In first Democratic debate, candidates clash on health care but unite against big business

The Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

During the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, the candidates on the stage in Miami unified on several issues, digging into President Trump and criticizing big businesses for perpetuating the wealth gap in the U.S., but remained staunchly divided on health care.

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The candidates vying to replace Trump in the Oval Office included a cast of 10 people looking to set themselves apart from the competition and ranged from well-known senators and Congress members to political neophytes.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — the frontrunner on night one of the debates and a staunch consumer advocate — used her time to hit home some of her most oft-touted reasons for running for president: The economy works in favor of those at the top percentile, and corporations are taking advantage of the American worker.

“It’s doing great, for a thinner and thinner slice at the top. It’s doing great for giant drug companies. It’s just not doing great for people who are trying to get a prescription filled,” she said.

Warren was joined by other Democrats, who are hoping to present a unified front as they look to unseat Trump, in looking for ways to narrow income inequality in the U.S. Also, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., accused companies like Amazon and Halliburton of dodging taxes; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN., called for a plan to make college more affordable; and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, urged that the economy needs to work for “everyone.”

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Cracks, however, appeared in that united facade on the issue of health care.

Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were the only two candidates to raise their hands when asked whether they supported eliminating private health insurance and moving to a Medicare-for-all system.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential election — as the Trump administration looks to dismantle the entirety of the Affordable Care Act — a line has been drawn between more progressive Democrats who want to sweep health care under the arm of the government — and those who want to keep it public.

O’Rourke said he would not replace private insurance. Klobuchar, meanwhile, pushed an incremental approach, saying that while she shared the goal of universal health care, “23 million would see a reduction in their premiums” under Medicare-for-all.

“I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off their health insurance in four years, which is exactly what this bill says,” she said, in a seeming jab at Warren.

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The second debate will take place on Thursday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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