Biden, Sanders, and the coronavirus go head-to-head in Democratic debate

Democratic front runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders discussed the new coronavirus, the climate crisis and immigration in the Democratic presidential debate moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Washington, DC.

The debate, which took place on Sunday, March 15, was moved to a closed CNN studio in Washington, DC, at the request of both candidates. CNN announced the move after the live audience, press filing center and spin room were eliminated at the Phoenix location.

Univision’s Ilia Calderón also replaced Jorge Ramos as moderator after Ramos was possibly exposed to the coronavirus, and was joined by CNN’s Dana Bash and Jake Tapper.

As a result of the changes, the debate focused heavily on both the coronavirus, or COVID-19, and its effect on healthcare, the economy, and the climate crisis.

In the opening question, both Biden and Sanders called for a better plan to combat COVID-19.

“…We need unprecedented action right now to deal with the unprecedented crisis,” Sanders stated, including a promise to protect the wages of American workers.

“This is like a war,” Biden said. “And in a war, you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people.”

Though whatever is needed still does not include Medicare for all, which Sanders emphasized while Biden called for bailout packages.

The candidates often targeted each other’s voting records. On one occasion, Biden and Sanders volleyed back and forth on whether Biden is opposed to Social Security based on his no vote for the 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction, which did not pass.

They still took questions from Arizonans like Amy Langenfeld, who asked how they would ensure the best advice on issues that affect women’s physical and financial health.

Sanders said, “We need to have universal, affordable, high-quality childcare, so women who are single or married can go off to work and know that their kids are going to be well taken care of.”

Biden committed to picking a woman to be his vice president, while Sanders said it was about picking a progressive woman.

Calderon also asked how candidates would ensure undocumented immigrants feel safe enough to receive coronavirus treatment.

Biden said he would not let undocumented immigrants be deported for coming forward for testing.

Sanders said, “…We have the absurd situation where undocumented people who try to do the right thing…are now standing and thinking about when ICE is going to deport them,” and called for comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship.

Biden also promised a path towards citizenship and no deportations with exceptions to felons.

“It’s about uniting families,” Biden said. “It’s about making sure that we can both be a nation of immigrants as well as a nation that is decent.”

Sanders refuted allegations by Trump that a Democrat in office would open borders. Instead, he emphasized immigrants as part of the American community and a path towards citizenship.

Candidates also discussed the climate crisis, a topic neglected in past Democratic debates and which can fuel the spread of infectious diseases according to the World Health Organization.

Both candidates agreed to stop fracking and funding the fossil fuel industry. Biden emphasized increased infrastructure to get automobiles off the road, while Sanders turned to investing in renewable energy like solar and wind.

They also discussed authoritarian regimes like China and Cuba, with Biden asking why Sanders would praise the achievements of an authoritarian regime.

Bash asked each candidate about the weaknesses in their campaigns. While Biden has a smaller share of Hispanic voters, he emphasized winning with significant turnout in almost every state.

Sanders reminded that he has won some states, and explained, “But here’s what we are winning. We are winning the ideological struggle.”

In Sander’s closing message, he called on moving aggressively to ensure access to healthcare including COVID-19 tests. He continued that in times of economic uncertainty, it is time to ask “how we end up with an economy where so many of our people are hurting at a time of massive income and wealth inequality… the question of where the power is in America.”

Biden expressed sorrow to those affected by the coronavirus and talked about bringing people together, making sacrifices and listening to science. He also said, “The single most significant thing we can do to deal with the larger problem down the road of income inequality is get rid of Donald Trump.”

As Anderson Cooper said at the close of the debate: “There you have it. A CNN Univision Democratic debate. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and a third unwelcome player: the coronavirus.”

Arizonans headed to the polls for the state Democratic primary election on March 17 along with Illinois, Florida, and Ohio. Joe Biden won the majority delegates.

The new coronavirus underlined the Democratic debate, beginning with an elbow touch instead of a handshake between Democratic presidential frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders took the stage in the first two-man Democratic debate hosted by CNN and Univision on March 15.

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