US Democrats divided as debate gets detailed on health and borders
Warren and Sanders at centre stage amid split on progressive policy
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders offered an unabashed defence of their progressive policies during the latest debate on Tuesday to pick a Democratic presidential candidate.
The debate frequently pitted the two senators against the other eight candidates on stage, with healthcare and immigration policy highlighting the divisions between the two camps.
On the first night of back-to-back debates, Democrats were united in stressing the urgency of defeating President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. But they delivered bruising critiques of party rivals' positions as policy disagreements dominated the nearly three-hour event.
The dispute between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic Party highlighted the central question of the nominating contest: Which candidate in the field of more than two dozen would be best positioned to beat Mr Trump next year?
The moderate wing, led at times by Montana governor Steve Bullock, argued Democrats risk losing voters after moving too far to the left in the opening debate last month in Miami.
"Watching that last debate, folks seemed more concerned about scoring points or outdoing each other with wish-list economics than making sure Americans know we hear their voices and will help their lives," said Mr Bullock, who emerged as a forceful voice in his first presidential debate.
In contrast, progressives argued their policies would excite voters and allow them to draw a contrast to Mr Trump.
Ms Warren rebuked former US Representative John Delaney, who often played the role of foil to the progressives during the debate, firing back at his criticism of her policies.
"I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for," she said.
Mr Sanders also bristled at arguments that his proposals could not be realistically achieved, saying: "I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas."
Mr Trump has been eager to paint the entire Democratic field as socialists, seeking to make any eventual nominee unsavoury for voters by arguing that they want to raise taxes, open the borders and take away private healthcare.
Mr Trump's campaign spokeswoman echoed that sentiment in a statement about the debate, calling the field "radical Democrats" with a "socialist message".
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, encouraged his party to ignore Mr Trump's inevitable criticism.
"If we embrace a far-left agenda, they're going to say we're a bunch of crazy socialists," he said. "If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they're going to do? They're going to say we're a bunch of crazy socialists."
As the front-runners, Mr Sanders and Ms Warren vowed not to attack each other, but needed to distinguish themselves in their bid to gain ground on the leader in the race, former vice president Joe Biden.
Instead, they often teamed up to defend policy positions they share instead of drawing contrasts.
The first section of the debate centred on the future of the US healthcare system, and whether Democrats should embrace a government takeover of the health insurance industry.
Democrats have made access to affordable healthcare one of their defining issues as the Trump administration has worked to chip away at president Barack Obama's signature 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The candidates also differed on immigration policy - disagreeing on whether illegal border crossings should be decriminalised.
"You don't have to decriminalise everything," Mr Bullock said. "What you have to do is to have a president in there with the judgment and the decency to treat someone that comes to the border like one of our own."
Ms Warren disagreed: "We need to expand legal immigration, we need to create a path for citizenship not just for dreamers but for grandmas and for people who have been working here in the farms and for students who have overstayed their visas."