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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What consequences should China face for initially covering up the coronavirus?
When asked whether China should be held accountable for initially covering up the coronavirus, both Biden and Sanders criticized the Chinese government for their actions but highlighted the need to work with other countries during a time of global crisis.
“One of the consequences is we have got to learn that you cannot lie to the American people. You cannot be less than frank about the nature of the crisis,” Sanders said. “Now is the time, by the way, to be working with China. They are learning a lot about this crisis. And in fact, we have got to work with them, we have got to work with the World Health Organization, we have got to work with Italy, we've got to work with countries around the world.”
Biden also touched on the need for researchers to have been in China early on in order to better understand the virus.
“I insisted the moment this broke out, that we should insist on having our experts in China to see what was happening and make it clear to China there would be consequences if we did not have that access,” Biden said.
Chinese scientists reportedly knew about the virus as early as December, but were ordered by government officials to suppress evidence.
Thirty minutes into the 11th Democratic debate and it's all talk about coronavirus, health care and the economy.
Follow along with the NBC News debate topic tracker.
‘Results, not a revolution’
Biden took a swipe at Sanders after the Vermont senator responded to a question by saying the pandemic crisis could be an opportunity to tackle income inequality.
“People are looking for results, not a revolution,” Biden said.
Sanders, responding a moment later said, “God willing, this crisis is going to end, and we’re going to have to develop an economy where people aren't living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to put food on the table.”
Biden once more hit back, saying that the federal government needed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic first — “and then we move on to change the economy.”
“First things first,” Biden said.
In a sense, that “first things first” mentality has been at the heart of Biden’s campaign messaging since he launched it.
From the start, Biden’s campaign was built around one priority: Getting rid of Trump. And now? A new top priority is combating the pandemic.
Either way, it’s a convenient way to fight off Sanders’ longer-term goals of tackling broad, structural changes in the federal government.
Which virus are we talking about?
Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden had trouble remembering which virus has got the world shutting down businesses and avoiding gatherings and handshakes. Several times, Sanders referred to the Ebola virus before catching himself followed by Biden, who mentioned SARS.
Sanders: ‘What happens to the millions of workers?’
Sanders argued the economic fallout would be another huge part of this pandemic.
“What happens to the millions of workers who may end losing their jobs?” he said.
Sanders began to argue that the federal government should create a way to send checks to Americans to make them “whole,” but moderators said they’d be discussing economic affects later.
Biden clear about intent to call up military
Biden, asked if he’d call up the military to help combat the pandemic, answered clearly in the affirmative.
“It is a national emergency,” he said. “I would call up the military."
“They have the capacity to build out 500-bed hospitals,” he said.
“This is like a war,” Biden had said a moment earlier. “And in a war, you do everything you need to take care of your people.”
Medicare for All, redux
It didn’t take long for the Coronavirus Debate to turn to a back and forth over the wisdom of Medicare for All.
Joe Biden called for “free” coronavirus services and special powers to address a crisis that is “like a war,” where you “do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people.”
“It is not working in Italy right now and they have a single payer system,” the former vice president said.
Sanders raised the high cost of American healthcare and said that “one might expect” that we would have enough doctors and that we would be “ready with the ventilators, with the ICUs, the test kits that we need — we are not.
Sanders says ‘shut the president up’ while Biden says 'we're at war with the virus' at Democratic debate
The coronavirus dominated the start of the Democratic debate on Sunday night, with Bernie Sanders ripping President Donald Trump and Joe Biden laying out his plan to contain the outbreak.
“Shut the president up, right now,” Sanders said. Biden said, “We're at war with the virus,” and called for measures to contain the spread and bulk up the health care system. Sanders said the virus issue showed the importance of "Medicare for All," while Biden said the country first needs to deal with the crisis.
The candidates have time to actually debate
The much dwindled Democratic field to just two candidates gave viewers a chance to get an earful on the coronavirus and the positions of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders without interruption from moderators or cheers or groans from the audience. Because of coronavirus fears, a live audience was canceled.
Question about a national quarantine
Biden, asked if he’d put in place a national quarantine to help combat the spread of coronavirus, did not answer the question.
Instead, he said he’d “call a meeting in the Situation Room” of all his experts and ask them, “what is it that we need.”
Get the minute-by-minute play-by-play on the NBC News debate topic tracker
Ten minutes in and the coronavirus dominates the debate. See which topics get the most talk-time with our 11th debate topic tracker, updated live through the night.