“First thing we have got to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this president up right now, because he is undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people,” Sanders said of President Trump. “It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with un-factual information which is confusing the general public.”
In his first answer of the night, @BernieSanders says the first thing we have to do on coronavirus is "shut this president up right now. Because he is undermining the doctors and the scientists trying to help the American people." #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/wnkb1k1XPl— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 16, 2020
Sanders’s criticism of Trump and his administration’s response to the covid-19 outbreak came at the end of a weekend of social distancing that saw the economy and American culture shift again to address the spread of the infection throughout the country. As of early Monday, there have been close to 169,000 confirmed cases and roughly 6,500 reported deaths worldwide. In the United States, the coronavirus has been reported in nearly every state, with roughly 3,500 confirmed cases and 66 reported deaths.
Citing the risk of virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged a nationwide stop to gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. In the most dramatic move by the Federal Reserve since the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. central bank on Sunday made an emergency interest rate cut to zero. Several major U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles, ordered schools, bars and restaurants to close in attempts to flatten the spread of coronavirus.
The Sunday debate also capped another stretch that saw lawmakers and critics slam the president for his administration’s lack of direction and reassurance to the nation in response to the outbreak.
After declaring a national emergency on Friday, Trump’s physician announced over the weekend that the president, who had come in contact with multiple people who had contracted the disease, had tested negative for coronavirus. On Saturday, the House, with Trump’s support, passed an economic relief bill worth tens of billions of dollars to help Americans affected by the crisis, helping cover paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and free testing.
Trump did not directly respond to Sanders’s critique on Sunday night, but described the debate on Twitter as “VERY boring.”
Instead, he saved his most pointed vitriol for Biden in retweets slamming the former vice president’s performance. The president also took time on Sunday to again taunt Biden for his role in the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.
The debate between Biden and Sanders, which moved from Phoenix to CNN’s Washington studio amid health concerns, highlighted the growing concern on all things coronavirus, with significant portions of the night dedicated to the pandemic. It was the last head-to-head matchup before four states — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — hold primaries on Tuesday amid health concerns. The night featured elbow-bumps between the rivals and the candidates standing six feet apart per federal health guidelines.
The outbreak has already altered the state of the race, evident by Georgia and Louisiana postponing their presidential primaries in the coming weeks to May and June, respectively.
The debate unfolded after Sunday interviews from Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Earlier in the day, Fauci acknowledged that millions of Americans could die of covid-19 in a worst-case scenario. Such a scenario — outlined in a CDC projection model reviewed by the New York Times — found as many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die of coronavirus.
“Obviously, we are clearly gonna have more infections. There’s going to be more problems in regard to morbidity and mortality,” he told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “State of the Union.” “The challenge we have right now is, how do we blunt that?”
In an interview with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl on “This Week,” Fauci said that while a worst-case scenario was possible, “it is unlikely if we do the kinds of things that we’re essentially outlining right now.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci tells @jonkarl that although the “worst case scenario” of death estimates in the U.S. due to coronavirus is “possible,” it is “unlikely if we do the kinds of things that we’re essentially outlining right now.” https://t.co/YJ2h02tqtA pic.twitter.com/ucwexdMfDj— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 15, 2020
In their closing remarks in front of the CNN and Univision moderators on Sunday night, both Biden and Sanders described the situation as “bigger than any individual,” and urged leaders to listen to the health experts, like Fauci.
“We need to move aggressively to make sure that every person in this country who has the virus, who thinks they have the virus, understands they get all the health care they need because they are Americans,” Sanders noted.