Even though COVID-19, the deadly new coronavirus strain, was the acknowledged elephant in the room at Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden made news on another issue: He promised to pick a woman as his running mate.
After being asked about challenges women face, Biden said, “I commit that I will in fact appoint a — pick a woman to be vice president. There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.” When pressed whether that was indeed a commitment, he said, “Yes.”
The former vice president’s last remaining serious challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, equivocated. “In all likelihood, I will” choose a woman running mate, he said. “For me, it’s not just nominating a woman, it’s making sure we have a progressive woman,” he added.
Biden also pledged to appoint an African-American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some of the debate dealt with Biden’s more conservative votes while he was a U.S. senator from Delaware, with Sanders pointing out that Biden voted for the antigay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, while Sanders did not. Sanders also brought up Biden’s votes for the Iraq war, for the bankruptcy reform bill, and the Hyde Amendment to ban federal funding for abortions. Biden said last year that he no longer supports the Hyde Amendment.
Biden responded by pointing out Sanders’s votes against expanded background checks for gun purchases and his support for protecting gun manufacturers from legal liability for crimes committed with firearms. Biden also said voters are more interested in the future than the past, but he did note that he was the first member of any presidential administration to come out for marriage equality, which he did, in 2012, a few days before President Barack Obama did.
Biden has surged in the nominating contest, winning most primaries in recent weeks, and many of the candidates who have dropped out have endorsed him. Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio will hold their primaries Tuesday.
The candidates spent the first hour of the CNN-Univision debate discussing COVID-19. Biden said he would push for more test kits and testing centers, expanded hospital capacity, and programs to make up for income people lose because of businesses being shut down during the outbreak. Sanders supported similar plans but also pivoted to his “Medicare for all” proposal for universal, government-run health care.
Biden, who supports a public option under the Affordable Care Act instead of a completely government-run program, pointed out that Italy has a program like Sanders suggests but it has nonetheless been hit hard by the outbreak.
Sanders also promised to stand up to health care and pharmaceutical companies and took Biden to task for accepting contributions from them. Biden responded that he has a small campaign war chest and has surged ahead in the primaries despite that. He further noted that he had supported public funding of political campaigns years ago.
Sanders talked a great deal about how the COVID-19 crisis has underlined the amount of economic inequality in the nation. “What we have got to do also is understand the fragility of the economy and how unjust and unfair it is,” he said.
Biden agreed that economic inequality is a serious problem, but said the thing to do now is address the outbreak and its economic effects, then deal with the larger economic problems later. “People are looking for results, not a revolution” like Sanders is promoting, he said.
Sanders criticized Biden for supporting the federal bailout of banks during the 2008 economic crisis, but Biden said the banks paid everything back with interest and that letting banks fail would have hurt ordinary people, such as their employees and depositors.
The two each dodged questions to some degree, particularly on Biden’s weak support among Latinx voters and Sanders’s lack of support among African-Americans.
They agreed on some things. They each pledged to support the other should he become the nominee and emphasized that their share priority is defeating Donald Trump, who Sanders called a racist, misogynist, and homophobe. And Biden said the biggest move to ease income would be to get rid of Trump.
You can find even more coverage here.