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News Brief: Super Tuesday, Coronavirus, Israel Elections


Today is Super Tuesday. People in 14 states will vote in Democratic primaries.


Right. And they are going to have fewer choices. The field of candidates is narrowing. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race after Saturday's primary in South Carolina. Then they both endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden at a rally last night in Dallas.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: I'm delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: I am ending my campaign and endorsing Joe Biden for president.


KING: NPR's Susan Davis is in Miami, Fla. She's traveling with Michael Bloomberg's campaign. Good morning, Sue.


KING: So what do those two endorsements mean for Joe Biden?

DAVIS: Well, it's certainly a good boost going into today's Super Tuesday contest. It certainly seems to be sending a message that the, quote-unquote, "establishment" is rallying behind Biden. On top of those two endorsements from his former rivals, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada came out and endorsed him. And he made the argument in his statement that Biden is the candidate that is in the best position to defeat Donald Trump.

I think that it's a good reminder that Bernie Sanders is still very competitive in a lot of these states, but it's shaping up to look more and more like a two-man race between Joe Biden and him.

KING: So how is Bernie Sanders responding to the endorsements?

DAVIS: Well, he happened to be in Amy Klobuchar's home state of Minnesota last night having his own rally. And this is what he said there.


BERNIE SANDERS: I want to open the door to Amy supporters, to Pete supporters.


SANDERS: I know that there are political differences, but I also know that virtually all of Amy's support and Pete's support understand that we have got to move toward a government which believes in justice, not greed.


DAVIS: Obviously, an olive branch there to their supporters. You know, I think those endorsements fit into the argument that Bernie Sanders has been making all along. He is the outsider. He's not from the establishment. And if you want dramatic change in this country, he's the only one that can do it. You know, he's also very well-positioned in two of the most important states today, California and Texas, home to millions of Latino voters, voters that he proved in Nevada that he can perform particularly well with.

KING: And then there are two more candidates that are certainly worth asking about, Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren. You are with the Bloomberg campaign right now. What are you hearing from them?

DAVIS: Well, today's a big test for Michael Bloomberg. He's running a strategy that has never worked in the modern era. He skipped all four early state contests. Today is the first time he will appear on the ballot in this race. He's run, essentially, a national campaign. And that's - he's been funded by his own personal fortune. He has spent, Noel, over $500 million...

KING: Wow.

DAVIS: ...In ads since he entered the race exactly 100 days ago from today. I've been traveling with the Bloomberg campaign in recent days. His strategy has really been to focus on states that other Democrats don't often have time to go to in primary contests - states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee.

I think he has to win in some combination of states to continue to make the case that he has a path to the nomination. He hinted on a Fox News town hall last night that the only way to it might be a contested convention. One thing we know for sure - he's always going to have the resources to stay in the race; he's never going to run out of money.

KING: And what about Elizabeth Warren? What is she doing at this point to set herself apart?

DAVIS: You know, she's indicating she's not getting out of the race anytime soon even though she's never had a strong showing in a contest so far. However, she continues to raise a bunch of money. Her campaign put out a memo following South Carolina that said that the path for her is probably also a contested convention. Her home state of Massachusetts is on the ballot today, too, but Bernie Sanders is doing pretty well there.

KING: OK. NPR's Susan Davis in Miami. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.


KING: There are now more than a hundred cases of coronavirus in this country.

MARTIN: Six people in Washington state have died from the virus, and there are questions about how well public health officials are responding.

KING: Ann Dornfeld is a reporter with member station KUOW. She's been covering this. Good morning, Ann.


KING: So this is a story that is developing quickly, particularly when we talk about numbers. What's the latest in the Seattle area? What's happening?

DORNFELD: Well, right. So six people with COVID-19 have died around Seattle. And there have been 18 confirmed cases overall here. More than 200 people are also under public health supervision due to possible exposure. So that means that public health officials are checking in with them often to monitor them for symptoms. Jeff Duchin is the health officer for Public Health - Seattle, King County. And he said at a press conference that it's really hard to know what guidance to give with such a new virus, like when to close schools or when to tell people to stay away from public places or social settings.


JEFF DUCHIN: There are so many unknowns in this outbreak right now. We don't know exactly when's the right time to implement. We don't know exactly how long do we need to keep schools closed or tell people they can't go to work. The idea is to lessen the impact. We know we can't prevent the outbreak.

KING: OK. So he's not speaking with a ton of confidence there, just pointing to the fact that there's a lot that is unknown. But I want to ask you specifically about schools because that means a lot to a lot of parents and to a lot of kids. What's been the response so far from the school districts there?

DORNFELD: Well, some school districts have already been closing schools for a day when a student or staff member is ill and awaiting test results or even if one of their family members of someone at the school has flu-like symptoms. So they typically wait to get test results. And in the meantime, they deep clean the school. Public health officials said that if someone did test positive in one of those schools, they'd have to make a call about when to reopen it.

Districts say that they are stepping up their daily sanitation practices, disinfecting school bus seats and doorknobs and desks and computers. They are encouraging students and staff to improve their hygiene. But one Seattle teacher I spoke to said that there really isn't enough time allotted in the schedule at her low-income school.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Even the mundane things like handwashing is not something that I feel we can even fit in considering the minute requirement that we have for each subject area.

DORNFELD: She said there's so much emphasis on maximizing instructional time that there's little time for much else. A Seattle school district spokesperson told me that the district is looking at building more time into school schedules during the outbreak for handwashing during the day. Meanwhile, in the northeast suburbs of Seattle, the Northshore School District has closed two schools in recent days due to possible COVID-19 cases or exposures. And on Monday, nearly one-third of all students in the district stayed home from school. Northshore Superintendent Michelle Reid said there were also nearly 70 unfilled substitute positions on Monday. More staff took the day off, and subs did, too.

MICHELLE REID: We're creatively covering classrooms and programs, but it's becoming increasingly challenging to do that in a safe way.

DORNFELD: Today all classes in that district are canceled for staff to get trained in how to teach remotely in the event that schools are closed for weeks or months.

KING: In the couple seconds that we have left, what do public officials - public health officials not know yet in terms of stopping the spread?

DORNFELD: They really want to figure out how quickly the virus spreads in different settings so they can make their advice about when to stay home and when to close schools and public settings.

KING: Yeah, that makes sense. Ann Dornfeld of member station KUOW, thanks so much for your reporting.

DORNFELD: You're welcome.


KING: Israel has had three national elections in less than a year. That's because no candidate has been able to assemble a majority in parliament.

MARTIN: But now, with most of yesterday's votes counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closer to another term in office, although that doesn't mean victory quite yet.

KING: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.


KING: So how close is Benjamin Netanyahu to winning this election?

ESTRIN: Well, at least 90% of the votes have been counted, and Netanyahu is in the lead. It looks like his party won a few more parliamentary seats than his centrist rival, so the right wing is in a better position to lead the next government. But the game is not over yet. Netanyahu still needs to form a parliamentary majority. And at the moment, his right-wing and religious Jewish political allies are very close, but they are still short of the 61 seats you need to have a majority in the 120-seat parliament. Like I say, votes are still being counted. It'll probably be weeks before we know whether Netanyahu will be able to form a government.

KING: And not being able to form a government, that's why we've had three elections in less than a year. Right?

ESTRIN: That's right. There's been complete political deadlock here because, election after election, neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival, Benny Gantz, have had enough support in parliament to form a government. And so instead of resigning, Netanyahu has pushed to try again and again. This may be the chance he needs to clinch it. We'll have to see.

KING: He's been indicted on charges of fraud and bribery. You've done a lot of reporting around this. Why are so many people still supporting him?

ESTRIN: Well, he's Israel's longest-serving prime minister. He helped to reshape Israel's politics as it became more right-wing here, as the economy has been strong. He has a very fired-up base. His rallies are pretty reminiscent of President Trump's rallies. And when I spoke to Netanyahu voters throughout this campaign, they say, you know, despite all of the corruption allegations against Netanyahu, he excels in international diplomacy. He has Trump and Putin on speed dial, as it were. And they spoke about going with their heart, going with their gut, sticking with the tried-and-true Netanyahu.

KING: I want to ask you about the stakes for Israel. Netanyahu's main challenger, as you mentioned, is a man named Benny Gantz. What will the big difference be for Israel if Netanyahu wins rather than his challenger? What will be so different?

ESTRIN: It's a good question. I think one difference we can look at, the question of what Israel will do with President Trump's Mideast peace plan. Netanyahu said in his speech to supporters last night that he intends to annex lands in the occupied West Bank. That would go against most countries' wishes, not to mention Palestinians'. He does have Trump's blessing to do that. The question is whether he'll have a stable government to be able to carry out such a major step. Gantz, if he were prime minister, he has said he would not rush into that kind of controversial move.

Another goalpost we should look at is the justice system in Israel. In two weeks, Netanyahu is scheduled to be in court for his corruption trial. And there are questions about whether, if Netanyahu does clinch this, becomes prime minister, could he and his government seek to curb the powers of the judiciary?

KING: Oh, that's really interesting. And just a last question really quickly - if no coalition is formed, do we do this again?

ESTRIN: That is still a possibility, fourth elections.

KING: OK (laughter). NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thanks, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.

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