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'I wrote the damn bill': Bernie comes out fighting as Democrats clash in presidential debate

Sanders grew agitated as he defended his Medicare for All bill.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren participate in the first day of the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren participate in the first day of the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate.
Image: UPI/PA Images

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES clashed last night as leading progressive candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren defended their liberal policies on healthcare and immigration against energetic attacks from moderate rivals.

In the second debate of the 2020 Democratic primary race, lesser-known candidates took sharp digs and warned that forcing radical change could ensure President Donald Trump’s re-election.

Warren demanded “big, structural change” and warned that political “spinelessness” over radical reforms will perpetuate a “rigged system that has helped the wealthy and well-connected and kicked dirt in the faces of everyone else.”

Yet she and Sanders faced dramatic pushback from ex-congressman John Delaney who delivered a scathing rebuke to their “fairy tale economics” that risk bankrupting the economy.

Sanders and Warren, Delaney said in the most visible moment of his candidacy, are peddling “bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything, and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected.”

Yesterday marked the most sustained assault yet by centrists on the progressives’ big-idea platforms.

Medicare for All 

The early moments of the debate were dominated by a fight over whether Sanders’ plan to eliminate private insurance in favour of a universal government health plan is possible, practical or political suicide.

At times, with Medicare for All supporters Sanders and Warren outnumbered, the centrists piled on, raising doubts about the quality of care it could offer, the costs and the disruption to the health care system.

Source: CNN/YouTube

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan called it “bad policy and bad politics.” Bullock said he couldn’t support a plan that “rips away” insurance from Americans who have it.

“It used to be Republicans who wanted to do repeal and replace,” Bullock said, referring to the Republican refrain on getting rid of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Sanders, who has spent much of his career on the issue, grew agitated as he defended the plan. The coverage would actually be better, he argued.

“You don’t know that, Bernie,” Ryan interjected.

“I do know,” Sanders fired back. “I wrote the damn bill!”

Battleground state

The debate features 20 candidates over two nights in Detroit, Michigan, a battleground state Trump snatched in 2016.

Frontrunner Joe Biden takes the stage this evening with senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, prominent African-American candidates who have strongly criticised the former Vice President on racial issues.

The stakes are sky-high. The debate is likely to winnow the sprawling field by as much as half, ahead of the next one in September.

Underperformers like Senator Amy Klobuchar and Colorado ex-governor John Hickenlooper, both polling at below 2%, scrambled for breakout moments to keep their struggling campaigns alive.

“I have bold ideas, but they are grounded in reality,” asserted Klobuchar.

Warren and Sanders – who are essentially tied for second, at about half Biden’s support – share similar political platforms: both back universal healthcare, tuition-free public college, tax hikes on wealthy Americans and aggressive Wall Street regulation.

They parried attacks throughout the two-and-a-half-hour debate that touched on everything from jobs and foreign policy to gun violence, taxes and how old is too old to be president.

“I don’t care how old you are. I care about your vision,” South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, said of 77-year-old Sanders.

Yet while the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist Sanders said he wants to whip up a “political revolution,” Hickenlooper cautioned against abolishing private health insurance for hundreds of millions of people.

Expanding healthcare ought to be “an evolution, not a revolution,” Hickenlooper said.

Immigration

Divisions also emerged on immigration and trade.

Warren’s plan to decriminalise border crossings by undocumented migrants brought an animated response from Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who warned that would only exacerbate problems.

“A sane immigration system needs a sane leader, and we can do that without decriminalising” such crossings, said Bullock, who told viewers his mission was to “win back the places we lost” to Trump in 2016.

With moderate rivals savaging ambitious but costly liberal policies, Warren lost her patience.

“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she said, in one of the night’s biggest applause lines.

The 10 candidates unified against Trump’s combative and controversial presidency.

“We’ll call his racism out for what it is,” said Beto O’Rourke, an ex-congressman seeking to thread the needle between the moderate and liberal camps.

Buttigieg, a military veteran, remained above the fray.

But he attacked the “incompetence” of Trump’s immigration crisis, and assailed Republicans who have stood silent despite the president’s rhetoric on race.

“When the sun sets on your career… the thing you will be remembered for is whether in this moment, this president, you had the courage to stand up to him,” Buttigieg said. 

Trump’s disparaging comments this week about Baltimore and an African-American member of Congress has intensified talk about the country’s racial divide.

Several candidates pointed to the need to inspire voters, not just with economic optimism but moral clarity.

“We need to talk about the fact that the United States has sacrificed our moral leadership,” said Marianne Williamson, an author who has never run for public office.

Trump’s Republican Party painted the Democrats as too extreme. Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted that voters witnessed “a doubling down on Democrats radical, socialist proposals.”

© AFP 2019  

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