Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Former Vice President Joe Biden Wins South Carolina Democratic Primary
Former Vice President Joe Biden on February 29 decisively won the South Carolina primary as the first Southern primary contest reshaped the race and dealt a blow to the surging candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. The win pumped new life into Biden’s struggling campaign, as he became the first candidate to score a clear-cut victory against Sanders this year, boosting his efforts to become the major alternative to the liberal senator. Still, Sanders is polling strongly in several of the Super Tuesday states that vote this week, and it could yet prove difficult for any of his competitors to catch up. At a minimum, Democrats now face the most unsettled contest in decades, with several candidates showing the potential to win delegates after the winnowing process of the first four primary states. The Democratic race goes national on March 2, when 14 states and one territory will vote to award 34 percent of the convention delegates. What’s not clear is whether Biden’s triumph in a state supporters have long called his “firewall,” where African American voters had a significant say for the first time, will provide only a momentary lift, result in a two-person race between Biden and Sanders, or result in a long slog to the convention.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s resounding victory in the South Carolina primary was a major win for a politician who has been in public life for nearly 50 years, and his first primary victory in his three presidential runs. Cheers went up at a Biden election-night rally in Columbia when MSNBC called the race, Biden cast the win as the first of many number of dominoes that will now fall his way, noting that some were counting him out just days ago. “Now, thanks to all of you — the heart of the Democratic Party — we just won and we won big . . . and we are very much alive,” Biden said in a victory speech that was pointed directly at Sanders. “We have the option of winning big or losing big. That’s our choice,” Biden told a raucous crowd in Columbia. “We have to beat Donald Trump and the Republican Party, but here’s the deal: We can’t become like them. . . . We can’t have a never-ending war.” The Biden campaign hopes to use Saturday’s win to consolidate support from many of his rivals, hoping that several drop out, which one of them, businessman Tom Steyer, did shortly after the polls closed. “Honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency,” Steyer said in announcing his decision. Biden also plans a series of high-profile endorsements over the coming days. Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced shortly after Biden’s win that they were backing the former vice president. Nearly half of South Carolina voters said Congressman James Clyburn’s (D-SC) final-week endorsement of Biden was an important factor in their vote, according to exit poll results from Edison Research.
Bernie Sanders, speaking at a February 28 rally in Virginia sought to put the results in perspective, ticking off his previous strong performances in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. “But you cannot win ’em all . . . and tonight we did not win in South Carolina,” Sanders said. “And that will not be the only defeat. There are a lot of states in this country, and nobody wins them all.” After congratulating Biden, he proclaimed, “And now we enter Super Tuesday — and Virginia!” For all the candidates but Sanders, a further winnowing of the field is crucial to winning the nomination. Sanders is broadly expected to come out of Super Tuesday with a substantial delegate lead in the race, anchored in his huge polling advantage in California. Under party rules, such leads can be difficult to overcome as the race moves on.
With most precincts reporting, Joe Biden was poised to win about half the vote, giving him a symbolic victory over Bernie Sanders, who did not win more than 34% of the vote in any of the first three states. Under party rules, nominees need to secure more than 50 percent of delegates to win the nomination at the convention in Milwaukee. But the continued viability of so many candidates has increased the likelihood that no candidate will be able to secure such a victory with initially pledged delegates alone, setting up the potential for either a brokered convention or a pre-convention horse-trading of delegates by the candidates. Complicating the hunt for the nomination is former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars advertising his candidacy to the Super Tuesday states, after deciding not to compete in the first four contests. Although his rise in polls had slowed since his first debate performance, Bloomberg still appears positioned to win delegates in many early states, as he continues to swamp his rivals in spending. His advisers vowed Saturday night that Bloomberg will stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday when he will appear on the ballot for the first time. They cited internal campaign data showing that if Bloomberg dropped out it would strengthen Sanders, whose left-leaning policies the former mayor abhors “Mike Bloomberg has not been on the ballot yet,” said Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey. “Our campaign is focused on organizing Democrats and building infrastructure in states all around the country.”
After Saturday’s outcome became clear, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Sleepy Joe Biden’s victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary should be the end of Mini Mike Bloomberg’s Joke of a campaign.” Biden’s support among black voters, who made up most of the electorate in South Carolina, appeared ready to lift a campaign that has struggled to find its footing for more than a year. Biden, a national polling leader in 2019, finished in fourth place in Iowa, fifth place in New Hampshire and second place in Nevada. African American voters have been a crucial part of the Democratic Party Coalition since the New Deal era, and Biden, along with other Sanders critics, have argued that it will be hard for the Democratic nominee to defeat Trump if he does not have enthusiastic support from the black community. Sanders has replied that he alone among the Democratic contenders has shown the ability to electrify voters and draw big crowds from a broad portion of the electorate.
2. In A Bid To Unite Democratic Party, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar Drop Out, Endorse Joe Biden’s Candidacy
In a last-minute bid to unite the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg on March 2 threw their support behind former Vice President Joe Biden, giving him an extraordinary boost ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries that promised to test his strength against the liberal front-runner, Senator Bernie Sanders. Even by the standards of the tumultuous 2020 campaign, the dual endorsement from Klobuchar and Buttigieg, and their joint appearances with Biden at campaign events in Dallas on March 2, was remarkable. Rarely, if ever, have opponents joined forces so dramatically, as Klobuchar and Buttigieg went from campaigning at full tilt in the South Carolina primary on Saturday to joining on a political rescue mission for a former competitor, Joe Biden, whom they had once regarded as a spent force.
Amy Klobuchar, who sought to appeal to the same moderate voters as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, and focused her campaign on calling the Democratic Party’s attention to Midwestern states like her native Minnesota, withdrew from the race after intensive conversations with her aides following Biden’s thumping victory in South Carolina. Rather than delivering a traditional concession speech, Klobuchar told associates she wanted to leverage her exit to help Biden and headed directly for the joint rally. Before a roaring crowd in Dallas, she hailed her former rival as a candidate who could “bring our country together” and restore “decency and dignity” to the presidency. Pete Buttigieg, for his part, endorsed Biden at a pre-rally stop, saying that Biden would “restore the soul” of the nation as president. And Biden offered Buttigieg the highest compliment in his personal vocabulary, several times likening the young politician to his own son, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
For the three moderates, as well as for Bernie Sanders and other remaining candidates, the crucial question hanging over the fast-moving events was whether any of it would make a difference in Tuesday’s primaries across 15 states and territories, including the critical battlegrounds of California and Texas. Millions of voters are expected to go to the polls, but many states have had early voting underway; more than 2.3 million Democratic and independent ballots have already been processed in California. Bernie Sanders has significant head starts in many of the Super Tuesday states and beyond: His popularity has risen in recent weeks, and so has Democratic voters’ estimation of his electability in a race with President Donald Trump. The Vermont senator has a muscular national grass-roots organization, backed by the most fearsome online fund-raising machine in Democratic politics, one that collected more than $46 million last month, far outdistancing every other candidate in the race.
As news emerged of the shift of centrist support toward Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders projected confidence and defiance, dismissing it as a phenomenon of “establishment politicians” supporting one another. On Twitter, Sanders posted a video criticizing Biden for having supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, linking him to unpopular Republicans like former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Additionally, Sanders assailed Biden’s record on the Iraq war and Social Security. “It is no surprise they do not want me to become president,‘’ Sanders said, referring to his moderate opponents.
3. Trump Administration Orders Four Chinese News Outlets in The US to Reduce Staffs
In a major escalation of the ongoing tensions between China and the US, the Trump administration on March 2 ordered four Chinese news outlets operating in the US to reduce the number of Chinese nationals working on their staffs by more than a third. The action comes on the heels of a State Department decision on February 18 requiring five Chinese news organizations considered organs of the government to register as foreign missions and provide the names of employees. China responded by expelling three Beijing-based Wall Street Journal reporters, condemning as “racist” an essay that ran in the news outlet’s opinion section criticizing China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. American officials said that by March 13, the Chinese news outlets can have no more than 100 Chinese citizens on staff, down from 160 currently employed by the five outlets. The officials said it was an effort to bring “reciprocity” to the US-China relationship and to encourage the ruling Chinese Communist Party to show a greater commitment to a free press. “As we have done in other areas of the US-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to US and other foreign press in China. We urge the Chinese government to immediately uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press.”
In announcing the move, senior Trump administration officials cited the disappearance of citizen journalists chronicling the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. In a report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, called “Control, Halt, Delete,” 8 in 10 correspondents said they had encountered interference, harassment or violence while arriving and described the environment for journalists as deteriorating. “We’re witnessing an assault on free speech inside of China that goes even beyond what it was a decade ago,” said an administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity under administration rules for briefing reporters. Other officials sought to distinguish the US action from China’s expulsion of nine foreign reporters since 2013 when Xi Jinping ascended to power. The expulsions were usually attributed to the government’s unhappiness with news coverage. American officials said it will be up to the designated outlets to determine which employees to cut and said there will be no restrictions placed on their content or choice of what to cover. But they said they are considering imposing duration limits on Chinese nationals working for the outlets, similar to those used by China on foreign correspondents. The officials pointedly refused to refer to the affected employees as journalists, calling it an insult to free and independent reporters who are not working for “propaganda outlets.”
Every year, hundreds of Chinese citizens are granted visas allowing them to report in the US, though it was not immediately clear how many are currently working as reporters. The move against employees of China’s government-controlled media comes amid an escalating series of critical statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Chinese government. He has repeatedly criticized the government’s maltreatment and detention of Muslim Uighurs, warned US allies of risks associated with technology from the Chinese company Huawei and castigated China’s expanding economic influence in developing countries. Pompeo has said China is intent on international domination, and during a January visit to London, he called the Chinese Communist Party “the central threat of our times.” Now, as the world braces for the spreading coronavirus that originated in China, the Trump Administration has taken the battle to the journalistic arena.
4. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wins Third Israeli Election Held Since 2019
As counting gets underway in Israel’s unprecedented third election in 11 months, initial exit polls projected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party as the winners. But even if the final results bear out these projections from Israel’s three main news channels, Netanyahu will still need to find partners to form a coalition government with a majority in the 120-seat parliament. Just after polling stations closed across Israel, the Israeli TV stations flashed the result of their individual exit polls, all showing Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party ahead of former military chief, Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party. Exit polls in Israel, as elsewhere, come with a disclaimer. Sometimes they prove to be extremely prescient, while other times they are woefully wide of the mark. Even so, politicians and voters alike still take them seriously and watch them closely. With almost one-quarter of the votes counted, all three main TV stations are projecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will finish between three and five seats ahead of its main rival, the Blue and White party of Benny Gantz. But all three channels continue to project that a bloc made up of Likud plus Netanyahu’s preferred coalition partners, the hardline right-wing Yamina, along with the two religious parties, would win 59 seats, which is two seats short of an overall majority.
Israel’s third election in less than a year reflects a political system in deadlock. Following the last poll in September of 2019, both Netanyahu and Gantz were given the chance to try to form a government but neither man was successful in building a coalition with a 61-seat majority. Gantz refused point-blank to sit in a government with Netanyahu due to the charges against the prime minister, while Netanyahu refused to go second in any rotating prime ministership with Gantz. This third campaign saw barbs traded between the two leaders and the release of several secret recordings aimed at damaging both the main campaigns, though particularly that of Blue and White. Casting his vote Monday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin castigated the country’s politicians. “We don’t deserve another awful and grubby election campaign like the one that ends today, and we don’t deserve this never-ending instability. We deserve a government that works for us.” As the exit polls suggest, the two largest parties are likely to be Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White.
Another issue during the campaign was the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century.” The US president delivered his “Peace to Prosperity” plan at the end of January 2020, with Benjamin Netanyahu standing next to him at the White House. The proposal effectively gives US approval to Israeli annexation of all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, along with the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu has embraced the plan and has talked about a “window of opportunity” to deliver on it, widely seen as meaning before the US presidential election in November. For his part, Gantz also welcomed the plan but said annexation should happen with international coordination. Perhaps the biggest immediate electoral effect of the Trump plan has been to motivate Israel’s Arab community to vote. The Kan News exit poll projects the Joint Arab List, an alliance of the four main Arab parties, on track to win 15 seats. List leader Ayman Odeh hailed it as the best result ever for Arab parties in Israeli elections.