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Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Thursday, October 29, 2020

'We’ve got to stop the bleeding': Democrats sound alarm in Miami

MIAMI — Democrats are sounding the alarm about weak voter turnout rates in Florida’s biggest county, Miami-Dade, where a strong Republican showing is endangering Joe Biden’s chances in the nation’s biggest swing state.

No Democrat can win Florida without a huge turnout and big winning margins here to offset losses elsewhere in the state. But Democrats are turning out at lower rates than Republicans and at lower rates than at this point in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won by 29 percentage points here and still lost the state to Donald Trump.

One particular area of concern is the relative share of ballots cast by young voters of color and less-reliable Democratic voters. Part of the problem, according to interviews with a dozen Democratic elected officials and operatives, is the Biden campaign‘s decision to discourage field staff from knocking on doors during the pandemic and its subsequent delay in greenlighting — and funding — a return to door-to-door canvassing.

“We did not get the kind of funding for different vendors who would do that type of work until late in the campaign,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a party institution who represents Miami’s heavily Black congressional district.

Wilson said the good news is that Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, is working with her on a turnout event for this weekend geared toward young Black men. But the veteran congresswoman said there are still skilled operatives in her district who excel at turnout work who have yet to get approved by the campaign, a puzzling delay for an operation that raised a record $363 million the month before.

“I screamed. Hollered. I called. I lobbied from the top to the bottom,” Wilson said of her efforts to get turnout operations started in the community, including sending written proposals to Biden’s campaign and having virtual Zoom meetings with his advisers.

In a sign of the state’s importance, Biden and Trump both campaigned in Florida on Thursday. Biden held an event in Broward County, which is located within the Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market, and then held a rally in Tampa, where Trump held his own event to boost early voting turnout.

Wilson and other Democrats aren’t panicking yet. They take comfort in the fact that huge swaths of Democratic voters cast absentee ballots by mail statewide, and that Biden narrowly leads in most Florida polls, including a Monmouth University likely voter survey released Thursday that put the former vice president up by 6 percentage points. That margin is far bigger than in Democratic internal polls.

Party officials also point out that Black churches are planning “Souls to the Polls” events Sunday that encourage voting after church. However, in the era of coronavirus, church services are virtual and organizing those events is more difficult than in the past election years.

The NAACP is helping Wilson produce a video for the virtual church services that talks about the dual threats of coronavirus and not voting.

“There is not the turnout here [Miami] in the black community that I’ve seen in the past. I can speculate about the reasons, but the fact is it remains concerning,” said state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Black Miami Democrat who held a get-out-the-vote event Wednesday with rapper Fat Joe Wednesday.

To date, Republicans have turned out 59 percent of their voters in Miami-Dade and Democrats have turned out 53 percent, a 6-point margin. That’s twice the margin Republicans had at this point in 2016.

Among Hispanic voters, who make up nearly 70 percent of the county’s population, the deficit is even bigger — 9 points.

“Democrats have a big turnout issue in the Hispanic community in Miami-Dade,” said Florida-based Democratic data analyst Matt Isbell. “Hispanic Democrat turnout is only 48% while the Republican Hispanics are at 57%. This large of a gap doesn't exist in Broward or Orange. It is a Miami problem.”

Polling of Florida’s Hispanics has been all over the board. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted for Telemundo and released Thursday showed Biden leading Trump 48-43 percent among Florida Hispanics, a margin that could be disastrous for Democrats.

A Univision poll released one day earlier painted a different picture: It showed Biden faring much better among Florida Hispanic voters, leading Trump by 20 points, 57 to 37 percent.

Most polls show Cuban-Americans, who comprise about 74 percent of the registered Republicans in the county, have broken hard for Trump, although Biden might be clawing some of them back. Voters with roots in Puerto Rico and other places in Latin America support Biden by big margins.

While polling of Miami-Dade and Florida Hispanics has fluctuated wildly, Democrats long ago resigned themselves to the fact that Trump was making inroads with them and that Biden would not perform as well with them as Clinton, who won 65 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote in 2016, according to exit polls.

One positive trend, however, is the fact that Biden is doing better statewide than Clinton with seniors and white voters, who make up about two-thirds of likely voters.

Miami-Dade County was a bright spot for Democrats in 2016, when Clinton rolled up historic margins and raw votes in the county. But it wasn’t enough to help her carry the state because of Trump’s strong performance in many other counties, especially those with older white suburban and rural voters.

Miami-Dade is home to nearly 634,000 registered Democrats, or 41 percent of the county’s total. Republicans comprise 27 percent and independents 32 percent.

As of Thursday morning, 337,000 Democrats had already cast early and absentee ballots in Miami-Dade, nearly 80,000 more than the 253,000 Republicans. Independent voters, namely those with no party affiliation, have cast an additional 219,000. Polls indicate they’re leaning Biden, which Democrats point to as a potential saving grace if Republicans once again cast more votes overall in the election.

While the Miami-Dade numbers look robust at a glance, the turnout rate is too low for Democrats to feel comfortable as Republicans statewide have steadily eaten into the Democrats’ margins in the days after in-person early voting started Oct. 19.

The share of vote cast by Black voters in the county is a point lower today than at this point in 2016, while the overall Black vote statewide is only negligibly higher, according to the Democratic data firm TargetSmart.

Overall, statewide, 7.4 million of Florida’s 14.4 million active registered voters had already cast ballots by Thursday morning: 41 percent from Democrats, 38 percent from Republicans and 22 percent from independents. The Democrats’ lead in total ballots cast was a record 206,000 as of Thursday morning, but that’s down 57 percent from its all-time high last week.

In-person early voting ends Sunday, which is when Democrats are massing for a final push.

Though election officials count ballot returns by party, they don’t tabulate the votes until Election Day.

“I would rather be in our position than theirs,” said Joshua Geise, Florida director for America Votes, an independent organization coordinating with 50 groups on the ground to turn out voters for Biden.

Geise acknowledged some of the turnout issues in Miami-Dade and said his group ramped up in the past week and had 100,000 conversations at people’s doors in the county, a third of all the face-to-face interactions they had in the entire state. He said Democrats will make a huge push this weekend to halt the Republican gains in early voting.

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Geise said.

One veteran Democratic organizer from South Florida expressed concern that winning Florida looks more difficult by the day as Republicans turn out in big numbers and the pace of Democratic momentum in casting early ballots slows. It’s a sign the party is exhausting its high propensity voters — and the hard-to-motivate voters are tough to turn out.

“Look, our people hate Trump and they like Biden. But not enough of them love Biden,” the organizer said. “It also doesn’t help that the campaign reacted so late here and they didn’t help us with voter registration when we needed to be doing it.”

Steve Simeonidis, Miami-Dade's Democratic Party chair, contended the GOP is running out of voters and Democrats have far more — and they are just beginning to turn out. Considering how independents are breaking, he said, "we’re going to continue building on our lead down here and if we keep working, we will have more record Democratic turnout on Sunday and Tuesday."

Braynon, the Miami state senator, said that Biden isn’t doing as well as Clinton because the Clintons had a special “bond” with the region that was built over decades.

“You have to remind people Biden was Obama’s vice president and have to tell people he has policies similar to those supported by Hillary and Obama,” Braynon said. “It’s important to emphasize it’s the same type of platform.”

Beyond presidential race intrigue, Miami-Dade is home to five down-ballot races for Congress, state senate and county mayor. In each of those races, Republicans have fielded Cuban-American candidates.

State Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, said she wasn’t too worried about Hispanic voters in the county because, she said, they’re notoriously late to cast ballots.

“We are Hispanics, we leave everything for ¡mañana!,” she said. “Also, if the 80 percent turnout in Miami-Dade being predicted by our supervisor of election comes through, that is great news for Democrats.”

But in Rep. Wilson’s congressional district, there’s still worry. She knows many have voted by mail and therefore aren’t at the polls. Still, she would like to see more voters showing up at the polls before in-person early voting ends Sunday night.

“I’ve been going to the different polling places,” she said, “and you know, I never dreamed that Black people would be reticent at this point in Mr. Trump's administration about voting.”

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Federal appeals court suggests late-arriving Minnesota ballots may be tossed

A panel of federal appellate judges ruled Thursday that ballots that arrive after polls close in Minnesota on Election Day must be segregated from ballots that arrive earlier, suggesting that future rulings could invalidate the late-arriving ballots.

In Minnesota, ballots are typically required to be returned to election officials by mail by the time polls close in order to count. But for the 2020 election, a consent decree agreed to by Secretary of State Steve Simon mandated that ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received within seven days would count.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel split 2-1 on its order that the late-arriving ballots be segregated, which would allow them to be removed from the final count if a court later threw them out. The judges ruled that the case was “likely to succeed on the merits.”

The case was originally brought by a pair of Electoral College electors for President Donald Trump in Minnesota, James Carson and Eric Lucero. Separately, the Trump campaign and Republican state legislative candidates petitioned the state Supreme Court to segregate ballots that arrive after the close of polls earlier in the week.

Trump’s campaign targeted Minnesota earlier in the cycle as a potential flip target after losing it by just 1.5 percentage points in 2016, but it appeared to fall off the battleground map in the fall. However, the state is seeing a late spurt of campaign action, with both Trump and Joe Biden holding events in Minnesota on Friday.

Judges Bobby Shepherd, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, and Trump appointee L. Steven Grasz formed the majority. Judge Jane Kelly, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, dissented.

There’s an additional layer of complexity in the case beyond separating certain types of ballots: The court suggested only votes in the presidential contest may be tossed out if the consent decree is invalidated. The court’s order says the ballots should be separated “in a manner that would allow for their respective votes for presidential electors … to be removed from vote totals in the event a final order is entered by a court of competent jurisdiction determining such votes to be invalid or unlawfully counted.”

Simon’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Democrats in the state slammed the ruling and urged voters to submit their ballots in-person.

“This absurd and misguided opinion will toss out the rules that have been in place since before voting began in September,” Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, said in a statement. “I urge the people of Minnesota to return any outstanding mail-in ballots in-person as soon as possible. The reason the Republican Party is attacking your right to vote is because of the power of that vote to change our state and country.”

Shepherd and Grasz noted in their ruling that their decision could cause confusion among voters, with just days to go until Election Day.

“The consequences of this order are not lost on us. We acknowledge and understand the concerns over voter confusion, election administration issues, and public confidence in the election that animate the Purcell principle,” citing a doctrine that federal courts generally should not disrupt election rules close to Election Day.

“With that said, we conclude the challenges that will stem from this ruling are preferable to a postelection scenario where mail-in votes, received after the statutory deadline, are either intermingled with ballots received on time or invalidated without prior warning,” they continued.

It is the second case in as many days in which federal courts suggested that late-arriving ballots could still be tossed, even potentially after Election Day.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court declined to expedite a Republican challenge to an extended Pennsylvania deadline but left open the option of ruling on the case after Election Day.

In a statement accompanying the denial in Pennsylvania, Justice Samuel Alito noted in the Pennsylvania case that the secretary of the commonwealth issued guidance to local election officials earlier on Wednesday to segregate ballots received after the close of polls but before the Nov. 6 deadline, cracking the door for a potential post-election decision.

Alito’s statement suggested that he believes those ballots could still be tossed, even if a ruling comes after Election Day. “The Court’s denial of the motion to expedite is not a denial of a request for this Court to order that ballots received after election day be segregated so that if the State Supreme Court’s decision is ultimately overturned, a targeted remedy will be available,” he wrote.

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Gig companies break $200M barrier in California ballot fight

OAKLAND — California officially has its first $200 million ballot campaign, courtesy of the homegrown tech industry.

Proposition 22 always figured to be an enormously expensive fight. Five gig economy firms invested $110 million just at the outset of their effort to exempt themselves from a new state law that could force them to treat app-summoned workers as employees rather than contractors.

The campaign has lived up to those expectations. A late October $3.75 million outlay from DoorDash pushed proponents' fundraising total to roughly $203 million. Virtually all of that has come from five companies trying to preserve their contractor-reliant business models: Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart and DoorDash.

The implications: The Prop 22 campaign has always been a financial mismatch. While organized labor wields significant sway in California politics, the union-driven opposition campaign has pulled in about $20 million. That used to be a decent sum in California ballot campaigns, but is merely one-tenth of what their opponents have committed.

Despite those lopsided numbers, which have helped the yes side saturate California's airwaves, polling suggests Prop 22 could fail. A Berkeley IGS poll this month found the measure short of a majority, claiming support from 46 percent of likely voters.

The bigger context: Before this, the fundraising record for a single side of an initiative campaign was the roughly $111 million kidney dialysis companies spent in 2018 to beat back Proposition 8. The tech industry was poised to shatter that from the start.

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Jobless Americans face debt crunch without more federal aid as bills come due

A new phase of the economic crisis is looming for the winner of Tuesday’s presidential election: potentially massive defaults by jobless Americans on consumer loans as the chances for more federal relief this year diminish.

Both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden have called for robust new rescue packages for an economy still suffering from the pandemic, but Congress's inability to agree on key issues such as the size of unemployment benefits has kept the talks at an impasse for months. Now, millions of Americans are running out of money and will face hard choices between food purchases and payments on rent, credit cards and student loans.

Generous unemployment benefits and stimulus checks given out earlier this year helped many people weather the early months of the crisis — with some even managing to increase their savings. But that support has faded and some of it will run dry by the end of the year. JPMorgan Chase Institute found that in August alone, typical unemployed families spent two-thirds of the additional rainy day funds that they’d built up over the previous four months.

“I fear jobless workers are going to have to make tough choices,” said Fiona Greig, director of consumer research at the institute.

The “Lost Wages Assistance” aid program that Trump ordered after the expiration of more generous federal benefits — including a $600-a-week boost in jobless payments that ended on July 31 — helped bolster some families in September. But by early this month, much of that small pot of money had already been depleted. As a result, the largest U.S. banks warned investors this month that they expect credit card delinquencies to start mounting early next year.

And with coronavirus cases spiking in places like the Midwest, pressure could increase on already struggling small businesses, pushing jobless numbers back up. In a Census Bureau survey this month, roughly a third of small businesses reported only having enough cash to get them through a month or less.

The Labor Department said Thursday that more than 22 million people were claiming benefits in all federal programs as of the week ending Oct. 10.

Other government data released at the same time showed that the economy in the third quarter regained roughly 60 percent of the economic activity it lost, as many businesses have reopened. But Greig said without additional government support, the results could still be severe for many families, particularly if there is not more improvement in the job market.

“The GDP growth recovery looks much better than the job market numbers” because people are buying goods, but there’s still a severe drought in using many services, which is where most people are employed, said Greig, whose think tank has access to proprietary data from Chase Bank.

The burdens of the pandemic are falling disproportionately on lower-income workers; people making less than $27,000 have seen a nearly 20 percent drop in employment since January, while the job market is almost fully recovered among workers making more than $60,000, according to private-sector data compiled by Opportunity Insights.

Some relief measures are still in place; there’s a nationwide ban on evictions until the end of the year, and many borrowers have had the chance to put off credit card, student loan and mortgage payments. Roughly 7 percent of households with mortgages and 41 percent with student loans were skipping or making reduced payments as of the beginning of October, according to Goldman Sachs researchers.

But those debts are still piling up in the background, which could leave consumers with a crushing burden once those protections expire without something to keep them afloat.

“There will be a massive balloon payment on what people are supposed to pay,” said Megan Greene, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Lots of people won’t be able to afford that.”

“It’s been surprising to me how long consumers have been able to hold on,” she added. “We’re tempting fate by waiting until next year to re-up some of the stimulus measures.”

Thanks to government aid, aggregate personal income is still up from before the coronavirus crisis, even though wages and salaries are still below pre-pandemic levels, according to economic data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Personal income decreased $540.6 billion in the third quarter, after rising $1.45 trillion in the second quarter, a drop the agency attributed to a decrease in pandemic-related relief programs.

Part of the danger is that complete information isn’t available, so some areas may be suffering more than we know.

“A lot of the work I do focuses on rural communities, and there’s just not a lot of good data there,” said Gbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “There are canaries in the coal mine, but … we don’t see the areas that are getting hurt because we don’t measure those areas.”

Researchers at Columbia University found that the monthly poverty rate increased to 16.7 percent in September from 15 percent in February, with about 8 million people falling into poverty since May.

Life has gotten harder for the poorest Americans. “We find that at the peak of the crisis (April 2020), the CARES Act successfully blunted a rise in poverty; however, it was not able to stop an increase in deep poverty, defined as resources less than half the poverty line,” that report said.

Maurice Jones heads up the Local Initiatives Support Corp., one of the largest community development financial institutions in the country, and said this has been the biggest year ever for the nonprofit — both in terms of donations and in relief they’re paying out.

“We have something called financial opportunity centers, and the focus of them historically has been on getting people prepared to compete successfully for living wage jobs — thinking more long term, if you will,” he said. “We have had to really adjust and focus on immediate relief. People are literally having to choose between paying rent and buying groceries.”

Jones said his firm gave out $225 million in grants or forgivable loans between March and the end of September. “We’ve never had a six-month period like that in our history with that kind of deployment of those kinds of dollars,” he said.

He said it could be “a decade’s work” to get poor people back to where they were before the pandemic.

Also, many people don’t have ready access to aid from institutions like Jones's, which focus on underserved markets, and banks have been tightening lending standards as the financial picture darkens for many borrowers. That means low-income Americans will turn to high-cost payday loans and check cashers to pay their bills, which can mean getting caught in a cycle of debt.

“These are not folks who are in a position to absorb loans at this stage of the game,” Jones said. “We’re not talking about a small chunk of the population. We’re talking tens of millions of people.”

“We gotta get this election behind us and get back to the federal government’s next chapter in helping folks weather the storm.”

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Biden camp slams Facebook as thousands of ads remain blocked in final week

Thousands of ads from Joe Biden’s campaign have been blocked by Facebook as part of the social media giant’s pre-election blackout on new political ads, which the Biden camp said erroneously swept up ads that had already been approved to run.

The ads have been down since Tuesday, Biden’s campaign said on Thursday evening, costing the Democratic presidential candidate a half-million dollars in projected donations and altering the advertising plan right before the election.

Facebook instituted a self-imposed ban on new political ads Monday night in an effort to limit the potential spread of misinformation around the election, but the policy generated new criticism this week for a “technical glitch” that removed ads already running from Facebook’s system, hitting campaigns in both parties and cutting off certain messages to voters at the most inopportune time.

Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty blasted Facebook for providing “no clarity on the widespread issues that are plaguing all of our ad campaigns since the onset of their new ad restrictions,” he said in a statement shared first with POLITICO. Flaherty demanded that Facebook “take steps today to clearly rectify and explain the depth of this fiasco.”

In a Thursday evening blog post, Facebook wrote that "even though the majority of political and issue ads have been unaffected, since the restriction took effect, we have identified a number of unanticipated issues affecting campaigns of both political parties. Some were technical problems. Others were because advertisers did not understand the instructions we provided about when and how to make changes to ad targeting. We have implemented changes to fix these issues, and most political ads are now running without any problems."

"We understand that time is of the essence at this stage of the campaign season," the post from Facebook continued, adding: " Our teams are 100-percent dedicated to resolving any problems that may come up as quickly as possible."

Megan Clasen, senior paid media adviser for Biden, tweeted Thursday that ads touting Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on people making under $400,000 are among the ones that got pulled on "certain key targeting tracks" on Facebook.

“We find ourselves five days out from Election Day unable to trust that our ads will run properly, or if our opponents are being given an unfair, partisan advantage,” Flaherty continued. “It is abundantly clear that Facebook was wholly unprepared to handle this election despite having four years to prepare.”

The Biden campaign also said their ability to adjust ad budgets and spending for some Facebook ads — a feature that Facebook said would still be allowed during this period — were still frozen as well.

President Donald Trump’s campaign confirmed Wednesday that some of their pre-approved ads were also pulled from the platform. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to questions about whether they were still dealing with the issue Thursday evening.

While digital consultants told POLITICO that Facebook had acknowledged the “technical glitch” plaguing some of their ads earlier this week, many added they were left in the dark as to what caused the problems. The problem was widespread, impacting both Democratic and Republican campaigns up and down the ballot.

The controversy has stoked new fears among many political operatives about just when Facebook would cut off their ban, which includes a total blackout on political ads old and new after Election Day. Any long-term ban would be a hugely consequential decision that would reshape campaign fundraising and voter outreach. But Facebook, in a statement, said that its political ad ban was temporary.

Priorities USA Action, one of the biggest Democratic super PACs, also saw nearly 600 pre-approved ads removed from the site for more than two days, ad programs totaling in the six-figure range that particularly impacted North Carolina and Arizona. As of Thursday afternoon, those ads have been restored.

“The last two days demonstrate a refusal to act responsibly without public pressure,” Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “While we are one of the largest spenders on digital ads in either party, it should not take a public campaign and endless calls to get Facebook to act. This is much harder for the many smaller organizations that are working to combat misinformation and voter suppression that do not have the connections and resources of a large group like ours.”

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Opinion | The Anonymous Unmasking Reveals a Secret About Washington Dirt

Washington seems to be a little pissed off that Anonymous—the character who wrote the 2018 New York Times op-ed about the so-called “resistance” inside President Donald Trump’s administration—turns out to be less the high-ranking confidential source ladling out secrets to the press at midnight in a Rosslyn parking structure and more a low-level munchkin. As promised, Anonymous unmasked himself just before the election, revealing himself as Miles Taylor, who held the title of deputy chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security at the time the op-ed was published.

Oh, the press corps loved the Anonymous story plenty when it broke, unleashing the bloodhounds and assigning forensic linguistics examination on his op-ed and then his 2019 book, A Warning, to sleuth out the author’s identity. The press spun its Rolodexes searching for the “senior administration official,” as the New York Times called him, who had described the president as an inept manager and a menace to the nation. Might he be Ambassador Jon Huntsman or John Bolton? Former Pentagon aide Guy Snodgrass or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? Or even Vice President Mike Pence? Not since Deep Throat or the search for the Primary Colors author has Washington had so much fun playing whodunit. So what a bringdown it was for all to learn that the guy was a 33-year-old relative nobody.

Some critics of Taylor seek to disqualify his whistleblowing because so much awfulness played out at DHS during his tenure—why was he whistleblowing the president but not DHS? But the biggest gripe seems to be about where he fits in the hierarchy of power. Across Twitter and elsewhere people are furious with Taylor for puffing himself up to be something bigger than he is. Still others were ticked off at the New York Times for inflating his standing when his position and his physical demeanor appeared to be much more junior. “I would not describe him as a senior administration official,” former Clinton administration press secretary Joe Lockhart told the Washington Post.

The quibbling over whether Taylor deserved the rank that he and the New York Times pinned to his chest revealed Washington’s long-running obsession with status. It matters to these people if their business cards are embossed, if they have the office closest to that of the boss, if their title is commensurate with what they perceive to be their power. While the question of whether Taylor was a senior administration official or a junior one might matter in the daily games of status-battle, it doesn’t really matter if the question being asked is, “How good was the information that Anonymous brought to the Times and his book?” Rereading Anonymous’ op-ed and the reviews of his book (sorry, I never got around to actually reading him in hardcover), it seems to me that he gave us a good, early glimpse of how barmy and haywire the president was behind the scenes. Later, as Trump was allowed to be Trump in public, he came to better resemble the portrait Anonymous drew of him. I say, score one for Anonymous.

Anonymous’ dramatic self-reveal should also puncture the popular myth propelled by the movies that Washington is a city where everything you read in the newspapers turns on what a handful of power brokers ladle out to the top journalists in town. While the power brokers never have a hard time injecting their dope into the press, sometimes it’s the junior person who gets stories rolling by lending their accurate operational insights to somebody prepared to vet them. Whatever the merits of Taylor’s tell-alls and his elaborate self-defense, published today explaining why he filed his original protests anonymously, he reminds us that, in addition to being run by a few giants, Washington is also a town in which munchkins consistently punch above their weight.


In the early days of Anonymous, I became persuaded that he might be Huntsman. Punch below your weight with correspondence to My email alerts are too well-known to claim anonymity. My Twitter feed once had a sandwich with Bob Woodward. My RSS feed has no sources.

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Trump stokes suburban fears after Philadelphia shooting

PHILADELPHIA — Donald Trump is making a last-ditch effort to rattle the suburbs.

In the wake of civil unrest sparked by a fatal police shooting here Monday, the president returned to fear-mongering about big-city chaos and violence, leaning hard on law-and-order rhetoric in the hopes of winning back the suburban voters who have deserted him.

Less than 24 hours after law enforcement officials fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who was carrying a knife and reportedly suffered from mental illness, the president’s campaign responded by announcing it was airing a national TV ad. The spot falsely accused Joe Biden of “refusing to strongly condemn violence” across the country after similar incidents.

By Wednesday, Trump, who is trailing Biden by 4 to 5 percentage points in Pennsylvania, cast the blame squarely on Democratic Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney: “It's a terrible thing, what I'm witnessing is terrible, and frankly that the mayor or whoever it is that's allowing people to riot and loot and not stop them is also just a horrible thing. I saw the event, everybody did — it was on television, it was a terrible event, I guess that's being looked at very strongly.”

“You can't let that go on. Again — a Democrat-run state, a Democrat-run city, Philadelphia,” he said, adding that Biden "doesn't want to condemn them.”

Democrats — both nationally and locally — are well aware of the high stakes of responding to the civil unrest in the biggest city in one of the most important swing states. Throughout the last few months, Biden has maintained the same response to police shootings and civil unrest regardless of where it happens: He has decried the killings and upheld protesters’ right to speak out peacefully, while also condemning any looting or violence that follows.

His approach has been no different this week. The day after Wallace’s death, Biden issued a statement with his running mate Kamala Harris that read, “Our hearts are broken for the family of Walter Wallace Jr., and for all those suffering the emotional weight of learning about another Black life in America lost. We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death.”

While on the campaign trail Wednesday, he added, “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence. None whatsoever. I think to be able to protest is totally legitimate.”

In the wake of the shooting in Philadelphia, Biden’s team consulted with local elected officials, including state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is close to the campaign.

“I know Congressman [Cedric] Richmond is reaching out to people on the ground to hear directly from them about what they need and to talk about some of the things that the V.P. wants to do” to reform policing, Kenyatta said, referring to Biden’s campaign co-chair. “When there are moments of trauma, I think the first thing you need to do is listen. And I think that is what they've been seeking to do.”

Trump’s campaign and state Republicans plainly believe looting following protests against police brutality — and Biden’s response to it — works in their favor. Earlier this year, Matthew Wolfe, GOP ward leader in Philadelphia, he said, “Every time a looter smashes a window on Chestnut Street, Trump picks up some votes.”

So far, though, Trump’s hardline approach and months-long attempts to frighten suburban voters have fallen flat. National polls have found that voters trust Biden more to handle public safety and race relations. And a majority of Americans think Trump has encouraged white supremacists, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

A recent Monmouth poll in Pennsylvania also showed that Biden is narrowly more trusted here than Trump to manage law and order. Women, people of color and white college-educated voters are especially likely to put their faith in Biden on the issue.

“There are a couple reasons why the message isn’t resonating so much. Part of it I think is just a fundamental misunderstanding: It’s an outdated view of urban-suburban relationships in Philadelphia,” said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic strategist in Pennsylvania. “Trump is making something that would have been a very powerful appeal in the late 1980s, but just has much less of an appeal right now.”

Madeleine Dean, a Democratic congresswoman representing neighboring Montgomery County, said her suburban constituents don’t view police shootings the way Trump does.

“My suburban voters, my constituents don’t see it that way,” she told POLITICO. “They see it as a problem of a Black man should not be gunned down by police, whether it is in the city or the suburbs. And then they also see that the blame game is inappropriate.”

Most Democratic elected officials in Philadelphia have sought to avoid responding directly to Trump’s incendiary remarks about them, treating them as if they’re bait.

“I don’t comment on Donald Trump’s stuff,” Kenney said Wednesday. “We have enough to do in the city. We have enough issues that we have to tackle and he brings no positive help to any situation.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration likewise sidestepped the question when asked to respond to the Trump administration’s remarks it might send federal law enforcement to the city. Wolf later mobilized the Pennsylvania National Guard following the request of the city government.

One exception is Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who in a scorching statement accused the Trump administration of throwing "gasoline on a long-burning fire in order to provoke further unrest and violence ahead of an election he is terrified to lose.”

Wolf’s decision to request the Pennsylvania National Guard has led to some disagreement among state Democrats. Isaiah Thomas, a Philadelphia city councilman, questioned whether it is necessary.

“I just think we have to be careful with the message we’re sending to people,” he said. “I think it’s important to recognize that when you look at some of the negative activity and the unrest that happened, there’s often a distinct difference between people who are outside at civil protests and people who are looting and destroying property.”

But Thomas said he is not concerned that the National Guard will affect voters’ ability to cast a ballot or go to satellite election offices: “I don’t think anything is going to deter the citizens of Philadelphia who plan to exercise their right to vote.”

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Facebook missteps stoke fears of long political ad blackout online

When Facebook and Google announced plans to ban new political ads around the end of the election, they left one key thing out of the new policies: an end date.

Now, as Facebook’s pre-election blackout on new ads begins and a total post-election freeze on Google and Facebook ads looms, digital strategists in both parties are worried that ads on the biggest digital platforms may never come back — or, at the very least, they’ll be down so long that they paralyze campaigns in major races set to stretch beyond Nov. 3.

Those fears spiked in recent days after Facebook’s blackout started Tuesday with the social media giant taking down ads that groups in both parties said had been pre-approved. A day and a half later, many groups said they are still struggling to resolve these inconsistencies with the companies’ advertising reps.

Democrats, in particular, are concerned that the undefined timeline for restarting online ads could hamper efforts to raise money and voter awareness around potential Senate runoffs in Georgia and Mississippi in January. Others noted that the policies will make it more difficult for campaigns to raise legal funds for recounts.

One Democratic operative affiliated with a Georgia Senate campaign reached out to Google’s representative for advice on budgeting advertising for the expected January runoff in the state, but Google advised that they should “not budget” for that spending at all — setting off “alarm bells” inside the party that the ban may extend well into 2021, according to a person familiar with the exchange.

“They went from implying it would be a week or so, and [now] they’ve stopped implying that and they are using the words like indefinitely,” said Maddie Kriger, director of digital media at Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC that had nearly 600 pre-approved ads taken down by Facebook this week. “It’s super concerning that there [could] be elections happening that we can’t communicate to voters around.”

An official with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also said that the tech giants have been “intentionally vague” about when they would start running new political ads again, after initially giving the committee the impression that the bans would be short-term.

"We’re deeply concerned that at this late date, it’s still unknown when and how political ads will resume,” Scott Fairchild, the DSCC executive director, said in a statement shared with POLITICO. “It is their responsibility to share this information with candidates, campaigns and their users, and we expect immediate answers.”

Representatives of Facebook and Google said that their political ad bans were temporary.

“Our intention is to block political and issue ads only for a short period of time,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “As part of our efforts to protect the integrity of this election, we are temporarily blocking the creation of any new political and issue ads during the final week of the election and all political and issue ads in the election’s immediate aftermath."

In early October, Sarah Schiff, a Facebook product manager, told reporters that after all “social issue, electoral and political ads” are paused after the polls close on Nov. 3, “advertisers can expect this to last for a week, so this is subject to change and we will notify advertisers when this policy is lifted,” noting that they are “temporarily stopping these ads after the election to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse.”

For Google, its “sensitive events” policy — which will begin after polls close on Election Day and prevent advertisers from being able to run ads referencing candidates or the election — was also deployed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, initially blocking Covid-related ads to prevent misinformation and price gouging. Eventually, Google allowed ads around coronavirus to start running.

“Given the likelihood of delayed election results this year, when polls close on November 3, we will pause ads referencing the 2020 election, the candidates, or its outcome,” said Charlotte Smith, a spokeswoman for Google. “This is a temporary measure, and we’ll notify advertisers when this policy is lifted.”

But without a firm end date, some digital consultants are now privately speculating that the tech giants may be looking to get out of the political ad game, as they confront a public relations headache and concerns about online misinformation. A Senate hearing Wednesday illustrated how deep anger with big tech companies runs in both parties, with Sen. Ted Cruz pressing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on whether his platform had the ability to “influence elections.” When Dorsey said no, Cruz shot back: “Why do you block anything?”

A Democratic digital strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said there’s an “extreme level of concern that political ads are going to be banned outright.” Another Republican digital consultant said he’s “surprised” they haven’t already banned political ads to “avoid the headache,” but “if they do, Congress will probably be more willing to regulate them.”

“A total ban on political advertising by Facebook and Google would be catastrophic,” said Eric Wilson, a GOP digital consultant who worked on Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Together, they account for the vast majority of online advertising. This would shut off candidates, PACs, and issue advocacy groups from reaching voters.”

But Wilson, echoing others, noted that “just looking at the revenue Facebook has generated from political ads this year, it’d be gross malpractice on behalf of shareholders if they shut that off.”

“Ultimately, I think Facebook likes to make money and there’s lots of money in politics,” said Ryan Alexander, a Democratic digital strategist.

Facebook drew sharp criticism from political groups and operatives this week after initiating its pre-election ad blackout. The process arbitrarily removed pre-approved ads from its platform, cutting off key messaging to voters in the crucial final days before the election.

“We are aware that a subset of ads may show as paused,” read a statement Facebook sent to advertisers on Tuesday, which was shared with POLITICO. “Any ads that met the criteria to run during the final campaign will be eligible to run once we've resolved any data lags. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

But Facebook has not yet given advertisers any clarity about what caused the removals, acknowledging to them that it was a “technical glitch,” consultants said. Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the platform was “investigating” issues into “ads being paused incorrectly” and that they were “working quickly on these fixes.” But several consultants and groups said they were still facing challenges in returning their ads to the platform well into Wednesday.

Facebook noted, however, that while some ads may have been pulled because of technical issues, still others may have been pulled down because of “user error” and not complying with their policy.

Campaigns and outside groups scrambled to upload ads into Facebook’s system before the ban on new ads began. Some of them tried to anticipate the future so they could run closer to the election, including ads from President Donald Trump about GDP numbers set to be released on Thursday, or ads from groups like the ACLU encouraging voters to stay in line after polls close.

Nevertheless, many of those pre-loaded ads were among those that got removed.

“This is a clusterfuck,” said Annie Levene, a Democratic digital consultant. “We’ve been communicating with a group of the electorate for persuasion or for [get-out-the-vote] for weeks, millions of dollars have been sunk into it, and when those ads disappear, we lose the ability to communicate with those people, and we’re losing precious hours, potentially days.”

A DSCC official said that “just one week out” from Election Day, “the DSCC, along with several of its most competitive campaigns in Montana, North Carolina and Texas were blocked from running ads,” issues that “still hadn’t been resolved as of Wednesday afternoon.” The official also noted that the “poorly defined policy” has “implications for both fundraising and voter outreach after Nov. 3.”

The effects of Facebook’s pre-election policy are running all the way down the ballot, from both presidential campaigns to state legislative races.

“In a state legislative race that only has 30,000 voters in a media market of more than a million, you can micro-target [on Facebook], so to lose that” is “problematic,” said David Tackett, a Republican consultant who works on a slate of state legislative races in Oklahoma and saw some of his pre-approved ads pulled. “And to find out a week before the election that 15 to 20 percent of your budget can’t be spent on what you planned? That’s extremely frustrating.”

This is a “site-wide issue that’s affecting everyone,” said one Republican working with a major outside group. Facebook, meanwhile, is “going dark on people,” the person said.

Both the Biden and the Trump campaigns confirmed that they had pre-approved ads removed during Facebook’s policy implementation. But the Trump campaign also created new ads after the ban was supposed to go into effect on Oct. 27, HuffPost reported.

The campaign was able to create ads saying “Election Day is today,” which cut against Facebook’s recommendations that advertisers only say “‘Vote on November 3’ instead of ‘Vote Today.’” Facebook removed most of the new ads after being contacted by HuffPost, the site reported.

The political digital ad ecosystem has already faced massive upheaval over the last two years. Google limited the targeting options political advertisers have on its platform at the end of 2019. Facebook declined to take the same step earlier this year, but over the summer, Facebook gave individual users the option to opt out of seeing political ads altogether.

Twitter, a smaller player in the digital ad space, outright banned political ads toward the end of 2019, and Adobe followed suit on its ad platform over the summer. At the time, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that he’d also considered banning political ads altogether, but chose not to, noting that his platform would “err on the side of greater expression.”

Digital strategists were united in their calls for more clarity from the tech platforms.

“For the sake of both parties, lay down the ground rules and then keep those in place through the general election,” said Tim Cameron, a GOP consultant who also dealt with several ad disruptions. “You’d think they'd have been able to tell us something in the first quarter of this year about how they’d handle this.”

“They’re trying to address issues from 2016, and it’s 2020,” Cameron said.

Steven Overly contributed reporting.

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5 takeaways from Congress' latest clash with Silicon Valley

Republican senators hammered the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google over allegations of anti-conservative bias at a Wednesday hearing while Democrats demanded the companies to do more to police content and accused GOP leaders of hauling in the tech CEOs in a bid to influence the election.

The session showed the depth of both parties' frustrations with Silicon Valley, but also how hard it may be for Congress to come together in rewriting the laws that give the internet companies such power to moderate user posts as they see fit.

Partisan sparring extended even into debates about whether Senate Commerce Committee should have held a hearing at all just six days out from Election Day. Democrats rebuked what they called a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate the tech moguls into giving Republicans preferential treatment on social media platforms so essential to messaging around the November election.

Republicans, meanwhile, pummeled Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai over claims they stifle conservative material, particularly calling out actions taken against posts by President Donald Trump.

The session comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum, including Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, ratchet up calls to revamp or revoke entirely a fiercely guarded 1996 law known as Section 230, which immunizes online companies from an array of lawsuits over what user posts they allow, take down or otherwise act on. Few lawmakers, however, dug into the details of legislation, instead focusing on their full range of critiques against the companies.

Here are our top takeaways from the hearing:

GOP lawmakers put on a show bashing tech ahead of the election

Republican lawmakers appeared to relish the opportunity to publicly hammer the CEOs on their policies, which have faced mounting criticism from Trump and his GOP allies as the November elections near. And they seized on Twitter and Facebook's recent decision to limit the circulation of disputed New York Post articles alleging direct ties between Biden and his son's business interest to accuse the companies of partisanship.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an outspoken tech critic who in recent days has launched a media blitz criticizing tech companies, railed against Dorsey over Twitter's decision to initially block users from linking out to the Post's reporting.

"Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?" Cruz said during one of the hearing's most pointed exchanges.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) suggested tech companies are engaging in deceptive and unfair business practices by purportedly handling right-leaning content differently — a sign that Republicans are prepared to pull from a wide array of legal tactics to challenge the companies.

Another prominent GOP tech critic, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, appeared to seize on the hearing to promote her new book by placing it in view of the camera as she pressed the tech moguls on allegations of bias. Blackburn, a Trump ally on tech policy, grilled the Google's CEO on whether the company still employed a staffer who "had very unkind things to say about me."

The theatrics started long before the session itself. In a rare move, the Senate Commerce Committee issued a video previewing the hearing, featuring instances where Republicans had allegedly been "CENSORED" by the three companies and promising to "hold big tech accountable."

Cruz also telegraphed his plans to lay into the tech chiefs ahead of the hearing, releasing a movie trailer-like video vowing to "get answers" from the "oligarchs" in Silicon Valley who he accused of being "drunk with power." A separate promo released by Cruz's office billed the session as a showdown between Cruz, a "FREE SPEECH CHAMPION," and Dorsey, a "CENSORSHIP CZAR."

Soon after the hearing, Trump's campaign accounts on Twitter began reposting clips of GOP lawmakers grilling the CEOs in a sign of synergy between his election team and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Democrats torched the proceedings, accusing Senate Republicans of weaponizing the hearing

Democratic lawmakers walloped Republican leaders for holding the hearing days out from the election, accusing them of trying to get the companies to back off from enforcing their rules on posts by Trump and his allies during a critical period.

It marked a distinctly contentious hearing for the Senate Commerce Committee, which this Congress has otherwise engaged in bipartisan negotiations on an array of tech policy issues, including on data privacy. But that spirit of collaboration was nowhere to be found on Wednesday.

"This is baloney, folks," said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana as the hearing neared its finish. "Get off the political garbage and let's have the Commerce [Committee] do its job."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, meanwhile, tore into Republicans for politicizing concerns about election security instead of taking up legislation on the issue.

“I want to note first that this hearing comes six days before Election Day and, I believe, we're politicizing and the Republican majority is politicizing what should actually not be a partisan topic,” she said.

Other Democrats opted instead to redirect their questioning toward other issues, such as how Silicon Valley is affecting local news and how the CEOs plan to combat extremist content, offering glimpses of what priorities Democrats might take up on tech if they retake the Senate.

Bipartisan efforts to revamp Section 230 smack into partisan headwinds

There's widespread agreement in Washington that the tech industry's legal protections need to be revisited or pared back — but you might not have been able to tell from Wednesday's hearing.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have introduced and even advanced bipartisan proposals to revamp Section 230 in recent months, but those bills got little-to-no attention at the session Wednesday, which was instead dominated by committee infighting.

And even Democratic proponents of Section 230 reform balked at the Republicans' focus for the hearing.

"I have been an advocate of reform of Section 230 for literally 15 years ... so I really welcome the bipartisan consensus that we're seeing now that there needs to be constructive review," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), co-sponsor of a bipartisan Section 230 aimed at curtailing child abuse online.

"But frankly I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election," Blumenthal said, accusing GOP lawmakers of seeking to "browbeat" the platforms and bend their policies to their liking.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), co-sponsor of a separate bipartisan bill to revamp Section 230, declined to ask the witnesses any questions in protest.

"I have plenty of questions for the witnesses, on Section 230, on antitrust, on privacy, on antisemitism, on their relationship to journalism," he said. "But we have to call this hearing what it is. It’s a sham."

Facebook and Twitter are open to tweaking tech’s liability protections — with some caveats

The tech industry has long resisted changes to Section 230, widely credited with helping to create the modern internet. But while all three of the CEOs testifying Wednesday rejected calls to scrap the legal shield altogether and defended its importance, both Zuckerberg and Dorsey voiced openness to tweaking it.

In a pair of notable endorsements, Zuckerberg urged Congress to "update the law to make sure it’s working as intended." And Dorsey proposed “three solutions” to address concerns raised by lawmakers about how tech companies moderate user content, including possible “expansions to Section 230."

His proposed frameworks included requiring companies to disclose more information about how they make decisions on content, allow users to appeal those rulings and let them select which algorithms dictate what content users view on online platforms.

But neither Dorsey nor Zuckerberg spelled out whether they would support making the protections afforded under Section 230 contingent on those requirements. And they hedged their calls for legislation by warning that any changes to the law could have vast consequences for smaller firms that may not have sufficient resources to comply with new regulations.

Their endorsements are likely to be tested as lawmakers continue to press for more sweeping changes than industry leaders have been willing to embrace to date.

Twitter's CEO was in the hot seat most of all, for once

Zuckerberg has testified on Capitol Hill more than any other prominent Silicon Valley CEO in recent years, and his company has arguably faced the brunt of Washington’s backlash against the tech industry amid scrutiny of its privacy practices, content policies and competitive dominance.

But on Wednesday it was Twitter's Dorsey who appeared to take the most heat, due in large part to the more forceful actions the company took to limit the distribution of the disputed New York Post articles on Joe and Hunter Biden.

Dorsey faced a slew of pointed questions from panel Republicans. Chair Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) pressed the tech mogul on whether the platform holds Trump to a higher standard than other global leaders, such as Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) grilled the CEO on the company’s policies against Holocaust denial material. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) pushed the tech mogul to say whether he had knowledge of whether Russia is behind the materials provided to the New York Post. (No, he does not, said Dorsey.)

But it was Dorsey and Cruz’s back and forth on why the publication continues to be locked out on Twitter that encapsulated how Republicans approached the company at the session. Dorsey said the Post could regain access to its account by deleting its original tweets with links to the report, and that it’d be able to repost them now under a revised policy.

Cruz wasn’t satisfied by response and accused Dorsey of trying to "tell the American people what reporting they can hear.”

Dorsey is poised to face similar heat just weeks from now at a separate Senate Judiciary hearing slated for after the election that is more explicitly focused on allegations of anti-conservative bias.

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Space Force's No. 2 officer tests positive for Covid-19

The Space Force's No. 2 officer has tested positive for coronavirus, the service announced Wednesday night.

Gen. David Thompson, the vice chief of space operations, took a test after a close family member also tested positive, according to a news release. He is self-quarantining and working from home.

Despite one of the service’s top officers being sidelined with the virus, the Space Force “remains operationally ready to answer the nation’s call,” the release said.

Contact tracing to determine if other military leaders may have been exposed to Thompson was underway Wednesday night, an Air Force spokesperson said. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown all tested negative within the last 24 hours, she said.

The news comes three weeks after the Coast Guard’s second in command, Adm. Charles Ray, tested positive, forcing members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high-ranking military officials who had been in contact with Ray during a meeting at the Pentagon to self-quarantine.

Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Gary Thomas tested positive two days later on Oct. 7. No other members of the Joint Chiefs got sick and all were cleared to return to work after a two-week quarantine.

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Opinion | Why Brett Kavanaugh Is Right About Wisconsin’s Ballot Deadline

For now, Vladimir Putin has been supplanted as the chief threat to the integrity of the presidential election by an American in a black robe—Brett Kavanaugh.

The Supreme Court justice’s concurrence in a decision this week slapping down a district court’s extension of a Wisconsin election deadline has been universally condemned by the center-left as a damning preview of an attempt by the court to hand the election to President Donald Trump.

Mark Joseph Stern wrote a piece for Slate titled, “Brett Kavanaugh Signals He’s Open to Stealing the Election for Trump.” He called Kavanugh’s concurrence “radical and brazenly partisan” and a clear and present danger to “the integrity of next week’s election.”

The New York Times reported that civil rights and Democratic Party lawyers viewed the concurrence “as giving public support to President Trump’s arguments that any results counted after November 3 could be riddled with fraudulent votes.”

Richard Hasen of the University of California, Irvine told the Times the concurrence revealed a “Trumpian mind-set.”

According to Vox, the Supreme Court’s decision shows that “American election law has entered a chaotic new world, one where even the most basic rules are seemingly up for grabs.”

This all speaks to the inflamed state of Kavanaugh’s critics the week before a hotly contested election rather than to the merits of his concurrence, which is commonsensical and accords with a plain reading of the Constitution.

In the Wisconsin case, a federal district judge in late September tacked six days onto the state’s deadline for receiving absentee ballots. Prior to the judge’s ruling, Wisconsin had an Election Day deadline for absentee ballots, naturally enough and like most other states.

It was the district court that overstepped its bounds and interfered in Wisconsin’s election, not Kavanaugh, who voted simply to restore the status quo prior to this judicial intervention.

Kavanaugh’s argument that “the rules of the road should be clear and settled” prior to the election would seem obvious. Does anyone think it’s better if they are confused and uncertain and changing at the last minute?

As Kavanaugh notes, a preference for rules established well ahead of time accords with the so-called Purcell principle against late changes imposed by courts. That refers to the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2006 case Purcell v. Gonzalez, when it overturned an appeals court decision blocking an Arizona voter ID law. The Supreme Court cited “the imminence of the election” and “the necessity for clear guidance to the State of Arizona.”

More fundamentally, the Constitution entrusts state legislatures with writing election rules: “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” Or as Neil Gorsuch put it in his own concurrence, joined by Kavanaugh, “The Constitution provides that state legislatures—not federal judges, not state judges, not state governors, not other state officials—bear primary responsibility for setting election rules.”

It’s not that state rules can’t change. The disposition defended by Kavanaugh provides plenty of leeway for states to change how they are handling their elections in light of the pandemic, and he has no objection to such adjustments. It’s simply that state legislatures should make them.

Is that so hard? In her dissent sharply taking issue with Kavanaugh, Justice Elena Kagan implicitly gives away the store. She makes policy arguments for why an extension of Wisconsin’s deadline is preferable. Even if this is correct, if she wants laxer election rules in Wisconsin, Kagan should move to the Badger State and run for state legislator.

Kavanugh has been mocked for saying that late-arriving ballots could “potentially flip the results of an election.” There’s no “result” to flip until all the ballots have been counted, right? But Kavanaugh clearly meant “results” in a loose sense—he’s referring to the change from one candidate leading on election night to the another candidate pulling ahead.

Kavanaugh says that such late changes undermine faith in election outcomes. This isn’t a normative statement, but a factual one. If Trump’s attack on mail-in ballots have been unworthy of the presidency, such worries are hardly new. (If you think, by the way, that only the Right gives into these suspicions about the conduct of elections, consider how the Left thinks a cabal of Russians stole the 2016 election and a cabal of Supreme Court justices is about to steal the 2020 election.)

Kavanaugh sees the wisdom of states wanting “to be able to definitely announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.” Critics jumped on him for this, too. The Times asserted that this view “misconstrues the voting process, where official results often are not fully tabulated for days or even weeks after an election.”

Actually, Kavanaugh misconstrued nothing. In the very next sentence, he referred to states, after all the votes are counted, beginning “the process of canvassing and certifying the election results in an expeditious manner.”

The reaction to Kavanaugh’s concurrence serves to underline its basic soundness. Now that we are days away from an election, each party strongly believes that it knows what rules favor it, making for highly charged, last-minute court fights that should have been taken up in democratically elected legislatures months ago.

Kavanaugh is being set up as the boogeyman of the nasty postelection court battles that he’d prefer didn’t happen at all.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Inside Macron’s diplomacy: Tension, turf wars and burnouts

Key advisers to the French prime minister are accused of presiding over hostile work environment and undermining policy.

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How the race to inherit Merkel’s mantle got dirty

Fight over whether to delay party vote shakes up race to take over German center right.

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Judge orders USPS to reverse mail collection limits now

A federal judge on Tuesday night ordered the U.S. Postal Service to reverse limitations on mail collection imposed by Trump-backed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, giving the agency until Wednesday morning to inform workers of the court's changes as more mail-in ballots continue to flood in.

In a highly detailed order, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District Court for the District of Columbia granted an emergency motion by plaintiffs against President Donald Trump to enforce and monitor compliance with Sullivan's previous injunction tied to USPS services.

No later than 9 a.m. Wednesday, the judge said, agency workers must be told that a USPS leader's July guidelines limiting late and extra trips to collect mail are rescinded.

"USPS personnel are instructed to perform late and extra trips to the maximum extent necessary to increase on-time mail deliveries, particularly for Election Mail," Sullivan wrote. "To be clear, late and extra trips should be performed to the same or greater degree than they were performed prior to July 2020 when doing so would increase on-time mail deliveries.

The judge further instructed the Postal Service to send him daily updates on the number of extra and late trips occurring every day at national, regional and local levels, in addition to information about on-time deliveries. And starting Wednesday, the agency and the plaintiffs who sued USPS will meet in a daily videoconference to discuss status updates of how the agency is complying with Sullivan's order.

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Feds launch investigation into New Jersey veterans homes, seek more info from New York

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into New Jersey’s state-run veterans homes, citing a lack of cooperation with an earlier probe as well as concerns over the quality of care at the facilities.

New Jersey officials estimate that 190 residents at veterans homes in Paramus and Menlo Park have died of Covid-19, representing roughly a third of their population at the start of the pandemic. The official tally, according to the state’s Covid-19 data dashboard, remains at 143.

“Recent reports suggest that the number of Covid-19 deaths at some nursing homes, including New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park and New Jersey Veterans Home at Paramus … two long-term care facilities operated by the state, have been understated,” according to a letter sent to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy which was released by a Justice Department spokesperson Tuesday evening.

There is “cause for concern that the quality of medical care at these nursing homes has been deficient,” the letter states.

According to the letter, the department has not reached any conclusions and, if appropriate, will offer “technical assistance” on any deficiencies identified in the investigation.

The Justice Department announced its original probe of New Jersey’s handling of outbreaks in long-term care facilities in August. More than 7,200 residents and staff of those facilities who tested positive for the virus have died since March 4, representing around 45 percent of the estimated number of deaths New Jersey has attributed to the pandemic.

Earlier this month, after months of public outcry from veterans groups, New Jersey elected officials and Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell, Murphy announced a shake-up of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the Menlo Park and Paramus homes.

The state’s third veterans home, in Vineland, was the site of a much smaller outbreak.

“The fact that this request from the Department of Justice was announced a week before Election Day speaks volumes about the nature of the review,” Murphy’s press office said in a statement late Tuesday. “From the beginning of the pandemic, the State of New Jersey has relied on CDC guidance from the federal government to protect the residents of our veterans homes. We do not comment on the substance of investigative inquiries and will respond through the appropriate channels in due course.”

The federal probe also explored outbreaks in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Separately, the Justice Department has sent a letter to New York health officials requesting information about the number of residents, employees and staff who have tested positive for the virus, as well as data on the number of individuals who died after being transferred to a hospital or any other medical facility.

The department is also requesting that New York provide numbers on how many people who were admitted to private nursing homes after testing positive for Covid-19 at another facility. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come under fire from Republicans for an order that directed nursing homes to accept Covid-19 patients over the objections of the Society for Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine.

I think that policy was, unfortunately, one of the things that led to a lot of avoidable harm,” Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, told POLITICO earlier this year.

"It should come to no one's surprise that we learned of this letter from the New York Post, whom [President Donald] Trump's politicized DOJ gave to them before the state, but it appears DOJ requested data since the beginning of this pandemic while CMS sought numbers only after May 8th,” Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi in a text message late Tuesday. “They should have figured this out themselves, but there's an election in a week and this federal government is clearly seeking to deceive and distract any way it can.”

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Trump campaign website defaced with message saying Americans 'have no choice' in election

Unknown hackers briefly defaced President Donald Trump’s campaign website on Tuesday night, claiming — without evidence — that they had compromised “multiple devices” and stolen “strictly classified information.”

The message borrowed language common to disinformation campaigns designed to demoralize Americans and depress voter turnout, warning that “the US citizens have no choice.”

The play: In a message posted on the campaign’s website, the hackers asked people to send cryptocurrency to one of two virtual addresses to either encourage the hackers to release the data or discourage them from doing so. They said the stolen data would prove that Trump “is involved in the origin of the corona virus” and is cooperating “with foreign actors manipulating the 2020 elections.”

Trump campaign says not a chance: The Trump campaign said the hackers had not accessed any valuable information. “There was no exposure to sensitive data because none of it is actually stored on the site,” tweeted communications director Tim Murtaugh.

The campaign is working with authorities to investigate the attack, Murtaugh added.

Who to suspect: It remains unclear who conducted the attack. The fact that the hackers asked for money might suggest that they are not working on behalf of a nation-state. On the other hand, many government operatives also engage in for-profit hacks on the side, and a government agency might want to confuse investigators by posing as criminals with a profit motive.

The FBI declined to comment on the situation. A spokesperson for CISA, which works with the campaigns on election security, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hackers’ message included a digital key that could ostensibly be used to contact them, but it pointed to a fake email address.

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Biden dives into the fight for the Senate

ATLANTA — Joe Biden hammered throughout the primary that he was Democrats’ best bet to not only beat Donald Trump, but flip the Senate and return his party to broader power in Washington. Now, in the final week of the election, Biden is throwing his weight into that pitch.

He campaigned in Georgia on Tuesday with Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the top Democrats running in the rapidly changing state’s dual Senate races. Meanwhile, his wife, Jill Biden, was in Maine stumping with Sara Gideon, the party’s candidate facing longtime GOP Sen. Susan Collins. And on Friday, Biden will make his first stop in Iowa since the state’s ill-fated caucuses, where the dead-heat Senate race has become the second most expensive in the country — and Biden and Trump are locked in a tight race themselves.

Biden still hasn’t campaigned with every Democratic Senate hopeful, even in the swing states where the party is competitive at both levels. But his stops in Georgia and Iowa — the type of states where Biden once said his liberal primary opponents would struggle and force down-ballot Democrats to answer uncomfortable policy questions — underscore how Biden has been an asset in Democrats’ fight to flip the Senate.

The appearances also show how important Georgia and Iowa have become in 2020. Neither state is a key to Biden’s main paths to defeating Trump in the Electoral College, but wins in either state would dramatically boost Democrats’ chances of taking the Senate. Winning both states would likely guarantee it.

“He's coming to Georgia because he can win and these Senate races are absolutely in play,” said Sarah Riggs Amico, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2018. “If we win both of these Senate seats in Georgia, it's almost mathematically impossible for Mitch McConnell to remain majority leader.”

Biden made the pitch directly in Atlanta at a drive-in rally featuring 365 cars and nearly 800 people, after Ossoff and Warnock had both already addressed the crowd.

“I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate. There's no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight,” the former vice president and 36-year Senate veteran said.

Biden’s camp said this spring that it would keep as many options as possible on the table as it sought 270 electoral votes, and the campaign stressed again this week that Biden’s trips are scheduled with winning the presidency chiefly in mind, not just making excursions to boost Senate hopefuls.

“If we didn’t think we were competing in Georgia we wouldn’t be sending Joe Biden there a week before the election,” one adviser said.

But they acknowledged that the Senate races did play into the late trips to Georgia and other surrogate travel over the final week before Election Day. “It’s always been on our mind and it’s always been something that we have factored in,” the adviser said.

Biden’s campaign schedule — which has remained limited out of both caution and confidence — has focused most heavily on Pennsylvania, but he’s also traveled to Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina, all of which also have competitive Senate races. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters appeared with Biden at a rally this month, but Cal Cunningham in North Carolina and Mark Kelly in Arizona didn’t join events in those states.

As Biden faced challenges from the left in the presidential primary, he argued repeatedly that he would have the most appeal and create the best conditions for down-ballot Democrats in tough states and districts. Most Democrats in competitive races have rejected "Medicare for All" in favor of a public health insurance option and support other measures fighting climate change instead of the "Green New Deal," aligning them more closely with Biden.

Georgia and Iowa weren’t considered to be part of Democrats’ likeliest paths back to a Senate majority after 2018. Georgia has two races, but the state’s runoff rule requiring a majority of the vote to win makes it a taller hurdle than some other states. The campaign between Ossoff and GOP Sen. David Perdue is highly competitive, and Warnock is likely to finish first in the special election before likely heading to a Jan. 5 runoff.

Stewart Boss, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the fact that these states were battlegrounds showed Democrats are "in a strong position firmly on offense in the closing days."

Biden didn’t mention the Republican contenders in the special election in his remarks, but he jabbed at Perdue for his mispronunciation of Sen. Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump rally a few weeks ago, telling the endangered Republican that it’s “gotta stop.”

John Burke, a spokesperson for Perdue, said in a statement that Biden has “spent nearly five decades in government and has absolutely nothing to show for it,” and said Perdue was proud of his work with Trump for the state.

Iowa has seen steady investment from Democrats, and party nominee Theresa Greenfield has consistently polled even with GOP Sen. Joni Ernst since the Democratic primary early in the summer. Biden’s standing in the state Barack Obama carried twice before Trump’s 2016 win has been a major boost.

“The fact that he is coming here just emphasizes the fact that this is a critical Senate race and that this is a state that he has a good shot of winning,” said Scott Brennan, a former state Democratic Party chair. “Six months ago we would have laughed at that and now we think he has a real shot here.”

Greenfield said it was “exciting” that Biden was coming to Iowa, according to audio of her remarks, saying it suggests the state is a true battleground. But she is on an RV tour this week and it wasn’t clear as of Tuesday whether she would join Biden’s campaign event.

Meanwhile, Ernst joined Trump at a campaign rally across the border Tuesday night in Omaha, Neb., where the local media market includes parts of southwestern Iowa. Ernst's campaign also hit Greenfield by saying Biden's visit showed she "stands with the liberal policies" he's running on.

Doug Gross, a veteran Republican operative in Iowa, said the top of ticket and Senate races were tied together and both sides would get a boost of attention from the visits. But Trump has visited the state several times, and this is Biden’s first foray.

“It’s a twofer for him,” Gross said. “He's helping himself with six electoral votes that otherwise wouldn't be play, and potentially getting himself a majority in the Senate, so that's a smart move.”

Biden isn’t broadly seen as a bogeyman for moderate voters, and his image is featured far less often in Senate TV ads than progressive Democrats. But Republicans still hope to get some juice out of tying candidates together.

“Biden has joined Chuck Schumer in calling for radical change by way of eliminating the filibuster and packing the court with liberal justices,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Candidates loath to answer for the threats will now have no choice but to confront it head on.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are tying Trump and Republican senators together. At her event with Jill Biden in Maine, Gideon said Trump has been “enabled and emboldened” by the GOP Senate and Collins.

"With a blue Senate, Joe is going to be able to do so much more to get our country back on track,” Jill Biden said, calling Maine “critical.”

Annie Clark, a spokesperson for Collins' campaign, in a statement criticized Gideon for not doing enough in the legislature on Covid-19 response, accusing her of having been “inexcusably on the sidelines” to campaign.

While Maine and Iowa have been core Senate races for both parties for months, Warnock, in a brief interview, said Biden’s trip to Georgia was evidence that “the folks at the national level are responding to what's going on here on the ground.”

Biden himself marveled at the competitive nature of the state in his remarks.

“We win Georgia, we win everything,” Biden said.

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Judge sides with Virginia, but Robert E. Lee statue stays put for now

RICHMOND, Va. — A judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of the Democratic Virginia governor’s plans to remove an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — but said the state can’t immediately act on his order.

The judge dissolved a temporary injunction prohibiting the statue’s removal from a historic avenue in downtown Richmond, but he also suspended his own order pending the resolution of an appeal by a group of residents who live near the statue.

“The Lee monument was built to celebrate the Confederacy and uphold white supremacy. This victory moves Virginia forward in removing this relic of the past — one that was erected for all the wrong reasons,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, who announced plans to take down the behemoth in June after the death of George Floyd.

Reached by phone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, Patrick McSweeney, confirmed his clients would appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” McSweeney said.

The plaintiffs said in their lawsuit that taking down the bronze equestrian figure installed in 1890 would violate restrictive covenants in deeds that transferred the statue, its soaring pedestal and the land they sit on to the state.

The state argued it cannot be forced to forever maintain a statue it says no longer comports with its values.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant sided with the Commonwealth, writing that Virginia had proved that enforcing those deeds would be in violation of “the current public policy.”

“The Court therefore holds that, at this time, the restrictive covenants are unenforceable by this Court,” he wrote.

Floyd, who was Black, died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis in May. His death sparked a renewed wave of Confederate monument removals across the U.S., as did a violent 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a mass shooting at a historic African American church in South Carolina.

Critics of the statues say they distastefully glorify people who fought to preserve slavery in the South. Others say their removal amounts to erasing history.

Four other prominent statues of Confederate leaders have been taken down from city property along Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue since Northam announced plans to remove Lee.

The Lee statue, which sits on a state-owned parcel of land, was unveiled before a massive crowd in May 1890, at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were over and Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.

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