Politics & National Security

National Security Highlights from the Eleventh Democratic Debate

By Vishnu Kannan
Monday, March 16, 2020, 5:33 PM

On Sunday, CNN and Univision co-hosted the tenth debate of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, moderated by Dana Bash, Jake Tapper, and Ilia Calderón.

We’ve combed through the transcript from the debate to present the national security-related exchanges. These excerpts are organized both thematically and chronologically.

A complete transcript is available from CNN here.


TAPPER: Vice President Biden, let me start with you. We're in a reality right now that might have seemed unimaginable a week ago. Schools have been cancelled for more than 25 million students. Grocery store shelves have been cleared out. March Madness, NBA games, Disney parks, Broadway, small businesses all shut down, and just today, the CDC issued a new recommendation that for the next eight weeks events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the U.S. be cancelled or postponed.

What do you say to the American people who are confronting this new reality?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, my heart goes out to those who have already lost someone or those who are suffering from the virus. And this is bigger than any one of us. This calls for a national rallying to everybody move together.


But there are three pieces to this. First of all, we have to take care of those who, in fact, are exposed or likely to be exposed to the virus. And that means we have to do testing, we have to get the testing kits up and ready. I would have the World Health Organization, I'd take advantage of the test kits they have available to us, even though the president says a million or more are coming. Let's just get all the tests we can, done, as quickly as we can.

Secondly, I would make sure that every state in the union had at least 10 places where they had drive-thru testing arrangements. I would also at this point deal with the need to begin to plan for the need for additional hospital beds. We have that capacity in the Department of Defense, as well as with the FEMA. And they can set up 100-bed, 500-bed hospitals and tents quickly. We have to lay all that out.

But we have to deal with the economic fallout quickly. And that means making sure that people who, in fact, lose their job, don't get a paycheck, can't pay their mortgage, are able to pay it and pay them now. And do it now. Small businesses, be able to borrow interest-free loans.

TAPPER: Senator Sanders, this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged that it's possible that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans, could die from coronavirus in a worst-case scenario. If you were president right now, what's the most important thing you would do tonight to try to save American lives?

SANDERS: Well, firstly, we have 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. It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with unfactual information, which is confusing the general public.

Second of all, what we need to do -- and I'm glad that he has called a state of national emergency -- what we have got to do is move aggressively to make sure that every person in this country finally understands that when they get sick with the coronavirus, that they will -- that all payments will be made, that they don't have to worry about coming up with money for testing, they don't have to worry about coming up with money for treatment.

This is an unprecedented moment in American history. Now, I obviously believe in Medicare for all. I will fight for that as president.

But right now, in this emergency, I want every person in this country to understand that when you get sick, you go to the doctor. When you get sick, if you have the virus, that will be paid for. Do not worry about the cost right now, because we're in the middle of a national emergency.

Second of all, we have to make sure that our hospitals have the ventilators that they need, have the [Intensive Care] IC units that they need. Right now, we have a lack of medical personnel. And I worry very much that if there is a peak, whether we have the capability of dealing with hundreds of thousands of people who may be in hospitals.

So we need unprecedented action right now to deal with the unprecedented crisis. And bottom line, from an economic point of view, what we have got to say to the American people, if you lose your job, you will be made whole. You're not going to lose income. If Trump can put -- or the Fed can president $1.5 trillion into the banking system, we can protect the wages of every worker in America.

Bureaucracy and Emergency Response

TAPPER: Vice President Biden, President Trump says he does not take any responsibility for the problems with coronavirus testing, in part because, he says, he inherited so many rules, regulations, and red tape. Did bureaucratic red tape hamper this response in any way?

BIDEN: No, look, the World Health Organization offered -- offered the testing kits that they have available and to give it to us now. We refused them. We did not want to buy them. We did not want to get them from them. We wanted to make sure we had our own. I think he said something like we have the best scientists in America, or something to that effect.

The idea that we are not prepared for this and not -- and the other thing I want to point out. And I agree with Bernie. We're in a situation where we have to now be providing for the hospitals that are going to be needed, needed now. The present system cannot handle the surge that is likely to come.

So we should already be sitting down and planning where we're going to put these temporary hospitals. And we can do that. We did that -- we've been through this before with the coronavirus. We've been through this -- I mean, excuse me, we've been through this before with dealing with the viruses that -- the H1N1 -- as well as what happened in Africa. We provided these hospitals dealing with these great pandemics, and we were able to do it quickly. And people would have a place to go. But we also have to provide the equipment to protect the first responders. And that's not being done, either.

Hospital Capacity and Guaranteeing Treatment

TAPPER: Senator Sanders, on that note, obviously, another major health concern right now for officials is the potential surge in patients all at once, overburdening hospitals, the health care system. You've mentioned ICU beds, both of you, and ventilators.

We're already in the middle of flu season, so already a lot of those beds and ventilators are already being used. If you were president right now, what would you do to make sure every sick American is able to get treatment so the U.S. does not suffer the same fate as Italy, where doctors have to decide right now who gets life-saving treatment and who does not?

SANDERS: Jake, let's be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system. Now, we're spending twice as much per person on health care as the people of any other country. How in God's name does it happen that we end up with 87 million people who are uninsured or underinsured and there are people who are watching this program tonight who are saying, "I'm not feeling well. Should I go to the doctor? But I can't afford to go to the doctor. What happens if I am sick? It's going to cost thousands of for treatment. Who's going to feed my kids?"

We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We're spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic. So the word has got to go out, and I certainly would do this as president: You don't worry. People of America, do not worry about the cost of prescription drugs. Do not worry about the cost of the health care that you're going to get, because we are a nation -- a civilized democratic society. Everybody, rich and poor, middle class, will get the care they need. The drug companies will not rip us off.


BASH: Vice President Biden, some medical experts are saying the only true way to control this virus is through a national quarantine, requiring every American, other than essential personnel, to stay home. Would you take that unprecedented step of a national lockdown?

BIDEN: What I would do is what we did in our administration.

I would call a meeting in the Situation Room of all the experts in America dealing with this crisis. I would sit them down and I would do exactly what we did then. What is it that we need? Listen to the experts. What do we need?

And with all due respect for Medicare for all, you have a single-payer system in Italy. It doesn't work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for all. That would not solve the problem at all. We can take care of that right now by making sure that no one has to pay for treatment, period, because of the crisis. No one has to pay for whatever drugs are needed, period, because of the crisis. No one has to pay for hospitalization because of the crisis, period. That is a national emergency, and that's how it's handled. It is not working in Italy right now, and they have a single-payer system.

BIDEN: Now, with regard to what else I would do, the fact is that we're in a position where I would bring together the leading experts in the world. Instead of doing this -- in the United States -- instead of doing this piecemeal, sit down and do what we did before with the Ebola crisis, what is needed and have one voice, one voice, like we did every day we met in that crisis in the Situation Room, laying out -- so we lay out overall, for all nation, what the best proposal is and how to move forward.

In the absence of that, governors are making some sound decisions. They're doing the best they can by going out and getting the health care experts is their communities and their states to move. But it should be directed from the White House, from the Situation Room, laying out in detail like we did in the Ebola crisis. And we beat it.

BASH: Senator Sanders, your response?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, the dysfunctionality of the current health care system is obviously apparent. As I said earlier, there are people who hesitate going to the doctor. You're going to have a maze of regulations -- well, if this is my income, if that's my income, can I get it, can I not get it? Clearly, we are not prepared. And Trump only exacerbates the crisis.

When we spend twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation, one might expect that we would have enough doctors all over this country. One might expect that we would have affordable prescription drugs. One might expect that we are preparing effectively for a pandemic that we were ready with the ventilators, with the ICUs, with the test kits that we need. We are not.

And bottom line here is, in terms of Medicare for all, despite what the vice president is saying, what the experts tell us is that one of the reasons that we are unprepared and have been unprepared is we don't have a system. We've got thousands of private insurance plans. That is not a system that is prepared to provide health care to all people.

In a good year, without the epidemic, we're losing up to 60,000 people who die every year because they don't get to a doctor on time. It's clearly this crisis is only making a bad situation worse.

BIDEN: That has nothing to do when you're in a national crisis. The national crisis says, we're responding. It's all free. You don't have to pay for a thing. That has nothing to do with whether or not you have an insurance policy. This is a crisis. We're at war with the virus. We're at war with the virus. It has nothing to do with co-pays or anything. We just pass a law saying that you do not have to pay for any of this, period.

SANDERS: As a matter of fact, that's not true. That law has enormous loopholes.


SANDERS: What -- what you're talking about, Joe, here is enormous loopholes within that, that, in fact, it is not necessarily covering treatment for all people in America, and that people are going to be stuck with the bill unless we change that. And we're going to offer legislation to, in fact, change that.

BIDEN: If I may, I offered legislation. I laid out on my plan that it would cover exactly what is not covered by the House. I laid out in the plan that I laid out for how we would deal with this crisis. Nobody -- nobody will pay for anything having to do with the crisis.

This is a national emergency. There isn't a question of whether or not this is something that could be covered by insurance or anything else. We, out of the Treasury, are going to pay for this. It's a national emergency.


BIDEN: Regardless of whether my plan was in place or his, this is a crisis. This is like we are being attacked from abroad. This is something that is of great consequence. This is like a war. And in a war, you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people.

And what you do is you -- and I have proposed it, laid it out in detail -- everything that you need in terms of dealing with this crisis would be free. It is paid for by the taxpayers generally. Generally. It has nothing to do with Bernie's Medicare for all.

U.S. Military Role in Pandemic Response

BASH: If I may, the vice president just mentioned war. Would you deploy the U.S. military in an effort to contain the virus? And if so, how?

SANDERS: Well, I think we use all of the tools that make sense. And if using the National Guard, which is folks I think in New York state are already using the National Guard, that is something that has to be done.

This is clearly, as the vice president indicated, a national emergency. And what I worry about is not only how we respond aggressively to the virus, but also how we respond aggressively to the economic fallout of a global recession.

So right now, in Illinois and Ohio, if my memory is correct, the governor there has said they're closing down bars, they're closing down restaurants. What happens to the workers who are there? What happens to the millions of workers who may end up losing their jobs?

So what I think we have got to do right now is, if Trump can provide or the Fed can provide a trillion and a half to -- for liquidity for the banks, what we've got to say to every worker in America, you know what, don't panic. You're not going to -- you'll be able to pay your mortgage, because you're going to get a check.


BASH: Mr. Vice President.

BIDEN: The answer is I would call out the military.


BIDEN: Now. They have the capacity to provide this surge, help that hospitals need, and that is needed across the nation. I would make sure that they did exactly what they're prepared to do. They've done it. They did it in the Ebola crisis. They've done it. They have the capacity to build 500-bed hospitals and -- and tents that are completely safe and secure, and provide the help to get it done to anybody -- this overflow. So it is a national emergency. I would call out the military.

SANDERS: Well, the Ebola crisis is one thing. This is, obviously, a pandemic, which is far more severe and impactful to this country. And I think one of the things that we want to remember here is that we got a lot of elderly people in this country who are told stay home, don't leave your house. Who's going to get food to them? How do we get food to them?

You got schools all over this country now being shut down. OK? How are we going to make sure that the kids do well in this crisis, not become traumatized? What do we do about the parents now who have to stay home with kids and can't go to work?

So I think what -- bottom line here is that, in this crisis, we have got to start paying attention to the most vulnerable. That includes people who are in prison right now, people who are in homeless shelters right now. What about the half-a-million people who are homeless tonight? Who's going to respond to them?

BIDEN: We have -- we have learned that lesson. And again, I lay out in detail what we should be doing now is we should be surging help to those places which are the most vulnerable. We should have every single person that's in a nursing home being able to be tested. We should be moving forces in to do that. We should move in the capability to do that.

We should be sitting down -- the president should be sitting down in the Situation Room right now and do what we did before and asking the question, OK, you're going to close everything. Well, if you close everything, how do you get prescriptions that have to be filled?

How do you make sure, when you close that school, those children are going to be able to get the school food program? How do you make sure that you're going to be able to see to it that you get your mortgage paid?

I propose that all of that be covered, and it's going to take a multi- multi-billion dollar program to do that.

But first things first, the first thing is take care of the immediate needs we have now relating to surging the kind of capability that we have to prevent this great bump in terms of this -- how it's going to cause such pain as well as moving in the direction of making sure we have a long-term plan...

What Consequences Should China face?

BASH: Senator Sanders, I want to ask about China. When this outbreak first started in China, the government there censored the whistleblower doctor who sounded the alarm and downplayed the true gravity of the virus.

What consequences should China face for its role in this global crisis?

SANDERS: Well, one of the consequences is we have got to learn that you cannot lie to the American people. You cannot be less than frank about the nature of the crisis. And what bothers me very much is you have a president of the United States today, Mr. Trump, who is praising China for the good work that they are doing when, in fact, as you indicated, they were lying to their own people and allowing that virus to move much more aggressively than should have been the case.

Look, I don't think this is the time for recrimination, to be punishing people. Now is the time, by the way, to be working with China. They are learning a lot about this crisis. And, in fact, they -- you know, we have got to work with them. We have got to work with the World Health Organization. We have got to work with Italy. We have got to work with countries around the world.

If there was ever a moment when the entire world is in this together, got to support each other, this is that moment.

BIDEN: That's right. And if I may respond, that's why I insisted the moment this broke out that we should insist on having our experts in China, in China to see what was happening and make it clear to China there would be consequences if we did not have that access.

And we have to lead the world. We should be the ones doing what we did during the Ebola crisis, bringing the whole world together and saying, this is what we must do. We have to have a common plan. All nations are affected the same way by this virus depending on exposure. And so this is -- we need world leadership. We need international leadership. We need someone who knows how to bring the world together and insist on fundamental change in the way in which we're approaching this.

SANDERS: Well, the bottom line here is that in the midst of this crisis, we have got to act in an unprecedented way. And that means every country on Earth is going to be affected. Every country on Earth has got to work together. It also means that we tell the pharmaceutical industry, we tell the big money interests that this is not a time for profiteering. This is a time for all of us working together.

The World Health Organization is a very, very strong organization. It is sad that we have a president that has ignored the international community in so many ways, including in terms of international health crises.

Addressing a Potential Recession



As a result of the virus here, the coronavirus, what we have got to do also is understand the fragility of the economy and how unjust and unfair it is that so few have so much and so many have so little.

BIDEN: People are looking for results, not a revolution. They want to deal with the results they need right now. And we can to that by making sure that we make everybody whole who has been so badly hurt. In terms of their -- they lose the job, in terms of not having the ability to care for their children, in terms of the health care costs that they have relating to the crisis, we can make them whole now, now, and put in process a system whereby they all are made whole.

That has nothing to do with the legitimate concern about income inequality in America. That's real. That's real. But that does not affect the need for us to act swiftly and very thoroughly and in concert with all of the forces that we need to bring to bear to deal with the crisis now so no one is thrown out of their home. No one loses their mortgage. No one is kicked out of their house. No one loses their paycheck. No one is in a position where they have a significant financial disability as a consequence of this SARS (ph) -- of this particular crisis.

CALDERON: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: Well, I think it goes without saying that as a nation we have to respond as forcefully as we can to the current crisis. But it is not good enough not to be understanding how we got here and where we want to go into the future. So how does it happen that today in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, half of our people are scared to death?

Good, I agree. In fact, that was my idea originally to make sure that every person in this country is made whole as a result of this crisis. But, God willing, this crisis is going to end. And 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.

BIDEN: I don't disagree with that. Let's -- you were asking about the crisis. What are we going to do about the crisis now, which is incredibly consequential to millions and millions of Americans? And it's not going to be solved by a change in tax policy now. It's not going to be solved by a change in how we deal with health care.

It has got to be solved with an emergency need right now. Right now, what do we do? First thing we do is we make sure that health care is available by us having the tools to be able to deal with it. And that requires us to go out and do much more than this president has done in terms of planning.

Secondly, it requires us to be in a position where we're anticipating what will happen in the next month or weeks in terms of the flow into the health care system by bringing the military along, more hospital beds, more training, more equipment, more equipment to save the first responders as well.

In addition to that, we then have to also look at what are the immediate needs right today. How about that person who has been laid off today? How about that person who doesn't have an income today? They have to know that tomorrow that when the paycheck comes due, you will get that paycheck.

And thirdly, we have to think long-term about how we deal with making all those who have been badly damaged right again. And then we move on. Then we move on to change the economy in ways that are more profoundly necessary than people think, but do not respond to the immediate needs we have now. First things first.


CALDERON: Senator Sanders, you voted against bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis. Many believe those spending bills were a crucial part of stabilizing the economy back then.

Would you support bailouts for industries that are being crushed by the coronavirus outbreak now?

SANDERS: I did, you're quite right. I voted against the bailout because I believed that the illegal behavior being done by the people on Wall Street should not be rewarded by a bailout. And today, by the way, those banks are more prosperous and own more assets, by and large, than they did back then.

But to answer your question where we are right now, we need to stabilize the economy, but we can't repeat what we did in 2008. Joe voted for that. I voted against it. Because we have got to do more than save the banks or the oil companies. Our job right now is to tell every working person in this country, no matter what your income is, you are not going to suffer as a result of this crisis of which you had no control.

CALDERON: Vice President Biden?

BIDEN: Had those banks all gone under, all those people Bernie says he cares about would be in deep trouble. Deep, deep trouble. All those little folks, we would have gone out of business. They would find themselves in position where they would lose everything they had in that bank, whether it was $10 or $300 or a savings account.

This was about saving an economy. And it did save the economy. And the banks paid back. And they paid back with interest. I agree with Bernie. Someone should have gone to jail. That was the big disagreement I had in terms of bailing out. But the question was, they paid back.

SANDERS: Here's the point here, is that in terms of that bailout, there are ways that you can bail out. When you have a handful of people who have incredible wealth who have prospered off of the illegal behavior of individuals, in this case on Wall Street, you know what you say to them? And I did. I said this to the secretary of treasury. You want a bailout? That's fine. Have your friends pay for it, not working people.

BIDEN: Look, the fact of the matter is that if, in fact, the banks had all been -- gone under, we would be in a great depression. We would have not -- how do you get out of that? Now Bernie is saying that I guess he's going to do a wealth tax or something, that the top 1 percent could pay for everything. And they should pay for everything that occurred.

We were talking about tens and hundreds of billions of dollars. That's what this was about. And the fact was that it saved the economy from going into a depression. After we passed the Recovery Act, which I was the one that went out and got the three votes to get it changed, that had $900 billion in it and was the thing that kept us from going into a great depression.

Undocumented Immigrants and Emergency Treatment

CALDERON: Vice President Biden, I'm going to stay with you. Many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants and now even many legal immigrants in the United States are afraid to seek medical help. How do you ensure they feel safe enough to get treatment to help stop the spread of coronavirus?

BIDEN: Anyone who shows up to be tested for coronavirus or gets coronavirus and is treated would be held harmless. Just like I have argued all along. Any woman who crosses the border or is here and being beaten by her husband but she's undocumented, she cannot be deported because she reports.

There are certain things you cannot deport an undocumented alien for -- an undocumented person for. And that would be one of them. And those folks who are the xenophobic folks out there, it's even in their interest that that woman come forward or that man come forward because it deals with keeping the spread from moving more rapidly.

They will not, should not under any circumstances be held accountable and be deported for that purpose, period.

SANDERS: I have been criticized because the proposal for Medicare for All that I introduced includes making sure that undocumented people are also covered.

And right now, we have the absurd situation where undocumented people who try to do the right thing -- they're sick; they want to go to the doctor; they don't want to spread this disease -- are now standing and thinking about when ICE is going to deport them.

So one of the things that we have to do is to make sure that everybody feels comfortable getting the health care that they need. That should be a general principle, above and beyond the coronavirus.

Second of all, we've got to end these terrible ICE raids, which are terrorizing communities all over this country.

And thirdly, to answer your question, the time is long overdue for this country to move to comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship for those 11 million undocumented. And furthermore, on day one as president, I would restore the legal status of the 1.8 million... young people of DACA.


CALDERON: Let's turn now to immigration. Vice President Biden, you have recently said for the first time that the Obama-Biden administration made a big mistake in deporting millions of immigrants, but you didn't publicly speak out against it at the time. What commitment will you make tonight that as president you won't deport millions again?

BIDEN: Number one, I said that it took much too long to get it right. And the president did get it right by DACA as well as making sure that he tried to protect parents as well, and, by the way, moving on an immigration bill as well. The fact is that we already had a vote on an immigration bill, by the way, and Bernie voted against it, the immigration bill. Had he voted for it and it had passed, we would already have 6 million undocumented would be citizens as I speak right now.

But I will send to the desk immediately a bill that requires the access to citizenship for 11 million undocumented folks, number one. Number two, in the first 100 days of my administration, no one, no one will be deported at all. From that point on, the only deportations that will take place are commissions of felonies in the United States of America.

CALDERON: So to be clear, only felons get deported and everyone else gets to stay?

BIDEN: Period, yes. Yes, and the reason is...it's about uniting families, it's about making sure that we can both be a nation of immigrants as well as a nation that is decent.

SANDERS: Let me respond and I'll answer your question, respond to what Joe's comments about the 2007 immigration bill. That bill was opposed by LULAC, the largest Latino organization in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center called its guest worker programs akin to slavery.

There wasn't really a vote on the bill. It was killed because there was a vote on the Doggett Amendment, I think it was 49-48, and you know who voted with me on that one, Joe? Barack Obama. He understood that that proposal was a bad idea. We don't need slavery in America where workers -- guest workers are forced to stay with their employers.

But in terms of immigration in general, let me outline some of the things that we do. Day one, we restore the legal status of 1.8 million young people and their parents in the DACA program. Number two, immediately, we end these ICE raids which are terrorizing communities all over this country. Three, we change the border policy. Under my administration, no federal agent will ever grab little babies from the arms of their mothers. And, fourth, I think we can pass what the American people want and that is comprehensive immigration reform, a path towards citizenship for the 11 million undocumented.

CALDERON: Senator Sanders, critics suggest positions like this send a message that when a Democrat is in the White House, the border is open. Do they?

SANDERS: No, that's just -- I mean, that's what Trump says. And that is a total lie. What we're talking about is a humane, sensible policy supported by the American people. Nobody is talking about open borders. And, of course, Trump lies a about that.

But the bottom line is right now you have in this country people who have been here for decades. They are working hard. They are raising their kids. They are an important part of our agricultural economy, our construction economy. These are good people. And yet they are living in terror. And we have got to end that terror and end the ICE raids and move toward a path towards citizenship.

BIDEN: I would end this notion for the first time in history that people seeking asylum have to be in squalor on the other side of the river, and in just desperate situation. They should be able to come to the United States and have a judgment made as to whether or not they qualify.

I would also surge to the border immigration judges to make decisions immediately. And no one, no one would be put in jail while waiting for their hearing.


SANDERS: What we need is, at the border, hundreds of administrative judges. We need to deal with people who are seeking asylum based on international law. We need not to be dividing children from their parents and dividing families up. We need a humane border policy.

Sanctuary Cities

CALDERON: Vice President Biden, you opposed sanctuary cities as a presidential candidate in 2007. Where do you stand now? Should undocumented immigrants, arrested by local police, be turned over to immigration officials?


CALDERON: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: Of course not. Look, and one of the things that goes on when you have that process is that not only the psychological terror, and I have talked to these kids, kids are scared to death in America when they come from school that their mom or dad may not be there, maybe deported.

What we need to do is to end, and I will end this on day one, the ICE raids that have been so harmful to so many people. And we need to do again what the American people want us to do. I'm the son of an immigrant. This is a country significantly built by immigrant labor, built by slave labor. And what we have got to do is appreciate each other and end this demonization and divisiveness coming from the Trump administration.

Climate Change

TAPPER: Thank you, Vice President Biden.

Let's move now to the climate crisis. I'm coming right to you, Senator Sanders. The World Health Organization calls the climate crisis a "health crisis" and warns that climate change could fuel the spread of infectious diseases. Can you point to specific measures in your climate plan that address that threat?

SANDERS: Well, of course we do. I mean, we -- look, this is what the scientists are telling us, the same scientists who make your point there, Jake. What they are telling us is if we don't get our act together in the next seven or eight years, there would be irreversible damage done to this planet.

We are talking about the absolute need, and I want to hear Joe's position on this, this is not a middle of the ground thing. This is not building a few more solar panels or a few more wind turbines.

What this is about is transforming our energy system as quickly as we humanly can away from fossil fuel. It is insane that we continue to have fracking in America. It is absurd that we give tens of billions of dollars a year in tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. This has got to end and end now if we love our kids and future generations.

TAPPER: Vice President Biden?

BIDEN: First thing that President Obama and I were summoned to the Defense Department for was to meet with all the chiefs. The single greatest threat to our national security, they said, is climate change, the single greatest threat to our national security. Because as populations have to move because they can no longer live where they are, because their islands are sinking, because you saw what happened in Darfur with the change in weather patterns and the desert there. It causes war. It causes great migrations, great migrations. They said that's the single biggest problem.

Number two, there's an awful lot of people today who are, in fact, getting ill because of the changes in the environment...

TAPPER: So, Vice President Biden, let me ask you then that the -- you talk about this being the number one crisis, they told you at the Pentagon.


TAPPER: The price tag for your climate plan is about $1.7 trillion. That's about $14 trillion less than Senator Sanders wants to spend on this. Is your plan ambitious enough to tackle this crisis?

BIDEN: Yes, it is ambitious enough to tackle the crisis...

Number one, we're going to once again reinstate all the cuts the president made in everything from the CAFE standards, how far automobiles can go, investing in light rail so that we take cars off the road, making sure we're in a position where we are now in a position that we put 500,000 charging stations in areas that, in fact, all new highways that we built.

Making sure that we spend $500 billion a year in the federal government paying for transportation, the vehicles we run. All of those being converted to be able to run on low carbon fuel and/or be able to run on no carbon fuel at all by having them move into a direction that is all, all carbon-free.


In addition to that, we also have to -- I would immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which I helped put together. I would call the 100 nations -- over 100 nations, but the 100 major polluters to the United States in the first 100 days to up the ante and make it clear that, in fact, we would -- in fact, if they didn't, there would be a price to pay.

And lastly, I would be right now organizing the hemisphere and the world to provide $20 billion for the Amazon, for Brazil no longer to burn the Amazon so they could have forests -- they're no longer forests, but they could have farming, and say, this is what we're going to do. They absorb more carbon in the Amazon, and the region is burning now, than we emit in one entire year per year.

TAPPER: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: All well and good, but nowhere near enough. I mean, you mentioned we started this debate talking about a war-like situation in terms of the coronavirus. And we said we have to act accordingly. You said it. I think you're right. I said it. We have to act dramatically, boldly, if we're going to save lives in this country and around the world.

I look at climate change in exactly the same way. It's not a question of re-entering the Paris Accord. That's fine. Who cares. Not a big deal. The deal right now is do we have the courage? And this gets back to the point I'm trying to make all night long.

Look, in terms of the fossil fuel industry, these guys have been lying. They've been lying for years like the tobacco industry lied 50 years ago. "Oh, we don't know if -- if fossil fuels, if oil and carbon emissions are causing climate change."

They knew. Exxon Mobil knew. They lied. In fact, I think they should be held criminally accountable.

BIDEN: Number one, no more subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore, no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.

Number two, we're in a situation, as well, where we cannot — we are able to move rapidly to change the dynamic in terms of what we can do to set in motion -- the fact that he says climate change, Paris Accord doesn't mean much -- we can get everything exactly right. We're 15 percent of the problem. Eight-five percent of the problem is over there. We need someone who can deal internationally. We need someone who can bring the world together again. We need someone who can move in a direction that, in fact, if you violate the commitment you make, you will pay an economic price for it, like what's happening in China. They're exporting coal, significant coal.

SANDERS: OK, look, obviously, the Paris Accord is -- is useful.

You know, I'm talking about stopping fracking as soon as we possibly can. I'm talking about telling the fossil fuel industry that they are going to stop destroying this planet -- no ifs, buts and maybes about it. I'm talking about speaking to...

BIDEN: So am I.

SANDERS: Well, I'm not sure your proposal does that.

I'm talking about speaking to China, to Russia, to countries all over the world -- and in this moment, making the point that instead of spending $1.8 trillion on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other, maybe we should pool our resources and fight our common enemy, which is climate change.

I know your heart is in the right place, but this requires dramatic, bold action. We've got to take on the fossil fuel industry. Your plan does not do that.

BIDEN: My plan takes on the fossil fuel industry and it unites the world. You just got finished saying -- what's he going to do? He's going to bring these countries together, make it clear to them. I'm saying we bring them together, make them live up to their commitments. If they don't live up to their commitments, they pay a financial price for it. They pay an economic price for it.

Because we can do everything -- my -- my state is three feet above sea level. I don't need a lecture on what's going to happen about rising seas. I know what happens. I watch the whole DelMarVa peninsula, just like it is in South Carolina and the rest, something I know a little bit about.

SANDERS: You know, you're talking about making countries around the world fulfill their commitments, those commitments are not enough.

What this moment is about, Joe, is that the scientists are telling us they underestimated the severity of the crisis. They were wrong. The problem is more severe.

So all that I'm saying right here is that we have -- we are fighting for the future of this planet, for the well-being of our kids and future generations. You cannot continue, as I understand, Joe believes, to continue fracking. Correct me if I am wrong. What we need to do right now is bring the world together, tell the fossil fuel industry that we are going to move aggressively to win solar, sustainable energies...

BIDEN: No more -- no new fracking. And by the way, on the Recovery Act, I was able to make sure we invested $90 billion in making sure we brought down the price of solar and wind, that is lower than the price of coal. That's why not another new coal plant will be built. I did that, while you were watching, number one.

Number two, we're in a situation where we, in fact, have the ability to lay down the tracks where no one can change the -- change the dynamic. And that's why we should be talking about things like I have been talking about for years, high-speed rail, taking millions of automobiles off the road, making sure that we move in a direction where no more -- no more drilling on federal lands, making sure that we invest in changing the entire fleet of the U.S. military to …

Fracking and Energy Policy

TAPPER: Senator Sanders, I want -- I want to talk to you about fracking. Because you want to ban fracking which is a method of extracting natural gas. The shift towards natural gas and away from coal has resulted in reduced U.S. carbon emissions.

So how can the U.S. transition to your targeted goal of zero emissions with fracking completely out of the picture?

SANDERS: Because we have to invest in an unprecedented way -- in an unprecedented way. You started off by saying that we're talking about a $13 trillion, $14 trillion investment. That is a lot of money. And I've been criticized for that. But I don't know what the alternative is, if we are playing for the future of this planet. So we've got to be dramatic. And what being dramatic is, massive investments in wind, in solar, under the -- in sustainable energies in general, in research and development, in making our buildings all over this country. .

My state of Vermont and around this country have got a lot of old buildings. We can put millions and millions of people to work making our buildings energy-efficient, moving our transportation system to electricity.

So what we're talking about is a massive unprecedented investment. That is what the Green New Deal is about. I supported it. And I will fight to implement it.

Foreign Policy


CALDERON: Let's move now to foreign policy. Senator Sanders, there are about 1.5 million Cuban-Americans living in Florida right now. Why would they vote for you when they hear you praise a program of Fidel Castro, a dictator who jailed, tortured and killed thousands of Cubans?

SANDERS: I have opposed authoritarianism, whether it's in Cuba, whether it's in Saudi Arabia, whether it's in China or whether it is in Russia. That is my life record. I believe, unlike the president of the United States, in democracy, not authoritarianism, in Cuba or any place else.

What I believe right now, in this world, is that we are faced with a global crisis and a movement toward authoritarianism. That's what Putin in Russia is leading. That's what MBS in Saudi Arabia is leading.

And as president of the United States, unlike Donald Trump, I would put the flag down and say that, in this country and in this world, we have got to move toward democracy and human rights. That is my view and has always been my view.

CALDERON: To be clear, Senator Sanders, Cuba has been a dictatorship for decades. Shouldn't we judge dictators by the violation of human rights and not by any of their alleged achievements?

SANDERS: Well, I think you can make the same point about China. China is undoubtedly an authoritarian society, OK. But would anybody deny, any economist deny that extreme poverty in China today is much less than what it was 40 or 50 years ago? That's a fact. So I think we condemn authoritarianism, whether it's in China, Russia, Cuba, any place else. But to simply say that nothing ever done by any of those administrations had a positive impact on their people would, I think, be incorrect.

BIDEN: Vice President Biden, you have criticized Senator Sanders for praising Castro's education system. But in 2016 President Obama said Cuba made, quote, "a great progress in educating young people" and that its health care system "is a huge achievement that they should be congratulated for."

How is that different from what Senator Sanders has said?

BIDEN: He was trying to change Cuban policy so the Cuban people would get out from under the thumb of Castro and his brother, that is to change the policy so that we could in fact on -- impact on Cuba's policy by getting them opened up. That's what that was about.

But the praising of the Sandinistas, the praising of Cuba, the praising, just now, of China -- China is an authoritarian dictatorship. That's what it is. We have to deal with them because they're there. But the idea that they, in fact, have increased the wealth of people in that country -- it's been marginal, the change that's taken place. It is still -- they have a million Uighurs, a million Muslims in prison camps in the West. You see what's happening in Hong Kong today.

And by the way, the idea that he praised the Soviet Union, when it was the Soviet Union, about the things that they had done well -- they're an awful dictatorship killing millions and millions of people.

And in addition to that, we have a circumstance where, after the election was all over and we knew what -- what was done by -- by the Russians now, in interfering with our elections, this man voted against sanctioning Russia for interference in our elections.

SANDERS: Well, what you don't get -- and this is exactly what the problem with politics is about. All right, question. Did China make progress in ending extreme poverty over the last 50 years, yes or no?

BIDEN: That's like saying Jack the Ripper...

SANDERS: No, it's not.

This is the problem. We can't talk -- I know there's a political line. I understand. China's terrible and awful, nothing ever good, (inaudible). But the fact of the matter is China, of course, is an authoritarian society. It's what I just said.

And, by the way, you know, the question that was asked quoted Barack Obama. President Obama was more generous in his praise of what Cuba did in health care and education than I was. I was talking about a program 60 years ago, in the first year of the Castro revolution.

So the bottom line is that I think it's a little bit absurd -- if we're going to look at the world the way it is, of course, we are opposed to authoritarianism. And by the way, you know, before it was considered good policy, a good idea. I was condemning the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia when a lot of other people in Washington…

BIDEN: Look, the idea of occasionally saying something nice about a country is one thing. The idea of praising a country that is violating human rights around the world is, in fact -- makes our allies wonder what's going on.

What do you think the South Koreans think when we -- or he praises China like that?

What do you think -- what do you think the Australians believe in the shadow of China?

What do you think is happening in Indonesia in the shadow of China?

What do you think is happening in terms of Japan in the shadow of China?

Words matter. These are flat-out dictators, period. And they should be called for it, straight up. We may have to work out -- for example, I was able to help negotiate a New START agreement with Russia, not because I like Putin. The guy's a thug.

Lessons Learned from Iraq

TAPPER: Mr. Vice President, sticking with foreign policy, you acknowledge that your support and vote for the Iraq War was a mistake. What lessons did you learn from that mistake?

And how might those lessons influence your foreign policy decision- making as president?

BIDEN: I learned I can't take the word of a president when, in fact, they assured me that they would not use force. Remember the context. The context was the United Nations Security Council was going to vote to insist that we allow inspectors in to determine whether or not -- whether or not they were in fact producing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

They were not. And what's the first thing that happened when we got elected?

President Obama turned to me and said, "Get those troops out of there."

I was responsible for getting 150,000 combat troops out of Iraq. I was -- I admitted 14 years ago it was a mistake to have trusted him. And I'm prepared to compare my foreign policy credentials up against my friend here on any day of the week and every day of the week.

SANDERS: Well, let's start off with the war in Iraq, Joe. I was there, too. I was in the House. I understood -- and, by the way, let's be clear about what that vote was. And you were there at the signing ceremony with Bush. Everybody in the world knew that, when you voted for that resolution, you were giving Bush the authority to go to war. And everybody knew that's exactly what he and Cheney wanted to do.

Most people who followed that issue closely understood that the Bush administration was lying through its teeth with regard to Saddam having weapons of mass destruction. I understood that. I was on the floor of the House time and time again.

But the issue is not just the war in Iraq. That was a long time ago. The issue is the trade agreement. It wasn't so easy for me to lead the effort against disastrous trade agreements. The issue was the bankruptcy bill that you supported. The issue was the Hyde amendment. The issue was the Defense of Marriage Act. The issue is whether or not, in difficult times, and God knows these are difficult times, we're going to have the courage to take on powerful special interests and do what's right…

BIDEN: Why did you vote not to sanction the Russians?

SANDERS: I'll tell you. You know why? Because that -- you keep talking about Iran. That was tied to Iran. Russia was in Iran. I think John Kerry indicated his support for what I did. That was undermining the Iranian agreement. That's why.

BIDEN: The fact is that -- the idea that I, in fact, supported the things that he's suggesting is not accurate. Look, I'm the guy that helped put together the Iran deal and got the inspectors in there...

I was the guy that helped put together a 60-nation organization to take on the ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. I've dealt with these folks. I know them. And I know what they're like. And I know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

The fact is this -- Bernie's notion about how he embraces folks like the Sandinistas and Cuba and the former Soviet Union and talks about the good things in China, it's absolutely contrary to every message we want to send the rest of the world.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the CNN-Univision Democratic presidential debate.

Finally, gentlemen, thanks so much for everything. As we end here tonight, let's return to where we began, the coronavirus, which does not discriminate based on ideology, it does not care if one is a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative, a moderate or a progressive.

Senator Sanders, let me start with you. What's your closing message tonight for those who are concerned about, affected by, or dealing with the coronavirus?

SANDERS: Well, our hearts go out to everyone. 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 that they need, because they are Americans, that we move aggressively to make sure that the test kits are out there, that the ventilators are out there, that the ICU units are out there, that the medical personnel are out there.


TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Sanders.

Vice President Biden, what's your closing message tonight for those concerned about, affected by, or dealing with this virus?

BIDEN: Number one, one of the things that I think we have to understand is that this is an all hands on deck. This is -- as someone said, maybe it was you, Jake, at the outset, this is bigger than any individual. This is bigger than yourself. This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together and make the kind of sacrifices we need to make to get this done.

And so, first and foremost, what we have to do is start to listen to the science again. As I said, what we did, we met -- what I'd be doing today, I'd be sitting down in the Situation Room literally every day, like we did at the outset of other crises we had when we were in the White House, and pulling together the best people, and not just in the United States, the world, and say, what is it -- what are the prescriptive moves we have to take now to lessen this virus, to beat it, to go to the point where we can save more lives, get more people tested, get more people the kind of care they need?

And then what do we do beyond that, to make sure that the economic impact on them is, in fact, rendered harmless, that we, in fact, make sure every paycheck is met, every paycheck that's out there, that the people are going to miss, that we keep people in their homes, that they don't miss their mortgage payments, they don't miss their rent payments, making sure that they're going to be able to take care of education, that they're -- and, by the way, the education systems are closing down right now.

And by the way, the single most significant thing we can do to deal with the larger problem down the road of income inequality is get rid of Donald Trump. Donald Trump, he's exacerbated every single one of these problems, both the immediate urgent need and how we're going to hold people harmless for the damage done as a consequence of this virus. It's important we do both.