WASHINGTON — The final two Democratic presidential candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, took the stage Sunday night for their first one-on-one debate.
Here are five memorable moments from the event, which was held in a Washington, D.C., CNN studio with no audience amid the coronavirus outbreak:
1. They greeted each other with an elbow bump.
As the country continued to push for social distancing to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Biden and Sanders skipped the traditional handshake, instead opting to bump elbows as the debate began.
2. They sparred over whether Medicare for All could help amid the coronavirus outbreak.
When asked how he would help ensure that sick Americans get treatment during a pandemic, Sanders pitched his Medicare for All health care plan.
“We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders began. “We’re spending so much money, and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic. How come we don’t have enough doctors? How come hospitals in rural areas are shutting down? How come people can’t afford to get the prescription drugs they need because we have a bunch of crooks who are running the pharmaceutical industry, ripping us off every single day?”
He later added: “So the word has got to go out, and I certainly would do this as president: You don’t worry. People of America, do not worry about the cost of prescription drugs. Do not worry about the cost of the health care that you’re going to get because we are a nation – a civilized democratic society. Everybody, rich and poor, middle class, will get the care they need. The drug companies will not rip us off.”
Biden countered that Italy’s single-payer health care system was unable to adequately combat the spread of the virus.
“It doesn’t work there,” he said. “It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all.”
Instead, Biden said he would “bring together the leading experts in the world” to come up with a plan, comparing his approach to how President Barack Obama’s administration handled the Ebola outbreak.He added that people would not have to pay for treatment during a national emergency.
“We can take care of that right now by making sure that no one has to pay for treatment, period, because of the crisis,” Biden said. “No one has to pay for whatever drugs are needed, period, because of the crisis. No one has to pay for hospitalization because of the crisis, period. That is a national emergency, and that’s how it’s handled.”
3. Biden pledged to pick a woman as his running mate.
While answering a question about how his administration would address women’s issues, Biden pledged to select a woman as his running mate.
“If I’m elected president, my cabinet, my administration will look like the country,” he said. “And I commit that I will, in fact ... pick a woman to be vice president. There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”
Sanders also said he would, “in all likelihood,” pick a woman as vice president.
“For me, it’s not just nominating a woman; it’s making sure that we have a progressive woman, and there are progressive woman out there,” he said. “So my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.”
4. The candidates laid out whether a political revolution is necessary.
Arguing that “people are looking for results,” Biden criticized Sanders for calling for a political revolution.
“We have problems we have to solve now,” Biden said. “What’s a revolution going to do, disrupt everything in the meantime?”
He added: “The senator talks about his Medicare for All. He still hasn’t told you how he’s going to ever get it passed. He hasn’t told you how in fact there’s any possibility of that happening. He hasn’t told you how much it’s going to cost. He hasn’t told you how it’s going to apply. It doesn’t kick in for four years even after it passes.”
Sanders fired back, saying a revolution is needed for “real changes” to take place.
“If you want to create an economy that works for all, not just the few, if you want to guarantee quality health care to all, not make $100 billion in profit for the health care industry, do you know what you need?” he began. “You need to take on Wall Street. You need to take on the drug companies and the insurance companies and the fossil fuel industry. You don’t take campaign contributions from them. You take them on and create an economy that works for all.”
5. Sanders and Biden weighed in on how they would address climate change as a global health threat.
When asked how he would address climate change as a threat to public health, Sanders advocated for fast action.
“What this is about is transforming our energy system as quickly as we humanly can away from fossil fuel,” Sanders said. “It is insane that we continue to have fracking in America. It is absurd that we give tens of billions of dollars a year in tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. This has got to end and end now if we love our kids and future generations.”
Biden, meanwhile, pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, as well as support programs that invest in light rail, vehicle charging stations and moving away from carbon fuel.
“We can do these things,” he said. “We can lay down the tracks where nothing can be changed by the next president or following president, the one beyond that.”
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