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On Thursday night, the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates faced off on a debate stage for the first time, in Houston. The extended debate duration -- three hours instead of two -- enabled longer, more in-depth policy explanations. For the most part, the tone was civil, but Julian Castro's attack on Joe Biden's memory struck some viewers as overly personal and mean. Lisa Desjardins reports.
On one stage for the first time, the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates, according to opinion polls, squared off in Houston last night.
Over almost three hours, they underlined their own cases for why they should be the party's 2020 nominee.
Lisa Desjardins was there, and has this report.
Good evening, and welcome to Houston.
It was the longest debate yet, allowing for deeper discussion of policy divides, starting with health care.
Former Vice President Joe Biden touted his idea to let more Americans opt in to Medicare, and charged that universal health care plans from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren simply cost too much.
My plan for health care costs a lot of money. It costs $740 billion. It doesn't cost $30 trillion.
Thus far, my distinguished friend, the senator on my left, has not indicated how she pays for it. And the senator has, in fact, come forward and said how he's going to pay for it, but it gets him about halfway there.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:
The answer is on Medicare for all costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals, and costs are going to go up for giant corporations. But for hardworking families across this country, costs are going to go down. And that's how it should work.
Sanders, who first proposed Medicare for all, was in his element.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:
Let us be clear, Joe. In the United States of America, we are spending twice as much per capita on health care as the Canadians or any other major country on earth.
This is America.
Yes, but Americans don't want to pay twice as much as other countries.
What people want is cost-effective health care. Medicare for all will save the average American substantial sums of money on his or her health care.
The tone turned more aggressive after Biden said this about his plan to automatically enroll some people into Medicare.
If you want Medicare, if you lose the job from your insurance company — from your employer, you automatically can buy into this.
Biden's words were complicated.
And former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who would enroll everyone into Medicare, questioned Biden's consistency.
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 a buy in.
They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.
You just said that.
Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?
Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?
Some heard Castro's words as attacks on Biden's age.
This morning, Castro responded.
I wouldn't do it differently. That wasn't a personal attack.
With that exception, it was a civil debate, with candidates raising hands and often calling for common ground.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:
What unites us up here, the 10 of us, is much stronger than what divides us.
An emotional center hovered around former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, whose hometown of El Paso was devastated by a mass shooting in August.
He trumpet his call for a mandatory buyback of assault style weapons, pointing to the bloodshed in his state.
Hell, yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
A night rich in policy, candidates weighed in on a constellation of topics, from education.
Step one is, appoint a secretary of education who actually believes in public education.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:
We have more African-Americans under criminal supervision today than all the slaves in 1850. We have to come at this issue attacking systemic racism.
To the military.
I have signed a pledge to end the forever wars. We have been a state of continuous armed conflict for 18 years, which is not what the American people want.
California Senator Kamala Harris spoke directly to her would-be Republican opponent.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:
So, President Trump, you've spent the last two-and-a-half years full-time trying to sow hate and division among us.
And I plan on focusing on our common issues, our common hopes and desires, and in that way, unifying our country, winning this election, and turning the page for America.
Candidates next debate in October, when it's widely expected that more campaigns will qualify for the stage.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.
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Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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