The debate started with questions on the coronavirus. Biden said the federal government needs to plan for and deploy additional hospital bed capacity. He said they must prevent economic consequences for people who lose their job because of the pandemic, and that small businesses should be able to take out interest-free loans. He also criticized President Trump for turning down World Health Organization testing kits, which he said left the U.S. unprepared. According to New York Times fact-checkers, the WHO tests were unreliable.
Sanders said it's critical to make sure that people don't have to pay for coronavirus testing or treatment, and said it's also important to make sure hospitals have enough supplies and medical personnel to handle the crisis. He also said the pandemic highlights the nation's dysfunctional health-care system. "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," Sanders said. "How come we don't have enough doctors? How come hospitals in rural areas are shutting down? How come people can't afford to get the prescription drugs they need because we have a bunch of crooks who are running the pharmaceutical industry, ripping us off every single day?"
Biden said he was the better candidate because he has broad support, including from people with a high-school diploma. Biden received outsized rural support on Super Tuesday, whereas Sanders' rural support dropped compared to 2016, The Daily Yonder noted.
Sanders said climate change will prevent Midwestern farmers from being able to grow their crops.
Biden noted that climate change makes many invasive species harder to deal with, and said it helps the spread of disease-causing pests (such as ticks that cause Lyme disease). He also called climate change "the single greatest threat to our national security," because people from poor countries hurt by climate change will increasingly try to come to the U.S. (alluding to undocumented immigration).
Both candidates said they believe that America must transition to renewable energy.
Sanders said he wants to end the practice of hydraulic fracturing as soon as possible, and said it's "insane" that the fracking industry continues to operate in the U.S. In the same breath, he also said it's "absurd" that the fossil-fuel industry receives tens of billions of dollars a year in tax breaks and subsidies. Fossil-fuel companies lied to the public by saying that evidence was inconclusive that linked their fuels to climate change, Sanders said, and said he thinks those companies should be "held criminally accountable."
Biden said, for the first time, that he opposes all new fracking operations, though his campaign later clarified that he meant that he only opposes new drilling on public lands. He also said he would not support any more subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry, or drilling on public lands or offshore. He said that he played an instrumental role in ensuring that the 2009 Recovery Act invested $90 billion in solar and wind, and said that that helped steer the energy sector away from coal.
Sanders said he voted against the Hyde amendment, which he said denies low-income women the ability to get an abortion, and said Biden had "consistently" voted for it. The Hyde amendment specifies that a woman cannot use Medicaid funding for an abortion. Biden said he does not support the Hyde amendment, but said that everyone in Congress has voted for it whether they approve of it or not because it was attached as a rider to other bills. Biden also said he wants abortion rights codified by law, not just court precedent.