Headlines: June 24, 2020
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Several states that held primary elections on Tuesday are reporting preliminary results. In New York, where tens of thousands of absentee ballots are yet to be counted, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez survived her first primary after beating Joe Crowley two years ago. She won her race by a landslide pulling around 70% of the vote against multiple challengers from the left and right – this in spite of one of her competitors garnering large numbers of donations from Wall Street executives who see an enemy in the young progressive lawmaker. Elsewhere in New York, in a race reminiscent of Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Crowley, a middle school principle turned political candidate Jamaal Bowman appears to have beaten long-time incumbent Eliot Engel. Bowman, who was backed by Justice Democrats, the same organization at Ocasio-Cortez, earned endorsements from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Representative Engel has drawn the ire of progressives for his hawkish foreign policy among other things. Two other insurgent political candidates Ritchie Torres, in the Bronx, who sits on the city council, is leading in the race for a seat being vacated by representative Jose Serrano, and Mondaire Jones is ahead in a race for a seat that had been held by retiring Representative Nita Jones. New York’s preliminary results show the public’s hunger for progressives of color in particular.
In the Presidential primary, former Vice President Joe Biden handily won 67% of the vote as the only actively campaigning candidate remaining in the race. In spite of ending his campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders remained on the ballot and still garnered an impressive 19% of the vote – which progressive Democratic voters hope will give them greater say over Biden’s platform. Biden also won in Kentucky, bringing his total number of delegates to 2,304, past the 1,991 needed to cinch the nomination. A high-profile Democratic primary in Kentucky over who will challenge Senator Mitch McConnell in November appears to have resulted in victory for Amy McGrath. State Representative Charles Booker has challenged McGrath from the left for the Democratic Party’s Senate nomination and Booker had in recent weeks won high-profile endorsements from progressives. But in preliminary results McGrath is leading Booker although absentee ballots could potentially change the outcome. Voting rights advocates denounced the massive cuts to Kentucky’s polling places especially in minority areas that kept people waiting in line for hours to vote.
In other election news, President Trump suffered at least two political losses on Tuesday when candidates that he backed in Republican primaries lost. According to AP, “In western North Carolina, GOP voters picked 24-year-old investor Madison Cawthorn over Trump-backed real estate agent Lynda Bennett.” And, “Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian-minded maverick who often clashes with GOP leaders, was renominated for a sixth House term.” Trump has publicly attacked Massie. The results may be an added indicator of Trump’s waning popularity.
In a nationwide New York Times/Siena College poll, Biden leads Trump by 14 percentage points at 50% to Trump’s 36%. Still, the election is more than 4 months away. Trump’s low rating was directly linked to public perceptions of his failure to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and racist police violence. Trump appears to not be taking the lesson to heart as he considers ending the declaration of emergency over the pandemic even as infection rates are surging. On Wednesday the US documented its third highest total of coronavirus infections since the pandemic was declared – a number around 35,000. It is the highest single-day total since April. Covid-19-related hospitalizations are surging in states like Arizona and Texas. One Arizona doctor told NBC, “Each day I’ve been going into work over the last month is worse, and what I mean by worse is … just overwhelmed with COVID patients.” More than 80% of hospital beds are now in use. Similarly in Florida, CNN reports that, “hospitalizations, intensive care visits and ventilation use have all begun to increase over the past two weeks.” The situation is so severe that the European Union is now considering banning all travel to their continent from the US, alongside Russia and Brazil, citing the spread of Covid-19. Coronavirus rates in Latin America are also surging with deaths officially surpassing 100,000. Meanwhile the US state of Virginia this week became the first one to create workplace safety mandates in the absence of federal government action.
Meanwhile Trump traveled to Arizona this week to visit the US border with Mexico and in a statement wholly cut off from reality declared while standing in front of the border wall, “It stopped COVID, it stopped everything.” Trump’s visit was meant to highlight his new immigration ban that his administration announced will remain in place until the end of the year. That ban impacts legal immigrants who apply for green cards through their children or siblings, and workers applying for H-1B visas in fields like medicine – not those who cross the border on foot. Meanwhile media reports pointed out that Trump’s much-touted border wall that he campaigned on and that his anti-immigrant base has celebrated, has only 3 miles built – all using American tax dollars. Trump had promised a 2000-mile wall paid for by Mexico.
In news from the mass uprising against racist police violence, the US Justice Department is now considering investigating the Minneapolis Police Department whose officers stand accused of killing George Floyd. Under Trump, the DOJ unraveled all of the Obama-era federal oversight on police departments that were put into place after the Ferguson, Missouri uprising. Meanwhile the Republican Party’s police reform bill appears dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Senators voted 55-45 to advance the bill, falling short of the 60 votes needed. On Thursday Democrats in the House expect to pass their version of the bill which goes much further than the Senate Republican version but still falls short of what Black Lives Matter leaders have been asking for. Meanwhile the state of Georgia this week passed historic hate crimes legislation after a racist attack by white vigilantes ended the life of a 25-year old man named Ahmaud Arbery. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says he plans to sign the bill into law. And the nation’s second largest school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday failed to agree on a proposal to cut armed police in public schools.
As a reflection of public anger on racism, statues and monuments to racist historical figures continue to fall, either by coordinated protest actions, or local authorities deciding to give in to public pressure. The New York Times summarized the most recent statue attacks from Washington DC, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, to London, England, and Antwerp, Belgium. In Madison, Wisconsin activists, angered by the Tuesday arrest of a black activist, destroyed two statues and then turned on a state Senator named Tim Carpenter who was filming or photographing them. Carpenter was reportedly injured and needed an ambulance. Gov. Tony Evers denounced the act saying, “Any single act of injustice against one person is less justice for all of us.”
US Attorney general William Barr will be testifying to a House oversight committee on July 28th in what is being called a “general oversight hearing.” After Barr initially refused a request from House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler to testify, Nadler threatened to subpoena him. Barr will face questioning on the politicization of the US Justice Department under Trump. Among the accusations he faces are the request of leniency in sentencing Trump’s friend and associate Roger Stone. Now, a federal prosecutor named Aaron S.J. Zelinsky is testifying on Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee about the improper influence. In a written statement submitted on Tuesday Zelinksy said, “What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president.” And finally, a federal appeals court has sided with Trump in ordering a judge to immediately drop the case against former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The judge had revived the case against Flynn after Barr’s DOJ abruptly dropped it without explanation.