Sunday night’s debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the last two standing candidates in the 2020 Democratic field, featured both sides trading predictable lines on the coronavirus pandemic and committing to naming female running mates.
The DNC moved the debate from its scheduled location in Arizona to CNN’s studio in Washington, D.C. last week amid coronavirus fears. The only people present in the room were Biden, Sanders, and moderators Dana Bash, Ilia Calderon and Jake Tapper.
Biden, buoyed off of his primary wins in South Carolina and the overwhelming majority of states on Super Tuesday, opened up a commanding lead this past Tuesday with additional wins in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington. He currently holds a roughly 150 delegate lead over Sanders. The night was a sharp departure from the previous debate, highlighted by moderators losing complete control of the participants. (RELATED: ‘Off The Rails’: Moderators Struggle As 10th Democratic Debate Turns Into Absolute Shouting Match)
As expected, CNN devoted the first half hour to addressing the ongoing pandemic.
Both Biden and Sanders criticized President Donald Trump’s initial response to the pandemic. Still, the majority of Biden’s answers sought to draw comparisons to how former President Barack Obama handled the Ebola crisis, and how he would bring that experience to handling coronavirus. Sanders repeatedly used coronavirus to expose the underlying “flaws” with America’s current health care system, advocating for his signature health care proposal, Medicare for All.
Notably, neither candidate would commit to enacting a national quarantine if the coronavirus happened on their watch, yet both said they would mobilize the military to help with the crisis.
The pair split, however, when asked if China should be “punished” for misleading the international community about the early days of the outbreak. Sanders argued that now is not the time for punishing China but criticized Trump for his recent praise of China’s handling of the outbreak. “It’s sad that we have a president who ignores the international community,” he added. (RELATED: White House Will Announce Monday New ‘Recommendations For The Public’ On Social Distancing)
Biden, on the other hand, argued that the U.S. should have been “bringing the world together” and sending experts to China to investigate the coronavirus as soon as the first cases were reported.
Additionally, the septuagenarians were asked what they, individually, were doing to safeguard their own health, as coronavirus is particularly deadly for the elderly. Sanders, 78, said that though he prefers rallies, his campaign, all of which is now “working from home” is now holding video “fireside” chats. Biden, 77, took the opportunity to take a shot at Sanders’ recent heart attack, adding that he is “in good health” and, like Sanders, has dictated his staff work from home.
The elephant in the room…
Following coronavirus, moderators brought the discussion back to the election at large, asking Biden how he plans to appeal to Sanders’ ardent supporters should he win the nomination.
“He’s making it hard on me,” Biden conceded, before changing course. “If Bernie’s the nominee, I will not only support him, but I will campaign for him,” adding, “I hope he will do the same thing with me.”
Likewise, Sanders pledged to support Biden if he wins the nomination in order to defeat Trump, who he called a “pathological liar… racist, sexist… a homophobe” and “the most dangerous president in the history of this country.”
The rest of this section contained significantly fewer pleasantries. Sanders took shots at Biden’s voting record on Social Security, veterans issues and campaign finance reform. Biden, for his part, argued that Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal has no chance of passing a Republican controlled Senate and claimed that if Sanders’ supporters “want a revolution now” they should support his Obamacare-like plan.
“We can do that now,” he stated. “I can get that passed.”
Both candidates attacked each other for fueling their campaigns through Super PACs, though both denied the other’s claims. Sanders asked Biden to disavow his Super PAC, while Biden claimed Sanders had nine PACs funding his campaign.
2 legit not to commit…
The second hour of the debate featured a number of questions on key issues to liberal voters, which both candidates used to make a number of bold claims about their potential terms in office.
Sanders, noting that women make up more than half of America’s population, said his cabinet would reflect that. He also called out Biden’s past support for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents clinics that perform abortions from receiving federal funding, and said he has always believed in a “woman’s right” to choose.
Biden took Sanders’ cabinet pledge and one-upped it. He pledged to nominate the first African-American woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court and pledged to tap a woman to serve as his vice president. Moderator Dana Bash, clearly surprised by Biden’s assertion, asked Sanders if he too would tap a woman to be his running mate, to which he answered he “most likely” would.
Both candidates made strong pledges to illegal immigrants living in the United States. Biden pledged that he would not carry out any deportations during his first 100 days in office, adding that after that window closed, deportations would only be carried out for felonies committed in the U.S. Sanders said that on his first day as in office, he would restore the legal status of young people and their parents under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also called for an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, and comprehensive immigration reform that includes a “pathway to citizenship for 11 million” illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
Sanders did press Biden on the issue of climate change, arguing that the former vice president’s reluctance to commit to “transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel” isn’t “doing enough” to solve the problem.
Biden got in a few more shots on Sanders’ recent comments praising former Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro’s literacy programs and his Sunday lines on China just moments prior.
“The praising of Cuba, the praising just now of China – China is an authoritarian dictatorship,” Biden noted. “That’s what it is. We have to deal with them because they are there.”
“The idea of occasionally saying something nice about a country is one thing,” he continued. “The idea of praising a country that is violating human rights around the world is, in fact, makes our allies wonder what is going on.”
“These are flat out dictators. Period. And they should be called for it. Straight up.”
Bite the vulnera-bullet-ies
The moderators noted that when looking at the results from the primary states to vote thus far, both candidates are struggling with key demographics: Biden receives significantly less support than Sanders from Hispanic voters, while Sanders has the same problem with the African-American community.
“Look, my message is resonating across the board,” Biden said when asked to address his lackluster Hispanic support. He argued that, in the primary states he won, he’s not just winning but “overwhelmingly winning,” adding that turnout in those states is up compared to 2016. He took a shot at Sanders’ Independent status by saying people know he is a “Democrat with a capital D.”
Sanders, on the other hand, more or less dodged the question.
He claimed to be winning the “idealogical” and “generational struggle.”
“I have my doubts about how you win a general election against Trump,” Sanders continued before worrying that Biden will not inspire “energy” among young and Hispanic voters.