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Democratic debate highlights: Healthcare, gun control and party unity take center stage

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Democratic debate highlights: Healthcare, gun control and party unity take center stage

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders – the leading contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination – wasted no time in Thursday’s debate sparring over how to best expand healthcare coverage for Americans.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro at the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The divide among the candidates over the proposal known as Medicare for All, which would cover every American under a government health plan and essentially eliminate private insurance, was again laid bare in the opening moments of the Democratic Party’s third presidential debate in Houston.

But after some sharp exchanges, several of the White House hopefuls warned that too much acrimony would distract them from the ultimate goal: defeating Republican President Donald Trump in November 2020.

After another wave of mass shootings, the candidates all agreed on increasing restrictions on firearms to address gun violence, the latest sign that Democrats have made gun control a top priority for the first time in a generation.

Here are some highlights from the debate, which featured the top 10 Democrats from a field of 20 seeking the nomination:

‘THE DAMN BILL’

The first question of the night went to Biden, asking him whether liberals like Warren and Sanders had gone too far left for mainstream Democrats.

Biden quickly pivoted to healthcare, challenging Sanders of Vermont and Warren of Massachusetts to explain how they plan to pay for what some analysts expect would be a $30 trillion Medicare for All plan.

“Thus far, my distinguished friend, the senator on my left, has not said how she’s going to pay for it,” said Biden, referring to Warren.

Both Warren and Sanders were careful to avoid saying explicitly that middle-class families would see higher taxes, instead emphasizing that they would save money overall by eliminating medical costs.

“Those at the very top, the richest and corporations, are going to pay more,” Warren said. “Middle-class families are going to pay less.”

Sanders acknowledged the cost of his signature plan – but said studies show the status quo will cost Americans $50 trillion over the same time period.

“I wrote the damn bill, if I may say so,” he said, repeating his main applause line from the second debate in July.

Biden emphasized that his plan would allow people who like their private insurance to keep it, a key point of distinction from Sanders’ and Warren’s approach.

“Let’s be clear – I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren replied. “I’ve met people who like their doctors.”

When Sanders noted Americans spend far more per capita on healthcare than Canadians, Biden interrupted, saying, “This is America.”

“Americans don’t want to pay twice as much as other countries,” Sanders shot back.

MEDICARE FOR ALL: A BOLD IDEA OR A BAD IDEA?

Other candidates seeking to make their mark on the stage also took aim at Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has run as a moderate, said Sanders’ proposal would force millions of people off their insurance plans.

“While he wrote the bill, I read the bill,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think that’s a bad idea.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sought to contrast his proposal to offer a government plan as an alternative, which he describes as “Medicare for all who want it,” with Sanders’ more sweeping reform.

“The problem is that it doesn’t trust the American people,” he said of the senator’s plan. “I trust you to choose what makes the most sense for you.”

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who has released her own Medicare for All plan, redirected the conversation toward Trump. She noted that the current administration has sought to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, in federal court.

“I think this discussion has given the American people a headache,” she said. “What they want to know is that they’re going to have healthcare and the cost.”

‘A HOUSE DIVIDED’

Following the heated discussion about healthcare in the first 40 minutes of the debate, several candidates stressed the importance of standing together as Democrats, saying fighting one another would play into Trump’s hands.

Moments after former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro, 44, of Texas accused Biden, 76, of forgetting what he had just said two minutes earlier – a comment seemingly aimed at Biden’s age that many in the audience jeered – Buttigieg called for civility.

“This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” Buttigieg said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington. Scoring points against each other, poking at each other.”

Castro was unbowed. “That’s called an election. This is what we’re here for, it’s an election.”

“A house divided cannot stand,” said Klobuchar, quoting Civil War-era President Abraham Lincoln. “And that is not how we’re going to win this.

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who said while they had differences on how to pay for and deliver healthcare, every person on stage believed in universal care.

“We cannot sacrifice progress on the altar of purity,” he said.

‘HELL YES, WE’RE GOING TO TAKE YOUR AR-15’

Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso whose hometown was the site of a racially motivated mass shooting that killed 22 people last month, minced no words when asked whether he was proposing confiscating assault-style rifles.

“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said in a moment that instantly went viral, describing those guns as weapons that belong on the battlefield, not in America.

In a sign of just how much the Democratic Party has shifted on gun control, the ensuing discussion focused on ideas once seen as political dynamite: gun buybacks, assault weapon bans and licensing requirements.

Booker, who has proposed a national licensing system, said he has seen the impact of everyday gun violence in Newark, where he lives in a largely minority and low-income community and where he was mayor.

“These mass shootings are tragedies, but the majority of the homicide victims come from neighborhoods like mine,” he said.

Both Warren and Sanders blamed corruption and a Congress beholden to the gun industry for failing to pass meaningful gun reform like universal background checks. Biden touted his work in passing the original assault weapons ban decades ago, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

And Harris repeated her contention that Trump’s divisive rhetoric had inspired the El Paso shooter, who apparently wrote an anti-immigrant screed before the attack.

“Obviously he didn’t pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition,” she said of Trump.

OBAMA’S LEGACY

During the first two debates, some candidates questioned former President Barack Obama’s failure to include a public option as part of the Affordable Care Act and his mass deportations of illegal immigrants as a way of attacking Biden, Obama’s vice president for eight years.

At Thursday’s debate, however, candidates went out of their way to praise Obama, who remains the party’s most popular figure.

“I want to credit President Obama for bringing us this far,” Harris said of Obama’s signature healthcare law. Castro said America “owed a debt of gratitude” to Obama for the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

And Warren, who wants to scrap Obamacare, nevertheless praised the former president for the advances he made in providing health insurance to millions more Americans.

But Castro would later go after Biden for distancing himself from the Obama administration’s deportation policy, accusing the former vice president of cherry-picking parts of Obama’s record when it suits him.

“Every time something good about Barack Obama comes up, he says, ‘Oh, I was there, I was there, I was there, that’s me, too,’ and then every time somebody questions part of the administration that we were both part of, he says, ‘Well, that was the president,’” Castro said.

Given the chance to respond, Biden said: “I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good, bad and indifferent.”

YANG ANNOUNCES $120,000 ‘FREEDOM DIVIDEND’ GIVEAWAY

Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur whose campaign is centered on a proposal to give every American a universal basic income of $1,000 a month, announced at the debate’s outset that he was ready to put his plan to the test.

“It’s time to trust ourselves more than our politicians,” he said in his opening statement. “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.”

The unorthodox gambit left Klobuchar dissolving into admiring laughter, while Buttigieg started his own remarks by saying, “It’s original, I’ll give you that.”

Reporting by Joseph Ax and Tim Reid; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis

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Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in ‘SMEAR story’

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Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in 'SMEAR story'

President Trump blasted The New York Times over its supposed bombshell report on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, calling on “everybody” involved in the “smear” to resign.

“I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story, and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony!” Trump tweeted Monday evening.

“They’ve taken the Old Grey Lady and broken her down, destroyed her virtue and ruined her reputation… She can never recover, and will never return to Greatness, under current Management. The Times is DEAD, long live The New York Times!”

NEW YORK TIMES CRITICIZED FROM BOTH SIDES OVER NOW-REVISED KAVANAUGH ALLEGATIONS

Late Sunday, The New York Times walked back an explosive report about a resurfaced allegation of sexual assault by Kavanaugh from his college days. The piece by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, adapted from their forthcoming book, alleged there was corroboration of an incident in which Kavanaugh, as a college student at Yale, exposed himself to a female classmate at a party.

However, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway — who reviewed an advance copy of the book – flagged an omission and the paper eventually revised the controversial story after being lampooned on social media over the gaffe.

The update included the significant detail that several friends of the alleged victim said she did not recall the purported sexual assault. The newspaper also stated for the first time that the alleged victim refused to be interviewed, and has made no other comment about the episode.

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Trump was asked about whether anyone from The Times should be “fired” over the controversy. He called it a “fair” question but didn’t directly give an answer.

“I think The New York Times made another terrible mistake,” Trump said. “It’s a shame that a thing like that could happen… They used to have a thing called fact-checking. They don’t have fact-checking anymore.”

Fox News’ Brian Flood and Gregg Re contributed to this report.

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With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016

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With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will hold one of his signature rallies on Monday night in New Mexico, a longtime Democratic stronghold his campaign has added to the list of states it hopes to win in the November 2020 election.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The last time New Mexico supported a Republican in a presidential race was 2004. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat Trump there by 8 percentage points three years ago.

Trump’s campaign sees an opening in the state with Latinos, who it believes will swing his way despite tough immigration policies, including a crackdown on migrants from Central America and a push to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Democrats have criticized those efforts. But a Trump campaign aide said the Republican president could win over Latinos who came to the United States legally and believe others should, too.

“Big crowd expected in New Mexico tonight, where we will WIN. Your Border Wall is getting stronger each and every day — see you in a few hours!” Trump tweeted ahead of his trip.

The campaign also views Trump’s support for the fossil fuel industry as a plus in the state, which is rich in oil and natural gas, said the campaign aide, who declined to be named. Trump is likely to discuss energy on Monday night.

Trump won the White House in 2016 with electoral votes from traditional Republican-leaning states and some surprise Democratic-leaning ones.

The Trump campaign says it wants New Mexico’s five electoral votes to augment the 306 electoral votes the president received in his first election, not create a separate path for victory. A candidate must get 270 electoral votes nationally to win.

Democrats, who did well in New Mexico during the 2018 mid-term elections, are skeptical.

“Last cycle, Democrats crushed Republicans in New Mexico because voters are fed up with President Trump’s toxic healthcare agenda and broken promises,” said David Bergstein, a communications director for the Democratic National Committee focused on battleground states.

“We take nothing for granted, but this GOP strategy looks like they’re concerned about a realistic pathway to 270 electoral votes,” he added.

Trump won electoral-vote-rich swing states such as Ohio and Florida in 2016, while also picking up Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania from Democrats.

The campaign says it is eyeing more pickups in 2020, including Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nevada.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown

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California adds Iowa to ‘travel ban’ over refusal to fund gender transitions

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California adds Iowa to 'travel ban' over refusal to fund gender transitions

California announced Monday that it has added Iowa to the list of states on its ever-expanding “travel ban” list because of that state’s new prohibition against funding gender-transition surgeries under Medicaid.

The announcement by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra means that as of Oct. 4, California will no longer offer taxpayer-funded trips to Iowa for any public employee or student at a state-run university.

Becerra’s authority came from a 2016 California law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that bars state-funded travel to other states that undercut LGBT rights. The list already included Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

WATCH: LIBERAL POLICIES BLAMED FOR WORSENING CALIFORNIA’S HOMELESSNESS CRISIS

Conservatives have called the law ineffective, inconveniencing, possibly unconstitutional and hypocritical. The state’s sports teams have turned to private funding to get around the restrictions, according to The Los Angeles Times.

A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. California is overrun with homeless individuals. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. California is overrun with homeless individuals. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

“The Iowa Legislature has reversed course on what was settled law under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, repealing protections for those seeking gender-affirming health care,” Becerra said in a statement. “California has taken an unambiguous stand against discrimination and government actions that would enable it.”

The brouhaha began after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in March that taxpayers could be forced to pay for gender reassignment surgery. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law effectively overriding that ruling two months later.

At the federal level, the Trump administration has disputed the idea that sex-based discrimination prohibitions under law include protections for gender identity. The Health and Human Services Department, in May, angered progressive advocates with rules that both allowed doctors not to perform certain operations and stated that “gender identity” was not protected under sex discrimination law in health care.

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Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.

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