The final two competitive Democratic presidential candidates went head-to-head Sunday night in their last match-up before another round of state primaries on Tuesday.
This week, Arizona, Illinois, Florida, and Ohio will cast their ballots for the Democratic nomination between frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden currently leads in the race to 1,991 delegates with 890 to Sanders’s 736.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard remains in the race but has yet to come close to capturing a first-place win in a single state and only has two delegates from the territory of her birth, the American Samoa.
Candidates Take Aim at Trump Over Wuhan Virus
The CNN moderators kicked off the night with several questions regarding the coronavirus pandemic closing schools and business across the country. The two candidates on stage also took the opportunity to slam the Trump administration as unprepared to handle the present crisis.
Biden spoke first and began his response with a cough.
Video of Biden coughing while answering a question about the coronavirus within minutes of the CNN debate starting. pic.twitter.com/hLmezArlGw
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) March 16, 2020
Biden called the crisis “bigger than any one of us,” and laid out his plan to confront the epidemic, including nationwide drive-thru testing and temporary hospitals. Biden also warned that the current health-care infrastructure does not have the capacity to deal with the imminent caseload.
“The present system cannot handle the surge that is likely to come,” Biden said.
Sanders echoed Biden’s response, first going after the president before moving on to urge sick individuals to seek out medical care no matter the cost.
“Firstly, whether or not I’m president, we have to shut this president up right now,” charged Sanders, who accused the president of “blabbering” and “confusing the general public.”
Sanders proceeded to give credit for Trump declaring a national emergency and encouraged those sick to seek medical treatment no matter the cost, promising that it will be covered. “Do not worry about the cost right now, because we’re in the middle of a national emergency.”
While both knocked the Trump administration as leaving the nation woefully unequipped the confront the pandemic, senior contributor Kyle Sammin pointed out for The Federalist last week that Trump has been proactive in combatting its spread by implementing a Chinese travel ban early and working to manufacture medical supplies at home.
Biden Confuses Wuhan Coronavirus and Swine Flu
When touting his role in the Obama White House dealing with previous public health emergencies, Biden mixed up the novel Wuhan coronavirus with Swine Flu, calling the flu outbreak that occurred in 2009 “N1H15” instead of “H1N1.”
Biden confuses the Swine Flu with Coronavirus, then says “N1H15” instead of H1N1.
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) March 16, 2020
Biden And Sanders Debate ‘Medicare For All’
Sanders seized on the moment to tout his signature single-payer health-care plan, “Medicare for All.”
“We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We’re spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic,” Sanders said. “In the midst of this epidemic, you have people in the pharmaceutical industry saying, wow, what an opportunity to make a fortune.”
Biden pushed back, pointing out that Italy, which is now on lockdown due to the outbreak and has death panels deciding which patients will receive care over others, already has the health care system Sanders envisions.
“With all due respect for Medicare for All, you have a single-payer health care system in Italy. It doesn’t work over there,” Biden said.
The former vice president went on to tout his own plan to combat the virus, in which the government comes in with a blank check to cover the costs of tests and treatment for any individual infected. Biden also said he would repeat the decisions that he made in the Obama administration to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus by convening experts in the White House situation room.
Sanders responded by arguing that a system under Medicare for All would leave the country more prepared to fight outbreaks of new diseases by encouraging sick individuals to visit a hospital at the onset of symptoms.
Biden disagreed, saying the spread of an outbreak in a national health crisis has nothing to do with whether people are insured and reiterated his plan for the government to pay all medical expenses incurred by infected people.
“This is a national health emergency. This isn’t a question of whether or not this is something that could be covered by insurance or anything else,” Biden said. “We out of the Treasury are going to pay for this. It’s a national emergency. That’s what my plan calls for.”
Biden Calls For Bailouts to Sanders’s Objections
To deal with the economic fall out from the Wuhan virus, Biden said he would push for a “major, major, major bailout package” to rescue major industries from collapse.
“We’re going to have to just level with the American people,” Biden said after claiming the current administration’s recent tax cut has gutted the federal government’s ability to release additional economic stimulus.
Joe Biden on the economy: "What I would do is make it clear to the world and make it clear to the United States that we are going to have to have a major, major, major bailout package that we do not reward corporations, we reward individuals" #DemDebate https://t.co/WhvffkfSes pic.twitter.com/BBfRhVS34Y
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 16, 2020
Sanders, who has been a vocal critic of the bailouts from the previous financial crisis in 2008, which always favor connected interests at the expense of taxpayers, savers, and small businesses, decried the idea of additional bailouts to rescue institutions on the brink of failure from the Wuhan plague.
“I said this to the secretary of the Treasury,” Sanders said of the 2008 bailouts. “You want a bailout? That’s fine. Have your friends pay for it. Not working people.”
Sen. Sanders voted against the Wall Street bank bailout. Biden, then VP, backed it.
And a question about whether there should be a similar bailout for the economic effects of the deadly #coronavirus pandemic quickly devolved into their past positions https://t.co/pHtq4ngQ0L pic.twitter.com/i9ZC7ruTTk
— POLITICO (@politico) March 16, 2020
“We can’t repeat what we did in 2008,” Sanders said. “We have got to do more than save the banks or the oil companies. Our job right now is to tell every working person in this country, no matter what your income is, you are not going to suffer as a result of this crisis of which you had no control.”
Candidates Discuss Their Own Health Precautions
Biden, 77, and Sanders, 78, both said they are taking extra steps to prevent themselves from contracting the virus that has been shown to be particularly deadly among older individuals, particularly those with heart and respiratory problems. Sanders suffered a heart attack as recently as last fall.
Both have cancelled campaign events and said they were washing their hands frequently while refusing to shake hands with others. At the beginning of the debate, the two greeted each other on stage with an elbow bump.
“I wash my hands God knows how many times a day with hot water and soap,” Biden said, adding that he is now holding virtual campaign events online. Sanders noted that his staff are working from home.
Biden Promises Female Running Mate
Biden pledged that if nominated, he would choose a woman to join him on the ticket.
“I commit that I will, in fact, pick a woman to be vice president,” Biden said. “There are a number of women qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”
Biden also promised to make his first Supreme Court nominee a nonwhite woman and added that he would take sex into consideration when making cabinet appointments.
NEW: Joe Biden says if elected he will choose a woman to be vice president pic.twitter.com/eq38FVbMau
— Axios (@axios) March 16, 2020
Sanders refused to promise a female running mate but said he would pick one “in all likelihood.”