Biden, Sanders go after Trump at Democratic debate

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By Alex Seitz-Wald  with NBC News Politics
Image: The first Democratic debate -- a two-night event -- is hosted by NBC
The first Democratic debate -- a two-night event -- is hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo and will air live across all three networks starting at 9 p.m. ET.   -   Copyright  Chelsea Stahl NBC News

MIAMI — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders went after President Donald Trump on Thursday at the Democratic presidential debate.

Sanders called Trump a "phony, a pathological liar and a racist" and vowing to "expose him for the fraud he is," while Biden said he would rollback the president's tax cuts that are benefiting only the wealthy. Biden slammed Trump for, as he put it, thinking Wall Street built America.

The opening exchanges of the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate came as the two leading candidates in the sprawling 2020 field took opening shots directly at the president.

"We have to make sure that return dignity to the middle class," Biden said when asked about comments he made recently to wealthy donors in New York City that their the standard of living would not fundamentally change.

Sanders, meanwhile, said he would dramatically raise taxes on the rich and acknowledged they'd go up on the middle class too to fund a single-payer healthcare system.

"Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but they will pay less in health for what they get now," he said.

All eyes at the debate will be on Biden, who has enjoyed a durable lead in every poll of the massive 2020 field, potentially making him a target for rivals looking to stand out.

He's joined by Sanders, a runner-up from the 2016 primary, along with newcomer Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

They're joined by two lesser-known Democratic lawmakers, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a moderate, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who is pitching himself as a younger option focused on gun violence.

And two wildcards: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has been campaigning on a platform of providing a $1,000 a month to every American as universal basic income, and Marianne Williamson, a California self-help author.

The faceoff comes after the first night of the debate on Wednesday, which featured 10 other candidates in the race, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J, and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

With the biggest and most diverse presidential primary field in history, a handful of other candidates didn't qualify for this debate and hope to make the next one in July.