The nation's response to the coronavirus outbreak dominated much of the discussion in the 11th Democratic debate on Sunday night — the first time that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders went head to head on stage in the 2020 election cycle.
Also a first: Biden vowing to name a woman as his running mate if he wins the nomination.
The former vice president and Vermont independent senator squared off in dramatically different surroundings than initially planned, Washington instead of Phoenix, and in CNN's studio instead of a 5,000-seat theater with a live audience — a venue change prompted by coronavirus fears as the nation goes into lockdown over the pandemic.
Biden has emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination following a string of state primary victories since winning in South Carolina last month. NBC News provided stories, analysis and up-to-the-minute liveblog coverage of the debate, which also streamed live on CNN.com and aired on CNN and Univision.
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Sanitizer. Skip the handshake. No audience. An unusual debate, thanks to coronavirus.
If you deliver an applause line and there's no one around to clap, did it really land?
That was the question at Sunday night's debate on CNN between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden when, because of fears of the coronavirus, there was no live audience to boo! or woo! when, say, the former vice president pledged to name a woman as his running mate.
The septuagenarian candidates started with an elbow bump in lieu of a handshake, and their podiums (highly sanitized, CNN assured ahead of time) were as far apart on the stage (also highly sanitized) as the candidates were on the issues. It was also almost certainly the first presidential debate in history to include the phrases "I'm using a lot of soap" (Sanders) and "I wash my hands God knows how many times a day" (Biden).
But the real innovation was what was missing. Read the full story here.
Trump declares debate 'VERY boring,' claims Dems will cut Social Security and Medicare
5 takeaways from the Democratic debate: Joe Biden promises a woman VP
Underdog Bernie Sanders came to fight, and front-runner Joe Biden promised a woman vice president.
The Democratic debate Sunday began as a genteel conversation over how to address the coronavirus and descended into a testy battle over records and who has the courage to do the right thing. The candidates clashed over issues ranging from bankruptcy policy and same-sex marriage to health care and immigration and highlighted their differing visions for the country.
Here are five key takeaways from the evening.
Trump campaign attacks Biden, Sanders for ‘plagiarizing’ his coronavirus plan
President Donald Trump's re-election campaign attacked Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders for their debate performance, arguing that neither candidate provided a sufficient response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unable to articulate a coronavirus plan, both Bernie and Biden offered little more than plagiarizing President Trump’s response, which will now be the model for all future pandemics,” said Kayleigh McEnany, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign.
Trump has been heavily criticized for his bungled reaction to the virus. He insisted for weeks that the virus was under control and misled the public about the severity of the situation.
Biden and Sanders have both delivered speeches outlining how they would have responded to the outbreak from day one.
“It doesn’t matter which of these two is the Democrat nominee, either one would reverse the hottest economy in modern history and the great gains we have made under President Trump,” said McEnany.
Why Biden made his running mate commitment
Joe Biden’s commitment in Sunday’s debate to name a female running mate tonight was not an accident or ad lib: The former vice president entered the debate looking for an opportunity to make that commitment explicit as he seeks to reinforce the perception in the minds of Democrats that he is very close to being, if not is already, the presumptive nominee, a senior campaign official told NBC News.
Biden has often been asked in town hall-style events about his vice presidential pick. In answering that question, he has given variations on wanting or hoping to choose a woman running mate — but never gave such a clear-cut commitment until now.
Biden has enjoyed getting that question on the trail in part because it has allowed him to pivot to discussing, often at considerable length, what made his working relationship with President Barack Obama so effective. He often says historians considered their relationship one of the best working relationships between a president and vice president in history, and adds that the reason they worked so well together is because Obama had complete trust in him and their views were “simpatico,” to use one of his favorite words.
Among the current or former officials Biden has either explicitly or implicitly included in his list of potential VP picks are Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former Deputy Attorney Gen. Sally Yates, who recently endorsed Biden, former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and New Hampshire Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.
Sanders slams Trump in post-debate interview
Sanders, in an interview on CNN after the debate concluded, slammed Trump over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, accusing him over undermining his own scientists.
“The truth of the matter is that you’ve got a president who is arrogant” and “who is literally undermining the good work” of government scientists and public health experts dealing with the outbreak
Trump, Sanders said, “underestimated” and “diminished the initial threat facing this country.”
“A president who has a brain in his head would have brought the scientists together,” he said.
Later in the interview, Sanders, who is trailing Biden in the delegate count, was asked about his path ahead in the process — and he didn’t suggest he was dropping out any time soon.
“The path ahead is to bring as many people who do not traditionally vote into the political process,” Sanders said.
Asked if he was helping to bring those people in so they could vote for Biden, Sanders answered in the negative.
“They’re not going to vote for Biden,” he said.
Biden camp says this was best debate day online fundraising of whole cycle
Closing messages focus on the coronavirus
The two candidates were asked to close the night on the topic that began it: the coronavirus.
Sanders went first, saying that, “our hearts go out to everyone” and that “we need to move aggressively to make sure vey person in this country who has the virus, who thinks they have the virus, understands they have all the health care they need.
But he added that it was also “time to ask how we got to where we are,” before pushing for his proposals to tackle income inequality.
Biden, meanwhile, called for people to make sacrifices and said it was a time to “start to listen to the science again.”
“This is bigger than any individual,” he said. “This is about America. This is about the world.”
Sanders casts doubt on Biden’s electability
Bernie Sanders cast doubt on Joe Biden’s ability to win the general election against Donald Trump, highlighting the former vice president's weak spot with some voting groups.
Sanders argued that in order to win, Democrats would need to turn out Latinos and younger voters — who he characterized as “not great voters” — and stressed that Trump will be a “very, very tough” competitor.
“I have my doubts that Vice President Biden's campaign can generate that energy and excitement,” Sanders said.
Biden shot back.
“The energy and excitement that has taken place so far has been for me,” Biden said, adding that he “virtually had no money” but was still able to pull ahead in the delegate count.