democratic debates

Key Moments From the Bernie-Biden Debate

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

After ten debates with a stage packed with candidates, the contest had finally whittled down to just two Democratic candidates for president sparring on Sunday. Despite the twists and turns — like the absence of a crowd — they were the two politicians who led in the polls for the vast majority of the race. Though there were concerns that Joe Biden would not deliver in a two-hour contest, he remained cogent as Sanders called him out for his record as a lawmaker. Sanders, meanwhile, made effective points throughout the night, using the coronavirus as a timely and terrifying example for the need to overhaul the public health system in America. But unfortunately for his supporters, his performance — combined with Biden’s competent night — was probably not enough to swing the momentum of the race in his favor, as he faces what may be an insurmountable delegate gap. Below are the key moments from what could be the final 2020 Democratic debate — unless Sanders pulls off an upset on Tuesday, when Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio go to the polls.

The coronavirus impacts the debate from the outset

In a D.C. studio without an audience — instead of before voters in Arizona where the debate was scheduled — the candidates altered their behavior:

The coronavirus question

Biden began with a cough, then coughed a second time in his early statements on how to respond to the crisis, in which he emphasized a significant increase in testing capacities.

How Sanders would respond to the health system’s limited capacity

Sanders said that the coronavirus has exposed the “weakness and dysfunctionality” of the American health-care system and weak safety net. “We are spending so much money and yet we are not prepared for this epidemic,” he said.

Biden hits Medicare for All

Answering moderators’ question if he would enact a national lockdown, Biden said that Italy has a single-payer health-care system and is inundated by the global pandemic, and that Sanders’s signature policy would not stop the crisis in the United States.

Sanders responded, saying that “when we spend twice as much on health care as any other nation … one might expect we were preparing for an epidemic.” He added that the American system is already in crisis, noting that in 2019 “almost 30,000 people died in America because they couldn’t get health care as they should … I consider that a crisis.”

Biden says he’d call in the military to handle COVID-19, as Sanders talks recession fears

Responding to a question on whether or not he’d call in the military to help treat the crisis, Sanders turned to the economic impact of the coronavirus. He said that if the Trump administration can provide “$1.5 billion in liquidity for the banks, we have to say to every worker in America ‘Don’t panic, you’ll be able to pay your mortgage.’” Biden responded directly, saying that he would mobilize military forces.

It’s better without the crowds

Biden sounds clear-headed

Apart from a few concerning coughs at the beginning of the debate, the former vice-president is performing well, despite expectations that he may falter with increased stage time in a one-on-one debate.

“What are you doing to protect yourself?”

Sanders said that his entire staff is working from home. “I’m not shaking hands,” he said. “I’m using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers … I do not have any symptoms and I’ve very grateful for that.”

Biden said that he does not have any underlying conditions, and said that he was taking necessary precautions. “We’re doing virtual rallies, doing virtual town-hall meetings … I wash my hands God knows how many times a day with hot water and soap.”

“It’s good that you had an idea 30 years ago”

In a conversation about money in politics, Biden mentioned a bill he wrote to require federally-funded elections. Sanders responded with the strong dig above, and asked Biden why he is taking Super PAC money in the 2020 race.

Biden then claimed that Sanders takes money from nine such organizations; Sanders challenged him to name them:

Sanders hits Biden for his record on Social Security

The Vermont senator called out Biden for his attempt to cut Social Security in the 1990s. The former vice-president denied the claim, though Sanders surrogates quickly posted the video of him doing so online:

Sanders highlights the differences in their records

Shortly before the commercial break, the Vermont senator called attention to the former Delaware senator’s long and controversial history as a lawmaker:

Critics want more coronavirus questions

Biden commits to a female vice-president

The former vice-president stated in a long answer that he would promise to run with a woman on the ticket. When asked if he stood by that pledge, he confirmed it. Sanders said that “in all likelihood I will” nominate a woman and that he has a “very strong tendency” to pick a progressive woman as vice-president.

Sanders calls Biden’s climate policy “not enough”

“If you’re laughing Joe, then you’re missing the point,” Sanders said, when he called Biden’s promise to rejoin the Paris climate accords insufficient. Biden said that his climate plan “unites the world.” Sanders defended his decision to ban fracking on federal land — as the industry tanked in real time.

Biden answers for his Iraq vote

The former vice-president called his vote a mistake and that he realized that the Bush administration’s WMD lie shortly after the invasion. Biden said he would challenge Sanders on foreign policy “any day of the week.”

“Let’s start off on the war in Iraq,” Sanders responded, condemning Biden’s vote, and highlighting his role as a key voice in the push to invade.

A return to the coronavirus

In the final question of the debate, Jake Tapper asked the candidates about their messages to Americans during the pandemic. Sanders said, “This is a time to move aggressively to combat the virus” and to “rethink an America where we care about each other.” Biden said, “We have to start to listen to the science again,” saying that he’d be in the Situation Room every day “pulling together the best people” to ask “what are the prescriptive moves we need now” to slow the spread of the virus and “render harmless” its economic impact.

Key Moments From the Bernie-Biden Debate