Almost from the moment Republicans said they intended to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democrats began to vow they would pack the court if Republicans went through with their plan.
“If [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] holds a vote [on a Supreme Court nominee] in 2020, we pack the court in 2021. It’s that simple,” Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., said the weekend Ginsburg died.
As a Venezuelan, this is not the first time I have seen an authoritarian measure like this. Changing the rules also was a strategy of Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela.
Chavez had two fundamental rules—expel those on the court who were not attached to his party, and add enough seats to ensure his will was done. Chavez increased the number of judges on Venezuela’s highest court from 20 to 32 in 2004 and has not lost a single case since.
By 2006, at the beginning of the judicial year, elected judges to the supreme court were chanting, “Uh, ah, Chavez won’t leave,” which is the classic slogan in support of the former dictator—making even more evident a rupture in the separation of powers.
You say that can’t happen here because the U.S. is a republic?
Chavez was elected by the people in 1998, and he consistently allowed elections since. But he fundamentally changed the country and its laws so that no candidate stood a chance against him.
Chavez began to disrespect the rule of law in 1999, his first year in office. Saying the country needed change after years of oppression of the poor, he changed the constitution, abused the rule of law, increased the size of the government, and diminished its institutions.
In multiple interviews before being elected, he specified that he would be neither a socialist nor authoritarian. Once in office, he did not keep his word and instead spread the phrase “fatherland, socialism, or death.” Thanks to his packed courts, nothing could be done.
Democrats are playing a dangerous game with their talk of adding seats to the Supreme Court. Even worse, their presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, is directly telling Americans he will not give a clear answer to the country about this topic until the elections get closer.
The results in Venezuela of this policy are crystal clear. Not playing by the rules only undermines the state of law and shows a willingness to change longstanding practices in the pursuit of power.
Authoritarian regimes always seek to change the rules once in power. They always claim it is only fair and is being done only to pursue a greater goal.
Here is the truth: Anyone can live in a dictatorship, but you need to be willing to defend certain principles to live in freedom. As a person who was a victim of these toxic policies, I openly condemn this attempt to change the rules of the Supreme Court to make things work for one side just because that side is not happy about the outcome.
A big part of expanding the government is controlling and reforming government institutions to ensure they serve your best interests as a politician. The United States represents freedom around the world, and it is essential its foundations be preserved.
Just like many Venezuelans who have suffered the consequences of tyranny for years, I cannot help but see a pattern of politicians obsessed enough with power to change the rules leading to even worse situations.
My country did not prevent court-packing, and its people are still victims of these courts that violate and do not respect the most basic rights. According to the Penal Forum, a Venezuelan network of pro-bono criminal defense lawyers, Venezuela holds more than 360 political prisoners.
These are the results of a corrupted judicial system created by dangerous politicians. Americans should not go down this road.
The family traveled periodically to visit relatives in India, where Harris would take long walks along the beach with her grandfather and learn how to pray at a Hindu temple. At home, Gopalan would cook up Indian meals such as dal, idli, and bhindi ki sabzi. But even after the divorce, Gopalan was keen on raising her daughters as Black. Kamala and Maya sang in the children’s choir at a Black Baptist church. On Thursday evenings, “Shyamala and the girls,” as the trio were known around the neighborhood, were familiar faces at Rainbow Sign, a Black cultural center in Berkeley. Her mother, Harris has written, “knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”
It was an unlikely choice for an Indian at the time. “It’s not that she didn’t give a damn,” LaBrie said. “But this is the way she’s conducting her life, and if nobody agrees with you, so be it.” Years later, Harris herself would sound almost exactly the same note: “I am who I am. I’m good with it. You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it.”
Harris’s approach to politics today as the just-maybe next vice president has traces of her mother’s influence. Although Democrats are torn between progressives and moderates, Harris is one of the few leaders in her party whose politics don’t neatly align with either camp. During her time as a prosecutor in San Francisco, and then as California’s attorney general, Harris wasn’t exactly a paragon of progressivism: She rejected a request for additional DNA testing that could have exonerated a man on death row and resisted calls from local activists to investigate police shootings of Black men, moves that have irked leftists.
Though she’s tacked to the left in recent years—in 2019, she had one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate—she opposes Medicare for All and has kindled a warmer relationship with Silicon Valley than most other progressives. During the Democratic primary, when the left-wing stalwarts Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were centering their campaigns on a “political revolution” and “big structural change,” Harris told The New York Times that she’s “not trying to restructure society.”
“She sort of defies being labeled,” Ron Hayduk, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, told me. “She has taken positions that are not one or the other. It’s both/and, not either/or … It has also led some voters to question the authenticity of her convictions. People have said she’s trying to have it both ways.”
Harris’s self-proclaimed tendency to “reject false choices” didn’t seem to help her during her own bid for the presidency: She dropped out of the race even before voting got under way. “She was trying to be in the middle,” Hayduk said, “but who cares about that person in the middle who is trying to go from one lane to the next?” However, the fact that Harris isn’t tightly linked to any one of the party’s ideological poles may have been exactly what made her an enticing vice-presidential pick for Biden.
Gopalan is no longer around to tell Harris to ignore other people’s expectations, but the potential vice president likely wouldn’t be in this spot without her. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Harris staged a protest as a middle schooler in Montreal, demanding the right to play soccer in the courtyard of their apartment complex. “I’m happy to report that our demands were met,” Harris wrote of the incident. When Harris mounted a long-shot run for San Francisco district attorney in 2003, Gopalan was an integral part of her campaign, chauffeuring her to events, directing volunteers, and drumming up support for her daughter’s candidacy. There was no lawn her daughter couldn’t play on, no office she couldn’t hold.
One year ago, Bolivia’s election ended in chaos: weeks of protest; incumbent President Evo Morales fleeing the country; and a right-wing interim government stepping in, which twice postponed redo elections.
When the long-awaited vote was held this week, observers across Latin America viewed it as more than a referendum on Mr. Morales’ socialist leadership. It was a wider test: Could Latin America’s political left – the so-called pink tide – make a comeback?
The socialist party candidate, Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, won at the polls. But that’s not a harbinger for the region, analysts say. Instead, the biggest takeaway for Bolivia’s neighbors is the rejection of incumbents in a region where faith in democracy is on the decline, and economic security is in a tailspin, says Christina Ewig, an expert on Latin American politics.
The conservative interim government made a series of missteps, which combined with the unprecedented toll of COVID-19 to lay the groundwork for socialists’ return, says economist Gonzalo Chávez Alvarez.
“Bolivia chose to resolve its problems through democracy,” Dr. Chávez says. But, he adds, “right or left, we are seeing a resistance to playing by the rules of the game” across Latin America, whether Morales in 2019, or Venezuela, Brazil, or Nicaragua today.
For many, Bolivia’s long-awaited presidential election this week was not only a referendum on exiled former President Evo Morales’ 13-year term, but a test for the possible rebound of Latin America’s political left.
The socialist party candidate Luis Alberto Arce Catacora earned 54.5% of the vote with roughly 95% of votes counted by Thursday morning. It’s a rare win for the left in a region that took a sharp right turn in recent years, following more than a decade of the so-called pink tide of leftist leadership, from Brazil to Argentina, Chile to Uruguay. And it’s a striking comeback for Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, after allegations of fraud in the 2019 vote threw the country into months of civil unrest. But it’s not, experts warn, a harbinger for the reemergence of the Latin American left.
The results reflect unique aspects of Bolivia’s socio-economic situation, an Indigenous majority with a strong history of social mobilization, unhappiness with the conservative interim president, the socialist party’s move away from personality politics, and the opposition’s inability to coalesce behind a single candidate.
The biggest takeaway for Bolivia’s neighbors isn’t a return of the left, but the rejection of incumbents in a region where faith in democracy is on the decline and economic security is in a tailspin, says Christina Ewig, a professor at the University of Minnesota who studies Latin American politics.
“In terms of the regional context, this doesn’t signal more votes for the left, but more votes for change,” she says. “What we’ll see more of are problems for incumbents in Latin America, especially in 2021.”
Evo Morales became Bolivia’s first Indigenous president when he took office in 2006. Over the course of his three terms in office, he promised to fight inequality, tighten state control over natural resources, and distance Bolivia from imperialist powers like the United States. Mr. Arce served in his administration for more than a decade, implementing fiscal policies that don’t typically jibe with leftist governments.
But the widespread support Mr. Morales enjoyed from his base started to erode as he began consolidating power and pushed for a second, third, and finally a fourth term in office. Before the fourth campaign, voters had narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment to let him run again. Yet the Supreme Court scrapped term limits altogether in 2018, ruling it was Mr. Morales’ human right to run – putting off many of his former supporters. He claimed victory in last year’s polls, but international observers questioned the results, and protesters took to the streets. The sometimes violent protests lasted nearly a month.
Sabino Chavez Mamani, member of the Departmental Electoral Tribunal, attends the counting of votes after nationwide election, in La Paz, Bolivia, Oct. 21, 2020.
Mr. Morales fled Bolivia, while a U.S.-backed, right-wing interim government took the helm. When interim President Jeanine Áñez was sworn in, she made a show of bringing Christianity with her, after the last administration’s emphasis on Indigenous traditions. “The Bible has returned to the government palace!” she declared, carrying an oversized Bible.
A series of missteps, combined with the unprecedented economic and health tolls of COVID-19, laid the groundwork for a return to MAS leadership, says Gonzalo Chávez Alvarez, an economist who directs the master’s in development program at the Catholic University of Bolivia.
“This vote isn’t saying everything Morales did before was wonderful,” Dr. Chávez says. “It was a vote for social and economic change.”
Over the past year, the transitional government, which postponed the vote twice, “made many errors that scared voters,” Dr. Chávez says, including corruption, a lack of coordinated leadership, violent crackdowns on Indigenous communities and protesters, and the “terrible idea of the interim president presenting herself as a candidate for reelection,” even though she later took herself out of the running.
“Bolivians had a taste of what the right would be like and they really blew it under Áñez,” Dr. Ewig says. “She wasn’t prepared to be president. It was a year of right-wing rule that was disastrous and reminded people how much elites in Bolivia can be really exclusionary to the majority of the population, which is Indigenous.”
Former President Carlos Mesa, who also ran, “was painted with the same brush.”
The opposition had a hard time deciding whom to back, much like Venezuela’s opposition, which for nearly two decades failed to unite to contest increasingly authoritarian leftist leaders. The closest contender in Bolivia’s vote, the centrist Mr. Mesa, led the country during a tough economic crisis, conjuring up unhappy memories. President-elect Arce, by contrast, was finance minister at the height of the region’s commodity boom.
“We have recovered democracy,” Mr. Arce said in a speech early Monday, when early results signaled his victory. “We are going to govern for all Bolivians and construct a government of national unity.” He said Mr. Morales is welcome to return home, but he needs to answer to the justice system for the numerous charges lodged against him.
Over the past year, MAS and President-elect Arce were able to move themselves away from Mr. Morales’ powerful personality and become a more institutionalized party. And his emphasis on unity has given international observers hope.
“MAS has been an incredible force in Bolivian politics, and for it to become more institutionalized as a party rather than a personal vehicle for Evo Morales is really important for the long-term health of democracy,” says Dr. Ewig.
Many of the international lessons from Sunday’s vote may be yet to emerge, depending on how Mr. Arce moves forward. Will he truly distance himself from his predecessor, as was the case in Ecuador after Rafael Correa, observers ask? Or will he follow the path of Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro leans heavily on predecessor Hugo Chávez’s name and legacy?
Bolivia is in economic crisis, Dr. Chávez says, and whether Mr. Arce tries to create a new path or falls back on policies from the Morales days will have a big impact on what comes next. “This wasn’t just the interim government mismanaging the economy, this began back in 2014,” he says of Bolivia’s economic downturn. The GDP is forecast to shrink nearly 8% this year.
The global consequences of COVID-19 are hitting Latin America particularly hard, pummeling already fragile economies, increasing inequality, and feeding preexisting feelings that the promises of democracy haven’t delivered. With general and midterm elections taking place across the region later this year and in 2021 – from Argentina to Mexico to Venezuela – regional governments and citizens may hold up Bolivia as an example for peaceful change.
“Bolivia chose to resolve its problems through democracy,” Dr. Chávez says. “That’s a win for democracy. It proves turmoil can be resolved with the vote,” he says.
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“But, right or left, we are seeing a resistance to playing by the rules of the game” across Latin America, he says, whether Morales in 2019 or Venezuela, Brazil, or Nicaragua today.
“It’s democracy that saved Bolivia’s socialist movement.”
“WE WILL stand up to trade cheating,” Donald Trump promised in 2016. He pledged to end “the era of economic surrender” and put America first, even if that meant kicking others down. He said he would renegotiate “horrible” trade deals bilaterally, scorning any larger agreement “that ties us up and binds us down”. International trade rules were for suckers. And if other countries refused to play along, he promised tariffs.
Mr Trump’s bite turned out to be almost as bad as his bark. On his first day in office he withdrew America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal with 11 other countries around the Pacific Rim. He appointed as United States Trade Representative the hawkish Robert Lighthizer, who proceeded to scupper the World Trade Organisation’s system of settling disputes. Without independent referees, foreign governments with complaints have to negotiate directly with Uncle Sam.
The president also lived up to his claim of being a “tariff man”. Allies in Europe and Canada took offence at tariffs on their steel and aluminium, both in the name of America’s national security. He lifted average tariffs on Chinese exports from 3% at the beginning of 2018 to 19% today, at first to slam China for its theft of American companies’ intellectual property, and then in retaliation for China’s counter-tariffs. He used threats to push along some deals too, securing narrow agreements with South Korea, Japan and China, as well as the broader USMCA with Mexico and Canada.
Beneath the all-caps tweets and triumphant handshakes, what did this flurry of activity achieve? His team has not solved any of the structural problems afflicting the global trading system, including the distorting effects of China’s industrial subsidies on international markets. But neither has his team achieved nothing.
The bullying did secure concessions. Japan offered access to its agriculture market (though the TPP would have gone further), without gaining any new access to America’s car market. The Mexican government agreed to tight rules for the standards a car would have to meet to enter America tariff-free. And the “phase-one” deal with China scrapped technical barriers to American exports of pork, dairy and beef, made openings for some financial-services companies and allowed for tariffs to return quickly if the Chinese did not play along.
American companies operating in China do not seem to be particularly grateful for the help. A membership survey conducted in May and June by the US-China Business Council, a trade group, found that for 37% of respondents the cost of the tariffs outweighed the benefits of the trade agreement, and 56% said it was too soon to say. But perhaps the trade war was not entirely being fought on their behalf. If the administration was trying to reduce America’s reliance on China as a supplier, the achievements look more obvious.
These successes came at a cost. One study found that the correlation between higher trade uncertainty and depressed global growth meant that the disputes could have dragged back global GDP growth by 1%. A survey run by the Atlanta Federal Reserve found that domestic-goods manufacturers expected tariff increases and trade policy jitters to squash investment in the second half of 2019 by 8%.
The tariffs shuffled resources around: towards American producers of products shielded by the tariffs, away from the businesses and people having to pay for more expensive imports, as well as producers affected by foreign retaliation. One study found that, for manufacturing employment, the depressive effects outweighed the stimulative ones. Another found that the companies facing tariffs accounted for 84% of American exports and 65% of manufacturing employment. Taking an average cost of $900 per worker, those companies’ exports slowed as though they had faced a foreign tariff of 2%.
Although Mr Trump claimed foreigners were paying the $80bn of revenue the tariffs raised, economists found that, in fact, American importers paid it. A complicated process of applying for tariff exclusions left businesses tangled in bureaucracy. Thousands of companies have sued, claiming that some of the tariffs on China are unlawful. The policy has, at the very least, created a bonanza for trade lawyers.
Trump supporters argue that without pain there is no gain. His critics retort that bigger gains could have been achieved for less pain. What if the president had not threatened America’s allies, and instead focused energies on tackling China’s subsidies? What if he had not weakened his own team’s hand, by going back on his word? With the ink barely dry on the USMCA, he threatened Mexico with tariffs. That made other negotiating partners question the point of offering concessions. Mr Trump’s reputation as an unreliable dealmaker limited what his threats could achieve.■
Americans are increasingly divided along party lines not only about the presidential candidates but how the President should be elected. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which aims to replace the state-based Electoral College with a single plebiscite, has benefited from this polarization as Democratic state legislatures approve the compact at a faster pace.
On Nov. 3 voters in increasingly blue Colorado will decide to accept or reject their Legislature’s 2019 entry into the compact. States representing 196 electoral votes have joined the compact out of 270 needed for it to go into effect. If voters reject Proposition 113, Colorado would be the first state to join the compact and then leave—underscoring the compact’s instability and blunting its momentum.
If voters approve it, they could be paving the way for the destruction of America’s two-century-old presidential election system. Democratic-controlled Virginia—and perhaps Minnesota and North Carolina if Democrats do well in legislative elections there—could bring the total number of electoral votes among compact signatories well into the 200s before the 2024 presidential election.
Under the Electoral College system, states award their electors to whichever candidate won the most votes in that state (or, in Nebraska and Maine, in a given congressional district). By signing onto the NPVIC, states effectively disenfranchise themselves. They agree to give away their electors to a candidate most of their own voters may have rejected.
Yet legislators are increasingly interested in empowering their national party rather than their state and its voters. Fueled by out-of-state contributions, Colorado’s anti-Electoral College campaign is outspending the opposition.
We believe the Electoral College plays an important role protecting election integrity and balancing geographic interests. But even voters sympathetic to the idea of a popular vote should think about what this extra-constitutional scheme would mean for the country.
The 2020 vote-by-mail controversies have offered Americans a glimpse of what it might look like to have disputed election results. If the NPVIC went into effect by, say, 2028, the 2020 uncertainty would look trivial. The U.S. would have two parallel election systems—one in its tradition and the Constitution, and one agreed to by a minority of legislatures representing larger and more liberal states.
The departure of just one or two states could sink the compact in an election year and upend candidate strategies. That could happen if Democrats saw an advantage in the Electoral College map—as they did in 2012—or if partisan control of a state changed. Courts could strike down the compact under the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause.
A popular vote election could also encourage sectional candidates who can compete in just a few states. The general presidential election could resemble a primary—with no runoff. Oh, and there’s nothing stopping progressive states from lowering their voting age from 18, among other changes for partisan advantage in the national vote tally. Since most voting rules are made at the state level, Republican states might try to jury-rig their own process in response.
This is not a path to greater democratic legitimacy. As an old British political refrain goes: “Reform? Aren’t things bad enough already?”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced her support for Amy Coney Barrett Saturday during a floor speech in the Senate, strengthening the Republican votes to confirm the judge on Monday.
Republicans hold a 53-seat majority in the Senate. Only two Republican senators — Murkowski and Susan Collins of Maine — have openly opposed moving on Barrett’s nomination before the election. But with Murkowski’s announcement Saturday, Republicans appear to have 52 solid “yes” votes in favor of confirmation and all-but-cementing that Barrett will become the next Supreme Court justice and President Trump’s third nominee on the high court.
The announcement came during a rare Saturday session as senators traded heated barbs over confirming Barrett just days before voters will decide whether Republicans will maintain control of the Senate and the White House.
A procedural vote is set for Sunday, final confirmation on Monday.
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At least three top aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last few days, people briefed on the matter said, raising fresh questions about the safety protocols at the White House, where masks are not routinely worn.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for Mr. Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, said that the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short, had tested positive. A person briefed on the diagnosis said it was received on Saturday.
“Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence both tested negative for Covid-19 today, and remain in good health,” Mr. O’Malley said. “While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the C.D.C. guidelines for essential personnel.”
The statement did not come from the White House medical unit, but instead from a press aide. Two people briefed on the matter said that the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had sought to keep news of the outbreak from becoming public.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Meadows did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
A Trump adviser briefed on the outbreak, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that Pence adviser Marty Obst also tested positive earlier this week. Mr. Obst’s positive test was first reported by Bloomberg News.
Another person briefed on the developments, who also was not allowed to speak publicly, said that three additional Pence staff members had tested positive. Mr. O’Malley did not immediately respond to a question about others who have tested positive.
Mr. Pence’s decision to continue campaigning, despite his proximity to his chief of staff, is certain to raise fresh questions about how seriously the White House is taking the risks to its staff members and to the public as the pandemic has killed nearly 225,000 people in the United States.
Mr. Trump, the first lady and several aides and advisers tested positive for the virus roughly three weeks ago. Mr. Trump spent three nights at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and he was treated with an experimental antibody cocktail as well as the powerful steroid dexamethasone.
The administration decided not to trace the contacts of guests and staff members at the Rose Garden celebration on Sept. 26 for the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, which also included a reception inside the White House. That event was linked to an outbreak that grew to more than 20 cases, as evidence mounted that the administration had done little to prevent or contain the virus’s spread.
Mr. Trump, at rallies over the past two days, has insisted the country is “rounding the turn” on the virus, even though the single-day record for new cases was shattered on Friday.
Reports of new infections poured in at alarming levels on Saturday as the coronavirus continued to tear through the United States. Six states reported their highest-ever infection totals and more than 76,000 new cases had been announced by evening, one day after the country shattered its single-day record with more than 85,000 new cases.
The country’s case total on Saturday, which was sure to rise through the evening as more states reported data, was already the second highest in a single day. Case numbers on weekends are often lower because some states and counties do not report new data, so the high numbers on Saturday gave reason for alarm.
“This is exploding all over the country,” said Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, whose state is among 16 that have added more cases in the past week than in any other seven-day stretch. “We’ve got to tamp down these cases. The more cases, the more people that end up in the hospital and the more people die.”
Officials in Alaska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Illinois announced more new cases on Saturday than on any other day of the pandemic.
Rural areas and small metropolitan regions have seen some of the worst outbreaks in recent weeks, but by Saturday, many large cities were struggling as well.
The counties that include Chicago, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, Anchorage and El Paso all set single-day records on Saturday. Across the country, hospitalizations have grown by about 40 percent since last month, and they continued to rise on Saturday. Around Chicago, where new restrictions on bars and other businesses took effect Friday, more than twice as many cases are now being identified each day than at the start of October.
“This moment is a critical inflection point for Chicago,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said.
States in the Midwest and Mountain West have been reporting some of the country’s most discouraging statistics, but worrisome upticks are occurring all over. New cases have emerged at or near record levels recently in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas and New Mexico.
“Over the next week, two weeks, three weeks, please be extremely conservative in deciding how much time to spend outside of the home,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico said Friday as she imposed new restrictions on businesses. “The visit to friends can wait — it’s not worth your life, or theirs.”
Experts worry that the growing numbers in need of hospital care will only get worse if cases continue to mount, especially in rural areas where medical facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.
The high case count in part reflects increased testing. With about one million people tested on many days, the country is getting a far more accurate picture of how widely the virus has spread than it did in the spring.
But public health officials warn that Americans are heading into a dangerous phase, as cooler weather forces people indoors, where the virus spreads easily. It could make for a grueling winter that tests the discipline of the many people who have grown weary of masks and of turning down invitations to see family and friends.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on Friday that the country should consider implementing a first-ever national mandate requiring masks, to help control a surge in coronavirus cases across the United States that has become the most severe to date.
Appearing on CNN, Dr. Fauci said that enforcing such a mandate would be difficult. But with conditions worsening across disparate regions of the country, he said he could be inclined to recommend the dramatic measure.
“There’s going to be a difficulty enforcing it,” he said, “but if everyone agrees that this is something that’s important and they mandate it and everybody pulls together and say, you know, we’re going to mandate it but let’s just do it, I think that would be a great idea to have everybody do it uniformly.”
Most states have imposed mask requirements to varying degrees, covering different spheres — such as indoor and outdoor spaces — at some point during the pandemic.
However, a minority of states, including Iowa, have resisted issuing directives on masks even as case counts have begun to climb to new highs. And even states and cities that have more restrictive orders in place tend to allow some exceptions, such as when people are exercising.
The White House has obstructed federal efforts that would have mandated masks in a more limited way, blocking an order drafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month that would have required masks on public transportation.
But with more than a dozen states reporting more cases over the past week than in any other seven-day stretch during the pandemic, Dr. Fauci said that it may be necessary to have a more coordinated, national approach.
“I get the argument saying, ‘Well if you mandate a mask, then you’re going to have to enforce it and that’ll create more of a problem,’” he said. “Well, if people are not wearing masks then maybe we should be mandating it.”
Even as cases have risen to their highest levels yet in the United States, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has been meeting less frequently, Dr. Fauci said on Friday, appearing on MSNBC.
Recently, the group has been meeting weekly — less frequent than the sometimes daily meetings during the early spring, he said.
The last time that President Donald Trump was at one of the White House coronavirus task force meetings, which are now virtual, was “several months ago,” Dr. Fauci said, adding: “Direct involvement with the president in discussions — I have not done that in a while.”
Vice President Mike Pence leads the task force, and relays guidance from the group’s medical experts to the president, Dr. Fauci said.
More than 800 North Dakotans who tested positive for the coronavirus have been belatedly notified after the state health department faced a backlog of cases, health officials said this week.
The backlog was caused by the sharp increase in cases in the state, the health department said in a statement. Members of the North Dakota National Guard who had been helping the state’s contact tracing efforts since early last month were reassigned to notify the people who tested positive, a health department spokeswoman said.
With 5,422 new cases in the state over the past week — 711 cases per 100,000 people — the state has the highest levels of infection per person in the country, according to a New York Times database. New York State had 55 cases per 100,000 people over the past week.
To address the backlog, contact tracers began calling people who tested positive, rather than their normal duties of calling those positive cases’ close contacts.
People who came in close contact with someone who tested positive “will no longer be contacted by public health officials,” the department said, except for people in health care, K-12 schools and universities.
Instead, people who test positive will be asked to “self-notify their close contacts.”
In other developments around the country:
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas asked the U.S. Health and Human Services Department on Saturday to authorize the use of an Army medical center on Fort Bliss for non-coronavirus patients in an effort to create more space at hospitals in the El Paso area for coronavirus patients.
A state of emergency issued in March by Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma was extended this week for another 30 days as the state faces record infection levels. As positive cases hit a new peak in the state, there have been an average of 1,221 new cases per day over the past week, an increase of 14 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
Warning signs flashed on Saturday that the pandemic has entered a dangerous phase across Europe, with several countries shattering daily infection records and uncertainty mounting about how the continent will battle its worst outbreak to date.
Deaths from the coronavirus in Germany surpassed 10,000 on Saturday, a disconcerting milestone in a country that has been widely admired for its ability to manage the pandemic. The number of new infections in a 24-hour period also reached a record level — 14,714 — although the country’s public health authority said that some of those cases should have been factored in earlier in the week but had not been because of technical issues.
The Belgian government, alarmed by the quickening pace of infections in the country of 11 million — the second-worst in Europe behind the Czech Republic — inched closer to a total lockdown with a spate of new restrictions on daily life. Officials moved up by two hours a curfew put in place last week, to 10 p.m. instead of midnight, for the next month, and required that all cultural and fitness venues such as gyms, pools, galleries and museums shut down. Commercial stores will be required to close at 8 p.m.
On Friday, several other countries, including France and Italy, recorded single-day records for new infections, according to data compiled by The New York Times. And the surge of new cases across the continent has pushed hospitalizations to alarming levels in countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
France, after months of falling numbers of patients in intensive care, is now facing a frightening second wave. It has recorded over 1 million cases and set a single-day record Friday with 42,032 new cases. The government this week expanded its nightly curfew to 38 more regions and Polynesia.
Local health authorities in Germany, who are responsible for the contact tracing of infected people, said they are increasingly overwhelmed, despite help from hundreds of soldiers who have been dispatched to communities across the country. In Frankfurt, a city of about 750,000 that serves as Germany’s banking capital, the number of new cases has quadrupled since the beginning of this month, and health officials there conceded that their ability to stop chains of infection had collapsed.
“It is no longer possible to trace each case,” the head of Frankfurt’s office of public health, René Gottschalk, told ZDF public television on Friday.
In Italy, which reported 19,143 new cases on Friday, officials are considering shuttering public gyms and swimming pools, according to a Reuters report. Bars and restaurants would be closed at 6 p.m. and people would be discouraged from traveling outside of their local areas.
Now, gyms must comply with a long list of regulations. Checking in requires a health screening; masks are mandatory, even during the most strenuous workouts; only one-third of normal occupancy is allowed; and everyone must clean, then clean some more.
At a Planet Fitness in Brooklyn, Dinara Izmagambetova, who wore a floral face mask and had a sheen of sweat after completing a two-hour workout, said she was thrilled to be back in a gym. But safety measures had made it a less sociable experience, she said.
“I could ask someone” how to use a machine before the outbreak, Ms. Izmagambetova said. “Now I’m doing a lot of Googling.”
Despite scientists’ concerns, infection clusters connected to gyms in the United States have been relatively rare so far, though they have been reported in Hawaii and California.
“We’re not seeing outbreaks tied to gyms as heavily as something like a bar or school,” said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University.
Still, a number of the 2,000 or so gyms in New York State and fitness centers across the country face a fight for life. At least one-fourth of the more than 40,000 gyms in the United States could close by the end of the year, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, an industry group. A study by Yelp said that more than 2,600 already had.
As Colorado fights a spate of late-season wildfires, with residents hoping that a predicted blizzard on Sunday will finally bring things under control, the state’s governor is warning that the thick smoke spreading across mountain towns could hide coronavirus outbreaks.
“We do worry that the impact on respiratory conditions of the fires could mask the spread of Covid,” Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference this week, asking residents to “please consider” getting tested if they have a cough or sore throat.
Crews in northern Colorado have spent several grueling days battling the East Troublesome fire amid 60-mile-an-hour wind gusts. Firefighters are struggling to control the 188,000-acre wildfire, which has destroyed an unknown number of homes while roaring through ranches, lakeside resorts and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Symptoms of smoke exposure such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, are hard to distinguish from symptoms of the coronavirus, experts have said, making it difficult for many sufferers to know what is causing their discomfort.
“The early symptoms of Covid look a lot like breathing bad air for a period of hours,” Mr. Polis said.
Wildfire smoke can also make people more susceptible to catching the virus.
“When your immune system is overwhelmed by particles, it’s not going to do such a good job fighting other things, like viruses,” Sarah Henderson, a senior environmental health scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, said this summer.
As of Saturday morning, there have been more than 92,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,233 deaths in Colorado since the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, the state has averaged almost 1,200 new cases per day, an increase of 81 percent from the average of two weeks earlier.
— Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio
The day before its first kickoff of 2020, the Big Ten Conference was still unveiling rules for a football season that had been postponed, revived, truncated and compromised in efforts to contain the pandemic.
On Thursday, the conference announced a “no contest” rule for games canceled if team personnel tested positive for the virus — which seemed inevitable because the schedule has no bye weeks and, therefore, no wiggle room for last-minute changes. The intention is to play nine games in nine weeks to catch up to the three Power Five conferences that have already started.
But just over a month ago, no one thought the Big Ten — made up of 14 schools across the Midwest and Northeast — would begin football on Friday night, with the University of Illinois at the University of Wisconsin, even as the home team’s state ranked fourth in the country in per capita cases over the past seven days, and first among the states with Big Ten programs.
“Having football while I can’t go to class — in a way, it’s nice that we’re having this one thing that’s unifying,” said Anne Isman, a sophomore at Wisconsin who is living in an apartment in Madison. “At the same time, the timing feels a little off.”
Fans and parties will be barred from all of the league’s stadiums, but the precautions have not fully reassured the mayors of certain Big Ten towns.
They know that what happens at the stadiums will be only one part of football’s return. Fear of groups breaking recommended social-distancing protocols led 12 mayors of areas surrounding 11 Big Ten schools to send a letter to the conference this week, citing concerns about what bringing football back means for college towns as fans congregate to watch games — the virus an omnipresent risk freely floating between face paint, beer bottles and potlucks.
“We know the history of football games within our cities,” the mayors wrote. “They generate a lot of activity, social gatherings and consumption of alcohol.”
A spokesman for President Andrzej Duda of Poland said on Saturday that Mr. Duda had tested positive for the coronavirus and would go into isolation, just days after Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the deputy prime minister and head of the ruling party, entered quarantine after exposure to somebody who had been infected.
Poland largely avoided the first wave of the pandemic by imposing an early lockdown in March, and nearly a third of its approximately 215,000 total cases have emerged in the past week.
The latest wave of cases has forced the country to implement new restrictions on public life and to convert the national stadium in Warsaw into a temporary field hospital that can accommodate 500 virus patients. Mr. Duda visited the stadium on Friday and met with site managers.
The new restrictions will require all cafes, bars and restaurants to close, except for takeout; gyms and swimming pools were also shut. Residents must use face coverings outside their homes, and remote teaching will become the norm for older children in primary schools, as well as in high schools and at universities.
Several months into the pandemic, Mr. Duda joined the ranks of leaders who have contracted the virus, including President Trump, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
The spokesman who announced Mr. Duda’s condition said he was “feeling well.”
— Monika Pronczuk and Tess Felder
The Czech Republic’s prime minister has demanded the resignation of the country’s health minister after the health minister was photographed leaving a restaurant without a face covering.
The health minister, Roman Prymula, an epidemiologist who began his job in late September, has so far refused to resign. The prime minister has threatened to fire him, but he does not have the power to do so.
The Czech Republic is in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Case are rising faster than anywhere else in Europe, with 78,211 cases recorded over the past week. The government has been imposing more and more restrictions in the hope of containing the spread of the virus.
Mr. Prymula had announced a partial lockdown beginning Thursday that closed shops and services, barred people from leaving their homes except for vital business and limited contact with people from other households. Restaurants, bars and cafes have been closed since Oct. 14, with the exception of carryout until 8 p.m. nightly.
Despite this, Mr. Prymula was photographed by a tabloid newspaper, Blesk, leaving the premises of a restaurant after midnight wearing no face mask after a meeting with a politician, Jaroslav Faltynek, who is first chairman of Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO movement.
“Such a mistake cannot be excused,” Prime Minister Babis said on Friday at a news conference. “I do not care what Minister Prymula and Mr. Faltynek did there, who they invited and why. We cannot preach water and drink wine.” He said he would fire Mr. Prymula if he did not resign and that Mr. Faltynek will also be resigning his ANO post.
In refusing to resign, Mr. Prymula said at a news conference, “I did not break any rules, I walked through the restaurant to private premises.”
Though Mr. Babis can recommend that Mr. Prymula be fired, the president must agree and usually that is what happens. But President Milos Zeman has voiced doubts about the move in this case. The two were meeting in the afternoon.
In other developments around the world:
Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the president of Algeria, said on Saturday that he would quarantine himself after senior government officials had been infected with the coronavirus. He said he was feeling well and that he would continue working during his quarantine.
The Metropolitan Police arrested 18 protesters in London on Saturday following clashes between demonstrators and police that left three officers with minor injuries, the police said. The protest against lockdowns “attracted a large number of protesters,” with many not social distancing, violating coronavirus regulations, Cmdr. Ade Adelekan said.
A day after the nation hit a new high for coronavirus cases, President Trump returned to the campaign trail for a series of rallies and again sought to minimize the surging pandemic, mocking his rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., for following the social distancing recommendations of public health officials.
In the face of spiking numbers, Mr. Trump on Saturday continued to lean into the idea that the news media and his critics are obsessing about the virus, even as polls show widespread public concern. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found that a slim majority of voters — including half of independents — believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
With 10 days left until the election and hundreds of thousands of voters expected to cast their ballots as long lines marked the first weekend of early in-person voting in Florida, New York, Wisconsin and other states, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden presented sharply divergent cases, both in words and actions, for how they would handle the pandemic still gripping the country.
Campaigning in the key battleground of Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden cited the milestone in cases at a drive-in rally in the Philadelphia suburbs on Saturday and criticized Mr. Trump for asserting that the country was “rounding the corner” as cases spike.
The beeping of car horns punctuated his remarks, a familiar soundtrack at his socially distanced drive-in events in the weeks before Election Day. “I wish I could go car to car and meet you all,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t like the idea of all this distance, but it’s necessary. I appreciate you being safe. What we don’t want to do is become superspreaders.”
In North Carolina, it seemed that Mr. Trump had watched his rival’s event, mocking Mr. Biden for his careful crowd limits. “People in cars,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t get it.”
But the virus’s surge has ensured that even Mr. Trump’s well-attended rallies can be a political liability, a reminder to voters fearful of the pandemic of his regular disregard for expert and public health advice.
Mr. Trump used his own contracting of the disease, his weekend of hospitalization and subsequent recovery as a pitch to minimize the severity of a pandemic that has cost more than 224,000 lives in the United States out of more than eight million cases.
The United States is in the midst of one of the most severe surges of the coronavirus to date, with more new cases reported across the country on Friday than on any other single day since the pandemic began.
Since the start of October, the rise in cases has been steady and inexorable, with no plateau in sight. By Friday night, more than 85,000 new cases had been reported across the country, breaking a single-day record set on July 16 by more than 9,000 cases.
By that measure, Friday was the worst day of the pandemic, and health experts warned of a further surge as cold weather sets in.
For many, the soaring numbers brought back ragged memories of what it was like in mid-July, when the virus was raging through the Sun Belt.
Raymond Embry saw the worst of it up close. His small Arizona medical clinic had been giving about five coronavirus tests a day. That grew to dozens a day, and then came the surge on July 16, with 4,192 people lined up for tests to find out if they had the coronavirus.
That day, arguably the worst of the pandemic in the United States to that point, set records nationwide. By the end of that 24-hour period, a staggering 75,687 new cases had been reported around the country, and Arizona led the nation in deaths per capita.
On the Texas-Mexico border, mid-July was a nightmare. Johnny Salinas Jr., the owner of Salinas Funeral Home, was handling six to seven funerals a day, a number he would usually see over a week before the pandemic. Some of those included family members and relatives of employees.
But in some other parts of the country that day, the virus felt far away.
On July 16, towns in North Dakota were holding their annual summer festivals. People cheered the rodeos and danced together, maskless, in the streets.
With Covid-19 hospitalizations spiking again in many parts of the country, public health officials have expressed concerns about a perennial source of strain on the health care system: seasonal flu. As threats of a “twindemic” loom, health care workers have stressed the need for vaccination and other preventive measures to slow the spread of flu.
One insurance company is going further to try to mitigate the effects of flu season: UnitedHealthcare, the country’s largest health insurance company, plans to provide 200,000 at-risk patients with kits that include Tamiflu, the prescription antiviral treatment; a digital thermometer; and a coronavirus P.C.R. diagnostic test. People can take the test at home and mail it in for laboratory analysis, helping patients and doctors determine the cause of their symptoms. That’s important because the coronavirus and flu have similar symptoms but require different treatments.
“These viruses have proven themselves highly capable of putting strain on our health care system alone,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, an associate director of the Immunization Action Coalition. “Their combined impact is really worrisome.”
In late September, UnitedHealthcare began inviting its Medicare Advantage members to sign up for the kits either online or by phone, starting with a focus on those at highest risk for complications from Covid-19 and the flu, based on their age and health status. Since then, 120,000 people have enrolled, and the company has begun shipping the kits. The company has more than five million Medicare Advantage members.
With early voting underway and the election days away, many U.S. cities and states have imposed safety measures to protect voters and poll workers from exposure to the coronavirus.
But polling places could still become “mass gathering events,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in an advisory released on Friday, adding that measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 could be improved.
The C.D.C. based its latest advice on a survey of 522 poll workers in Delaware’s statewide primary in September. That survey did not indicate whether any cases of Covid-19 were linked to the voting centers.
Guidelines issued by the agency in June recommended various ways to minimize crowds at polling locations, including absentee voting, extended voting hours and the use of protective gear by poll workers assisting voters with coronavirus symptoms.
The C.D.C. also recommended putting up physical barriers between voting machines, spacing the machines apart from one another, indicating 6-foot distances with signs or floor markings for those waiting in line to vote and allowing curbside voting for people who are ill, among other measures.
The advisory published on Friday said that “a substantial proportion” of poll workers in the Delaware study saw incorrect mask use by voters, and said that “further messaging on proper mask use, including at polling locations, might be needed to strengthen the effectiveness of masks during upcoming elections.”
“Ensuring that ill voters can vote while maintaining poll worker and voter safety will be essential to minimizing transmission without restricting voting rights,” the advisory added.
But in Alabama, where curbside voting had been allowed, the state’s attorney general has ordered that it be stopped. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban.
For his third rally on Saturday, President Trump arrived in Waukesha, Wis., saying he felt better after he was hospitalized for Covid-19 than he did before. His only acknowledgment of the spiking rates of the virus in Wisconsin, where there were 4,626 new cases and 46 deaths a day before his visit, was to claim that the United States included in its death counts people suffering from other ailments, like heart conditions.
“If we did half the testing, we would have half the cases,” he told the crowd. “If they cut that in half, we would have another half cut.”
Later, Mr. Trump said, “We’re rounding the turn,” and called it “terrible” that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned of a dark winter during Thursday’s debate. In Wisconsin, over the past week, there have been an average of 3,547 cases per day, an increase of 39 percent from the average two weeks earlier. The U.S. set a new record for Covid-19 infections on Friday.
“We have to get out,” Mr. Trump told a cheering crowd of supporters. “Our economy will be greater than ever before.”
Mr. Trump said that he “got a lot of credit” for his toned-down performance at the last debate. But he admitted he preferred his combative, interrupting performance that his internal campaign polls showed had cost him support.
“You know who liked my performance the first time better? The Hispanics,” he added.
Mr. Trump continued to play down the positive cases reported in the United States, arguing that someone can be “close to death” of another ailment, like a heart condition, “and they get Covid, they put it down to Covid.”
Here’s the latest for Saturday October 24th: Murkowski’s nod gives Barrett extra boost; Surging coronavirus colors White House race in closing days; Obama criticizes Trump for walking out of interview; 16th century combat sport growing in popularity.
The vice president has been on the campaign trail.
October 25, 2020, 2:24 AM
• 4 min read
One of Vice President Mike Pence’s top aides has tested positive for the coronavirus, multiple sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.
Marty Obst, a top political aide to the vice president, tested positive last week. He is an outside adviser and not a government employee.
Obst was spotted at a fundraiser at Trump Doral attended by both Pence and President Trump on Oct. 15. While he was traveling with the VP last week, he wasn’t in close proximity to him, sources say.
Obst did not respond to a request for comment. The vice president’s office did not immediately respond.
The trusted adviser, who ran Pence’s campaign in 2016, has kept up a steady stream of tweets and retweets on Twitter in recent days and weeks, though he does not appear to have mentioned his own diagnosis.
This is the second time someone close to Pence has tested positive for the virus. Katie Miller, Pence’s press secretary and wife of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, tested positive for COVID-19 in May.
Both Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for coronavirus in the days after President Donald Trump tested positive and was hospitalized at the beginning of October. It’s not clear when Pence last tested negative for the virus, though his press secretary said he’d tested negative Oct. 10, 11 days after he’d last had contact with Trump.
Earlier this month, in an interview with CNN, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said the vice president was tested “every day.”
At least 34 people connected to the White House tested positive for the virus earlier this month, including the president and first lady Melania Trump, as well as press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser for policy Stephen Miller and outside advisers Kellyanne Conway and Chris Christie.
Pence has been crisscrossing the country on the campaign trail for weeks. He made visits to Lakeland and Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday. On Friday, he spent time in his home state of Indiana, where he voted in person in Indianapolis, before holding rallies in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
ABC News’ Mark Osborne contributed to this report.
European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wears a protective face mask as he arrives at 1VS conference centre ahead of Brexit negotiations in London, Britain October 24, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
October 24, 2020
LONDON (Reuters) – EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is planning to extend his visit to London until Wednesday amid cautious optimism over the progress of post-Brexit trade talks with Britain, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
The European Union negotiating team had been due to return to Brussels on Sunday.
The paper said the British team would travel to Brussels on Thursday for more talks and that next Saturday had effectively become the deadline to decide whether the two sides could reach a deal.
Britain and the EU have made good progress in talks on a last-minute trade deal that would stave off a tumultuous finale to the five-year-old Brexit crisis, but fishing remains the biggest sticking point.
Hopes for an agreement rose last week when Reuters reported that France is preparing its fishing industry for a smaller catch after Brexit.
(Reporting by Stephen Addison; editing by Jonathan Oatis)