UPDATE: After a debate in which Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders spent a chunk of time on an array of past Senate votes, the candidates were finally asked how they would address the public’s anxiety over the coronavirus.
It was an obvious question, given what was unfolding in the previous two hours of the debate. New York’s mayor announced that bars, nightclubs and movie theaters would close; restaurants could remain open only for takeout.
Their approaches were slightly different. Both were empathetic to those directly affected, but Sanders tied the crisis to the problems of income inequality while Biden talked of mobilizing for the common good.
“Our hearts go out to everyone. We need to move aggressively to make sure that every person who has the virus, who thinks they have the virus, understands that they got all the healthcare they need because they are Americans. That we more aggressively to make sure that test kits are out there, that the ventilators are out there, that the ICU units are out there, that the medical personnel are out there.”
He added, “In this moment of economic uncertainty, in addition to the coronavirus, it is time to ask how we got to where we are, not only our lack of preparation for the virus, but how we end up with an economy where so many people are hurting, at a time of massive income and wealth inequality.”
Biden said, “I just can’t imagine what people are going through right now who have lost someone already. I can’t imagine what people are going through when they have a mom…For example, a good friend of ours is sitting outside the window of a nursing home where her mom is because she can’t go in, trying to do sign language to her mom. I can’t imagine, I guess I can imagine the fear and concern people have.”
“This is an all hands on deck…This is bigger than any individual. This bigger than yourself. This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together.”
PREVIOUSLY: Joe Biden made a bit of news at the Democratic debate: He said that he will pick a woman as his running mate if he gets the nomination.
“I commit that I will, in fact, pick a woman to be vice president,” Biden said. “There are a number of woman who are qualified to be president tomorrow.”
Very quickly the speculation will likely center on Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Val Demings, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
After Biden committed to picking a woman as his VP, Bernie Sanders said that “in all likelihood I will.”
“For me, it is not just nominating a woman, it is making sure that we have a progressive woman, and there are progressive women out there,” he said.
Biden also said that he would name an African-American woman to the Supreme Court. That would be a first.
Only twice has a woman been on a presidential ticket. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was Democratic nominee Walter Mondale’s running mate, and in 2008 Sarah Palin was on the ticket with John McCain.
PREVIOUSLY: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, while addressing what they would do to address the coronavirus crisis, also were asked what they were doing to protect themselves.
The two candidates are in the high risk category — Biden is 77 and Sanders is 78 — and their campaigns have suspended public events.
“On personal level what we are doing is I am not shaking hands,” Sanders said. “Joe and I did not shake hands, and I am very careful about the people I am interacting with. I am using a lot of soap and sanitizer to make sure I do not get an infection. Thank God I do not have any symptoms and I feel very grateful for that.”
Biden said that “fortunately, I don’t have any of the underlying conditions you were talking about,” making a contrast to Sanders, who had a heart attack last fall.
“I am taking all of the precautions anyone would take whether they are 30 years old or 60 years old or 80 years old, and that is I do not shake hands any longer,” Biden said. “I do not engage. Our staff is all working from home. We do not do rallies anymore. We do virtual rallies or town hall meetings….I wash my hands, God knows, how many times a day with hot water and soap.”
PREVIOUSLY: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders launched their first solo debate on Sunday by giving each other an elbow bump and then, standing behind lecterns at the minimum social distance of six feet apart, outlined what they would do if they were in charge of the coronavirus crisis.
“The first thing we have got to do is shut this president up right now,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable for [Trump] to be blabbering with unfactual information that is confusing the general public.”
But he said that the current crisis exposed the weakness of the current healthcare system, showing the need for a Medicare for All plan.
“We are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people. We’re spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic,” Sanders said.
Biden, though, argued that the national emergency would guarantee that Americans would get the medical treatment they need.
“This is a crisis. This is like we are being attacked from abroad,” Biden said. “This is something that is of great consequence. It is like a war, and in a war you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people.”
He said that he would even enlist the military to help.
That the debate was happening at all was a bit unusual, given how quickly the crisis has changed American life and flatlined the economy. In asking his first question, CNN’s Jake Tapper said that the event was “unusual,” and said in asking the first question, “We are in a reality that might have been unimaginable a week ago.”
The politics of the pandemic dominated the first 40 minutes of the debate, well beyond how the candidates would address urgent medical and health needs, but on why their own economic plans were well suited to address a likely recession. The candidates, though, spent little time talking about the experience that most Americans have had to accept in recent days — social distancing, mass closures, empty streets and work at home.
“We have never lived through anything like this before,” said CNN’s Chris Cuomo, referring not just to the global pandemic but that it is unfolding in the midst of a presidential campaign.
Even before the coronavirus crisis escalated, the debate was going to be far different than any other this cycle. Instead of seven candidates on the stage, as was the case in the last debate, there is just Biden and Sanders. But as public events were canceled, the Democratic National Committee nixed the audience, and then switched the venue from a theater in Phoenix to CNN’s studios in Washington, D.C.