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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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.
The top topics at the end of the night: Coronavirus, climate change, the economy and immigration
Cuba politics 2020, something different
Two days before Florida’s Democratic presidential primary, Biden sought to both criticize Sanders for past praise of Cuba’s authoritarian regime and to stand by the Obama administration’s move to normalize relations with the island nation.
Florida is home to the nation’s largest Cuban-American population, a group which includes millions of people who fled the island’s communist government and their descendants. But, a 2019 Florida International University poll found that U.S.-Cuban relations do not figure as prominently as they once did in the voting decisions of Cuban Americans. Just 8 percent of those polled identified Cuba policy as the thing that motivates a vote for a specific candidate.
Sanders asked about praise for Castro
Sanders was asked why Cuban-American voters in Florida would vote for Sanders “when they hear you praise a program of Fidel Castro, a dictator who jailed, tortured and killed thousands of Cubans.”
(Sanders, in a recently aired “60 Minutes” interview, said it would “unfair” to say “everything is bad” about Castro, citing the regime’s literacy program.)
Sanders replied that he “opposed authoritarianism everywhere.”
But faced with a follow-up question, Sanders said that it “would be incorrect” to say that nothing done by authoritarian regimes “had a positive impact.”
Courting the Latino electorate
Former Vice President Joe Biden may have helped his campaign’s effort to step up his wooing of Latinos by stating “our future rests on Latino integration” and pushing for quality education for Latino schoolchildren, now roughly a quarter of the public school population.
Tuesday’s primaries include Florida and Arizona states where 20.5 percent and 23.6 percent of the their electorates are Latino, according to the Pew Research Center. The large Cuban and Puerto Rican populations in Florida make immigration less of a priority for Florida’s Latino voters.
Immigration is a major issue in Arizona, but often also is a top issue for Latinos.