Bernie Sanders is Considering Several Options as He Ponders His Campaign’s Future

Sen. Bernie Sanders has convened a series of weighty discussions about the future of his presidential campaign with his closest confidants, according to two people with direct knowledge of the conversations, and at least three potential paths forward have come up in the private talks.

One option that has been raised: Keep the campaign technically active with a goal of winning votes and accumulating delegates to the July nominating convention, but forgo attack ads aimed at delegate leader Joe Biden. Another: Stay in the race and aggressively compete for the nomination. A third choice: End the campaign.

The people with knowledge of the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive conversations. They cautioned that other options or nuances may also be on the table and stressed that Sanders (I-Vt.) had not yet made up his mind and was still trying to reach out to supporters. A campaign spokesman did not dispute their account.

Few if any dilemmas in recent political history have been fraught with so many variables and such significant potential consequences.

Before the coronavirus crisis, Democrats were anxious that disputes in the party would persist long into the general election, as they did after Sanders squared off against Hillary Clinton in 2016. That concern has only intensified as the pandemic has upended daily life across the globe, thrown the presidential race into uncertainty and created an urgent appetite for Democratic unity.

With Biden staked to a solid lead and the future of the remaining primaries in doubt, many in the party are calling for Sanders to bow out, in recognition of the destructive divisions that could deepen if he sticks around. They are eager to pivot to a general election posture against President Trump and want to empower Biden to get started as soon as possible.

At 78, Sanders, a democratic socialist who long toiled on the fringes of the national political debate, might well be in his final national campaign. Unlike four years ago, when there was a clear incentive to keep running against Clinton and build a still-budding movement, he came into this race as a known entity with a proven following — making his current political aspirations less clear.

After suffering decisive losses in three more primaries Tuesday, and standing almost no chance of catching Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination, Sanders decided to return home to Vermont last week to assess his future.

The senator is expected to reach a decision about the way forward in consultation with his wife and closest adviser, Jane Sanders. Campaign officials have signaled that he is not in any rush.

In a sign of how close Sanders is keeping his deliberations, even longtime friends and associates have said in recent days that they have little idea of where he will come down. Those with knowledge of the private discussions said the conversations have been substantive and thoughtful and that they reflect how intensely the senator is grappling with his options.

Outside supporters have publicly suggested a range of different options, underlining the dilemma Sanders is confronting.

Larry Cohen, a close ally who helms a nonprofit aligned with the senator, is advocating that Sanders do three things: Push for mail-in balloting for the remaining primaries to curb the risk to voters from the coronavirus; stay in the race to accumulate enough delegates to influence the party platform; and forge a working conversation with Biden that acknowledges that the former vice president, not him, has the path to a majority of pledged delegates.

“Just a dialogue with Biden, not attacks,” said Cohen.

RoseAnn DeMoro, a close Sanders friend and former nurses’ union head, said Sanders should not approach the race as a done deal and ought to treat a come-from-behind victory in future contests as a possibility given the volatility of the times.

“I think there’ll be openings that we don’t know” about, said DeMoro, warning that it would be foolish to concede to Biden.

Biden has made entreaties to Sanders and his supporters, embracing policies the senator has championed and nodding to his youthful movement in recent speeches. Aides from the two campaigns have been in close touch over the coronavirus, officials from both sides said recently, outlining a potential path for negotiations that could lead to an exit more acceptable to Sanders.

It’s not clear he would take it, however. Sanders appears as keen as ever on using his platform to advance his own ideas about how to combat the impact of the coronavirus, as he did Friday evening when he convened a virtual discussion.

“This a moment that history will look back on and say: How did the people of the United States respond?” Sanders said in his opening remarks. He has put forward a plan that draws on his longtime calls for a universal health care system and calls for sweeping new protections for working-class people.

On Saturday, Sanders continued to focus his campaign’s energy on the coronavirus. As he took to social media to renew his calls for $2,000 emergency cash payments to help Americans cope with economic setbacks, the campaign broadcast online a live “teach-in” on the virus.

The campaign also announced that its robust fundraising operation was still churning, collecting more than $2 million in 48 hours for five charities trying to mitigate the effect of the virus.

Those close to the senator say that in recent days he has immersed himself in finding ways to address the crisis. Many of his supporters point to the economic and public health problems arising from it as justification for the far-reaching reforms he has long advocated.

In other words, they say, it’s a moment that calls out for Sanders to stay onstage, not exit.

Some in the senator’s orbit pointed out another potential thicket: the disconnect between the officials spearheading the campaign and the legions of fans who have powered a movement that started when he rose to prominence in the 2016 campaign.

The two domains don’t always operate on the same wavelength, and in this case, some feel, there is far more passion among average supporters for him to stick around than there is among the campaign professionals around him.

On Saturday, Sanders was sounding like a candidate who was not yet ready to relinquish his platform to promote his ideas.

“Suspend evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs nationwide,” he tweeted.

By Sean Sullivan [Washington Post]

Tulsi Gabbard Suspends Presidential Campaign, Endorses Biden

Tulsi Gabbard announced Thursday that she will suspend her 2020 Democratic presidential campaign and endorsed Joe Biden.

The state of play: While she was one of the final three candidates left in the race, alongside Biden and Bernie Sanders, the Hawaii congresswoman failed to gain traction in any primary and hadn’t qualified for a debate since last year.

  • She did pick up two delegates in the caucuses in American Samoa, where she was born.

What she’s saying: “I know Vice President Biden and his wife and am grateful to have called his son Beau, who also served in the National Guard, a friend. Although I may not agree with the vice president on every issue, I know that he has a good heart and is motivated by his love for our country and the American people,” she said in a campaign email.

  • “I’m confident that he will lead our country guided by the spirit of aloha — respect and compassion — and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.”
  • “Today, I’m suspending my presidential campaign, and offering my full support to Vice President Joe Biden in his quest to bring our country together.”

Worth noting: In February 2016, Gabbard quit as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee in order to endorse Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

The big picture: An Iraq War veteran and member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, she entered the race with a complicated record, especially on foreign policy, and had long been a favorite of fringe voices on the right, who often amplified her comments via social media.

  • She met with President Trump during his transition and joined Republicans in promoting the use of the phrase “radical Islam.”
  • secret trip to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in January 2017 resulted in further backlash against Gabbard, who dubbed the trip a “fact-finding” mission.
  • She later voted “present” on Trump’s impeachment in December, going against the overwhelming majority in her party.

Flashback: Gabbard made waves after Hillary Clinton suggested that she was a “favorite of the Russians.”

  • Several of Gabbard’s fellow 2020 competitors came to her defense, as did Trump.

By [Axios]

Bernie Sanders Reassessing, But Not Suspending, Campaign After Recent Primary Losses

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is reassessing his presidential campaign ahead of the next primary contest on April 4, his campaign says.

But the Vermont senator is not dropping out of the race, a claim the campaign had to squash after a flurry of Twitter activity Wednesday.

“The next primary contest is at least three weeks away,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.”

The statement comes a day after Sanders lost all three states competing on Tuesday – Arizona, Illinois and Florida. Former Vice President Joe Biden won those states overwhelmingly, winning every single county in Florida and almost all the counties in Illinois.

Several hours later, though, some reporters began tweeting that news site Axios was reporting Sanders was ending his presidential campaign. However, the article on the Axios site said the senator was suspending Facebook ads only.

Mike Casca, communications director for Sanders, said in a statement that “the tweet about an Axios ‘report’ is wrong.”

“He’s not suspending,” Casca continued. “Nothing has changed since this morning’s statement.”

Sanders does not have any active advertisements on Facebook and has not scheduled any TV ads after this past Tuesday, according to Advertising Analytics.

During the March 10 primaries, Sanders only won North Dakota and lost several states that he had won in 2016, including Washington and Michigan.

Last month, Sanders was seen as the front-runner, leading in national polling and delegates. However, Biden’s campaign was reenergized following his blowout win in South Carolina on Feb. 29. Since then, Biden has bested Sanders in many key primary states this month and has jumped to the lead in delegates.

Biden stole the race on Super Tuesday, where he swept the South and beat Sanders in states that the former vice president didn’t even campaign in. The wins shocked pundits as Biden was down in much of state polling ahead of those elections. Ahead of Super Tuesday, Biden was endorsed by former Democratic opponents Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Biden has 1,153 delegates while Sanders has  861.

Sanders will likely have a hard time moving forward to close the gap in delegates against Biden.

Shakir says that “in the immediate term,” Sanders is “focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable.”

Biden is also trying to appeal to Sanders voters. In remarks Tuesday evening, the former vice president said the two “share a common vision” and that Sanders and his supporters have “shifted the fundamental conversation in this country.”

“Let me just say to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders: I hear you. I know what’s at stake,” Biden said.

By Rebecca Morin [USA Today]

Weld Ends Long-shot Bid for GOP Nomination

Bill Weld ended his quixotic primary campaign against President Donald Trump on Wednesday after winning only a single delegate in the 2020 contest.

“While I am suspending my candidacy, I want to be clear that I am not suspending my commitment to the nation and to the democratic institutions that set us apart,” Weld wrote in an email to supporters.

Weld, the former two-term Massachusetts governor, pitched himself as an anti-Trump, pro-choice former prosecutor who supported cutting taxes and combating climate change. He backed Trump’s impeachment, and was among a handful of Republicans who ran for the nomination and dropped out over the course of the election cycle.

Weld won a single delegate in Iowa, but had trouble competing with Trump’s popularity among the GOP base. Weld was also hampered by Republican rules that use a winner-take-all formula to award delegates, including in his native Massachusetts.

Weld’s exit from the race means Trump is now the party’s presumptive nominee — though it was never really in doubt. Trump amassed the number of delegates needed to win the party’s nomination on Tuesday night after polls closed in Illinois, Arizona and Florida.

“Nobody motivates our base more than President Trump, as evidenced by the historic turnout we’ve seen in state after state this primary season,” said RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “[We] are thrilled to have President Trump as our party’s presumptive nominee once again.”

Weld ran for vice president as a Libertarian in 2016, alongside former presidential candidate Gary Johnson. In the days leading up to the general election in 2016, Weld encouraged voters to choose Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump. The former Massachusetts governor re-registered as a Republican in 2019 to run for president.

Announcing the end of his campaign, Weld thanked his “tens of thousands of supporters and donors.”

“I am intensely grateful to all the patriotic women and men who have stood with me and supported me during the past eleven months in our effort to bring better government to Washington, D.C.,” Weld said.

By Stephanie Murray [POLITICO]

Biden, Sanders Take Aim at Trump Over Coronavirus: ‘Incompetence and Recklessness’

In a direct rebuttal to President Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders delivered somber, and at times searing, speeches Thursday slamming the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and detailing how they believe the government should be responding to the crisis.

“If there ever was a time in the modern history of our country where we are all in this together, this is that moment,” Sanders said in Burlington, Vermont, after suggesting the death toll may exceed that of American service members during World War II. “Now is the time for solidarity.”

Earlier, in an address from his hometown, Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said, “Downplaying it, being overly dismissive or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease.”

“But neither should we panic, or fall back on xenophobia,” he said. “Labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration.”

The two candidates spoke the day after Trump addressed the nation as his administration seeks to quickly mitigate the virus’ impact on public health and financial markets.

Biden’s speech was the first he’s made since he emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in a campaign in which he has overtly suggested to the American public that he’s better prepared than Trump to handle a crisis as commander in chief.

And he did not shy away from offering policy prescriptions — and taking on Trump.

“Let me be crystal clear. The coronavirus does not have a political affiliation. It will infect Republicans, independents and Democrats alike. And it will not discriminate based on national origin, race, gender or ZIP code,” he said.

Biden added that “this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration.”

“Public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this president fueled by adversarial relationships with the truth that he continues to have,” he said.

Biden’s plan to combat coronavirus would include free testing for the virus and the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for the disease the virus causes, his campaign said in a statement released while he was speaking.

And amid the rapid spread of the virus — a pandemic that has caused the stock market to plummet and sporting leagues to suspend their seasons — Biden used his speech Thursday to assert his qualifications to be president.

Sanders, meanwhile, said there is an “absolute moral imperative that our response as a government, as a society, as a business community and as individual citizens meet the enormity of this crisis.”

The senator from Vermont railed against the Trump administration’s “incompetence and recklessness,” which he said has “threatened the lives of many people in our country.”

He called on Trump to declare a national emergency and convene a bipartisan authority of experts to lead the response, which should be based “first and foremost on science and fact.”

Now, Sanders said, is the “time for transparency and honesty and being straightforward.”

Reiterating his support for “Medicare for All,” Sanders said everyone in the country “must be able to get all of the health care they need without cost,” that emergency funding must be passed for paid sick leave and that the U.S. must make sure it is using the latest and most effective testing possible, among other prescriptions, such as a moratorium on evictions.

“We need to make sure that in the future … we build a health care system that makes sure every person in this country is guaranteed the health care they need,” Sanders said.

Both candidates have, in recent days, taken Trump to task over his handling of the crisis. Biden’s message has zeroed in on the administration’s response, highlighting his experience in the Obama administration, while Sanders has argued that his progressive agenda, including programs like Medicare for All, is more necessary than ever in light of the health scare.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Rebecca Katz, a progressive strategist, pointed to exit polling in recent Democratic primaries showing majority support for Medicare for All, telling NBC News the crisis “is now a way to explain to everybody else who may have doubts why it’s so important that we need to do more, we need to do better for our people.”

Universal health care and paid sick leave “are very important” in the context of this moment, she added.

Biden and Sanders have canceled in-person campaign events in light of the crisis, and Biden has announced the formation of a public health advisory committee to assist his campaign with responding to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

Political communication experts told NBC News those moves suggest Biden is attempting to seize on the disorder created by the pandemic.

“In this case, this is not just about communication. It’s also about public health. And your responsibility as a political leader is not only to send the message to the public, it’s to serve as an example to the public,” said Jennifer Glover Konfrst, a professor of strategic political communication at Drake University,in Des Moines, Iowa.

Trump, in contrast, has come under increasing fire in recent weeks over his response to the pandemic while his administration has come under enormous criticism for the lack of coronavirus testing being done compared with other countries, something both candidate’s pointed to in their addresses Thursday.

In addition to having insisted for weeks that he had the outbreak under control, Trump also propagated personal beliefs about the coronavirus that contradict those of veteran health officials and experts.

Health officials in recent days have sounded the alarm, warning the public that the outbreak is likely to get worse. Many major public events, including all NBA, NHL, MLS and MLB preseason games and Broadway shows, have been canceled this week, and Thursday saw the Dow’s worst day since the 1987 crash.

As panic began to set in, Trump tried to quell the fears of Americans across the country by giving a speech from the Oval Office on Wednesday night. He announced that he would ban many foreign travelers from Europe for the next 30 days and offered a series of economic relief actions to help workers and companies deal with the outbreak. But his speech was met with swift pushback after he misstated several aspects of the policy and failed to propose any new action to combat the outbreak domestically.

Meanwhile, voters have seemed to express a growing sense of trust in Biden’s ability to handle a crisis — even before Biden made his latest moves.

An NBC News exit poll on Super Tuesday found that Biden was the candidate of choice of nearly half of those who rated the outbreak as an important factor, above Sanders. And a Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday showed that 49 percent of registered voters across the U.S. said they disapproved of Trump’s response to the coronavirus. Forty-three percent said they approved.

Philippe Reines, a former senior adviser to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, told NBC News that Biden’s experience in the previous administration gives him “a real leg up” on the issue.

By Adam Edelman and Allan Smith [NBC]


Outside Bernie Sanders’ rally in Minnesota last week, Americans were bracing for coronavirus outbreak—something public health officials had warned was imminent. But inside St. Paul’s Roy Wilkins Auditorium, it was mostly political business as usual: 6,000 Sanders supporters packed into the venue to see the Vermont progressive; media converged to cover the senator; and Ilhan Omar, one of the candidate’s top surrogates, called on the crowd to hold hands.

To this point, Sanders, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump, for whom boisterous rallies are a staple, have campaigned as usual, despite the spread of Covid-19, which is prompting major companies and universities to operate remotely. But as the novel virus continues to spread across the United States, it is threatening to upend both the presidential race and the election process as a whole, just as it has done with global markets. In Washington state, where voters cast primary ballots this week, and other upcoming contests, officials are considering how to run an election amid concerns about community spread. Candidates—all of whom are in their 70s, leaving them more vulnerable to severe impacts of the virus—are being confronted with questions about if and how they will adapt their campaigns to account for the Covid-19 threat. And the public health issue has already begun morphing into a political issue for the president, whose handling of the mounting crisis has been marred by chaos and confusion.

Washington, which votes by mail Tuesday, is considering how its primary could worsen the spread of the virus; the Evergreen State has been the nation’s hardest hit. “We’re telling all of the people who handle incoming ballots to use gloves,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman told the New York Times. “We’ve also had a recommendation from National Guard: ‘Folks, you might consider masks.’” Other upcoming primary states, including Illinois, which just confirmed its seventh case, will likely have to make similar preparations. And, should coronavirus fail to “miraculously” disappear later this spring, as Trump has predicted, the ordeal could present significant challenges during the general election. “We don’t have a plan for what happens if a part of the country faces a disruption on a presidential Election Day,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine law school, told the Times. “What if one part of the country is affected, if it’s California or Florida?”

Beyond the logistical headaches coronavirus could cause, it may also change the way candidates campaign, potentially forcing candidates to forgo rallies, handshakes, and other typical features of politicking. That could most hurt Trump and Sanders, who thrive among their ardent supporters in rally settings. Those candidates, along with Biden, have suggested they will keep holding large-scale public events. “I’m not concerned at all,” Trump said Saturday when asked about coronavirus concerns. “Right now, we’re running as hard as we can,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We’re listening to the experts at the CDC and doing everything they recommend,” Biden said at a campaign stop.

All that, of course, could change. Across the globe, hard-hit countries like China, where the virus originated, and Italy, which has the most cases outside of Asia, have taken drastic measures to combat the spread, including banning large public gatherings. The U.S. has not yet required such measures, but some high profile events, like South by Southwest in Austin, have been canceled amid spiking fears. The possibility of more cancellations has loomed as additional cases crop up—including a man who attended the same conservative conference last month Trump and other high profile Republicans. The White House has said the president did not interact with the man at CPAC, but Senator Ted Cruz and and Representative Paul Gosar did, and are now in self-quarantine.

With concerns about the administration’s preparedness continuing to mount, and the stock market Trump has long touted as his signature achievement going haywire, the president’s bumbling response to the crisis could become a major barrier to his reelection. “The administration didn’t see this coming,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said Sunday. “This president has created a culture of misinformation in which no one wants to give him bad news. And that created a disincentive in the White House and in the administration to come up with an early test.”

By Eric Lutz [Vanity Fair]