has proposed a “Medicare for All” system without private insurance while Biden, who will also be debating, hasn’t gone that far.

Immigration

Immigration was also on the candidates’ minds as they pointed to the searing photos of a drowned Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter at the Rio Grande and blamed Trump and his policies concerning migrants crossing into America illegally.

“Watching that image of Oscar and his daughter Valeria was heartbreaking,” said former Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro. “It should also piss us all off.”

He also assailed O’Rourke for not calling for fully decriminalising crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

“I just think it’s a mistake, Beto,” he said, adding that O’Rourke would agree with him “if you did your homework on this issue.”

O’Rourke says he doesn’t support fully decriminalising such border crossings because of fears about smugglers of drugs and people.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

Other than those skirmishes, Democrats waged a largely civil debate with few instances of the type of bitter confrontation that has dominated politics in the Trump era.

The candidates — at least for one night — were content to focus on their views of what America is and should be. No one openly stumbled.

Absent the ugly attacks or missteps of debates in past elections, the two-hour discussion allowed the party to show off its extraordinary diversity. Three candidates and a moderator also spoke Spanish at times.

At one point, Inslee boasted that he alone among the 10 had signed a bill on reproductive rights for women.

Source: NBC New York/YouTube

Klobuchar spoke up for the women on stage: “I just want to say there’s three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”

Warren spent the evening at centre stage, a top-tier candidate whose campaign has gained ground in recent weeks as she has released a near-constant stream of policy proposals. She was flanked by several candidates, including O’Rourke and Booker, who needed a breakout moment. That proved elusive on a crowded stage with moderators pressing candidates to stick to strict time limits.

The sober policy discussion underscored a much louder internal fight over how aggressive Democrats should be on the nation’s most pressing issues.

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Associated Press

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