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Biden Wins, Sanders Lags: Naomi Klein & Alicia Garza on Calls to Shut Down Primaries & Debates

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Former Vice President Joe Biden scored decisive primary victories Tuesday night in the key state of Michigan, along with Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho. Sanders won North Dakota and holds a lead in Washington state, but votes are still being counted, and the races are still too close to call. While Biden is less than halfway to the delegates he would need to secure the Democratic nomination, Sanders faces a decision about whether to continue his increasingly uphill fight for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. This comes as Biden and Sanders called off their planned campaign rallies in Cleveland on Tuesday because of concerns over the coronavirus, which continues to spread, and Trump announced a new rally. We speak with Naomi Klein, senior correspondent at The Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University, and Alicia Garza, strategy and partnerships director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, principal at the Black Futures Lab and a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Former Vice President Joe Biden scored decisive primary victories Tuesday night in the key state of Michigan, along with Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho. Sanders holds leads in North Dakota and Washington state, but votes are still being counted, and the races are still too close to call. While Biden is less than halfway to the delegates he would need to secure the Democratic nomination, he declared victory during a speech in Philadelphia.

JOE BIDEN: Just over a week ago, many of the pundits declared that this candidacy was dead. Now we’re very much alive. … Although there’s a way to go, it looks like we’re going to have another good night. … And I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion. We share a common goal, and together we’ll defeat Donald Trump. We’ll defeat him together.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As Biden appealed to the supporters of his rival, Bernie Sanders returned to his home in Vermont Tuesday night and did not make a public statement. But one of his most prominent supporters, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, expressed her disappointment on Instagram.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, there’s no sugarcoating it. Tonight’s a tough night. Tonight’s a tough night for the movement overall.

AMY GOODMAN: Less than two weeks after losing his front-runner status, Sanders faces a decision about whether to continue his increasingly uphill fight for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. South Carolina Congressmember Jim Clyburn, the number three House Democrat who earlier helped lead Biden to victory in South Carolina with his impassioned endorsement of him, told NPR if Sanders did not win more delegates, then it’s time to, quote, “shut this primary down,” apparently suggesting the Democratic National Committee should cancel future debates, like the one scheduled this Sunday.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: I think we will be at a point where Joe Biden will be the prohibitive nominee of the party. And I think the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, should then step in, make an assessment and determine whether or not they ought to have any more debates.

AMY GOODMAN: As the primary results came, longtime Democratic Party strategist James Carville claimed on MSNBC that Biden’s success means it’s now time to end the Democratic primaries.

JAMES CARVILLE: This is all about November. These voters want to shut this thing down. I mean, you can just look all across the spectrum of the Democratic Party and people saying, “We made our decision. This is who we’re going with.” … Let’s shut this puppy down, and let’s move on and worry about November. This thing is decided. There’s no reason to keep it going but not even a day longer.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as Biden and Sanders called off their planned campaign rallies in Cleveland on Tuesday night because of concerns over the coronavirus, which continues to spread. In contrast, President Trump announced his plans last night to launch a “Catholics for Trump” coalition at a rally on March 19th in Milwaukee, where the Democratic National Convention is set to take place in July, if in fact it does.

For more, we’re joined by Naomi Klein, senior correspondent at The Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University, which looks like it’s going online. Her new book is titled On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. Alicia Garza is also with us, strategy and partnerships director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, principal at the Black Futures Lab, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. She’s joining us from Berkeley, California.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Naomi, let’s begin with you. And we’re spending the hour — in a little while we’ll be joined by the president of the National Nurses United union, and we’re going to talk about both the primaries, coronavirus, what the pandemic means. But this latest quotes that we’re hearing right now, after Super Tuesday 2 finished last night, of, as Carville put it, “shut[ting] this puppy down,” and Clyburn, the South Carolina congressman, calling on the DNC to end the primaries with Biden’s lead at this point, your thoughts?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think that it is part of a reckless pattern of trying to keep Joe Biden away from voters. And ever since there has been this air of inevitability — and it’s a short period of time, remember. You know, we are living in dog years now, but it was really just a little bit more than a week ago, after his win in South Carolina, where we saw this extremely orchestrated show of unity from the Democratic Party. It was almost like a mini convention — right? — with Amy Klobuchar, with Pete Buttigieg, with Hillary Clinton. It really was like “We are united as a party behind this candidate,” after he had won one primary and lost badly the three previous ones.

So, since that time, there’s not been a debate. There has been very, very controlled media access. And now, on the eve of the moment when Joe Biden, who absolutely had a very good night last night — and as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, there’s no sugarcoating this. There are real issues that the Sanders campaign has to address, but it deserves this opportunity to put the very different platforms to voters in the midst of a health crisis, an economic crisis, a deepening and spiraling xenophobia crisis. We need to debate the issues. And everybody who is talking about shutting it down in unity are talking about protecting their candidate from voters. And Donald Trump is not going to shut any puppies down. He is going to go after Joe Biden with the gloves off. And I know it was very popular to say a while back that Bernie Sanders has not been vetted. Look, Joe Biden, before that fateful primary in South Carolina, had been written off by many of the pundits who are now saying that he is inevitable. So it has been months since we have put real scrutiny on this candidate with the full spotlight of a presidential debate, and we absolutely have to do it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Naomi, I wanted to ask you, in terms of — I agree with you completely that the establishment consolidated behind Joe Biden at almost lightning speed, which I think should have been something expected by the progressive movement, because they clearly were not going to give Bernie Sanders a clear ride to the nomination. But I wanted to ask you about the vote in Michigan specifically. From what I can tell, and I’m just doing the rough count on this, there were at least 1.5 million people who voted in Michigan last night. That’s about a 50% increase over the votes from 2016. So there is definitely enthusiasm by the electorate to get involved in the political process. The interesting thing to me was that, from what I can tell, Bernie Sanders’s vote increased by 7,000 votes. In other words, he basically got the same number of votes this time that he got last time. Now, it could have been —

AMY GOODMAN: And he won last time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he won last time, but because it was a much lower turnout, that’s why Hillary Clinton ended up getting defeated. Now, Michigan was an open primary, so that means that independents and Republicans could vote, as well. So, it could have been that there was a shift in people who joined last time to vote against Hillary Clinton and then this time decided to stay out. But there clearly seems to be an indication that Bernie Sanders has solid support but is not growing his support from beyond his previous numbers. I’m wondering what you’re thinking about what the campaign needs to do to change its strategy in the remaining primaries.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, there is no doubt that they have to do much more to reach out to older voters, in particular older African-American voters, but across the board. I mean, Bernie Sanders’s campaign has been a youth-led campaign. It is strong in certain communities, in really quite remarkable ways. In the Latino community, we saw it very strongly in Nevada. In Michigan, we also saw extraordinary support in the Muslim community, which is a story that I think is quite a beautiful story, that we have this first Jewish presidential candidate who actually has a chance, and he has this amazing base of support in the Muslim community. That’s a story that we should be telling. That’s a story we should be celebrating. But that isn’t the story that we’ve been reading in the papers and hearing talked about on television.

But there is no doubt that this is a campaign that needs to do more to reach voters who are feeling really scared and are reaching for something familiar, something that feels solid, and are afraid of taking a risk. The message that Sanders is riskier than Biden is a message that has gotten through in the press. Here’s the truth, Juan. Both candidates carry risks. And I say this as somebody who strongly supports Bernie Sanders. There’s no doubt that there are risks associated with a candidate who has described himself as a democratic socialist for years. It is also true, that we know from 2016, that it is risky to have a candidate who is associated with all of the neoliberal baggage of the Democratic Party, a candidate who has lied repeatedly, who is confused repeatedly, who has all these other risks. So let’s have a real conversation about risks and make the case to the American public about which candidate offers not just — everyone carries risks, but who offers the most promise, right? And we haven’t had that debate yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there is supposed to be a debate on Sunday night, supposed to take place in Phoenix. And the Biden and the Sanders campaign were arguing about how it should be carried out, sitting or standing. Sanders also didn’t want it to be a town hall format, which the DNC and CNN were pushing for, the idea of people in the audience asking questions, as well. He wanted it head to head. But now there will be no audience because of the coronavirus.

But I wanted to bring Alicia Garza into this conversation. Again, we’re going to be talking with her not only about the primaries, but also about this time in which they are taking place, primaries in a time of coronavirus. But, Alicia Garza, last night, when these statements were coming out of Congressmember Clyburn and James Carville and others, you tweeted, “This is very disturbing. Especially because that’s not how any of this is supposed to work. I couldn’t [disagree] more. Keep the debates, and make sure that the issues that Black people care about are being discussed. And also, Biden needs to work for these votes.” Now, you have been a supporter of Elizabeth Warren. Naomi is a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Talk about your reaction last night. And I should add, by the way, as we’re speaking now, North Dakota has just been called for Bernie Sanders, his first victory of Super Tuesday night. Vice President has won four states, and they’re neck and neck in Washington state, though Bernie Sanders — that was a totally mail-in state, and people were encouraged to not lick their stamps, and the people who were opening those envelopes all had to wear gloves because of the coronavirus. But he is neck and neck, but ahead of Biden in Washington state. Alicia?

ALICIA GARZA: I could not agree more that last night was a challenging and, in some ways, disappointing evening. What’s real is that when we’re talking about the Democratic National Convention, we need to make sure that we are literally ensuring the integrity of the process. And the integrity of the process is not about skipping steps. It’s about letting voters hear from candidates about the issues that are important to us. And the reality is, the last few debates that we’ve had have been full of candidates. And frankly, I think a lot of voters felt like confused about where people stood on issues that mattered to them. And then, of course, there were lots of skirmishes that were happening between candidates, as well. One of my favorites, of course, was Elizabeth Warren literally ethering Mayor Michael Bloomberg around his record with women and his record on the economy.

But beyond that, I think what’s real is that we are seeing, sure, that there are a lot of voters who are turning out to make their preferences heard. And I think we have to be a lot clearer about the message that black voters are sending. Some of this is about trust. Some of this is about fear. Some of this is about beating Donald Trump. But I think that this is also about a level of familiarity. And in that level of familiarity, I think one of the things that black voters — and, of course, we’re not a monolith, but one of the things that black communities stand to lose by following such a recommendation as the one that Representative Clyburn made last night is that we don’t actually get to litigate the candidates who are left on the issues that are important to us. I don’t know about you, but I’m not totally clear: What is Joe Biden’s policy platform? And how does that relate to improving the lives of black communities across this country, including the one that I live in? That is what these debates are for.

And that is what this party is for, quite frankly. It’s not to skip steps, rush process. It is to make sure that voters not only feel informed about what these candidates are saying they’re going to do to represent us, but it’s also an opportunity to push candidates on issues that they haven’t spoken about. And thirdly, it’s an opportunity to shape the issues that come out of the party itself. We all know that what happens at the DNC in July is not just choosing a nominee. It’s actually choosing the platform and the program for the party as a whole over the next four years.

And so, I would say we deserve much better than a rushed process that presumes somebody to be the nominee that, frankly, I think a lot of voters are still questioning: What are your policy positions? What is your platform? And what are the things that you are going to do to represent us, knowing that we’re not going back to an Obama White House, that we are going into, hopefully, a post-Trump White House, which is a very different political landscape? And I think black voters, in particular, especially as we’ve turned out and shaped contests across this country, we really do deserve to hear more about what you’re going to do to advance the issues that I think all of us care about — the issues of healthcare, the issues of community safety and security, the issues of climate change and what’s happening in our environment all around us, the issues of low wages that are keeping families from being able to support themselves.

And, of course, you’re right that we now are moving into a period where we are also fighting a global pandemic. And we’re doing so under an administration that has proven itself to be incredibly incompetent in terms of not only mitigating the challenges, but also projecting a forward vision. And so, as a result, there are more than a thousand cases of people across this country who have fallen ill, and we still don’t have enough tests, don’t have enough medical equipment and, frankly, don’t have enough protections for the workers who are taking care of people who are sick. So there’s a lot at stake in this next season, and I would hope that we didn’t follow that model.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Alicia, I wanted to ask you about the situation — the vote last night in Washington. Some of the NBC — the exit polls from NBC indicate that not only was there a sharp gender divide in the vote, with Biden getting substantially more votes from women than men, but that also the late-breaking voters, many of the Elizabeth Warren middle-class white women broke for Biden at the end. I’m wondering your sense, since you were a backer of Elizabeth Warren, whether, from your perspective, it was the right call for her to not make an endorsement, to sit out this portion of the Democratic primaries, and your sense of how that affected her supporters.

ALICIA GARZA: I want to be really clear: I think the progressive movement missed a big opportunity to unite behind both Warren and Sanders in a front that would have pushed a progressive nominee into the convention. And so, we always knew that, at least from my perspective, that Elizabeth Warren was a coalition candidate and was able to actually bring together many different segments of the Democratic Party, which is necessary to win. What is also necessary to win is the movement that Bernie Sanders and his campaign have built, with newer voters and younger voters and more diverse voters. And those factions actually needed to come together to unite against a status quo candidate, and we have not taken advantage of that opportunity.

With that being said, I think now voters are choosing where they want to go, and they’re choosing between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Some of Elizabeth Warren’s supporters have broken towards Bernie Sanders, and others have broken towards Joe Biden. I think the bigger conversation is: What will the progressive movement do moving forward? It’s fully voters’ prerogative to decide who they think is the best candidate, and that actually has more to do with the organizing of those campaigns, I think, than it does anything else. And so, again, when we see women breaking for a particular candidate, when we see African Americans breaking for a particular candidate, this is something for us to be paying attention to, mostly in terms of thinking through how is our message — right? — not only reaching these various constituencies — and the Sanders campaign has done, I think, an excellent job of trying to reach folks who have been feeling disaffected and disengaged and left behind. And I think what this primary process has shown us is that there are many different factions that have to be united in order to secure victory. And I think our progressive movement has some real reflection to do about which factions got left behind that I think are now breaking for Joe Biden.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I absolutely agree with Alicia that there is — there was a coalition that could have won, a progressive coalition, and that could still win, but obviously the chances are much slimmer. And so, it is painful to be that close and realize that we didn’t do it. And, I mean, I will say, as somebody for whom, you know, Elizabeth Warren was my second choice, I would have — if she had won, I would have gladly worked my butt off for her. It is, to me, a tremendous lost opportunity and a bit of a heartbreak that she did not come forward in the face of that kind of ruthless show of unity that we saw from the Democratic candidates who are more associated with the corporate wing of the party backing Joe Biden. We needed that from the candidates who were running on Medicare for All, who were running on a Green New Deal, who were running against the criminalization of migration. We needed them to stand with us, and we still do. We still do.

And I want to be very clear: I am not saying that Elizabeth Warren owes this to Bernie Sanders. I agree with all the people saying she doesn’t owe anything to Bernie Sanders. I do believe that as an elected politician who ran on a platform of Medicare for All, of a Green New Deal, of standing up for migrant rights and standing up against racism and standing up for women’s rights, that she owes it to those issues, because she has spent her political career attacking so much of what Joe Biden stands for. And if her critique of Bernie Sanders is that he doesn’t get things done as well as she does, I would have loved for her to say, “OK, now I’m going to help you get things done.” And I know that our movement would have welcomed her with open arms. So, I really reject the idea that it is some kind of anti-feminist issue to say to Elizabeth Warren, “We need you to stand with us,” because it is not about Bernie. People in this movement are not fighting for Bernie Sanders. They’re fighting for Medicare for All. They’re fighting for a Green New Deal. They are fighting for the issues that they need to survive.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. We’re going to come back to this discussion and so much more, especially as we conduct this broadcast in the midst of this time of the coronavirus pandemic. And we are also going to be joined by the president of National Nurses United. Naomi Klein is with us, senior correspondent at The Intercept. She is professor of media, culture, and feminist studies at Rutgers University, where Juan is also a professor. And, Juan, is the university yet online and the school itself closed?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, classes will stop tomorrow, and then, after spring break, we’ll be going online. Plus, all of the students have been urged to leave the dormitories, as well. So there’s basically going to be a shutdown of the campus, for the most part.

AMY GOODMAN: And fascinatingly, here in New York, it looks like most of the private colleges have gone online, have closed, like, oh, Columbia and Barnard and NYU. CUNY, there’s just massive petitions online saying, “Why haven’t you also let us go online?” We’ll see what happens today. Alicia Garza also is our guest, with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, particularly significant now during the coronavirus, with Black Futures Lab and the Black Lives Matter Global Network. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Halftime” (instrumental) by Nas. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue now to look at the 2020 presidential race that is unfolding in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden scored decisive primary victories in four states, including the key state of Michigan. His rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, won in North Dakota, and votes are still being counted in Washington state. Biden is still less than halfway to the delegates count he would need to secure the Democratic nomination.

AMY GOODMAN: While campaigning in Michigan ahead of the primary, Senator Sanders touted his trade policy credentials, attacked Biden for supporting international trade deals like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Today, I think, as we’re down to a two-person race, that the people of Michigan understand that there are very substantive differences between Joe Biden and myself. Here in Michigan, where trade agreements have been so devastating in the loss of over 100,000 good-paying jobs — Joe Biden voted for NAFTA. He voted for PNTR with China. I helped lead the opposition to those disastrous trade agreements. In terms of foreign policy judgment, Joe Biden voted for the War in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country. We led the opposition against that war. In terms of looking to the future, I happen to believe, and I’ve believed for years, that healthcare is a human right for all, not just a privilege for the wealthy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we continue with The Intercept's Naomi Klein, a professor at Rutgers University, and Alicia Garza, strategy and partnerships director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network. Naomi, let's begin with you on this issue of trade, and take it beyond that. I mean, right now we’re in a time when the Dow has tanked, where this oil war is taking place between Saudi Arabia and Russia. People are talking about disaster capitalism.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, well, this is — we are seeing that. We are seeing this very predictable process that we see in the midst of every economic crisis, which is extreme corporate opportunism, of sort of dusting off whatever the wish list is, whether it’s privatizing Social Security, whether it’s handouts for the fossil — more handouts for the fossil fuel industry. And so, in the face of this economic crisis, market crisis, the crash in the price of oil, and, of course, the health crisis, the Trump administration is not solving the crisis. What they’re doing is what they always do, which is talking to lobbyists and asking them, “What do you want?” And so we’re seeing bailouts for the airline industry, bailouts for the cruise industry, bailouts for the hotel industry, Trump’s own industry, it must be said. So this underlines this issue that we have had throughout this administration, which is that we have a sitting president who has not divested from his corporate empire, and he has continued to profit from the presidency, but now we are seeing a bailout for his own sector. He is in an absolutely direct conflict of interest.

Now we’re seeing, with the Saudi-orchestrated very dramatic drop in the price of oil, this basically makes domestic oil, the overwhelming majority of domestic oil production, gas production in North America, uneconomic, because so much of it is deep water drilling, tight oil, fracking, tar sands oil in Canada. All of this is predicated on higher prices. And so, this sector was already in crisis. The fracking industry was already dealing with a debt crisis, because it already — the price of oil was already too low. Now that it’s around $30 a barrel, it’s completely uneconomic. And so now we’re hearing talk of directly bailing out the fossil fuel sector.

What I think is worth noting about all of this is that these are the companies at the heart of the climate crisis, right? And so, one of the things that’s happening — and this is why we so desperately need the debate, to tie it in with what we were talking about earlier — is, you know, while it is true that a bunch of losing candidates in the Democratic primary have endorsed Joe Biden, reality keeps endorsing Bernie Sanders. That is true for Medicare for All, and we’re going to be hearing from NNU and Alicia Garza more on that, because it is the care sector, it is nurses and home care workers, who are on the frontlines of this crisis, and we are seeing the living argument for why we need everybody to have health insurance, everybody to have paid sick leave. But instead of that, we have the Trump administration talking about cutting the payroll tax, which of course is a backdoor way of cutting Social Security and then privatizing Social Security. So it is extremely relevant that Joe Biden has a decades-long track record of trying to cut Social Security in a bipartisan way.

But more importantly, Juan, or just as importantly, the Green New Deal is an economic stimulus. If we need an economic stimulus, let’s have an economic stimulus. But instead of bailing out the companies at the heart of the climate crisis, why wouldn’t we stimulate the parts of our economy that will bring us to real safety? Right? This is why we need to talk about what is real risk here. And so, this is the moment to talk about all of these core issues at the heart of the progressive platform, whether it was Sanders or Warren — Medicare for All, Green New Deal, attacking economic precarity — all of it — rights of workers, the right to unionize, which is also a big part of why workers are going to work sick, spreading the virus and so on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Naomi, you mentioned the proposed payroll tax cut, but that would be a way of selling this to the American public in general as a temporary tax cut, which obviously drives up even more the trillion-dollar deficit — 


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — but at the same time then providing these bailouts that will last long beyond the temporary tax cut.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, exactly. Look, if we’re worried about people’s ability to pay their bills, there are much more direct ways to offer relief. I mean, in Italy, they have just suspended mortgage payments, for instance, in the midst of the virus outbreak. So there are more direct ways of helping people than this very clear backdoor way of going after Social Security, because if you deplete the financing of the program, then a few months from now or a year from now, that becomes the excuse: “Sorry, we created a crisis. We have no choice. We have to cut it.” And that’s why we need to be looking very carefully at the candidates right now.

AMY GOODMAN: The Intercept's and Rutgers University professor Naomi Klein. When we come back, again we will be joined by Alicia Garza, and we'll be joined by the president of the National Nurses United, Jean Ross. Stay with us.

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