Coronavirus takes center stage as Biden, Sanders face off in first one-on-one debate

The debate is being held without an audience due to concerns over the coronavirus.


Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders met for their first one-on-one debate at a time where nerves are running high as Americans hunker down at home in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Follow along with live updates. All times are EST:

10:00 p.m.

The debate has ended. Four states are currently scheduled to vote on Tuesday. It's unclear if any of those will postpone their primaries because of the coronavirus.

9:50 p.m.

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.

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.

9:45 p.m.

Sanders and 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 defended 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.”

9:25 p.m.

Biden praised two proposals from his current and former presidential rivals that he recently embraced as he attempts to consolidate the party behind him.

Biden was asked, “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,” he 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.

9:20 p.m.

Biden committed 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.

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.

9:10 p.m.

Sanders criticized Biden’s voting record during his time in the Senate, faulting the former U.S. senator from Delaware for voting for the Defense of Marriage Act, trade agreements like NAFTA, authorization for the War in Iraq and for a 2005 bill on bankruptcy.

Biden fired back by noting Sanders repeatedly voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a sweeping bill that looked to curb gun violence.

9:00 p.m.

Sanders laid into Joe Biden for his openness in the past to cutting Social Security, bringing an attack that’s been a fixture in Sanders’ campaign ads into the debate.

“I am saying that you have been on the floor of the Senate time and time again, touting the need to cut Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ programs,” the Vermont senator said to Biden.

“That is not true,” Biden shot back.

Sanders told those watching at home to visit YouTube — where the first search result for “Joe Biden Social Security” is a video posted by Sanders’ campaign in which Biden says to “put all of it on the table.”

Biden said he was willing to put changes to Social Security on the table “in order to get the kinds of changes we need on other things related. But we did not cut it,” Biden said.

“I know,” Sanders shot back, “because people like me helped stop that.”

8:50 p.m.

Biden said he would not deport any undocumented person who came forward for coronavirus treatment or testing.

"Anyone who shows up to be tested for coronavirus or gets coronavirus and is treated would be held harmless," he said. He said that there are certain things undocumented immigrants cannot be deported for, and added "that would be one of them."

Sen. Bernie Sanders also answered, and mentioned that his Medicare for All plan includes heath care coverage for undocumented immigrants.

"So we have to make sure that everybody feels comfortable getting the health care that they need. That should be a general principle above and beyond the coronavirus," he said.

8:45 p.m.

Sanders suggested that the United States should be working with China on dealing with coronavirus.

Sanders was asked: "When the outbreak first started, the government censored the whistleblower doctor who sounded the alarm and downplayed the true gravity of the the virus. What consequences should China face for its role in this global crisis?"

Sanders said one of the consequences to learn is "you cannot lie to the American people. You cannot be less than frank about the a nature of the crisis."

He went on say that he doesn't think it's the time to be punishing people.

"Now is the time to be working with China. They are learning a lot about this crisis. And in fact, we have to work with them. We have to work with the World Health Organization, we have to work with Italy. If there was ever a moment when the entire world is in this together, got to support each other, this is that moment," Sanders said.

8:40 p.m.

Joe Biden pointed out another area of agreement with Bernie Sanders during Sunday night's debate: Those on Wall Street responsible for the 2008 economic collapse should have gone to jail.

But he also criticized Sanders over his vote against the bank bailout. The former vice president said individuals Sanders says he cares about would have been in “deep trouble” had banks been allowed to collapse.

“This was about saving the economy. And it did save the economy. And the banks paid back, and they paid back with interest,” Biden said.

It was the second time in the debate that Biden said he agreed with Sanders. The first was over surging efforts at hospitals to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

8:30 p.m.

Joe Biden said having Medicare for All in the United States would not help solve the coronavirus crisis.

“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.

Italy has been put under total lockdown as coronavirus spreads in the country.

Sanders, who has spearheaded Medicare for All, responded to Biden’s assertion and said experts have said that one of the reasons the U.S. has been unprepared to handle this crisis is "we don't have a system.”

“We’ve got thousands of private insurance plans," Sanders said. "That is not a system that is prepared to provide health care to all people. In a good year, without the epidemic, we're losing up to 60,000 people who die every year because they don't get to a doctor on time."

8:20 p.m.

When asked if he'd deploy the U.S. military to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Bernie Sanders said he'd use "all of the tools that make sense."

"And if using the National Guard — which is folks, I think, in New York state are already using the National Guard — that's something that has to be done," Sanders said. "This is clearly, as the vice president indicated, a national emergency."

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he'd call on the military immediately, adding they could help build hospitals.

"I would call out the military," Biden said. "So it is a national emergency. I would call out the military."

8:15 p.m.

Biden said he and Sanders were on the same page about making sure hospitals are prepared for a surge in sick patients.

“I agree with Bernie. We’re in a situation where we have to now be providing for the hospitals that are going to be needed. We need it now,” he said.

Biden said the United States has dealt with similar viruses before, and referenced 2009’s H1N1 pandemic and Ebola.

8:10 p.m.

Sanders said that the first step to tackling the spread of coronavirus — whether he becomes president or not — would be to “shut this president up right now.”

“First thing we have got to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this president up right now, because he’s undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with un-factual information, which is confusing the general public.”

Sanders said he believes the government needs to move “aggressive” to make sure everybody in this country “understands that when they get sick with the coronavirus … that all payments will be made.”

“They don't have to worry about coming up with money for testing,” he said. “They don't have to worry about coming up with money for treatment.”

He added: “Do not worry about the cost right now. Because we're in the middle of a national emergency."

8:05 p.m.

Joe Biden got the first question of the night, and it was about the coronavirus outbreak.
Biden was asked, "What do you say to the American people who are confronting this new reality?"

Biden said he wants to increase testing, and ensure that every state has access to drive-through tests. He said he's working to ensure there are more hospital beds and said he'd deal with the economic fall out "quickly."

8 p.m.

The debate begins between Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders without an audience due to coronavirus concerns.