Headlines: October 13, 2020
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The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointee began Monday and Judge Amy Coney Barrett faced questioning from lawmakers in both major parties. The 4 days of questioning are part of a warp-speed confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee that is taking place even as voters are casting ballots in an election that has begun – an unprecedented combination of events in modern times. Among the most critical issues at stake are whether Barrett would rule on an election-related suit as a newly seated justice. In his opening statement on Monday Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “Your participation . . . in any case involving Donald Trump’s election would immediately do explosive enduring harm to the court’s legitimacy and to your own credibility. You must recuse yourself.” President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the election would end up in the Supreme Court.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of a future Supreme Court Justice Barrett would be whether she would vote to strike down the seminal abortion ruling Roe Vs. Wade. When asked by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Barrett refused to take a position. While the hearing was being held Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan gave an interview to Elle Magazine sharing the story of how his ex-wife’s abortion saved her life. In a case where a pregnancy was wanted but became non-viable and threatened the life of the mother, the hospital in question said they recommended abortion but were prohibited from conducting one. Peters’ then wife had to be rushed to another hospital and survived because of the abortion. He becomes perhaps the first male lawmaker to openly share a story of abortion. Outside the Senate building where Barrett’s hearings are being held dueling protests took place by anti- and pro-abortion groups.
Another major issue at stake that Democratic Senators have repeatedly raised during the hearings is the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.” Like she has done on all other issues, when asked, Barrett would not say what position she would take on the healthcare law. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse raised the so-called “dark money” forces behind Barrett’s nomination. Meanwhile the government watchdog group Accountable.us has just released a new report showing how Barrett has consistently sided with corporations during her time as a federal judge and ruled against workers, immigrants, and consumers.
Republican Senators have not seen fit to debate or vote on desperately needed coronavirus economic relief bills and are racing through Barrett’s nomination only 4 years after denying President Obama the right to appoint an election year justice. GOP Senator Mike Lee, who just days ago tested positive for the coronavirus, appeared in person at the hearing and was not even wearing a mask to protect his colleagues from his viral-laden respiration. And President Trump resumed his public events despite being hospitalized for Covid-19 only a week ago. At a crowded rally in Sanford, Florida, where there were few masks worn by rally-goers Trump spoke for more than an hour and claimed he was in perfect health and wanted to kiss everyone. Also at the rally, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis showed up in support of Trump, wearing no mask, and was seen high-fiving many rally goers before touching his hand to his nose. The White House physician Dr. Sean Conley announced on Monday that Trump tested negative for Covid-19 on consecutive days but did not mention which days. He says Trump is no longer infectious.
As to whether he is now immune from the disease is not clear especially given that there are known cases of re-infection. The number of infections in the US has now neared a whopping 8 million with only 3 weeks before the election. A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association shows 20% excess deaths in the U.S. this year compared to previous years, largely attributable to Covid-19. And, the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has just announced a halt to its Covid-19 vaccine trial saying that a volunteer participating in the study has developed an unexplained illness.
Meanwhile Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has taken great precautions while campaigning, is in Florida on Tuesday while Trump heads to Pennsylvania. When asked about the possibility of Democrats adding more seats to the Supreme Court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, Biden said he was “not a fan” of the idea. Voters are already casting ballots in several states including Georgia where early voting began on Monday. There were reportedly long lines in Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs as a historically high turnout stymied election officials. The U.S. Elections Project reported that voters have already cast more than 10 million votes. In comparison, four years ago at around the same time, early voting in the Presidential race had resulted in about 1.4 million ballots cast.
Much of the early voting is being fueled by mail-in balloting which state election officials have relied on as the pandemic rages. Trump and Republicans have railed against mail-in voting claiming without evidence that there is rampant fraud. In California, it appears the GOP is engaged in what appears to be election fraud. The state Republican party has installed their own drop boxes that look official and attempted to pass them off as state-sanctioned boxes. The California State Secretary has demanded the party stop but the GOP has refused. And in Texas, a federal appeals court has affirmed Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to install only one ballot drop box per county in a geographically vast state.
A new poll finds that three quarters of American voters want Congress to pass a new Covid-economic relief bill. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who faces reelection has simply refused to take up the legislation passed by the House. In a debate with his rival Amy McGrath McConnell smirked loudly as she called him out on his inaction. Meanwhile Trump’s Labor Department has been found to close out more than half of all worker complaints related to coronavirus violations without even investigating them. And, a federal judge has chastised the Trump administration over its withholding of economic stimulus checks from incarcerated individuals.