Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris met in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wednesday night for the only vice-presidential debate of the campaign season. The two sparred on climate change, the Supreme Court, the economy, institutional racism and other issues. The debate began with Kamala Harris slamming the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country. And here are the facts: 210,000 dead people in our country, in just the last several months; over 7 million people who have contracted this disease; one in five businesses closed. We’re looking at frontline workers who have been treated like sacrificial workers. We are looking at over 30 million people who in the last several months had to file for unemployment.”
The two candidates were spaced 12 feet apart and separated by two plexiglass shields, after Mike Pence joined multiple recent events at the White House, unmasked, attended by President Trump and at least seven other people who have since tested positive for coronavirus. Pence’s spokesperson says the vice president has repeatedly tested negative, though he is still within the 14-day incubation period of the coronavirus. Pence’s left eye appeared red and weeping — prompting many doctors to question whether he has viral conjunctivitis, an uncommon symptom of COVID-19.
The White House says President Trump returned to the Oval Office Wednesday — even though he’s ill with COVID-19 and likely highly contagious. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and his deputy, Dan Scavino, reportedly wore full personal protective gear — masks, gowns and eye protection — as they met with Trump in the West Wing. In a statement, Trump’s personal doctor painted a rosy picture of Trump’s health, saying the president does not require oxygen and had no fever. Dr. Sean Conley did not say what drugs President Trump is currently taking or reveal when Trump had his last negative coronavirus test.
With his campaign rallies canceled and his schedule cleared, Trump was on Twitter throughout the day Tuesday and Wednesday — firing off more than 50 tweets over one two-hour period. Among other things, Trump accused Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of a ”TREASONOUS PLOT,” said Democrats want to shut down churches permanently, and attacked FDA vaccine safety standards as “another political hit job.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Trump released a taped message from the White House lawn that was apparently recorded on Tuesday. Trump wore heavy makeup and appeared short of breath at times. In the five-minute video, Trump claimed he feels “great” and “perfect” and claimed an experimental antibody cocktail he received was a “cure” for COVID-19.
President Donald Trump: “So, I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. This was a blessing in disguise. I caught it. I heard about this drug. I said, 'Let me take it.' It was my suggestion. I said, 'Let me take it.' And it was incredible, the way it worked. Incredible.”
Trump called the drug “Regeneron,” which is actually the name of the company that produces it. The drug is still in clinical trials, though Trump said he was making it available to all Americans, free of charge.
President Donald Trump: “I’ve authorized it. And if you’re in the hospital and you’re feeling really bad, I think we’re going to work it so that you get them, and you’re going to get them free. And especially if you’re a senior, we’re going to get you in there quick.”
Only 10 people in the United States have taken the drug outside the clinical trial. Trump’s offer of free antibody drugs came as he announced an abrupt end to negotiations over a COVID-19 stimulus bill until after the election, though he later partially reversed the announcement.
A New York Times analysis found Trump’s weekend hospitalization — which was provided free of charge to the president — would have cost an ordinary American over $100,000. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted in response, “The excellent care you received at Walter Reed was at a 100% government-funded, government run hospital. For Trump, 'socialized medicine' is bad for everyone but himself. Total hypocrisy!”
Meanwhile, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the second debate between President Trump and Joe Biden scheduled for next Thursday will be conducted as a virtual town meeting, with the candidates participating from separate remote locations. In an interview with Fox Business channel Thursday morning, Trump said, “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.”
For the first time in its 208-year history, The New England Journal of Medicine has weighed in on a U.S. election, calling on voters to reject Donald Trump. The journal’s editors wrote, “[O]ur current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called on current CDC Director Robert Redfield to orchestrate his own firing in order to expose the Trump administration’s incompetent handling of the pandemic. In a letter dated September 23 and obtained by USA Today, William Foege asks Redfield to apologize to CDC employees for acquiescing to Donald Trump and to publicly repudiate his administration.
Foege writes, “The failure of the White House to put the CDC in charge has resulted in the violation of every lesson learned in the last 75 years that made CDC the gold standard for public health in the world.” Foege added, “When they fire you, this will be a multi-week story and you can hold your head high.”
On the campaign trail, Republican candidates for the House and Senate are increasingly distancing themselves from Donald Trump. In Arizona, Republican Senator Martha McSally — who trails Democratic challenger Mark Kelly by double digits in recent polls — refused to answer a debate moderator Tuesday night who asked her if she is proud of her support for Trump.
Ted Simmons: “Senator, the question was: Are you proud of your support for President Trump?”
Sen. Martha McSally: “I’m proud to be fighting for Arizona every single day” —
Ted Simmons: “Is that a yes or a no for President Trump?”
Sen. Martha McSally: — “putting legislation on President Trump’s desk.”
Ted Simmons: “So you’re proud of your support for President Trump?”
Sen. Martha McSally: “You look at the legislation we put on his desk, it’s to cut Arizona taxes.”
Ted Simmons: “It sounds like she is proud of her support for President Trump.”
Sen. Martha McSally: “I’m proud to be fighting for Arizona.”
Texas’s Supreme Court has ruled that officials in Harris County may not send mail-in ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters. Harris County is home to Houston and is Texas’s most populous region, with a far greater proportion of Democratic voters than other parts of Texas.
In Northern California, the August Complex fire has become the first “gigafire” in state history, consuming more than a million acres across seven counties — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. The San Francisco Bay Area has extended a “Spare the Air” alert through today, with the air quality index forecast to top 100 — an “unhealthy” reading due to smoke from the nearby Glass Fire.
New climate data show surface air temperatures around the globe set an all-time high for the month of September, edging out the previous record set last year. Satellite data show the average extent of Arctic sea ice was at its second-lowest level ever recorded last month, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere climbed to 410 parts per million, far above pre-industrial levels.
In Greece, an Athens court ruled Wednesday that the neofascist party Golden Dawn was a criminal organization, tying the party to a series of attacks on migrants and left-wing activists. The ruling concluded a five-year trial that could have implications for the far right throughout Europe. The Guardian called it the “biggest trial of fascists since Nuremberg.” Thousands rejoiced at the news. This is Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “With today’s decision by the three-member criminal court of appeals on the actions of Golden Dawn, a traumatic cycle in the public’s life of the country comes to a close. Its political dimension has, fortunately, been judged by the victory of the republic, which expelled the Nazi formation from Parliament. Now the independent judiciary gave its own answer.”
Back in the U.S., Jacob Blake has left the hospital in Milwaukee, more than six weeks after the Black father was shot seven times in the back by the Kenosha police, paralyzing him from the waist down. Blake’s lawyer said Wednesday he is still in recovery.
Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, was released from custody Wednesday after posting a $1 million bond. Chauvin faces a second-degree murder charge for pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, in a video since seen around the world. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called out the National Guard Wednesday evening as hundreds marched on Minneapolis’s 5th Police Precinct to protest Chauvin’s release.
American poet Louise Glück has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature. On Wednesday, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on a gene-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9. It’s the first time the award has gone to two women.