Joe Biden attacked Donald Trump on Thursday for putting Americans in a "horrible situation," as the Democratic frontrunner faced off against his main presidential rivals who braced for a fiery debate over their competing visions for the nation.
"Look, Donald Trump put us in a horrible situation," the former vice president, as he swiftly trained his criticism on the Republican in the White House.
"We do have enormous income inequality," added Biden who is looking to take on Trump as his party's candidate in the November 2020 presidential election. In addition, Biden also tweeted and claimed that NATO is at risk if Trump is reelected:
Biden and other candidates quickly turned against Trump on taxes, health care and income inequality, while early debate also addressed whether the party grounded in capitalism should embrace a shift towards more liberal politics and government involvement in the economy.
But Biden quickly faced an attack by a young, lower-tier candidate, Congressman Eric Swalwell, who called on the 76-year-old to "pass the torch" to a new generation of party leaders.
"I'm still holding on to that torch," Biden snapped back.
Biden began jousting with nine of rivals -- each chasing his cherished pole position in the race -- on the climactic second night of a sprawling debate featuring Democrats eager to introduce themselves to a national audience in the early stages of the battle for 2020.
With so many potential challengers to Trump, the party needed to split the top 20 candidates into debates on two nights in southern Florida, which is expected to be a key swing state in the next year's election.
Thursday's session features four of the race's top five candidate in national polling, including Biden's main challenger Bernie Sanders, the 77-year-old US senator whose unapologetically liberal policies like Medicare for all have pushed the Democratic Party leftward in recent years.
The top tier also includes Senator Kamala Harris, the only African American woman in the race, and Pete Buttigieg, the gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana who shot to prominence earlier this year but has seen that momentum plateau.
Third place Elizabeth Warren, the rising star progressive US senator, was on Wednesday stage, where she highlighted called out disparities in wealth and income and pledged to work to improve the lives of struggling working class families.
Sanders, a democratic socialist, covered the same ground Thursday. But immigration, health care, economic inequality, foreign policy and education are also on the docket. Shortly before taking the stage, Biden released a series of policy statements as well as direct attacks on Trump on Twitter, the president's favourite medium.
Among Biden's statements, he pledged to eliminate the Trump tax cuts from late 2017 that the Democrat branded "a giant give-away to the super-wealthy." The strategy may have served to present Biden as the candidate to beat, Trump's top rival who is already steering the race toward a direct confrontation with the current president, rather than a slugfest with his fellow Democrats.
Biden is the clear leader with 32 percent support in polling, compared to Sanders at 17 percent, Harris with seven, and Buttigieg at 6.6. But while several Democrats have been barnstorming early voting states like Iowa, Biden has eased into campaigning since he launched his candidacy on April 25, largely avoiding confrontation with rivals.
That changed Thursday, with Biden in the hot seat and voters and candidates watching closely to see whether the Democratic icon has lost a step in the seven years since he last took a debate stage. Wednesday's showdown saw several candidates hit out at Trump's economic and immigration policies, but they diverged on how zealously the next president should shift the country onto a more liberal course.
Sanders used his time on stage to reconnect with Americans following his surprise performance in the 2016 primary race when he put up a strong fight against the eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.