Former Vice President Joe Biden pledged on Sunday to pick a woman to be his running mate, should he get the Democratic nomination.
“My administration will look like the country and I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a woman to be vice president,” Biden said. “There are a number of women qualified to be president tomorrow.”
He also committed to picking the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, a promise he first made at the South Carolina debate on Feb. 25.
Sanders was asked if he, too, would pick a female running mate.
“In all likelihood, I will,” Sanders said. “To me, it’s not just nominating a woman. It is making sure that we have a progressive woman and there are progressive women out there. So, my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.”
The debate — the eleventh of the Democratic primary — was the first one held since Super Tuesday. The candidates spent the first 40 minutes debating the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Biden sought to present himself as a forceful leader, saying that Americans should be assured that their virus treatments are covered and suggesting that the military should be called upon to assist in the response.
“I would call out the military now,” he said. “This is like a war. In a war, you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people.”
Sanders, meanwhile, argued that the virus had exposed the fundamental failure of the U.S. health care system, and underscored the urgent need for Medicare for All.
“The dysfunctionality of the current health care system is obviously apparent,” Sanders said. “Clearly we are not prepared, and Trump only exacerbates the crisis… One of the reasons we are unprepared and have been unprepared is that we don’t have a system. We’ve got thousands of private insurance plans. That is not a system that is designed to provide health care to all people.”
Biden, who opposes Medicare for All, countered that Italy’s single-payer health care system has not protected that country from the crisis.
“It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all,” Biden said. “It is not working in Italy right now and they have a single-payer system.”
Sanders argued that the poor are likely to be hit hardest by the virus and the economic fallout.
“In this crisis we have got to start paying attention to the most vulnerable,” he said. “Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck.”
The debate was held in CNN’s studios in Washington, D.C., without a live audience. Biden and Sanders did not shake hands, instead given a “chicken wing” greeting, and stood at podiums spaced unusually far apart to model social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Both candidates said they were not experiencing any symptoms.
“I am using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers to make sure I do not get the infection,” Sanders said.
Biden said he has sworn off shaking hands, avoids touching his face, and washes his hands “with hot water and soap.”
After the coronavirus discussion, Sanders made good on his promise to challenge Biden on issues like Social Security cuts, bankruptcy reform, the Iraq war, trade and gay marriage.
Biden repeatedly denied Sanders’ claim that he had spoken in support of Social Security cuts on the floor of the Senate.
“C’mon, Joe, you’re on an honest guy, why don’t you tell the truth,” Sanders said. “We all make mistakes.”
Biden said he never supported Social Security cuts, but that as part of deficit reduction negotiations, “Everything was on the table.”
Biden is leading in the delegate count. Four states are set to vote on Tuesday: Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.