Top moments include Biden, Castro, healthcare
Published 10:39 AM EDT Sep 13, 2019
WASHINGTON – It was round three and the gloves were off.
Nearly all 10 candidates on stage in Houston for the third Democratic presidential debate went on the offensive and had a zinger that got people talking.
The top polling candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, attacked one another over policy ideas that have dominated the conversation and divided the candidates.
Third debate: Houston forum featured squabbling frontrunners who attacked Trump
Here are a few of the top moments from Thursday’s debate.
Klobuchar hits Sanders on health care
Sen. Amy Klobuchar came out swinging against the progressive plan to prove government health insurance for all Americans – and what has become a Sanders campaign mantra.
“While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” Klobuchar fired at Sanders, arguing that the plan would drop millions of Americans off their private health insurance. “I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea.”
The line was a response to Sanders’ oft-repeated line that he “wrote the damn bill” to move to a Medicare-for-All health insurance system.
Health care, and the fight over whether to make adjustments to Obamacare or to scrap it for additional government coverage, has dominated virtually every Democratic debate this year – and it has widely split the field.
Sanders, in an extended defense of his Medicare for All plan, argued the proposal would be cost-effective. Then he added, “I wrote the damn bill!”
It was a recycled line that he first used in a presidential debate in July, when he claimed the plan would provide union members with better health care coverage than they have now.
Tim Ryan interjected, “You don’t know that, Bernie.”
“I do know that — I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders fired back.
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”
Biden and former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro fiercely debated health care and it led to a dig on the gaffes that have plagued Biden on the campaign trail.
Biden laid out a proposal within his health care plan that would allow people to buy into a public option, noting that “Anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have.”
“If you lose the job from your insurance company, from your employer, you automatically can buy into this,” said Biden shortly after.
Castro to Biden: ‘Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?’
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Castro said Biden’s plan would make Americans opt-in rather than be automatically enrolled in a plan.
“Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave 10 million people uncovered. He wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that, your plan would not,” said Castro.
“They do not have to buy in,” replied Biden.
“You just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy in,” shot back Castro. “You said they would have to buy in. Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”
Castro’s comment appeared to be a dig at Biden’s occasional gaffes and forgetfulness on the campaign trail, though he appears to have misrepresented part of Biden’s plan.
The gaffes have heightened concerns that Biden might not be the strongest candidate to take on Trump, which for Democratic voters is the top priority.
Buttigieg hits Trump on Chinese trade war
As the debate turned to President Trump’s trade war with China, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg accused Trump of having no strategy.
Buttigieg recalled that when he entered the race, Trump derisively said he’d like to see Buttigieg make a deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“I’d like to see HIM making a deal with Xi Jinping,” Buttigieg said. “Is it just me, or was that supposed to happen in, like, April?”
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Buttigieg said that Trump’s inability to follow through on what he promises is being taken note of by both competitors and allies with serious consequences.
One by one, the Democratic candidates slammed Trump’s trade policy, which they described as “erratic.”
“The president clearly has no strategy,” Buttigieg said.
“We can use trade to help build a stronger economy,” Warren said.
Donald Trump’s “American first” policy is actually an “American alone” policy, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said.
What they didn’t say: Whether they would be willing to eliminate the tariffs that Trump has slapped on Chinese imports as leverage designed to force China to agree to a new trade pact.
Klobuchar came the closest. She said she would not have imposed the tariffs in the first place.
Biden’s flub and his attack on Sanders
While debating Sanders on health care and the costs of Medicare for All, Biden accidentally referred to the senator as “president” rather than a senator.
“If you notice, nobody’s yet said how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer. I hear this, large savings, the president thinks – my friend from Vermont thinks that the employer is going to give you back if you negotiate,” said Biden, referring to projections of reduced costs in Medicare for All plans.
The wrong title: Joe Biden accidentally refers to Bernie Sanders as ‘president’
Biden continued his attack on Sanders by calling him a “socialist.”
“For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do,” Biden quipped.
The former vice president has staked out a position closer to the center on the Democratic Party’s current debate over the future of its health care policy that is based on strengthening Obamacare, a position that has drawn fire from other candidates that have rolled out more progressive health care plans.
Obama Obama Obama
Castro went after Biden several times on the debate stage, seemingly in hopes of reminding viewers it’s not just Biden who worked with former President Barack Obama.
Castro, Obama’s housing secretary — a cabinet-level position — could be trying to use this as a way to boost his campaign and be seen as the inheritor of the Obama glory, rather than Biden.
When debating their health care plans, Castro told Biden: “I am fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”
Biden shot back. “That’ll be a surprise to him.”
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Castro again pointed to Obama during a discussion on immigration, when Biden was pressed directly on the administration’s record on deportations. Obama adopted many progressive policies on immigration, including allowing young people brought to the country illegally as children to avoid deportation. But his administration also deported immigrants in the country illegally at a rate that surprised fellow Democrats.
Biden was pressed directly on whether he stood by those deportations.
“We didn’t lock people in cages, we didn’t separate families,” Biden said. “I’m proud to have served with him.”
But when questioned again specifically about deportations, Biden noted that he was only the vice president at that time.
That drew a fiery response from Castro.
“He wants to take credit for Obama’s work but not have to answer any questions,” Castro said.
Biden dismissed that criticism, arguing that he “stood with” Obama’s decisions for eight years, “good, bad and indifferent.”
“I did not say I did not stand with him,” Biden said.
Kamala Harris and the ‘Wizard of Oz’
California Sen. Kamala Harris compared Trump’s trade strategy to the Wizard of Oz. And not in a good way.
“We’ve got a guy in the White House who’s been erratic on trade policy,” Harris said about the president’s trade policy with China during the third Democratic debate. “He conducts trade policy by tweet, frankly borne out of his fragile ego.”
She called for a more consistent trade policy and made a reference to the iconic 1939 movie that starred Judy Garland.
“The bottom line is this: Donald Trump in office on trade policy … reminds me of that guy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” she said. “You know, when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude.”
Harris on trade: Trump is ‘really small dude’ behind the curtain in ‘Wizard of Oz’
The president has received criticism for his tweets on the trade war with China. Last month Trump reacted to new Chinese tariffs by tweeting that he “hereby ordered [American businesses] to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.”
Harris’ comment drew a chuckle from ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos, a diminutive man whose height is listed as 5 feet and 5 inches.
“OK,” Stephanopoulos dead-panned. “I’m not going to even take the bait, Sen. Harris.”
“I wasn’t talking about you,” she said laughing as well.
O’Rourke: ‘Hell yes’ to taking AR-15s
A month after a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso, killing 22 and injuring more, Beto O’Rourke stood onstage in Houston and was asked about his proposal to buy back military-style assault weapons.
The question came after several of his competitors had praised his advocacy for gun control in the aftermath of the mass shooting.
“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said.
Critics call his proposal confiscation.
O’Rourke said the weapons have to go when they’re being used against children. He described meeting a mother who watched her daughter bleed to death in Odessa after being shot with an AR-15.
Shortly after the debate, O’Rourke’s campaign released T-shirts with the quote.
Contributing: Michael Collins, Nicholas Wu, Maureen Groppe and John Fritze