Rising Elizabeth Warren weathers Democratic debate pile-on

Bloomberg Washington | Updated on October 16, 2019 Published on October 16, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the fourth US Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio US, October 15, 2019.   -  REUTERS

Democratic presidential candidates treated Elizabeth Warren like a front-runner in the fourth debate on Tuesday, ripping into the progressive contender on her sincerity and poking holes in her signature policy plans to provide health care for all and tax the rich.

The race is rapidly becoming a two-person contest between Warren and Joe Biden, who are polling neck-and-neck and far ahead of the pack. Other candidates, many of whom are courting moderate Democrats and risk failing to qualify for the November debate, made it an uncomfortable evening for Warren, but they failed to knock her off stride.

For his part, Biden skimmed through the debate and maintained his focus on attacking President Donald Trump on domestic policy, foreign relations and presidential leadership. He faced no criticism from any rivals for his son Hunter’s work on the board of a foreign company in Ukraine, while he was Vice President, an issue that sits at the centre of a House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Biden deflected an early question about his sons arrangement, insisting that neither of them did anything wrong and the fault was solely with Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate his family. He never had to address the issue again in the three-hour debate.

Democratic strategist Adam Jentleson said the Democrats who went negative on the Massachusetts senator were broadcasting that they think Warren is the one to beat. “There’s big backlash risk to them because Warren is extremely well-liked,” Jentleson said. “She was cool under pressure and turned the attacks into made-for-TV clap-backs.”

Higher taxes?

Pete Buttigieg questioned Warren’s honesty when she declined to give a yes or no answer on whether her health care plan will raise taxes on the middle class. “Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything except this,” he told her at the CNN-New York Times debate in Westerville, Ohio. “I don’t understand why you believe the only way to get affordable coverage for everybody is to obliterate private plans.”

Warren who has adopted Bernie Sander’s “Medicare for All” plan to put all Americans in an expanded Medicare programme diverted the issue to overall health care costs, promising to only sign into a law a bill that that lowers expenses for middle-class families.

That was not enough for Amy Klobuchar. “At least Bernie’s being honest here,” she said, after Sanders declared that taxes would go up to cover the $30 trillion cost of the plan. “And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, you have not said that.”

It was a marked change on the debate stage for Biden, who had been the clear front-runner since the start of the nomination contest, and generally took the most attacks from his Democratic rivals.

It’s not clear the offensive will help the Democrats break out of the pack, with all but Warren, Biden and Sanders polling in single digits.

In earlier debates, going negative has often hurt candidates with party voters, many of whom are desperate to defeat Trump, and worry that an ugly primary will leave their nominee bloodied before the general election.

Multiple challenges

Kamala Harris went after Warren for refusing to join her demand that Twitter suspend Trump’s account for allegedly inciting violence, and repeatedly challenged Warren to back her proposal. “Warren didn’t bite. I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter,” she said, “I want to push him out of the White House.”

Later, Beto O’Rourke said that sometimes Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive, while discussing her plan to tax wealth above $50 million. He said the goal should instead be lifting people up.

Warren brushed it off, saying she’s really shocked than anyone thinks that she was punitive, and adding that she does not have a beef with billionaires, but rather believes they should pay higher taxes.

Tulsi Gabbard joined in, challenging Warren to support her calls for ending wars. Warren responded that shed prefer to get out of West Asia, but that we have to do it the right way, the smart way.

The attacks on Warren had an upside for her, ensuring that she had the most speaking time of anyone on stage, according to a tracker by the New York Times. The rules of the debate stated that a candidate whos referenced by a rival is allowed to respond.

“Almost every candidate in single digits seems to have made a real attempt to go after Warren,” said progressive strategist Rebecca Katz. “But if they’re still in single digits after 10 months of campaigning, its probably too little too late,” she said, referring to their standing in polls.

O’Rourke defended Biden against Trump’s attacks, accusing Facebook of telling lies about the Vice President.

In the middle of the debate, O’Rourke’s campaign took another swipe at Warren. “Beto has been very clear that he will not raise taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year. Senator Warren has not provided the same level of clarity,” said ORourke campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt. “Warren needs to be straight with middle-class people about the taxes they would face under her plans.”

Published on October 16, 2019
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