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Democratic debate: Biden, Sanders call for more testing to combat coronavirus pandemic

It's the first Democratic debate in two-and-a-half weeks, and the first since Biden took command of the primary race.

WASHINGTON — Key updates:

  • The Democratic debate Sunday night was held in Washington, D.C. without an audience amid coronavirus concerns. 
  • The nation’s largest labor union has backed Joe Biden for president.
  • Bernie Sanders continued to speak out earlier Sunday as the U.S. deals with the coronavirus outbreak, and after live-streaming a fireside chat Saturday, the night before the debate. 

Sunday's Democratic presidential debate was dominated by the mounting coronavirus crisis. Just two candidates are left in the Democratic race: former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Fitting for the major issue sweeping the nation, they greeted each other with an elbow bump taking the stage Sunday night for the first one-on-one debate of the Democratic primary. 

RELATED: VERIFY: Fact-checking the Biden-Sanders Democratic Debate

Credit: AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, greet one another before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump needs to stop "blabbering" with inaccurate information about the novel coronavirus, Sanders said less than a half-hour into the debate.

Sanders and Biden addressed how they'd respond to the new virus during the first questions. It's the first debate since the U.S. dramatically increased its response to the virus.

LINK: CNN live stream for Sunday's Democratic debate 

Sanders said if he were president he would make sure no one has to pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Biden later said he also believes no one should have to pay.

Biden said every state needs to have at least 10 drive-thru testing locations and that the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency need to be making plans to set up additional hospital beds.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also committed to naming a woman as his running mate if he's the Democratic presidential nominee Sunday night.

When asked the same question, Sanders didn't definitively commit but said, “In all likelihood, I will.” Biden has previously said he would seriously consider naming a woman or a person of color as his running mate.

RELATED: Biden says he'll pick a woman as vice president if he wins nomination

Sunday night, Biden repeated a previous pledge to nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court if given the chance to do so as president.

Both he and Sanders have been under pressure to consider a woman or person of color as a running mate as the once-historically diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates has dwindled to two white men.

Later in the debate, Bernie Sanders accused Joe Biden of not going far enough on his plans to combat climate change.

To Biden, the Vermont senator said during Sunday night's Democratic debate in Washington, "I know your heart is in the right place" on climate change. But, calling the Paris Climate Accord - which Biden said he would rejoin - “useful,” Biden said that "bold action" was required for the good of the globe.

Biden asserted that his plans are ambitious, noting plans to end offshore drilling, as well as subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, but a need for global action to accomplish real change.

"We could get everything exactly right," Biden said, of the need for international cooperation. “We're 15 percent of the problem.”

Their debate, the 11th of the Democratic race, was hosted by CNN and Univision in a television studio in Washington without an in-person audience. 

The debate was moved from Phoenix because of concerns about cross-country travel. It's the first Democratic debate in two-and-a-half weeks, and the first since Biden took command of the primary race. 

Five other candidates who joined them on stage in the Feb. 25 debate in South Carolina have dropped out, with many rallying behind Biden's surging candidacy.

The nation’s largest labor union has lined up behind Biden’s presidential campaign, with the National Education Association on Saturday endorsing the former vice president for the Democratic nomination over Sanders. 

Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, and former Vice President Joe Biden gesture during a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The NEA’s board of directors chose Biden following a recommendation from the organization’s political action committee board, following months of surveying the organization's 3 million members and multipole presidential candidate forums held around the country. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia called Biden a “tireless advocate for public education” and “the partner that students and educators need now in the White House.”   

RELATED: Coronavirus live updates: Top infectious disease expert Dr. Fauci urges US to 'hunker down significantly'

RELATED: Joe Biden wins endorsement from NEA, nation's largest union

Biden's decisive victory in Michigan’s presidential primary offered what some Democrats hope will be the road map for success in November. Michigan saw a record turnout of nearly 1.6 million voters in the primary — a jump of nearly 30% over 2016. 

Biden beat Sanders last Tuesday among key demographics that the Democratic Party failed to coalesce nearly four years ago. But the contest also flashed a warning sign about African American support: While suburban turnout soared, it slouched in Detroit, a majority black city where low enthusiasm contributed to Democrats' loss in 2016.  

Sanders has been outspoken during the coronavirus pandemic pointing to the U.S. healthcare system and changes he sees that need to be made. Sunday, Sanders tweeted, "If our neighbor or co-worker gets sick, we have the potential to get sick. If our neighbors lose their jobs, then our local economies suffer, and we may lose our jobs. It is at this moment that we must remember that we are all in this together."

Biden had sent out a warning on Twitter about voting Tuesday saying, "State election officials are working closely with public health officials to hold safe elections. If you are feeling healthy, not showing symptoms, and not at risk of being exposed to COVID-19: please vote on Tuesday."

This is a developing story and will continue to be updated.

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