Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at the Democratic presidential primary...

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at the Democratic presidential primary debate Tuesday in Charleston, S.C. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

The battle of Charleston

"I'm hearing my name get mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why?" said Bernie Sanders. That was a humblebrag from the leftist candidate who is now a strong front-runner for the Democratic 2020 nomination. But he wasn't the only candidate dodging arrows at Tuesday night's debate in Charleston, South Carolina. Not when there were billionaires to take aim at, either onstage or writing checks.

One of them, Mike Bloomberg, opened with an attack on Sanders over reports suggesting Russia wanted him as the Democrats' choice. Then Bloomberg went into a defensive crouch as Elizabeth Warren, renewing the attack on how women were treated at his company, recounted a lawsuit allegation that he'd told a pregnant employee to "kill it." Bloomberg protested: "I never said that" and "I'm sorry if she heard what she thought she heard."

Warren also tried a takedown of Sanders, who eclipsed her as a favorite of progressive voters. "Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president," she said, charging Sanders hasn't shown how he will accomplish or win enough allies for the agenda. "Progressives have got one shot, and we need to spend it with a leader who will get something done."

Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and others warned that a Sanders ticket could cost Democrats the House majority they won in 2018. Alluding to Sanders' comments in Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview about communist Cuba, Buttigieg said those lawmakers will lose if their presidential candidate "is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime."

Bloomberg, whose overall performance was steadier than last week's, jumped in to boast of the $100 million he spent for the Democratic candidates in 2018, which "put Nancy Pelosi in charge, and gave the Congress the ability to control this president." But Bloomberg slipped up by starting to say "I bought" before catching himself and saying, "I got them" elected. It's more ammo for foes who say he's trying to buy his way into the nation's highest office.

Sanders fought back at Buttigieg for accepting contributions from billionaires. In response, Buttigieg looked directly into the camera and said, "If you’re watching right now and you’re a billionaire, I will raise your taxes. But if you’d like to defeat Donald Trump, please … donate the legal maximum of $2,800.”

The other billionaire candidate, Tom Steyer, hasn't gotten much attention from rivals in past debates. But polls indicate his heavy ad spending in South Carolina has cut into Joe Biden's precarious lead there for Saturday's primary. The former vice president forcefully ripped him for a past investment in private prison systems “after he knew that in fact what happened was, they hogtied young men.” Steyer said he got out of it after he learned about the mistreatment.

Sanders has a regret

Biden touted his gun control record and hit Sanders for voting to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits. That prompted a Sanders concession. "I have cast thousands of votes, including bad votes,” Sanders said. “That was a bad vote.”

Buttigieg, 38, went back to his campaign's opening theme of generational change in a call to reject both Trump and Sanders."I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump, with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s, and Bernie Sanders, with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s,” Buttigieg declared.

Warren said Bloomberg is unacceptable to lead the Democratic Party when he spent millions in the past on Republican candidates, such as South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham. Bloomberg “cannot earn the trust of the core of the Democratic Party,” she said. “He is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage.”

Klobuchar served up a Midwesternism in faulting Trump's approach with foreign adversaries such as North Korea's Kim Jong Un. "He literally thinks he can go over and bring a 'hotdish' to the dictator next door, and he thinks everything is going to be fine," she said. "He has not done it with our allies."

See takeaways from the final debate before the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, from Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Also see notable quotes, as compiled by Newsday's Edward B. Colby.

The anxiety is contagious

Can Americans count on Trump, the avowed germaphobe, to lead the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus, firmly grasp the facts and share them candidly with the public? We'll see what happens.

"I think that's a problem that's going to go away," Trump said while winding up his India visit. He described the situation as “very well under control in our country.”

But for how much longer? The word Tuesday from federal health officials weren't so reassuring. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to prepare for an outbreak at home that could cause extreme measures to minimize person-to-person contact.

“It is not a matter of if, but a question of when, this will exactly happen," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Disruptions to everyday life may be severe, but people might want to start thinking about that now,” she said.

Confidence in the administration was shaken after a Capitol Hill grilling of Chad Wolf, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, which is coordinating the federal response. Under sharp questioning by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), Wolf couldn't answer in detail how the disease is transmitted. He said the mortality rate, 2%, was the same as for the flu. It's actually about 20 times deadlier.

Wolf said a vaccine was could be months away. Other health officials say it's more like a year to 18 months. Wolf wasn't sure whether the U.S. had enough stockpiles of respirators and masks. "I think you ought to know that answer,” Kennedy said at one point. "You’re supposed to keep us safe. And you need to know the answers to these questions.”

Call yourselves broker

After the 1,032-point plunge in the Dow Jones on Monday over the uncertainties of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump tweeted "Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" and his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told The Washington Post Monday that investors should consider “buying these dips."

On Tuesday, the Dow fell another 879 points. The worry-not comments of Trump, Kudlow, and other White House officials are colliding with reality. The coronavirus is spreading to more countries, killing more people than expected and wreaking havoc on global supply chains.

Standing by the ex-bros

Bloomberg's girlfriend of 20 years, Diana Taylor, dismissed criticism over his past record of sexist remarks and his company's harassment settlements with former employees.

"It was 30 years ago. Get over it," Taylor said in a CBS News interview (watch from the 2:30 mark). She added — incorrectly, according to many reports — "In none of them was he accused of doing anything, saying something nasty to a woman."

"That is not who he is. Life has changed. I grew up in that world. It was a bro culture," said Taylor, 65, a government and business administrator.

The campaign distanced itself from her remarks.

Janison: Is that really so, Joe?

Biden joined the ranks of candidates who have told dubious biographic tales, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Biden's whopper was a story of having been arrested in South Africa decades ago while trying to visit the jailed anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

"I had the great honor of being arrested with our UN ambassador on the streets of Soweto, trying to get to see [Mandela] on Robbens [sic] Island," Biden said Monday in South Carolina. For starters, the place named Robben Island sits nearly 800 miles from Soweto.

Biden's apparent invention was reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's claim during the presidential primaries in 2008 of arriving for a gathering in Bosnia under sniper fire, which she didn't. Trump goes bigger, with fake stories not just about himself but false witness against others, such as seeing "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in Jersey City celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

Embellishment is not a new phenomenon. Ronald Reagan claimed that during his World War II service, he and his U.S. Army film corps unit documented footage of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. He wasn't there. He spent the war years in Culver City, California.

Tuesday's debate brought its own rapid-fire twists of the truth, a fact-check shows.

Judge to Trump: Leave jurors alone

The federal judge who ran the Roger Stone trial hit back at Trump and his conservative media allies for their attacks on the forewoman of the jury that returned guilty verdicts. Stone's lawyers are arguing for a new trial on grounds the jury's conclusion was influenced by forewoman Tomeka Hart's animus toward Trump, as found in social media postings.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson read the president's tweet attacking the forewoman, as well as commentary from InfoWars' Alex Jones and Fox News' Tucker Carlson, to a federal courtroom, in deciding to hear testimony from jurors while protecting their identities after Stone, sentenced to 40 months in prison, asked for a retrial.

An opinion about the president and his polices wouldn't necessarily mean Hart had an opinion about Stone or couldn't judge his case fairly, Jackson said Tuesday before taking the hearing behind closed doors.

Making jurors' identities public "would put them at substantial risk of harm," Jackson said. "In a highly publicized political climate … the risk of harassment and intimidation of any juror" who may testify to the court today "is extremely high." She added: "While judges may have volunteered for their positions … jurors are not volunteers."

While the hearing was underway, Trump tweeted again. "There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case … She never revealed her hatred of 'Trump' and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge."

Tells SCOTUS liberals: Don't judge me

The president on Tuesday demanded that Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg recuse themselves from all Trump-related matters, suggesting they were biased and unfair to him.

Trump went after Sotomayor for writing a dissent that accused conservative colleagues of being too willing to let controversial Trump administration policies go into effect on an emergency basis before the cases made their normal way through the courts.

“She’s trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way, and that’s so inappropriate,” Trump said.

On Ginsburg, the president reached back to her July 2016 comments that labeled then-candidate Trump a "faker." She later said she regretted making the "ill-advised" statements.

Trump's complaints come one month before the Supreme Court takes up cases related to demands from Congress and New York authorities for his tax returns and financial records.

What else is happening:

  • Sanders bases his argument for electability on an assertion that his progressive movement will bring to the polls millions who usually don't vote. A New York Times analysis of results from the first three states to vote found no evidence of a surge.
  • Biden was back in Gaffe City during a campaign speech Monday. "I’m a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate," he told the audience at a South Carolina dinner.
  • There's #MeToo, and there's #WhatAboutMe. Asked at his India news conference about the Harvey Weinstein verdict, Trump suggested the women victimized by the movie mogul weren't the only ones getting justice: "I was never a fan of Harvey Weinstein, as you know. In fact, he said he was gonna work hard to defeat me in the election. How did that work out, by the way?"
  • Trump refused Tuesday to speak out publicly against an Indian citizenship law pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has sparked deadly protests over discrimination against Muslims during the president's visit. “He wants people to have religious freedom,” Trump said of his host.
  • Trump declined to say whether he believes U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia is attempting to meddle in the 2020 presidential election.
  • Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of House Republicans’ campaign arm, is predicting a GOP capture of the House if Sanders is atop the Democratic ticket. “The Democrats’ embrace of socialism will cost them their majority in the House. They know that,” Emmer said on Fox News.
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