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5 highlights from the Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden

Kayla Epstein , Business Insider US
 Mar 16, 2020, 03:56 PM
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 12: Democratic presiden
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on stage during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern Universitys Health and PE Center on September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas. Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls were chosen from the larger field of candidates to participate in the debate hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders debated each other one-on-one for the first time Sunday night.
  • Biden committed to choosing a woman as his vice presidential nominee while Sanders said that his running mate will in "all likelihood" be a woman.
  • Both Sanders and Biden said they would be willing to deploy the U.S. military to help with the response to the coronavirus.
  • The debate over how to combat coronavirus revealed the fundamental differences between Sanders and Biden's vision of government.
  • Sanders used the issue to speak more broadly about his plans to expand HealthCare coverage through Medicare for All, while Biden called for an emergency response and a return to the tactics used by the Obama administration to fight the Ebola outbreak.
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And then there were two.

Sunday's Democratic debate featured just former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, and was moderated by CNN's Dana Bash and Jake Tapper and Univision's Ilia Calderón.

The CNN and Univision-hosted event took place without an audience at CNN's studio in Washington, D.C. amid concerns that large crowds could spread the coronavirus.

But the simplified format actually allowed for the candidates to draw clear distinctions between their philosophies of government, and give substantial explanations of their policies and plans. The moderators dedicated the opening questions to how each candidate would combat the threat posed by the coronavirus and later turned to immigration, climate change, the vice presidential ticket, and more.

Here are some of the top moments from Sunday night's Democratic debate.

Elbow bumps are the new fist bumps

With handshakes verboten in the age of the coronavirus, Biden and Sanders offered an awkward elbow bump before the debate got started and they both rereated to their (very generously spaced) podiums.

Biden says fighting coronavirus is "like a war," and both candidates say they'd use the military to combat the disease

"This is like we are being attacked from abroad," Biden said. "This is something that is of great consequence. This is like a war. And in a war, you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people."

Biden later said, "I would call out the military...they have the capacity to provide this surge, help that hospitals need, and that is needed across the nation."

The military could build "500-bed hospitals" and "tents that are completely safe and secure, and provide the help to get it done to anybody" and deal with "overflow," Biden continued. "So it is a national emergency. I would call out the military."

Sanders was also asked by moderators if he would deploy the U.S. military to help contain the virus.

"Well, I think we use all of the tools that make sense," Sanders said. "And if using the National Guard, which is folks I think in New York state are already using the National Guard, that is something that has to be done."

Biden promises he will choose a woman for his VP

At the top of the debate's second hour, Biden not only pledged to nominate a black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, but he promised to pick a woman as his running mate should he win the Democratic nomination.

"I committ that I will in fact...pick a woman to be vice president," Biden said. "There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow."

When CNN'S Dana Bash followed up to confirm whether he was promising to choose a female vice presidential nominee, Biden replied affirmatively, "Yes."

Sanders, when pressed by Bash if he would choose a woman as his vice presidential pick, was less definitive.

"In all likelihood I will," Sanders said. "For me it's not just about nomination a woman, it is about making sure that we have a progressvie woman" on the ticket.

"There are progressive women out there," Sanders added.

Biden and Sanders' resposes to the coronavirus crisis brings out the fundamental differences between them

Sanders, a proponent of Medicare for All, said that the coronavirus more broadly exposed the risks posed by lack of healthcare coverage and income inequality in the United States, and that more sweeping social measures were needed to protect Americans. Biden argued that America needed a more focused response and an emulation of the tactics used by the Obama adminstration to combat the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

"In the midst of this crisis, you know, if you're a multimillionaire, no one is happy about this crisis, you're going to get through it. You're going to get everything you need," Sanders said. "You're not worried about health care. You're not worried about income coming in."

"Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck," Sanders said. "We've got people who are struggling working two or three jobs to put food on the table. What is going to happen to them?"

Sanders said that because of "the coronavirus, what we have got to do also is understand the fragility of the economy and how unjust and unfair it is that so few have so much and so many have so little."

Biden, on the other hand, said that "People are looking for results, not a revolution."

"They want to deal with the results they need right now," Biden said. "And we can do that by making sure that we make everybody whole who has been so badly hurt."

"What are we going to do about the crisis now, which is incredibly consequential to millions and millions of Americans?" Biden asked. " And it's not going to be solved by a change in tax policy now. It's not going to be solved by a change in how we deal with health care."

"It has got to be solved with an emergency need right now," he said.

Sanders spars with Biden over his voting record - and Biden hits back

Throughout the night, Sanders repeatedly attacked the former vice president on his Senate votes and policy stances, culminating with a long list of contrasting policy positions about an hour into the debate.

"I voted against the Defense of Marriage Act. You voted for it," Sanders said. "I voted against the bankruptcy bill, you voted for it. I voted against the war in Iraq, which was also a tough vote, you voted for it. I voted against the disastrous trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR with China, which cost this country over 4 million good-paying jobs. You voted for it. I voted against the Hyde Amendment, which denies low income women the right to get an abortion. You have consistently voted for it. It takes courage sometimes to vote and do the right thing."?

(Last summer, Biden reversed his stance on the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from being used for abortions, due to criticism from his fellow Democrats.)

But Biden had a counterpunch ready. He hit Sanders for his record on gun control, including his votes against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks for firearm purchases.

"You can argue about the past," Biden said. "This man voted against the Brady Bill five times. Background checks. Background checks. Five times."

Later, Biden noted that he was one of the first public officials to speak up in favor of gay marriage, stating his support in 2012 even before Obama did.

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