Democratic presidential hopefuls took aim at Elizabeth Warren in a televised debate on Tuesday, in the latest sign that the Massachusetts senator is seen as a frontrunner in the race to take on Donald Trump next year.
Ms Warren is neck and neck with former US vice-president Joe Biden according to an average of national polls compiled by the website Real Clear Politics, and raised almost $10 million more than him in the third quarter.
She has largely avoided attacks from rivals in previous debates but came under sharp criticism for her support for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, which would effectively eliminate private health insurance in the US.
Ms Warren refused to concede the plan, which is estimated to cost more than $30 trillion over 10 years, would result in higher taxes for the middle class. Rather, she insisted healthcare “costs” would fall for most Americans.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, accused Ms Warren of avoiding a “yes or no answer”. His criticisms were echoed by Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, who said: “We have to tell the American people where to send the invoice.”
Ms Klobuchar, who has positioned herself as a moderate, also clashed with Ms Warren over her plans for a wealth tax, after the Massachusetts senator said she was the only candidate standing up to billionaires.
“I want to give a reality check to Elizabeth. No one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires,” she said in a reference to Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Steyer. Mr Steyer also participated in Tuesday’s debate and called for Mr Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy to be rolled back.
Mr Biden accused Ms Warren of being “vague” in her campaign promises, leading to a fiery exchange over the senator’s record in setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The former US vice-president claimed he “went on the floor” of the Senate and garnered votes for Dodd-Frank, the 2011 legislation that established the bureau.
Tuesday’s debate marked the first time the candidates shared the stage since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump.
All of the candidates said they supported impeachment proceedings but Mr Biden faced questions about Mr Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that he acted improperly in relation to his son, Hunter, and his business interests in Ukraine and China.
Hunter Biden said in an ABC television interview on Tuesday that he did not regret serving in an unpaid role on the board of a Chinese private equity group, or taking up a lucrative board position with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
On Tuesday night Joe Biden said: "My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government of rooting out corruption in Ukraine."
The debate was also the first big campaign event for Mr Sanders since he suffered a heart attack this month. After taking almost two weeks off to recover, the 78-year-old senator has vowed to stay in the race but said he would “change the nature” of his campaign. Mr Sanders said he was “healthy” and “feeling great” ahead of a campaign rally in New York next week.
Twenty Democrats are still vying for the party’s presidential nomination, but 12 qualified for Tuesday’s debate – the fourth this year – based on their polling figures and fundraising requirements as set out by the Democratic National Committee.
Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii, clashed with Mr Buttigieg over foreign policy in a tense exchange over Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
Ms Gabbard, who has called for a halt to “endless wars” in the Middle East, said both Republicans and Democrats had the “blood of the Kurds” on their hands for supporting the “regime change war” in Syria.
Mr Buttigieg said Ms Gabbard was “dead wrong”, adding: “The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it’s a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.”
Other participants in the debate included Cory Booker, the US senator from New Jersey; Julián Castro, who was housing secretary in Barack Obama's administration; Kamala Harris, the US senator from California; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019