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Citing coronavirus, NYS Democrats help Biden stamp out embers of pro-Sanders defiance

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in February. Credit: AP / John Locher

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No-primary concern

New York State on Monday ordered its Democratic presidential primary canceled. The contest, originally planned for April, had been rescheduled for June 23. Election officials cited the coronavirus emergency and Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign suspension, which has given former Vice President Joe Biden a clearer route to the nomination.

Pro-Sanders activists reacted with dismay; they had hoped to win delegates who could influence the party platform at the Democratic National Convention.

The polls will not actually be closed. Other contests slated for that day — congressional and state legislative primaries, for example — will remain on the ballot as scheduled, Newsday's Yancey Roy reports.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak disrupted life, Republicans canceled their New York presidential primary as rivals to President Donald Trump failed to qualify for the ballot. The GOP in other states did the same as early as September.

"Joe Biden is the only candidate and, therefore, he is effectively the winner of the New York primary,” Democratic election commissioner Doug Kellner said during a state Board of Elections meeting. Kellner said the suspension of Sanders’ campaign “has effectively ended the real context for the primary election.” Kellner called it "frivolous" to have a "beauty contest" amid the health concern. The state's other Democratic election commissioner, Andrew Spano, agreed that “we should minimize the ballot."

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders' campaign, blasted the decision as "a blow to American democracy" that the Democratic National Committee should overturn. “Just last week Vice President Biden warned the American people that President Trump could use the current crisis as an excuse to postpone the November election. Well, he now has a precedent thanks to New York State.”

"While we understood that we did not have the votes to win the Democratic nomination, our campaign was suspended, not ended, because people in every state should have the right to express their preference," Weaver said.

Late makeup test

More than six weeks ago, as coronavirus quickly spread, Trump held a Rose Garden presentation where corporate leaders hailed public-private efforts to ramp up testing for individuals. The results were criticized widely as weak. So the president tried it again, calling to the podium executives of major drug chains, which as of recently had set up only about 70 testing sites.

The nation's testing lag stands in the way of reopening all kinds of normal activities. So in a follow-up announcement, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, briefly outlined how the federal government would guide the states in the effort. Testing has focused mostly on very sick people, resulting in an undercount of cases, experts say. Now the goal is to reach 2% of the populations of all 50 states with hundreds of thousands of tests per day.

Small-business misadministration

On the first day of the reopened Paycheck Protection Program — a key federal emergency aid effort for private enterprises — bankers reported the U.S. Small Business Administration's web portal malfunctioning.

The system, known as E-Tran, would not allow bankers to enter loan application information that is needed for access to the program. Even before the latest fiasco, there were big problems with larger corporations enjoying an advantage over smaller businesses, Newsday's James T. Madore reports.

In an earlier phase of the program, too, lenders repeatedly found themselves locked out of the program's platform. The first $349 billion of support for small businesses ran out in less than two weeks. Trump dodged when asked about the latest foul-up at his White House news conference Monday, saying nonresponsively: "We're relying on the banks to go out and do an accurate job."

Can't resist?

Trump in recent days hinted he would halt his daily task force "news briefings." On Thursday, he rambled about the possibility of injecting people with disinfectants and using ultraviolet light internally. Rather than just explain himself, the president complained all weekend about news media that recorded, reported and described the bizarre episode.

Early Monday, he had a briefing listed on his daily schedule. Then the White House revised the schedule to show no briefing. Then it was declared an hour later that he would convene a news conference at the usual time, though not the same format as usual. Ultimately his presentation was carried out.

The usual suspects

This latest news conference included some of the usual distortions and deflections. The president boasted of accomplishments despite halting distribution in recent weeks of tests and medical equipment such as ventilators. For some reason, Trump insisted again on saying the great flu epidemic of the 20th century was rampant in 1917, not 1918 — as if he can lobby for a change in historical fact.

Trump faulted China, where the coronavirus outbreak began. He referred to ongoing "investigations" of how it spread there. He exaggerated the impact of his administration limiting travel from there.

But on Monday, The Washington Post reported that Trump was warned repeatedly in January and February in daily intelligence briefings that China was suppressing information about transmissibility and death tolls. Intelligence officials who he sometimes tends to dismiss reported the potential for the virus to ravage the U.S.

Trump talked about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "dancing in the streets in Chinatown," which wasn't true. And he repeated part of his campaign rally speeches about having "built" a great economy before the pandemic.

Body counts rise

U.S. deaths of all kinds in the early weeks of the pandemic far exceeded the number attributed to COVID-19. This suggests the real number of those killed by the disease has been well above the official count. In New York City, the death rate was six times the norm.

Trump likes to claim without evidence that millions were saved by actions he took. But even for him, the body count is a moving target. On Monday, he raised his own projection to between 60,000 and 70,000. Previously he said 50,000 to 60,000. Expect higher totals as weeks pass. The count on Monday already exceeded 56,000.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Pelosi said a guaranteed income for Americans may have to be considered among other options if coronavirus aid does not reach enough people.
  • For something as easy to order up as military pomp, the administration looks ready and willing. The Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds are due to fly over New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Newsday's Robert Brodsky reports.
  • Another attempt to find a drug treatment for coronavirus seems to be sputtering. Early tests indicate a rheumatoid arthritis product did not help patients who are hospitalized but not using ventilators.
  • At the same time, more than 70 clinical trials to find coronavirus treatments and vaccines are underway in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
  • The Senate is due to return to Capitol Hill on Monday following an extended recess. Plans regarding the House's return are still pending.

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