2020 Elections

Democrats square off over health care, race in 2020 presidential primary debate

Sen. Kamala Harris and Joe Biden spar over record on race

A group of 10 Democrats, including some of the top contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination, took the stage Thursday night to round out the first primary election debate.

The major issues of the night — and points of contention among the candidates — included health care, race, gun control and immigration. 

Half of the debate participants squared off Wednesday night in Miami, calling for changes to boost the working class and showing competing visions for health care and immigration. Thursday's debate stage featured four of the top five candidates, according to the vast majority of early national and state primary polls: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Presidential contenders started off attacking Trump earlier and more often than the 10 candidates did Wednesday. Sanders, Biden and Harris all targeted the 2017 Republican tax cuts for giving the most relief to corporations and the wealthy. Multiple candidates attacked Trump's immigration policy and separation of migrant children from families. 

Meanwhile, Sanders defended his push for single-payer "Medicare for All" — sparking cross talk and shouting across the stage. Both Sanders and Harris said they would scrap the private insurance industry — the only candidates to say so. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., argued the system is not feasible.

Biden and Buttigieg, among others, said they prefer a public health care option. Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she prefers a transition to Medicare for All without eliminating private insurance. 

Democratic presidential hopeful Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg speaks during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The health care discussion earned Trump's attention. When every candidate on stage raised their hands saying their health care plans would cover undocumented immigrants, the president tweeted, "That's the end of that race!" 

Meanwhile, Thursday's contenders joined Wednesday's participants in trying to make their case as the candidate best equipped to lift the working class. Candidates including Harris argued a strong economy under Trump does not filter down to the working class.

Biden, who emerged as the early frontrunner in the race by leading in nearly every survey, made it through half of the two-hour debate without a targeted attack from a rival. Then Harris went after him for his comments about working with segregationist senators — calling them "hurtful" to her as a black woman — and his record on the desegregation of student busing. The senator said "there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me." 

The 10 candidates faced off at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. The debates, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo, aired live on those networks both nights. CNBC also streamed them.

Jose Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd moderated the debate for a second night. Thursday's event features the same rules as Wednesday's: 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow ups.

Here's who will take the stage during Thursday's debate, listed in alphabetical order:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
  • Author Marianne Williamson
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Here's the group that already squared off on Wednesday:

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro
  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Former Rep. John Delaney
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hi.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
  • Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke
  • Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

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