WESTERVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) – Several Democratic presidential contenders went on the attack against surging U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on Tuesday, pushing her to explain how she would pay for her ambitious Medicare for All healthcare plan.
Democratic presidential candidates Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Rep. Beto O”Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro pose together at the start of the fourth Democratic U.S. 2020 presidential election debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
At the first debate since Warren climbed into a virtual tie with former Vice President Joe Biden in many Democratic opinion polls, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar accused Warren of being evasive on her plan for universal healthcare.
“I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where to send the invoice,” Klobuchar, a U.S. senator from Minnesota, told Warren. “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done.”
Warren said she would not sign any bill that required a tax increase on middle-class families and promised the proposal, which is also backed by her fellow progressive, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, would lower costs for everyday Americans.
“I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is that costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations and, for hard-working middle class families, costs will go down,” she said.
The expansive Medicare for All proposal, based on the government-run healthcare plan for Americans over age 65, has divided Democratic presidential contenders. Many other candidates back a Medicare-based plan as just one option for Americans seeking healthcare coverage.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, plugged his plan for “Medicare for All Who Want It,” a proposal that Warren poked fun at.
“Whenever someone hears the term Medicare for All Who Want It, understand what that really means is Medicare for All Who Can Afford It,” Warren said.
The dozen candidates cramming the debate stage in the electoral battleground state of Ohio made for the most crowded debate so far in the Democratic race to pick a challenger to Trump in the November 2020 election.
The 10 candidates who took part in last month’s third debate in Texas all qualified for Tuesday’s event, along with U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer, a billionaire activist who is making his first debate appearance.
The debate comes at a critical time, as Biden has seen his once solid lead in opinion polls in the Democratic race diminished by Warren, a leader of the party’s progressive movement, who has steadily risen over the past two months.
It also comes as all the Democratic contenders fight to be heard through the din of news about the congressional impeachment probe of Trump, with less than four months remaining until the first nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 3, 2020.
BACKING IMPEACHMENT PROBE
Democrats uniformly defended the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, saying the president needed to be held accountable for his actions and for stonewalling Congress on its probe.
The investigation focuses on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his unsubstantiated allegation that Biden improperly tried to aid his son Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine.
Biden and Sanders both said that Trump was “the most corrupt president in history,” and Congress would be remiss if it did not pursue the impeachment probe.
“Look, my son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine and that’s what we should be focused on,” Biden said. “What I think is important is we focus on why it’s so important to remove this man from office.”
Warren said: “Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences.”
Buttigieg said “the president had left Congress with no choice.” But some Democrats warned that the party should bring Americans on board to support the probe.
“We have to conduct this process in a way that is honorable,” U.S. Senator Cory Booker said.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jarrett Renshaw; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney