Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Topline: The first truly heated moment of Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate came during an exchange where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) brought up Vice President Joe Biden’s history of cooperating with Republicans on entitlement reform, suggesting Biden was willing to cut Social Security, a characterization Biden denies and the fact-checking site PolitiFact calls “misleading.”
- Sanders has been attacking Biden recently on his Social Security record, which analysis by the Washington Post called a “misleading portrayal” for leaving out context, such as Biden’s more moderate proposals that countered more extreme entitlement programs favored by Republicans.
- “Have you been on the floor of the Senate…time and time again talking about the necessity—with pride—about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare, cutting Veterans’ programs?” Sanders asked Biden.
- After Biden replied “No,” Sanders instructed viewers: “America, go to the YouTube right now,” implying that the video platform had evidence of Biden pushing for Social Security cuts.
- Although Biden repeatedly insisted “that’s not true,” each candidate’s Twitter account quickly posted conflicting YouTube clips on their past Senate floor speeches on the entitlement program.
- According to PolitiFact, Biden has multiple times supported a one-year freeze in benefits in order to balance the deficit; at other times, he voted to protect Social Security benefits from proposed cuts.
- Sanders further pressed Biden on the Bowles-Simpson commission, which was formed during the Obama administration to make recommendations on reducing the national deficit, and while Biden said “everything was on the table” during the commission, he didn’t support the cuts.
- “Why don’t you tell the truth?” Sanders asked Biden, adding, “We all make mistakes.”
Key background: Sunday’s Democratic debate took place under some particular circumstances, as the coronavirus pandemic forced it to relocate from Phoenix, Arizona, to a Washington, D.C. CNN studio with no studio audience. Although Biden has assumed frontrunner status after coming from behind in delegate count, thanks to the Super Tuesday primaries, some political analysts speculated Sanders would use the debate to further push Biden to the left. The Post’s analysis of Biden’s entitlement program voting record also said Sanders was leaving out Biden’s efforts to raise Social Security benefits, and in other instances, Biden showed willingness to compromise with Republicans.