Biden says 'we've had enough debates' after Sanders offers to debate again

Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 US presidential campaign, in Washington, on March 15, 2020.
Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 US presidential campaign, in Washington, on March 15, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A day after United States Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign indicated that he would participate in a presidential debate next month if one is held, Mr Joe Biden expressed impatience with the idea, saying that "we've had enough debates" and adding that his focus was on combating the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Biden, the former vice-president, has amassed a significant delegate lead over Mr Sanders, but has treaded carefully around the subject of his rival's future, mindful of the risks of alienating the senator's supporters should Mr Biden clinch the nomination.

But on Tuesday (March 24), Mr Sanders' campaign offered the clearest signal yet that the senator intends to keep competing with Mr Biden, when a spokesman confirmed his intention to appear at the next debate, if one occurs.

"My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now," Mr Biden said on Wednesday, when asked if he wanted another debate next month, and if he would participate. "I haven't thought about any more debates. I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this."

Like Mr Sanders, Mr Biden has been forced off the physical campaign trail because of the coronavirus outbreak, and is grappling with new ways to connect with voters and break through in the news media. His comments came as part of a wide-ranging set of remarks about engaging young people and confronting the virus that he delivered to reporters and other viewers from his home studio in Wilmington, Delaware.

Mr Biden continued to press his argument that President Donald Trump has been too slow in responding to the crisis, and he took issue with the President's stated desire to reopen the country by Easter, on April 12. Mr Biden warned against following "some arbitrary or symbolic timeline".

"It would be a catastrophic thing to do for our people and for our economy if we sent people back to work just as we were beginning to see the impact of social distancing take hold, only to unleash a second spike in infections," he said. "That would be far more devastating in the long run than implementing a thorough strategy."

Polls show that the former vice-president has been struggling to connect with young voters, an area of strength for Mr Sanders. Before taking a handful of questions via a video conference with reporters, Mr Biden aimed to empathise with the economic challenges facing younger Americans in this moment of national upheaval - and offered a reminder that they, too, are at risk.

"Every day we're hearing heart-rending stories of deaths from people in their 20s and their 30s," he said, urging adherence to public safety guidelines about social distancing. "But here's what we must not do. We must not allow this pandemic to rob our young people of the futures and the economic opportunities that they've been working so hard to build."


The nation, he said, is facing "twin crises".

"The public health crisis is hitting older Americans especially hard," he said. "The economic crisis is hitting younger people. All those hardworking young people in service industries, and in retail, that are being decimated by layoffs. All those who are hustling to make a living in the gig economy. They deserve the same benefits as everyone else does. We have to make sure they get them."

Later on Wednesday, Mr Biden held an hour-long virtual roundtable with younger supporters - his team called it a happy hour, though Mr Biden, who does not drink alcohol, said he had Gatorade on hand - where the former vice-president discussed a wide range of subjects raised by young supporters.

He noted his early support for gay marriage - as vice-president he spoke out on the subject before President Barack Obama did - Mr Obama, he said, "gave me a big hug, and said: 'You told me you weren't going to be quiet. And you're right.'" 

He stressed his support for protecting transgender people. He detailed his views on combating climate change and promised that his administration, should he win the presidency, would reflect the diversity of the nation.

He also promised to campaign in states that are traditionally challenging for Democrats, "like North Carolina, Texas, et cetera", saying that "we haven't built up a bench".

"My responsibility is to bring along a new generation of leadership," he said. "And I start that by the people I pick to serve in my administration."

And Mr Biden, 77, twice described himself as something of a transitional figure.

"You all are the answer for us," he said, a message aimed at younger voters. "And I hope I can just be one of those transition figures that gets to the point where you guys are running the whole show."

It echoed remarks he made this month in Michigan, where he described himself as a "bridge" to the next generation of leadership.

"I really mean it," he said on Wednesday, referring to that remark. "That's why I've made the commitment, as I said, for an administration that's going to look like the country, including choosing a woman running mate. That's why I wanted to make sure we spent today talking to you."

Mr Sanders has also been holding livestream events to talk about the threat from the virus and make the case that his policies on healthcare and income inequality have become more relevant amid a national health crisis. And as a sitting senator from Vermont, he is part of the Senate's effort to pass an economic stabilisation package.