The New York Times reports that during the early days of the pandemic in February the Trump administration gave wealthy Republican Party donors at the Hoover Institution advance warning about the threat posed by the coronavirus — even as President Trump and White House officials made rosy statements minimizing the threat of COVID-19 to the public. The insider warning came ahead of a stock market crash.
On the campaign trail, President Trump continued to defy the urgent warnings of his own public health officials as he rallied thousands of maskless supporters Wednesday at a packed campaign rally at the airport in Des Moines, Iowa. A billboard along the way to the rally featured an arrow pointing toward the airport with the words “Trump COVID Superspreader Event” in white letters over a red background.
Trump’s rally came as Iowa hit a record level of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with outbreaks at more than 60 long-term care facilities and test positivity rates above 20%. Iowa is considered a “yellow zone” by the CDC, and according to the Trump administration’s own guidelines, public gatherings should be limited to 25 people or less.
Trump is planning another rally today in Greenville, North Carolina — another state experiencing near-record levels of infection.
Back in the United States, Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced eight more hours of questioning on Wednesday as Republicans race to confirm her before the election. Barrett is a right-wing judge who once clerked for Antonin Scalia. If confirmed, Barrett will give conservatives a 6-3 majority. On Wednesday, Barrett refused to say if she thinks climate change is happening, when questioned by Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “And do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett: “Senator, again, I was wondering where you were going with that. You have asked me a series of questions, like, that are completely uncontroversial, like whether COVID-19 is infectious, whether smoking causes cancer, and then trying to analogize that to eliciting an opinion on me that is a very contentious matter — opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate. And I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial, because that’s inconsistent with the judicial role, as I have explained.”
Sen. Kamala Harris: “Thank you. Thank you, Judge Barrett. And you’ve made your point clear that you believe it’s a debatable point.”
During two days of hearings, Amy Coney Barrett repeatedly refused to answer questions about her views on abortion and the future of Roe v. Wade, despite her public record opposing reproductive rights. In 2006, Barrett signed a newspaper advertisement that stated, “It’s time to put an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restore laws that protect the lives of unborn children.”
Meanwhile, Barrett is facing criticism for failing to initially disclose in her Senate filings her record of speaking to anti-choice groups at Notre Dame. Barrett has already amended her filing once, after CNN uncovered evidence she gave two talks in 2013 to anti-choice groups at the school. CNN has now revealed Barrett also spoke to — or at least was scheduled to speak to — an anti-choice group in 2007. Under Senate rules, Barrett is required to provide a list of all public talks she has given in her professional career.
One unusual moment from Wednesday’s hearing occurred when Republican Senator Thom Tillis questioned Barrett about voting in the upcoming election.
Sen. Thom Tillis: “I, for one, hope that every registered voter in this country vote on November 11th. That may be a stretch goal, but do you agree with that?”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett: “Of course, yes.”
U.S. felony disenfranchisement will bar 5.2 million American citizens from voting in November’s election. That’s according to a new report by the Sentencing Project, which finds nearly 2.5% of the voting-age U.S. population is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction.
In North Carolina, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that absentee ballots submitted by mail must have a third-party witness signature. The ruling, which will make it harder for people to safely vote during the pandemic, was celebrated by North Carolina Republicans.
In California, Republican Party officials say they will refuse a cease-and-desist order to remove falsely labeled drop boxes for mail-in ballots from public locations in several counties. After California’s secretary of state threatened criminal prosecutions, Republican officials removed the word “official” from labels reading “official ballot drop off boxes” but said they would defy an order to remove the boxes entirely by Thursday. President Trump voiced support for the scheme, tweeting, “Fight hard Republicans. They have been taking advantage of the system for years!”
Videos obtained by The Washington Post show how a network of conservative activists has made opposition to mail-in ballots a central priority of the 2020 campaign. This is Bill Walton, executive committee president of the Council for National Policy, speaking in a closed-door gathering on August 21.
Bill Walton: “This is a spiritual battle we are in. This is good versus evil. … And we have to do everything we can to win.”
Another video filmed in August shows 26-year-old conservative activist Charlie Kirk celebrating the closure of college campuses due to the coronavirus, saying it will lead to Republican victories at the polls.
Charlie Kirk: “The Democrats have done a really foolish thing by shutting down all these campuses, foolish for them. It’s going to remove ballot harvesting opportunities and all their voter fraud that they usually do on college campuses. So, they’re actually removing like half a million votes off the table. So, please, keep the campuses closed. Like, it’s a great thing.”
In California, Pacific Gas & Electric has issued power shutoffs for tens of thousands of homes across the Bay Area and Northern California, facing dry conditions and high winds that threaten to make the state’s worst fire season on record even worse. This comes as new research shows that due to the climate crisis, California’s fire weather days will double in some parts of the state by the end of the century.
The Trump administration says it’s planning to welcome Indonesia’s defense minister to the Pentagon today despite U.S. laws barring the entry of people accused of major human rights abuses. General Prabowo Subianto has been implicated in mass killings in East Timor, Papua and Aceh, as well as the kidnapping and torture of activists in Jakarta. He also worked directly with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Forces in Indonesia. Prabowo had been banned from visiting the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In Thailand, the government cracked down on pro-democracy protesters Thursday, imposing a state of emergency in an effort to quell the ongoing student-led movement to remove Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Two protest leaders and at least 20 pro-democracy activists were arrested early Thursday morning in Bangkok after tens of thousands gathered outside the prime minister’s office. The state of emergency bans gatherings of more than five people and prohibits news media that is a so-called threat to national security.
In Honduras, environmental activist Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo was shot and killed in his home earlier this week, according to local media. He was reportedly one of 32 water defenders targeted and criminalized for protesting an open-pit mine in the community of Guapinol. Violence against land and water defenders and Indigenous leaders in Honduras has skyrocketed since the U.S.-backed coup in 2009.
The Vatican held its first-ever sexual abuse trial Wednesday with two Catholic priests. Twenty-eight-year old priest Gabriele Martinelli is accused of sexually assaulting an altar boy between 2007 and 2012 in a seminary in Vatican City. An older priest is accused of covering up the abuse. The trial comes as the Catholic Church faces ongoing criticism that it is not doing enough to battle endemic sexual abuse within the church and a culture that covers it up.
In Louisville, Kentucky, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker said Wednesday that police officers did not attempt to save Taylor as she lay dying in her own home after she was struck by a hail of police gunfire last March. Walker also told CBS’s Gayle King that no one identified themselves in the deadly no-knock police raid that led to Breonna Taylor’s death.
Kenneth Walker: “There was a loud bang at the door. Nobody was responding, when we were saying, 'Who is it?'”
Gayle King: “You all did ask, 'Who is it?'”
Kenneth Walker: “Several times. Several times, both of us. And there was no response.”
Gayle King: “You know, the police say that they said several times, ’It’s the police.’”
Kenneth Walker: “If they knock on the door and say who it was, we could hear them. It was dead silent. I know, a million percent sure, that nobody identified themselves.”
This comes less than a month after a grand jury failed to charge any of the three officers who conducted the raid with the killing of Breonna Taylor. On Wednesday, a second grand juror joined a motion to lift the gag order on the grand jury proceedings in order to speak publicly about the decision.