Bernie Sanders returns to debate stage 2 weeks after heart attack

Two weeks after suffering a heart attack, Sen. Bernie Sanders made his formal return to the race during Tuesday’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

And Sanders tried to cut off CNN’s Erin Burnett, one of the debate’s moderators, as she tried to ask him about his health.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” he said, before pivoting briefly to a question about opioids that was asked just before.

Sen. Cory Booker noted that Sanders is also in favor of medical marijuana.

“I’m not on it tonight,” Sanders quipped.

At 78, Sanders is the oldest candidate running for the Democratic nomination. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 76 and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the third oldest candidate, is 70. If any of them win the White House, they would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. (Donald Trump is 73.)

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Scenes from the October Democratic debate in Ohio
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Scenes from the October Democratic debate in Ohio
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), billionaire Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former housing secretary Julian Castro at the strart of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, talks with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., during a break in the Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, left, and businessman Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Members of the media watch the Democratic presidential primary debate from the media center hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15th, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, hugs former Vice President Joe Biden in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate former Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate businessman Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential hopefuls California Senator Kamala Harris (L) greets Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., from left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, listens as former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden raise their hands during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to the press in the spin room during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful New Jersey Senator Cory Booker speaks to the press in the spin room during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US actress Rosario Dawson arrives the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
US actress Rosario Dawson (L) and boyfriend Democratic presidential hopeful New Jersey Senator Cory Booker pose for pictures in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful businessman Tom Steyer speaks to the press in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) walks the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Texas representative Beto O'Rourke smiles in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) enters the Spin Room with his girlfriend Rosario Dawson after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Former tech executive Andrew Yang walks through the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) enters the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Volunteers hold signs with candidates' names in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) interact during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks to the press in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: The audience watches the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are introduced before the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke looks on during a break at the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Rosario Dawson enters the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks to the press after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former US Vice President Joe Biden takes a selfie with supporters after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden shake hands after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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“You are 78 and just had a heart attack,” Burnett said. “How can you reassure voters that you are up to being president?”

Sanders responded by inviting Burnett and viewers to a rally in Queens, N.Y., on Saturday, promising a surprise guest and vowing to continue his “vigorous campaign.” (According to the Washington Post, the surprise guest is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who will endorse him for president at the event.)

The Vermont senator, who has been reluctant to put a spotlight on his personal life, then took the opportunity to give thanks for the outpouring of support he’s received.

“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,” Sanders said. “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.”

On Oct. 1, Sanders underwent a heart procedure after experiencing chest pains at a campaign event in Las Vegas. He was transferred to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, where doctors inserted two stents to alleviate an artery blockage. He was discharged from the hospital three days later. His doctors said he had suffered a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, before he was hospitalized.

After consulting with a cardiologist upon returning to his Burlington, Vt., home, Sanders initially told reporters that he would likely scale back his campaign schedule.

“We were doing (in) some cases five or six meetings today, three or four rallies and town meetings and meeting with groups of people. I don’t think I’m going to do that,” Sanders said. “But I certainly intend to be actively campaigning. I think we can change the nature of the campaign a bit. Make sure I have the strength to do what needs to be done.”

But in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” the next day, Sanders said he “misspoke” when he suggested he’d scale back his campaign.

“I misspoke the other day. I said a word I should not have said and media drives me a little bit nuts to make a big deal about it,” Sanders said. “We’re going to get back into the groove of a very vigorous campaign. I love doing rallies and I love doing town meetings.”

The Sanders campaign has scheduled three public events in the next two weeks including the Queens rally He will appear at a forum on criminal justice in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 26 and a “March to End Corporate Greed” in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 1.

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