Democratic Party leaders across the country are calling on party bosses to curtail, postpone or dramatically rethink the party's national convention scheduled for July in Milwaukee, concerned that holding a mass gathering just as levels of infection are expected to ebb could expose thousands to the coronavirus once again. Calls from the party faithful to rethink the Democratic National Convention come as the party's presumed presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, for the first time publicly expressed doubt that the gathering could proceed as it has in the past in an MSNBC interview Tuesday.
The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to run July 13 to 16 in a city already facing questions about whether it can accommodate 4,750 delegates, plus thousands of other party officials, corporate sponsors and journalists. Cancellation or curtailment of the national convention, the first ever held in "Cream City," could lead to millions of dollars in lost revenue. The 2016 Democratic convention generated $231 million for Philadelphia. A Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday finds that 62% of Wisconsin residents believe the convention should not be held as an in-person event. Just 22% believe it should meet as scheduled.
But party leaders are increasingly resigned to the need to make big changes. "It's more likely that it gets canceled than it happening. That's 100% true," said Alexis Wiley, a DNC superdelegate from Michigan. A traditional convention is "out of the question at this point," said Ian Murray, a superdelegate from Pennsylvania who's attended conventions since 1990. "I don't see where we're going to be able to all gather in a petri dish in Milwaukee with the coronavirus."
This account is based on the CBS News political unit's conversations with at least 43 party luminaries, including voting members and staff of the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the Democratic Party, elected officials, state party chairman and former party leaders still active in party politics. Most spoke on the record, but some were granted anonymity to speak candidly about party operations.
*Reporting by Eleanor Watson, LaCrai Mitchell, Adam Brewster, Musadiq Bidar & Ed O'Keefe
FROM THE CANDIDATES
As Joe Biden's campaign continues to wrestle with how to best connect with voters during this period of virtual campaigning, the candidate himself seems confident he's up for the challenge. "I'm ready to debate President Trump on Zoom or Skype anytime he wants," Biden told radio host Enrique Santos.
The former vice president also said it's necessary for governors and secretaries of states to start researching ideas about safe general-election voting in November. In addition to planning for more mail-in ballots, Biden floated a new form of voting — from your car.
"I think you're going to have a lot more planning for how you run an election, God willing, by November we're able to… keep your distance and scrub down machines and have people show up and vote, including drive-thru voting and the rest," Biden told Santos.
For more ideas on how to traverse the new political landscape, Biden needs to look no further than down his own family tree. A new website dedicated to distilling information about the recently passed COVID-19 response bill was just launched by Biden's granddaughter, Naomi, and her boyfriend, Peter Neal, both law students sent home early for virtual classes because of the virus.
"The project is entirely distinct from my grandfather's campaign," Naomi, 26, told CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson, "Its only link is by blood and by a shared sense that if you're there for others when they're facing trouble, they'll be there for you when you face trouble."
The two said they hope to simplify the mounting information from the government on the stimulus package's aid checks and assistance for federal student loans and small business loans. "The lifeboat feels very abstract to people right now, and without as much as a basic website, every hour starts a new wave of small businesses and individuals who have to lay off employees or skip trips to the grocery store," Neal, 23, added.
Bernie Sanders was interviewed twice this afternoon from his Burlington, Vermont, home. On ABC's "The View," CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte says he was asked about the Trump administration "ignoring" COVID-19 warning signs. While Sanders said he didn't want to "go off on" the president, he said of Mr. Trump, "His inaction has cost the lives of many, many Americans."
Whoopi Goldberg asked Sanders why he remains in the race and what his path to the nomination is. On Monday night, he told Seth Meyers that there was a path forward, albeit narrow. Goldberg compared Sanders' 2020 race to 2016 and suggested that now, as was the case four years ago, he was staying in the race too long. Sanders said that in a democracy, people "have the right to vote." He said that his team is "assessing" the campaign but gave no indication that he would be dropping out any time soon. This line of questioning about whether he stayed in the race too long in 2016 seemed to irritate Sanders.
Sanders also spoke to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC soon after, and she asked about his campaign's statement calling on Wisconsin to delay its primary. In an issued statement, Sanders said, "The state should delay Tuesday's vote, extend early voting and work to move entirely to vote-by-mail." Sanders said people ought not have to risk their life to vote. He also noted that most poll workers are elderly and shouldn't be put in a "dangerous situation."
He was also asked to respond to Mitch McConnell's comment to radio host Hugh Hewitt that the government would have been better prepared for COVID-19 had it not been preoccupied with impeachment.
Sanders scoffed at the notion, put the onus back on the president, and said that it was worldwide common knowledge what was coming. There's some irony here in that Sanders skipped an all-senators COVID-19 meeting during impeachment proceedings. Asked again about his path forward, Sanders acknowledged it is very narrow and seemed to say that his attention is fully focused on the fourth stimulus package. He was asked what policy he would like to see Biden adopt moving forward. Sanders said he'd support Biden no matter what, but then added, "Yesterday's playbook is no longer relevant to tomorrow."
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link confirms to CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion that President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump voted by mail (as first reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel). Link said a representative brought in a completed affidavit and picked up the ballots from the PBC elections office on March 9. The same representative returned them on March 16, a day before the primary.
LIFE AFTER 2020
The former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris led several of her Democratic colleagues in the Senate in calling for the release of vulnerable, low-risk detained persons from Immigration Detention Facilities as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry says the letter was sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
"The increases in confirmed cases worldwide, nationwide, and within DHS facilities since March 18 illustrate the urgency of DHS taking immediate steps to prioritize public health during the ongoing serious public health crisis." Harris wrote in the letter.
"To prevent further, unnecessary harm posed by the novel coronavirus, DHS, ICE, and CBP must take steps to release vulnerable and low-risk detained persons from custody, including release of individuals on recognizance, bond, parole, or via enrollment of individuals in alternatives to detention programs." Among the senators to sign the letter were former 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Senator Bernie Sanders who is still in the race.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday called on major food delivery apps to reclassify their gig workers as employees, increase their pay and set up additional safety measures for them as deliveries soar throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
"I am writing to request that, during the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, you provide your front line delivery workers with the basic rights and protections they would be guaranteed if you classified them as employees rather than independent contractors," she wrote to the CEOs of DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Instacart. CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says Warren asked the companies to guarantee at least 14 days of paid sick leave to workers with symptoms of or who have been exposed to the virus, as well as access to protective equipment and a pay increase for the "increased risk they are taking on by continuing to work during this pandemic." She wrote, "The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated how much your company is completely reliant on these workers to provide essential services to the public…In this public health emergency, it is more important than ever to fairly compensate these workers and provide the health and safety protections they deserve."
A spokesperson for Grubhub said the company was not looking to reclassifying the contract workers, but said it is giving two weeks of sick pay to drivers "impacted by COVID-19" and providing them with hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves.
"Americans in every corner of the country from homebound seniors to overwhelmed parents count on our delivery partners to access basic meals, and we are doing everything we can to help them stay safe and do their jobs," the spokesperson said in a statement.
An Uber spokesperson said the company would respond directly to Warren, but pointed to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi's request that stimulus money be made available to gig workers, as well as similar protective measures the company has taken for its delivery workers. In a statement, the spokesperson said the solution was legislation that protects gig workers, not only those classified as employees.
"Today our laws present a forced choice between flexibility and protection. We believe our laws should protect all workers, not just one type of work—and rather than restricting independent work, we should strengthen the protections and benefits afforded to it," she said.
An Instacart spokesperson said the company is offering 14 days paid sick leave to those diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in mandatory quarantine by local authorizes. "We welcome the conversation with Senator Warren and look forward to working with her and others to further serve this important community," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Doordash did not immediately respond to request for comment.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced that the West Virginia primary, which was scheduled to be held on May 12, will be pushed back to June 9. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says West Virginia joins ten other states and Puerto Rico in postponing its in-person voting primary dates. Justice referenced President Trump's press briefing yesterday, when the White House projected that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die from COVID-19 with mitigating measures in effect. "There is no question moving this date is the right thing to do," Justice said. But, Justice said he remains hopeful that voter turnout will be high. "At the end of the day, I want this to be the biggest turnout of all time," Justice added.
A new Marquette University Law School poll shows just over half of registered voters in Wisconsin believe the April 7 primary election should be held on a different date. 51% of respondents said they'd like to see the election moved, while 44% said it should be held as scheduled. CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says this comes as Wisconsin faces major challenges for conducting its primary election on Tuesday due to a major shortage of poll workers and a record number of absentee ballot requests. The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) reported on Wednesday that more than 1 million people have requested absentee ballots for the election. Just over 800,000 people cast absentee ballots in the November 2016 general election.
During a court hearing Wednesday, WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe admitted that it's possible some voters may not get ballots in time to vote due to possible delays in the postal system. Wolfe said the U.S. Postal Service has said that First Class mail, which is how ballots are mailed, usually arrives within 2 to 3 days, but that it can take up to 7 days. Absentee ballots can be requested until tomorrow, raising questions about whether some people won't get their ballots until after election day. "I think it's accurate to say that will occur for some," Wolfe said.
During closing arguments in Wednesday's hearing, U.S. District Judge William Conley indicated that it's not his place to move the election date, but signaled he may be open to allowing absentee ballots to be postmarked until election day or extending the window for them to be received. He criticized Wisconsin's governor and legislature for not taking action, especially after other states have moved primary elections due to the Coronavirus pandemic and cases continue to climb in Wisconsin. "I don't see a basis on which I stop this albeit very risky decision by the state of Wisconsin," Conley said. "The state of Wisconsin is ignoring that data and endangering its population."
According to a survey from the WEC, as of Monday night, 60% of jurisdictions said they were short poll workers. 111 jurisdictions reported at that point that they didn't have the ability to staff even one polling site.
During the court hearing, Wolfe said that they have worked with those communities to find ways to recruit poll workers. But if no poll workers show up at a jurisdiction, there are "training protocols" to "consolidate with a neighboring town," as well as having people on standby or a pool of workers available for communities to tap into.
The worker shortages have already caused a number of cities to consolidate polling locations. On Tuesday, Milwaukee announced that it will have less than 10 voting centers on Election Day, compared to its usual 180.
In a court filing, a Wisconsin assistant attorney general said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is allowing the national guard to help staff polling sites. "Governor Evers has agreed to use members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard to assist as poll workers, but it is anticipated that the assistance of the National Guard will not satisfy all of the current staffing needs," said Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Hannah S. Jurss. "The National Guard is currently determining how many personnel it can make available for each county.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive "stay-at-home" order Wednesday, requiring Floridians to limit outside movement and interactions to only include those necessary to obtain, provide, or conduct essential services and activities. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that the executive order states, this move comes after a "state of emergency" was issued in March and more positive cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise in surrounding states. In recent weeks, the governor had ordered people who were flying into Florida from states with "substantial community spread" to self-isolate for 14 days. On the Georgia-Florida border, a checkpoint has been instated where workers ask drivers to state where they're coming from before proceeding into the "Sunshine State."
Florida is now one of 37 states that have issued "stay-at-home" orders. To date, the Florida Department of Health reports that there are more than 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida residents. Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo had made previous calls for the governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order and in statement released Wednesday, Rizzo said the governor's response should have come sooner.
"It is distressing that Governor Ron DeSantis waited until the coronavirus had spread to so many Floridians before finally issuing a statewide stay-at-home order," said Rizzo in a statement. "I hope this will finally slow the rise in infections and that his actions are not too late."
In addition to Florida, four other states issued their own official "stay-at-home" orders on Wednesday: Nevada, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Georgia, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. "This is the most prudent option to stop the spread of COVID-19 across our commonwealth, where cases continue to grow daily," Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement. Like DeSantis, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has faced criticism over his previous executive orders, and delay in issuing a "stay-at-home" mandate statewide. "Mississippi doesn't have to be last. It seems like an intentional effort to be last though," Tupelo, Mississippi, Mayor Jason Shelton tweeted Wednesday morning, before Reeves' eventual announcement.
In Louisiana, Democrat Governor John Bel Edwards welcomed the tone shift in Trump's Tuesday press conference, but stressed the need to find and buy more ventilators, especially before hospital beds run out in the hard hit Orleans-Jefferson parish. "This is a never ending process," Edwards said, adding that on the latest call between governors and the National Governors Association, "the ventilator issue just came up over and over and over again."
Two super PACs are going head-to-head in the presidential race. On Wednesday, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says the pro-Trump America First Action PAC announced it will be making a $10 million investment in the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin focused on democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden. The effort, including digital and TV ads as well as mailings, will begin in mid-April and continue through May.
"It's time to put Sleepy Joe Biden to bed," said the PAC's president Brian O. Walsh in a statement. "This is our first round of spending, with much more to come. By the time November rolls around, voters in battleground states are going to know why Joe Biden is weak, wrong and been around for too long to lead the United States of America." This is the group's first wave of spending in the 2020 election cycle.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA Action is responding to the investment by expanding its own $6.6 million TV and digital ad buy. On Wednesday the group announced it will be adding an additional $1 million in ad time and extending airtime by a week in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The group has been focused on President Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic with its "One Week Later" ad and will also begin airing a new ad directly comparing Trump to Biden.
"Trump is failing the country as a leader during the biggest crisis of our lives. It has always been inevitable that the Trump team would attempt to cover up his dangerous incompetence by attacking Joe Biden," said Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil in a statement. "With Donald Trump's super PAC stepping into this race, we will not let Vice President Biden go undefended." Priorities is already also running a contrast spot online.
The Republican fundraising platform WinRed announced it raised nearly $130 million for GOP candidates in the first quarter of 2020. And while fears over the coronavirus may have pushed focus on campaigns on the back burner, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports the virus didn't appear to have a major impact on their fundraising efforts in recent weeks before the quarter closed.
Over the course of three months, one million donors gave to 787 campaigns using WinRed technology. The average donation was $39.83, and $29 million of the cash haul came from reoccurring donations. The quarter was WinRed's biggest to date since launching in mid-2019.
In December, the platform also added an opt-in option for people donating to a campaign online through WinRed so they could also sign up to volunteer; over the past three months, more than 182,000 contributors signed up to volunteer for campaigns. According to a WinRed, they did expect to see a decrease in fundraising as coronavirus concerns swept the U.S., but it did not result in a significant dip in March. WinRed claims that's another indication of strong Republican energy behind the president heading further into the election year.
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