Democratic debate in Washington, DC

By Veronica Rocha and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0358 GMT (1158 HKT) March 16, 2020
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10:55 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders weighs in on how coronavirus could affect Tuesday's primaries

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Four states have primaries scheduled for Tuesday: Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. But as the coronavirus outbreak spreads, officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have encouraged the cancellation of any gathering that will draw more than 50 people.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was just asked if he thinks the Tuesday primaries should go on as planned.

"That is a very good question," Sanders said. "Look, you know, elections, dates are very, very important. We don't want to be getting in the habit of messing around with them."

He added:

"I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts, and what they are saying is — you just indicated — we don't want gatherings of more than 50 people. I'm thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, doing all that stuff. Does that make a lot of sense? I'm not sure that it does."


10:52 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Fact check: Biden says Medicare for All wouldn't solve coronavirus "at all." Here's what we know.

From CNN's Tami Luhby

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Asked whether he would order a national lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden took a swipe at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ "Medicare for All" proposal. He pointed to Italy, saying that its single-payer health care system hasn’t worked to stem the outbreak there. 

“It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all,” Biden said at CNN’s Democratic Debate on tonight. 

Facts first: This is partly true. As the experience of Italy and other countries shows, having universal coverage and a government-run health system is not enough on its own to stem the spread of coronavirus. But the US is at a disadvantage in fighting the coronavirus because tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or face high out-of-pocket costs before their insurance kicks in — which may make people hesitant to seek testing or treatment.   

Health care experts in the US are concerned that coronavirus will spread more widely because ill Americans will avoid getting checked out because of the potential cost. Medicare for All calls for all Americans to have coverage with no out-of-pocket charges. 

Nearly 28 million non-elderly people — or 10.4% — were uninsured in 2018, according to the US Census Bureau. And those who have insurance through their jobs still face annual deductibles of about $1,655, on average, before coverage kicks in, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Employer Health Benefits Survey. 

 "Addressing coronavirus with tens of millions of people without health insurance or with inadequate insurance will be a uniquely American challenge among developed countries," Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at Kaiser, tweeted. "It will take money to treat people and address uncompensated care absorbed by providers." 

But federal and state officials, as well as insurers, have stepped up to make sure that Americans can get the coronavirus test at no cost. Many insurers have said they will waive fees for certain members. Several states have also required insurers to waive the cost of the test for some policyholders. 

The House bipartisan legislative package, which lawmakers passed in the early hours of Saturday morning, also calls for "free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to House Democrats. 

President Trump has tweeted his support of the package. The Senate is expected to take up the measure when it returns to session this week. 

10:10 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

How the Obama administration handled the 2014 Ebola crisis

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Former Vice President Joe Biden said early in Sunday’s Democratic debate that he would handle the coronavirus like the Obama administration took on the 2014 Ebola crisis.

What did that mean?

The fast-moving Ebola epidemic in West Africa was what the World Health Organization labeled the “largest, most severe and most complex” Ebola epidemic in history. More than 28,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died.

The outbreak started in March 2014 and the initial US response was considered by some slow and inadequate, but by August of that year, the Obama administration staged what scholars say is the largest American intervention in a global public health crisis.

Congress approved $5.4 billion of the $6.2 billion Obama had asked for in emergency Ebola funding that went to support international efforts and to create infrastructure in the US to fight emerging infectious disease.

The US sent more than 3,500 personnel from multiple agencies to fight the epidemic, mobilizing staff from the Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Service, the US Agency for International Development and the National Institutes of Health.

The medical experts provided direct care to patients and performed basic public health services like contact tracing to help stop the spread of the disease. The experts trained more than 1,500 local healthcare workers. It also educated citizens on disease prevention and partnered with locals to create nearly 200 safe burial teams.

The US military also built 11 Ebola treatment units in the region and oversaw the creation of five others. These ETU’s cared for patients, isolated Ebola patients from others, and tested people for the disease. The Department of Defense brought seven mobile labs to the region speeding up testing. The US also built a medical unit in Liberia that cared for healthcare workers that got sick caring for patients.

In the US, the Obama administration set up Ebola screening at airports, provided national training for health care workers and created an infrastructure of 51 Ebola treatment centers in 16 states that continue to manage emerging infectious diseases. The unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is currently being used to care for novel coronavirus patients. 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease initiated work on an Ebola vaccine and that research continues.

10:12 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden and Sanders closed out their first one-on-one debate with a message on coronavirus

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden just wrapped up their first one-on-one debate tonight in Washington, DC, with a message to Americans on coronavirus.

Here's a portion of what they said:

Biden: "This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together and make the kind of sacrifices we need to make to get this done. So first and foremost what we have to do is start to listen to the science again. ... Donald Trump has exacerbated every single one of these problems, both the immediate urgent need and how we're going to hold people harmless for the damage done as a consequence of this virus. It's important we do both."

Sanders: "This is a time to move aggressively, dealing with the coronavirus crisis, dealing with the economic fallout. But it is also time to rethink America and create a country where we care about each other rather than a nation of greed and corruption which is what is taking place among the corporate elite."

10:00 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden and Sanders were asked about their campaign weaknesses. Here's what they said.

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were just asked about their weaknesses in the 2020 race.

CNN's Dana Bash pointed out that Sanders has done better with Hispanic voters than Biden. Biden insisted that his message is "resinating across the board," and pointed to several states that he's won.

"Why is it that I'm winning all those places? What's the reason?" Biden asked. "The reason is because they know I am a Democrat with a capital "D" who believes our that base is the base of the Democratic Party."

Bash went on to mention that Sanders' campaign is struggling to gain wide support from black voters.

"I think it's imperative that we defeat Trump. I think our campaign of a biracial, bi-generational — multigenerational grassroots movement is the way to do it," Sanders said.

Sanders added his campaign is "winning the ideological struggle."


9:59 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders says it "would be incorrect" to deny any positives from authoritarian regimes 

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Bernie Sanders defended his previous comments praising Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba for literacy programs, arguing he was simply acknowledging reality. 

“We condemn authoritarianism whether it’s in China, Russia, Cuba, anyplace else. But to simply say that nothing ever done by any of those administrations had a positive impact on their people would, I think, be incorrect,” Sanders said. 

Joe Biden criticized Sanders and defended similar comments from former President Barack Obama, saying that Obama “was trying to change Cuban policy so the Cuban people would get out from under the thumb” of Castro’s regime.

Biden said that “these are flat-out dictators, period, and they should be called for it, straight-up.”

“President Obama was more generous in his praise of what Cuba did in health care and education than I was. I was talking about a program 60 years ago, in the first year of the Castro revolution,” Sanders responded. 


9:51 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders on Biden’s climate change policy: "All well and good, but nowhere near enough"

From CNN's Dan Merica

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden agreed on a host of climate change policies on Sunday, but the Vermont senator highlighted his far more aggressive policies on the issue.

“All well and good, but nowhere near enough,” Sanders said after Biden listed a series of his policies.

“I look at climate change in exactly the same way,” Sanders said, labeling the fight against climate change a “war-like situation.” “It's not a question of reentering the Paris accord. That's fine. Who cares? Not a big deal.”

“What Joe is saying goes nowhere near enough. It's not a question of money," Sanders said.

"This is a world changing event,” he added.

Biden’s defend his approach, touting the fact that he would cut subsidies to fossil fuel counties and end offshore drilling.

“The fact that he says… Paris accord doesn't mean much. We can get everything exactly right. We're 15% of the problem. 85% of the problem is over there,” Biden said. “We need someone who can deal internationally. We need someone to bring the world together again. We need someone who can move in a direction that, in fact, if you violate the commitment you make, you will pay an economic price for it.”


9:33 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden praises 2020 rivals’ bankruptcy and free public university tuition plans 

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Joe Biden praised two proposals from his current and former presidential rivals that he recently embraced as he attempts to consolidate the party behind him and pivot to a general election against President Donald Trump. 

Univision's Ilia Calderón asked Biden at Sunday's debate, “Yesterday, you endorsed an Elizabeth Warren plan that would undo key parts of the bankruptcy law you helped pass in 2005. A few hours ago, you announced support for making public college tuition free for families who make less than $125,000 a year, something Senator Sanders has supported. What changed?” 

Biden said the 2005 bankruptcy bill that he clashed with Warren on at the time was going to passing overwhelmingly in a Republican-controlled Congress, and that he offered amendments to improve the bill. 

“I did not like the rest of the bill, but I improved it,” Biden said. 

Biden said he talked to Warren about her bankruptcy proposal two nights ago, and said, “This is the first opportunity we’ve had to make substantial change in what we couldn't get done in a Republican administration." 

“It’s a good proposal. It’s a solid proposal. And she should get credit for having introduced it,” Biden said. 

Biden also offered praise for Sanders' bill on free public university tuition, and called it a “good idea.”

“The exact bill that Sen. Sanders introduced I guess a little over a year ago, capping it off at $125,000 in income, you could get free up to that point, after that you’d have to pay for college education. It only worked for public schools and it would work for public universities in your state," Biden said.

“I support that idea,” Biden continued. “It was a good idea. And I support it."


9:22 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden says he'd choose a woman to be his vice president

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Joe Biden committed tonight that he would choose a woman to be his vice president.

"There are a number of women qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president," he said.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders said "in all likelihood, I will."

"For me, it's not just nominating a woman. It is making sure that we have a progressive woman and there are progressive women out there. So my very strong tendency is to move in that direction," he added.