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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the party's new front-runner after consecutive victories in New Hampshire and Nevada, is considered the strongest contender among an engaged Democratic base of debate watchers to take on President Donald Trump in November, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll.

The poll conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News, using Ipsos' Knowledge Panel, asked Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who watched any of either of the presidential debates in Las Vegas last week and in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this week, about which of the candidates has the best chance of defeating Trump and whether the debates are useful in helping them decide who to vote for and beneficial to the party ahead of the impending general election.

After seeing either of the ninth and 10th debates, 34% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said Sanders has the best chance of defeating the incumbent president. The next closest competitor is former Vice President Joe Biden, with 25%, followed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 15%, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 11%.

In the South Carolina debate, which was marked by feisty arguments and chaotic exchanges, most of Sanders' rivals, including a more aggressive Biden, took aim at him in an effort to undercut his momentum ahead of Super Tuesday.

Both debates also featured fierce clashes between Bloomberg and Warren, with the billionaire making his debate debut in Las Vegas, despite not competing in the state caucuses, and the former Harvard professor tangling with him largely over nondisclosure agreements with some of the women he employed over the years and allegations of crude and sexist comments directed at his female employees.

Of the top two candidates, those under age 50 were much more likely to say Sanders is the strongest candidate to face Trump, and Biden was considered best positioned by those over 50, but his support is more stratified across the age groups.

Among the four in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who watched any of the debates, considered to be some of the most engaged voters in the party's electorate, one-third said the debates worked in Trump's favor, and weakened Democrats' chances of defeating the president in the general election.

Only 28% said the debates strengthen the party's chances, and another 39% said the debates made no difference in the potential outcome of November's highly-anticipated election.

Among those who said the debates strengthened Democrats' chances, 60% thought the party's current front-runner, Sanders, had the best chance of defeating Trump. Meanwhile, supporters of the candidates occupying the moderate lane, such as Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg, were more likely to be anxious about the effect the debates had on Democrats' chances of defeating the president.

Forty-six percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who think Biden is the best candidate to face-off against Trump believe the debates weakened Democrats' chances in November.

A total of 67% said the debates, sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, were useful, compared to one-third of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who believe they were not. Only 18% said they found them to be very useful, and more non-whites, 27%, found the debates very useful, compared with 9% of whites.

Only two more debates are expected this cycle, with the next matchup slated for Sunday, March 15, in Phoenix. The rules for qualifying have yet to be announced.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Thursday repeatedly criticized President Donald Trump's response to the spread of the coronavirus at several campaign stops, accusing the president of failing to prepare for the outbreak as it continued to rattle investors and sent the global stock market tumbling this week.

"President Trump was briefed on the coronavirus two months ago, but he just buried his head in the sand," Bloomberg said at a rally in Oklahoma City. "His failure to prepare for a pandemic is crippling our ability to respond."

Bloomberg has increasingly leaned into his crisis management and public health experience in his campaign stops this week, as criticism of the Trump administration's coronavirus response mounts, chiefly pointing to his work leading New York after the 9/11 terror attacks.

His campaign released a public health emergency preparedness plan on Wednesday, and began airing ads on television in all 50 states and online knocking Trump's response to the coronavirus.

"Managing a crisis is what Mike Bloomberg does," the narrator reads in the 30-second spot.

After only holding one public event between the last two debates, Bloomberg spent Thursday barnstorming the southeast, holding events in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas in an effort to rally support leading up to Super Tuesday, when he will first appear on the ballot.

Over the next few days, Bloomberg will also travel to North Carolina and Virginia and is scheduled to head back to Texas for an event in San Antonio. He'll spend Tuesday evening with supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, ahead of the state's March 17 Democratic primary.

"We're obviously going to go to places where we think we can make a difference by our presence," Bloomberg senior adviser Howard Wolfson said after Tuesday night's debate. "We are going to be consistently looking at data that will inform our travel."

"We want to be in those places where when we fly into a market, we can have the biggest impact," he added.

Bloomberg has worked to position himself as the moderate alternative to front-runner Bernie Sanders after the early voting contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"At this point the primary is Bernie's to lose, and ours to win," campaign manager Kevin Sheekey recently tweeted.

But the former New York mayor, who has spent more than half a billion dollars on his campaign, is jockeying with several other candidates to deny Sanders the delegates he needs to clinch the Democratic Party's nomination.

He tried to sharpen the differences between himself and the other presidential hopefuls, including Sanders, across several campaign stops Thursday, appearing to dismiss policy proposals from the Vermont senator and other candidates at Tuesday night's debate as unrealistic campaign-trail pledges.

"I've never worked in Washington," he said. "I don't make pie in the sky promises, and I don't talk until the cows come home. And as you've seen in the debates, I'm not someone who just yells slogans even when they're not true."

Bloomberg has deployed hundreds of staffers and opened dozens of offices across Super Tuesday states, including some in areas where voters haven't seen Democrats campaign in years.

That outreach, in addition to his overwhelming multimedia ad campaign, has been effective, according to some voters: several people at his Houston event Thursday morning noted that they have been inundated with ads from Bloomberg online and on television -- and haven't heard from anyone else.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Jim Clyburn, perhaps the most important Democratic politician in South Carolina, said "there's no question" that businessman Tom Steyer has swooped up some of the support from former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of the state's "first-in-the-South" primary.

"Oh, there's no question about that," Clyburn told ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics," when asked if Steyer was taking away support from Biden, whom the South Carolina lawmaker formally endorsed on Wednesday.

Back in October, Biden was supported by 46% of African American Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in South Carolina, according to a poll from Winthrop University. In the school's latest poll, released this month, Biden had only 31% support among the same group, and 18% supported Steyer.

According to 2016 exit polls, black voters accounted for around 60% of the electorate in the South Carolina Democratic primary.

Steyer, a billionaire who's mostly self-funded his campaign, has had a clear focus on South Carolina during his campaign. According to ad data analysis from CMAG/Kantar Media, he's spent more than $22 million on advertising in South Carolina. The only state he's spent more money in is California, which has the most pledged delegates up for grabs and a population nearly eight times greater.

But even though he's spent a lot of money on advertising, and has also hired black politicians and political operatives in the state to work on his campaign, Clyburn said he finds it insulting to say Steyer's "buying" black support, which some -- including Biden surrogate state Sen. Dick Harpootlian -- have claimed.

"If you go out and contract with a black group to do your get-out-the-vote stuff, to run your field operation -- that's what they do," Clyburn told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein. "When people have certain levels of expertise, they're right to get paid for that expertise. And so I'm insulted by this, people talking about you’re buying votes when you hire people to do what they know how to do."

The only candidate who has made more trips to South Carolina is Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Steyer got into the race nearly five months after the Vermont Independent. On Monday, speaking at the "First in the South" dinner, Steyer pledged to return to the Palmetto State win-or-lose.

"One of the people who is endorsing me said, 'Tom, I don't want to endorse you if you're just going to come and ask for votes and leave,'" he said, capturing the attendees' attention by zeroing in on communities in need of revitalization and mentioning local activists by name. "And I said, 'I promise you, I have been fighting on these issues for decades. The fight is still going to go on. I'm going to be in it.'"

He added, "Win, lose or draw ... I'm going to be in South Carolina, because I've met the people here. I've gone around and seen what's going on. You guys own my heart. I'm not walking away from South Carolina."

Steyer's increased support is one of the reasons Clyburn decided to endorse before the primary, telling Klein, "I want people to know that it ain’t over 'til it’s over."

But one of the main driving forces behind his decision was his late wife of nearly 60 years, Emily, who passed away in September.

"We talked about this campaign. We talked about the future of this country. We talked about who we thought would be the best person to be president, the best person to take on [President] Donald Trump," Clyburn, the House majority whip, said on "Powerhouse Politics. "And we felt very strongly that it was Joe Biden."

Clyburn said his wife thought Biden "was one of the most principled people in politics."

He said because of this, "it was easy" to choose to endorse Biden. What made him decide to do it ahead of the state's primary was because a community member told him at a funeral service Friday that "people in this community want to hear from" him regarding his choice for president.

"That was a pretty moving experience for me, and I decided then and there that I would be very public with my endorsement and do whatever I could to help educate those people in the public who may be torn as to who they want to vote for," he said.

As the last of the early states to vote, just days before Super Tuesday, Clyburn, who's represented South Carolina in the House for nearly 30 years, pitched a different Democratic contest order for the first voting states.

He said while he doesn't mind Iowa going first, he thinks Nevada, a diverse state with a large Latino population, should vote on the same day, and then New Hampshire and South Carolina should also join forces and hold their primaries on the same day.

This, he said, would prevent a "one-sided candidate developing momentum going to the next state" after doing well in two overwhelmingly white states.

"By the time you get to South Carolina, where you've got a significant presence of African Americans, then the momentum has already been turned against you, the fundraising capability has begun to dry up and then we end up getting a candidate that will need African Americans at a much higher percentage in the general election," Clyburn said. "But you have not exposed yourself to them in the primary."

Klein asked the lawmaker about the so-called "Obama coalition" of voters, and whether it would be possible to unite them again this cycle.

"I've read a lot of talk about the Obama coalition," Clyburn said. "I think that what resonates with people is whether or not they can see in your candidacy... the fulfillment of their dreams in the future."

He mentioned that South Carolina's state motto is "While I breathe, I hope."

"Remember, [former President] Bill Clinton came to South Carolina talking about hope, even being from Hope, Arkansas. And he lost about nine contests before he got to South Carolina -- but he won in South Carolina, and he got launched to the presidency," Clyburn said. "And [former President Barack] Obama came to South Carolina talking about the audacity of hope. And he had just lost badly in New Hampshire, but got resurrected in South Carolina and went on to the presidency."

With these trajectories, Clyburn offered some advice for candidates trying to win over voters in the "first-in-the-south" primary.

"Run a campaign to fulfill and practice the motto of your state, and you'd be much better off than you would be if you -- if you refuse to recognize that," he said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans and Democrats on Thursday expressed a shared desire to avoid partisan bickering and congressional dysfunction in efforts to pass emergency funding to address the coronavirus crisis, but lawmakers have yet to demonstrate much urgency or progress toward an agreement -- as congressional leaders signal it could be two more weeks before a bill is on the president's desk.

“This is not a time for naming calling or playing politics,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters at her weekly news conference in the Capitol on Thursday. “The first step the Congress must take is to ensure the government has the resources needed to combat this deadly virus and keep Americans safe.”

A short time later, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed Pelosi’s plea for comity during his own session with reporters.

“What is certain here is that there's just no time for politics,” McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed. “Diseases don't know party lines and I would imagine members of Congress would drop the partisanship to coordinate efforts on keeping our country safe.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed hope that the emergency supplemental would be taken up by the Senate "within the next two weeks."

“I hope they can work expeditiously so the full Senate would be able to take up the legislation within the next two weeks,” McConnell, R-Ky., said. “And I hope, as we move forward through this challenge, this body can put reflexive partisanship aside and uphold the spirit of cooperation and collaboration this will require.”

Nevertheless, after the president called her “incompetent” at his news conference Wednesday night, Pelosi blasted the administration’s response to the outbreak as “chaotic and opaque.”

Pelosi also said she expressed concern to Vice President Mike Pence in a phone call Thursday morning that Trump tapped him to lead the administration’s response to the coronavirus.

“We have always had a very candid relationship and I expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters at a news conference in the Capitol.

“This is about resources, it's also about personnel," Pelosi said. "It's also about respect for science, for evidence-based decision making, and it's about having so much of that talent that we are so proud of in our public health sector be available in other countries so that we can get a true…and accurate assessment of what is happening in other countries.”

A senior House Democratic appropriations aide said that staff-level discussions were continuing for the second-day in a row Thursday, although there is no meeting scheduled among the principal appropriations lawmakers this week.

"This isn't like border wall or even omnibuses where you need principals to hammer out a bunch of big picture items," the aide says. "Each subcommittee that has a piece of this will be meeting as a four corners, and then staff directors are meeting and also in touch by phone."

The aide also said there are no current plans for appropriators to meet with Pence, although "that could change."

McCarthy said that appropriators should not off-set emergency funds for coronavirus, and that the forthcoming supplemental should be a standalone measure without any gimmicks or riders attached.

Pelosi said appropriators are “coming close to a bipartisan agreement in the Congress as how we can go forward with a number that is a good start.”

A Senate GOP aide also told ABC News that Republicans “are confident that they can reach an agreement.”

McCarthy said GOP appropriators are working with Democrats on “bipartisan basis to appropriate the adequate amount of money” but he refused to put a dollar amount on it.

“It's not my place to sit here and pick a number,” McCarthy said. “The one thing I would say just exactly what the President said, we will do whatever is needed to make sure we keep this country safe.”

Pelosi signaled Democrats are negotiating to include restrictions in an emergency supplemental “to make sure that the President cannot transfer any of these new funds…to anything other than use for the coronavirus threat,” including the border wall.

She said Democrats are also aiming to ensure that vaccines are affordable and state and local governments are reimbursed for the cost incurred while assisting federal response for the coronavirus outbreak.

Pelosi called declines in U.S. stock markets “disturbing” but added Democrats “want to instill confidence present without panicking about this.”

“The market will do what it does with the invisible hand that it always does,” she said. “We don't like seeing the market drop, that's for sure. And we hope that this will have a turnaround. But it cannot affect how we address the issue. Our issue is public health issue is prevention, and we would hope that that would not lower the market but raise the market because we want to show that decisions have made to put this in good hands now.”

Several House Democrats on the Financial Services Committee wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Tomas Philipson, the acting chairman of the Council on Economic Advisers, and Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, urging them to protect the financial markets from the coronavirus.

“We write to express our deep concern regarding the federal response to the coronavirus, its possible impact on the stability of financial markets, and the overall economy,” noted Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II, the Financial Services Subcommittee chairman on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy, Financial Services Subcommittee Chairmen Gregory Meeks and Reps. Al Green, D-Texas, and William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.

The quartet urged the administration and financial regulators to report by March 13 with “an assessment of the current impact of the virus on the domestic economy and international financial stability.”

“We further request a forecast of how the global and domestic economy would be impacted in the event of a protracted crisis if, for instance, a pandemic were declared by the World Health Organization, as well as all efforts the Administration has underway to safeguard the U.S. economy from the contagion,” they said.

McCarthy said that he trusts the president’s decision not to impose additional travel restrictions on countries like South Korea and Italy, where the coronavirus is rapidly spreading -- despite CDC identifying a case where the contagion has spread without a known origin in California.

“I know the president has always been forward-looking at this and he gets the most up-to-date information. I would trust him on that judgment,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “He was right before on protection of America and gets the updated information and we’ll take that day by day to see where we need to be.”

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A person impersonating President Donald Trump was escorted out of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, according to a police spokesperson.

Vice President Mike Pence was speaking to the gathering at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland when news reports indicate the impersonator began yelling, about 10 minutes after Pence had started speaking.

A spokesperson for the Prince George's County Police Department told ABC News in an email that the convention center asked for help to escort the individual from the premises. The department was not pursuing charges against the man.

Pence was speaking about coronavirus and the 2020 election. His speech came a day after Trump announced that Pence would be spearheading the U.S. response to the spread of coronavirus.

Trump said on Twitter that he would be at the conference on Saturday.

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Brian Blanco/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For nearly 20 years as an up and coming politician, Bernie Sanders supported ideas on what causes cancer outside of the mainstream, such as sexual inactivity as a cause of breast cancer.

"The manner in which you bring up your daughter with regard to sexual attitudes may very well determine whether or not she will develop breast cancer, among other things," Sanders wrote in an essay headlined "Cancer, Disease and Society" in 1969. "How much guilt, nervousness have you imbued in your daughter with regard to sex?"

The essay, published in The Vermont Freeman and previously reported, extensively and approvingly cites studies suggesting a relationship between "inhibited sexuality" and cancer risks. "In other words, did women who develop breast cancer have certain similar psychological traits which might lead one to see a connection between emotional health and cancer," Sanders wrote.

It's part of a vast written record of many of his views – some well outside the mainstream – that are coming under scrutiny again as he emerges as a front-runner in the 2020 race for president.

When the issue first arose in the 2016 presidential campaign, a Sanders aide dismissed the comments as dated. “These articles were written more than 40 years ago,” Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told Mother Jones in 2015. “Like most people, Bernie’s views on many issues have changed over time.”

But his commentary on the subject of cancer and its causes suggest his beliefs about links between the disease and human sexual behavior continued well into the 1980s.

ABC News did not immediately receive a response from the Sanders campaign on this story and how in particular his views may have evolved.

In that early published essay, Sanders cited numerous medical studies that claimed to have found a relationship between cancer and human sexual behavior.

One study he cited in the 1969 piece found that women who achieve orgasm less frequently during intercourse were more likely to contract cervical cancer. Another found that women who achieve fewer orgasms were "biologically weakened" and are therefore "highly susceptible to cancer producing stimuli" more generally. The methods of one study included asking participants whether or not they viewed sex as "a distasteful, wifely duty. "

Asked about the relationship between sexual activity and cancer, Harold Burstein, a breast cancer specialist at the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston, said the research is clear: "There is absolutely no relationship between sexual activity, or lack of activity, and cancer."

"Some cancers, like cervical cancer, are transmitted by human papilloma virus, which is a sexually transmitted infection," Burstein explain, "but sexual activity itself has no relationship to cancer risk."

In the same paper, Sanders wondered whether "radical change" in society-- an idea indicative of the political revolution Sanders has been pursuing for decades-- could itself cure diseases such as cancer. "Will society be changed so as you fit the needs of the human organism," he warned in the essay, "or will the human organism continue to be adapted, molded, and crushed to fit into basically insane and disease provoking patterns?"

Sander's views on cancer formed out of his research into the "psychiatric aspect of cancer" while studying at The University of Chicago, according to a profile on Sanders from 1985. It was there that Sander developed his central theory: that "disease, to a large degree, is caused by the way we live in society," he said during another profile 1981. Among those who influenced his views, Sanders said, were Dr. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, and Dr. Wilhelm Reich, one of its proponents.

By the 1980s, decades after Sanders' studies at school and his first public comments on cancer were documented, Sanders subtly continued to express a viewpoint on cancer and its origins that was less extreme, but still questionable.

"I have my own feelings about what causes cancer and the psychosomatic aspects of cancer," Sanders said at a media event in Burlington in 1988.

He was talking about the death of a Nicaraguan Sandinista he knew whom he said had recently passed away from cancer. The woman, Sanders recalled, was a "very, very vibrant and wonderful woman," yet she still succumbed to the disease. "One wonders if that war did not claim another victim of another person who couldn't deal with her tremendous grief and suffering that's going on in her own country," Sanders stated, suggesting it was "grief and suffering" that contributed to her illness and ultimate death.

Burstein disputed this science behind this idea as well, explaining that "there are no psychosomatic aspects of cancer, nor can people's feeling or emotions or psychological state 'cause' cancer in anyway."

In the 1969 paper, Sander's highlighted the notion of a relationship between emotions and cancer. He cited a doctor who whom he said had pinpointed a "cancer personality," in other words, someone who "represses hate, anger, dissatisfaction, and grudges, or on the other hand, is a very 'good' person, who is consumed with self-pity and suffers in stoic silence."

Again, Burstein said the science on this point is clear. "There is no relationship between stress or emotions, and 'getting' cancer."

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Nicolette Cain/ABC(NEW YORK) -- "The View" co-hosts questioned President Donald Trump's decision to appoint Vice President Michael Pence to lead the U.S. government response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump spoke during a news conference on Wednesday after days of mixed messages about the potential risk of coronavirus — real name COVID-19 — spreading throughout the U.S. Trump said Pence would be working with "the professionals, the doctors" and that the "team is brilliant."

When Pence spoke, he said that "the threat to the American public remains low," telling reporters that he'd coordinate the overall response and that additional personnel would be added at the White House.

"The View" co-hosts weighed in on Pence's new role on Thursday.

"Mike Pence has a really bad record when it comes to health records," McCain said referring to Pence's handling of an HIV outbreak in Indiana while he was governor. "It really impacted HIV outbreaks in Indiana."

"Someone with a medical and virus background should be in charge of a potentially deadly and lethal virus and medical outbreak in the United States of America," McCain continued. "I'm not comfortable with him in charge."

 Goldberg said she had a theory of her own as to why Trump assigned Pence to lead the response.

"I think [Trump] chose [Pence] because he knows this is more extreme than anybody wants to talk about," Goldberg said. "We don't need to panic, but whenever [Trump] wants to look like he's doing something really good, he will do something and then put somebody else in charge of it when he knows there's a cliff coming. I think he's setting him up."

Hostin agreed with Goldberg's claim.

"One of the reasons I think [Trump] chose the vice president to do this is because it is so serious," Hostin said. "Had he appointed someone with real medical background, that person would not necessarily cover his ineptitude."

"We know that Mike Pence will cover for him because he is such a loyalist," Hostin added. "I think Trump needed someone in that position just in case things go bad."

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced Wednesday night that a person had been diagnosed with COVID-19 despite having no travel history or contact with someone who was infected.

"To have a healthy sense of fear right now, I'm not judging people, because I certainly do," McCain said about concerns over COVID-19.

"I don't know if you should have a healthy sense of fear," Goldberg responded. "I think you should have a healthy sense of paying attention to what's happening. Fear will stop you."

"You have to pay attention," Goldberg continued. "Be concerned. Be aware. But don't let it stupefy you so much that you can't move, because that's not going to help either."

Every episode of ABC's award-winning talk show "The View" is now available as a podcast! Listen and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Spotify, Stitcher or the ABC News app.

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Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen(WASHINGTON) -- A day after President Donald Trump declared Vice President Mike Pence the point person on the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus, the administration on Thursday continued to try to stem confusion over its handling of the outbreak.

Pence planned to lead an interagency task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday afternoon. The president formed the task force late last month and made Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar its chairman.

Azar said at a White House news conference Wednesday he would remain in that role, even though Trump said at that same press conference that he wanted Azar to "focus on" his regular duties.

The secretary did not learn of the decision to make Pence the lead until just before Trump announced it publicly, three sources told ABC News.

On Thursday morning, Azar said at a hearing on Capitol Hill that he had been consulted about Pence's role before it was announced, although he did not say when. When he heard about it, he testified, "I said, quote, 'That’s genius.'"

 The vice president said Wednesday that he would "continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action" and would reach out to state and local officials.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she spoke to Pence Thursday morning and "expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position."

As Indiana's governor in 2015, Pence was criticized for his response to the state's worst outbreak of HIV in its history and the nation's first HIV outbreak linked to the injection of oral painkillers. He took two months to declare a state of emergency and opposed a clean-needle exchange over the advocacy of health officials.

Studies in medical journals have said the epidemic could have been prevented if the state had acted faster.

"This is about resources; it's also about personnel," Pelosi said. "It's also about respect for science, for evidence-based decision making, and it's about having so much of that talent that we are so proud of in our public health sector be available in other countries so that we can get a true … and accurate assessment of what is happening in other countries.”

Overall, Pelosi said, “Up until now the Trump administration has mounted an opaque and chaotic response to this outbreak."

At the Wednesday press conference, Trump made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, taking questions for the first time and trying to portray a sense of calm amid rising fears over the virus, called COVID-19.
But some of his comments did not clear up some of the public's confusion.

While health officials standing alongside him said cases would increase, Trump at times questioned whether that was true and downplayed the threat.

A day earlier, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official had warned Americans of "significant disruption" coming because of the virus, hours after the president said the situation was "under control" and that it was a "problem that's going to go away."

On Wednesday evening, Trump told reporters that "there's a chance that it won't spread." In the same press conference, he noted that in California a 15th case of the virus had been confirmed.

 But he did not mention what the CDC announced soon after the news conference concluded: that the patient had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual, making it possibly the first case of "community spread" on American soil.

The case raises questions about whether broader testing should be allowed. It appeared to indicate the virus had been circulating among the local community and infecting people, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected, according to the CDC.

Azar had earlier referenced the case at a Wednesday afternoon congressional hearing -- saying its epidemiology was still being discerned -- but he did not provide any details or explain its potential implications.

The federal government has so far resisted wider testing, and Pence's office on Thursday morning did not respond to a question about whether that position had changed considering the California case.

At his Wednesday news conference, Trump even spread misinformation about the virus, incorrectly saying the mortality rate of influenza was higher than that of coronavirus.

While the mortality rate of the coronavirus is not fully understood, this week the World Health Organization posted preliminary findings from within China, pegging the fatality rate of 2 to 4% in the hard-hit city of Wuhan and 0.7% elsewhere in the country. By comparison, the flu's mortality rate is about 0.1%.

Trump's attempt to reassure also did not quell economic jitters, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping sharply Thursday for a fourth day in a row.

In a sign the White House had its eye on the economy, the administration on Thursday afternoon that two key economic officials, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, would join the president's coronavirus task force.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams would also join the group, the announcement from Pence and Azar said.

White House Deputy press secretary Judd Deere told ABC News Thursday that Trump was "receiving regular updates on the coronavirus through meetings and phone calls today," although he did not provide more details, and the president's public schedule did not mention anything related to the virus.

Pence's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether the vice president planned any other meetings or engagement on Thursday with respect to coronavirus, aside from chairing the afternoon task force meeting.

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White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's announcement that Vice President Mike Pence has the experience to lead the administration's coronavirus response has raised questions around Pence's handling of a major health crisis when he was governor of Indiana.

"He’s got a certain talent for this," Trump said at Wednesday's White House briefing as he sought to reassure the public on how the White House is dealing with the virus, which has infected at least 60 Americans so far.

Others, however, have criticized Pence's response to the state's worst outbreak of HIV in its history and the nation's first HIV outbreak linked to the injection of oral painkillers while he was Indiana's governor in 2015. The crisis began when people started injecting a liquid form of a potent painkiller multiple times a day and sharing needles.

While health officials advocated for a clean-needle exchange to slow the spread of infection, Pence staunchly opposed the program on grounds it could encourage or support drug abuse.

"I don’t believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia," Pence said at the time. "I don't believe that effective anti-drug policy involves handing out paraphernalia to drug users by government officials."

It wasn't until two months after the outbreak was detected -- and at least 75 people were confirmed HIV-positive -- that Pence declared a state of emergency. He announced he'd allow a needle exchange program for 30 days but added that if the legislature sent him a broader needle exchange program bill, he would veto it.

The outbreak highlighted the weaknesses in Indiana's health infrastructure as it placed 41st nationally in America's health rankings.

Studies in medical journals have said the epidemic could have been prevented if the state had acted faster.

After conducting a 2018 Yale University study on the outbreak, researcher and associate professor, Forrest W. Crawford, said: "Our findings suggest that with earlier action the actual number of infections recorded in Scott County -- 215 -- might have been brought down to fewer than 56, if the state had acted in 2013, or to fewer than 10 infections, if they had responded to the [hepatitis C] outbreak in 2010-2011."

"Instead they cut funding for the last HIV testing provider in the county," Crawford added.

Since a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Scott County -- where the outbreak originated -- had closed in 2013, free HIV testing wasn't available in the area. Pence, as a member of Congress, voted to cut Planned Parenthood funding in 2011.

While there is no direct link between the closure and the outbreak, had a center provided HIV tests in Scott County, workers could have reported positive results to the state.

But Dr. Jerome Adams, Pence’s health commissioner at the time who now serves as U.S. Surgeon General, defended the governor, saying he needed certainty that he was doing the right thing.

"The governor wanted to make sure if we went this route it was absolutely necessary," Dr. Adams said at the time. "I believe he was praying on it up until the final decision."

Critics, however, say that Pence's track record does not qualify him to lead a national health crisis.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday morning on Capitol Hill that she spoke with the vice president and expressed her concerns of him holding the position.

"While I look forward to working with him," she said, "while he was governor of Indiana, slashing the public health budget and having some clinics, especially a Planned Parenthood close, which was the only place in that Scott County where you could get tested for HIV and AIDS. There was an outbreak. Again, he will have his side of the story."

"This is about resources. It's also personnel. It's also about respect for science and evidence-based decision making," she added.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took to Twitter Wednesday evening, calling Trump's plan to have Pence lead the response "disgusting," adding that Pence "wanted to 'pray away' HIV epidemic."

Trump's plan for the coronavirus so far:

-Cut winter heating assistance for the poor
-Have VP Pence, who wanted to "pray away" HIV epidemic, oversee the response
-Let ex-pharma lobbyist Alex Azar refuse to guarantee affordable vaccines to all

Disgusting. pic.twitter.com/98HVjUVY8C

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 27, 2020

Leana Wen, the past head of Planned Parenthood, also tweeted Wednesday: "As Governor of Indiana, an HIV/AIDS epidemic flourished until he allowed public health -- not ideology -- to direct policy & response."

A different researcher on the 2018 Yale University study said in a tweet that Pence's slow response "fueled an HIV outbreak in his state." Noting that Pence is not a doctor or scientist, Trump "made the choice of putting someone absolutely not up to the task to this crucial position. It endangers us all. This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue," Greg Gonsalves tweeted.

It's not the only public health issue on which Pence is facing criticism.

As late as 2000, Pence also downplayed the risk of smoking, as evident by an op-ed, unearthed by Vox, on his congressional website: "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill."

At Wednesday's briefing, Trump emphasized that Pence would not be a coronavirus "czar" as "he is a part of the administration," but he is expected to be the face of the response.

While some have speculated that the move to appoint Pence is a blow to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Azar called the move "genius" in a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

As he testified at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Thursday, Azar was asked by Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., if the coronavirus task force will follow the advice of medical experts, citing what he called Pence's "slow walk" in responding to the 2015 HIV outbreak in his state.

"As you know, one of the largest outbreaks of another virus, HIV, occurred in Indiana. It was the result of critical testing sites and clinics being closed due to cuts to state funding. When it was determined that the cases were spiking due to needle sharing, then Governor Pence failed to heed the advice of medical experts. He really did slow walk the needed public health response," Panetta said. "Can you assure us, Mr. Secretary, that HHS will follow the advice of leading medical experts and not delay implementation?"

"I always follow the advice of my career officials in these matters," Azar replied. "I trust them completely."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Mike Bloomberg had just finished taking a group photograph with a delegation of New York University students at Bloomberg LP headquarters when he struck up a conversation with Sekiko Sakai, one of the top-performing saleswomen of his namesake product, the Bloomberg Terminal.

"How's married life? Still married?" Bloomberg asked as the two walked to the cafeteria’s coffee station and filled their cups. Sakai said it was great and that she was pregnant, according to notes gathered by Sakai's lawyer as part of a 1995 complaint she later filed with state regulators against Bloomberg and his company.

"Kill it," Bloomberg said in a "serious monotone voice," Sakai alleged in the complaint.

"What? What did you just say?" Sakai said she asked. Bloomberg maintained eye contact and "repeated in a deliberate manner, 'kill it,'" she alleged. In the intervening years, Bloomberg has repeatedly denied saying it.

Sakai said that Bloomberg finished filling his coffee. As he put the lid on his cup, he mumbled to himself, "great, number 16." Sakai said she interpreted that to mean she was the 16th woman in the office to get pregnant. He walked away, she said in her complaint.

The alleged incident would have a resounding and residual effect on both parties in very different ways.

In the short term, Sakai said it damaged her. She claimed in her lawsuit that it was part of why she left the company -- sacrificing a lucrative paycheck and a job she said she loved -- and suffered serious psychological and physical health setbacks.

Now nearly 25 years on, it is Bloomberg who is feeling the impact of the alleged remark as he makes a run for the White House.
While his unusual campaign style -- skipping early voting states and focusing his strategy on Super Tuesday -- has commandeered attention in the race for the Democratic nomination, so too have anecdotes about his past comments to and treatment of some women who worked for him. Allegations of inappropriate workplace comments and claims that the former New York City mayor's company became a hostile place for pregnant women, have both dogged the candidate on the campaign trail and onto the debate stage.

This week, rival Democratic candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- his fiercest critic among the field of candidates -- confronted him over the alleged "kill it" comment.

"At least I didn't have a boss who said to me, 'kill it,' the way Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees," Warren said at Tuesday's debate in South Carolina.

Bloomberg's response has been firm and unbending -- he has denied ever saying "kill it."

"I never said it. Period, end of story. Categorically, never said it," Bloomberg said Tuesday. "When I was accused of doing it we couldn't figure out what she was talking about."

His denials could face a new test in the coming weeks.

Sources have confirmed to ABC News that Sakai is one of three former employees whom Bloomberg's company has identified as having been restricted by a non-disclosure agreement from speaking about her claims of inappropriate comments by Bloomberg. But Bloomberg agreed to lift those restrictions in a recent turnabout.

Whether or not she speaks, transcripts of phone calls with co-workers made by Sakai and other materials used to craft her complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights cast doubt on Bloomberg's denials. The documents, obtained by ABC News, indicate that Sakai tried desperately in the weeks that followed to sound the alarm on what her boss allegedly said.

Sakai said she alerted "ten people within the firm, five of whom were managers," according to the complaint filed with the New York Division of Human Rights, which she filed before her lawsuit. She told friends about the alleged interaction and described her mental and physical deterioration as a result of stress.

"I haven't slept at all, I got two hours of sleep and I'm not able to go to work. … I've lost ten pounds," Sakai told a friend two weeks after the incident, according to Sakai's transcript from the call.

In that complaint, Sakai said, as she was still pregnant, her doctor told her, "even if you are losing weight, if you are eating – which I am – as far as the baby is concerned, it should be getting nutrients it needs … she said it is not good because it is from a lot of stress."

Sakai hired a lawyer shortly thereafter and filed the complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights in August of 1995. She later filed a lawsuit against Bloomberg and his company -- which settled out of court -- and even wrote to a U.S. Congresswoman, according to the documents obtained by ABC News.

"The words which were spoken to me by the CEO of my company on April 11, 1995 should never be heard by an expectant mother awaiting the birth of her first child," Sakai wrote in an undated letter addressed to Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y. "I understand you are a strong advocate of women's issues and worker rights. I ask for your assistance to monitor my dispute in a timely and constructive manner."

The materials gathered by Sakai's attorney as part of their administrative complaint indicate Bloomberg dispatched senior aides at the company to call Sakai and feel her out. When all else failed, Bloomberg called her directly, she alleged. In notes that Sakai's lawyer said Sakai took from a voicemail he left, Bloomberg allegedly said, "I apologize if there was something you heard but I didn't say it, didn't mean it, didn't say it ... and whatever."

Regardless of whether Bloomberg told Sakai to "kill it," the comment is in line with other remarks attributed to Bloomberg from the time, according to transcripts of phone calls gathered by Sakai in which some Bloomberg LP colleagues allegedly recounted their own stories about the man at the top.

"Well, I started crying when (Bloomberg) said 'all it (a baby) does is eats and sh**s,'" a friend told her in late April 1995 of her own experience of telling Bloomberg she was pregnant.

Sakai replied, "That's how I feel … (Bloomberg) said some really demeaning humiliating things to me, but that was me, not my unborn child."

In many of those calls, according to the transcripts, Sakai encouraged others to come forward with their stories, but was repeatedly told the risks were too high.

"It's just a lot more complicated than just right vs. wrong for me," one colleague told her, according to the transcripts.

"I understand that it's a big decision," Sakai replied. "But ultimately he (Bloomberg) gets off scott free (sic) if people like you with important information don't step forward."

"I can't commit to anything. I won't commit to anything," the person told her.

By coming forward with her complaint, Sakai said she sacrificed her career at Bloomberg LP. Prior to her departure from the firm, she said she was "a top performer in New York sales, and I was making a good six figure salary," according to notes compiled as part of her complaint to the New York State Division of Human Rights.

In the transcribed notes from phone calls with friends and colleagues after Sakai claimed Bloomberg made the "kill it" remark, Sakai described her conflicted feelings about leaving the company.

"That's what really infuriates me. You knew how I worked … I was totally devoted to that company," Sakai told a senior manager at Bloomberg LP a year after the alleged "kill it" comment. "I enjoyed my job. I was good at it. I was getting great pay."

Sakai eventually settled her 1997 lawsuit against Bloomberg and his company out of court and moved West. She was paid an undisclosed amount of money and signed a nondisclosure agreement.

Last week, the Bloomberg campaign announced it would release three women it identified as having complaints tied directly to comments Bloomberg himself allegedly made from their nondisclosure agreements. A senior campaign official confirmed to ABC News that Sakai is one of the three women.

As of Monday, according to Bloomberg's campaign, Sakai had not reached out the company about dissolving her nondisclosure agreement.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the U.S. government response to coronavirus, after days of mixed messages from his administration about the threat to Americans.

Trump told reporters at a news conference Wednesday evening he was not labeling Pence a "czar."

"Mike will be working with the professionals, the doctors and everybody else that's working," Trump said. "The team is brilliant."

The announcement came following days of sending mixed messages on the risk the coronavirus poses to the United States.

At a rare appearance in the White House's briefing room, the president and his team sought to allay worries about the coronavirus, called COVID-19, repeatedly saying that the risk to Americans remains low but still urging people to prepare.

"I think every aspect of our society should be prepared," including schools, he said, "just in case." But, he added, "We don't think we'll be there."

"This will end," he said.

Trump noted that tens of thousands of people in the United States die every year from influenza, and that coronavirus -- so far -- had not nearly approached that level.

"You don't want to see panic, because there's no reason to be panicked about it," Trump said.

"There's a chance it won't spread, too. And there's a chance it will."

The question, he said, was "at what level" it would.

Because of the steps the administration had already taken -- including strict travel restrictions on travelers who have recently visited China, the center of the outbreak -- Trump said, "The risk to the American people remains very low."

"The number one priority from our standpoint is the health and safety of the American people," he said.

Trump said that it was "not the right time" to impose additional restrictions on entry to the United States -- although he noted, "we may do that."

China has imposed severe restrictions on large areas, like the city of Wuhan, and Trump told ABC News' Karen Travers that the United States did have plans for quarantining cities "on a larger scale, if we need it."

But, he added, "We don't think we're going to need it."

Pence noted that "the threat to the American public remains low," telling reporters that he would coordinate the overall response and that additional personnel would be added at the White House.

"My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well being and health of the American people. We'll also be continuing to reach out to governors, state and local officials," Pence said. "We will be working with them in renewed ways to make sure they have the resources to be able to respond."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has been leading a coronavirus task force the president set up, said he was happy to have the support from Pence -- who he said would focus on inter-agency coordination -- and echoed Trump's comments that what the U.S. government has already been doing has worked.

Azar warned, though, that the number of cases would go up.

"The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly," Azar said. "And we can expect to see more cases in the United States. That is why we've been reminding the American public and our state, local and private sector partners that they should be aware of what a broader response would look like."

The president and his team clearly tried to calm fears, a day after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official had warned Americans of "significant disruption" coming because of the virus.

That appeared to contrast with remarks the president made at a press conference in New Delhi, India earlier in the day, when he said the situation was "under control" and that it was a "problem that's going to go away."

"We have very few people with it," Trump told reporters, adding that he was not totally caught up on the latest details because of his trip to India but that "the people are getting better, they're all getting better," referring to patients in the U.S.

"I think that whole situation will start working out. Lot of talent, lot of brain power is being put behind it," he said.

Trump's comments came on the heels of sharp criticism from Democrats in Congress on the response from the White House. The administration on Monday asked lawmakers for emergency funding to deal with crisis -- $1.25 billion in new funding and another $1.25 billion shifted from existing funding previously allocated for other reasons, including some designated to deal with the Ebola virus.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday morning he's preparing a detailed Democratic request for emergency coronavirus funding totaling $8.5 billion. It was expected to be finalized Wednesday and sent to appropriators.

Following Schumer's announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday morning called the president's $2.5 billion request to combat coronavirus "anemic."

"What he's doing is late -- too late -- anemic," Pelosi said. "Hopefully, we can make up for the loss of time, but it will have to have the professionals in place, the resources that are adequate and not be using scare tactics about people coming back to our country."

She said the House will have a proposal "similar" to the plan put forth by the Senate.

At the Wednesday briefing at the White House, Trump said he would be open to more money from Congress.

CDC Director Anthony Fauci said that since a potential vaccine would take a year and a half to develop, in order to contain the virus in the short term, the focus had to remain on public health measures.

Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, encouraged people to prepare.

"We do expect more cases and this is a good time to prepare. As you heard, it's the perfect time for businesses, health care systems, universities and schools, to look at their pandemic preparedness plans, dust them off and make sure they are ready and we have lots more information at the CDC's website and in partnership on how to do that," she said during Wednesday's news conference.

She also suggested Americans cover their mouths when they cough, stay home when they're sick and wash their hands.

Fears about the coronavirus' global spread have rocked markets around the world, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging Monday and Tuesday, and dropping to a lesser degree on Wednesday.

Trump acknowledged coronavirus had played a role, but he also said investors' fears of a Democrat winning the presidency this year had contributed, too.

He specifically pointed to concern over remarks by the Democratic presidential candidates at a debate Tuesday night, when they criticized Trump's handling of the response to the virus. He said comments by the candidates, who he called "Democrat fools," had made "a huge effect" on markets.

But the largest drops in the Dow Jones came before the debate -- and the decrease on Wednesday, after the debate, was significantly smaller.

Trying to allay further economic woes, which could threaten his re-election in November, Trump promised the spread would not last forever -- a claim not directly backed up by health officials.

"This is going to end," Trump said. "Hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later."

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have questioned Trump's top advisers this week on whether the administration was doing enough almost two months into the global crisis, expressing deep skepticism of the president's claims that the situation was "under control."

"That is a remarkable level of containment here in the United States," Azar told reporters at a press conference earlier Tuesday, later adding that "we are realistic" there would be more cases.

Azar, in a second day of testimony before the House Appropriations, called the community transmission of the virus in other nations "concerning."

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said to Azar point-blank, "Provide me some security that someone knows what's going on in this administration about the coronavirus."

Azar responded, "The risk right now is very low to Americans."

"We have always been clear that number one that could change rapidly, and from the outset I and the public health experts said we fully expect we will see more cases here in the United States," he continued. "We have to be mentally prepared and also as a government prepared."

Later, when Pocan asked about a Politico report that the White House is considering appointing a coronavirus czar, Azar, after first saying he wouldn't comment, then said he didn't expect one now or in the near future.

"I don't anticipate one. This is working extremely well." he said, referring to how he and HHS are leading the administration's efforts. "If it doesn't work or if there's a need for change ... then that would be for the president to decide."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- At Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, the audience booed Sen. Bernie Sanders after a rival noted his vote for a 2005 bill that shielded gun manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed with weapons they made and sold.

Sanders launched into a full-throated response to the attack, acknowledging he had cast a “bad vote,” but disputing the idea that he had been soft on gun issues and had opened the door for high-powered weapons to be used in mass shootings.

"Because of all these disgusting and horrific mass shootings, the American people now understand that we must be aggressive on gun safety, not be dictated to, by the NRA," Sanders said. "I am proud that I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA -- if elected president, it will get worse than that."

The issue has the potential to dog the Democratic front-runner, who has spent a career navigating a nuanced course on gun control measures popular with many primary voters, but less appealing to his constituents in rural Vermont.

In a 1991 letter he wrote to a gun shop owner in Burlington, obtained by ABC News and not previously reported, Sanders put his mixed feelings about gun control measures into words. Over the course of the letter, Sanders writes that he is against a “one-size-fits-all policy,” that he “opposed the Brady Bill … [and] the seven-day waiting period.” He writes that he would “support an assault weapons ban” so long as it did not permit Treasury Department officials to add additional models of weapons to the ban and providing the ban expired in three years.

He concludes by writing that he would ultimately be voting against the ban -- because it was part of a larger crime bill, which had other provisions he did not like.

Bernie Sanders 1991 Letter by ABC News Politics on Scribd

The letter lays out an approach that has sent mixed signals to voters who are trying to evaluate his stance. While he has, as he said in the debate, amassed a record disliked by the National Rifle Association, he has not always voted in step with those advocating gun control, including the 2005 vote backing legislation that shielded gun manufacturers from lawsuits filed by victims of gun crime. And he has, over decades, remained largely silent about the presence just north of Burlington of one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of military-style assault rifles –- which made the weapons used in two mass shootings last summer.

One of his rare public statements about the factory came in 2012, after the Sandy Hook school shooting, in which Sanders appeared to defend the Century Arms factory. The statement -- issued with two other Vermont lawmakers -- came after critics raised questions about the manufacturer.

“They [Century Arms] are engaged in a lawful business just as other are that are involved in firearms commerce, employing many Vermonters,” the statement read. “And if Congress approves new steps to address gun violence, we are confident that Vermont businesses would comply with them.”

Sanders' record on guns

When Elizabeth Deutsche, a nurse and community advocate, went to the state capitol to urge the state legislature to pass gun control legislation, she appeared at the same witness table as Henry Parro, a gun shop owner who was there advocating for votes against the bill in 2018.

Deutsche and Parro couldn’t be farther apart in their views on how gun control ought to be legislated, but they do seem to agree on one thing: Sanders.

They both believe Sanders has crafted his stance on gun issues based on political winds, not passion.

Parro said Sanders has ditched pro-gun rights positions that were popular with many Vermont voters, and adopted a more strident gun control stance to suit his bid for president -- and satisfy a more liberal national primary audience.

“I think he is giving lip service to the Democratic party,” Parro said. “Some of his voting record shows it goes completely against, if you go back to the beginning, his core values.”

Deutsche sees those past conservative votes that Parro liked as troubling. It’s a record that make it hard for her to see him as a reliable advocate going forward.

“Senator Sanders uses our rural state with a large number of sportsman and hunters to justify his previous weak stance on gun control," Deutsche said. "As a gun owner, I can't stand behind that and I don't accept his justification for that."

Parro’s gun shop in Waterbury, Vermont, sells hunting and defense firearms, as well as military-style AR-15 rifles produced by Century Arms. He still remembers a different kind of relationship between Sanders and guns. It’s a relationship that Parro says once won Sanders the favor of the NRA helping get the once little-known political hopeful elected.

Sanders lost his first bid for the House of Representatives to Republican Peter Smith after campaigning in favor of an assault weapons ban in 1988, which he highlighted during Tuesday night's debate.

"Thirty years ago, I likely lost a race for the one seat for Congress in Vermont because 30 years ago,I supported a ban on assault weapons," Sanders said. "Thirty years ago," he repeated.

But after Smith voted in favor of an assault weapons ban on the Hill, the NRA ran ads targeting Smith’s re-election bid in 1990. Though the NRA didn’t endorse Sanders for the House seat, and the earliest rating he received from the NRA came two years later -- a "D" -- he did benefit from the NRA’s attacks on his opponent.

"We don't like everything that Mr. Sanders has to say about firearms," James Baker, an NRA lobbyist, told a local newspaper in 1990. "But he's been up front about it. He's at least as good, if not better, than Mr. Smith."

Sanders unseated Smith that year. He held that seat until 2006, when he was elected to the Senate where he’s served ever since.

During his early years on Capitol Hill, Sanders held some positions welcomed by gun control advocates. He campaigned in favor an assault weapons ban, and since the mid-1990s, Sanders has voted for several bills that would ban semi-automatic weapons.

But when Congress was debating the Brady Bill requiring a mandatory five-day waiting period for those wishing to purchase handguns, Sanders voted no.

Multiple versions were proposed during the two-year battle to get it passed, and Sanders voted against almost every one, including the one signed into law. Sanders did vote in favor of an amendment that would remove the waiting period and allow for an instant background check, but the technology to perform instant checks did not exist at the time.

In the letter Sanders wrote to the concerned constituent, he explained he voted against the bill because it contradicted his "basic philosophy" that "whenever possible, this issue should be dealt with at the local or state level."

"In most instances, there is not a 'one-size-fits-all' policy that would be appropriate for the entire nation," Sanders explained.

As he wrote in the 1991 letter, Sanders expressed his desire to support an assault weapons bill, but stated he would be unable to do so if it were introduced as part of other legislation he disagreed with. He said he viewed the larger legislation, including the Brady Bill, as something that "would further limit the right of the citizens of our nation" as it would "'federalize' certain crimes that have previously been under the jurisdiction of the states."

When asked if Sanders' record on gun control is a source of worry, his campaign pointed to a number of endorsements from gun control activists, such as Delaney Tarr, the co-founder of March for Our Lives.

James Haslam, who serves as the executive director of Rights and Democracy Vermont, a liberal advocacy organization, said Sanders' position on guns in his early career made political sense. His constituents supported many progressive ideas but felt that the government should “lay off our guns,” Haslam said.

“He is obviously trying to unite communities in a state that didn’t see gun violence as a big problem and that cares deeply about freedoms,” Haslam explained. “So as a representative, he laid off.”

Sanders maintained that posture when he voted in favor of a 2005 law that shielded gun manufacturers and distributors from liability if they sold a weapon used to commit a crime.

The bill’s 65-31 passage in the Senate was a hard-fought victory for the NRA and its lobbyists. Fourteen Democrats and the Independent Sanders, along with the bulk of the Republican majority, helped turn the bill into law.

This 2005 bill has come up again and again in the wake of mass shootings. A judge used it to overrule a lawsuit brought by the parents of the victims in the Aurora, Colorado, shooting. And though the case was ultimately allowed to continue, parents of students at Sandy Hook Elementary faced a similar battle in bringing a different lawsuit.

In the years since the legislation’s passing, Sanders has said he would reconsider the law. But he’s never gone so far as to call for its repeal.

“There are parts of it that made sense to me,” Sanders told ABC News in 2016. “If you have a small gun shop owner in Northern Vermont who sells a gun legally to somebody and then, you know, something happens to that guy, he goes nuts or something, and he kills somebody, should the gun shop owner be held liable? I think not.”

This year, on the debate stage, Sanders offered a much stronger view.

“Right now, my view is we need to expand background checks, end the gun show loophole, and do what the American people want, not what the NRA. wants,” Sanders said during the debate Tuesday night.

To Parro, statements like this read like a betrayal.

“He’s abandoned his core beliefs, he’s jumped on the band-wagon to say whatever he needs to say to get elected,” Parro said.

Century Arms

A Century Arms MSR-15 is in the center display on a wall of semi-automatic weapons at Parro’s gun shop. It’s likely that weapon traveled less than 35 miles from the nearby Century Arms factory to the walls of Parro’s shop -- a short journey during which the guns would certainly have been driven past pro-Sanders signs posted all over his home base in Burlington.

Despite the proximity of the factory to Bernie’s hometown, the senator has said almost nothing about the facility despite his aggressive campaigning for gun legislation reform. Though Century Arms is just 40 minutes north of Burlington, where Sanders once served as mayor, locals say they don’t see him around their part of the state very much. The public record also shows little contact between Sanders and the manufacturing plant.

The Century Arms facility sits at the end of a winding road inside of a large industrial park about 30 minutes outside of Burlington. The facility is largely unmarked, save a flag that bears the Century Arms logo, which flies next to a U.S. flag and a flag for the state of Vermont. The whole manufacturing plant is surrounded by a metal chain link fence, and employees park in a lot within the fence. The single-level facility is a hub of activity, with loading docks for trucks lining the walls. Employees can be seen walking around the plant and trucks come and go, with boxes being loaded on and off with deliveries.

It’s one of the largest employers in Vermont, a factor some local politicians say has made the state reluctant to propose regulations that could curtail employment opportunities.

ABC News attempted to speak with representatives for Century Arms on multiple occasions over the phone, by email and in person. The company, which industry professionals say is known to avoid news media attention, could not be reached for comment.

Since the 1960s, Century Arms has been producing guns in Vermont. Today, it is one of the largest manufacturers of firearms in the nation. In 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that Century Arms produced 45,372 firearms in its Vermont facility.

This summer, when mass shootings in Gilroy, California, and El Paso, Texas, killed 25 people, one common thread between the two shootings was the gun used by the killers. Both wielded weapons made by Century Arms, law enforcement officials told ABC News.

When Sanders appeared on MSNBC to talk about the shootings, he blamed the NRA.

"We have got to ask how it happens that a time when so many people want to go forward with gun safety legislation that we have a Senate that is refusing to deal with a bill that was passed in the House," Sanders said. "And that again goes back to the NRA."

Sanders made no mention of Century Arms.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump campaign is ramping up its efforts to court black voters, with plans to open up retail style community centers in several predominantly black cities in battleground states -- to pitch voters on the president's record with the black community.

The community centers are a significant investment in the "Black Voices for Trump" initiative, an effort spearheaded by Katrina Pierson, a senior Trump campaign adviser, to attract black voters who have stood as the bedrock of the Democratic party, according to the campaign.

Staffers at the campaign centers will work to register voters, promote the president's record and sell merchandise including hats, shirts and hoodies stamped with the word "woke," according to the campaign.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale told reporters in a briefing Wednesday regarding black support for the president that "at minimum, we’re double from where we were in 2016."

In 2016, Trump carried just 8% of the black vote, but that's not stopping the president's team from making big investments toward boosting that number come November.

In 2004, former President George W. Bush carried slightly more black support than Trump with 11 percent. But in 2008, the Republican nominee -- the late Arizona Sen. John McCain -- received just 4% in a historic match up against former President Barack Obama, ending with the first black president getting elected.

"You’re never going to get the votes you don’t ask for," White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told reporters Wednesday, calling the new initiative "more than a toe in the water. It’s a whole foot in the water."

Kushner also mentioned the president's 2016 pitch to black voters, saying, "Last time it was, 'What the hell do you have to lose?' Now you show them what they've gained from President Trump and what more they can gain if they get four more years of President Trump."

According to a senior campaign official, the centers, which are set to begin to roll out in the next couple weeks, will be "more like opening a store."

The campaign views the centers as an opportunity to pitch black voters on the president's record in person, which they say they’ve found to be effective.

“We see the numbers coming up in the polls and the demand on the ground when we do these types of events," Pierson said. "So it’s really important that we take this next step and really bring those voters into the party."

According to mock up designs by the Trump campaign, the centers will have a modern layout featuring wall-to-wall pro-Trump messaging over the outside and inside of each center, promoting parts of the president’s record the campaign hopes will resonate with black voters including the First Step Act, school choice and funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Inside, the campaign will also display pamphlets on touting Trump's record, according to the campaign.

One of the pamphlets will specifically mention the president commuting a life sentence for Alice Johnson, accused for trafficking cocaine in Memphis, saying that "people like Alice are getting a second chance" because of the president under a section titled "criminal justice reform."

Johnson’s release from prison was the result of a presidential pardon following a number of high-profile celebrities raising awareness of her situation, and not connected to the president signing the bipartisan First Step Act, which became law following Johnson’s exit.

The community centers give the campaign another chance to double down on its efforts to reach black voters -- a demographic where the president has had a historically low approval rating.

They will be launched in fifteen cities including Detroit; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Milwaukee; Cleveland; Jacksonville, Florida; Raleigh, North Carolina and Charlotte, South Carolina, over the next couple of weeks.

But winning over black voters will be an uphill battle for the president’s re-election campaign.

"We don’t know what the ceiling is yet for what Trump’s black support can be in this election," a senior official said. "Which is why, again, we are going to make these investments in the community like we do in all other communities that are more traditionally Republican."

In 2016, Trump made a bold promise to attract the majority of black voters by the end of his term.

"At the end of four years, I guarantee you I will get over 95% of the African-American vote. I promise you," Trump said to a largely white audience during a rally in Dimondale, Michigan in August 2016.

While the president is holding onto support from 94% of those who say they voted for him in 2016, according to a January ABC News/Washington Post poll. Still, his support among minorities is thin, especially when compared to his Democratic rivals.

In a head-to-head matchup with Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden has almost unanimous support from black Americans, 94-4%, and a nearly 2-to-1 lead among Hispanics, 61-31%, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The Trump campaign said it plans to roll out similar community centers for other coalition efforts, including "Latinos for Trump," later this year.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jeff Neira/ABC(NEW YORK) -- Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who’s made his major contributions to Democrats and liberal causes a central part of his pitch to Democratic primary voters, highlighted his efforts in Tuesday’s debate arguing that, unlike others on the stage, he’s achieved results.

"I have a 6-million-person organization around this country, Moms Demand Action, and Everytown," he said to applause on the Charleston debate stage.

While he’s also touted the roughly $100 million he spent to support House Democratic candidates in 2018, his critics seized on the millions he spent earlier in his political career to boost Republicans for the House and Senate.

"I don't care how much money Mayor Bloomberg has," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said during Tuesday’s debate, citing Bloomberg’s contributions to several GOP senators and making the case that he’s out of step with primary voters.

"The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him. He has not earned their trust. I will. And the fact that he cannot earn the trust of the core of the Democratic Party means he is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage."

Over past two decades, Bloomberg has funneled more than $160 million to various political candidates and groups across the political spectrum. While most of that money has gone to Democrats, it also includes at least $12 million to boost Republicans in Congress, according to an ABC News review of his campaign spending. The vast majority of his spending in both sides came from within the past three election cycles.

In 2016, Bloomberg spent $6 million through his Super PAC Independence USA to support pro-gun control Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who beat Democratic candidate Katie McGinty by fewer than 90,000 votes. Bloomberg's pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety also endorsed Toomey in his re-election bid.

Bloomberg also has spent millions backing other House and Senate Republicans, supporting several as recently as 2018, including New York Rep. Dan Donovan. He’s argued that his experience leading the largest city in the country and his multi-billion-dollar financial data and communications company will make him an effective president who Democratic primary voters can trust.

Bloomberg’s super PAC spent nearly $3 million in support of another Republican, then-Illinois Rep. Bob Dold, between 2012 and 2014 as well as millions more in support of other Republicans running for both the House and Senate over the years.

Bloomberg gave $250,000 to a super PAC supporting South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's re-election bid in 2014 and in 2012 raised money for then-Sen. Scott Brown's re-election bid against challenger Elizabeth Warren. Bloomberg also donated to a number of other Republicans in Congress over the years, including Sens. John McCain and Susan Collins.

Bloomberg also gave to former President George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani.

He and his aides have repeatedly pointed to his spending on behalf of Democrats in the recent debates to defend his credentials.

"Mike understood that the president represented an existential threat to this country and that we needed to do everything we could to flip the House to make sure that we had accountability in Congress," senior adviser Howard Wolfson said in the debate spin room Tuesday night. "Mike helped flip 21 [House seats], helped make Nancy Pelosi speaker, help make impeachment possible, help hold this president accountable," he added. "I don’t think there's anybody in the country who has done more to help Democrats to hold this president accountable than Mike Bloomberg."

Bloomberg made the same point in the debate, arguing that he helped "put Nancy Pelosi in charge" and gave Democrats "the ability to control this president," though Republicans seized on the end of his remarks, when he nearly appeared to say he "bought" the Democratic majority.

"Let's just go on the record. They talk about 40 Democrats. 21 of those were people I spent $100 million dollars to help elect," he said Tuesday. "All of the new Democrats that came in, who put Nancy Pelosi in charge, and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I b-- got them."

It’s not clear that Democratic voters will take Bloomberg’s spending on behalf of Republicans into consideration when he first appears on primary ballots on Super Tuesday.

Seth Masket, director of the Center of American Politics at the University of Denver, says Bloomberg's support for Republican candidates could be a potential liability in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, though it could be helpful for him in a general election as it can be seen as a sign of moderation.

"The voters and activists who participate in these generally look for signs that one is loyal to the party, and Bloomberg’s donations to Republican candidates compromise that, as does his past as a Republican officeholder," Masket told ABC News. "To be sure, some who participate on the Democratic side are independents and aren’t so bothered by this, but many of those voters are more sympathetic to Bernie Sanders."

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says Bloomberg's past givings doesn't help him, but he can easily couch it away with his hundreds of millions of dollars of spending in support of Democrats.

"All you have to do is pick a couple of bad guy Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush -- you can pick the ones that are really offensive to Democrats, but the bad effects will be overwhelmed by my hundreds of millions of dollars of completely positive ads," Sabato told ABC News. "If you bring up Giuliani and Bush, Democrats won't like it, but they're much more concerned about Trump than they are anybody else. They know he's spending a lot of money not just for his candidacy, but to go after Trump and that that gives him an entree."

And Bloomberg is doing just that -- just three months into launching his presidential campaign, he has spent more than half a billion dollars on ads introducing himself to voters and promoting his record of fighting for gun control and other liberal issues.

Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says how this will affect voters depends on how widely Bloomberg's rivals' messages reaches them and whether Bloomberg's unprecedented level of spending can fend off attacks remains to be seen.

"His candidacy is kind of hard for me to get a handle on," Kondik said. "I just I know that the level of spending is something we really haven't seen before, but also this the strategy of getting in the race and skipping the initial kickoff contests, it's not something we've really seen any great effect in the past." concerns about Bloomberg’s money, which he has pledged to use to support the Democratic nominee and defeat Trump even if he doesn’t win the primary, could persist in the 2020 campaign: Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, told reporters that the Vermont senator would not accept Bloomberg’s money if he wins the nomination.

"It’s a hard no," he told reporters after Tuesday night’s debate. "Bernie has said he’s going to fund his presidential campaign with small-dollar contributions, and I think we can do that. I think we can raise over a billion dollars in small-dollar contributions."

Because individuals are limited in what they can directly contribute to presidential candidates under campaign finance regulations, Bloomberg’s aides have signaled that any general election campaign would more likely be a sustained effort against Trump in key battleground states, should the former mayor not win the nomination.

"A lot of people recognize he may be one of the keys to victory in the fall if he's not the nominee," Sabato said. "If he really is going to follow up and give a billion dollars as he as he has said repeatedly, then he will be one of the keys to victory, because otherwise Democrats are going to be vastly outspent by Trump and related PACs."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


4kodiak/iStock(SALEM, Ore.) -- For the second year in a row, Oregon Republicans walked out of the statehouse Monday and delayed a vote on a major climate change bill.

The Oregon state Senate lacked the 20-member minimum to have a quorum after all of the Republican members failed to show up. The two sides have been debating a bill that would cap greenhouse emissions from major industries, including energy providers, industrial companies and fossil fuel companies, and require them to buy credits for each metric ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown chastised the Republicans for holding up the legislative session with only two weeks left on the calendar.

"If they don’t like a bill, then they need to show up and change it, or show up and vote no," Brown, a Democrat, said at a news conference Monday.

Democratic and Republican state Senate leaders didn’t return messages from ABC News asking for comment.

The cap-and-trade bill aims to reduce emissions levels in the state to 45% below 1990 emissions levels by 2035, and to at least 80% below by 2050. Environmentalists say the money from the credits would pay for programs and initiatives that would improve Oregon’s environment, such as flood mitigation.

Opponents, however, contend that the gas companies would pass along the cost of the credits to the consumer, and drivers across the state would pay more at the pump.

When the bill was introduced last year, GOP lawmakers walked out of the statehouse and went into hiding before it was set for a vote. Brown sent the state police to search for the missing legislators, but in the end the bill was not brought up for a vote because there weren't enough senators.

Brown said the bill was updated during this session to reflect the concerns of rural Oregonians and business owners. Rural drivers would now be exempt from gas price increases, and the state would allow utilities to recover the costs for alternative fuel-based vehicles.

"It provides real flexibility for local manufacturers," Brown said.

Senate Republicans attempted to have the cap and trade bill put up as a ballot initiative, but that was struck down by a Senate committee.

Brown said she is currently not considering any action to bring the Republican senators back to the statehouse, but called on them again to perform their duties.

"This makes it very clear: the Republicans who walked out are not against climate policy; they are against the democratic process," she said. "It is incredibly disappointing, and a sad moment for Oregon."

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