Democratic Debate 2019 Live Updates: A High-Speed and Spirited Contest

The Democratic field sparred over health care policy, eliminating student loan debt and generational change in the opening minutes Thursday, with a debate marked by notably sharper disagreements between the top tier candidates, including Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, than occurred during Wednesday’s debate.

While Mr. Biden aimed his fire mostly at President Trump in the early goings, the other more moderate candidates on stage took aim at Mr. Sanders and his brand of democratic socialism, in particular his support for Medicare-for-All.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders disagreed over whether to scrape the health system established by the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Biden, after speaking emotionally about losing his son to cancer and daughter and first wife in an automobile accident, suggested he was interested in a more incremental approach, by building on the Affordable Care Act that was passed when President Obama and Mr. Biden, the former vice president, were in office.

“I’m against any Democrat who opposes, takes down Obamacare — and then a Republican who wants to get rid of it,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, defended his Medicare-for-All plan without offering specifics on how such an expansive program would be implemented on a national level.

“We will have Medicare for All when tens of millions of people are tens of millions are prepared to stand up and tell the insurance companies and the drug companies that their day is gone, that health care is a human right, not something to make huge profits on,” Mr. Sanders said.

The two men didn’t call each other out by name, but it was one of the clearest examples of their policy and ideological differences.

One of the early clarifying moments came the came when the candidates were asked, as they were last night, to raise their hand if they would “abolish” private health insurers. While Mr. Sanders, Ms. Gillibrand and Ms. Harris all support Mr. Sanders’s bill only Ms. Harris and Mr. Sanders raised their hands.

That represented an about-face for Ms. Harris, who endorsed eliminating private insurers in an CNN town hall earlier this year and then said they would have a role under a Harris administration.

One area all the Democrats agreed: everyone raised their hand to provide government coverage for undocumented immigrants.

In the span of just a few moments, Mr. Biden’s answer to a question about deportation evolved.

José Díaz-Balart of Telemundo asked, “If an individual is living in the United States of America without documents, that is his only offense, should that person be deported?”

“Depending on if they committed a major crime, they should be deported,” Mr. Biden said, defending the Obama-Biden administration’s record on immigration and deportation even as he stressed that “we should not be locking people up.”

Pressed again — “should someone who is here without documents and that is his only offense, should that person be deported?” — Mr. Biden replied, “That person should not be the focus of deportation.”

Ms. Harris contrasted with Mr. Biden, saying it was an area where she did not agree with the Obama administration, though she strained to avoid President Obama’s name while doing so. “Absolutely no, they should not be deported,” she said.

Just a few minutes into the debate, Mr. Hickenlooper took a veiled swipe at Mr. Sanders’s most expansive proposals: “You can’t eliminate private insurance for 180 million people, many who don’t want to give it up,” he said.

Asked to respond to those who say nominating a socialist would re-elect Mr. Trump, Mr. Sanders, a proud democratic socialist, pointed to polls that show him ahead at this early stage in a head-to-head match up with the president.

“Well, President Trump, you are not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off the health care that they have,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that under Mr. Trump benefits go to “the top 1 percent.”

“That’s how we beat Trump,” he said. “We expose him for the fraud he is.”

Mr. Swalwell took a direct swipe at Mr. Biden’s age early in the debate, describing a moment years ago when he said Mr. Biden “said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.”

“If we’re going to solve the issues of the nation, pass the torch. If we’re going to solve the issue of climate chaos, pass the torch. If we are going to solve school violence, pass the torch,” he said.

Mr. Biden, 76, smiled.

“I’m still holding onto that torch,” he said before pivoting to discuss his education plans.

As the candidates engaged in a back and forth about generational change, talking over one another, Ms. Harris butted in with a canned line that appeared to land well in the auditorium.

“Hey, guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we will put food on their table!” she said to applause.

The room went silent as Ms. Harris said she believes no one should work “more than one job” to put food on the table in their homes.

Ms. Harris, one of three women onstage, also earned cheers as she spoke passionately about protecting undocumented immigrant children as president: “I will ensure that this microphone that the President of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way that is about reflecting the values of our country,” she said.

The first question to Mr. Buttigieg was about his opposition to the proposal of Mr. Sanders to eliminate all student debt and make public college tuition-free.

“I just don’t believe it makes sense to ask working class families to subsidize even the children of billionaires,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “I think the children of the wealthiest Americans can pay at least a little of tuition. While I want tuition costs to go down, I don’t think we can buy down every last penny for that.”

Mr. Buttigieg, 37, said he was sympathetic to student loan, saying he has “six-figure student debt.”

Mr. Swalwell jumped in. “I have a $100,000 student loan debt for myself. If I can’t count on the people around when this problem was created to be the ones to solve it,” he said.

Mr. Swalwell added, “This generation is ready to lead.”

Mr. Biden was asked about his recent remarks to donors that he would not “demonize the rich” as president. He used the opening to pivot to attacking President Trump, a move that has been the centerpiece of his campaign.

“Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America,” Mr. Biden said at the start of his answer, contrasting himself with the president.

He mentioned Mr. Trump two more times, saying that “Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation” in regards to “income inequality” and that he would seek take aim to “eliminating Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy.”

The crowd cheered.

In his next turn, Mr. Sanders starting in on Mr. Trump too, calling him a “pathological liar” and a “racist.”

“That’s how we beat Trump, we expose him for the fraud he is,” Mr. Sanders said.

The crowd cheered yet again.

Mr. Sanders was pressed twice on whether taxes for the middle class would go up in a Sanders administration as Mr. Sanders pushes for a sweeping, boldly progressive agenda.

“Will taxes go up for the middle class in a Sanders administration and if so, how do you sell that to voters?” she asked.

Mr. Sanders emphasized the challenges of income inequality in the United States and reiterated his support for Medicare for All and tuition-free public college.

Pressed again, he replied, “Yes, they will pay more in taxes but less in health care for what they get.”

Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, the two leading candidates, took the stage one after another with the other eight Democratic hopefuls. As they waved to the audience and then stood still, they didn’t look at each other or exchange any words.

Then again, few of the Democrats interacted — only Mr. Yang (who, interestingly, chose not to wear a tie) and Mr. Hickenlooper appeared to share some small talk

Ms. Harris flashed smiles at the audience and laughed at several points. After a couple of minutes of posing for the cameras, they took their spots behind the podiums — with Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders, Ms. Harris and Mr. Buttigieg standing center stage.

[What happened at the first debate? Seven takeaways.]

Hours before the debate began, a majority of justices ruled that federal courts should not hear challenges to partisan gerrymandering.

While state legislatures dominated by both political parties have long relied on gerrymandering to draw voting districts that favor one party over the other, in recent years Republicans — who have won expanded influence in state capitals around the country — have been especially associated with the practice.

The Supreme Court ruling may give some Democrats another opening to draw contrasts with the G.O.P.

Are you watching the debates? We’re eager to hear from our readers. Please tell us in the comments what you think of the candidates’ performances.

For Democrats, who did you did you support going into the debates? Has that changed? If so, tell us why.

We want to hear from Republicans, too — who has stood out to you? Did any of the candidates resonate with you or seem to pose a serious threat to President Trump’s re-election bid?

We may feature your comments in upcoming stories. Please include your name, where you live.

Reported and written by Katie Glueck, Shane Goldmacher and Sydney Ember.

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