Biden, Sanders Vow to Fight Coronavirus in First Two-Man Debate

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders sparred over how they would respond to the coronavirus in their first one-on-one debate, arguing about whether Medicare for All is the right solution to fight the health crisis as it explodes across the United States.

“We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people,” Sanders said, using the moment to make a sharp point about his signature policy proposal. He said all Americans should be able to get treatment when they are sick regardless of their income.

Biden pushed back against the idea of Medicare for All, saying Italy has a similar system and it has not stopped the crisis there.

“You have a single payer system in Italy,” he said. “It doesn’t work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all.”

Italy, with the oldest population in Europe, now has 1,809 deaths, an increase of 368 from Saturday, among more than 24,000 cases.

The candidates agreed that working people who lose their jobs because of shutdowns during the crisis should get financial support from the federal government.

Biden said he believes there will need to be a “major, major, major bailout” in which “we do not reward corporations, we reward individuals who in fact are really put to the test.”

They disagreed on what economic reforms should come in response to the pandemic and debated the effectiveness of the 2008 economic bailout, which Biden supported and Sanders did not.

“We need to stabilize the economy, but we can’t repeat what we did in 2008,” Sanders said. “Joe voted for that. I voted against it because 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 over which you had no control.”

Biden defended his support of the bailout, which he said saved the economy, avoided a depression and helped the poor.

“Had those banks gone under, all those people would be in deep trouble. deep, deep trouble.” Biden said. “All those little folks, we would have gone out of business. They would find themselves in position where they would lose everything they had in that bank. Whether it was $10 or $300 or a savings account. This was about saving an economy, and it did save the economy.”

Sunday’s debate, the first one-on-one debate between the two remaining contenders, was low-key compared to the group squabbles seen when as many as a dozen candidates crowded the stage in earlier settings. But the tone was also somber as the coronavirus crisis gripped America, with the Centers for Disease Control announcing that people should not gather in groups of more than 50.

Still, primaries will go ahead as planned on Tuesday in Illinois, Ohio, Arizona and Florida. Biden has a 21.5 percentage point lead nationally in the RealClearPolitics polling average and a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates to the nominating convention.

But Sanders knows that staying in the race is one way to keep pushing his progressive agenda and potentially move the party to the left. It may be working. Earlier Sunday, Biden adopted a version of Sanders’s plan for tuition-free public college.

On the virus, Biden urged the Trump administration to ramp up testing and quickly build temporary hospitals.

“This is bigger than any one of this. This calls for a national rallying,” Biden said.

Sanders agreed about the need for additional testing and hospital beds but also pointed to problems coming straight from President Donald Trump.

“The first thing we’ve got to do, whether or not I’m president, to shut this president up right now because he is undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with unfactual information which is confusing the general public.”

A series of primaries starting in February winnowed a historically large and diverse field down to two viable candidates, both white men in their 70s. Hawaii Represenative Tulsi Gabbard is also running, but has won only two of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Initially planned for a traditional format in front of a large studio audience in Phoenix, Arizona, the debate was moved to the CNN studio in Washington.

Officials in all four of Tuesday’s primary states are counting on absentee and early voting to keep turnout up in the first round of balloting since people began avoiding public places out of fear of the virus. Louisiana, Georgia and Wyoming have delayed their contests.

Last week, Biden won four of the of the six primaries, coming out on top in Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and the biggest prize of Michigan. Those votes were just a week after Super Tuesday, when he surged to front-runner status with sweeping support from African-American voters around the country.

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