Loath as the candidates have been to talk about it,
age is an inescapable subject in this Democratic primary: The three highest-polling candidates are all in their 70s, and one of them just had a heart attack.
So it was perhaps not surprising that, about two hours into the debate on Tuesday, the moderators bluntly asked how Senator
Bernie Sanders, 78,
Joseph R. Biden Jr., 76, and Senator
Elizabeth Warren, 70, could assure voters that they were up to the rigors of the presidency.
The question was initially directed at Mr. Sanders, who
had a heart attack two weeks ago and has been off the campaign trail since, except for a virtual appearance via Skype at a United Food and Commercial Workers International Union forum in Iowa.
He has tried to turn his experience into a positive, using it to underscore his support for “Medicare for all.” In interviews during his recovery, he has spoken of his concern for Americans who, because of the cost, may not seek treatment when they experience the symptoms he did.
Still, going into Tuesday’s debate,
his aides knew Mr. Sanders needed to convince voters of his strength and stamina to run against President Trump, 73.
Here is a transcript of the exchange, including the responses from Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren.
ERIN BURNETT, moderator: Senator, we are all very glad you’re feeling well, as you just said. But there is a question on a lot of people’s minds, and I want to address it tonight. You’re 78 years old, and you just had a heart attack. How do you reassure Democratic voters that you’re up to the stress of the presidency?
SANDERS: Well, let me invite you all to a major rally we’re having in Queens, New York. BernieSanders.com. We’re going to have a special guest at that event, and we are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people. But let me take this moment, if I might, to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I’m so happy to be back here with you this evening.
BURNETT: Vice President Biden, if you’re elected, you will turn 80 during your first term. Last month, former President Jimmy Carter said he could not have undertaken the duties of the presidency at 80 years old. Why are you so sure that you can?
BIDEN: Because I watched it. I know what the job is. I’ve been engaged. Look, one of the reasons I’m running is because of my age and my experience. With it comes wisdom. We need someone to take office this time around who on Day 1 can stand on the world stage, command the respect of world leaders from Putin to our allies, and know exactly what has to be done to get this country back on track. It is required, now more than any time in any of our lifetimes, to have someone who has that capacity on Day 1. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to run, why I decided to run this time, because I know what has to be done. I’ve done it before. I’ve been there when we pulled the nation out of the worst financial recession in history. I’ve been there, and I’ve got so many pieces of legislation passed, including the Affordable Care Act as well as making sure that we had the Recovery Act, which kept us from going into a depression. I know what has to be done. I will not need any on-the-job training the day I take office. And I will release my medical records, as I have 21 years of my tax records, which no one else on this stage has done, so that you can have full transparency as to my health and what I am doing.
BURNETT: Just to be clear, Mr. Vice President, when will you release those records?
BIDEN: Before the first vote.
BURNETT: Before Iowa?
BURNETT: Not by the end of this year?
BIDEN: Well, before Iowa. I mean, look, I’ve released them before. I released 55 pages of my — I’m the only guy that’s released anything up here.
BURNETT: Senator Warren, like Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden, if you win the presidency, you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated in a first term. You would be 71. Forty percent of Democratic primary voters say they think a candidate under the age of 70 is more likely to defeat President Trump. What do you say to them?
WARREN: Well, I say I will outwork, out-organize and outlast anyone, and that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence or whoever the Republicans get stuck with. Look, the way I see this, the way we’re going to win is by addressing head-on what millions of Americans know in their bones, and that is that the wealthy and the well-connected have captured our democracy, and they’re making it work for themselves and leaving everyone else behind. And political pundits and Washington insiders and, shoot, people in our own party don’t want to admit that. They think that running some kind of vague campaign that nibbles around the edges of big problems in this country is a winning strategy. They are wrong. If all Democrats can promise is after Donald Trump, it will be business as usual, then we will lose. Democrats win when we call out what’s broken and we show how to fix it. Democrats will win when we fight for the things that touch people’s lives, things like child care and health care and housing costs. Democrats will win when we give people a reason to get in the fight.
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