On a day when coronavirus dominated the news, with airports in chaos and the country’s largest school district closing, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders debated one-on-one -- and the pandemic monopolized their meeting too.
Since the last time Democrats met, four candidates have dropped out and the remaining two have been forced to cancel rallies as the country tries to slow the pandemic’s progression. The debate itself was moved from Phoenix to CNN’s Washington studio, there was no audience and the podiums were 6 feet apart to prevent contagion, CNN reported.
With Biden ahead by about 150 delegates, he is already acting as the presumptive nominee. Here are some of the top moments from a debate that differed greatly the earlier events.
AN ELBOW BUMP
The men avoided shaking hands and instead greeted each other with an elbow bump.
Their gesture provided a contrast to President Donald Trump, who shook hands with several of the people attending his press conference in the Rose Garden on Friday.
A WOMAN FOR VICE PRESIDENT
Biden committed to selecting a woman for his vice presidential running mate.
"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 vice president," Biden said.
Sanders was slightly less definitive when asked the same question, saying, "In all likelihood I will."
He specified his choice would be for a progressive woman.
Biden, who earlier had said he would consider a woman or a person of color as his running mate, also again said he would nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court if he has the chance as president.
Now that both of the Democratic presidential candidates are white men, they are under pressure to pick a woman or person of color as a running mate.
AN UNPRECEDENTED CRISIS
From the start, the focus was on the pandemic, with CNN's Jake Tapper noting a new reality that seemed unimaginable a short while ago. What would the candidates say to the American people about the coronavirus?
Biden has offered a detailed plan for tackling the virus and he laid out some of that response Sunday night: providing tests for people who have been exposed, drive-through testing sites in each state and enough hospital beds. He said the country must prepare for the economic fallout that will follow the pandemic.
Sanders would pay for testing and treatment for everyone who gets sick and make sure that hospitals have the ventilators and personnel they need. But first he went straight for Trump.
"We have to shut this president up, right now. Because he’s undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people. It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with unfactual information that is confusing the general public."
A NATIONAL LOCKDOWN?
Biden, asked whether he would support a nationwide quarantine were he the president, said he would call a meeting in the White House situation room for all the experts who are dealing with the crisis and ask them what they needed. Biden, who said he would deploy the military, reminded the country of the Obama administration's effective response to the Ebola outbreak.
Trump has been criticizing Biden over the Obama administration's handling of epidemics, particularly the swine flue epidemic in 2009. He tweeted last week, "Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people. The response was one of the worst on record."
Earlier Sunday, Trump wrote, "Biden in charge" and "very late response time" and exaggerated the number of people who died from that flu strain.
But Obama did not put Biden in charge of the swine flu epidemic as Trump has done with Vice President Mike Pence for the coronavirus.
And Biden's former chief of staff, Ronald Klain, tweeted back at Trump on March 12: "Facts: The Obama administration tested 1 million people for H1N1 in the first month after the first US diagnosed case. The first US #coronavirus case was 50+ days ago. And we haven't even tested 10,000 people yet."
WORKING WITH CHINA
Both men insisted the country must work with China, despite its leaders' failure to control coronavirus when it emerged or to be honest about what was happening within the country.
Sanders said the response in China showed that leaders cannot lie -- as Trump has been accused repeatedly of doing -- but said this was not a time for recrimination.
"This is the time to be working with China," he said, as well as the World Health Organization and other hard-hit countries such as Italy.
Biden said U.S. experts should be in China, learning from the country's experience with the coronavirus.
"We have to lead the world," he said, as the United States did with the Ebola crisis.
How were Sanders, who is 78 and has had a heart attack, and Biden, who is 77, avoiding becoming infected themselves?
Sanders said he is forgoing the large rallies he loves and is reaching his supporters online. His staff is working at home, he is no longer shaking hands and he noted the elbow bump that opened the debate.
"I'm using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers to make sure I don’t get the infection," he said.
Biden stressed that he did not have any underlying conditions that would make the illness more dangerous, and like Sanders has given up shaking hands. His staff is also working at home, his campaign is doing virtual rallies and town hall meetings and he is washing his hands, “God knows how many times."
"I’m taking all the precautions everyone else should be taking," he said.