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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Biden commits to picking woman as VP; Sanders strongly considering the same
“If I’m elected president, my cabinet, my administration will look like the country and I committed that I will pick a woman to be my vice president,” Biden said on Sunday.
Sanders said that “in all likelihood,” he would pick a woman, as well.
One hour in and the candidates have stopped talking about the coronavirus
After spending more than 10 of the first 30 minutes talking about the coronavirus, the candidates moved onto other topics in the second half of the first hour of tonight's debate. See the full list of topics and how much time has been spent on each.
Biden: I’d campaign for Bernie if he wins
“If Bernie’s the nominee, I will not only support him I will campaign for him and I believe the people who support me will do the same thing, because the existential threat to the United States is Donald Trump,” Biden said, adding that he believed Sanders and his supporters would do the same. “It’s much bigger than any of us.”
Biden argued that he and Sanders agree on the issues, just not the “details.”
Sanders, when asked directly if he would campaign for Biden, said, “Sure.”
Bernie raises a fist, mano a mano with Biden
Biden on adopting Warren plans: They were good ideas
Explaining his decision to adopt two of Sen. Elizabeth Sanders’ chief policy proposals — bankruptcy reform and free college for families making less than $125,000 a year — Biden said quite simply they were good bills.
Warren’s bankruptcy reform was “what we couldn’t get done in a Republican administration,” Biden said, arguing that he’d made the bankruptcy bill he worked on years ago better by prioritizing women, children, and lower American Americans.
Sanders argued that true leadership is supporting the right policies even when they’re unpopular.
‘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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.