Headlines: September 21, 2020
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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at the age of 87. After a lengthy battle with metastatic pancreatic cancer the barrier breaking feminist icon who became the second woman ever to be appointed to the nation’s highest court passed away on Friday sparking shock across the U.S. Her granddaughter Clara Spera related that days before her death Ginsburg dictated the following statement to her: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” There were vigils mourning her passing held over the weekend all over the country and the Women’s March put out a call for gatherings to be held in her honor at local courthouses. Ginsburg’s death sparks a major political fight just weeks ahead of the already-anxiety-inducing presidential election on November 3rd.
Within hours of her passing Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell released a statement saying, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” which in turn led to a trending of the hashtag #HypocriteMitch. McConnell prevented a vote on President Obama’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia saying an outgoing president should not be allowed to pick a justice. On Friday Trump remarked about the late Justice, “an amazing woman who led an amazing life,” but by Monday Trump was already promoting a conspiracy theory that Ginsburg did not say what she is attributed to having said on her deathbed. “[M]aybe she did, and maybe she didn’t,” he told Fox and Friends. On Monday Trump announced that he would choose a nominee to replace Ginsburg by Friday or Saturday of this week.
In order to confirm his nominee to the court Trump needs a simple majority in the Senate and currently Republicans control the chamber 53 to 47. That means in order for Trump to lose a confirmation vote for his nominee, 3 Republican Senators are needed to join Democrats in voting no, but in practicality 4 are needed in order to override what would likely be Vice President Mike Pence’s vote as a tie-breaker. So far only Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have said they oppose a vote this year while Senator Chuck Grassley said before Ginsburg’s death that he would oppose a vote. The New York Times counted 29 other Republican Senators whose views are not yet clear. Early polls find that a slim majority of Americans do not want Trump to replace Ginsburg which would lead to a 6-3 conservative majority on the court for years. Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden urged Republican lawmakers to “follow your conscience” and not confirm a replacement this year. Democratic Party donated to their party in record breaking numbers in the hours after Ginsburg’s death indicating a strong groundswell of enthusiasm over ensuring her legacy on the court is preserved.
At a campaign rally in North Carolina Trump promised his supporters that they would never see him again if he lost to Biden. Biden’s campaign promptly created a new political ad from the statement. Biden’s campaign is flush with nearly $500 million in cash and has a massive funding edge over Trump. New polls show Trump losing ground with white voters – the demographic that sent him to the White House in 2016. And Biden appears to be leading Trump among Latino voters by a whopping 36%. Younger voters also prefer Biden but those who back Trump are far more enthusiastic about their candidate according to a Monday poll by the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. While Biden’s candidacy appears stronger than Trump’s fears abound that the president and his backers will simply not play by the rules of a democracy. In Virginia Trump supporters held an illegal political rally outside an early voting polling place attempting to intimidate voters. Political events are not permitted near polling places.
In other news, a massive trove of documents turned over to Buzzfeed news and analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIL) has exposed how trillions of dollars of “dirty money” is passing through some of the world’s largest banks. The documents were essentially “suspicious activities reports” filed with the U.S. federal government’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The FinCEN documents reveal, according to ICIJ, that “JPMorgan Chase, HSBC and other big banks have defied money laundering crackdowns by moving staggering sums of illicit cash for shadowy characters and criminal networks that have spread chaos and undermined democracy around the world.” Additionally, “In some cases the banks kept moving illicit funds even after U.S. officials warned them they’d face criminal prosecutions if they didn’t stop doing business with mobsters, fraudsters or corrupt regimes.” Among the figures implicated in the documents is Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort.
In news from the coronavirus, nearly 200,000 people have died in the United States from the disease, by far the virus-related largest death toll of any nation in the world. The state of Texas leads in the nation in the number of new cases of infection being documented. The Lone Star state has the third highest overall death toll after New York and New Jersey respectively. Following Texas is California in the number of Covid-19 deaths. As the nation reaches the grim milestone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday revised its guidance on the disease confirming what most scientists the world over were saying – that the airborne transmission is, “thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” But then on Monday the CDC extraordinarily removed that new guidance saying it had been posted in error, once more undermining the reputation of the once-respected government agency. Meanwhile a new ABC News/Ipsos poll found that a majority of Americans do not trust Trump to confirm the safety or effectiveness of any new Covid-19 vaccine.
A white bar owner from Nebraska has killed himself hours before he was set to turn himself in for the murder of a Black Lives Matter protester. Jake Gardner was charged with fatally shooting a 22-year old black man named James Scurlock on May 30th during protests over George Floyd’s police killing. New York’s Attorney General Letitia James has announced that her office would decide whether or not to release body-camera footage in cases of officer-involved killings. The decision came after footage of Daniel Prude’s death by asphyxiation in Rochester was withheld for months. Meanwhile the Justice Department has formally recommended that the federal government withhold funds from the cities of New York, Portland, and Seattle—all Democratic-run cities. Attorney General William Barr, who has been accused of politicizing his department to favor Trump, made the recommendations based on what he says has been mismanagement of anti-police brutality protests. Trump does not have the legal authority to withhold funds from certain cities although he has often threatened to do so.
Fires continue to burn in California, Washington, and Oregon with some parts of the Northwest seeing an easing off from cooler, more damp weather. In Southern California, the Bobcat Fire exploded in size over the weekend to become one of the largest in the history of Los Angeles County and prompted evacuations in the Antelope Valley. On the other side of the nation, Tropical Storm Beta is expected to batter the already-hurricane worn states of Louisiana and Texas with large amounts of rain on Monday.