October 23, 2020

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US elections live news: Romney for filling Supreme Court vacancy

  • Senator Mitt Romney said on Tuesday he supports filling a Supreme Court vacancy before the election, all-but-assuring Republicans have the needed votes to confirm a potential nominee.

  • Trump campaigns in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, as the vacant Supreme Court seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sparks a new rallying cry among supporters: “Fill that seat”.  

  • Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris heads to Michigan, where she will hold a round table with Black men in Flint. 

  • Biden will not be on the road on Monday, but will hold a virtual fundraiser
  • Trump will deliver a pre-recorded speech at the United Nations General Assembly, with 42 days until November 3.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the US elections. This is Joseph Stepansky.

Here are the latest updates:

Tuesday, September 22

17:00 ET – Senator Collins says she’ll vote against Trump pick

Maine’s Susan Collins has become the first Republican senator to definitively say she’ll vote against any of Trump’s picks for the Supreme Court vacancy if the vote occurs before Election Day.

Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski had previously said they were against voting on a nominee before the election. 

On Tuesday, Collins told reporters she’ll vote “no” because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider a Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. 

Susan Collins

Senator Susan Collins is one of only two senators to break from the party by opposing confirming a nominee before the election [File: Al Drago/The Associated Press]

16:30 ET – Facebook removes Chinese accounts active in US, Asian politics

Facebook Inc has removed a network of inauthentic Chinese accounts that were interfering US and Asian politics, including some that posted material supporting and opposing Trump, the company said. 

The social networking company suspended 155 accounts on its main platform along with six Instagram accounts. The most widely followed accounts and pages were in the Philippines, where they shared content supporting China’s actions in the contested South China Sea and national leader Rodrigo Duterte.

The US accounts had fewer followers and posted content fueling both sides of the American election that will be held on November 3 rather than exclusively supporting one side, the company said.

Facebook cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher said that the takedown was the company’s first of Chinese-based accounts on foreign-interference grounds with any engagement in US politics. But he said the American accounts and groups seemed aimed mainly at building an audience.

US presidential election: Early voting begins

16:00 ET – Biden leads Trump in Michigan, tied in North Carolina: Poll

Biden leads Trump by five percentage points among likely voters in Michigan, while the two were even in North Carolina, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls. 

In Michigan, 49 percent of likely voters said they support Biden, while 44 percent said they supported Trump. 

In North Carolina, both candidates had 47 percent support. 

Harris Michigan

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris visited Michigan, where a new poll shows Biden up by five points, on Tuesday [Emily Elconin/Reuters]

15:30 ET – White House knocks former Pence staffer who condemned coronavirus response

The national security advisor to Vice President Mike Pence has fired back at a former staffer and member of the Pence’s coronavirus task force who filmed an ad criticising the White House’s response to the pandemic. 

In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, Olivia Troye said Trump showed a disregard for human life and was more concerned with how the virus would affect his re-election prospect. She said the president called the virus a “good thing” because he would no longer have to shake hands with “these disgusting people”. 

Pence’s national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general, appeared at a White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon to rebut the claim, saying he had “fired” Troye for underperforming. He disputed her account, saying: “What she has said, I have never heard. That’s never happened and I’ve been through every single meeting of the task force, been with the president and the vice president through every meeting.”

In Response, Troye, accused Kellogg of “telling a bald faced lie to protect the president”.

15:00 ET – McConnell says timing of Supreme Court vote depends on Senate panel

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will determine the timing of a Senate vote fill the seat of Justice Ginsburg after the Senate Judiciary Committee recommends a nominee for confirmation.

McConnell told a news conference that the next step will be for Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham to handle in committee the nominee that President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Saturday.

“When the nomination comes out of committee, I’ll decide when and how to proceed,” McConnell said. 

14:30 ET – Bloomberg raises millions to help restore Florida felon voting rights

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has raised over $16 million to help former felons restore their voting rights in the critical battleground state of Florida, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency. 

The fundraising tally comes just over a week after Bloomberg aides said the former New York City mayor, who made an unsuccessful 2020 bid for the Democratic nomination, would spend at least $100 million to help Biden’s campaign against President Donald Trump in Florida.

Florida voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the state’s constitution to grant voting rights to felons who served their time and were not convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Republicans later backed a law requiring people with past felony convictions to pay court fines and fees before being able to vote. A federal appeals court upheld that law this month, reversing a lower court ruling that held the measure unconstitutional.

Mike Bloomberg

Aides to Mike Bloomberg say he will spend $100 million in Florida to support Biden [Carlo Allegri]

14:00 ET – First presidential debate details released 

Details for the first presidential debate, which will be held on September 29 at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, have been released. 

The debate will include six 15-minute time segments dedicated to topics selected by moderator Chris Wallace: The Trump and Biden Records, the Supreme Court, coronavirus, the economy, race and violence in our Cities, the integrity of the election.

Presidential debate

The Trump campaign is reportedly counting on a big debate bump for the president [File: Mark Ralston/Reuters]

13:30 ET – Biden campaign launches radio ads aimed at rural voters. 

The Biden campaign has launched radio ads in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in an attempt to target rural voters. 

The campaign is running two ads, one highlighting Trump’s response to the coronavirus, and the other focusing on retaining rural jobs. 

Trump carried rural voters with 62 percent support in 2016, compared to 34 percent support for Hillary Clinton. 

13:00 ET – In local news interview, Biden says ‘I beat the socialist’

Biden, when asked to respond to voters fears of socialism in a local news interview, said “I beat the socialist” in an apparent reference ro former Democratic contender and self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. 

“First of all, I guarantee, a promise, I’ve never broken my word, anyone making less than $400,000 will not see one single penny in their tax raised,” Biden told Fox 11 news while visiting Monitowoc, Wisconsin on Monday. “Number two, I beat the socialist. That’s how I got elected. That’s how I got the nomination. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career, my whole career. I’m not a socialist.”

Biden had faced an increasingly progressive primary field, which morphed into a two-man race between the former vice president and Sanders. The senator dropped out of the race in April. 

America’s Divided Democrats | Fault Lines

12:30 ET – Poll: Biden and Trump neck and neck in Georgia

A new poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs found Biden and Trump neck with likely voters. 

Trump and Biden both had 47 percent support,  with an additional one percent of voters backing Libertarian Jo Jorgensen.

Only four percent were undecided in the survey of 1,150 likely voters, which was conducted September 11 to 20.

georgia voter

Georgia has long been considered a conservative bastion [File: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP]

12:00 ET – Trump confirms he will announce Supreme Court nominee on Saturday

Trump has said he will announce his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday.

Trump, in a tweet, said he would make the announcement at the White House. 

He has already said he is considering five women for the position, with federal appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa thought to be at the top of the list.

11:30 ET – Michigan: No charge in toilet election display                  

A prosecutor in Michigan has flushed a complaint about a toilet that was promoted as a place to drop absentee ballots.

The election clerk in Ingham County informed police about a toilet on the front lawn of a home in Mason, near Lansing. A sign said, “Place mail in ballots here.”

Barb Byrum, a Democrat, said it’s a felony to take illegal possession of absentee ballots, But there was no evidence of an intent to violate Michigan law, said the office of county prosecutor Carol Siemon, a Democrat.

“Instead, this seemed to be an effort to make a humorous political statement,” the statement said.

More than 2 million Michigan voters could cast mail ballots this fall. Trump has repeatedly perpetuated unfounded claims that mail voting leads to higher rates of fraud.

11:00 ET – Trump, in UNGA speech, says UN must ‘hold China accountable’

Trump has told the UN General Assembly  that China must be held accountable by the world for its actions over the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a recorded message played to the annual meeting of the UN, Trump accused Beijing of allowing the coronavirus to “leave China and infect the world.”

“The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” he said.

Trump, who faces a difficult reelection fight on November 3, has sought to deflect overwhelming voter criticism of his handling of the pandemic by blaming China. World leaders are speaking virtually to the UN session in New York, due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

10:30 ET – Biden declines to answer question on packing the court

Biden, in a local television news interview, declined to answer a question about whether he would pack the Supreme Court – or pass legislation to expand the number of judges on the bench – if elected and Democrats win the Senate.

“It’s a legitimate question, but let me tell you why I’m not going answer that question. Because it will shift the focus, that’s what he wants, he never wants to talk about the issue at hand and he always tries to change the subject,” Biden told WBAY-TV late Monday, referring to Trump. 

“Let’s say I answer that question, then the whole debates gonna be about what Biden said or didn’t say, Biden said he would or wouldn’t. The discussion should be about why he is moving in a direction that’s totally inconsistent with what founders wanted,” he said. “The Constitution says voters get to pick a president who gets to make the pick and the senate gets to decide.”

Biden blasts Trump’s plan for US Supreme Court vacancy

10:00 ET – Romney’s support gives Republican senators needed vote

Mitt Romney has said he supports moving forward with confirming a new Supreme Court justice before the election, giving Republicans the needed votes to move forward and scuttling Democrats hopes of further defections from party ranks. 

“I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications,” Romney said in a statement.

So far, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are the only Republicans in the chamber to oppose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to move ahead with a confirmation. 

Romney had voted to convict Trump during the Senate impeachment trial, the only Republican to do so, raising the prospect he may break from the party again on the confirmation. 

Mitt Romney

Senator Mitt Romney has said he supports moving forward with Supreme Court justice vote before the election [Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press]

09:30 ET – Report: Putin ‘probably directed’ influence operation to hurt Biden at the polls

A top-secret CIA assessment has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “probably directing” an election influence campaign to “denigrate” Biden and influence the election, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing two sources who had seen the report. 

The influence operation involves Ukrainian legislator, Andriy Derkach, who is connected to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. It says Derkach tried to disseminate disparaging information about Biden in the US through lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts with figures close to the president.

The intelligence community had previously determined that Putin had directed a 2016 influence campaign that involved hacking Democratic National Committee emails and influencing voters through social media and staged in-person events. 

09:00 ET – Poll: Most voters think next president should pick new justice

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll found that half of registered voters believe a new Supreme Court Justice nominee should be selected by whoever wins on November 3, because the election is less than 50 days away. 

That’s opposed to 37 percent who believe Trump should pick the nominee because “he is the current president”, the poll found. 

Nearly 80 percent of Democrats think that the election winner should choose the nominee. Meanwhile, 71 percent of Republicans think Trump should make the pick. For Independents, 49 percent think the winner of the election should make the selection, while 31 percent think Trump should do it. 

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Read all the updates from yesterday (September 21) here.