Sanders, Warren battle centrists in testy debate

Sens. Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' Klobuchar campaign gets first super PAC HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Warren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (I-Vt.) beat back against an onslaught of attacks from the moderate candidates at a testy debate on Tuesday night that exposed deep divisions between the centrists and the liberals seeking to challenge President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE.

The centrist Democrats wasted no time going after two of the party’s leading liberals, warning that proposals from Sanders and Warren would lead to electoral ruin if Democrats embrace them against Trump in the general election next year.

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Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Lobbying world GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' MORE argued that Democrats flipped 40 GOP seats in the House in 2018 and “not one of those candidates supported the policies of our front-runners at center stage.”

Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockStates, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash Democrats redefine center as theirs collapses Democratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight MORE, making his first appearance at the Democratic debate, said that the liberal candidates are “trying to outdo each other with wish-list economics” that wouldn't fly in his red state.

And former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyLobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line John Delaney drops out of presidential race, Krystal and Saagar react MORE (D-Md.) said that if Sanders or Warren are nominated, Democrats will lose in a landslide similar to those suffered by George McGovern or Michael Dukakis.

“If we go down the road Sens. Sanders and Warren want to take with bad policies like 'Medicare for All' and other impossible promises, it will turn off independent voters and get Trump reelected,” Delaney said.

The warnings from the moderates provoked a fierce debate about Medicare for All, with Sanders and Warren fighting back and accusing the centrists of mischaracterizing their plans.

“Let’s be clear about this,” Warren said. “We are the Democrats and we are not about trying to take health care away from anyone...and we should stop using Republican talking points.”

Sanders even fired back at moderator Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperDemocrats ramp up attacks on opponents in final pitch before New Hampshire George Conway: 'Verdict of history' will be on Romney's side Buttigieg says Democrats must 'galvanize,' not 'polarize' voters MORE, who had gone down the line of candidates asking if they support raising taxes on middle class workers to pay for Medicare for All.

“What I’m talking about it and others up here are talking about is no deductibles and no copayments, and Jake, your question is a Republican talking point,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day, and by the way, the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program.”

The battle over Medicare for All dominated the entire first half hour of the debate.

No issue has split the Democratic Party more in the 2020 primary than health care, with centrists warning that Medicare for All is intrusive government intervention and a general election loser.

Some Democrats have warned that embracing Medicare for all will lead Republicans to characterize them as socialists.

“It’s time to stop worrying about what the Republicans say,” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegHuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Sanders campaign expands operations in Michigan Sanders leads among Latino voters: poll MORE said. “If we embrace a far left agenda, they’ll say we’re crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, they’ll say the same thing.”

But on Tuesday night, the moderates came out swinging at Medicare for all with grave warnings about the electoral consequences. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was  perplexed that Democrats would consider Medicare for All, rather than building on ObamaCare.

“This is an example of wish list economics,” Bullock said. “It used to be Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace ObamaCare, now it’s Democrats.”

“We have all our union friends here tonight…this plan offered by Sanders and Warren will tell those union workers…they’ll lose their health care because Washington tells them they have a better plan,” added Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanDemocrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' Democrats walk out of Trump's address: 'It's like watching professional wrestling' Trump set to confront his impeachment foes MORE (Ohio).

Sanders fired back when Ryan told him he couldn’t be certain that Medicare for All will lower costs for elderly people.

“You don’t know that,” Ryan said.

“I do know that,” Sanders responded. “I wrote the damn bill.”

The centrist versus progressive debate also spilled into immigration, with Warren receiving fire for advocating for decriminalizing illegal border crossings and providing health care to those in the country illegally. 

"We need to fix the crisis at the border and a big part of how we do that is we do not play into Donald Trump’s hands,” Warren said. 

Bullock fired back: “But you are playing into Donald Trump’s hands…a sane immigration system needs a sane leader and we can do that without decriminalizing or providing health care for everyone. It’s not just me saying that, it’s Obama’s homeland security secretary.” 

And Sanders was grilled for proposing health care for those in the country illegally.

“I happen to believe that when I talk about health care it’s a human right that applies to all people in this country,” he said.

-- Updated at 9:24 p.m.