Factbox: Democratic presidential candidates spar on health insurance, immigration and more

By Letitia Stein and Ginger Gibson
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Factbox: Democratic presidential candidates spar on health insurance, immigration and more

Candidates participate in the first U.S. 2020 presidential election Democratic candidates debate in Miami, Florida, U.S.,

By Letitia Stein and Ginger Gibson

(Reuters) - Ten Democratic presidential candidates took the debate stage on Wednesday night for the first head-to-head primary face-off.

Sparks flew as candidates sought to draw contrasts on issues such as healthcare and immigration. Here are some highlights from the debate.


ABOLISH PRIVATE INSURANCE?

Hands flying in the air and voices raised, the first divisions between the candidates flared over a question about whether Americans should get to keep private health insurance under Democratic plans to expand healthcare coverage.

Two candidates, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, raised their hands enthusiastically in support of replacing a private insurance system with a government-run Medicare for All.

Warren rejected politicians who call such proposals impossible.

"What they're really telling you is they just won't fight for it," she said. "Well, healthcare is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights."

When former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke said he would not eliminate private insurance, de Blasio interrupted: "How can you defend a system that is not working?"

Former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, a little-known candidate, muscled his way into the conversation to defend the position of the party's moderate wing. He pointed out that his father enjoyed the private health benefits negotiated through his union. "Why do we have to stand for taking away something from people?"


ABORTION GENDER GAP

Washington Governor Jay Inslee stumbled into the tricky dynamics of a race featuring a record number of female candidates with an attempt to tout his strong support for abortion rights.

"I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a women's right of reproductive health and health insurance," he said, saying health insurance companies should not be allowed to deny women's reproductive choice rights.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota shot back with a stinging rebuke: "There are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman's right to choose."


TEXAS TUSSLE OVER IMMIGRATION

The Democratic candidates can agree that they oppose Republican President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration. But the two contenders from the border state of Texas showcased divisions within the party about what to do about it.

Julian Castro, a former U.S. housing secretary and the only Hispanic candidate in the field, supports repealing a federal statute that he said has criminalized border crossings to incarcerate immigrants and controversially separate children from their parents.

He called out O'Rourke for not joining him. "It's a mistake, Beto."

"You're just looking at one small part of this," O'Rourke said. "I'm talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws."

Castro, trailing in opinion polls, shot back: "That's just not true."

"If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section," Castro added.


AMERICA'S ROLE IN THE WORLD?

With foreign policy largely overshadowed by domestic issues, two candidates struggling for attention tried to break out of the crowded field with contrasting views on the U.S. role in Afghanistan.

Congressman Tim Ryan, a moderate from a working-class district in the battleground state of Ohio, lamented the expense of deploying American troops but called the engagement necessary to contain the country's Islamist Taliban rulers.

Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii and Iraq war veteran, questioned the value of the military involvement.

"The Taliban was there long before we came in," she said. "We cannot keep U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we're going to somehow squash this Taliban that has been there when every other country that's tried has failed."

Ryan compared the case for isolationism to Trump's agenda.

"If we want to go into elections and we want to say that we gotta withdraw from the world, that's what President Trump is saying," Ryan said. "We can't."


'ADIOS' TO TRUMP

The candidates' policy differences paled in comparison to the party's No. 1 priority - ending Trump's presidency after a single four-year term.

Wednesday's debate hammered the point in English and Spanish, as several candidates addressed the audience bilingually to appeal to Latino voters.

Castro closed with a pledge to the party's increasingly diverse electorate: "On Jan. 20, 2021, we'll say 'adios' to Donald Trump."


(Additional reporting by Diane Bartz and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)