- Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders faced off in a Democratic debate focused heavily on the coronavirus.
- While Biden emphasized the need to act in a crisis, Sanders argued that the underlying system needed to be fixed.
- The debate comes ahead of primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio on Tuesday.
- All four states have said they will go ahead with the elections, despite concerns about spreading the coronavirus and warnings from the CDC and President Trump to avoid public gatherings.
Coronavirus Takes Spotlight in Democratic Debate
After months of crowded debates, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden found themselves alone on the stage— and six feet apart.
Like everything else, the coronavirus dominated the 11th Democratic debate both in discussion and practice.
The debate was initially supposed to be held in front of an audience in a 5,000-seat theater in Arizona, but instead was hosted at the CNN studios in Washington, D.C. with just the two candidates and the moderators.
In addition to the podium distance, Sanders and Biden also did not shake hands as is customary, instead opting to somewhat awkwardly touch elbows.
Both candidates started off the debate by talking about how they would address the coronavirus in their opening statements.
Biden opened the debate by stating that the first order of business under his plan would be to have more testing.
“Secondly, I would make sure that every state in the union had at least 10 places where they had drive-thru testing arrangements,” he continued. “I would also at this point deal with the need to begin to plan for the need for additional hospital beds.”
“But we have to deal with the economic fallout quickly. And that means making sure that people who, in fact, lose their job, don’t get a paycheck, can’t pay their mortgage, are able to pay it and pay them now. And do it now. Small businesses, be able to borrow interest-free loans,” he added.
Sanders made similar arguments about jobs and hospital capacity, but he also used his opening statement to go after President Donald Trump.
“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,” Sanders said when asked what the most important thing he could do to save American lives was.
“It is unacceptable for him to be blabbering with unfactual information, which is confusing the general public.”
Medicare for All and the Coronavirus
Sanders also used the platform to push for his staple policy: Medicare for all.
“Let’s be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current health care system,” Sanders said. “We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We’re spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic.”
However, Biden was ready with a retort.
“With all due respect for Medicare for all, you have a single-payer system in Italy. It doesn’t work there,” he argued, referring to the coronavirus outbreak that has prompted Italian officials to put the whole country on lockdown.
“It has nothing to do with Medicare for all. That would not solve the problem at all.”
Biden went on to tout his past experience as vice president during the Ebola outbreak, arguing that he has the know-how to deal with situations like this.
That back-and-forth continued for a while, with Sanders saying the underlying system is part of the reason the U.S. is unprepared, while Biden claimed that insurance has nothing to do with this national crisis, and that the U.S. needs to be addressing the immediate problems the virus poses.
“People are looking for results, not a revolution,” Biden argued. “They want to deal with the results they need right now.”
The debate comes ahead of four major primary elections on Tuesday in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio.
The big question is less how the candidates’ coronavirus plans will impact voters, but more instead on how the coronavirus itself will impact the primaries.
Right now, all four states have said they are going to go ahead with the elections despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that there should not be any gatherings of 50 or more people.
In an announcement on Monday, President Trump separately discouraged gatherings of more than ten.
Election officials in the states have said that they will be taking extra precautions, sanitizing voting machines and other equipment.
But there is still a huge question about turnout. There are confirmed cases in all four states and people have actively been told not to gather— so how many people are going to wait in lines to touch things other people have been touching all day?
This is especially true for at-risk people like older voters, who make up a good percentage of the population in Florida and Arizona.
Election officials in these states have moved their polling precincts away from high-risk areas, like assisted living facilities, and Arizona even closed about 80 polling locations in Maricopa County where Phoenix is located, according to reports.
While the states voting this Tuesday have decided to go ahead with their elections, others have been more cautious. Louisiana was the first state to announce that it was delaying its primary over the weekend, moving it from April 4 to June 20.
Georgia followed suit shortly after, moving its primary— which was originally set to be held next week— to May 19.
Other states, like New York, are also reportedly weighing similar precautions. In a post-debate interview with CNN, Sanders seemed to indicate that he supported states that postponed their primaries.
“I would hope governors listen to the public health experts and what they are saying is, you just indicated, we don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people,” he said.
“I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, all that stuff. It does not make a lot of sense. I’m not sure that it does.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (USA Today)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”
Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees
The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
An Agency Crawling With Extremists
Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.
The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.
The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.
“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.
POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.
The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.
In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”
Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.
The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem
Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.
In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.
The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.
The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.
Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.
In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.