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Biden and Sanders go head-to-head in 11th Democratic debate

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Democratic candidates cancel major campaign events amid coronavirus concerns 02:00

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis that has gripped the nation, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders faced off Sunday night without an audience in Washington, D.C. for a one-on-one debate. The early questions and closing remarks focused on the candidates' plans to deal with the pandemic. Biden also committed to pick a woman as a running mate.

"This is bigger than any one of us. This calls for a national rallying of everybody together," Biden said about coronavirus. He then pivoted to describe his plan to address the outbreak that he unveiled on Thursday.

Sanders, meanwhile, slammed Mr. Trump's response to the outbreak, saying the first priority was to "shut this president up right now." Sanders said that Mr. Trump was undermining scientists by promoting untrue information.

Democratic presidential hopefuls former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders (R) greet each other with an elbow bump as they arrive for the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, March 15, 2020. Getty

Both candidates committed to campaigning for the other if they didn't win the nomination and said they would focus on defeating President Trump.

Biden, meanwhile, committed for the first time to picking a woman as a running mate, not to mention vowing to put the first black woman on the Supreme Court, while Sanders said "in all likelihood" he would also choose a woman running mate.

The candidates also tackled immigration, a huge issue in Arizona, one of the states set to vote on Tuesday. "We don't need a wall," Biden said. He vowed to freeze deportations, should he win the presidency and said only felons would be deported, which would be a dramatic reversal of the Trump administration's approach.

In addition to Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio are scheduled to vote on Tuesday. Georgia, which had been scheduled to vote on March 24, has postponed its primary until May. Louisiana, which had been set to vote on April 24, has postponed its primary until June.


Trump campaign attempts to paint Biden and Sanders with the same brush and argues Trump virus response will be "model" for future pandemics

As Biden has been gaining ground, the Trump campaign has begun messaging that Biden and Sanders are "two sides of the same coin," as Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany put it Sunday. 

"As President Trump leads our country and takes unprecedented action in stopping the coronavirus, it is now clearer than ever that no leaders exist on the Democrat debate stage. Unable to articulate a coronavirus plan, both Bernie and Biden offered little more than plagiarizing President Trump's response, which will now be the model for all future pandemics," she said, even as the Trump administration's lack of testing has been widely criticized. 

"Both Bernie and Biden proved themselves to be two sides of the same coin: offering a complete government takeover of the healthcare system which would destroy employer-provided insurance for 180 million Americans. Both embraced reckless and dangerous immigration policies that would imperil our citizens, and both pledged to kill fossil fuel industries that employ millions of people," she continued. "It doesn't matter which of these two is the Democrat nominee, either one would reverse the hottest economy in modern history and the great gains we have made under President Trump."

By Kathryn Watson

Candidates give closing remarks with assurances about coronavirus

Candidates were asked to end the debate with a message to Americans concerned about the coronavirus and its effects. Sanders used his time to pivot to his larger argument about economic inequality, and said that it was important to address underlying issues, as well as the immediate economic problems caused by the pandemic.

"It is time to rethink America and create a country where we care about each other," Sanders said.

Biden also stuck to his main message in his closing remarks, emphasizing the need to immediately address the fallout of the coronavirus.

By Grace Segers

Biden and Sanders spar over Iraq War and other controversial votes

Biden, who voted in favor of the Iraq War — Sanders voted against it — was asked what he learned from that.

"I learned I can't take the word of a president" when that president said the U.S. wouldn't use force, Biden responded. 

Sanders said it's time to be "clear about what that vote was." Everyone in the world knew that when members voted for that resolution, they were voting for then-President George W. Bush to go to war, the Vermont senator said.

Sanders pivoted from the Iraq War to Biden's other votes, on trade and on reproductive rights, suggesting the former vice president has been on the wrong side of history.

Biden, in turn, criticized Sanders for failing to vote for sanctions to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

By Kathryn Watson

Sanders defends Castro remarks from "60 Minutes"

Sanders was asked about his previous praise on "60 Minutes" for literacy programs implemented by Fidel Castro in Cuba. He said that he believed it was important to condemn authoritarianism, but also said that it was "incorrect" to say that authoritarians had never done anything which benefited their countries.

"I believe, unlike the president of the United States, in democracy, not authoritarianism, in Cuba or anywhere else," Sanders said.

Biden also defended the Obama administration's attempt to improve relations with Cuba, and argued that it was different for Sanders to praise achievements of certain dictators.

Sanders then said it was "a little bit absurd" to say that there were no accomplishments by authoritarian states such as China.

By Grace Segers

Sanders and Biden tackle climate change and infectious diseases; Biden says he'll ban some oil drilling

Asked how his climate change plan would help address the future of infectious disease, Sanders said his plan addresses that particular climate change-fueled problem. But he didn't elaborate on how his plan would tackle infectious diseases.

Biden said that when he and Obama took office, they were briefed on how climate change is the single-greatest problem. Now, there are many people getting sick because of the changes in the environment, due to everything from season changes to beetle infestations. The former vice president insisted that his climate change plan, even though it costs less, is ambitious enough to address the climate change crisis. 

The Vermont senator said that's all well and good, but not good enough. Sanders compared the current coronavirus crisis to the climate change crisis. 

"I look at climate change in exactly the same way," Sanders said. 

Biden, given a chance to respond, said there would be no ability for the oil industry to receive federal tax breaks. Nor would it be able to continue some categories of drilling — "no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling offshore — no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill — period." Biden said his state is three feet above sea levels, and he doesn't need a lecture on climate change. 

"No more fracking," the former vice president said. 

By Kathryn Watson

Biden defends Obama administration's legacy on immigration

Biden defended the Obama administration's record on immigration, saying that the DACA program instated by Obama helped to make up for the millions of deportations during his tenure. Biden also said that if he were president, only felons would be deported.

"We don't need a wall," Biden said. He also called for embracing more immigrants, saying "xenophobia is a disease."

Biden also vowed to freeze deportations if he takes office and said only felons would be deported.

Sanders also committed to a path to citizenship, and said that he supported ending raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However, he said it was a "total lie" that Democrats supported "open borders."

By Grace Segers

Candidates asked how they'd address gun control to protect women

 A self-described undecided voter was asked what the candidates would do to address gun violence, which often affects women.

Sanders responded by saying his cabinet will look like America, with half the cabinet being women. He also said he will protect a woman's right to choose.

Biden responded to the question by echoing Sanders, in some ways, saying he would also appoint women to key positions. Biden criticized Sanders for his past votes on gun control legislation. Biden also said he would support the closure of the so-called "boyfriend loophole," which allows abusive partners to continue to purchase firearms. 

By Kathryn Watson

Biden commits to picking a woman as his running mate, Sanders says he likely will

Biden for the first time committed to picking a woman as his running mate if he becomes the Democratic presidential nominee.
"I will in fact pick a woman to be vice president," Biden said. When asked by moderator Dana Bash if that was a commitment to pick a woman, he said, "Yes."

Sanders said he was likely to pick a woman running mate, but did not commit. "In all likelihood I will" pick a woman, Sanders said, adding, "My very strong tendency is to move in that direction." 

In a previous Democratic debate, Biden also said that if he is president, he would appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time. 

By Jason Silverstein

Biden asked how he would attract support from Sanders supporters

Biden was asked how he would attract support from Sanders voters if he becomes the nominee, given that Sanders has such a devoted base.

"He's making it hard for me right now," Biden said irritably, after Sanders repeatedly attacked his voting record in the Senate. He then pivoted to talking about the need for unity in the party.

"If Bernie is the nominee, I will not only support him, I will campaign for him, and I believe the people who support me will do the same," Biden said. "I would hope that Bernie would do the same thing,"

Sanders also said that his main priority was defeating Mr. Trump in November, even if he were not the nominee.

"I will do everything humanly possible to defeat Donald Trump," Sanders said.

By Grace Segers

Biden defends his position change to support free college

Democratic presidential hopeful former US vice president Joe Biden participates in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020.  MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Biden was asked why he changed his mind on whether college should be free. Biden released a new plan Sunday for free college at any public institution for any student whose family earns less than $125,000. 

"I support that idea, it is a good idea, and I support it," Biden said, admitting that Sanders, who has long supported free college, "happened to be right on that." 

Sanders said this is an issue of leadership. He was out front on the policy.

"What leadership is about is about going forward when it's not popular," Sanders said. 

By Grace Segers

Sanders and Biden both mix up coronavirus with other illnesses

Within moments of each other, Sanders and Biden both mistakenly talked about the wrong illnesses while speaking about coronavirus.

Sanders twice talked about "the Ebola crisis," saying it "exposes the dysfunctionality of our health care system." He corrected himself after mentioning "Ebola" a third time, and joked that ebola was on his mind because it had come up earlier in the debate. Biden had spoken about the action he took as vice president when ebola reached the U.S. 

Biden, in the next answer, mistakenly called the virus "SARS." He also mixed up coronavirus with H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu. "We've been through this before, with the coronavirus," he said, before catching himself and speaking about H1N1, another virus the Obama administration faced.

The debate started with questions about coronavirus, but those discussions led to talk about other recent epidemics faced by the U.S., including Ebola.

By Jason Silverstein

Biden makes the case for "results," not a "revolution"

Biden was asked about Sanders' signature campaign promise to start a political revolution which results in an overhaul of the health care system. Biden said that people needed assistance for immediate problems.

"We have problems we need to solve now. Now. What's your revolution going to do? Disrupt everything in the meantime?" Biden said. He argued that Sanders had not made the case for how he would pay for Medicare for All, or how he would pass it through Congress. Biden made the case that he could usher a more incremental plan building on the Affordable Care Act through Congress.

"I can get that passed. I can get that done," Biden said.

Sanders countered that the economic reality of the country, including stagnant wage growth, required drastic action.

By Grace Segers

Sanders, 78, and Biden, 77, are asked about their own vulnerability during the coronavirus crisis

Sanders, who had a heart attack in the fall, was asked what he's doing to protect his own health, given that he runs a higher risk now of ill effects from the virus. Sanders pointed to canceling large events, and said he's cautious and uses hand sanitizer. 

"I have to say, you know, thank God right now I do not have any symptoms, and I feel very grateful for that," Sanders said.

But Sanders' heart attack gave Biden a perfect opportunity to contrast his health history with that of his competitor. 

"Well, fortunately, I don't have any of the underlying conditions you talked about," Biden told the moderator.

By Kathryn Watson

Biden talks about providing treatment for undocumented immigrants

Biden was asked how he would ensure that undocumented immigrants receive treatment without fear of deportation.

"Anyone who shows up would be tested for coronavirus...would be held harmless," Biden said. He added that "even the xenophobic folks out there" should want undocumented immigrants to be treated, in order to contain the virus.

"They will not, should not under any circumstances, be held accountable and deported. Period," Biden said.

Sanders also talked about the need to end raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and promised to ensure that these immigrants have a pathway to citizenship.

By Grace Segers

Biden and Sanders debate the need for bailouts in the current crisis

Sanders said he was against the bailouts of the last financial crisis. Now, he said, something needs to be done, "but we can't repeat" 2008. Now, the goal should be to tell every working person they won't suffer financially because of a crisis they didn't cause, the senator said. 

Then, it was Biden's turn. If banks had gone under, Biden said, everyday Americans would have suffered. Biden went on to attack Sanders' record and his failure to pass significant legislation during his tenure in Congress. 

The fact is, Biden said, if the banks went under, there would have been an even more significant recession. 

By Kathryn Watson

Economic response to coronavirus

Candidates were asked how they would respond to the economic fallout of the pandemic. Biden said that his first step would be to "make it clear to the world and make it clear to the United States that we are going to have to have a major, major, major bailout package." Biden emphasized that he would want a bailout package which benefits the average American, and not CEOs.

Sanders again emphasized the need to address wealth inequality in combating the crisis. He noted that the wealthy would not suffer too greatly from the economic fallout, and that the brunt of it would be borne by those put out of work due to the outbreak.

"We have more income and wealth inequality in our country than we have in a hundred years," Sanders said. "We have got to move aggressively right now."

However, Biden said that the priority needed to be addressing the immediate crisis of coronavirus.

"People are looking for results, not a revolution," Biden said.

By Grace Segers

Sanders says now isn't the time for finger-pointing at China

Sanders was asked if China should be punished for its role in the crisis. The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and China has been faulted for failing to be more transparent about the virus and its threats. 

But Sanders suggested now isn't the time for finger-pointing. 

"If there was ever a moment when the entire world was in this together … this is that moment," Sanders said.

Biden said the U.S. should have had more researchers working with the Chinese to understand the virus. The U.S can learn from China, he suggested. 

By Caroline Linton

Sanders would consider deploying the military to address the virus

Democratic presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders takes part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020.  MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Sanders said that he would consider deploying the military to address the crisis, acknowledging that it was a "national emergency."

"I think we use all of the tools that make sense," Sanders said.

Biden said that he would want to deploy the military as it was used during the Ebola crisis, noting that service members assisted by building temporary hospitals.

"The answer is that I would call on the military. Now," Biden said. "I would make sure they did exactly what they're prepared to do."

Sanders mentioned vulnerable members of society, such as the homeless and the elderly, expressing concern about how they would be taken care of during this crisis.

"What about the half a million people who are homeless tonight? Who's going to respond to them?" Sanders said.

By Caroline Linton

Biden says Medicare for All "didn't work" in Italy

Biden was asked whether he would implement a national quarantine. The former vice president responded that he would listen to the health experts to make a determination. But he pivoted to criticize Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan, pointing to Italy, where cases are overwhelming the nation's health care system and the country is essentially on lockdown to mitigate the spread.

"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. 

Sanders responded by saying the dysfunctionality of the current health care system is "obviously apparent."

"Clearly we are not prepared, and Trump only exacerbates the crisis," Sanders said.

Biden emphasized that under his coronavirus plan, no one would pay for any health care related to coronavirus.

"This is a crisis. We're at war with a virus. It doesn't have to do with co-pays," Biden said.

Sanders suggested the country has long been in crisis, when families can't pay their medical bills.

"I consider that a crisis," Sanders said. 

Biden reiterated that "this is like a war," and in a way, all resources are committed to the cause. 

By Kathryn Watson

Biden, Sanders respond to coronavirus crisis

Moderator Jake Tapper kicked off the debate by asking each of the candidates how they would address the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, including business closures and slowing the spread of the virus.

"This is bigger than any one of us, this calls for a national rallying of everybody together," Biden said, before pivoting to describing his plan to address the outbreak which he unveiled on Thursday.

Sanders slammed President Trump's response to the outbreak, saying the first priority was to "shut this president up right now." Sanders said that Mr. Trump was undermining scientists by promoting untrue information.

"It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with unfactual information which is confusing the general public," Sanders said. Sanders took the opportunity to promote "Medicare for All," a key plank of his campaign, which would provide free health coverage for every citizen.

"Let's be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system," Sanders said.

Biden also addressed Mr. Trump's comments earlier this week that he did not take responsibility for the lack of tests available, saying that the president should be working with the World Health Organization to develop and strengthen the testing system.

By Grace Segers

Biden adopts tuition plan to attract progressive voters

In a short press call Sunday, the Biden campaign said in an effort to draw in more progressive support, that the former vice president is now endorsing a plan for free public college and universities for Americans whose families make less than $125,000 a year. This policy addition is almost identical to what Hillary Clinton embraced in July 2016 in a move to grab Sanders supporters. 

This is the second policy Biden has endorsed of his progressive rivals. He said Saturday he now supports Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy reform plan as well.

In a statement, Sanders said that the country needed to go "much further" than Biden's plan.

"It's great that Joe Biden is now supporting a position that was in the Democratic platform four years ago. Now we have to go much further. We need to make all public universities, colleges and trade schools tuition-free for everyone like our high schools are. We need to cancel all student debt. And we can fund it with a small tax on Wall Street speculation," Sanders said.

Bo Erickson and Cara Korte


Nation's largest union endorses Biden

The National Education Association, the nation's largest union, endorsed Biden on Saturday night. 

"Joe is the tireless advocate for public education and is the partner that students and educators need in the White House," said President Lily Eskelsen García. "He understands that we have a moral responsibility to provide a great neighborhood public school for every student in every ZIP code."

Biden's first policy proposal of the 2020 campaign was an education plan that called for more funding for early-childhood education. The plan called to increase teacher pay, raise classroom budgets, provide more mental health support for students, target school shootings, address "systematic racism" in the school system and reinvest in "shop classes" and other alternatives. 

In their announcement endorsing Biden, the NEA praised his plan. 

By Caroline Linton

Sanders hosts fireside chat

On Saturday night, Sanders hosted a virtual "fireside chat" from his Burlington, Vermont home, moderated by his campaign manager Faiz Shakir. He urged Americans to "stand together" during the coronavirus crisis.

"Keep the faith on this one, these are tough times but we will get through this," Sanders said. "Let us understand that if there was ever a moment in history when we are in this together for all kinds of reason, this is that moment. Let's stand together. Let's have history look back on this moment and say, wow, despite who is the president the American people stood up and did the right thing, cared about each other, loved each other, made sure that we all got through this together." 

Sanders said he was looking forward to a more substantive discussion on health care, campaign funding, and criminal justice.

—  Cara Korte and Caroline Linton


Democratic strategist: What Sanders needs to do before dropping out of the race

Sanders' decision not to drop out of the presidential race, despite Biden's large delegate lead, may have more to do with his supporters than his belief that he can actually win the nomination. Democratic strategist and CBS News analyst Jamal Simmons compared Sanders' base to a "tiger," and said that the senator needs to calm his fervent supporters before ending his campaign.

"I think that Bernie Sanders is riding a tiger. And that tiger has fangs, and teeth, and they come after anybody that gets in their way," Simmons told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on "The Takeout" podcast. Sanders needs to wind down his campaign "in a way that [the] tiger doesn't turn on him or on the rest of the party and does do real damage," Simmons explained.

Simmons also said that Sanders supporters need to "process their grief" about the likelihood that the Vermont senator probably does not have a viable path to the Democratic nomination.

Read more about Garrett's interview with Simmons here.

By Grace Segers

Sanders argues coronavirus proves the need for Medicare for All

Sanders argued Friday that the coronavirus crisis shows why Medicare for All is needed. He said that through this crisis, more Americans will be convinced that a single-payer system would make crises like this more manageable if everyone has health care.
Sanders took questions on Friday. CBS News asked if there had been any conversations between the Democratic National Committee and his campaign about potentially postponing primaries. Sanders said delaying elections should not be done "willy nilly" but the decision lies with public health officials.
The senator confessed that the outbreak has "significantly impacted the campaign" but is hopeful that his strong online presence will bolster support in this odd time.
He added that he personally feels good and has not been in contact with anyone who has shown symptoms related to the coronavirus.

By Cara Korte
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