Democratic debate in Washington, DC

By Veronica Rocha and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 11:58 PM ET, Sun March 15, 2020
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11:01 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

These are the winners and losers of tonight's debate

Analysis from CNN's Chris Cillizza

Tonight marked the first head-to-head debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

CNN's Chris Cillizza broke down some of the winners tonight:

  • Elizabeth Warren/Kamala Harris/Stacey Abrams/Amy Klobuchar: Biden pledged unequivocally he will pick a woman to be his vice president.
  • President Trump: With the exception of an occasional reference here and there, Trump was barely mentioned.
  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance: In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the debate had no live audience and Sanders and Biden elbow-bumped instead of shaking hands.

And here's a look at the losers:

  • Bernie Sanders/Joe Biden: Both men had good moments. Both had bad moments. But overall, they spent two hours attacking each other's voting records — often focusing on the sort of legislative minutiae (Hyde Amendment!) that the average voter simply tunes out.

Read more analysis from Cillizza here.

10:56 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Fact check: Biden claimed the US chose not to take coronavirus tests from WHO. He's right.

From CNN's Holmes Lybrand

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

During the debate, former Vice President Joe Biden claimed that the US chose not to take testing kits for the coronavirus from the World Health Organization.

“Look, the World Health Organization offered the testing kits that they have available and to give it to us now,” Biden said. “We refused them. We did not want to buy them. We did not want to get them from them. We wanted to make sure we had our own.” 

Facts first: Biden is correct. The US, along with other countries, chose not to take test kits from WHO – and instead decided to make their own.  

Laboratories in Germany developed tests to detect the coronavirus which WHO adopted and by March 3, WHO sent out test kits to 47 countries. Other countries, like the US and China, chose to develop their own tests, according to the Washington Post.   

That decision by the US government not to take the WHO test kits has come under scrutiny as testing has been slow to roll out across the country and due to some early failures to verify those tests at other laboratories in the US. On February 12, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that some of the coronavirus test kits shipped to labs across the country were not working as they should.

As a result, the CDC remade parts of the test kits after some produced inconclusive test results.

As of Sunday, almost two months after the coronavirus was first detected in the US, 22,713 specimens had been tested in the US. Experts have criticized the country’s seeming inability to produce more tests.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the experts leading the administration’s response to the coronavirus, told Congress Thursday that the US was “failing” when it came to getting Americans tested. 

“It is a failing, let’s admit it,” Fauci said. “The idea of anybody getting it easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that.”

10:52 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders slams Trump's handling of the coronavirus outbreak

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders blasted President Trump's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, saying he's "undermining the good work of scientists."

Sanders went on to say that Trump keeps making "absurd remarks," calling him "arrogant" and "ignorant."

"A president who had a brain in his head would have brought the scientists together and said, 'Look, how serious is this, what do we? what do we do now?' Not talk about, well, I have ... I have an unusual ability to understand the issue or it's going to all clear up," he said.

Sanders continued: "This is not what the people of this country or the world need."

He said this is also a time of reflection, suggesting that "we have to move incredibly aggressively in terms of the coronavirus."

"What happens after this crisis is over, and it will be over, are we satisfied with the health care system which is not a system? At the end of the day, we have 87 million people who are really nervous about whether they can afford to go to the doctor or not," Sanders said.


10:55 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders weighs in on how coronavirus could affect Tuesday's primaries

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Four states have primaries scheduled for Tuesday: Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. But as the coronavirus outbreak spreads, officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have encouraged the cancellation of any gathering that will draw more than 50 people.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was just asked if he thinks the Tuesday primaries should go on as planned.

"That is a very good question," Sanders said. "Look, you know, elections, dates are very, very important. We don't want to be getting in the habit of messing around with them."

He added:

"I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts, and what they are saying is — you just indicated — we don't want gatherings of more than 50 people. I'm thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, doing all that stuff. Does that make a lot of sense? I'm not sure that it does."


10:52 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Fact check: Biden says Medicare for All wouldn't solve coronavirus "at all." Here's what we know.

From CNN's Tami Luhby

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Asked whether he would order a national lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden took a swipe at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ "Medicare for All" proposal. He pointed to Italy, saying that its single-payer health care system hasn’t worked to stem the outbreak there. 

“It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all,” Biden said at CNN’s Democratic Debate on tonight. 

Facts first: This is partly true. As the experience of Italy and other countries shows, having universal coverage and a government-run health system is not enough on its own to stem the spread of coronavirus. But the US is at a disadvantage in fighting the coronavirus because tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or face high out-of-pocket costs before their insurance kicks in — which may make people hesitant to seek testing or treatment.   

Health care experts in the US are concerned that coronavirus will spread more widely because ill Americans will avoid getting checked out because of the potential cost. Medicare for All calls for all Americans to have coverage with no out-of-pocket charges. 

Nearly 28 million non-elderly people — or 10.4% — were uninsured in 2018, according to the US Census Bureau. And those who have insurance through their jobs still face annual deductibles of about $1,655, on average, before coverage kicks in, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Employer Health Benefits Survey. 

 "Addressing coronavirus with tens of millions of people without health insurance or with inadequate insurance will be a uniquely American challenge among developed countries," Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at Kaiser, tweeted. "It will take money to treat people and address uncompensated care absorbed by providers." 

But federal and state officials, as well as insurers, have stepped up to make sure that Americans can get the coronavirus test at no cost. Many insurers have said they will waive fees for certain members. Several states have also required insurers to waive the cost of the test for some policyholders. 

The House bipartisan legislative package, which lawmakers passed in the early hours of Saturday morning, also calls for "free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to House Democrats. 

President Trump has tweeted his support of the package. The Senate is expected to take up the measure when it returns to session this week. 

10:10 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

How the Obama administration handled the 2014 Ebola crisis

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Former Vice President Joe Biden said early in Sunday’s Democratic debate that he would handle the coronavirus like the Obama administration took on the 2014 Ebola crisis.

What did that mean?

The fast-moving Ebola epidemic in West Africa was what the World Health Organization labeled the “largest, most severe and most complex” Ebola epidemic in history. More than 28,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died.

The outbreak started in March 2014 and the initial US response was considered by some slow and inadequate, but by August of that year, the Obama administration staged what scholars say is the largest American intervention in a global public health crisis.

Congress approved $5.4 billion of the $6.2 billion Obama had asked for in emergency Ebola funding that went to support international efforts and to create infrastructure in the US to fight emerging infectious disease.

The US sent more than 3,500 personnel from multiple agencies to fight the epidemic, mobilizing staff from the Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Service, the US Agency for International Development and the National Institutes of Health.

The medical experts provided direct care to patients and performed basic public health services like contact tracing to help stop the spread of the disease. The experts trained more than 1,500 local healthcare workers. It also educated citizens on disease prevention and partnered with locals to create nearly 200 safe burial teams.

The US military also built 11 Ebola treatment units in the region and oversaw the creation of five others. These ETU’s cared for patients, isolated Ebola patients from others, and tested people for the disease. The Department of Defense brought seven mobile labs to the region speeding up testing. The US also built a medical unit in Liberia that cared for healthcare workers that got sick caring for patients.

In the US, the Obama administration set up Ebola screening at airports, provided national training for health care workers and created an infrastructure of 51 Ebola treatment centers in 16 states that continue to manage emerging infectious diseases. The unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is currently being used to care for novel coronavirus patients. 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease initiated work on an Ebola vaccine and that research continues.

10:12 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden and Sanders closed out their first one-on-one debate with a message on coronavirus

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden just wrapped up their first one-on-one debate tonight in Washington, DC, with a message to Americans on coronavirus.

Here's a portion of what they said:

Biden: "This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together and make the kind of sacrifices we need to make to get this done. So first and foremost what we have to do is start to listen to the science again. ... Donald Trump has exacerbated every single one of these problems, both the immediate urgent need and how we're going to hold people harmless for the damage done as a consequence of this virus. It's important we do both."

Sanders: "This is a time to move aggressively, dealing with the coronavirus crisis, dealing with the economic fallout. But it is also time to rethink America and create a country where we care about each other rather than a nation of greed and corruption which is what is taking place among the corporate elite."

10:00 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Biden and Sanders were asked about their campaign weaknesses. Here's what they said.

Gabriella Demczuk for CNN
Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were just asked about their weaknesses in the 2020 race.

CNN's Dana Bash pointed out that Sanders has done better with Hispanic voters than Biden. Biden insisted that his message is "resinating across the board," and pointed to several states that he's won.

"Why is it that I'm winning all those places? What's the reason?" Biden asked. "The reason is because they know I am a Democrat with a capital "D" who believes our that base is the base of the Democratic Party."

Bash went on to mention that Sanders' campaign is struggling to gain wide support from black voters.

"I think it's imperative that we defeat Trump. I think our campaign of a biracial, bi-generational — multigenerational grassroots movement is the way to do it," Sanders said.

Sanders added his campaign is "winning the ideological struggle."


9:59 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Sanders says it "would be incorrect" to deny any positives from authoritarian regimes 

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Sarah Silbiger for CNN
Sarah Silbiger for CNN

Bernie Sanders defended his previous comments praising Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba for literacy programs, arguing he was simply acknowledging reality. 

“We condemn authoritarianism whether it’s in China, Russia, Cuba, anyplace else. But to simply say that nothing ever done by any of those administrations had a positive impact on their people would, I think, be incorrect,” Sanders said. 

Joe Biden criticized Sanders and defended similar comments from former President Barack Obama, saying that Obama “was trying to change Cuban policy so the Cuban people would get out from under the thumb” of Castro’s regime.

Biden said that “these are flat-out dictators, period, and they should be called for it, straight-up.”

“President Obama was more generous in his praise of what Cuba did in health care and education than I was. I was talking about a program 60 years ago, in the first year of the Castro revolution,” Sanders responded.