An initially substantiative exchange over health care policy on Thursday during the Democratic debate quickly devolved into a contentious back and forth between Julián Castro and Joseph R. Biden Jr., with Mr. Castro making a thinly veiled swipe at Mr. Biden’s age.
“Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” Mr. Castro said to Mr. Biden, 76, stating that the former vice president had just contradicted himself on the need for some citizens to buy into his health care plan.
It did not appear, however, that Mr. Biden had said that people would need to opt in, as Mr. Castro had claimed. Mr. Biden did say that if someone lost their job, they could potentially buy in to Medicare.
“If you want Medicare, if you lose the job from your insurance company, from your employer, you automatically can buy into this,” Mr. Biden said earlier. “You don’t have — no pre-existing condition can stop you from buying in. You get covered. Period.”
The first 35 minutes of the debate focused exclusively on health care, but it was the exchange between Mr. Biden and Mr. Castro that grew the most heated. The two former Obama administration officials — Mr. Biden served as the vice president, Mr. Castro as the secretary for housing and urban development — also jostled over who was the better steward of Mr. Obama’s signature health care law.
“I’m filling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not,” Mr. Castro said to Mr. Biden.
“That will be a surprise to him,” Mr. Biden replied.
The following is the full exchange:
CASTRO: Thank you. And I also want to recognize the work that Bernie has done on this and, of course, we owe a debt of gratitude to President Barack Obama. Of course, I also worked for President Obama, Vice President Biden, and I know that the problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million people uncovered. Now, on the last debate stage in Detroit, you said that wasn’t true when Senator Harris brought that up. There was a fact check of that, they said that was true. You know, I grew up with a grandmother who had Type II diabetes and I watched her condition get worse and worse.
But that whole time, she had Medicare. I want every single American family to have a strong Medicare plan available. If they choose to hold on to strong, solid private health insurance, I believe they should be able to do that. But the differences between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in and I would not require them to opt in, they would automatically be enrolled. They wouldn’t have to buy in. That’s a big difference, because Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave 10 million people uncovered. He wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that. Your plan would not.
BIDEN: They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.
CASTRO: You just said that, you just said that two minutes ago. You just said two minutes ago they would have to buy in.
BIDEN: I never said they had to buy in, if they qualify for Medicare …
CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.
BIDEN: I said anyone like your grandmother who has no money —
CASTRO: We need a health care system —
BIDEN: — you are automatically enrolled.
CASTRO: — automatically enrolls people regardless if they choose to opt in or not. If you lose your job, for instance, his health care plan would not automatically enroll you, you would have to opt in. My health care plan would. That’s a big difference. I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.
BIDEN: That will be a surprise to him.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable. This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington. Scores points against each other. Poking at each other. And telling each other that my plan, look, we —
CASTRO: That’s called the Democratic primary election, Pete. That’s called an election. That’s an election. You know? This is what we’re here for. It’s an election.