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Outbreak Looms Large in Biden, Sanders Debate

There is no live audience at first head-to-head clash
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2020 8:13 PM CDT

(Newser) – Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are taking part in a very unusual Democratic debate: Because of the coronavirus crisis, there is no live studio audience at the debate, which was shifted from Phoenix to Washington DC. Before their first head-to-head matchup, the two candidates greeted each other by bumping elbows. In accordance with CDC guidelines, the podiums a the CNN-hosted debate are 6 feet apart. Moderators confirmed that the debate's main focus would be the COVID-19 pandemic. Some highlights:

  • "This is bigger than any one of us." Biden, asked by CNN's Jake Tapper what he would tell Americans affected by the closure of schools and businesses, said "This is bigger than any one of us" and called for a "national rallying" to fight the virus, reports the Guardian, which notes that he coughed several times during his response.
  • Medicare for All. Biden and Sanders clashed over whether Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan would have improved the situation, the AP reports. “One of the reasons that we are unprepared, and have been unprepared, is we don’t have a system. We’ve got thousands of private insurance plans," Sanders said. "With all due respect to 'Medicare for All,' you have a single-payer system in Italy,” Biden said. "It doesn't work there."

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  • Protecting themselves. The candidates were asked how they were protecting themselves from infection, with moderator Dana Bash noting that Sanders, 78, had a heart attack last fall. Both candidates said they had stopped holding rallies and were washing their hands frequently. "Fortunately I don’t have any of the underlying conditions you talked about that I have to worry about," said Biden, 77.
  • Bank bailouts. The candidates clashed over the value of bank bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis, with Sanders arguing they should have been paid for by a tax on the wealthy. "We can’t repeat what we did in 2008. Joe voted for that. I voted against it,” he said.
  • Biden would mobilize military. Biden said he would call out the military to deal with the crisis, the Hill reports. "They have the ability to provide this surge that hospitals need," he said. "They have the capacity to build 500 hospital beds and tents that are completely safe and secure." Sanders said calling out the National Guard is something that "has to be done."
  • Sanders targets Trump on China. Sanders, asked about China's downplaying of the outbreak when it was in its early stages, slammed the way Trump had spoken about the country, the Washington Post reports. "What bothers me very much is you have a president of the United States today, Mr. Trump, who was praising China for the good work that they are doing when in fact, as you indicated, they were lying to their own people and allowing that virus to move much more aggressively than should have been the case," he said.
  • Bailout for families. Biden said the country needs a “major, major, major bailout package” to help families that have taken a financial hit from the crisis. "We do not "reward corporations, we reward individuals who in fact are really put to the test here," he said.
  • A pledge to support each other. Asked how he would attract Sanders supporters, Biden said "he's making it hard for me right now" with attacks on his voting record in the Senate, CBS reports. But he vowed to campaign for Sanders if he becomes the nominee, and Sanders said he would do "everything humanly possible" to defeat Trump.
  • Agreement on immigration. Both candidates agreed on the need for immigration reform, with Sanders pointing out that he is the son of an immigrant, ABC reports. "Kids are scared to death when they come from school, their mom or dad may not be there,” Sanders said. “I will end this on day one, the ICE raids, that have been so harmful to so many people."
  • Promise on female running mates. Biden promised to pick a woman to be his vice president, saying "There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow." Sanders decline to make the same promise, but that said "in all likelihood" he will choose a female running mate.
  • Biden's Iraq vote. Asked by Tapper what he learned from his 2003 vote for the Iraq war, Biden said he "learned I can’t take the word of a president when in fact they assured me that they would not use force," the New York Times reports.
  • Cuba comments resurface. Sanders was once again asked about remarks he made praising some of Fidel Castro's programs. the Guardian reports. "I have opposed authoritarianism—whether it’s in it’s in Cuba, whether it’s in Saudi Arabia, whether it’s in China or whether it is in Russia,” Sanders said. “That is my life record.”
  • Final coronavirus question. In the final question of the night, the candidates were asked how they would reassure Americans about the outbreak. the Post reports. Sanders said it was an opportunity to “rethink America and create a country where we care for each other." Biden said it was an "all-hands-on-deck" situation. "This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together and make the kind of sacrifices we need to make to get this done," he said.
(Read more Democratic debate stories.)

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