Democracy 2020 Digest: Biden press secretary says Sanders 'is lying'

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A new day saw Sen. Bernie Sanders take aim again against the record of former Vice President Joe Biden, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The populist senator from Vermont’s been targeting Biden since the former vice president’s landslide victory over Sanders in last weekend’s South Carolina primary. The contrasts Sanders has been painting over policy intensified after Biden swept 10 of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday, giving him a lead in the all-important reace for Democratic convention delegates.

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“As we enter the moment in this campaign where we come down to a two-person race, I think it is important for us to differentiate our records and I intend to do that,” Sanders stressed on Friday in Arizona.

The senator criticized Biden over his reproductive rights record and specifically his past support for the Hyde Amendment, the decades-old ban on federal funds for abortion.

“Biden repeatedly voted for the Hyde Amendment. And the Hyde Amendment is an amendment which would deny lower-income women access to Medicaid funds in order to make their own reproductive decisions. I am very proud to say that I have a lifetime of voting record in support of a woman’s right to control her own body,” Sanders emphasized while taking questions from reporters.

After pressure from the left – including some of his more progressive rivals at the time for the Democratic nomination -- Biden last June abruptly dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment.

A day after reaffirming his support for the decades-old ban on federal funds for abortions, Biden made headlines as he changed course.

"If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code,” Biden declared to a cheering crowd at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta. “I can't justify leaving millions of women without the access to care they need, and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right.”

Sanders also knocked Biden over LGBTQ+ rights.

“Today, thank God, it is relatively easy to be a champion of gay rights. Virtually every Democratic candidate for president was, and I believe sincerely, a champion of gay rights, including Joe Biden. But that was not the case 25 years ago, when it was not so easy to stand up for the LGBT community,” Sanders said.

Sanders then argued that “Joe Biden was not one of them. Furthermore, Joe supported banning opening gay Americans from serving in the military. The so-called -- the Don't Ask, Don't Tell effort. My view was very different.”

Biden campaign national press secretary Jamal Brown charged that “ .@BernieSanders is lying. @JoeBiden is on record saying he didn't have an issue with gays & lesbians in the military.”

Sanders jabs came as Biden released his plan to advance LGBTQ+ rights

“For all the hard-won progress we've made in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, we're not done — not nearly. That's why I just released my plan to advance LGBTQ+ equality in America and around the world,” the former vice president tweeted.

Michigan in spotlight

Sanders headed from Arizona to Michigan on Friday to headline an evening rally in Detroit with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. The congresswoman who represents parts of Detroit and its suburbs is one of the four members of a group of freshmen progressive female Democrats in the House known as ‘the Squad.’

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Sanders cancelled a campaign event in Mississippi to head straight to Michigan, where he’ll stump for three straight days. With 125 pledged delegates at stake, Michigan’s the biggest prize among the six states holding primaries on Tuesday, March 10. Missouri, Mississippi, Washington State, Idaho and North Dakota also hold contests.

Sanders told reporters on Thursday, "Michigan is where we'll spend a bit of our time."

Fox News announced on Friday that it will host a second town hall with Sanders that will take place in Detroit on Monday on the eve of the Michigan primary. The town hall – which will take place from 6:30 -7:30 p.m. ET will be co-moderated by "Special Report" anchor Bret Baier and "The Story" anchor Martha MacCallum.

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The latest poll in the state – a Detroit News/WDIV-TV survey conducted before Biden’s big night on Super Tuesday – indicated the former vice president topping Sanders by 6 percentage points.

Sanders, who’s making his second straight presidential run, defeated eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary in the state, thanks to a last-minute upset win. That foreshadowed Clinton’s narrow loss to Donald Trump in the November 2016 general election in Michigan. Trump’s victory with working-class white voters in the state, as well as narrow wins in two other crucial Rust Belt states -- Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- propelled him into the White House.

Sanders on Nazi flag incident: ‘It is beyond disgusting’

Sanders on Friday called the unfurling of a Nazi flag at his rally in Arizona on Thursday night “horrific.”

A person in the crowd at the event who hung a flag with a swastika on it was immediately booed by the crowd – with members of the audience ripping the flag from the man’s hands. The person was quickly removed from the Sanders rally by security.

Sanders said he didn’t immediately know what was taking place.

“I saw a lot of people looking up and booing and all that stuff. And I didn't learn until I left the stage that it was a swastika. And I will simply say this, and I speak not only as a Jewish American, I think I can speak for the families of some 400,000 American troops who died fighting Nazism, fighting fascism, that it is, it is horrific.”

“It is beyond disgusting to see that in the United States of America, there are people who would show the emblem of Hitler and Nazism. And I was, I was shocked to learn about that later,” he added.

Former rivals back Biden

Two former Democratic presidential candidates on Friday backed Biden. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick – who were considered moderate White House contenders – formally endorsed the former vice president.

Biden’s enjoyed a tidal wave of support from former nomination rivals as well as current and former members of Congress and governors since his Saturday night landslide in South Carolina, as moderate and establishment Democratic lawmakers and officials have coalesced behind Biden.

Gabbard all but certain to fail to make debate stage

She’s won two delegates from American Samoa –  but that’s far short of what Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii needs to make the next Democratic presidential primary debate stage.

The Democratic National Committee on Friday announced the criteria to qualify for the upcoming primary debate – and new threshold virtually guarantees it will be a two candidate debate between Biden and Sanders.

Unlike past debates – there’s only one criteria for the March 15 prime-time showdown in Phoenix, Arizona – and that’s convention delegates. To make the stage, a candidate must have won at least 20 percent of the delegates awarded so far.

As of Friday afternoon, Biden had 652 delegates. That’s roughly 47 percent of those awarded so far in the cycle. Sanders had 573 delegates – which is about 41 percent. Gabbard’s t2 delegates won is less than 1 percent of all delegates awarded.

While there are still some delegates to be allotted from this week’s Super Tuesday contests and six more states hold contests on Tuesday, March 10, it’s extremely unlikely Gabbard will reach 20 percent of delegates awarded by March 15’s debate.

Gabbard has not qualified for a debate since the November showdown in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fox News' Andrew Craft contributed to this report