Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. In Democratic Super Tuesday Primary Race, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Emerge As Front-Runners
The Democratic presidential race emerged from Super Tuesday with two clear front-runners as former Vice President Joe Biden won Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and at least six other states, largely through support from African-Americans and moderate Democrats, while Senator Bernie Sanders harnessed the backing of young voters to win the California primary and several other states. As the results were still being counted in several states, Joe Biden received another boost to his campaign, when Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, ended bid for the nomination and endorsed Biden. The decision removes another candidate from the centrist lane as Biden consolidates the moderate wing of the party.
The returns across the country on the biggest night of voting suggested that the Democratic contest was increasingly focused on two candidates who are standard-bearers for competing wings of the party, Joe Biden in the political center and Bernie Sanders on the left. Their two other major rivals, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg were on track to finish well behind them and faced an uncertain path forward. Biden’s victories came chiefly in the South and the Midwest, and in some of them, he won by unexpectedly wide margins. In a surprising upset, Biden even captured Elizabeth Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, where he did not appear in person, and where Bernie Sanders had campaigned aggressively in recent days. It was a remarkable show of force for Biden. In just three days he resurrected a campaign that had been on the verge of collapse after he lost the first three nominating states. But he bounced back with a landslide win in South Carolina. In addition to victories in Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts, he prevailed in Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.
Bernie Sanders rebounded late in the evening in delegate-rich Western states: He was quickly declared the winner in Colorado and Utah after polls closed there, and he also claimed the largest delegate lode of the primary race, California. Sanders also easily carried his home state of Vermont. Yet Joe Biden’s sweep of states across the South and the Midwest showed he had the makings of a formidable coalition that could propel him through the primaries. As he did in South Carolina, Biden rolled to victory in several states with the support of large majorities of African-Americans. And he also performed well with a demographic that was crucial to the party’s success in the 2018 midterm elections: college-educated white voters. “We were told, well, when you got to Super Tuesday, it’d be over,” a triumphant Biden said at a celebration in Los Angeles. “Well, it may be over for the other guy!” After a trying stretch in February, even Biden appeared surprised at the extent of his success. “I’m here to report we are very much alive!’’ he said. “And make no mistake about it, this campaign will send Donald Trump packing.”
For his part, Bernie Sanders continued to show strength with the voters who have made up his political base: Latinos, liberals and those under age 40. But he struggled to expand his appeal with older voters and African-Americans. The results also called into question Sanders’s decision to spend valuable time over the past week campaigning in both Minnesota and Massachusetts, two states where he had hoped to embarrass rivals on their home turf. The gambit proved badly flawed, as it was Joe Biden who pulled off upset wins in both states, with the help of a last-minute endorsement from Senator Amy Klobuchar that upended the race in Minnesota.
The unexpected breadth of Joe Biden’s success, on a day when more than one-third of the delegates were at stake, illustrated the volatility of this race as well as the determination of many center-left Democrats to find a nominee and get on to challenging President Trump. The former Vice President had little advertising and a skeletal organization and scarcely even visited many of the states he won, including liberal-leaning Minnesota and Massachusetts. But his smashing victory in South Carolina echoed almost instantaneously, and his momentum from there proved far more powerful than the money Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg had poured into most of the Super Tuesday contests.
2. President Donald Trump Announces Support For Economic Stimulus Package To Assist Business, Individuals Hurt By Coronavirus
President Donald Trump said on March 9 he will seek financial relief for workers and businesses hurt by the coronavirus, as new cases were reported across the country and US stocks suffered their worst drop since 2008. President Trump said he would be proposing “very major” and “very dramatic” measures but did not say specifically what they would be. He said his administration will meet with House and Senate leaders to discuss an economic stimulus package that could include a possible payroll tax cut and relief for hourly wage earners to ensure that they will not have to miss a paycheck. “The main thing here is we are taking care of the American public,” Trump said at a news conference following a coronavirus task force meeting. “And we’re taking care of the American economy,” Trump said his administration will be creating loans for small businesses and working with industries such as airlines and cruise ships that have been harmed by the coronavirus scare. In addition, the White House has invited Wall Street executives to meet with Trump later this week on how to cope with the coronavirus threat.
President Donald Trump’s decision to push for a stimulus package represented a departure for the administration, which has insisted that the fundamentals of the economy are solid and that the coronavirus would cause only a short-term blip in growth. But the coronavirus threat continues to rattle financial markets. American stocks collapsed on March 9, with the Dow Jones industrial average plummeting by more than 2,000 points for its worst day since 2008 after a free fall in oil prices and a growing number of coronavirus cases. Total coronavirus cases around the globe surpassed 111,000, with confirmed US cases exceeding 600. The worldwide death toll approached 4,000 and rose to 26 in the US
On March 6, President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion package of emergency funding to help treat and slow the spread of the virus. The package includes funding for research and development of vaccines as well as money for prevention, preparedness, and response. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who appeared alongside President Trump at the news conference, said the US has “the most resilient economy in the world.” But, “there are parts of the economy that are going to be impacted, especially workers that need to be at home, hard-working people who are at home under quarantine and are taking care of their family,” he said. “We’ll be working on a program to address that.”
At the congressional level Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a strong ally of President Donald Trump, also has begun exploring the possibility of a stimulus package. “While we continue to assess the economic impacts, Senator Grassley is exploring the possibility of targeted tax relief measures that could provide a timely and effective response to the coronavirus,” said Grassley’s spokesman, Michael Zona. “Several options within the committee’s jurisdiction are being considered as we learn more about the effects on specific industries and the overall economy.” Some economists are recommending broader steps Congress can take in the short term to aid those immediately affected by the virus, such as defraying the health care costs of those infected and reducing the Social Security payroll tax for all workers.
3. The US Begins Withdrawing Troops From Afghanistan
US troops have started to leave Afghanistan for the initial troop withdrawal required in the US-Taliban agreement, a spokesman for US Forces in Afghanistan announced on March 9, amid political chaos in the country that threatens the deal. The US will cut the number of forces in the country to 8,600, according to a statement by US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett. “In accordance with the US-Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Joint Declaration and the US-Taliban Agreement, US Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) has begun its conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days,” Leggett said in the statement quoted by. “USFOR-A maintains all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives -including conducting counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS-K and providing support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces,” he added. “USFOR-A is on track to meet directed force levels while retaining the necessary capabilities. The pullout came as Afghanistan’s rival leaders were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies on March 9, creating a complication for the US as it figures out how to move forward on the agreement, signed late last month, and end the 18-year war. The sharpening dispute between President Ashraf Ghani, who was declared the winner of last September’s election, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who charged fraud in the vote along with the elections complaints commission, threatens to wreck the next key steps and even risks devolving into new violence.
The US has not tied the withdrawal to political stability in Afghanistan or any specific outcome from the all-Afghan peace talks. Instead, it depends on the Taliban meeting its commitment to preventing “any group or individual, including al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies.” Under the peace agreement, the US troop withdrawal had to begin within 10 days after the deal was signed on February 29. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on March 2 that he had already approved the start of the withdrawal, which would then be coordinated by military commanders in Afghanistan. The US official said that the troops leaving now had been scheduled to depart, but they will not be replaced. Esper has said General Scott Miller, the US commander in Afghanistan, will pause the withdrawal and assess conditions once the troop level goes down to 8,600. The long-term plan is for the US to remove all troops within 14 months if security conditions are met. The agreement with the Taliban followed a seven-day “reduction in violence” period that, from the Trump administration’s viewpoint, was meant to test the Taliban’s seriousness about moving towards a final peace agreement.
4. U.N. Announces Sharp Increase In Iran’s Uranium Stockpile In Violation Of The JCPOA
Iran is dramatically ramping up production of enriched uranium in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on March 4 while also criticizing the Iranian government for blocking access to possible nuclear-related sites. Inspectors from the IAEA reported a near-tripling of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium just since November of 2019, with total holdings more than three times the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear accord. Iran also substantially increased the number of machines it is using to enrich uranium, the agency said, allowing it to make more of the nuclear fuel faster. The confidential report provided to member states is the first since Iran announced it would no longer adhere to any of the nuclear pact’s restrictions on uranium fuel production, in a protest of the Trump administration’s decision to walk away from the deal. Iran has declined to formally pull out of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in which it had to sharply curtail its nuclear activities and submit to intrusive inspections in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Inspectors confirmed that Iran now possesses more than 1,020 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, up from 372 kilograms in the fall, although the IAEA found no evidence that Iran is taking specific steps toward nuclear weapons production. Independent analysts said the bigger stockpile and faster enrichment rate has substantially decreased Iran’s theoretical “breakout” time, the span needed for acquiring enough weapons-grade material for a single nuclear bomb. When the Iranian nuclear was fully implemented in 2015, US officials said that Iran would need about a year to reach the “breakout” point if it chose to make a bomb. Based on the new figures, one Iran analyst calculated that the window has been reduced to about 3½ months. Iran’s enriched uranium soared to “levels not expected just a few weeks ago,” said the analyst, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington nonprofit specializing in nuclear weapons research.
The IAEA reports are certain to rekindle debate over President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the accord, which the Trump administration says failed to address long-term concerns over Iran’s nuclear intentions. Critics of the deal pointed to Iran’s lack of cooperation with IAEA inspectors as evidence that Iran cannot be trusted. “The problem is not breakout at known facilities; it is sneakout at clandestine facilities through advanced centrifuges permitted by JCPOA,” Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in a Twitter posting, using the acronym for the nuclear deal. Other experts said the report highlighted the administration’s folly in torpedoing a deal that was demonstrably working, without having a viable alternative plan for keeping Iran’s nuclear activities in check. “The bottom line: Iran is closer to being able to build a bomb now than under JCPOA and the previous administration, and we are less capable of addressing that danger,” said Jon Wolfsthal, the senior director for arms control on the Obama White House’s National Security Council, in an email.