Progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren fended off attacks from moderate rivals over "Medicare for All" in the first night of the second Democratic presidential debates on Tuesday.
The two candidates, standing next to each other at center stage, rebuffed criticism from lesser-known rivals who sought to poke holes in the health-care overhaul.
The two senators agree broadly on policy but are likely each other's strongest obstacle to the Democratic nomination. On Tuesday, the two New England senators demonstrated a united front.
The most pointed attacks came from former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who has previously said that the proposal amounted to "political suicide." Delaney resumed that attack Tuesday, and accused Warren and Sanders of "telling half the country that their health insurance is illegal."
"You're wrong," Sanders told him. "Five minutes away from here, John, is a country. It's called Canada. They guarantee health care to every man, woman and child as a human right. They spend half of what we spend. And by the way when you end up in a hospital in Canada you come out with no bill at all."
"We are not trying to take away health care from anyone," Warren said. "That's what the Republicans are trying to do. And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that health care."
Other candidates also piled in, including author Marianne Williamson, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Williamson said she was "normally way over there" with Sanders and Warren, but pushed back on the notion that criticism of Medicare for All amounted to repeating Republican talking points.
"On this one, I hear the others. And I have some concern about that as well. And I do have concern about what the Republicans would say," Williamson said. "And that's not just a Republican talking point. I do have concern that it will be difficult. I do have concern that it will make it harder to win. And I have a concern that it will make it harder to govern."
Ryan and Sanders feuded over whether union members would get better health care under Medicare for All versus with the health-care plans negotiated by their unions. Sanders said Medicare for All would provide better care, but Ryan said Sanders couldn't know that.
"I do know it. I wrote the damn bill," Sanders said.
Bullock, who did not meet the cut-off for the first debates in Miami last month, called the plan "an example of wish-list economics."
"We can get there with a public option, negotiated drug prices," he said.
"I share their progressive values, but I'm a little more pragmatic," said Hickenlooper. "It would be an evolution, not a revolution."
"I just have a better way to do this," Klobuchar said.
At times, the attacks grew personal. Delaney pushed hardest — and drew the hardest rebuke from Sanders.
"I've done the math and it doesn't add up," Delaney, a former businessman who founded a health-care finance company, told Sanders.
"Maybe you did that and made money off of health care, but our job is to run a nonprofit health-care system," Sanders responded.