2020 Candidates

Elbow-Bumping Without an Audience: Coronavirus & The Dem Debate

Former VP Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders faced off one-on-one inside a TV studio with no audience and spent most of the night talking about how to handle the COVID-19 outbreak.

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In the first debate since the coronavirus outbreak officially became a pandemic, taking a deeper hold of the nation and the globe, former VP Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders faced off one-on-one inside of a TV studio with no audience and spent most of the night talking about how to handle the spread of COVID-19. 

The Sunday debate was held inside CNN’s studios in Washington, D.C., instead of the usual public venue. It was moved there from Phoenix amid a decision to hold the debate with no audience given the health risks of a crowd. The candidates stood at podiums 6 feet away from each other and greeted one another by bumping elbows instead of shaking hands.

At the start of the night, moderators said the majority of the night would be spent focusing on coronavirus — a crucial issue for the presidential hopefuls to be clear and specific on, given the intense scrutiny of the Trump administration’s delayed, contradictory, and generally messy response to the outbreak.

Biden said that people need to get tested, and if he were in charge he would arrange drive-through testing around the country. He would also implement additional hospital beds and medical equipment, as well as make arrangements to deal with the economic fallout from the virus.

Sanders echoed Biden’s sentiments for more testing and equipment, adding that we need to “shut this president [Trump] up right now,” when it comes to virus preparedness.

And a reminder: both of the major Democratic candidates running for president are nearly 80 years old. Sanders, 78, and Biden, 77, were inevitably asked about the state of their health and what they’re doing to prevent getting sick. People over the age of 60 with preexisting health conditions are particularly at risk when it comes to the virus.

Sanders, who suffered a heart attack in 2019, said he did a remote “fireside chat” in lieu of a rally Saturday night, and that his entire staff is currently working remotely. He also said he is being extra careful about the people he is interacting with and “using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers.”

Biden said that he is not shaking hands with anyone or touching his face, and that his staff is also working from home. He is also opting for virtual rallies and “is taking all the precautions everyone should be taking.”

Biden said he wanted the U.S. military to be on the ground helping fight coronavirus.

When both were asked whether they’d choose a woman to be their running mate, one said yes and the other sort of said yes. Both candidates have come under pressure to choose a woman as their running mate, especially after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) dropped out of the presidential race despite a strong campaign early on. 

Biden was asked if he was committed to picking a woman running mate, and he explicitly said “yes.”

“If I’m elected president, my cabinet, my administration will look like the country and I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a woman to be vice president,” he said.

When Bernie was asked, he said, “in all likelihood.”

"For me, it is not just nominating a woman — it is making sure that we have a progressive woman, and there are progressive women out there,” he clarified.

Questions were also fielded from undecided voters around the country, one shown via video. Amy Langenfeld from Chandler, Arizona, asked how Sanders’ cabinet would get the best advice to pass policies that protect and empower women in the country. Sanders said he would make a cabinet that reflected the country’s population, over half of which are women.

When posed the same question, Biden said that, if given the opportunity to elect a member of the Supreme Court, that he would elect a woman of color.

Meanwhile, governors across the country are enacting strict measures as public health officials emphasize the need for social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. Various states and major cities are enacting bans on dine-in service at restaurants and closing bars, among other things. Popular venues and major events are also being canceled.

The CDC also announced just before Sunday's debate began that gatherings over 50 people must be suspended for eight weeks, specifying large gatherings like festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.

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