The Latest: Biden, Sanders debate electability versus Trump

March 16, 2020 GMT
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Former Vice President Joe Biden, participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Former Vice President Joe Biden, participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest from the Sunday night Democratic debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (all times local):

10:15 p.m.

Bernie Sanders says he has doubts about Joe Biden’s ability to energize enough voters to defeat President Donald Trump.

Sanders said in Tuesday’s debate that he’s fully committed to helping Biden win if the former vice president is the Democratic nominee. Sanders acknowledged Biden has won more states but says to defeat Trump “you have to bring young people, who are not great voters.” He says his young supporters bring energy and excitement.

Biden says he’s the candidate who is exciting voters, noting a big surge in voter turnout in some of the states he won. He says he pulled off big victories on Super Tuesday even though he had very little campaign money.

“Lets get this straight—energy has been for me,” Biden said. Biden says he’s “winning overwhelmingly among Democratic constituencies across the board.”

10:05 p.m.

Bernie Sanders is continuing to defend recent comments he made highlighting a literacy program in Cuba under the late dictator Fidel Castro.

He says during the Democratic presidential debate that while he condemns authoritarianism in Cuba, China and elsewhere, its possible to acknowledge positive changes made by such governments. As an example, he said China has made progress in reducing extreme poverty during the last 50 years.

His comments about Cuba may be a particular vulnerability ahead of Tuesday’s primary in Florida, which has a large Cuban population.

Competitor Joe Biden slammed him for the remarks and defended similar comments former President Barack Obama has made about Cuba under Castro’s leadership.

Sanders said its a “problem with politics” that politicians can’t acknowledge progress if it happens in an authoritarian country.

9:45 p.m.

Bernie Sanders is accusing Joe Biden of not going far enough on his plans to combat climate change.

To Biden, the Vermont senator said during Sunday night’s Democratic debate in Washington, “I know your heart is in the right place” on climate change. But, calling the Paris Climate Accord - which Biden said he would rejoin - “useful,” Biden said that “bold action” was required for the good of the globe.

Biden asserted that his plans are ambitious, noting plans to end offshore drilling, as well as subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, but a need for global action to accomplish real change.

“We could get everything exactly right,” Biden said, of the need for international cooperation. “We’re 15 percent of the problem.”

9:25 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is committing to naming a woman as his running mate if he’s the Democratic presidential nominee.

Biden made that assertion during Sunday night’s debate with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Washington. Asked the same question, Sanders didn’t definitively commit but said, “In all likelihood, I will.” Biden has previously said he would seriously consider naming a woman or a person of color as his running mate.

Also Sunday night, Biden repeated a previous pledge to nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court if given the chance to do so as president.

Both he and Sanders have been under pressure to consider a woman or person of color as a running mate as the once-historically diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates has dwindled to two white men.

9:15 p.m.

Both of the Democratic candidates running for president say they are healthy amid the coronavirus crisis -- and are taking concrete steps to keep it that way.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78, noted that he “loves” doing large rallies around the country but has curtailed them and now addresses supporters online. His campaign staff has been working from home and Sanders also noted that, “I’m not shaking hands. Joe and I did not shake hands” to start the debate on Sunday night in Washington.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, noted that he doesn’t have any of the “underlying conditions” that make the virus especially dangerous and said he was taking precautions that people in their 30s, 60s, or 80s should be doing.

Biden said his campaign staff was also working from home and that he was washing his hands “God knows how many times” per day and using hand sanitizer almost as much.

9:05 p.m.

Another heated exchange in the first head-to-head debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders is coming over the Vermont senator’s assertion that Biden advocated for cuts in Social Security while serving as a U.S. senator.

Sanders repeatedly asked the former vice president during Sunday night’s debate in Washington if he had pushed for cuts to the entitlement program on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Sanders also said Biden pushed for cuts needed in Medicare and veterans’ programs.

When Biden several times said he had not done so, Sanders told viewers to “Go to the YouTube right now” to see what he characterized as video proving his case on Biden’s comments.

Biden also responded by saying he has laid out a plan for adding to Social Security, as well as how he would pay for the changes -- a critique he has made repeatedly of Sanders’ plans, particularly “Medicare for All.”

8:45 p.m.

The top Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination are using a question on the economic crisis prompted by the coronavirus outbreak to highlight the contrasts on how their campaigns would approach the issue.

Asked how he as president would alleviate the strains, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said during Sunday night’s debate in Washington that the crisis further shows the need for a holistic overhaul of the country’s economic system.

Saying, “People are looking for results, not a revolution,” former Vice President Joe Biden stressed he would focus on meeting “immediate needs” like helping Americans make sure not to miss mortgage payments.

Earlier Sunday, the Federal Reserve took massive emergency action to help the economy withstand the coronavirus by slashing its benchmark interest rate to near zero and saying it would buy $700 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds.

8:30 p.m.

The first clash of the head-to-head debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders is coming in the form of a dust-up over whether Sanders’ signature health care plan is the best way to respond to the coronavirus.

After Sanders said the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak laid bare the weaknesses of the nation’s current health care system, Biden pointed out that Italy - where the virus has essentially quarantined the country, has a government-run health care system that hasn’t alleviated the problem.

“With all due respect to ‘Medicare for All,’ you have a single-payer system in Italy,” Biden said. “It doesn’t work there.”

Sanders responded by noting that experts say “one of the reasons that we are unprepared ... is that we don’t have a system.”

Sanders argues his single-payer health care system would provide free treatment for those diagnosed with COVID-19. Biden says he would authorize government funds to cover treatment.

8:20 p.m.

Bernie Sanders says President Donald Trump needs to stop “blabbering” with inaccurate information about the novel coronavirus.

Sanders and Joe Biden are addressing how they’d respond to the new virus during the first questions in Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate. It’s the first debate between just the two Democratic presidential contenders and the first since the U.S. dramatically increased its response to the virus.

Sanders says if he were president he would make sure no one has to pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Biden later said he also believes no one should have to pay.

Biden says every state needs to have at least 10 drive-thru testing locations and that the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency need to be making plans to set up additional hospital beds.


8 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have taken the stage for the first one-on-one debate of the Democratic primary.

The leading Democratic candidates are facing off Sunday night in Washington in the 11th debate of the primary season. The event was moved from Arizona, which votes Tuesday, because of concerns over the growing coronavirus pandemic, and is being held without an audience.

Biden also steps on the stage as the front-runner in a race dramatically different from the party’s last debate less than three weeks ago, following cascading wins that started with his resounding victory in the South Carolina primary. Other moderates departed the race, with several consolidating around Biden and united by a desire to block Sanders.


The fast-moving coronavirus has largely grounded the candidates, leading them to cancel rallies even as several big states prepare to vote on Tuesday. They greeted each other with an elbow bump.