Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren shared a debate stage for the first time Thursday. But it was former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro who went hardest after the ex-vice president and Democratic front-runner.
With seemingly little to lose, Castro — the lowest polling candidate on stage — delivered some of the sharpest blows at Biden, criticizing his frequent attempts to tie himself to former President Barack Obama.
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Here’s a look at some of the key moments of the ABC debate:
Harris opens with attack on Trump
With nine other candidates onstage and hundreds in the audience, Kamala Harris kicked off Thursday night’s debate in Houston by addressing an audience of one: Donald Trump.
Harris, the California senator, first said she planned “on spending tonight talking with you about my plans to address the problems that keep you up at night.”
And then she looked right into the camera and addressed the top issue for Democratic primary voters, according to polls.
“But first, I have a few words for Donald Trump, who we all know is watching,” Harris said “So, President Trump, you spent the last two and a half years full-time trying to sew hate and division among us. And that is why we’ve gotten nothing done. You have used hate, intimidation, fear and over 12,000 lies as a way to distract from your failed policies and your broken promises. The only reason you’ve not been indicted is because there was a memo in the department of justice that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.”
Biden goes on the attack
Joe Biden spent the first two debates of the Democratic presidential primary as the front-runner waiting to get attacked onstage.
On Thursday, Biden decided to go on the attack and take on the two primary rivals threatening his first place status — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — over health care, prompting a lengthy debate that pitted the more moderate candidates against the more progressive ones.
“I think we should have a debate on health care. I think — I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie, well, I’m for Barack. I think the Obamacare worked,” Biden said, not so subtly pointing out he was the vice president of the last Democratic president.
Biden said he wants to add “public option” to Obamacare and bashed Warren and Sanders for backing “Medicare for All.” He said his plan “costs $740 billion. It doesn’t cost $30 trillion” the way Medicare for All did.
Warren, aware of the perils of attacking Obama, lauded the former president, saying, “We all owe a huge debt to President Obama, who fundamentally transformed health care in America and committed this country to health care for every human being.”
Biden plays Iraq War cleanup
Biden brought up his past support of the Iraq War, seemingly unprompted, but expressed regret for his vote. Biden was asked about a drawdown in Iraq during the Obama administration but opted to talk about Afghanistan first. Then he turned to Iraq, not originally addressing the decision to pull out troops but his vote to go into Iraq.
“The fact of the matter is that, you know, I should have never voted to give [President George W.] Bush the authority to go in and do what we said he was gonna do,” Biden said, explaining that Bush had claimed the vote was designed to get the United Nations Security Council to vote to allow inspectors to go into the country to determine whether it was using chemical or nuclear weapons.
Sanders seized the moment to distinguish himself from Biden. “The truth is, the big mistake, the huge mistake, and one of the big differences between you and me,” he told Biden, “I never believed what [Vice President Dick] Cheney and Bush said about Iraq and voted against the war in Iraq and helped lead the opposition.”
Castro goes after Biden
Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro touched off the meanest attack of the Democratic debate when he savaged Biden for his healthcare plan and then falsely said the former vice president forgot what he said just moments before.
The attack on Biden’s memory went right to the core of one the biggest controversies nagging the 76-year-old front-runner: his penchant for verbal gaffes and his occasional memory lapses.
At issue is Biden’s plan to allow for a so-called “public option” for Obamacare that would allow people to have government-run health insurance or keep their private insurance plans. He said anyone could qualify and “buy in,” and that “anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option,” meaning they wouldn’t have to pay.
But Castro, pointing to his poor grandmother’s struggles with diabetes, criticized Biden’s plan for leaving 10 million uninsured people and said former President Obama “wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that. Your plan would not.”
Biden bristled: “They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.”
That’s when Castro sprung.
“You just said that two minutes ago. You just two minutes ago they would have to buy in,” Castro said.
Biden started to say that “poor people anyone like your grandmother who has no money,” but Castro was busy zeroing in on his memory as jeers and cheers erupted from the crowd.
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” Castro said. “I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.”
Other candidates onstage started objecting, with Pete Buttigieg giving the clearest rebuke.
“This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable. This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington,” the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said. “Scores points against each other. Poking at each other. And telling each other that — my plan, your plan. Look, we all…”
Castro then cut him off: “That’s called the Democratic primary election, Pete. That’s called an election. That’s an election. You know? This is what we’re here for. It’s an election.”
Harris and Biden trade barbs over guns
At the first Democratic presidential debate, Harris took it to Biden onstage and sandbagged him over his civil rights record.
On Thursday, the two had a friendly exchange, this time over an issue in the Bill of Rights: guns.
ABC debate moderator David Muir asked Harris about her proposal, if she were elected president, to take executive action on guns, including banning the imports of AR-15 tactical rifles. Biden, Muir pointed out, said Harris’s proposal wasn’t constitutional.
“Does the vice president have a point there?” Muir asked Harris.
Biden cut in before she could answer, saying of executive actions that “some things you can. Many things you can’t.”
Harris then leaned over her lectern, looked at Biden and smiled.
“Hey, Joe, instead of saying, ‘No we can’t,’ let’s say yes, we can,” she smiled, repeating the Obama-Biden 2008 campaign slogan.
‘Hell yes,’ Beto will take away guns
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said he supports taking away Americans’ military-style weapons, like guns that were “designed to kill people on a battlefield” and bullets that were intended to shred “everything inside of your body” until the target bleeds to death. He tied use of such weaponry into the recent mass shootings in Odessa and Midland, Texas, recalling meeting a mother who watched her teenage daughter bleed out before an ambulance arrived.
“Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said to raucous applause. “We’re not gonna allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.”
Castro blasts Biden over Obama embrace
Castro re-upped New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s previous criticism that Biden embraces the Obama legacy when it serves him and distances himself when it doesn’t.
“Every time something good about Barack Obama comes up, he says: ‘Oh, I was there, I was there, I was there. That’s me, too,’” Castro said. “And then every time somebody questions part of the administration that we were both part of, he says, ‘Well, that was the president.’ I mean, he wants to take credit for Obama’s work but not have to answer any questions.”
Moments earlier, Biden had dodged a question about the Obama administration’s record on immigration, particularly its high rate of deportations. Asked if the administration made a mistake, Biden said, “The president did the best thing that was able to be done.” Asked whether he personally made a mistake, Biden simply distinguished himself as the vice president at the time.
Bashing Trump’s China moves
After the melee over healthcare and immigration, the Democratic candidates found universal agreement over China policy — or, more specifically, over bashing President Trump’s China tariffs that may have cost as many as 300,000 U.S. jobs.
Businessman Andrew Yang was asked the first question about the issue and said that, while he didn’t like the tariffs, he wouldn’t immediately eliminate them.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg took the opportunity to make Trump, who had predicted that winning trade wars was easy, eat his words.
“When I first got into this race, I remember President Trump scoffed and said he’d like to see me make a deal with XI Jinping. I’d like to see him make a deal with XI Jinping,” Buttigieg said. “Wasn’t that supposed to happen in April? It’s one more example of a commitment not made.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris, sticking tightly to her script bashing Trump at every turn, said that “on trade policy, he reminds me of that guy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ When you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude.”
But Sen. Elizabeth Warren steered relatively clear of Trump and instead focused on how “our trade policy in America has been broken for decades. And it has been broken because it works for giant multinational corporations and not for much of anyone else.”
Sanders on socialism and Maduro, the ‘vicious tyrant’
The last time Sanders was asked whether Venezuela’s strong man, Nicolas Maduro, was a dictator, he didn’t answer the question.
At Thursday’s debate, he decided to clear the air.
“Anybody that does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant. What we need now is international and regional cooperation for free elections in Venezuela to the people of that country can create their own future,” said Sanders, who earlier was called a “socialist” by Biden.
Sanders also explained that, though he’s a Democratic Socialist, it’s nothing like the socialism in Venezuela.
“To equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair,” Sanders said, noting that he believes healthcare as a human right, living wages for workers, and union rights.
“You got three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of this country. You got a handful of billionaires controlling what goes on in Wall Street, the insurance companies and in the media,” Sanders said.