Headlines: October 16, 2020
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Dueling town hall meetings with the two Presidential candidates took place on Thursday evening offering a stark contrast to voters between the major party leaders. Democratic nominee Joe Biden responded to voter questions alongside host George Stephanopoulos on the ABC network while President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee sparred with members of his audience and anchor Savannah Guthrie at NBC. The town halls aired at exactly the same time after Trump pulled out of a debate with Biden that had been scheduled for Thursday evening. Among the notable moments during Trump’s town hall, Guthrie asked him to condemn the bizarre conspiracy cult-like group called QAnon that insists Democrats are part of a satanic pedophile ring and that supports Trump. The President, as he often does when asked to denounce controversial supporters, claimed to not know who they are. At the same time that Trump was defending QAnon, Mr. Biden was asked to comment on Trump and the wearing of protective masks during the pandemic.
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie also asked Trump why he repeatedly retweets conspiracies to his millions of followers including a new one about Biden. As Trump defended his actions Guthrie reminded him that he is the president, not “someone’s crazy uncle.” Throughout the town hall Trump claimed “antifa” and “radical leftists” were the real problem and source of violence. Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper published a timely reminder of the various instances of violence linked to QAnon, the group Trump defended. The paper listed numerous documented reports of violence including kidnapping and murder. Meanwhile on the same day as the town halls, a white supremacist man pled guilty to a federal hate crime for plotting to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado. Trump made no mention of it or other white supremacist violence which his own government has deemed to be the greatest source of domestic terrorism and violence.
Meanwhile Biden, during his ABC town hall was asked to comment on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and whether he would consider increasing the size of the court in order to bring more balance to what could be a conservative supermajority. He said he remained skeptical of the idea. Biden has said he would likely reveal to voters what his plan is for the court before the election. The Republican controlled Senate is rushing to confirm Barrett and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says he has the votes to push it through in the next few days even as millions of Americans have cast their ballots in the election. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, appearing to not take seriously the extreme rightward tilt to the court for decades has come under fire from liberals and progressives for her weak posturing. Feinstein is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and at the end of the Senate hearings this week claimed, in contrast to her colleagues, “This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in.” She then proceeded to hug Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham who has been doggedly aggressive in the Republican push to make the courts deeply conservative. Neither Graham nor Feinstein were wearing masks when they hugged. Feinstein is facing calls to step down from the committee.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse this week slammed President Trump in a virtual town hall with his constituents saying in audio obtained by newspapers that Trump’s values were “deficient” and that he had treated the coronavirus pandemic like a “P.R. crisis.” He also said about his own party, “What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?” Sasse appeared to realize that slavishly backing Trump is likely going to cost Republicans control of the Senate if current polling trends hold at the ballot box. Still, Sasse is among the Senators willing to cast his vote for Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Underscoring Sasse’s fears Democratic Senate challengers are getting flooded with campaign donations from the public for races in Arizona, Kentucky, Maine and South Carolina. Trump too is struggling to generate campaign cash, and reportedly raised $248 million in September, compared to Biden’s haul of $383 million. But the President, who has the backing of billionaires, has been buoyed by a $75 million infusion by conservative power couple Sheldon and Miriam Adelson into a pro-Trump super PAC.
In other news, the President was apparently warned by U.S. intelligence officials that his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was being fed disinformation by Russian intelligence officers but that he ignored the warnings. Numerous conspiracy theories that Trump and Giuliani have promoted about Joe Biden echo Russian narratives. Meanwhile Caroline Rose Giuliani went public in a lengthy article in Vanity Fair saying, “Rudy Giuliani Is My Father. Please, Everyone, Vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.” Ms. Giuliani added, “I may not be able to change my father’s mind, but together, we can vote this toxic administration out of office.”
Associated Press reports in an exclusive that, “The Trump White House has installed two political operatives at the nation’s top public health agency to try to control the information it releases about the coronavirus pandemic.” Specifically, “The two appointees assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Atlanta headquarters in June have no public health background,” and their main task appears to be “keeping an eye on Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency director, as well as scientists.”
In other coronavirus news, the model that the Trump White House relied on earlier this year to predict deaths from the virus shows that Americans should expect nearly 400,000 Covid-related fatalities by next February. If all Americans wore face masks that number would drop to 314,000. To date, more than 216,000 Americans have died from the virus. And Pfizer, one of the many companies working on a Covid vaccine, says it won’t apply for authorization for its vaccine until late November, contradicting Trump’s repeated claims of a vaccine before the election. Two other companies have put their studies on hold after volunteers developed unexplained illnesses.
A special Reuters investigation has found that nearly 5,000 Americans died in jails around the country after being arrested and charged but before they have a chance to plead their cases in court. The outlet explained, “As with much of the U.S. criminal justice system, the toll behind bars falls disproportionately on Black Americans.” And, after the high-profile police killing of a Black man named Dijon Kizee in LA, the LA Times uncovered 15 similar cases of police accosting mostly Black and Brown residents many of which were fatal encounters. Also in LA, Mexico’s former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was just arrested on drug-related charges.