Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate between former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders was dominated by discussion of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The event was moved from Phoenix, Arizona to CNN’s Washington, D.C. studios and did not have an audience amid coronavirus concerns — in addition, the candidates’ podiums were set six feet apart. Coronavirus was the hot topic of the night and took up much of the conversation between the two men and the debate’s moderators, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash and Univision’s Ilia Calderón.
Here are four of the key moments from the debate.
1. Biden and Sanders bump elbows instead of shaking hands
Even before the first question — which was about how the candidates would handle the coronavirus outbreak if they were president — Sanders and Biden demonstrated their willingness to shake up norms in the name of maintaining health. The two men bumped their elbows together instead of shaking one another’s hands.
Amidst the spread of coronavirus, creative greeting methods have been gaining traction as people avoid the germ-swap of a handshake in favor of an elbow bump or foot tap. President Donald Trump, who will face the Democratic nominee on November’s ballot, was criticized for shaking hands during a press conference about the pandemic Friday.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 16, 2020
2. Does Biden understand the point of a two-person debate?
Biden told Sanders at one point, “I don’t want to get in a back-and-forth in terms of our politics here.” Of course, he was quickly dragged online, as journalists and commentators tweeted the quote along with questions about whether he understood he was participating in, well, a back-and-forth in terms of politics.
“ITS A DEBATE MY DUDE,” The Hill’s Saagar Enjeti wrote.
They had been discussing Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, but Biden cut the talk short when he declined to get into that “back-and-forth” because “this is a national crisis.”
3. Sanders calls out Biden on past support for cutting Social Security
At one point, Biden denied ever having stood on the Senate floor and advocating for cutting Social Security. Sanders quickly called on viewers to head to “the YouTube” to see clips of Biden doing just that.
“I’m saying that you have been on the floor of the Senate, time and time again, talking about the need to cut Social Security and veterans’ programs,” Sanders said. “Is that true?”
Sanders’ team tweeted the video from his account moments later, nullifying the need for “the YouTube” altogether. Biden’s Twitter account called Sanders’ statements “malarkey” in response.
In 1995, I was on the House floor fighting the GOP’s efforts to cut Social Security. 5 days later, Joe Biden gave a speech in the Senate bragging about his work with the GOP to try to freeze funding for Social Security. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/1mVkEpVv1Y
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 16, 2020
Biden promised to not only choose a woman to be his running mate but also to nominate the first black woman to the Supreme Court. When it was his turn, Sanders agreed he would select a woman to be his VP, too, “in all likelihood.”
“I’m committed that if I am elected president and have an opportunity to appoint someone to the courts, I will appoint the first black woman to the court. It’s required that they have representation now; it’s long overdue. Secondly, if I am elected president, my cabinet — my administration — will look like the country and I commit that I will, in fact, appoint — pick — a woman to be vice president,” Biden said.