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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Democrats spar over healthcare, Joe Biden still the chief target

Joe Biden’s chief appeal and defense was the eight years he served with former President Barack Obama, who remains hugely popular with Democrats though the progressives among them have refused to be tied down by it.

world Updated: Sep 13, 2019 22:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris listen during the 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Houston, Texas, US, September 12, 2019.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris listen during the 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Houston, Texas, US, September 12, 2019. (REUTERS FILE)
         

Former Vice-President of US Joe Biden was still the one with the largest target painted on his back at the Democratic primaries debate Thursday, but he defended himself better than on previous occasions in a free-for-all on key issues such as healthcare and immigration, marked by personal attacks about age and character.

Biden’s chief appeal and defense was the eight years he served with President Barack Obama, who remains hugely popular with Democrats though the progressives among them have refused to be tied down by it. The former vice-president has freely deployed his former boss’s legacy to continued criticism of selective loyalty only to elements of it that work for him.

“The senator says she’s for Bernie,” Biden said focusing on his chief rivals Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who stood on his right and left on the stage. “Well, I’m for Barack — I think the Obamacare worked.” He was referring to Warren’s support for Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan.

Healthcare was the top issue for the candidates, with Biden advocating incremental improvement in Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as did Senator Amy Klobuchar and others such as Warren and Sanders going for a complete overhaul. Still others such as Senator Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg backed the “Medicare for All” plan with a few tweaks of their own.

It was healthcare, again, that led to the debate’s testiest exchange, involving Biden and Julian Castro, a former Obama cabinet official who is more than 30 years younger. As he repeatedly queried Biden on an element of his healthcare plan, he aggressively accused the vice-president of not remembering what he had said just moments before. “Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?”

Castro has been defending himself since against accusations that was a mean-spirited attack intended to raise questions about Biden’s qualification for the job at age 76. Sanders at 78 is older, but he has not faced the sort of questions Biden has from the time he jumped into the race.

Castro also attacked Biden, at one point, for disowning deportation of illegal immigrants ordered by President Obama, while he embraced other element the former president’s legacy. “I mean, he wants to take credit for Obama’s work, but not have to answer to any questions,” he said. Senator Cory Booker had slammed Biden with the same argument in a previous debate.

There was broad agreement among the candidates in their opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and his trade wars, though they agreed with the need to discipline China. They all backed ending the war in Afghanistan, but some of them differed on time-lines and residual forces so as to not repeat the mistake in Iraq, where the Islamic state had rushed in to fill the void left behind by the complete withdrawal of US troops in 2011.

None of the 10 candidates had a breakout moment, but Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who has struggled to live up to his rockstar reputation, found himself centerstage on the issue of gun control, for his work following the massacre in El Paso, his hometown. And he grabbed the chance to build on it with an aggressive pitch for gun control, especially, military-style assault weapons. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said.

Andrew Chang, an entrepreneur who is running a very popular insurgent campaign, sought to grab attention with a plan to given financial support from his campaign funds to 10 American families for a year, as a part of a broader plan to expand it to all Americans if he was elected to the White House.

There were also calls for unity from the candidate with an eye on the larger task before them: unseating President Donald Trump, who was called a “racist”, a “white supremacist”.

First Published: Sep 13, 2019 22:06 IST