Joe Biden promised to choose a woman as his vice presidential running mate if he wins the Democratic nomination, as he and Bernie Sanders dueled in an unusual debate on Sunday evening. A surprised Sanders agreed that he too would likely select a “progressive” woman.
“There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow,” said the former vice president, who repeated the promise under questioning from the moderators. “I would pick a woman to be my vice president.” Although the Vermont senator didn’t respond with an equally firm pledge, Sanders said “in all likelihood I will. For me it’s not just nominating a woman, it is making sure we have a progressive woman — and we have progressive women out there.”
That moment of agreement came amid a sometimes heated debate over past votes and leadership styles as the two remaining Democrats in the race competed amid the advent of a national medical emergency that has no end in sight.
The coronavirus crisis changed not only the debate’s substance but its circumstances, with the candidates meeting in a CNN Washington studio, absent any audience, instead of a packed auditorium in Phoenix, AZ. As the candidates took the stage they bumped elbows instead of shaking hands, in accordance with CDC guidelines on personal contact to avoid spreading the virus. Both candidates said during the debate that they had felt no symptoms of the illness and had not been tested yet.
The debate’s first 40 minutes focused on the crisis, with Biden calling for national unity, criticizing the response of the Trump administration, and recalling his own role in dealing with pandemic threats as Barack Obama’s vice president. Sanders took the opportunity to again press his Medicare-for-all plan. But much of the remaining time was devoted to familiar disputes between the two men over policy issues and past votes. There was no startling moment that might have changed the trajectory of the race, as Biden delivered a better and more assured performance than in earlier debates, while the scrappy Sanders never landed a knockout blow. A Washington Post analysis declared that Biden was the evening’s main “winner.”