(Reuters) – Ten Democratic presidential candidates took the debate stage on Wednesday night for the first head-to-head primary face-off.
The sparks quickly flew as candidates sought to contrast one another on healthcare and immigration. Here are some highlights from the debate.
ABOLISH PRIVATE INSURANCE?
Hands flying in the air and voices raised, the first divisions between the candidates flared over a question about whether Americans should get to keep private health insurance under Democratic plans to expand healthcare coverage.
Two candidates, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, raised their hands enthusiastically in support of replacing a private insurance system with a government-run Medicare for All.
Warren rejected politicians who call such proposals impossible.
“What they’re really telling you is they just won’t fight for it,” she said. “Well, healthcare is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights.”
When former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke said he would not eliminate private insurance, de Blasio interrupted: “How can you defend a system that is not working?”
Former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, a little-known candidate, muscled his way into the conversation to defend the position of the party’s moderate wing. He pointed out that his father enjoyed the private health benefits negotiated through his union. “Why do we have to stand for taking away something from people?”
ABORTION GENDER GAP
Washington Governor Jay Inslee stumbled into the tricky dynamics of a race featuring a record number of female candidates with an attempt to tout his strong support for abortion rights.
“I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a women’s right of reproductive health and health insurance,” he said, saying health insurance companies should not be allowed to deny women’s reproductive choice rights.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota shot back with a stinging rebuke: “There are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.”
TEXAS TUSSLE OVER IMMIGRATION
The Democratic candidates can agree that they oppose Republican President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration. But the two contenders from the border state of Texas showcased divisions within the party about what to do about it.
Julian Castro, a former U.S. housing secretary and the only Hispanic candidate in the field, supports repealing a federal statute that he said has criminalized border crossings to incarcerate immigrants and controversially separate children from their parents.
He called out O’Rourke for not joining him. “It’s a mistake, Beto.”
“You’re just looking at one small part of this,” O’Rourke said. “I’m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.”
Castro, trailing in opinion polls, shot back: “That’s just not true.”
“If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section,” Castro added.
Additional reporting by Diane Bartz and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis