Candidates found a foil in Biden and the former vice president came more prepared for the punches this go-around.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker telegraphed that Wednesday night’s debate could turn into a brawl. It did.
Flanked by the African American senators, the former vice president absorbed blows over his criminal-justice record and health care as plan but also showed a new willingness to hit back.
But other candidates, including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, were also eager to get into the ring — and spotlight — with Biden.
Here’s a look at the key moments of the two-hour debate on CNN:
Biden, Harris spar over health care
Harris said the Biden campaign is “probably confused” about her health care plan because they haven’t read the proposal. Harris’ plan is a version of Medicare for All that allows for a private plan. The plan would be phased in over 10 years.
“The senator’s had several plans so far, and anytime someone tells you you’re gonna get something good in 10 years, you should wonder why it takes 10 years,” Biden said. “If you notice, there’s no talk about the fact that the plan in 10 years will cost $3 trillion. You will lose your employer-based insurance.”
He added: “You can’t beat President Trump with double talk on this plan.”
Biden had a message for Harris as she joined him on stage. The two candidates, whose clash marked the most memorable moment of last month’s debates in Miami, shook hands as they waited for the other eight candidates to be introduced.
“Go easy on me, kid,” Biden told Harris, smiling.
De Blasio comes out swinging
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio used his opening statement to contrast himself with the top polling candidates on stage: Biden and Harris.
“There are good people on this stage, but there are real differences,” de Blasio said. “Joe Biden told wealthy donors that nothing fundamentally would change if he were president. Kamala Harris said she’s not trying to restructure society. Well, I am.”
Biden bounces back on busing
After suffering a huge blow from Harris over his position on busing and desegregation decades ago, Biden called out Harris’ tenure as California’s attorney general. The state, Biden said, has two of the most segregated school districts in the country in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“I didn’t see a single solitary time she brought a cast against them to desegregate,” Biden said going on to criticize actions Harris didn’t take when a police department was accused of abusing people’s rights. “If you doubt me, Google, ‘1,000 prisoners freed, Kamala Harris.’”
Harris disputed Biden’s comments, insisting what he said “is simply not true.”
Gillibrand vs. Biden on pay equity
Gillibrand turned a question about pay equity into an opportunity to confront Biden, referencing an editorial he wrote about child care that said working women would “create the deterioration of family” and were “avoiding responsibility.” She asked if she, as a sitting member of Congress, was contributing to the deterioration of family because she had access to quality and affordable day care as a working mom.
“That was a long time ago,” Biden said, going on to explain his rationale and recalling a time she joined him at Syracuse and commended him on his advocacy for equality. “I don’t know what’s happened except that you’re now running for president.”
Harris noted Biden recently changed his long-held position the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for almost all abortions. “Do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?” she asked.
Biden owns Iraq vote
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Biden were both in Congress when they voted on going to war in Iraq. “I made the right judgment,” said Inslee, who voted against it.
Biden conceded that he “did make a bad judgment” in trusting President George W. Bush. “From the moment shock and awe started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress and administration,” he continued.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro made the case for congressional Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. He argued that times have changed since President Bill Clinton was impeached and that Democrats today are making a mistake if they forgo trying to remove Trump from office.
Castro said Trump would say next fall that Democrats didn’t try to impeach him because he did nothing wrong. “Conversely, if Mitch McConnell is the one that lets him off the hook, we’re gonna be able to say, ‘Well sure, they impeached him in the House, but his friend Mitch McConnell, Moscow Mitch, let him off the hook.”
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said he agreed. “We have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “It is incredibly unusual for members of Congress to be able to do that.”
Castro highlights Puerto Rico
Castro, the only Latino candidate in the field, invoked Puerto Rico in his opening remarks, alluding to its leader’s recent resignation following protests from residents on the island.
“We were reminded and inspired by our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico that public service is not fundamentally about any of us. It’s about you and your family,” he said.
As president, Castro pledged to fight for health care and jobs in big cities and small towns. “I don’t want to make America anything again,” he said, referencing President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. “We’re not going back where we came from. We’re gonna move forward.”
Booker tried to respond to Trump’s recent criticism of Baltimore and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. But he was interrupted by chanting inside the debate hall that lasted for 30 seconds or so.
Some reports suggested the chants were calls to fire the police officer who killed Eric Garner in New York five years ago.
‘Dipping into the Kool-Aid’
Booker ended a brief exchange with Biden over criminal justice by reciting a saying in the black community: “You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.”
He urged Biden to visit Newark to see the reforms he put in place as mayor after Biden had noted that under Booker’s leadership, Newark’s police department “engaged in stop-and-frisk” practices that targeted African Americans and was cited by the Justice Department for inappropriate behavior.
“Nothing happened — the entire time you were mayor,” Biden said.
Moments earlier, however, Biden had began to refer to Booker as “the president” and then “the future president” before finally calling him “senator.”
“I’m glad he endorsed my presidency already,” Booker said with a smile.
Biden puts on the gloves
Biden didn’t attack anybody candidates directly in his opening remarks. But he expressed a willingness to do so.
“Tonight, I think Democrats are expecting some engagement here,” he said. “And I expect we’ll get it.”
He did, however, go after Trump.
“Mr. President, let’s get something straight: We love it. We are not leaving it,” he said, referring to the country. “We are here to stay and we’re certainly not gonna leave it to you.”
Dems debate math
The health care debate quickly turned to a discussion of numbers. Biden called the idea that Democrats are using GOP talking points “a bunch of malarkey” and referenced the $30 trillion price tag of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan for Medicare for All.
“I don’t know what math you do in New York. I don’t know what math you do in California,” he said, talking to de Blasio and Harris. “But I tell ya, that’s a lot of money, and there will be a deductible. The deductible will be out of your paycheck because that’s what we require.”
“Yeah, let’s talk about math,” Harris responded, highlighting the $72 billion the pharmaceutical and insurance companies made last year. She told Biden that under his plan, the “status quo, you do nothing to hold the insurance companies to task for what they have been doing to American families.”
Obama officials go at it
Castro pulled the field to the left on immigration by supporting decriminalizing illegal border crossings. The issue was one of his highlights in the last debate.
Biden argued that it should be a crime to illegally cross the border. “It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t,” Castro said, prompting applause. “What we need are politicians who actually have some guts on this issue.
“I have guts enough to say his plan doesn’t make sense,” Biden said of Castro’s immigration proposal.
De Blasio called out Biden for refusing to clearly answer questions. “I don’t hear an answer from the vice president. I’m confused,” he said. “I asked the vice president point blank did he use his power to stop those deportations.”
De Blasio added that Biden “went right around the question,” but insisted that if Biden wants to be president, he has to answer tough questions because Trump wouldn’t let him off the look.
Biden said he kept his recommendations to President Barack Obama private “unlike you.” “I’d expect you’d go ahead and say whatever was said privately,” he told de Blasio. “That’s not what I do.”
Booker argued that Biden can’t have it both ways. “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not,” Booker said.
The idea that immigrants with a doctorate can come into the country, Booker said, plays into Republicans’ hands by pitting immigrants against each other.
“Some are from shithole countries, and some are from important countries,” he said, quoting Trump. “We need to reform this whole immigration system and begin to be the country that says everyone has worth and dignity, and this should be a country that honors everyone. Don’t let the Republicans divide this party against itself.”
Gabbard ‘deeply concerned’ by Harris’ record
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard criticized Harris’ record as a prosecutor. “There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said. Harris was shown shaking her head in a split screen.
Gillibrand steps up on race
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said the onus shouldn’t be solely on Booker and Harris to talk about issues that face black people. As a white woman running for president, she said, it’s her responsibility to lift up voices.
“I can talk to those white women in the suburbs that voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is, that when their son is walking down a street with a bag of M&Ms in his pocket, wearing a hoodie, his whiteness is what protects him from not being shot,” she said.