Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden said Wednesday he's debated enough times with Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, signaling his campaign's shift to the general election as the Democratic presidential primary continues on.
"My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now," the former vice president said. "I haven't thought about any more debates. I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this."
Biden made the remarks during a virtual news conference from his Delaware home as he follows self-distancing measures during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
His position comes as he's amassed a 300-delegate lead after a clean sweep of three states last week – Illinois, Florida and Arizona – making himself a virtual lock to win the nomination. But because nearly a dozen states have postponed primaries because of the coronavirus, it would take significantly more time for Biden to reach the necessary 1,991 delegates to secure the nomination before the July convention.
The altered timeline gives Sanders, who boasted an impressive $46.5 million fundraising haul in February, an opportunity to keep his campaign alive. His campaign told The New York Times this week he would participate in a debate in April if there is one, a sign that Sanders does not intend to immediately drop out.
“Senator Sanders is still running for president,” Mike Casca, a Sanders campaign official, told the Times. “If there is a debate in April, he plans to be there.”
After originally planning to have an April debate, the Democratic National Committee has not said whether a televised debate will take place next month. The logistics of a debate could be complicated by ongoing self-distancing measures.
Biden and Sanders appeared on a debate stage together as the final two candidates only once. It took place in Washington, D.C., after being rescheduled from Phoenix. Sanders went on the attack aggressively against Biden throughout, challenging him on his commitment to Social Security and other liberal causes.
Eleven televised Democratic debates have taken place since June.
'Listen to the docs,' Biden says of Trump's Easter Sunday goal
Biden used much of his virtual town hall – where reporters asked questions on Zoom – to make an appeal to young voters, who have overwhelmingly backed Sanders in the primary.
"We must not allow this pandemic to rob our young people of the futures and the opportunities that they've worked so hard to try to build," Biden said. "We need to make sure that our economic recovery does not come at the expense of those who can least figure or who are just getting started in life."
He called the coronavirus pandemic a "twin crises" – a public health crisis that's hitting seniors hard, an economic crisis hitting young people who work in retail, the service industry and "gig workers."
"They deserve the same benefits as everyone else does," Biden said. "We have to make sure they get them."
He said he supports the $2 trillion stimulus package that appears on track for approval in Congress, but that it will require "meticulous oversight on a day-to-day basis" to make sure funds aren't wasted. He also said the bill leaves out important elements such as "student loan forgiveness."
"I support forgiving at least $10,000 of student loan debt per-person now," Biden said.
Biden continued his criticism of Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis, taking exception with Trump on Tuesday saying he would like would like social-distancing measures end by Easter Sunday, April 12, and for the public to return to normal activities.
"Look, we all want to get back to normal as quickly as possible but we have a lot to do to make that possible," Biden said. "We have to do it in a smart way to not meet some arbitrary or symbolic timeline. It would be a catastrophic thing to do for our people and for our economy if we went people back to work just as we saw the impact of social distancing take hold, only to unleash a second spike in infections.
“The only way we'll fully solve the economic challenges is by first solving the public health crisis," Biden said, adding that the U.S. must look at the coronavirus history in other countries, not set arbitrary dates. "The bottom line is: Listen to the docs. Listen to the researchers. Listen to the infectious disease specialists."
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'We should get on with this': Joe Biden says he's debated enough with Bernie Sanders