Biden commits to having a woman as vice president

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Former Vice President Joe Biden committed to picking a woman as his vice president during a one-on-one debate with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during Sunday's presidential debate.

"If I"m elected president, my Cabinet, my administration, will look like the country and I commit that I will in fact pick a woman to be my vice president," Biden said. "There are a number of women qualified to be president tommorrow and I would pick a woman to be my vice president."

It's the first time Biden has said that he would pick a woman to be his vice president during the campaign as the veteran Democrat is on a major surge in the race, taking the lead over Sanders.

The Vermont senator wouldn't go as far as Biden in saying he would choose a woman to be his vice president, but said "in all likelihood, I will."

The duo took their long-running debate over "Medicare for All" into the coronavirus crisis on Sunday, with Biden arguing that there is no time to wait for Sanders' promised "political revolution."

The two men met at a time when nerves are running high as Americans have been told to stay at home in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus. Shortly before the debate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance urging Americans to cancel or postpone in-person gatherings that consist of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

Sanders argued that the pandemic underscored the fragility of the US economy and said it had illuminated the massive wealth gap in America. Now is the time, he argued, to address that.

"Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. We got people who are struggling, working two or three jobs to put food on the table. What's going to happen to them?" Sanders said. "As a result of the virus here, the coronavirus, what we have got to do also is understand the economy and how unjust and unfair it is that so few have so much and so many have so little."

But Biden argued that people are "looking for results, not a revolution" and that it was not the time for massive structural change to the US economy. The former vice president said there are "real legitimate concerns" about income inequality, but he said the country first has to address the crisis in front of them, before addressing those issues.

The current crisis, he said, is "not going to be solved by a change in tax policy now. It's not going to be solved by how we deal with health care" and then pivoted to his plans to bring all of the government's resources to bear to halt the damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have to think long-term about how we deal with making all those who have been badly damaged right again," Biden said. "And then we move on. Then we move on to change the economy in ways that are more profoundly necessary than people think, but do not respond to the immediate needs we have now. First things first."

The CNN-Univision debate, which was moved from Phoenix to CNN's Washington bureau, comes at a pivotal point in the race -- following Biden's surge in the delegate count over two Super Tuesday contests.

A surreal sight in surreal times

The extraordinary times that are gripping the world were clear from the moment the duo met on stage Sunday night.

There was no handshake. Instead with a grin, the former vice president playfully invited Sanders to exchange an elbow bump. Then they took their places at the podiums in silence -- no studio audience to watch them as they stood six feet apart.

Biden and Sanders agreed that the bills of all Americans who get sick from the coronavirus should be paid -- including mortgage payments, rent payments and childcare payments -- but they differed on how far Democrats should go to try to restructure the economy to help working people.

The former vice president said he would make sure every state in the union had 10 places where Americans could access drive-through testing, while also engaging the Defense Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up emergency 500-bed hospital sites to triage patients. He added that he would try to swiftly deal with the economic fallout from the crisis by helping Americans cover their mortgages and allowing small businesses to borrow interest-free loans.

If he had the power to act immediately, the Vermont senator said he would move aggressively to make sure that every person in the country who becomes infected would know that they would not lose income, and assuring them that "all payments will be made." He also touted his plan for "Medicare for All."

"I want every person in this country to understand what when you get sick, you go to the doctor. When you get sick, if you have the virus, that will be paid for," Sanders said, explaining what he would want to occur under his administration. "We have to make sure that our hospitals have the ventilators they need, have the (intensive care) units they need. Right now we have a lack of medical personnel. And I worry very much that if there is a peak -- whether we have the capability of dealing with hundreds of thousands of people who may be in hospitals."

Trump's handling of crisis under fire

Both candidates are attempting to portray themselves as a capable potential commander-in-chief who could calmly steer the nation through crisis.

President Donald Trump has provided a convenient foil in that regard, constantly underplaying the gravity of the coronavirus crisis in recent weeks and overstating the government's progress in distributing tests and getting a handle on the number of infected people in the United States.

Trump falsely suggested during a White House press conference on Friday that Google was creating a website that would help connect concerned citizens to testing locations. In reality, the website was in the nascent stages of development from a subsidiary of Alphabet -- Google's parent company -- that had merely planned a pilot program in San Francisco.

And in a mystifying development during the middle of a pandemic, the President returned to tweeting about the missing emails of his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, on Sunday.

Sanders said the first thing that needed to be done was to "shut this President up right now."

"He's undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people," Sanders said. "It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering unfactual information, which is confusing the general public."

Biden said dealing with coronavirus was like fighting a war.

"This is like a war, and in a war you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people," Biden said.

Biden, by contrast, has tried to turn his focus to the contrast between his experience and Trump's actions. In an op-ed for CNN that published on Sunday, Biden argued that the virus "has laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration."

"Public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this President, fueled by his adversarial relationship with the truth," Biden said, touting the plan he has outlined to fight the coronavirus. "No President can promise to prevent future outbreaks. But I can promise you that when I'm president, we will prepare better, respond better, and recover better. We will lead with science, listen to experts, and heed their advice. We will rebuild American leadership and rally the world to meet global threats. And I will always, always tell the truth."

Virus changes the race

For weeks now, Sanders and Biden have struggled to operate their campaigns in the shadow of the fast-moving virus as the number of cases in the United States has topped 3,300. The government's calls for Americans to avoid large gatherings -- and to adhere to "social distancing" guidelines keeping a space of six feet between individuals -- led both men to cancel scheduled rallies.

The change has deprived Sanders of one of the most important aspects of his campaign: his ability to generate crowds, while Biden's team struggled with technical issues during his first foray into the virtual event space on Friday. In that sense, the debate may offer a welcome change for both men as they try to drive their respective messages at a time when America is rightfully distracted.

Sanders held his first live-streamed fireside chat on Saturday evening with some 100,000 viewers tuning in, according to the campaign, offering his analysis of the coronavirus aid package passed by Congress: he called for greater protections for workers in the form of unemployment benefits and paid leave. He also attempted to pivot back to a discussion of his ideological differences with the former vice president.

The two men were asked how they were confronting the unique risks facing Americans their age with the coronavirus. Both candidates said they have suspended their rallies, directed their aides to work from home and have avoided shaking hands.

Sanders, who is 78 and had a heart attack last year, said he's "very careful about the people I am interacting with."

"I'm using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers to make sure that I do not get the infection," the Vermont senator said. "And I have to say, thank God right now I do not have any symptoms and I feel very grateful for that."

Biden, who is 77, pointedly noted that he does not have underlying conditions and said he was in good health.

"I wash my hands God knows how many times a day," Biden said. "I carry with me, in my bag outside here, hand sanitizer. I don't know how many times a day I use that. I make sure I don't touch my face and so on. I'm taking all the precautions we're telling everybody else to take."

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