Democratic debate in Washington, DC

By Veronica Rocha and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0358 GMT (1158 HKT) March 16, 2020
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8:51 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden on coronavirus: Medicare for All "would not solve the problem at all"

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Joe Biden said having Medicare for All in the United States would not help solve the coronavirus crisis. 

“With all due respect to Medicare for All, you have a single payer system in Italy. It doesn't work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all,” Biden said.

Italy has been put under total lockdown as coronavirus spreads in the country. 

Bernie Sanders, who has spearheaded Medicare for All, responded to Biden’s assertion and said experts have said that one of the reasons the US has been unprepared to handle this crisis is "we don't have a system.” 

“We’ve got thousands of private insurance plans," Sanders said. "That is not a system that is prepared to provide health care to all people. In a good year, without the epidemic, we're losing up to 60,000 people who die every year because they don't get to a doctor on time." 

“It's clear this crisis is only making a bad situation worse,” Sanders said. 

Under Sanders' Medicare for All plan, Americans would be enrolled in a national health insurance program, also known as a "single-payer" system, and the federal government would run the program. 


8:25 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden and Sanders both say they'd deploy military to fight coronavirus

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Asked if he'd deploy the US military to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Bernie Sanders said he'd use "all of the tools that make sense."

"And if using the National Guard — which is folks, I think, in New York state are already using the National Guard — that's something that has to be done," Sanders said. "This is clearly, as the vice president indicated, a national emergency."

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he'd call on the military immediately, adding they could help build hospitals.

"I would call out the military. Now," Biden said. "So it is a national emergency. I would call out the military."


8:22 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden on coronavirus: "This is like a war"

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Joe Biden compared the coronavirus pandemic to war, portraying himself as a leader who is prepared to tackle a crisis and contrasting his approach with Bernie Sanders’ call for a single-payer health care system tonight. 

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

“Everything that you need in terms of dealing with this crisis would be free,” he said. “It is paid for by the taxpayers generally. Generally. It has nothing to do with Bernie’s Medicare for All.” 


8:17 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden on coronavirus and hospitals: "I agree with Bernie"

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Joe Biden looked for commonality early in tonight's Democratic debate, saying “I agree with Bernie” on how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden said he and the Vermont senator were on the same page about making sure hospitals are prepared for a surge in sick patients.

“I agree with Bernie. We’re in a situation where we have to now be providing for the hospitals that are going to be needed. We need it now,” he said. 

Biden said the United States has dealt with similar viruses before, citing “N1H1,” a reference to 2009’s H1N1 pandemic, and “what happened in Africa” -- a reference to Ebola. 


8:20 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders: "First thing we have got to do… shut this President up right now"

From CNN's Dan Merica

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Bernie Sanders said tonight that the first step to tackling the spread of coronavirus — whether he becomes president or not — would be to “shut this President up right now.”

“First thing we have got to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this President up right now, because he’s 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 un-factual information, which if confusing the general public.”

Democrats have faulted President Trump’s response to coronavirus, blaming him for downplaying the impact the virus may have while his scientific advisers have outlined the widespread implications the virus could have on life in America.

Sanders said he believes the government needs to move “aggressive” to make sure everybody in this country “understands that when they get sick with the coronavirus … that all payments will be made.”

“They don't have to worry about coming up with money for testing,” he said. “They don't have to worry about coming up with money for treatment.”

He added: “Do not worry about the cost right now. Because we're in the middle of a national emergency."


8:08 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

The first question of the night is about coronavirus

Joe Biden got the first question of the night — and it was about the coronavirus outbreak.

"What do you say to the American people who are confronting this new reality?" CNN's Jake Tapper asked him.

"This is bigger than any one of us. This calls for a national rallying to everybody move together," Biden said.

Biden added that he wants to increase testing, and ensure that every state has access to drive-through tests. He said he's working to ensure there are more hospital beds and said he'd deal with the economic fall out "quickly."


8:00 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

The debate just started

Tonight's Democratic debate — the first one-on-one debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders — just kicked off.

This is the last debate before Tuesday's primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

You might notice the podiums are far apart: The microphones at the Democratic debate are 6 feet apart, per recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

The debate was originally scheduled to be held in Arizona in front of an audience, but was moved to studios in CNN’s Washington, DC, bureau. There is no studio audience tonight.

8:04 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden and Sanders bumped elbows before the debate started

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders bumped elbows before the start of tonight’s CNN debate.

The candidates appeared to dispense with the traditional pre-debate handshake. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines suggest you should avoid handshakes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.


7:45 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

What to watch in the first one-on-one debate between Biden and Sanders

From CNN's Eric Bradner and Dan Merica

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders enter their first one-on-one debate tonight under unprecedented circumstances.

The debate will be held in CNN's studios in Washington, DC, with no in-person audience as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The historic situation will serve as the backdrop to a debate in which Biden and Sanders will look to explain how they would lead the country in a moment of crisis and how their experience and policies make them best suited for the job.

Here are three things to watch in tonight's debate:

  • Addressing a pandemic: Biden and Sanders' responses to the coronavirus have highlighted their unity in opposing President Trump, as both believe he has mishandled this crisis. But their responses have also highlighted the chasm between the two on policy and demeanor. Biden is pledging competency that leads voters to harken back to how former presidents responded in a time of crisis, while Sanders is promising wholesale change.
  • How will Biden balance a primary and a pivot? The former vice president is eager to pivot to the general election and focus on taking on Trump. But he can't take a potential victory over Sanders for granted and he also can't risk alienating Sanders' supporters. In a speech Tuesday night in Delaware, after his victory in Michigan and other primaries, Biden extended an olive branch to Sanders supporters. Whether Biden can continue that outreach while facing criticism from Sanders on the debate stage tonight is a key question.
  • Will Sanders pull his punches? How aggressive Sanders is with Biden could preview how long this primary battle will last. Sanders comes into the debate with a substantial delegate deficit and a slate of tough contests ahead of him on Tuesday. As a results of the coronavirus pandemic, his campaign is currently unable to hold the large, raucous rallies that have propelled his bid to date. That leaves Sunday's debate as the best opportunity for the Vermont senator to make up ground. But how Sanders approaches Biden tonight will set the tone for to the rest of the primary.