WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders blasted President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak during a Democratic debate on Sunday, touting their own plans to deal with a widening crisis that has upended the daily life of Americans.
In their first one-on-one debate, the two Democratic contenders to face Trump in the November election said the Republican president had contributed to growing worries about the global pandemic by spending weeks minimizing the threat before declaring a national emergency on Friday.
Biden recounted his experience as vice president in the Obama administration in dealing with the Ebola outbreak in 2014. He laid out a plan to make testing free and widely available, establishing mobile sites and drive-through facilities in each state and provide more help for small businesses and others hurt by the resulting economic slowdown.
He said he was willing to call out the military to help local officials build hospitals and take other necessary relief steps.
“This is like a war, and in a war you do whatever needs to be done to take care of your people,” Biden said.
Sanders suggested the first step in responding to the outbreak would be “to shut this president up right now” because he was undermining the response of public health officials.
“It is unacceptable to have him be blabbering with unfactual information which is confusing the general public,” Sanders said, adding the crisis showed the need for his signature Medicare for All healthcare proposal, which would replace private health insurance.
- 'Bigger than any one of us': Biden, Sanders focus on coronavirus in debate
The showdown between front-runner Biden and his last viable rival in Sanders, originally scheduled for Phoenix, took place in a Washington studio with no audience, a move made to limit possible exposure to the virus – a sign of how deeply the campaign routine has been reshaped by the global pandemic.
When the two candidates took the stage, they smiled and shared an elbow bump – abiding by the advice of public health officials to avoid handshakes.
The debate comes two days before Tuesday’s primaries in the big states of Ohio, Illinois, Florida and Arizona, where another string of Biden victories would give him a nearly unassailable lead in delegates over Sanders, a democratic socialist senator from Vermont.
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