Biden Takes Charge as Coronavirus Spreads: This Week in the 2020 Race

With the coronavirus pandemic front of mind, electoral politics may feel like a distant concern. Yet the Democratic primary is pressing on, even as the public health crisis has hugely altered it.

We’ll get you caught up on everything you might have missed during this frightening and tumultuous week. And you can find complete coverage of the coronavirus here, with no paywall.

Despite the pandemic, Arizona, Florida and Illinois voted on Tuesday. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won all three primaries by double-digit margins, dealing what could be the final blow to the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Mr. Biden’s biggest victory came in Florida, where he won by nearly 40 percentage points and carried every county. All together, his performances on Tuesday put him nearly 300 delegates ahead of Mr. Sanders, an effectively insurmountable lead given that about 60 percent of all delegates have now been awarded.

The sweep of his victories — Midwest, Southeast, Southwest — underscored how completely the race has changed since February, when Mr. Biden lost badly in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada before coming back in South Carolina. His resurgence there was driven by his strong support among black voters, but in the three weeks since, he has built a coalition that is both geographically and demographically diverse.

The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the electoral process as millions of Americans, told to leave their homes only for essential tasks, try to figure out whether voting counts as one.

The pandemic hung heavily over this week’s primaries, especially in Illinois, where turnout cratered. (By contrast, turnout in Arizona was higher than usual thanks to an extensive early-voting system, and voters there told our colleague Jennifer Medina that they were hoping to hold on to a bit of normalcy.) Ohio postponed its election entirely.

Now, it’s anyone’s guess when the next primary will happen. Georgia, which had been scheduled to vote this coming Tuesday, postponed its election to May 19, and other states are considering doing the same.

Seven states have postponed so far, and we’re keeping track here.

Video

transcript

Watch: Biden and Sanders Clash in Democratic Debate

In their first one-on-one matchup, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders discussed how they would deal with the coronavirus pandemic and disagreed on health care policy.

“The first thing we have got to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this president up right now — because he is undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people. This is an unprecedented moment in American history. Now, I obviously believe in Medicare for all. I will fight for that as president. This coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system.” “I would bring together the leading experts in the world. Instead of doing this piecemeal, sit down and do what we did before, with the Ebola crisis. And with all due respect to Medicare for all — you have a single-payer system in Italy. It doesn’t work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for all. That would not solve the problem at all.” “What are you doing to protect yourself?” “Last night we had a fireside chat, not a rally. We’re not doing that right now. I’m not shaking hands. Joe and I did not shake hands. And I am very careful about the people I am interacting with.” “Thank God, for the time being — anything can happen, as my mother would say, knock on wood — that I’m in good health. I’m taking all the precautions anyone would take, whether they’re 30 years old or 60 years old or 80 years old.” “Let me ask you a question, Joe.” “Yeah.” “You’re right here with me.” “Yeah.” “Have you been on the floor of the Senate — you were in the Senate for a few years —” “Yep.” “— time and time again, talking about the necessity, with pride, about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare, cutting veterans programs?” “No.” “You never said that?” “No.” “All right, America, go to the website right now. Go to the YouTube right now.” “I did not support any of those cuts — in Social Security or in veterans benefits —” “Whoa, whoa, whoa — everything was on the table. All right. You’re right. You just said it. Including in your judgment, cuts to Social Security and veterans —” “In order to get the kinds of changes we need on other things related —” “Joe, when you just —” “But I didn’t. But we did not cut it. I did not vote for it.” “I know — because people like me helped stop that. But Joe, you just contradict — Joe, you just contradicted yourself.” “If I’m elected president, my Cabinet, my administration will look like the country. And I commit that I will in fact appoint a, pick a woman to be vice president.” “The vice president committed to picking a woman as his running mate. If you get the nomination, will you?” “In all likelihood, I will.” “I would end this notion — for the first time in history, that people seeking asylum have to be in squalor on the other side of the river. They should be able to come to the United States and have a judgment made as to whether or not they qualify.” “I speak as the son of an immigrant. I will end on Day 1 the demonization, the ugly demonization from the White House of the immigrant community in this country. This is a time to move aggressively dealing with the coronavirus crisis, to deal with the economic fallout. But it is also a time to rethink America.” “This is bigger than any individual. This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together.”

Video player loading

In their first one-on-one matchup, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders discussed how they would deal with the coronavirus pandemic and disagreed on health care policy.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders had their first one-on-one debate on Sunday, and from the very start, it reflected the bizarre new national reality.

The lecterns were separated by an epidemiologist-approved six feet. The candidates greeted each other with an elbow bump instead of a handshake.

The first topic was, of course, the coronavirus, and the candidates’ arguments reflected their starkly different worldviews. Mr. Biden cast the fight against the virus as something like a war, requiring a well-tested leader and a full, efficient mobilization of the country’s public health and military resources. Mr. Sanders framed the pandemic’s likely fallout as an indictment of current systems, and as evidence for the necessity of sweeping new programs like “Medicare for all” and economic safety nets.

The biggest non-virus-related moment came when Mr. Biden pledged unequivocally to choose a woman as his running mate if he won the nomination — and Mr. Sanders, prompted to make the same pledge, did not go as far. (“In all likelihood, I will,” he said.)

With no realistic path to the nomination, Mr. Sanders has a decision to make: Does he stick it out to the bitter end, potentially fracturing the party even further? Or does he drop out now and try to use his influence — and the need for Mr. Biden to win over some of his supporters — to push for a more progressive Democratic platform?

Advisers to Mr. Sanders said on Wednesday, after his losses the night before, that he was considering his next steps. His campaign stopped actively advertising on Facebook this week, which is often a precursor to dropping out.

Regardless of what Mr. Sanders decides or when he makes the decision, Mr. Biden has his own challenge ahead: winning over at least some members of the progressive wing of the party, many of whom are deeply disillusioned by Mr. Sanders’s losses. Toward that end, Mr. Biden has adopted some of Mr. Sanders’s proposals, like tuition-free public college.

  • Sydney Ember wrote this week about Mr. Sanders’s desire to continue fighting.

  • You can read more here about how Mr. Biden is trying to reach out to the left.

The Democratic primary officially became a two-person contest on Thursday after Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii dropped out and endorsed Mr. Biden.

Leaning on her military background, Ms. Gabbard — who had been the only woman remaining in the primary — railed for months against “regime-change wars” and advocated a noninterventionist foreign policy. But she won only two delegates in the primary contests, both in American Samoa, where she was born.

She announced last fall that she would not seek re-election to Congress.

Continue reading at New York Times