Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden tangled Monday over a last minute change in format for next Sunday’s Democratic debate in Phoenix, Arizona, with Sanders’ campaign claiming Biden is benefitting from “accommodations” that make it easier for him to take on the Vermont socialist.
The Democratic National Committee has made a number of changes to the debate since last week, first eliminating a slot for a third candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) by altering a rule that allows for any candidate with pledged delegates to take part in the melee, and then switching the debate from a rapid-fire quiz, where both candidates would be standing and questioned by seasoned moderators, to more of a casual, town hall-style event, with both candidates seated and the majority of questions being asked by audience members.
It will be the first debate where the candidates will take a more relaxed posture; for the last ten debates, the candidates have been positioned behind lecturns. CNN, which is hosting the debate alongside the DNC, did not specify an exact reason for the change, but now that there are only two serious competitors for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, a large-scale stage setup isn’t really necessary.
A DNC spokesperson seemed to confirm that in a later interview: “After 10 debates, the DNC worked with its network partners to adapt the March debate to the smaller field of candidates and to give voters more of a voice. This format provides candidates longer response times, and for the first time, will incorporate questions from undecided voters in the audience.”
The Sanders’ campaign, though, accused the Biden campaign of demanding a seated debate, appearing to imply that the former Vice President is suffering from undisclosed health problems — a common, if uncharacteristically subtle attack from Sanders’ team.
“Why does Joe Biden not want to stand toe-to-toe with Sen. Sanders on the debate stage March 15 and have an opportunity to defend his record and articulate his vision for the future?” Sanders aide Jeff Weaver railed to Politico.
Biden’s team says they did not ask for accommodations, and that CNN and the DNC made the decision to alter the debate plan of their own volition.
“We will participate in whatever debate CNN chooses to stage: standing, sitting, at podiums or in a town hall,” a Biden aide told the newsmagazine. “The problem for the Sanders campaign is not the staging of the debate, but rather, the weakness of Sen. Sanders’ record and ideas.”
“We want to have an exchange of ideas next week in Phoenix. We look forward to taking voter questions in a town hall-style setting,” the aide addeed. “It is odd to see a campaign that says it is based on revolution arguing for the status quo because ‘this is how every other debate has been done.’ Why is Sen. Sanders opposed to a little change?”
Biden’s camp later mentioned that they’d be open to a further change in the debate format if the Sanders team required their own “accommodations.”
Neither Sanders nor Biden has performed exceptionally well in the debates, so next Sunday’s matchup should be an interesting one.