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Democratic debate live updates: Biden and Sanders go head to head in Washington, D.C.

The coronavirus outbreak, which prompted a change in venue, dominated much of the discussion.

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 and aired on CNN and Univision.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage and alerts on the latest news.

1050d ago / 12:55 AM UTC

‘Go to the YouTube right now’

In one of the most prolonged exchanges of the night, Sanders repeatedly attacked Biden, accusing him of having supported cutting Social Security and other entitlement programs.

“You have been on the floor time and time again about the need to cut Social Security,” Sanders said.

When Biden rejected the claim, Sanders expressed shock and told viewers to “go to the YouTube right now” to look up past speeches and comments Biden had made on the topic from the Senate floor.

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Biden repeatedly replied, “that’s not true” although at one point acknowledged that “everything was on the table” during the Bowles-Simpson commission during the Obama administration, which was formed to issue recommendations to the administration about how to best reduce the national deficit.

“I did not support any of those cuts,'' Biden said.

1050d ago / 12:54 AM UTC
1050d ago / 12:50 AM UTC

Biden: ‘What's a revolution going to do?’

Joe Biden attacked Bernie Sanders’ plan for Medicare for All, suggesting that Sanders’ call for a political revolution would not lead to any concrete policy results. 

“We have problems we have to solve now. What's a revolution going to do? Disrupt everything in the meantime?” Biden said, urging people to support his more incremental health care plan.

“Bernie still hasn't told us how he is going to pay for it,” Biden said of Medicare for All. 

Bernie laughed off Biden’s attacks and defended the need for “real change.”

1050d ago / 12:48 AM UTC

Sanders, Biden on their best practices for battling the coronavirus

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are both washing their hands a lot.

Both candidates detailed their own virus-avoidance practices — lots of hand washing and hand sanitizer — during Sunday’s debate.

“Joe and I did not shake hands,” Sanders said.


“I don’t have any of the underlying conditions that you’ve talked about,” Biden said, omitting that him being 77 years old puts him at higher risk for worse outcomes with coronavirus. “I’m taking all the precautions everyone should be taking. I wash my hands God knows how many times a day.”

1050d ago / 12:42 AM UTC

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1050d ago / 12:38 AM UTC

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.

1050d ago / 12:35 AM UTC

‘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.

1050d ago / 12:35 AM UTC

Thirty minutes into the 11th Democratic debate and it's all talk about coronavirus, health care and the economy.

What's been talked about and for how long in the 11th Democratic debate

Follow along with the NBC News debate topic tracker.

1050d ago / 12:33 AM UTC

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.

1050d ago / 12:27 AM UTC

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.

1050d ago / 12:25 AM UTC

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.”

1050d ago / 12:24 AM UTC

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.

1050d ago / 12:22 AM UTC

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. 

1050d ago / 12:21 AM UTC

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.

1050d ago / 12:16 AM UTC

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.”

1050d ago / 12:13 AM UTC

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.

1050d ago / 12:10 AM UTC

First question is on coronavirus

With the first question of the night, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked each candidate what they had to say to the American people in “confronting” the “new reality” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden replied first, saying the pandemic was “bigger than any one of us,” and that he would propose that every state have at least “10 places for drive-through testing” for the illness.

Sanders, up next, opened his answer by saying the biggest need was to “shut this president up right now.”

Sanders accused Trump of “undermining” his own public health professionals.

1050d ago / 12:09 AM UTC

Elbow bump and distance at the Democratic debate

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders greet each other with an elbow bump as they arrive for the 11th Democratic presidential debate in Washington on March 15, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

The threat of the spread of coronavirus was present on the Democratic debate stage with the podiums of the two candidates — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — placed six feet apart and Biden and Sanders trading an elbow bump rather than a handshake. 

Democratic presidential hopefuls former US vice president Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders (R) take part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)MANDEL NGAN / AFP - Getty Images
1050d ago / 11:56 PM UTC
1050d ago / 11:35 PM UTC
1050d ago / 11:26 PM UTC

Biden, Sanders take aim at Trump over coronavirus: 'Incompetence and recklessness'

In a direct rebuttal to President Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders delivered somber, and at times searing, speeches Thursday slamming the administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and detailing how they believe the government should be responding to the crisis.

"If there ever was a time in the modern history of our country where we are all in this together, this is that moment," Sanders said in Burlington, Vermont, after suggesting the death toll may exceed that of American service members during World War II. "Now is the time for solidarity."

Earlier, in an address from his hometown, Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said, "Downplaying it, being overly dismissive or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease."

"But neither should we panic, or fall back on xenophobia," he said. "Labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration."

Read the full story here.

1050d ago / 11:20 PM UTC
1050d ago / 11:15 PM UTC

Un-conventional? Coronavirus could risk Democratic, GOP national party gatherings

The coronavirus pandemic could pose big problems for the two marquee political events before Election Day — the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.

Party leaders are being forced to consider the possibility that the four-day gatherings may have to be dramatically scaled back or essentially cancelled, while the candidate nominating process and fundraising tens of millions of dollars for the events could be severely hampered, former convention officials told NBC News.

The economic impact on the host cities — Milwaukee for the Democrats on July 13-16 and Charlotte for the Republicans on August 24-27 — could be devastating. While the economic benefit for both 2016 conventions fell short of some projections, the GOP's Cleveland effort generated $142 million while in Philadelphia, the Democratic event brought about $231 million.

Read the full story here.

1050d ago / 11:06 PM UTC

A virus upends the 2020 election and tests Trump's invincibility

Two weeks ago, Bernie Sanders was the Democratic presidential front-runner, the U.S. economy was humming and President Donald Trump had reason to be optimistic about his re-election prospects.

Then the first American died from the coronavirus. The campaign as we knew it would soon be over.

The pandemic subsumed businesses and sports leagues, hammered the travel industry and caused some analysts to project an economic downturn, if not a global recession. Democrats who rated the coronavirus as important to their vote picked former Vice President Joe Biden by wide margins in primary contests, padding his victory margins and handing him a commanding delegate lead.

The president and his two main rivals canceled rallies, allowed or directed staff to work from home and began shifting their events to online gatherings. Democrats moved their Sunday debate from Phoenix to Washington and eliminated the live audience, while Louisiana became the first state to postpone its primaries due to the virus. American public life was grinding to a halt.

Read the full story here.

1050d ago / 11:04 PM UTC

Balancing the ticket: Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris top VP picks for 'She the People'

Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the leading Democratic vice-presidential picks among members of She the People, an influential group of women of color, according to an internal poll the group released on Wednesday.

Women of color are among the most loyal Democratic voters in the country — 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, according to exit polls — making their preferences especially relevant to Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, the only two presidential candidates to emerge from the most diverse field in the party's history.

Because both are white men in their 70s, whoever wins the nomination is expected to face pressure to pick a woman and/or a person of color as a running mate.

Read the full story here.

1050d ago / 10:46 PM UTC
1050d ago / 10:35 PM UTC

ANALYSIS: Can Sanders pound home coronavirus and inequality?

The conventional wisdom is that this moment of crisis plays right into the stabilizing hands of Joe Biden.

But if Bernie Sanders can't convince Democratic primary voters that the coronavirus response is reason to consider the progressive alternative now, it's the wrong policy for them, he's the wrong messenger, or both.

The House and the White House agreed to provide free tests to people who can't afford them, to expand paid leave and to ensure that certain benefits like food stamps aren't disrupted because work requirements can't be met. The bill, which passed easily, raises obvious questions: The free testing and incentives to stay home are good for the rest of the population as well as the recipients, but why aren't treatment costs covered? Is coronavirus the only disease or injury for which the currently uninsured should have any costs covered, and, if so, why? What about people who lose food stamps or other government benefits when they get sick from diseases other than coronavirus?

Moreover, the Federal Reserve is slashing interest rates and buying stocks and bonds to the tune of more than a trillion dollars to prop up Wall Street, but it's not using its authority to give direct assistance to the bottom tiers of the economy.

These are the kinds of issues that Sanders talks about all the time. If he can't pound them home now, he'll never do it.

1050d ago / 10:22 PM UTC

Courting progressives, Biden shifts policy stance on free college, bankruptcy

, and

Joe Biden's campaign rolled out two new policy positions that borrow from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren ahead of Sunday's debate, both aimed at courting progressive voters as he marches to the Democratic nomination.

The former vice president said on Sunday he'll support a policy to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students with family income under $125,000. It's a significant shift in the direction of Sanders, who wrote a bill to the same effect in 2017 but has since called for free college to be universal regardless of household income. 

At a virtual town hall with Illinois voters on Friday, Biden also endorsed Elizabeth Warren's proposal to bolster bankruptcy protections for those struggling financially, including by restoring some that were eliminate in a 2005 law championed by Biden when he was a senator.

Senior Sanders' campaign adviser Jeff Weaver lauded Biden for supporting the education proposal, but said an education platform should "go much further." "We need to make all public universities, colleges and trade schools tuition free for everyone like our high schools are," he said. "We need to cancel all student debt. And we can fund it with a small tax on Wall Street speculation."

Read the full story here.

1050d ago / 10:10 PM UTC

Sanders will 'wholeheartedly' support Biden if he's the nominee, adviser says

Senior adviser to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign Jeff Weaver said Thursday that Sanders will support former Vice President Joe Biden "wholeheartedly" if Biden is the Democratic nominee. 

In an interview on MSNBC, Weaver said that the Sanders campaign is looking at the rest of the Democratic primary on a "week by week" basis, but that if he does not win the nomination, he would campaign for the former vice president. However, Weaver wouldn't say if that decision would come before or after the Democratic convention in July. 

Read more here.

1050d ago / 9:58 PM UTC
1050d ago / 9:48 PM UTC

Biden, Sanders increase ad spending amid virtual campaign

While the traditional campaigning in the 2020 race has come to a halt due to concerns regarding COVID-19, the Democratic presidential candidates have increased their TV and radio ad spending for the upcoming March 17 primaries, with millions of dollars on the airwaves in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Here’s a look at the ad spending in these four states through March 17, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

1050d ago / 9:39 PM UTC

Biden's first virtual event encounters technological glitches

The virtual campaign is proving a bit complicated, after a Friday event for former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign encountered some technological glitches. 

Biden is the first Democratic candidate to hold a virtual town hall due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 and public events. The attempt to broadcast the first of two scheduled “virtual events” in the next several days involved a garbled-voiced Biden and ended roughly four minutes after the Facebook Live video began streaming in Illinois.

Still, the short event garnered more than 5,000 viewers. 

Read more here.

1050d ago / 9:29 PM UTC

Biden leads Sanders by 2-to-1 margin among Democratic primary voters in new poll

With the Democratic nomination race now down to a one-on-one contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic primary voters now back Biden — who was a distant second to Sanders just one month ago — by an overwhelming two-to-one margin, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The survey found that 61 percent of Democratic voters support Biden, while just 32 back Sanders. Four percent choose Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has not yet dropped out of the race despite failing to finish in the top three in any U.S. state primary or caucus to date.

Read more on the survey results here.

1050d ago / 9:08 PM UTC

Biden urges voters to cast ballots on Tuesday primaries as coronavirus concerns mount

Former Vice President Joe Biden asked voters in a slew of Tuesday primary states to "please vote" as the coronavirus crisis has led to widespread closures and cancelations as officials try to corral the COVID-19 outbreak.

Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona are slated to hold primaries on Tuesday. Already, Georgia and Louisiana have announced they are pushing back their primaries from March and April to May and June.

"The right to vote is the most sacred American right there is," Biden tweeted. "State election officials are working closely with public health officials to hold safe elections. If you are feeling healthy, not showing symptoms, and not at risk of being exposed to COVID-19: please vote on Tuesday."

Read the story here.

1050d ago / 9:05 PM UTC

DNC moves Democratic debate from Phoenix to D.C. over coronavirus concerns

The Democratic National Committee on Thursday announced that Sunday's primary debate will be moved from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., as the nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this week, as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders began canceling campaign rallies, the DNC announced the debate would no longer feature a live audience while CNN, the debate's host, said the traditional spin and press rooms would be scrapped.

"Out of an abundance of caution and in order to reduce cross-country travel, all parties have decided that the best path forward is to hold Sunday’s debate at CNN’s studio in Washington, D.C., with no live audience," DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

1050d ago / 7:42 PM UTC
1050d ago / 7:39 PM UTC

5 things to watch as Biden and Sanders debate amid the coronavirus crisis

The last time Democrats debated, Bernie Sanders had just won two consecutive states and Joe Biden’s campaign was on the brink of collapse. The two men will debate one-on-one Sunday in a transformed campaign landscape.

The stage has shrunk from six to two candidates, Biden has taken a dominant lead in the race, and the coronavirus outbreak has ground much of American public life to a halt. Biden and Sanders have been forced to cancel their rallies and host online events instead, while the party moved Sunday's debate from Phoenix to CNN's Washington studio to avoid cross-country travel.

Here are five things to watch at Sunday night's faceoff.

1050d ago / 7:38 PM UTC

Everything you need to know about the 11th Democratic debate

The 11th Democratic debate is set for Sunday night, and the first one-on-one face off between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will look much different than was originally planned.

Here's everything you need to know about the debate: