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News Brief: Biden Expected To Announce Candidacy, Measles, Putin Meets Kim


Earlier this month, after delivering a speech to a construction union, Joe Biden was asked - what's the holdup? - by a pool of reporters.


He made it pretty clear. The day he'd announce he was running for president was fast approaching.


JOE BIDEN: Putting everything together, man - putting everything together. My intention in the beginning is, if I were to run, I'd be the last person to announce - give everybody else their day, then I get a shot. And then we're off to the races.

MARTIN: He is expected to begin that race this morning, becoming the 20th candidate to enter the Democratic primary.

GREENE: And let's bring in NPR's Scott Detrow, who is covering the 2020 presidential campaign.

Hi, Scott.


GREENE: OK. So what is the landscape for a candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden?

DETROW: This is the most diverse field ever. This is the largest field in memory. Very importantly, it is now at maximum capacity for the debates. There is only space for 20 candidates on the stage...

GREENE: (Laughter).

DETROW: ...Over the course of two nights - just 20. You got to put a limit...

GREENE: No more room. No more room.


DETROW: So let's just look at one metric of support. Collectively, campaigns have raised more than $75 million so far on the Democratic side. So Joe Biden has a lot of catching up to do. He is getting started today with a big fundraiser in Philadelphia with high-profile names from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. But this is just one of the many ways that Biden isn't the exact fit for the modern campaign or the current Democratic Party. He's going to be raising a lot of big money from big donors, like Hillary Clinton did, while others are really focused on small donors online driving their campaign.

GREENE: Well, it's interesting. I mean, he said himself he wanted to wait and be the last to declare, which has allowed people already to raise questions about his past and his record even before making it official. How has he been dealing with that?

DETROW: Yeah. The way that this played out was Biden already dealt with the negatives of being a candidate without fully being in the race and having a chance to make the case for himself - the positives. Most prominently, several women have stepped forward to say that ways he touched them made them uncomfortable. Biden has been known, for a long time, as a touchy guy, a candidate who just gives out a lot of hugs. But even then he seemed taken aback by this. The campaign put out statements. He did a video.


BIDEN: Social norms have began to change. They've shifted. And the boundaries of protected personal space have been reset, and I get it. I get it. I hear what they're saying. I understand it. And I'll be much more mindful. That's my responsibility.

DETROW: Then when Biden did a public appearance, he basically laughed off the accusations publicly and had to do a press conference cleaning that up. This is Barack Obama's vice president. He's the top foreign policy Democrat over the course of decades. But there's a lot of different policies - the '90s tough-on-crime policies, the fact that he chaired the Anita Hill hearings - something he said he would do differently - positions that he had on guns, on bussing, you know, over the course of decades. And the fact is, the Democratic Party has shifted pretty hard to the left in the last few years especially. And it's just a different political world than when Biden was in the Senate for a long time.

GREENE: Well - and the party has shifted to the left. And you also have this - as we said - really diverse field with a lot of younger candidates. Given that, like, what is Biden's pitch to voters?

DETROW: Yeah. I'm in Houston right now because I was covering a forum yesterday where eight Democratic candidates appeared. And that was just another event really crystallizing the progressive, leftward shift of the party over the last few years. Biden seems to be positioning himself to campaign in a centrist way, not just on policy but in tone in approach to politics as well. Expect to hear him talk a lot about unifying the country. He's been saying a lot recently how President Trump and his style of governing and campaigning are hurting America, eroding its ideals and values. So that's the focus that we expect to hear from Biden, especially in the early days.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Scott Detrow on this day where Biden becomes the 20th Democrat in the race.

Scott, thanks a lot.

DETROW: Sure thing.


GREENE: So we're not even halfway into 2019, and yet the number of measles cases declared has already surpassed any other year since the disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. two decades ago.

MARTIN: Right. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed yesterday that the number of cases right now has risen to 695. Twenty-two states have been impacted, but the majority of the cases are in a couple specific parts of the country. One of those is New York City, predominantly among the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and Queens - 390 cases there alone since that outbreak began last October. Dr. Joseph Kaplovitz is a pediatrician working with that community. Here's what he had to say about the reluctance to get vaccinated.


JOSEPH KAPLOVITZ: Some of the misinformation is that it causes autism, that the vaccines contain mercury, that the vaccine - that the disease itself will actually protect them from cancer, that the disease itself will protect them from eczema.

GREENE: All right. Let's talk more about this with Gwynne Hogan. She covers health from member station WNYC in New York.

Good morning.

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Good morning. How's it going?

GREENE: Good. Thanks for being here for us. Can you just talk about how this situation has gotten so severe in this particular part of New York City?

HOGAN: Sure. The outbreak has been going on since October here in New York. Several travelers caught the virus in other countries, including Israel, the Ukraine and the U.K. They brought it back. And there were enough unvaccinated people within this population that it spread and spread and spread. And New York City now says that they track the recent spike in cases to a January incident, where an unvaccinated child had the measles but wasn't showing symptoms and went to school, which was against the orders of the health department at the time. And there were other unvaccinated children in class. And so it spread to some 40 other people. And since then, there's just kind of been an ongoing spike.

GREENE: Well - and we heard a little bit there about some of what people in this community feel about vaccinations. I mean, just step back from it. You've been covering this for some time now. What more are you hearing from community leaders and families who have been impacted by this?

HOGAN: Yeah. I mean, I want to say the vast majority of people within this community vaccinate. Almost all of the community leaders, the religious leaders, the pediatricians, as you heard, have come out in support of vaccination. But there is a small percentage of the community that is listening to sort of the larger anti-vaccination voices on this field and sort of have been swayed by some of this misinformation. And what I'm hearing in the community is that there's just a lot of frustration because it does directly impact this community the most. People who can't get vaccinated are really susceptible during a measles outbreak - so people who are immunosuppressant, who are undergoing chemotherapy, children - or, you know, children who are undergoing chemotherapy - and babies who are too young to be vaccinated. So there's a lot of frustration within the community about this.

GREENE: How is this going to get contained? I mean, the mayor of New York declared a state of emergency this month. But it seems like the cases are just growing. Like, is - whatever the city is doing, is it not working?

HOGAN: That's a good question. And we're going to see because, as you said, the mayor just announced a state of emergency, which mandates vaccination in certain zip codes in Williamsburg. Since then, they've seen about a thousand children get vaccinated. They've also started to issue fines under this order. Twelve people have been fined. So the city says that they're seeing some early success. But there's a long incubation period for measles, so we're sort of going to see how this plays out over the next few weeks.

GREENE: Gwynne Hogan covers health from member station WNYC in New York City, talking to us on Skype this morning.

Gwynne, we appreciate it.

HOGAN: Thanks for having me.


GREENE: All right. North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, is really mixing it up.

MARTIN: Right. So after his second meeting with President Trump went nowhere back in February, he's now in Russia, where he sat down today with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


MARTIN: Kim traveled in his armored train to Vladivostok on Russia's pacific coast, where he was met by a Russian honor guard.

GREENE: Nothing like the sound of music like that and a Russian honor guard. Let's turn to NPR's Lucian Kim, who's on the line. He's been covering the summit.

Hi, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So anything come out of today's meetings or was this, you know, just a lot of music and a big welcome?

KIM: Well, it's actually not quite finished yet. The bilateral talks that are including the government ministers are just wrapping up right now. But Putin and Kim did already have a face-to-face talk, which lasted two hours - twice as long as they had originally planned. Here's what Putin said after his one-on-one with Kim.



KIM: So what Putin was saying is that talks - that they had very comprehensive talks and that, in particular, they discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula and ways to improve it. But even before any talks started, the Kremlin has downplayed expectations. And we don't expect any joint statement or something like that.

GREENE: And you say improve the situation on the peninsula. I mean, it sounds like the Kremlin, at least in its statements, has said that denuclearization is the goal. If that's true, I mean, does Russia have leverage, even more leverage than countries like the United States, in some way, to convince North Korea to do things differently?

KIM: Well, it's important to remember that the Soviet Union actually created North Korea. And that was one of the first battlegrounds of the Cold War. So relations really go back a very long time. Putin knew Kim Jong Un's father, who also visited Vladivostok. But today, of course, Russia also has very close relations with South Korea. And its influence over North Korea has dropped off. North Korea looks a lot more to China as sort of a big brother. But Russia is always eager to step in. And in fact, the Kremlin has been trying to set up this summit for more than a year.

GREENE: So, Lucian, I mean, a lot of foreign policy observers have seen Vladimir Putin trying to extend Russian influence abroad. And here you have Trump and Kim with this summit that basically falls apart with no results. And now Putin's stepping in and meeting with Kim. I mean, are there implications here for U.S. diplomacy and U.S. foreign policy?

KIM: Possibly. I mean, Putin said, at the very beginning of his meeting today with Kim, that he welcomed the normalization of relations between the U.S. and North Korea. And that's not just Putin being sarcastic. North Korea is really one of those areas where the U.S. and Russia see eye to eye and actually cooperate quite closely. Russia has a real interest in a lasting peace in North Korea. It's a neighbor. They share a border together. And they have some joint economic projects they want to get off the ground. But, of course, Putin is also enjoying just interjecting himself into this ongoing conversation that President Trump is trying to have with Kim.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Lucian Kim talking to us about that meeting between Kim and Vladimir Putin today.

Lucian, thanks so much.

KIM: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Gwynne Hogan
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.