Sparring over Social Security
The candidates had one of their most spirited back-and-forths over whether Biden ever supported cuts to Social Security and other entitlement programs.
Sanders has accused Biden of being willing to adjust benefits because of the former vice president's past efforts to curb federal deficits.
As part of the 1984 debate on the deficit, Biden co-sponsored legislation for a one-year freeze on cost-of-living adjustments that was rejected. In 1995, he supported a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which he acknowledged could lead to cuts in Social Security or other federal programs.
Sanders pressed Biden to "be straight" with the American people and admit that he was "prepared to cut" the programs.
"Come on, Joe! You were," Sanders said. "Why don't you just tell the truth. We all make mistakes."
Biden denied that's what he supported but said "everything was on the table" to deal with the deficit.
"You just said it - everything was on the table!" Sanders interjected.
"But we did not cut it," Biden responded.
Sanders said people could determine the truth for themselves.
"Alright, America, go to the YouTube right now," he said at one point.
- Maureen Groppe
Ebola outbreak referenced
Biden leaned into his past executive experience with the Obama Administration while discussing solutions for the coronavirus pandemic.
Sanders, on the other hand, questioned how the country is going to help people who are either experiencing economic turmoil due to the pandemic or unable to get the health care they need for the virus.
Biden pointed to what the Obama Administration did to combat the Ebola outbreak, mentioning precautions the government took to maintain help in the hospitals.
"They've done it," Biden said. "They did it in the ebola crisis."
Sanders even hit Biden on how often he was mentioning the Ebola crisis, especially after the Vermont Senator accidentally referred to coronavirus as ebola.
"You keep talking about Ebola, you got Ebola in my head now," Sanders said.
Sanders focused on how are Americans going to pay for health care needed for coronavirus treatments. He also focused on how is the government going to help people who are losing jobs due to coronavirus.
- Rebecca Morin
How they're avoiding infection
With both candidates in their 70s, they were asked what they're doing to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
"I wash my hands God knows how many times a day," Biden said. "I make sure I don't touch my face, and so on."
Biden added he has no underlying health condition that would add to the vulnerability his age gives him.
Sanders, who had a heart attack last fall, said he has no symptoms
and "I feel very grateful for that."
"I'm using a lot of soap and hand sanitizer," he said.
Both said their staffs are working from home, they've traded rallies for virtual events and have stopped shaking hands - including tonight when they greeted each other with elbow bumps.
- Maureen Groppe
Candidates agree world must work together on coronavirus.
Asked how the U.S. should hold China, where the coronavirus originated, accountable for its role in how the spread of the virus took its course, the candidates stressed the importance of having a leader to bring countries together. China has been criticized for a lack of transparency at the virus' origins.
Sanders pivoted from a focus on whether there should be a punishment for China, choosing to criticize President Donald Trump for "praising China," which he said was "lying to their own people," letting the virus "move more aggressively."
"Now is the time… to be working with China," Sanders said.
"If there was ever a moment when the entire world was in this together, this is that moment," Sanders said.
Biden added that the U.S. should have a leader who would have a presence in China, pointing to the way the Obama administration, when he was vice president, responded to the Ebola crisis.
"That's why I insisted the moment this broke out that we should insist on having our experts in China," Biden said. "We have to lead the world. We should be the ones doing what we did during the Ebola crisis, bringing the whole world together."
How would they respond to the coronavirus and the economy
Much of the debate so far has put a spotlight on how different Biden and Sanders see the economy and how to respond to a crisis, such as the coronavirus.
Sanders said the current pandemic exposes the "cruelty" of the nation's economy and exposes the level of "income inequality".
"Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck," Sanders said, going on to talk more about what he said was a broken economic system.
Biden stepped in to reiterate that the country needs immediate action.
"People are looking for results," Biden said. "Not a revolution."
Biden said his priority with the economy would be to make sure everybody is made financially "whole" to help Americans pay their bills and support their family in the face of any lost wages.
- Louie Villalobos
No audience has created a faster pace, so far
Lacking a live audience because of precautions taken for the nation's coronavirus outbreak, the debate got off to a faster pace than past debates in the 2020 Democratic primary.
The first several questions each centered on the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and Biden and Sanders rapidly went back and forth.
The absence of a crowd breaking into applause took away the delay between questions that's typical for televised debates.
So far, it's made for perhaps the most substantive debate of the primary.
-- Joey Garrison
Biden would deploy military
Biden was more explicit than Sanders when both were asked whether they would deploy the military to contain the virus.
"I would call out the military, now," Biden said. "They have the capacity to provide this surge that hospitals need."
He said the military can build 500-bed hospitals and secure tents to increase the strained ability of hospitals to treat patients.
Sanders said he would "use all of the tools that make sense."
"This is certainly a national emergency," he said, before emphasizing the need to address the plight of workers.
Sparring over health care plans
The candidates quickly turned the discussion over the pandemic into a debate over their health care plans.
Sanders continued his frequent complaint that the United States spends more than most countries without the results to show for it.
"We are spending so much money yet we are not prepared for this pandemic," he said. "How come people can't afford to get the prescription drugs they need?"
Biden said that Sanders' "Medicare for All" proposal is not the answer. He said Italy has a single-payer system and their health care system is still in crisis.
"That would not solve the problem at all," Biden said. "It is not working in Italy right now."
Sanders said that the United States health care system was already in crisis because too many people can't afford care.
"Bottom line is we need a simple system that exists in Canada, exists in countries all over the world," Sanders said.
Starting with coronavirus
The moderators announced at the start of the debate that they would focus heavily on the crisis, which has killed nearly 6,000 around the world.
"Let's begin with the most important issue right now," CNN Jake Tapper said.
He started by asking Joe Biden what he would say to people about the crisis.
Biden said his heart goes out to those who have already lost someone.
"This calls for a national rally," he said before naming specific actions such as making sure every state has at least 10 drive-thru testing opportunities, planning for additional hospital capacity and dealing with the economic fallout for people and business.
Sanders' initial response was to criticize President Donald Trump.
"The first thing we have to do is shut this president up right now," Sanders said. "He is blabbering with unfactual information that is confusing to the public."
The question for the candidates came as the Center for Disease Control released new guidance saying that events including 50 people or more should be cancelled or postponed for the next eight weeks.
- Maureen Groppe
The debate stage looks different tonight amid the coronavirus
In an unusual pre-debate greeting, Sanders and Biden bumped elbows instead of shaking hands, to comply with recommendations by the CDC to avoid contact with others and practice social distancing. They took their places at podiums placed 6 feet apart, the distance the CDC advises.
Sunday night's debate, hosted by CNN and Univision, was moved from its original planned venue in Phoenix to CNN's studios in Washington, D.C., amid concerns of the spread of coronavirus.
The Democratic National Committee had previously announced there would be no live studio audience after the Biden and Sanders campaigns requested the change, and that there would also be no press filing center or spin room.
The stage is set for tonight's 8pm ET debate. The podiums are placed 6 feet apart, in accordance with CDC guidelines. pic.twitter.com/90UXo1Z74X
- CNN Communications (@CNNPR) March 15, 2020
Both campaigns have transitioned their staffs to remote work and suspended large campaign events as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has continued to grow in the U.S.
Despite the precautions taken for the two candidates, both in their 70s, the debate moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Ilia Calderón were seated together.
Jorge Ramos, who was originally scheduled to moderate tonight's debate, canceled his appearance due to possible exposure to the virus, though he is not displaying any symptoms.
Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden face off in Democratic debate
WASHINGTON - Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders face off tonight in the first one-on-one presidential debate of the Democrats' nominating contest which also takes place as the nation is grappling with how to control the fast-growing coronavirus.
Sanders needs a major development to shake up the dynamics of the race which at this point heavily favor Biden.
Because of the virus, the candidates are debating in CNN's studios in Washington, D.C., instead of in Arizona as originally planned.
There will be no live audience and no nearby space for the media to file stories as they watch. Also gone is the customary "spin" room where campaign aides argue why their candidate won the debate.
There's also a change of moderators. Univision's Jorge Ramos, who may have been exposed to coronavirus, has been replaced by the network's Ilia Calderón. She will join CNN's Dana Bash and Jake Tapper for the two-hour debate which begins at 8 p.m. ET.
Viewers can watch on Univision, CNN and CNN.com.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still running for the Democratic nomination but did not qualify for tonight's debate.
Biden extending olive branch to Sanders' supporters
Joe Biden is continuing his move to the left in an attempt to reach out to the party's most progressive voters, many of whom are still supporting Bernie Sanders.
Two days after backing Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy plan, Biden announced hours before his debate with Sanders that he is expanding his proposal to help young people pay for college.
Biden backed making public colleges and universities tuition-free for students in families earning less than $125,000.
That doesn't go as far as Sanders' promise of free tuition for any student, along with canceling student loan debt.
But it goes beyond Biden's previous platform of guaranteeing two free years of community college and doubling the maximum value of Pell grants.
"As Biden has traveled across the country meeting with voters for the past 11 months,"Biden's campaign said in a statement, "young voters have shared their challenges paying for college and how important this issue is to them."
Young voters are one of the few cohorts that Biden has not won as he's dominated the polls in most states that have voted this month.
"It's great that Joe Biden is now supporting a position that was in the Democratic platform four years ago," Sanders said in response to Biden's announcement. "Now we have to go much further."
Although it would be very difficult for Sanders to overtake Biden at this point barring a major unforeseen event, Sanders maintains that his ideas are more popular with voters than Biden's. And he promised Wednesday to press Biden at tonight's debate on how he would handle health care, climate change, student debt and other issues Sanders has championed.
In Biden's effort to unite the country, his campaign said Sunday, Biden is "open to the best ideas…regardless of where they come from."
How Sanders will use coronavirus
With the coronavirus certain to be a topic at tonight's debate, Bernie Sanders previewed how he's likely to try to turn the topic to his advantage.
The virus, Sanders said in a fundraising solicitation before the debate, is highlighting the stark differences between him and Biden.
While Sanders is pushing his "Medicare for All" plan to provide government-run health insurance to every American, he says Biden "has suggested he would veto it."
Sanders is referring to a March 9 interview on MSNBC in which Lawrence O'Donnell asked Biden if he would veto a Medicare for All bill that landed on his desk as president.
"I would veto anything that delays providing the security and the certainty of health care being available now," Biden responded.
He elaborated that he's concerned about how a Medicare for All plan would be paid for and whether it would require significant tax increases on the middle class.
Sander charges that Biden's alternative would still leave millions uninsured.
Biden proposes building on the 2010 Affordable Care Act in part by increasing private insurance subsidies for people who aren't covered through an employer and by creating a government-run insurance plan to compete with private ones. The Urban Institute has said plans similar to Biden's would cover everyone in the country legally. There would still be more than 6 million residents without insurance, all undocumented immigrants.
Which Democrat does President Donald Trump think will come out ahead tonight?
In a fundraising solicitation sent out Sunday afternoon by Trump's re-election campaign, the president predicted it would a bad night for both "Crazy Bernie" and "Sleepy Joe Biden."
"For the first time, the American People will get to watch these two losers battle it out on national television and argue about who would be WORSE for America," he wrote. "I can't wait."
Before asking for a donation, Trump also describes the debate as "Socialism vs. Incompetence."
Biden leading in states voting next
Tonight's debate comes two days before the next round of states vote - Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Florida.
Biden, who is already leading Sanders by more than 150 delegates, is expected to expand his advantage. Polls taken this month give him a big leads in all four states.
That includes Arizona, even though Sanders generally does well in Western states and those with significant Latino populations. But in a poll released Friday by Univision, Biden had a double-digit lead over Sanders among all registered Democrats in Arizona while Sanders' lead among Latino Democrats was within the poll's margin of error.
Under Democrats' rules for awarding delegates proportionally, it's hard for a candidate to get a big lead. But once he does, it's hard for another candidate to catch up. Doing so requires lopsided wins in states to capture the majority of delegates.
Oldest and youngest describe Biden differently
Ever since South Carolina supercharged his campaign, Joe Biden has cemented his hold on the Democratic nomination by doing well with nearly even voting group. One exception is young voters, a cohort that has sided overwhelmingly with Bernie Sanders - and which Biden may try to reach out to tonight.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center show how differently the youngest generations views Biden.
The youngest voters - ages 18 to 29 - are more likely than the oldest voters to describe Biden's views as conservative. The oldest voters - those 65 and older - are more likely than the youngest to describe Biden's views as moderate.
For Sanders, by contrast, there's not much difference among age groups on how he's viewed. Majorities of all ages see him as liberal, though Democrats aged 65 and older describe him that way the most.
The survey was conducted Feb. 18 to March 2 among 10,300 adults, including 5,771 Democrats and independent voters who lean Democrat.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democratic debate live updates: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders face-off