The much-anticipated encounter came as four states will head to the polls Tuesday to chose their nominee. Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona will collectively award 577 pledged delegates.
Taking place without a live audience due to the coronavirus crisis, the debate, the 11th in the run for party's nomination, was also an occasion for Sanders to recall his differences with Biden and turn the tide of the race after he suffered important losses in recent weeks.
With the number of people infected with COVID-19 and the death toll rising in the United States (U.S.), a large part of the discussion focused on the best response to face the pandemic.
“First thing we have got to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this President up right now, because he’s undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people,” Sanders says. #DemDebatespic.twitter.com/HyzQPbfE4F
Biden called for a “national rallying” to fight the virus and called for more tests to be made available, while Sanders criticized Trump’s response to the crisis, saying the president needs to give more way to medical experts.
The Vermont senator accused the president of “undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people.”
He also emphasized that the country needs to be ready to provide economic help to the people who won’t have their paychecks because of the businesses’ closures.
The two candidates then wrangled over whether the coronavirus crisis highlights the need for fixing the U.S. healthcare system. As the failures of the country’s system were exposed over the past days, Biden chose to keep arguing against Medicare for All and defended the private insurance system.
"This coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system," Sanders said.
“God willing, this crisis is going to end. We're going to have to develop an economy in which half of our people are not living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to put food on the table," #Sanders responded to Biden. #DemocraticDebatepic.twitter.com/2PzjFZAuJh
The Vermont senator expressed that the current crisis proves the necessity to switch to a single-payer system. Biden for his part said that coronavirus testing and treatment should be free to all citizens to combat the current outbreak, but continued to defend his belief that such a policy should not be exceptional and not expanded for other diseases or illnesses.
The two also engaged in a touchy exchange over super PACs and cuts to social security.
Sanders urged Biden to disavow the super PAC supporting his campaign, which the former vice president eluded.
The Vermont senator also criticized his rival’s past comments suggesting he was open to cuts to entitlement programs.
On climate change, Sanders argued the “existential crisis” requires the same level of response as the coronavirus pandemic, arguing Joe Biden’s proposals are not bold enough for such an emergency.
“I know your heart is in the right place, but this requires dramatic, bold action,” Sanders told Biden.
On the other hand, Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was missing from the debate. Given her low delegate total, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) did not allow her to participate.