with Mariana Alfaro

Thirty-three years after launching his first of three presidential campaigns, Joe Biden finally won a primary on Saturday. The former vice president’s landslide in South Carolina was sweeping enough that he received more total votes across the first four early states than Bernie Sanders. The lopsided victory bolsters Biden’s argument going into Super Tuesday that he’s the Democratic Party’s most viable alternative to the independent senator from Vermont.

He wasn’t subtle about making this case during his celebratory speech in Columbia, S.C. “If the Democrats want a nominee who's a Democrat – a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat – then join us,” he said. “For all those who’ve been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign! Just days ago, the press and pundits declared this candidacy dead. Now, thanks to all of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we’ve just won, and we’ve won big because of you. And we are very much alive!”

Democratic presidential rivals reacted to the results of the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, where former vice president Joe Biden decisively won. (The Washington Post)

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Biden won 48 percent in the Palmetto State – carrying every county and winning among every significant demographic group. Sanders trailed, with 20 percent. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer dropped out after finishing third with 11 percent, under the 15 percent threshold required to get delegates. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg finished fourth, with 8 percent, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), with 7 percent, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), with 3 percent. Sanders received the most votes in Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa, but he never garnered more than 34 percent of the vote, and Buttigieg narrowly won more delegates from the Iowa caucuses.

The most significant question in American politics at this moment is whether Biden will be able to capitalize on Tuesday, when 14 states, plus American Samoa, award 34 percent of the delegates to the Democratic convention. 

Biden has rolled out a string of endorsements since Saturday night, including from former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), former senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who remains a congresswoman from Florida. Biden also just unveiled the endorsement of Selma, Ala., Mayor Darrio Melton. Several of the candidates are in Selma today for the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Biden announced Sunday morning that he had raised $5 million in the past 24 hours, but he hasn’t been advertising nearly as much as several of his rivals in the states that vote on March 3. His victory speech was crisp and punchy, but he remains gaffe prone and uneven on the stump. Even if he manages to emerge from this week as the most obvious alternative to Sanders, the field looks certain to stay fragmented for some time – which works to Sanders’s advantage.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer ended his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Feb. 29, saying he didn't see "a path" to win the presidency. (Reuters)

Steyer’s failure is a red flag for Mike Bloomberg. The former New York mayor skipped the first four states, but Steyer’s play in South Carolina was Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday strategy in miniature. And it didn’t work. Steyer put nearly $200 million of his personal fortune into his campaign and focused more on South Carolina than anywhere else, advocating forcefully for paying reparations to the descendants of slaves and focusing on fighting climate change along the Eastern Seaboard in a coastal state. Steyer spent $23.6 million on television advertising alone in South Carolina, out of a total of $36 million spent by all the candidates, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics. This got him into double digits, but he underperformed where he’d been in recent polling. All told, Steyer spent about $395 on commercials for every vote he received in South Carolina.

Bloomberg has spent about half a billion dollars in the three months he’s been running. But he has lost a lot of his luster since he fared so poorly in the first debate and faced mounting scrutiny. That said, polls suggest that he’s still poised to pick up a big chunk of delegates on Tuesday, especially in states where he’s had the airwaves mostly to himself. “His advisers vowed Saturday night that Bloomberg will stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday,” Cleve Wootson and Michael Scherer reported. “They cited internal campaign data showing that if Bloomberg dropped out it would strengthen Sanders, whose left-leaning policies the former mayor abhors. His campaign announced Saturday that he will buy three minutes of commercial airtime nationally at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night to present his vision for managing the current coronavirus outbreak.”

Biden will undoubtedly get some bounce from South Carolina, especially in the seven Southern states that vote on Tuesday, but how big will it be? African Americans accounted for 57 percent of the electorate in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, according to our exit polling. Biden won 61 percent of the black vote, followed by Sanders at 16 percent. He also beat Sanders among white voters, though only 34 percent to 23 percent, with Buttigieg pulling 16 percent.

It’s a big break for Biden that Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Warren have so utterly failed to racially diversify their coalitions. None of the three will get any delegates out of South Carolina, despite campaigning extensively there over the past year. Warren got 5 percent of the black vote, Buttigieg got 3 percent and Klobuchar got less than 1 percent. It’s impossible to become the Democratic nominee with those kinds of numbers. Klobuchar has been unable to translate her momentum from the overwhelmingly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire into either of the racially diverse states that followed. If demographics alone are destiny, Biden is also poised to fare well in Florida on March 17 and Georgia on March 24.

An NBC News-Marist poll published Sunday morning shows a neck-and-neck primary in North Carolina, with 26 percent for Sanders and 24 percent for Biden. This is well within the margin of error. The other Southern states voting Tuesday are Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. African Americans account for a sizable share of the population in all six, but with Alabama as an exception, the black vote will account for a much smaller share of the electorate than in South Carolina.

Former vice president Joe Biden's supporters are confident ahead of Super Tuesday, after his first primary victory in South Carolina. (The Washington Post)

That’s one of several ways that South Carolina was uniquely favorable terrain for Biden. The 77-year-old has literally – literally! – spent decades cultivating relationships that paid off. He’s vacationed there in the summers. He traveled there constantly during his eight years as vice president. More than 3 in 4 voters in the primary viewed him favorably, according to the exit poll. Only 51 percent of voters viewed Sanders favorably. About half of voters said the endorsement of Biden by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday was an “important” factor in their vote. “You brought me back,” Biden told Clyburn in his victory speech. Biden does not have so many deep relationships in the upcoming states.

South Carolina also lacks partisan voter registration, so it was an open primary. Many moderates who voted in the GOP primary in 2016 appear to have cast ballots in the Democratic primary for Biden. Turnout was at least 527,728, a sharp increase from 373,063 four years ago. It’s on par with the 2008 turnout of 532,151, when Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton, but there was also a competitive Republican primary that year. The electorate in South Carolina was far more moderate than in the first three states. Self-identified moderates and conservatives accounted for about half of all voters, compared to a third in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and slightly more than that in the New Hampshire primary, according to analysis by Dan Keating and Scott Clement.

South Carolinians weren’t looking for a revolution. More than half of voters overall – and two-thirds of black voters – said they want a return to the policies of the Obama administration, according to the exit polls. Biden won that group by more than 5 to 1 over Sanders. By contrast, a quarter of voters wanted to break from Obama and move to more liberal policies, and they favored Sanders over Biden by 37 percent to 22 percent. 

More than 7 in 10 South Carolina voters were 45 or older. That’s the highest percentage of any of the first four states by far. Biden won this group over Sanders by 3 to 1. Sanders won among voters under age 30, but Biden beat him by 5 percent among voters between the ages of 30 to 44, by 37 points among those ages 45 to 64 and by 55 points among seniors. (I wrote on Friday about Sanders’s struggles with older voters.)

South Carolina’s electorate was also particularly religious, more so than some of the upcoming states. More than 4 out of 10 Democratic primary voters reported attending religious services once a week or more, compared to 13 percent in New Hampshire. Sanders does better among those who go to church less often. Among those who went to church at least once a week in South Carolina, Biden won 57 percent.

Quote of the day

“You cannot win 'em all,” Sanders said, reacting to South Carolina’s results during a rally in Virginia. “And that will not be the only defeat. There are a lot of states in this country, and nobody wins them all.”

Sanders remains the front-runner for the nomination, but he needs a commanding performance on Tuesday to keep that status. He’s heavily favored in California, the biggest delegate prize of the year, where he will campaign later today. Polling published Friday by CNN showed Sanders leading in the Golden State with 35 percent. Others bunched up just below 15 percent: Warren was at 14 percent, Biden at 13 percent and Bloomberg at 12 percent. South Carolina might push Biden into viability, to collect delegates, in a bunch of districts. 

Another CNN poll showed Sanders leading in Texas, the second biggest prize on Tuesday, with 29 percent, followed by Biden at 20 percent, Bloomberg at 18 percent, Warren at 15 percent and no one else in double digits. NBC and Marist released a separate poll this morning of Texas that showed Sanders with 34 percent and Biden trailing with 19 percent. Sanders’s lead is driven by strength among younger Latinos.

No day on this year’s primary-caucus calendar sets up any better for Sanders than this year’s Super Tuesday. Beyond that, primaries in the future are mostly closed, denying Sanders the votes of independents, one of his best constituencies,” Dan Balz explained. “Campaign strategists can’t say just how well Sanders will be positioned after Super Tuesday. There are simply too many variables — too many candidates, too much fluidity and too many combinations about possible outcomes. Campaigns have been modeling the states and constantly tweaking internal projections. As one strategist put it: ‘It’s an insane Rubik’s cube.’”

On Tuesday, 1,357 delegates are up for grabs. To clinch the nomination, a candidate needs 1,991 delegates. “Estimates of delegate totals and of Sanders’s possible margins vary significantly,” Balz reported. “At the high end, say strategists inside the campaigns as well as outside analysts, Sanders could emerge from Tuesday’s contests leading his closest competitor by 300 to as high as 400 delegates. That would put him firmly in command of the race though still might leave him short of a majority going into the convention. At the lower end of estimates, the consensus is that Sanders’s delegate margin could be in the range of 200 or 250. That would still give Sanders the advantage but could be a more manageable margin to overcome for one of the other candidates, but only if the field quickly shrinks after Tuesday.

One non-campaign analysis calculates that Sanders could win between 600 and 700 delegates on Tuesday with the next-highest candidate in the range of 300 to 500. Sanders could emerge with a 2-to-1 lead over his closest challenger, but still well below 50 percent overall. But these are merely possible scenarios, not predictions, and were all based on information before South Carolina voted. Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager, sought to play down suggestions that Sanders will come out of Super Tuesday with a lead of more than 300.”

The Sanders campaign said this morning that it raised $46.5 million in February. “The cash infusion came from 2.2 million individual donations, including more than 350,000 people who gave to the Sanders campaign for the first time,” Sean Sullivan reported. “On Saturday alone, the campaign said it raised $4.5 million. When President Obama was running for office in 2008, he raised $55 million over the same time period. For Sanders, the sum marks a significant increase from the $25 million it collected in January. Since the start of his second campaign for president last February, the campaign said it has raised more than $167 million. The Sanders campaign did not immediately say how much money it had in its account at the end of February. It announced that it was purchasing airtime for TV ads in nine states that vote on March 10 and March 17.”

Candidates are on defense in their home states tomorrow. Sanders, expected to easily carry his home state of Vermont, traveled to Massachusetts on Saturday, which Warren represents. A new Suffolk University-WBZ-Boston Globe poll shows Sanders edging out Warren in Massachusetts 24 percent to 22 percent, which is within the 4.4 percent margin of error, and Bloomberg, who was born in the Bay State, gets 13 percent. The poll puts Buttigieg in fourth place, with Biden in fifth.

Sanders will go on Monday to Minnesota, which Klobuchar represents, in hopes of beating her on her home turf. The Sanders campaign is putting on a concert in the Twin Cities at a venue that holds 18,000 people. A Star Tribune-Minnesota Public Radio poll released last weekend showed Klobuchar leading Sanders 29 percent to 23 percent in the state, with a 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

As South Carolina primary results came in on Feb. 29, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told a crowd in Charlotte that now "all eyes are on North Carolina." (Reuters)

Klobuchar seems likely to come under mounting pressure to drop out after Super Tuesday unless she fares well somewhere beyond Minnesota. “First, she finished a surprisingly strong third in New Hampshire, but otherwise she has been a nonentity,” Aaron Blake explained. “Second, she’s the most ideologically similar to Biden, meaning her exit would most apparently accrue to his benefit. And lastly, Buttigieg has a better argument for staying in the race, given he notched a delegate win in Iowa and polls much better than her nationally. At the same time, given she is far back in the polls, it’s not clear how much Biden might gain by her dropping out. And Biden’s campaign is reportedly encouraging her to stay in, perhaps in hopes that she prevents Sanders from a significant delegate win in her home state.”

But this seems poised to remain a multi-candidate race for a while. Warren has not won a single delegate since the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. But she’s raised enough hard money to stick around for a while on account of her strong debate performances. She was, after all, a high school debate state champion in her native state of Oklahoma, which votes on Tuesday. And she’s now getting more than $15 million of help from a super PAC after flip-flopping and reversing herself on accepting outside money.

Warren campaign manager Roger Lau sent a memo to reporters this morning that suggests they’re focused on winning a contested convention. “As the dust settles after March 3rd, the reality of this race will be clear: no candidate will likely have a path to the majority of delegates needed to win an outright claim to the Democratic nomination,” he wrote. “Our grassroots campaign is built to compete in every state and territory and ultimately prevail at the national convention in Milwaukee.”

Buttigieg’s strategy is to maximize his delegate haul on Tuesday to stay in the hunt for Midwestern primaries in the following weeks. Michigan and Missouri, for example, vote on March 10. Illinois and Ohio vote March 17. The former mayor said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s staying in. “Nothing can take away from Vice President Biden's commanding victory,” said Buttigieg, adding that he knew “South Carolina was going to be a challenging state.” 

“We have reached the conclusion that pushing forward is the best thing we can do for the country and for the party,” said the 38-year-old. “We’ll be assessing at every turn, … making sure that every step we take is in the interest of the party and that goal of making sure we defeat Donald Trump.”

More from the states

Virginia, where 99 delegates are at stake, is one of 14 states holding Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday. (The Washington Post)

In Arkansas, there's no clear favorite. “Arkansas, with 31 available delegates, is worth less than 3% of the total Democratic delegate share on Super Tuesday. The candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, however, have begun treating the state like a worthwhile battleground," the Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock reports. "The reason, perhaps, is due to the lack of a clear front-runner -- or even several -- in this Republican-dominated state. In dozens of interviews with elected Democrats and other party leaders last week, [we] found that support remained split among no fewer than five candidates. Many said they are still waiting to decide for whom to vote. ‘This is really about the first time in 30 years in which there's not been a favorite daughter or favorite son in one of the contests, or someone like Al Gore, who is very clearly identified with a major figure from Arkansas,’ said Andrew Dowdle, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.”

In Colorado, many voters held back their mail-in ballots until the last minute. “As Colorado voters have returned 1 million or so ballots in the last three weeks, Democratic ballots lagged Republican returns, suggesting that large numbers of voters planning to participate in the Democratic primary have held theirs back as they’ve watched the race’s drama play out in other states," the Denver Post reports. "Among more than 50 undecided Colorado voters [we] surveyed or interviewed last week, it was clear many don’t fit into clear ‘liberal’ or ‘moderate’ lanes. While plenty were considering candidates in only one of those categories, others were mulling interesting combos — including several voters weighing a Sanders or a Warren (or both) against a Buttigieg or a Klobuchar.”

Voters in California have also held on to their ballots, giving Biden additional hope. “The portion of returned ballots at this stage is much lower than in recent elections — and his campaign is counting on a late surge of support among those holdouts after his dominant [South Carolina] performance on Saturday,” Politico reports. “Paul Mitchell, an elections expert who has tracked the number of returned vote-by-mail California ballots through Friday [said] he’s seen a significant drop-off among Democratic voters to date from the last two California presidential primaries. And the decline in returned ballots so far is occurring among the most dedicated voters: Those who have participated in the last five elections.”

Election officials there are scrambling to address coronavirus concerns. “While there were ‘no indications of any disruptions to California’s March 3, 2020 presidential primary,’ the California Secretary of State’s office [said] it will continue to monitor any public health alerts that could impact election administration,” ABC News reports. “Officials in Solano County, California are now taking precautionary measures and providing expanded options for voters, including offering an additional location for them to drop off ballots in advance of Super Tuesday. … Voters ‘don’t even have to get out of their car and we’re going to expand that on Monday and Tuesday,’ said John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters for Solano County. … Gardner [said] every polling place and every poll worker will receive disinfectant wipes and spray, hand sanitizer and gloves as additional precautions. In the past, only sanitary wipes were provided to clean the voting equipment itself.” 

Texans early voting has eclipsed the 2016 numbers. “But voters in the state still cast even more early votes in the Republican primary than the Democratic contest, 1,070,278 to 954,583,” the Houston Chronicle reports. “The nearly 7 percent turnout on the Democratic side for the 15 counties with the most registered voters was above the 5 percent racked up after early voting in the 2016 presidential primary.”

Biden has long been popular with black voters in Texas. Will they stick with him? “His lead in Texas polls has disappeared. Now many black voters in Texas and beyond are wondering aloud whether to look elsewhere. If they do en masse, it could effectively end his campaign,” the Texas Tribune reports. "To be sure, Biden does have support from some prominent black Texas leaders. U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, an early Biden backer, said last weekend on CNN that black voters ‘here in the state of Texas — they will not forget that Bernie Sanders threatened to primary President Obama in 2012.’ But Carroll Robinson, the chairman of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, said Biden ‘took his support among black voters for granted, and his outreach wasn’t as assertive as, say, Bloomberg.’”

In Minnesota, the Catholic archdiocese asked priests not to vote in the Democratic primary over concerns that they'd appear “partisan.” Under the state’s system, voters request whichever party's ballot they want, and that preference is recorded and sent to chairs of all four political parties in the state, the Star Tribune reports.

In Maine, Klobuchar presented herself as a centrist capable of bringing the party together. “I think Maine, that practical state that you are, understands that it’s important to have bold ideas that can actually get done,” she told a crowd of several hundred, per the Portland Press Herald. Last week, Maine’s Bangor Daily News endorsed Klobuchar while ripping Sanders. 

In Tennessee, Buttigieg promised to unify the country. “Buttigieg came to Nashville Saturday to make the case that he could unite a coalition of Democrats, independents and ‘future former Republicans’ strong enough to defeat [Trump],” the Tennessean reports. “Buttigieg drew a crowd of about 2,700 to Public Square Park next to Nashville's city hall … It was perhaps the largest showing a Democratic candidate has drawn in the city this cycle. … Nashville Mayor John Cooper attended the rally a day after attending a Klobuchar fundraiser. … Despite attending fundraisers for some candidates, Cooper said he has not donated to any. He also has not endorsed.”

Utah will participate in Super Tuesday for the first time. “It’s not even the 12th biggest prize for the Democratic presidential hopefuls vying to snatch up as many delegates as they can on their march to the nomination,” the Salt Lake Tribune reports. “But the state’s contest matters, as shown by the rare campaign visits, the stream of ads and the excitement of voters casting a ballot in what is still a wide-open race. … That’s different from previous cycles, when Utah’s primary landed later in the spring, too late in many ways to be part of the game.” In 2016, Sanders beat Clinton with nearly 80 percent. Aiming for a similar outcome this time around, Sanders will visit Salt Lake City on Monday.

Biden, Buttigieg, Bloomberg and Klobuchar will address the AIPAC conference with video messages, four years after organizers rejected an offer from Sanders to deliver a video message during his previous presidential campaign. (Jerusalem Post

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, assailed Sanders at the conference as an “ignorant fool.” “Whoever calls the prime minister of Israel a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both,” Danny Danon said. “We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel.” (Times of Israel)

A great Sunday read: What the reckonings of a suburban Southern white woman say about Trump’s chances. Miranda Murphey “is 39, a high school English teacher with a PhD and part of a voting demographic whose rebellion could upend the political map of the country: not just suburban women, not just white suburban women, but white suburban women in the South, whose loyalty Trump will need to remain in power,” Stephanie McCrummen reports. "She first started reevaluating her politics after the election of Barack Obama, even though she had voted Republican. … Then came Trump, who Miranda found so morally repugnant that for the first time in her voting life she wrote in the name of the Libertarian Party candidate and went to bed expecting that good and decent conservatives would do the same. She woke up realizing she was wrong. Church members had voted for Trump. Her parents had gone for Trump. [Her husband]: Trump. And then came Liz, a new English teacher in her district … She was not like anyone Miranda had met before, a Republican who’d become a Democrat and who described her Trump-era self as a ‘full-on rage machine.’ … Miranda was surprised by how often she found herself seeing what Liz meant.”

The coronavirus

Standing with President Trump on Feb. 29, Vice President Pence announced new travel restrictions affecting Iran, Italy and South Korea. (Reuters)
Trump unveiled new travel restrictions after the first death on U.S. soil. 

“A man in his 50s with an underlying health condition became the first person in the United States to die of coronavirus infection,” William Wan, Katie Mettler, Miriam Berger and Carolyn Johnson report. “Along with the fatality in Washington state, health officials in the Seattle area confirmed two additional cases of the covid-19 disease and a possible outbreak at a long-term nursing facility — raising alarm because the elderly and sick are among those most vulnerable to the virus. Officials in California’s Santa Clara County announced another case Saturday, and Illinois announced another case Saturday evening. The new cases bring the number of people apparently infected by community spread of the disease to nine. … One of the three new cases of infection is a health-care worker at the Life Care nursing home in Kirkland, Wash. Another is a woman in her 70s from the nursing home, now in serious condition... The man who died was not associated with the nursing home. … 

“As news of the first fatality broke, Trump announced he would extend an existing travel ban on Iran to apply to any foreign nationals who had been in that country over the past 14 days. He also raised the warning level for travel to Italy and South Korea, recommending Americans not travel to certain regions of those countries with outbreaks of the virus. Trump said he is also considering restrictions across the southern U.S. border. … At the hastily convened news conference, Trump described the patient who died as a ‘wonderful woman’ in her late 50s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later issued a statement saying it had mistakenly described the patient’s gender in a briefing to Trump and Vice President Pence, and local health officials clarified the deceased patient was a man. Trump praised his administration’s response to the virus, calling his earlier decision to ban foreign nationals from China ‘a lifesaver,’ and he urged people to remain calm and to go on living their lives normally. ‘Healthy people, if you’re healthy, you will probably go through a process and you’ll be fine,’ Trump said. … 

On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration took steps to expand testing by speeding up certified hospital laboratories’ ability to create and use their own tests, following complaints from many labs. The FDA also approved a test developed by New York state laboratories, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, making New York the first state able to use its own test. … An unreleased report from a branch of the State Department obtained by The Washington Post on Saturday found roughly 2 million tweets already peddling conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, raising worries about Silicon Valley’s preparedness to combat a surge of dangerous disinformation online. Trying to avoid panic, Pence said Saturday that the average American does not need to buy face masks because of the coronavirus, echoing worries by health officials that hoarding such supplies may put health workers at risk in coming weeks.”

The administration continues trying to contain not just the virus, but also its political damage. 

“Interviews with nearly two dozen administration officials, former White House aides, public health experts and lawmakers … portray a White House scrambling to gain control of a rudderless response defined by bureaucratic infighting, confusion and misinformation ‘It’s complete chaos,’ a senior administration official said. ‘Everyone is just trying to get a handle on what the [expletive] is going on,’” Yasmeen Abutaleb, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report. “Personal animosities between [Health Secretary Alex] Azar and senior members of the White House — including [acting chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney and Joe Grogan, the director of the Domestic Policy Council — also complicated response efforts, several senior administration officials said. Several officials said those relationships have never recovered from past battles … 

“Administration officials [continued plowing] forward with their previous schedules, modifying them only slightly as they tried to minimize the coronavirus threat. Mulvaney spoke, as previously planned, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, where he assured the crowd, ‘We know how to handle this,’ and accused the news media of overhyping the virus to ‘bring down the president.’ Pence, too, continued with a prior commitment Friday evening — a closed-door, high-dollar fundraiser in Sarasota, Fla. — while tacking on a brief coronavirus response meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) at the airport … And Trump held a long-standing campaign rally Friday in North Charleston, S.C., where he accused Democrats of ‘politicizing’ the coronavirus. ‘And this is their new hoax,’ the president crowed from the stage.” 

Nancy Pelosi will bring a coronavirus funding bill to the floor this week. 

The House speaker didn’t indicate a price tag, but “she said the funding package must be new money and ‘not stolen from other accounts.’ She said House appropriators will work to ensure there is a firewall around the funds so the president cannot use the money for anything other than fighting the coronavirus,” Colby Itkowitz reports. “Pelosi said the funding package should also include money to make eventual vaccines available to everyone, loans for small businesses hurt by disruptions, and reimbursement for state and local governments responding to outbreaks.” 

The outbreak is creating huge medical bills. 

“Frank Wucinski and his 3-year-old daughter, Annabel, are among the dozens of Americans the government has flown back to the country from Wuhan, China, and put under quarantine to check for signs of coronavirus. Now they are among what could become a growing number of families hit with surprise medical bills related to government-mandated actions,” the NYT reports. “Both have repeatedly tested negative for the virus. After their release from quarantine, Mr. Wucinski and his daughter went to stay with his mother in Harrisburg, Pa. That’s where they found a pile of medical bills waiting: $3,918 in charges from hospital doctors, radiologists and an ambulance company. ‘I assumed it was all being paid for,’ Mr. Wucinski said. ‘We didn’t have a choice.’ … The federal government has the authority to quarantine and isolate patients if officials believe them to be a public health threat. These powers, which date back to cholera outbreaks among ship passengers in the late 19th century, are rarely used. They don’t say anything about who pays when the isolation happens in a nongovernmental medical facility — or when they’re brought there by a private ambulance company.” 

Australia also reported its first coronavirus death. 

“A 78-year-old man who contracted the coronavirus after spending time on the Diamond Princess cruise ship died Saturday in a Perth hospital, becoming Australia’s first death from the disease. The man and his 79-year-old wife were among 164 Australians who were evacuated from the cruise ship, which was docked in Japan while people on board were quarantined, and flown to Australia for treatment last week,” Derek Hawkins reports. “His wife was also placed in isolation, where she tested positive Friday. Robertson said she was in stable condition. ‘She had the opportunity to talk to him prior to his death, but she’s understandably quite upset. And I obviously ask that people respect their privacy,’ Robertson told Australia’s national broadcaster.”

China and South Korea reported hundreds of new cases. 

“Chinese health officials early Sunday, local time, reported an additional 573 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 35 deaths on the country’s mainland. In keeping with the pattern throughout the outbreak, the vast majority of those cases and deaths were in Hubei province, where the virus first emerged. The total number of cases on the mainland reached 79,824, and the total number of deaths hit 2,870,” Marisa Iati reports. “In nearby South Korea, health officials reported 376 additional cases of the coronavirus, 333 of which were in the southern city of Daegu. … The total number of cases in South Korea stands at 3,526, and the death count is 17.” 

Italy became the third country to have more than 1,000 coronavirus cases. 

“The latest data, according to the Italian government, shows that 1,049 people nationwide are positive for the virus, and another 29 have died. More than half of the cases are in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy, which includes Milan. But a handful of cases have popped up as far south as Sicily and Puglia,” Chico Harlan reports. 

Mexico hit back at Trump’s comments on possibly closing the border. 

With polite astonishment, Mexico noted “that ‘there are four cases of covid-19 registered in our country and 22 in the U.S.’ The Foreign Ministry said the U.S. and Mexican governments were in close contact on the issue, and Mexico was willing to cooperate with Washington to protect public health,” Mary Beth Sheridan reports. “Few cases of coronavirus have been reported in Latin America. Ecuador reported its first confirmed case Saturday, and two cases have been confirmed in Brazil.” 

A peace deal in Afghanistan

The agreement signed with the Taliban in Doha set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. 

“The agreement to end the brutal U.S.-Taliban conflict in Afghanistan … was signed on Saturday under the gaze of tough men in turbans, who clapped and shouted ‘Allahu akbar!’” Karen DeYoung reports. “Trump hailed the accord, formalized with signatures and a handshake between U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and his Taliban counterpart, Abdul Ghani Baradar, as historic. … Trump said he would be ‘meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not too distant future.’ Asked whether such a meeting would be overseas, or if he would invite them to Camp David, an idea he broached last year, he said, ‘We’re looking at that.’ Senior administration officials, while claiming success, offered slightly more tempered expressions of optimism. …

Many veterans of the years-long efforts to end the war and leave a stable Afghanistan, as well as Trump supporters, questioned whether the new agreement laid a sturdy groundwork for permanent peace. Some described it as a capitulation to the Taliban, whose primary demand has always been the full departure of foreign troops. … Some senior military and intelligence officials ‘are concerned that the administration is putting too much stock in the promises of the Taliban,’ who will ‘simply sign anything to get us to leave,’ [said a former senior defense official]. … 

"The conditions in the agreement appeared to relate far more to the insurgents’ promises to stop attacking the Americans as they leave, and to sever ties with other terrorist groups, rather than a long-term solution for Afghans. … The agreement includes a Taliban commitment to start direct negotiations with the Afghan government over a cease-fire and political settlement of the war within 10 days. Those negotiations, tentatively to be held in Norway, are already complicated by political upheaval in Kabul, where President Ashraf Ghani’s recent reelection is under challenge and there are major fights over the composition of a negotiating team. The agenda for the talks is massive, including a comprehensive cease-fire, the role of the Taliban in a future government, and rights for women and civil society. No format has been established, and there is no deadline for completion. … 

“The agreement also provides for the ‘expeditious’ release by March 10 of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 prisoners held by ‘the other side,’ and the release of all remaining prisoners within the subsequent three months. It does not mention whether ‘the other side’ includes Taliban prisoners being held by the United States. including some at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. … John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, called the deal ‘an unacceptable risk to the United States’ civilian population.' … At his news conference, Trump indicated that the Taliban would take over the fight against the Islamic State and others, although the agreement, and a separate joint declaration with the Afghan government, cite only Taliban responsibilities for preventing terrorist groups from activities within territory under Taliban control.” 

The Afghan government also questioned aspects of the deal. 

“‘Freeing Taliban prisoners is not [under] the authority of America, but the authority of the Afghan government. There has been no commitment for the release of 5,000 prisoners,’ Ghani told reporters gathered inside the palace in Kabul on Sunday. Ghani said the prisoner swap could be discussed during talks with the Taliban but could not be a precondition,” Susannah George reports. "The peace deal did not mention [the] future of the period of reduced violence that preceded the deal’s signing. Following the signing ceremony Saturday, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the week-long period of reduced violence has ‘ended.’ Ghani, however, said Sunday that the reduction in violence would extend and eventually transform into a cease-fire.”

Social media speed read

Buttigieg met with Jimmy Carter in Georgia this morning: 

Trump reacted to the South Carolina results:

Steyer responded:

Clyburn celebrated his kingmaker status:

Videos of the day

“Saturday Night Live” opened with a coronavirus press conference:  

Colin Jost and Michael Che had thoughts about Trump's coronavirus response: