Biden and Sanders Debate on Coronavirus and Health Care Solutions

(CN) — Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden found common ground during a Democratic presidential candidate debate in Washington, D.C., Sunday night, with both candidates saying they support a financial bailout in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation – so long as it ensures that working families are made whole.

“Our job right now is to tell every working person in this country, no matter what your income is, you are not going to suffer as a result of this crisis of which you had no control,” Sanders said.

Biden would call in the military to help deal with the “surge” of patients that is likely to come soon, and he would plan the response to the pandemic in the White House Situation Room, as he did during an ebola outbreak when he was vice-president.

“We have that capacity in the Department of Defense, as well as with the FEMA, and they can set up 100-bed, 500-bed hospitals and tents quickly,” Biden said. “We have to lay all that out.”

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

Biden would also ensure that no one would have to pay for coronavirus testing or treatment and that no one would lose income from lost jobs, he said.

Sanders agreed, pointing out that if the nation had his proposed “Medicare for All” healthcare system, everyone would already be covered. He would also call the military in to help, but the problem goes deeper than this crisis, he said.

“This coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system,” he said.

Biden countered that this crisis has nothing to do with Medicare for All.

“With all due respect for Medicare for All, you have a single-payer system in Italy,” Biden said. “It doesn’t work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all.”

It would, Sanders said.

“And bottom line here is … despite what the vice president is saying, what the experts tell us is that one of the reasons that we are unprepared and have been unprepared is we don’t have a system,” Sanders said. “We’ve got thousands of private insurance plans. That is not a system that is prepared to provide health care to all people.”

When Sanders turned the conversation to the influence of Wall Street, drug and insurance companies, and the fossil fuel industry in politics, Biden countered with a plan he said he proposed 30 years ago.

“Federally fund all elections, no private contributions in the election process,” Biden said, adding that he has not accepted any contribution greater than $2,800 from anyone and his average contribution is $44.

In recent days, Biden has endorsed a rewrite of bankruptcy laws proposed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who recently dropped out of the race, and free college for households that earn $125,000 or less – something Sanders has long backed.

“Four years ago, when I said that public colleges and university should be tuition free, people were saying, ‘Bernie, that’s a radical idea,’” Sanders said. “Well, you got states and cities and counties all over the country that are moving in that direction, and I’m glad that Joe is onboard.”

When asked whether they would choose a woman running mate, Biden answered, “Yes.” Sanders said, “In all likelihood, I will.”

Both men promised a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and to address climate change with science, although Biden’s proposal there is to spend $1.7 trillion where Sanders proposes a more extensive $14 trillion.

The debate, moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash and Univision’s Ilia Calderon, was originally to be in Phoenix, where Democrats will vote Tuesday in their presidential preference election, the state’s version of a primary.

But because of the threat of coronavirus, on Tuesday CNN eliminated the debate’s live audience and press center, then on Thursday changed the venue to its Washington, D.C. studio.

Biden comes into the 11th Democratic candidate debate with 890 of 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination, while Sanders has 736. Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tusli Gabbard did not make the stage for the debate after CNN announced the cutoff would be at least 20% of delegates across 29 states that had allocated delegates by March 15. Gabbard has won just two delegates – in American Somoa.

A Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies survey conducted March 11-13 for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed Biden is the overwhelming favorite among Democratic voters nationally.

Among 438 voters Hart polled, 61% said they are definitely or probably voting for Biden while just 32% chose Sanders. Biden was viewed as very or somewhat positive by 68% of Democrats in that survey with Sanders polling within the margin of error at 66%.

Both Democrats would beat President Trump if the election were last week – Biden 52% to 43%, and Sanders 49% to 45%, the poll showed.

A HarrisX poll conducted for The Hill March 8-9 showed Biden with a 55% to 28% lead over Sanders and Gabbard garnering 5% support. Only Hispanics (40% to 39%) and voters under 35 (46% to 31%) gave Sanders the nod in that survey.

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