Sanders, Warren battle centrists in testy debate

Sens. Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul 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 TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report 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 HickenlooperLeft off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa Yang says he would not run as a third-party candidate The Hill's Morning Report - Hurricane Dorian devastates the Bahamas, creeps along Florida coast 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 BullockNew poll finds Biden, Warren in virtual tie in Iowa Gabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Partisan divisions sharpen as independent voters fade 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 DelaneyKrystal Ball: Reality debunks Biden's 'Medicare for all' smear 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Bennet launches first TV ads in Iowa 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 TapperOmar asks Twitter what it's doing in response to Trump spreading 'lies that put my life at risk' O'Rourke responds to Buttigieg's gun criticism: 'That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place' O'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows 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 ButtigiegBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 10 points in Florida CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall 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) John RyanOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum 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.