Former Vice President Joe Biden suggested that he would veto the universal health-care legislation known as "Medicare for All" championed by his Democratic presidential primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, citing costs.
"Nancy Pelosi gets a version of it through the House of Representatives. It comes to your desk. Do you veto it?" MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell asked Biden during an interview Monday night.
"I would veto anything that delays providing the security and the certainty of health care being available now," Biden responded. "If they got that through in by some miracle or there's an epiphany that occurred and some miracle occurred that said, 'OK, it's passed,' then you got to look at the cost."
Biden added: "I want to know, how did they find $35 trillion? What is that doing? Is it going to significantly raise taxes on the middle class, which it will? What's going to happen?"
The remarks threatened to deepen fissures between the Democratic Party's center, represented by Biden, and its left flank, embodied by Sanders, even as Biden looks likely to collect enough delegates to obtain an insurmountable lead in the Democratic primary. Six states hold primaries on Tuesday.
The veto threat came amid increased attention on health care, as the nation wrestles to contain the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed at least 22 in the U.S.
Sanders has said that Medicare for All would cost between $30 trillion and $40 trillion over a 10-year period, though he contends that it would also reduce overall health expenditures through increased efficiencies. A recent peer-reviewed study by researchers at Yale found that single-payer health care would save $450 billion annually.
In a statement, campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said that Biden "is committed to delivering more U.S. Senate and House victories for Democrats -- but even with those victories, the chance of Medicare for All passing through both chambers any time soon is close to 0."
"Our opponents do not speak for us and should never be allowed by the press to put words in the Vice President's mouth. He did not say 'veto,'" Bates said. "He made clear that his urgent priority is getting to universal coverage as quickly as possible and he explained why he firmly believes our approach should be to build on the profound benefits of the Affordable Care Act with a Medicare-like public option."
A Sanders spokesperson did not return a request for comment, but the campaign's national policy director, Josh Orton, responded to Bates's statement in a post on Twitter.
"So would he veto or not?" Orton wrote.
The debate over Medicare for All has raged over the Democratic primary contest, casting a shadow over the entire race. The debate has heated up alongside the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, with Sanders contending that his plan for universal health care would help combat the contagion and attacking Biden for his opposition to the legislation.
Biden has critiqued President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus threat but argued that it is not "a debate about Medicare for All or a Biden plan building on Obamacare."
"It's much beyond that right now. It's about reinstilling some confidence and be prepared," he told O'Donnell on Monday.
The Senate Medicare for All bill sponsored by Sanders is co-sponsored by four former primary contenders, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, who have since dropped out and endorsed Biden.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren are also co-sponsors of the bill, though Warren has said she'd get to single-payer health care via multiple pieces of legislation.
In a statement last month taking Trump to task for his handling of the outbreak, Sanders wrote that his administration would pass Medicare for All "so everyone can see a doctor or get a vaccine for free" as well as boost funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
In a post Monday on Twitter, Sanders wrote that "we have already seen people hit with massive medical bills, simply for doing the right thing by getting tested.
"Others may face massive bills for hospitalization, treatment and quarantine if they need it," he wrote. "This must end. We need Medicare for All."
Biden, on the other hand, has consistently argued against Medicare for All, contending that it costs too much. Biden has advocated for building on the health-care legislation passed under former President Barack Obama, known as Obamacare.
His insurance plan, which includes a public option, stops short of 100% coverage, though it will cover more than an estimated 97% of Americans, according to his website.
During the interview on Monday, Biden said that he didn't believe people would be any less concerned by the coronavirus if Medicare for All was the law of the land.
"The question is how are you going to get your service, period? Forget the health-care plan for a second. What services do you get?" Biden said. "There's none being provided right now. There's not enough testing kits. There's not enough information as to who should be tested and how it's going to be tested. There's not enough information as to what hospitals you go to. There's not enough beds available."