Debate rivals assail Warren as she joins Democrats’ top rank

Elizabeth Warren repeatedly came under attack during Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate as rivals accused the Massachusetts senator of ducking questions about the cost of Medicare for All and her signature “wealth tax” plan.

The pile-on was the clearest sign yet that Warren has a new status in the crowded Democratic primary: a front-runner in the contest to take on President Donald Trump next year.

The night’s confrontations were mostly fought on familiar terrain for Democrats, who have spent months sparring over the future of health care with moderates pressing for a measured approach while Warren and Bernie Sanders call for a dramatic, government-funded overhaul of the insurance market. But unlike Sanders, Warren refused to say whether she would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for All — a stance that’s increasingly difficult to maintain given her more prominent status.

Her rivals seized on the opportunity to pounce.

“I appreciate Elizabeth’s work but, again, the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, added: “We heard it tonight. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question that didn’t get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”

Warren insisted that she has “made clear what my principles are here,” arguing that lower premiums would mean that overall costs would go down for most Americans.

Featuring a dozen candidates, the debate sponsored by CNN and The New York Times was the largest in modern history. It was the first time the White House hopefuls gathered in a little more than a month. In that time, the political landscape has changed with Trump facing an impeachment inquiry in the House centered on his quest to get Ukraine to dig up unflattering details about Joe Biden, another front-runner among the Democrats hoping to succeed him.

The debate also served as Sanders’ return to the campaign trail following a heart attack earlier this month. The Vermont senator failed to show the same fire as in previous debates. He got applause when he thanked supporters and rivals for their good wishes and declared, “I’m feeling great.”

The debate touched on foreign policy, too, a subject that has dominated the news in recent weeks as Trump said he was withdrawing most U.S. forces from Syria and then Turkey invaded the northern part of the country to attack Kurdish fighters. The Democratic presidential candidates denounced the president for abandoning Kurdish forces there, who are U.S. allies.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served in Iraq with the Army, questioned the need for U.S. involvement in “regime change” conflicts in the Middle East. That prompted Buttigieg to respond: “What we are doing or what we were doing in Syria was keeping our word.”

“I would have a hard time today looking an Afghan civilian or soldier in the eye after what just happened over there,” said Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan. “It is undermining the honor of our soldiers. You take away the honor of our soldiers, you might as well go after their body armor next.”