As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 223,000, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden met in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday in the second and final debate of the 2020 campaign. They sparred over the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, climate change, racism, U.S. immigration policy and healthcare. At one point in the 90-minute debate, Trump conflated Biden’s call for a government-run “public option” healthcare plan with a Medicare for All bill authored by Senator Bernie Sanders.
President Donald Trump: “When he talks about a public option, he’s talking about destroying your Medicare, totally destroying” —
Joe Biden: “Wrong.”
President Donald Trump: — “and destroying your Social Security. And this whole country will come down. You know, Bernie Sanders tried it in his state.” …
Joe Biden: “He’s a very confused guy. He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them.”
Thursday’s matchup was originally scheduled to be the third and final debate, but Trump scuttled a second appearance earlier this month after refusing to take part remotely following his hospitalization with COVID-19. After headlines, we’ll spend the rest of the hour on last night’s presidential debate.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved remdesivir as the first COVID-19 treatment in the United States. Some studies have shown the antiviral drug may reduce the number of days COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, though a large World Health Organization study published last week found remdesivir fails to prevent deaths among COVID-19 patients.
Coronavirus cases continue to surge across Europe, where the Czech Republic is reporting the highest per capita infection rate in the world. On Wednesday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis apologized as he announced a new nationwide lockdown — the second of the year.
In Paris, the French prime minister has extended a nightly curfew to cover 46 million people — about two-thirds of the French population.
Prime Minister Jean Castex: “To put things simply, the situation is serious. It’s serious in Europe. It’s serious in France.”
India has seen a downturn in new coronavirus cases after peaking last month at nearly 100,000 confirmed infections per day. India is still reporting some 50,000 daily cases. In eastern Bihar state, the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised residents free doses of a future coronavirus vaccine — but only if the party wins in the November 10 elections. Opposition parties blasted the move, saying Modi’s party is exploiting the pandemic for political gain.
In the United States, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 to zero Thursday to recommend Amy Coney Barrett be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Republican Chair Lindsey Graham disregarded his committee’s own rules requiring a quorum be present and proceeded with the vote after all 10 of the Judiciary Committee’s Democrats boycotted Thursday’s roll call. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote in the full Senate as early as Monday.
Senate Democrats have called the rush to confirm Barrett so close to the election an illegitimate power grab, and reproductive health advocates warn Barrett could help overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case affirming the right to an abortion.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are warning Barrett’s refusal to acknowledge the science of climate change could spell disaster for efforts to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis. Lori Lodes of the group Climate Power 2020 wrote, “The last thing our country can afford is a climate denier who will use her lifetime seat on the Supreme Court to block climate action and roll back our environmental laws for decades to come.”
In Colorado, a wildfire raging in Rocky Mountain National Park exploded in size Thursday by more than 100,000 acres, jumping the Continental Divide and leaving residents of mountain towns scrambling to evacuate. The East Troublesome Fire has grown to over 170,000 acres — the second-largest wildfire ever recorded in Colorado. Meanwhile, firefighters continue to battle the largest wildfire in Colorado history, the nearby Cameron Peak Fire. Massive smoke plumes from Colorado’s fires reached into the stratosphere, shrouding the sun and turning skies orange as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In immigration news, The Guardian reports many of the Cameroonian asylum seekers who were recently deported en masse were subjected to torture by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to force them to sign their removal papers. Asylum seekers were reportedly choked, beaten, pepper-sprayed and received death threats. Others were handcuffed as ICE agents forcibly took their fingerprints in place of signatures. Last week, 60 Cameroonian and over two dozen Congolese asylum seekers were deported, including two Cameroonian women who feared they were unknowingly subjected to forced sterilizations at Irwin Detention Center in Georgia, according to immigration advocates. Many of the Cameroonian asylum seekers feared they would be killed upon their arrival to their home country.
The Los Angeles Times reports at least 19 women are alleging they were subjected to invasive gynecological procedures without their consent while imprisoned at the privately run Irwin Detention Center in Georgia, including undergoing unnecessary procedures that affected their ability to have children. Most of the women are asylum seekers from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America.
The Intercept reports Google technology will be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist in border security enforcement. Customs and Border Protection reportedly agreed on a deal with Google in August to collaborate in a new so-called virtual border wall, which combines surveillance towers, drones and sensors aimed at detecting asylum seekers crossing into the U.S.
In Florida, top election officials are being accused of voter suppression after abruptly enacting two last-minute rules affecting formerly incarcerated people and the operation of ballot drop boxes. Last week, Florida’s Republican secretary of state announced election officials were beginning to flag people for potential removal from voter rolls if they had outstanding court debts. A second rule forces ballot drop boxes to be staffed at all times, forcing election officials to restructure the setup of ballot drop boxes just days before Election Day.
The Supreme Court has reinstated a curbside voting ban in Alabama, overturning a lower court’s ruling meant to protect people with disabilities during the pandemic. This comes as the Texas Supreme Court ruled it will allow drive-thru voting, rejecting a challenge from the Republican Party.
The Labor Department reports 787,000 U.S. workers filed new unemployment claims last week — the second-lowest total since March but still historically high compared to pre-pandemic levels. This comes as a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness found the collective wealth of billionaires in the U.S. has jumped by $931 billion since mid-March. The report also found 22 million U.S. adults reported not having enough food to eat — and more than half of those adults had children in their households. Nearly 62 million U.S. residents lost work between mid-March and mid-September.
President Trump has issued an executive order that would grant him more power to easily hire and fire tens of thousands of federal workers. Federal employee union leaders have condemned the executive order, calling it “the most profound undermining of the Civil Service in our lifetimes” and the biggest change to federal workforce protections in at least a century. The order would allow the president to crack down on his critics — for example, public health officials who speak out about the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro has asked lawmakers to begin discussions on marriage equality in January. This follows Pope Francis’s recently published comments supporting civil unions for LGBTQ people. This is Maduro speaking Thursday.
President Nicolás Maduro: “I have friends and acquaintances who are very happy with what the pope said yesterday. I will leave that task, the task of LGBT marriage, to the next National Assembly.”
Poland’s highest court has declared almost all forms of abortion unconstitutional, tightening anti-choice laws that were already among the most restrictive in Europe. Protesters marched on the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw Thursday just after the court’s ruling.
Joanna Maraszek: “What the government is doing to us today is not only taking away our women’s rights, but also our human rights. For the first time, we can confidently say that in Poland we have the worst abortion law in Europe.”
Following Thursday’s ruling, Poland will only allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the pregnant person’s health and life.