The three leading Democratic presidential candidates clashed over health care, immigration and President Barack Obama’s legacy on Thursday in a fierce debate that pitted an aggressive Joe Biden against liberal rivals Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
“This is America,” said Biden, his party’s early front-runner, before calling Sanders “a socialist.” ‘‘I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good bad and indifferent.”
The top White House hopefuls faced off for the first time alongside seven other candidates who are under increasing pressure to break out of the pack. All assailed Trump without mercy.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called Trump a racist. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called him a white supremacist. And Kamala Harris, a California senator, said Trump’s hateful social media messages provided “the ammunition” for recent mass shootings.
“President Trump, you have spent the last two-and-a-half years full time trying to sow hate and vision among us, and that’s why we’ve gotten nothing done,” Harris declared.
The Democrats primary contest has been remarkably stable, but the debate comes at a pivotal point in the campaign as more voters move past their summer vacations and begin to pay closer attention to politics.
Polls show that a strong majority of all voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction under the first-term president’s leadership. But nine months into their nomination fight, divided Democrats have yet to answer fundamental questions about who or what the party stands for beyond simply opposing Trump.
The debate is shaped by evolving issues of race, gender, generation, and ideology that again exploded into public view on the debate stage Thursday night.
Obama himself emerged as a hot point as the discussion shifted to health care and immigration in particular.
Sanders said Biden, Obama’s two-term vice president, bears responsibility for millions of Americans going bankrupt under the “Obamacare” health care system.
Biden slapped back at both Sanders and Warren and contended they haven’t yet explained how they would pay for Sanders’ government-backed “Medicare for All” health care plan.
Castro, who served as Obama’s housing chief, kept the pressure on the front-runner.
The 44-year-old Texan appeared to touch on concerns about Biden’s age when he accused the former vice president of forgetting a detail about his own health care plan. At 76, Biden would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term.
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked. “I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that you have to buy in and now you’re forgetting that.”
He added: “I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”