NEW YORK • A day after US 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 trodden carefully around the subject of his rival's future, mindful of the risks of alienating the senator's supporters should Mr Biden clinch the Democratic Party nomination.
But on Tuesday, Mr Sanders' campaign offered the clearest signal yet that the Vermont 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."
But Mr Sanders later said he wanted a face-off because it would help inform Americans as they confront the coronavirus crisis.
"One of the things that I think the people want, especially in this unprecedented crisis in modern American history, is to hear the ideas of candidates as to how we got into this disaster," Mr Sanders said on Wednesday evening on CNN.
"So I think we need a good debate as to where we go, not only just now but in the future."
The Democratic National Committee had previously said a debate would be held some time in April, though none has been planned and Mr Biden's near-insurmountable lead in delegates has called into question whether Mr Sanders will stay in the race.
Mr Sanders said last week that he was "assessing" his campaign after a series of primary losses this month. But an adviser indicated on Tuesday that the senator did not intend to quit.
"Senator Sanders is still running for president," spokesman Mike Casca said. "If there is a debate in April, he plans to be there."
ENOUGH OF TALKING
My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now. I haven't thought about any more debates. I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this.
U.S. PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL JOE BIDEN, when asked if he wanted another debate next month, and if he would participate.
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 also took issue with President Donald Trump's stated desire to reopen the country by Easter, on April 12.
"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.
Polls show the former vice-president has been struggling to connect with young voters, an area of strength for Mr Sanders. Mr Biden aimed, in his remarks, to empathise with the economic challenges facing younger Americans.
"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," he said.
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.