WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders sought in Sunday’s debate to cast themselves as best-positioned to lead the nation through a global pandemic, with Biden pledging to deploy the military to help with recovery efforts and Sanders using the crisis to pitch his long-sought overhaul of the country’s health care system.
“One of the reasons that we are unprepared, and have been unprepared, is we don’t have a system. We’ve got thousands of private insurance plans,” said Sanders, who backs a sweeping government-run health insurance program. “That is not a system that is prepared to provide health care to all people in a good year, without the epidemic.”
Biden, who is leading Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination, argued that a pandemic was not a moment to attempt to push through an overhaul of the American health insurance system, a politically arduous endeavor.
“This is a crisis,” Biden said. “We’re at war with a virus. It has nothing to do with copays or anything.”
As the debate opened, Biden and Sanders skipped a handshake, greeting each other instead with an elbow bump. They took their positions at podiums spaced 6 feet apart in keeping with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus. They addressed the nation, and each other, from a television studio in Washington without an in-person audience.
The debate was the first head-to-head faceoff between Biden and Sanders, who are vying to become the Democratic presidential nominee. After a sluggish start to the primary season, Biden rapidly surged to the front of the field, consolidating support among moderates and moving within striking distance of the Democratic nomination. Sanders, a Vermont senator, is struggling to regain momentum and faces the prospect of more losses in Tuesday’s next round of primaries.
The coronavirus pandemic dominated the start of the debate, reflecting how quickly it has also overtaken almost every aspect of American life. Schools are shut down across the country, travel has been significantly limited and the likely economic consequences have sent financial markets plummeting.
Biden and Sanders both called for increased testing for the virus and economic relief for Americans who will suffer.
“This is bigger than any one of us. This calls for a national rallying for one another,” the former vice president said.
Sanders panned President Donald Trump’s uneven handling of the crisis, urging the president to stop hindering medical professionals by “blabbering with unfactual information that is confusing the American public.”
By: Julie Pace and Alexandra Jaffe, Associated Press