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Wake Up To Politics - February 25, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, February 25, 2020. 4 days until the South Carolina primary. 252 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Democrats telegraph plans to attack Sanders ahead of debate

Last week's Democratic presidential debate in Nevada was everybody vs. Bloomberg. The sequel tonight in South Carolina, it seems, will be everybody vs. Sanders.

After months of mostly avoiding direct attacks from his rivals while steadily rising to the top of the field, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is likely to receive the frontrunner treatment at tonight's debate, which comes after his commanding victory in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

The leading issue Sanders is expected to face: his recent praise of the late communist leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro. "We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad," he said in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired on Sunday. "You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?"

Sanders' interview — which echoed decades of favorable commentary about repressive, leftist regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia — sparked immediate controversy. Two Florida Democratic congresswoman criticized his remarks, including Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who called them "absolutely unacceptable." And a trio of Sanders' centrist rivals for the Democratic presidential nod, who had largely shied away from rebuking him until recently, issued responses.

"After four years of looking on in horror as Trump cozied up to dictators, we need a president who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad," Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said in a tweet on Monday. "We can't risk nominating someone who doesn't recognize this.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also blasted Sanders for his Castro comments in a similarly scathing tweet, while the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden released a statement casting the Vermont senator's remarks as "part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe."

Sanders defended himself at a CNN town hall on Monday night: "The truth is the truth," he insisted. "And that's what happened in the first years of the Castro regime." (Sanders also claimed that the lawmakers who had criticized him were supporting other Democratic candidates, although they have remained neutral in the primary.)

The Vermont senator will likely face a barrage of attacks on other fronts tonight as well. According to Politico, Bloomberg — who was universally panned after his debate stage debut last week — is preparing to "launch a fusillade at Sanders" in his repeat performance tonight, as his campaign plans a "media onslaught" against Sanders that kicked off with a digital ad slamming him on gun control.

Likewise, Biden's campaign has sent signals that they are gearing up for a clash with Sanders, releasing a spot of their own highlighting Sanders' ruminations about a primary challenge against then-President Barack Obama in 2012.

After months of being urged to do so by outside establishment groups, the Democratic presidential field is expected to gang up on Bernie Sanders for the first time in the South Carolina debate tonight. But after standing by as he amassed a delegate lead and a large, energetic, and diverse base of support, they also face the underlying question: is it too late?

The Rundown

Coronavirus update: "Stock markets tumbled around the world. The number of coronavirus cases mushroomed in advanced nations like Italy, Japan and South Korea. And travel bans expanded as leaders confronted the nightmarish prospect of a spreading virus swallowing their nations."

"President Donald Trump’s top aides faced an increasingly urgent threat Monday with potentially monumental implications: a global outbreak knocking down the U.S. economy and walloping markets in an election year, all against accusations about whether the Trump administration had mismanaged and underfunded a critical response with American lives on the line." (Politico)

--- "The White House on Monday sent lawmakers an urgent $2.5 billion plan to address the deadly coronavirus outbreak, whose rapid spread and threat to the global economy rocked financial markets. . . Democrats said the request was insufficient and that Trump’s attempt to go after existing Ebola prevention funding was dead on arrival." (Associated Press)

Trump vs. Sotomayor and Ginsburg: "President Donald Trump doubled down on his criticism of two liberal Supreme Court justices on Tuesday, suggesting that the two should recuse themselves from any cases involving his administration because of their past statements about him and a Supreme Court dissent Trump viewed as critical of him." (USA Today)

--- Context: "Sotomayor issues scathing dissent in Supreme Court order that could reshape legal immigration" (CNN)

Latest SC poll: "Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are locked in a tight contest in South Carolina, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll ahead of the state's Democratic primary Saturday."

"Biden gets the support of 27 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, while Sanders gets 23 percent — well within the poll's margin of error of plus-minus 6 percentage points." (NBC News)


President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are in New Delhi, India. Overnight, he participated in a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace, participated in a wreath-laying and tree planting ceremony dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, delivered a joint press statement with Modi, participated in a social lunch with Modi, participated in a business roundtable, participated in an embassy meet and greet, and held a press availability.

Later today, he will participate in a courtesy call with Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and participate in a state banquet before departing New Delhi to return to the United States.

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Michigan to deliver remarks at the Michigan Farm Bureau Lansing Legislative Seminar in Lansing and at a Trump campaign event in Troy.

The Senate will hold procedural votes on two pieces of abortion-related legislation, a bill banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and a bill requiring doctors to attempt to save a child born after an abortion.

The chamber will also vote on confirmation of two district judge nominee and a nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Interior and hold a procedural vote on an additional district judge nominee.

The House will vote on five pieces of legislation related to veterans' affairs.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in United States vs. Sineneng-Smith.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, businessman Tom Steyer, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren will participate in the tenth Democratic presidential primary debate at The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina. The debate, which is being sponsored by CBS News, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and Twitter, will take place from 8 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. Eastern Time.

Another Democratic presidential candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, will campaign in Virginia. Former Gov. Bill Weld, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, will campaign in Massachusetts.

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