Democrats take on President Trump in early moments of debate

DETROIT (AP) — Democrats railed against President Donald Trump in the early moments of Wednesday's presidential debate that was expected to test the strength of Joe Biden's candidacy and the extent to which racial politics will shape the road to the White House in 2020.

Biden, the former vice president, said Trump was tearing at the "fabric of America" and highlighted the value of diversity in his opening statement.

"Mr. President, this is America," Biden said of the diverse slate of candidates on stage.

Kamala Harris, who has emerged as one of Biden's chief rivals, also referenced the divisive presidency.

"This becomes a moment we must fight for the best of who we are," Harris said. "We are better than this."

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July 2019 Democratic debate
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July 2019 Democratic debate
Workers get the stage ready for the Democratic primary debate hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Chair of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez speaks ahead of the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Chair of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez speaks ahead of the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Crews prepare the stage for the second Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates debate in the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Democratic Debate 2019 live updates: Night 1 of the debates is underway (ABC News)
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As with the first debates, 10 Democrats will appear on the first night while the other 10 will appear on the second night.
As with the first debates, 10 Democrats will appear on the first night while the other 10 will appear on the second night.
From left, Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
From left, Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke spekas as former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper listens during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg listens during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Author Marianne Williamson speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper watches as former Maryland Rep. John Delaney speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, participates in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Bernie Sanders Invokes Donald Trump’s “Racism And Xenophobia” At Democratic Debate
Democratic presidential hopefuls (L-R) US senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders and US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren relax during a commercial break in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls (L-R) US senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders and US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren relax during a commercial break in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls (L-R) US author and writer Marianne Williamson and US Representative for Ohio's 13th congressional district Tim Ryan participate in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential hopeful US senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders looks on after participating in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., takes notes during a break in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Marianne Williamson participates in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke gives a thumbs up during a break in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Marianne Williamson and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. talk during a break in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential hopeful US senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders delivers his closing statement during the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren delivers her closing statement in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar delivers her closing statement during the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders leaves the stage after the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls US senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders (L) and US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren hug after participating in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls (fromL) US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren hugs US author and writer Marianne Williamson next to US Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg after participating in the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders greets audience members after the first night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
From left, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg talk after the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential hopeful former US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren leaves the stage after the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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There was an early moment of friction between Harris and Biden over health care. The California senator was widely criticized this week after releasing a plan that would transition to a single-payer government-backed system within 10 years. Biden said that was too long and criticized its cost.

The exchanges came early on the second night of the second round of Democratic debates that pitted the 76-year-old Biden against a younger slate of more diverse candidates. There were no candidates of color on stage in the first wave Tuesday night. On Wednesday night, there were four.

Biden was flanked by Harris on one side and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on the other.

Biden expects to face pointed questions about race in particular, having stumbled in the opening debate when confronted by Harris over his record on school integration. Booker in recent days has seized on Biden's decades-old support for criminal justice laws that disproportionately hurt minorities.

Biden's team said that he hopes to focus his attacks on Trump but that he's ready to fight back more aggressively against Harris and Booker if provoked.

Wednesday's debate comes 24 hours after another set of 10 Democrats debated, fiercely at times, over the direction of their party.

In that encounter, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren faced intense criticism from lesser-known moderates who warned primary voters that a sharp shift to the left on health care and other key policies would make it all but impossible to defeat Trump.

That same dynamic will be on display Wednesday night — only in reverse.

Biden, who leads virtually all early polls, is considered the premier moderate on stage. In addition to Harris and Booker, his more progressive opponents include New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Obama administration housing chief Julián Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

While the first primary votes won't come for six more months, there is a sense of urgency for the lower-tier candidates to break out. More than half the field could be blocked from the next round of debates altogether — and possibly pushed out of the race — if they fail to reach new polling and fundraising thresholds implemented by the Democratic National Committee.

The dire stakes have forced many Democrats to turn away from Trump and turn against one another in recent weeks.

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Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Detroit contributed to this report.

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