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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders admitted that his plans for universal health care and free college would require a tax increase on America’s middle class as a fight for the direction of the Democratic Party played out in the opening moments of Thursday night’s presidential debate.
The concession came as Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, defended his calls for dramatic policy solutions to address growing inequality.
“Yes they will pay more in taxes but less in health care for what they get,” Sanders said.
A day after the first wave of 10 Democrats debated, a second 10 faced each other and the nation for the first time in a prime-time confrontation that underscored differences along lines of race, gender, generation and ideology that are starting to shape the party’s search for a nominee to take on President Donald Trump.
Thursday’s showdown featured four of the five strongest candidates — according to early polls, at least.
While the discussion was largely civil to begin, just beneath the surface a fierce debate simmered over the party’s future.
Sanders has pulled his party to the left on key issues, calling for a political revolution that would transform the private health care system into a government-financed one and mandate a redistribution of wealth.
His appeal relies on emotion, often anger. He stood alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, who preaches pragmatism and relative moderation.
Biden, who is 76, like Sanders, who is 77, also represents a different generation than several candidates on stage. The age difference was noted by California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who said, “Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans, 32 years ago.”
Biden and Sanders represented only two of 10 views on the stage Thursday night.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Sen. Kamala Harris were among the better known candidates in the next tier. Also on stage: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, New York businessman Andrew Yang, California Rep. Eric Swalwell and author and social activist Marianne Williamson.
The showdown played out in Florida, a general election battleground that could well determine whether Trump wins a second term next year.
Biden sought to sidestep the ideological debate altogether, training his venom on Trump.
“Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America. Ordinary middle-class Americans built America,” said the former vice president. “Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation. We do have enormous income inequality.”
For much of the early campaign season, Biden has ignored his Democratic rivals, training his attention instead on the man he hopes to defeat in the general election next fall: Trump.
Biden’s strategy is designed to highlight his status as the front-runner, and as such, the Democrat best positioned to take down the president at the ballot box. Above any policy disagreement, Democratic voters report that nothing matters more than finding a candidate who can beat Trump.
If nothing else, Thursday’s slate highlights the diversity of the Democratic Party’s 2020 class.
Buttigieg, a 37-year-old gay former military officer, is four decades younger than Sanders, and has been framing his candidacy as a call for generational change in his party. Harris is the only African American woman to qualify for the presidential debate stage. Any of the three women featured Thursday night would be the first ever elected president.
Yet Biden and Sanders have received far more attention and shown higher standing than their less-experienced rivals. The party will have to decide whether it wants a candidate based on resume over aspiration.
Only two of the 10 candidates on the second night of the 2020 Democratic presidential debate raised their hands when asked who supported abolishing private health insurance.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris both signaled their support for “Medicare for All” and eliminating private insurance.
Sanders has long championed a Medicare-style system to cover all Americans’ health care services.
The question was also asked on Wednesday to the first 10 debate candidates. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were the only two to raise their hands.
Several Democratic presidential candidates are talking about the importance of health insurance in their personal lives as their family members were dying or they dealt with their own illnesses.
Biden recalled during Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate the deaths of his first wife and baby daughter and, years later, his adult son. He says the best way to ensure all Americans have coverage is to build on “Obamacare” rather than to pass “Medicare For All.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg says as his father was dying earlier this year, he didn’t have to make medical decisions based on cost because his father had Medicare. He says all people should have the option to access “Medicare for all who want it.”
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet spoke about his cancer diagnosis earlier this year.
The Democratic candidates squaring off on the second night of presidential debates are decrying the Trump administration’s immigration policies, but in different ways than those who debated the previous night.
California Sen. Kamala Harris promised Thursday to use her first day in office to help people brought to the country illegally as children become citizens. She declared she’d use “the microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand” to be a voice for real reform on the issue.
Former Vice President Biden said he’d invest in Central America. Sen. Sanders promised to repeal “every damn thing” President Donald Trump has done on immigration.
On Wednesday, Democratic presidential hopefuls blamed Trump for a searing photograph of a father and his daughter lying dead near the Rio Grande. President Donald Trump says Democratic White House contenders’ willingness to extend government health care to people in the country illegally will get him reelected.
Trump is at a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Japan. But he said that he “passed a TV set” and saw the Democrats debating.
All Democrats on the stage for the second night of the debates Thursday in Miami raised their hands when asked if they would give health care to migrants in the country illegally.
Trump tweeted: “All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!?”
He then added: “That’s the end of that race!”
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