News Brief: Election Results, Stock Markets Drop, Gene-Editing Tool
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is far from a done deal, but this morning after Super Tuesday, we're a lot closer to knowing who the 2020 Democratic nominee for president will be.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Remember; this started out as the most diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates in history. The front-runners now are two white men in their 70s, both with long political careers - Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
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JOE BIDEN: Just a few days ago, the press and the pundits had declared the campaign dead.
BIDEN: And then came South Carolina, and they had something to say about it.
BIDEN: And we were told, well, when you got to Super Tuesday, it'd be over. Well, it may be over for the other guy.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).
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BERNIE SANDERS: Tonight, I tell you with absolute confidence, we are going to win the Democratic nomination.
MARTIN: The voices of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders after last night's contests. We've got NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us to clarify what has happened and what it means going forward. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
MARTIN: So it was a late night for all of us as we watched these returns come in. Big headline is that Joe Biden needed to do well. And he did, right?
LIASSON: Yes, he did. The big question going in was, would Bernie Sanders end the night on a glide path to a plurality of delegates with an all-but-insurmountable lead? We came out of the night with Biden with the most votes and delegates so far, and maybe he's on track to get a plurality before the convention. The race is now a two-man fight for delegates.
Yesterday was a test of three things - money, momentum and movement or organization. It turns out money didn't mean so much. Bloomberg spent a ton of it and didn't do very well. In terms of movement and organization, well, Bernie Sanders had that in spades. Joe Biden only had one field office in California...
LIASSON: ...And one in Virginia. In some places, he didn't even campaign. It turns out that free media - earned media - momentum really mattered. And that's what Joe Biden had. He had endorsements, and it translated into wins. Who would've thunk it?
LIASSON: You know? Historical rules only work till they stop working.
MARTIN: Until they don't work anymore.
LIASSON: That's what we learned last night.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Right. So we should just point out, we hear a lot about the fact that Bernie Sanders took California; Joe Biden came out on top of Texas - two very delegate-rich states. But it doesn't mean that each of those candidates walks away with all those delegates, right?
LIASSON: No, because it's not a winner-take-all system the way the Republicans have. There's a 15% threshold. You don't get any delegates unless you get over 15% of the popular vote. If no one else gets 15%, then you can take all the delegates or a huge amount of the delegates - a bigger percentage of the delegates than the percentage of the popular vote that you got. But if a lot of other candidates get over 15%, then the winner of the state ends up taking a smaller percentage of the delegates than the percentage they got of the popular vote. That's why it's very important to see the final delegate totals.
LIASSON: We don't have those yet. But if you win big, you get more delegates than if you win by a smaller margin.
MARTIN: All right. So let's talk about Elizabeth Warren, who did not have a good night. She really needed to do well or at least have a showing, right?
LIASSON: Needed to do well. She came in third in her own home state of Massachusetts. She lost this place she was born, Oklahoma. And then, of course, that follows her fourth-place finish in the neighboring state of New Hampshire. But last night, she did not give any indication of giving up. Here's what she said.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: No matter how scared you are, no matter how hard it looks, you get out there, and you fight for the people you love.
LIASSON: So what Elizabeth Warren is going to do next is the subject of a lot of speculation. She had talked earlier about maybe a brokered convention; that was her path to the nomination.
LIASSON: But now she's splitting the left lane of the party with Bernie Sanders. Is that what she wants? Or will she drop out and endorse him? No one knows.
MARTIN: All right. Let's finish on Mike Bloomberg because this is the first time he actually appeared on any ballot. He has spent an enormous amount of money. He only took American Samoa, a territory, last night. So what happens to his campaign moving forward?
LIASSON: Well, he's reassessing his campaign. But even if he doesn't continue as a candidate, he is still on track to play what could be a game-changing and historic role in the election because he has said he will spend whatever it takes - billions of dollars if necessary - to support whoever is the nominee of the party. And he'll fund down-ballot Democratic candidates. He'll fund get-out-the-vote drives. He'll fund everything. That's what he says he'll do. And that is pretty significant.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson on the results of Super Tuesday. Mara, thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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MARTIN: OK. The World Health Organization says that the death rate of COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus - that death rate is now at about 3.4%, which is higher than previously thought. The battle against coronavirus is really happening on a lot of different fronts, including at the Federal Reserve.
KING: Yeah. That's right. The Fed made an emergency interest rate cut yesterday to try to protect the economy from the effects of the virus, but it didn't seem to work. The S&P, the Dow and the Nasdaq all fell yesterday anyway.
MARTIN: We've got NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley with us this morning. So Scott, just start with what was supposed to happen. What was the intention of the Fed in making this rate cut?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The Fed was hoping to inject some confidence in the economy and the stock market after the worst week on Wall Street since the financial crisis. This was the first time the Fed had cut rates outside of an ordinarily scheduled meeting. And they cut by half a point, not a quarter point as they usually do. They don't have a whole lot of monetary ammunition here, so they wanted to act quickly and dramatically even though Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged that this action on its own would not shield the economy from coronavirus damage.
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JEROME POWELL: We do recognize that a rate cut will not reduce the rate of infection. It won't fix a broken supply chain. We get that. We don't think we have all the answers. But we do believe that our action will provide a meaningful boost to the economy.
HORSLEY: The initial reaction in the stock market was positive. The Dow jumped about 300 points when the news first broke. But the more investors thought about it, the less they liked it. And the major indexes ended the day down around 3%.
MARTIN: Right. So what went wrong? I mean, how did he miscalculate?
HORSLEY: Well, it is odd because just a day earlier, the market had jumped 4 to 5% on the promise of just this kind of rate cut. So it's a little bit unusual. I spoke to the chief economist at LendingTree, Tendayi Kapfidze. And he just thinks the Fed missed the mark. This is not the kind of medicine the economy needs to deal with the coronavirus epidemic.
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TENDAYI KAPFIDZE: I don't see that a rate cut makes me want to get on a plane or go to a sports stadium or any other kind of economic activity that increases my risk of infections.
HORSLEY: Now, futures markets are pointing to the possibility of a rebound on Wall Street today, so there may be some reassessment. Although that may also reflect investors' attitudes about yesterday's Super Tuesday results.
MARTIN: Right. So as you have pointed out, there are limits to what monetary policy can do when it comes to something like a public health crisis like the coronavirus. Is there another option for governments to employ?
HORSLEY: There is. For example, South Korea is asking for just money to help businesses that are adversely affected by the epidemic. President Trump has been talking about a payroll tax holiday, which was something that was done during the recession. But there's been little follow-up on that from the White House and almost no talk about it on Capitol Hill.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley for us. Thank you, Scott. We appreciate it.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: And now some news from the world of medicine.
KING: Yeah. For the first time ever, doctors have used a revolutionary gene-editing technique. They're trying to treat a patient by editing that patient's DNA while it is still inside the person's body.
MARTIN: We've got NPR health correspondent Rob Stein with us to explain. Hi, Rob.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: This sounds crazy. Scientists edited someone's DNA from inside their body.
MARTIN: Explain. What does that mean?
STEIN: Yeah. Well, they have literally genetically modified someone from the inside. And here's what I mean. Scientists - you know, they've been using a tool called CRISPR to rewrite the genetic code, you know, to try to treat diseases like cancer and sickle cell.
STEIN: But until now, doctors have been taking cells out of the bodies - you know, cells like bone marrow cells - editing the DNA in the cells and then infusing the genetically modified cells back in.
STEIN: Now, for the first time, they've tried this entirely new strategy to try to treat someone with a rare genetic disease that destroys their vision.
MARTIN: That is amazing. So what happened? I mean, can you explain in layman's terms what they did?
STEIN: Yeah, yeah. It's really fascinating. You know, a surgeon cut a tiny hole in the patient's eye and then dripped in three tiny, little drops of liquid containing billions of harmless viruses that were genetically engineered to carry the genetic instructions for creating this CRISPR gene-editing tool inside the retina. The CRISPR then hopefully cut out the genetic defect that's causing the disease, letting the cells produce a crucial protein that will hopefully heal the sick cells in the retina and giving the patient the ability to see. Here's Eric Pierce. He's the Harvard doctor running this study.
ERIC PIERCE: If we can fix the underlying genetic defect, we have the potential to restore vision to people who never had normal vision before. It would indeed be amazing.
MARTIN: That's phenomenal. So this is a person who couldn't see - hopefully that their vision is going to be restored. What happens now, Rob?
STEIN: They just did this procedure at the Casey Eye Institute. It's at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. And it's on the first volunteer, first study that's testing this. So the first thing the doctors and the scientists are looking for is, you know, whether it's safe. Remember; you know, nothing like this has ever been done before. So they're starting with a very low dose in an older patient who already had extensive vision damage. And they're only treating one eye. And this is all, you know, just to make sure it doesn't backfire somehow, end up destroying whatever vision they do have instead of helping them.
STEIN: But the scientists say this patient could start to see better within, you know, maybe just a few weeks. So doctors are going to be watching really closely both for any problems and for any improvements before trying this on more patients.
MARTIN: And obviously paying attention because if it works, I assume it's going to have effects, implications for other diseases, right?
STEIN: Yeah. That's right. That's one of the reasons scientists are so excited about this. You know, there are many other diseases where you really can't treat them by taking cells out of their body and editing them and putting them back in. And the only way to get to the cells that need to be fixed, you know, for brain diseases like Huntington's disease, maybe some inherited forms of dementia, muscle diseases like muscular dystrophy, is to edit from the inside instead of from the outside.
STEIN: This is what Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health said about all this.
FRANCIS COLLINS: All of us dream of what time might be coming, where we could apply this approach for thousands of diseases.
STEIN: He said it's really exciting, and he's looking forward to see what happens next.
MARTIN: Wow. The implications could be huge. NPR's Rob Stein for us this morning. Thank you, Rob. We appreciate it.
STEIN: No problem.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say that the Federal Reserve cut rates this week for the first time outside of a scheduled meeting. In fact, it was the first time since the financial crisis in 2008 that the Fed acted outside of a scheduled meeting.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.