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Joe Biden Faces Criticism over His Healthcare Plan & His Support for Iraq Invasion at Third Debate

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Image Credit: ABC

The 10 leading Democratic presidential candidates appeared for the first time on the same stage Thursday night at a debate at Texas Southern University in Houston. It was the third debate of the primary season, but it marked the first time former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren took part in the same debate. Biden repeatedly faced criticism for his healthcare plans and for his vote to support the war in Iraq.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The 10 leading Democratic presidential candidates appeared for the first time on the same stage Thursday night at a debate at Texas Southern University in Houston. It was the third debate of the primary season but marked the first time that former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren took part in the same debate. Biden repeatedly defended the policies of former President Obama as he clashed with his rivals. In one of the most contentious moments of the debate, Obama’s former Housing Secretary Julián Castro questioned Biden’s memory during an exchange about their healthcare plans.

JOE BIDEN: The option I’m proposing is a Medicare for All in a Medicare for choice. If you want Medicare, if you lose the job from your insurance company — from your employer, you automatically can buy into this. You don’t have — no pre-existing condition can stop you from buying in. You get covered, period.

JULIÁN CASTRO: I want every single American family to have a strong Medicare plan available. If they choose to hold onto strong, solid private health insurance, I believe they should be able to do that. But the difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in, and I would not require them to opt in. They would automatically be enrolled. They wouldn’t have to buy in. That’s a big difference, because Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave 10 million people uncovered. He wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that; your plan would not.

JOE BIDEN: They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.

JULIÁN CASTRO: You just said that. You just said —


JULIÁN CASTRO: — that two minutes ago. You just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy in.

JOE BIDEN: They do not have to buy in if they can’t afford it.

JULIÁN CASTRO: You said they would have to buy in.

JOE BIDEN: Your grandmother would not have to buy in. If she qualifies for Medicaid —

JULIÁN CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?

JOE BIDEN: — she’d automatically be in for it.

JULIÁN CASTRO: Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in, and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy.

JOE BIDEN: No, no.

JULIÁN CASTRO: You’re forgetting that.

AMY GOODMAN: After the debate, The Washington Post questioned the accuracy of Castro’s comments. The Post reports he was incorrect that Biden forgot something about his own plan; it was Castro who forgot what Biden said.

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke received some of the loudest applause of the night when he discussed enacting new gun control measures after the two recent mass shootings in Texas.

BETO O’ROURKE: And in Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15. And that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour, because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren’t enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On the foreign policy front, Senator Bernie Sanders chided Joe Biden for voting to support the war in Iraq.

JOE BIDEN: With regard to — with regard to Iraq, the fact of the matter is that, you know, I should have never voted to give Bush the authority to go in and do what he said he was going to do. The AUMF was designed, he said, to go in and get the Security Council to vote 15 to nothing to allow inspectors to go in to determine whether or not anything was being done with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons. And when that happened, he went ahead and went anyway without any of that proof. I said something that was not meant the way I said it.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me just comment on something that the vice president said. You talked about the big mistake in Iraq and the surge. The truth is, the big mistake, the huge mistake, and one of the big differences between you and me, I never believed what Cheney and Bush said about Iraq.

JOE BIDEN: You’re right.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I voted against the war in Iraq and helped lead the opposition. And it’s sad to say, I mean, I kind of, you know, had the feeling that there would be massive destabilization in that area if we went into that war.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Senator Biden criticized Sanders’ plan for Medicare for All.

JOE BIDEN: And if you noticed, nobody has yet said how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer. I hear this large savings. The president thinks — my friend from Vermont thinks that the employer’s going to give you back, if you negotiated as union all these years, got a cut in wages because you got insurance. They’re going to give back that money to the employee?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Matter of fact, they will, in our bill.

JOE BIDEN: Well, let me tell you something: For a socialist, you’ve got a — for a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence of corporate America than I do.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: OK. One minute, George?


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: All right. Two points.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: You’ve got to defend the fact that today not only do we have 87 million people uninsured and underinsured, you’ve got to defend the fact that 500,000 Americans are going bankrupt. You know why they’re going bankrupt? Because they suffered a terrible disease: cancer or heart disease. Under my legislation, people will not go into financial ruin because they suffered with a diagnosis of cancer. And our program is the only one that does that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in one of the more unusual debate moments, the tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang unveiled a plan that may violate campaign finance laws.

ANDREW YANG: It’ time to trust ourselves more than our politicians. That’s why I’m going to do something unprecedented tonight. My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families, someone watching this at home right now. If you believe that you can solve your own problems better than any politician, go to and tell us how $1,000 a month will help you do just that.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we’ll hear clips from the ABC/Univision debate and host a roundtable discussion. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Tomorrow Is the Question!” by Ornette Coleman. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As we continue to look at the third Democratic debate, we’re joined by three guests. Joining us in Houston, where the debate was held, Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based nonprofit that helps undocumented members of the city’s Latino community. He attended last night’s debate. And in Philadelphia, Julian Brave NoiseCat, a journalist who belongs to the Secwepemc and St’at’imc Nations. He’s the director of the Green New Deal strategy at the think tank Data for Progress. And in Washington is Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change.

I wanted to begin with Cesar. Your reaction? You were there at the debate. Talk to us about your immediate sense of how the debate went.

CESAR ESPINOSA: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me.

I think there could have been a lot more substance in terms of our issue, which is the issue of immigration. Many topics that were talked about were talked about very broadly. But when it came to actually putting immigrants into the conversation, a lot of the candidates failed to do so. I mean, and this covers the gamut of education, healthcare and, obviously, immigration reform.

The other thing that really we were disheartened by was the fact that a single candidate did not really have the answers to a very necessary problem that we have now, which is the issue of immigration reform. Many of them talked about broad strokes, about a potential plan. But in concrete, a detailed plan of how we’re going to bring 11.5 million people out of the shadows, how we’re going to bring 1 million DREAMers and TPS recipients out of the shadows, was not really talked about in substance.

We do applaud the fact that Julián Castro talked about a TPS for Venezuelans, but we would also have liked to see talks about a TPS for the Bahamian people, who are right now suffering one of the biggest crises, if not the biggest crisis, the country has faced.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to also turn to Rashad Robinson in Washington, D.C. You’re there for the Congressional Black Caucus major gathering this weekend. But you watched the debate last night. Talk about what you felt was most significant.

RASHAD ROBINSON: I think what’s most significant, and what continued to be most significant, that, yes, these debates give us an opportunity to see where the candidates stand, where the country stands, and have the candidates talk about these issues in broad ways, and maybe sometimes in detailed ways. But there’s a real gap between the what and the how. This is not simply about the sort of fine details of the individual candidates’ campaigns, because, in fact, you know, if you go to the polls and vote for Biden, you’re not going to necessarily get Biden’s healthcare plan. If you go to the polls and vote for Bernie, you’re not going to necessarily get Bernie’s healthcare plan.

The gap between what’s in their proposal and the actual how it’s going to get done and how they’re actually going to move it is actually where movements come into play. And we’re not looking for a candidate who’s going to be the leader of our movements. We need candidates that understand how to work with our movements, how to engage our movements. In fact, one of the big challenges in ’08 is that Obama came into office and really tried to build his own movement, tried to be the leader of the movement.

I do think, for all of these candidates, the ability to actually get these policies done, inside of a system that is deeply entrenched with corporations and all sort of incentive structures that will stand in the way of the type of progress that pushes back against the profiteers and all of those that are standing in the way of progress, really requires us to have the type of people power to get it done. And that actually is how we have an honest conversation. And unfortunately, the back-and-forth sometimes about individual details is for naught, if we don’t actually have the real conversation about power and how we leverage power and leverage everyday people to actually get these things done.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Julian Brave NoiseCat, your overall response to the debate, what was and wasn’t included?

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: You know, I think that the prior two guests raised some really important questions. You know, the issue area questions, especially about immigration in a place like Houston in the context of the climate crisis, incredibly important. How the candidates plan to actually enact their policies, also very important.

I was struck personally by the talent on stage last night. You know, I’m a millennial. I scroll Twitter. And I saw that folks were comparing Team Blue to The Avengers. And I guess the question is, if we’re going to run with that analogy, you know: Which episode of The Avengers is it? Is it, you know, Endgame or Infinity War? Are we going to beat Thanos this time, or are we not? And within the party, you know, is there enough young talent to take on someone like Joe Biden and maybe even win the nomination? And, you know, I was very impressed by the talking points put forward by a number of rising voices in the party, but I think whether one of those folks can rise to the top and become the nominee is still a very open question.

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