Senate again questions Supreme Court nominee: US election news

  • The third day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has begun.
  • President Trump, who campaigns in Iowa on Wednesday, will appear in an NBC News town hall on Thursday to counter Joe Biden’s ABC News town hall held in lieu of their second debate.
  • As of Wednesday, early and mail-in voters had already cast more than 13 million votes, nearly 10 percent of all votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, according to the US Elections Project.
  • Early voting begins in Kansas, Rhode Island and Tennessee with 20 days left until the November 3 election.

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

Wednesday, October 14:

13:00 ET – Justice Department quietly ends probe of Obama-era ‘unmasking’ of Trump allies: Report

The Justice Department has ended its probe into whether Obama administration officials improperly “unmasked” associates of now-President Donald Trump mentioned in intelligence reports, two congressional sources have told Reuters news agency.

It found no wrongdoing, one of the sources said.

Unmasking refers to the naming of US citizens whose identities were blacked out in reports from the National Security Agency that captured their communications with a foreign national. Trump and his allies have sought to portray the use of the process during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, as a misuse of government authority.

12:30 ET – Trump tells city economic clubs election choice between prosperity, ‘crippling poverty’

Trump, in a address to economic clubs from several major cities on Wednesday, laid out the election in sinister terms.

“The choice facing America is simple: it’s the choice between historic prosperity under my pro-American policies, or crippling poverty and a steep depression under the radical left,” he told the economic clubs of New York, Florida, Washington, DC, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Sheboygan, according to prepared remarks released by the White House.

Trump had initially planned to run for re-election on the relative strength of the economy, but those designs were dashed by the coronavirus pandemic, which lead to unprecedented job losses in the country. Biden has said Trump’s botched response to the coronavirus is partly to blame for the economic fallout.

“We will swiftly defeat the China virus, end the pandemic, bring back our critical supply chains, and lift our economy to unprecedented new heights,” Trump said at the event, which was closed to the press. “If the Left gains power, they will shut down the economy, close our schools, delay the vaccine, prolong the pandemic, and impose the most extreme policies in our history.”

12:00 ET – Trump campaign suggests aide pay for advertisement after criticising president: Report

The Trump campaign has suggested that former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman pay for an ad campaign costing nearly $1 million to make up for critical comments she made about Trump in a 2018 tell-all book, according to the New York Times.

An expert witness for the Trump campaign made the recommendation in documents filed in an ongoing arbitration case

“It would be my recommendation that Ms Manigault Newman pays for the corrective ads/corrective statements outlined above to counteract the long-term adverse effects of information that appeared as a result of Ms Manigault Newman violating her confidentially agreement,” crisis management expert Eric Rose wrote in the documents, according to the newspaper.

“If corrective ads are not placed, voters may continue to hold beliefs about the president as a result of Ms Manigault Newman’s statements,” he wrote.

Omarosa Manigault Newman was featured on Trump’s reality show ‘the Apprentice’ before becoming a White House aide [File: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press]

11:45 ET – Amazon employees push for election day holiday

More than 3,000 Amazon employees have signed a petition asking the technology and retail giant to provide a holiday for voting in the November 3 US election, organisers said.

The petition was organised by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group active on several social issues involving the company.

“Removing barriers to voting is critical to ensure we have a voice on the issues we care about. There is no racial or climate justice without voting justice,” the group said in a blog post Tuesday. “As the United States’ second largest employer,  Amazon can have a huge impact on voter participation,” the blog post said.

Amazon told the Associated Press news agency it has offered information and flexibility to all its employees on voting: “In all 47 states with in person voting, employees that lack adequate time before or after their scheduled workday to vote, can request and be provided excused time off,” the spokesperson said.

Senate again questions Supreme Court nominee: US election newsA worker assembles a box for delivery at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland[File: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

11:30 ET – Senator Durbin says ‘orange cloud’ hanging over Barrett nomination, in apparent reference to Trump

Senator Dick Durbin has said there’s an “orange cloud” hanging over Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The Illinois Democrat didn’t specifically say he meant President Donald Trump in Barrett’s confirmation hearing Wednesday. But he said earlier on CNN that “orange cloud” hanging over the nomination was related to Trump and the Republican president’s Tweets.

Durbin said that Trump has made clear he wishes to undo the Affordable Care Act and that those wishes are also a cloud over Barrett’s nomination. Barrett has said she is not “hostile” to the Affordable Care Act and has promised to hear all arguments.

Senate again questions Supreme Court nominee: US election newsSenator Dick Durbin speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett [Susan Walsh/The Associated Press]

11:15 ET – At least 13,341,367 US citizens have already voted

At least 13,341,367 US citizens had cast ballots in the November 3 election as of Wednesday morning, according to the US Elections Project.

That number represents 9.6 percent of all votes counted in the 2016 election. As of Wednesday, voters had requested over 78.4 million mail ballots, with Democrats outpacing Republicans in those requests, with 44.4 percent of ballots requested, compared to 25.9 percent.

11:00 ET – Barrett says she’ll ‘certainly keep an open mind’ on allowing cameras to broadcast Supreme Court proceedings

Barrett has said she’ll “certainly keep an open mind” on allowing cameras to broadcast proceedings of the high court.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont have asked all recent nominees to the court whether they would favor live or same-day broadcasts of arguments. Previous nominees have also expressed openness but have cooled to the idea once they became justices.

The court has been providing live audio of arguments, held by telephone, since May due to the coronavirus pandemic — the first time it has done so. Grassley and Leahy are longtime members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and introduced legislation earlier this year to continue the practice.

While questioning Barrett on Wednesday, the 87-year-old Grassley joked it probably wouldn’t happen in his lifetime. But he says allowing cameras in the courtroom “can bring about a better understanding of the judiciary”. Leahy also urged Barrett to consider it during his round of questioning.

Senate again questions Supreme Court nominee: US election newsSenator Chuck Grassley speaks during the third day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett [Erin Schaff/Reuters]

10:45 ET – Minnesota health officials connect coronavirus infections to campaign events: Report

Health officials in Minnesota have connected two dozen coronavirus cases to people who attended presidential campaign events in the past month, amid a surge of cases in the state, according to the New York Times.

Officials said 16 of the cases were connected to a September 18 airport rally held by Trump. While that rally was held outside, the crowd observed little social distancing and many did not wear masks.Four of those infected had gone to the rally to protest Trump, officials told the newspaper.

Three people who attended a September 30 Trump rally in Duluth, and three people who attended a September 24 rally hosted by Vice President Mike Pence in the state also tested positive.

One person who attended a September 16 even for Biden in Duluth later contracted the virus, according to the newspaper.

Senate again questions Supreme Court nominee: US election newsSupporters of Trump look on as Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minnesota [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

10:15 ET – Wide margin in early Democrat voting in Florida: Report

Democrats have outvoted Republicans in early voting by a margin of 384,000, according to Politico.

The number is significant because Republicans usually slightly outpace Democrats at this point in presidential races in early voting.

Analysts in the state told the news site that Republicans will likely make up the difference in the coming weeks, with hundreds of thousands of high-propensity Republican voters who have not yet cast their ballots.

10:00 ET – Graham calls Barrett ‘unashamedly pro-life’

Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hailed Barrett on Wednesday as “unashamedly pro-life”.

“This is history being made folks,” Graham said at the beginning of the first day of the hearing. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she’s going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting for you.”

“It will be a great signal to all young women who share your view of the world,” Graham added.

Under questioning by Graham, Barrett reiterated her comments from Tuesday that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognised a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned.

09:30 ET – Trump, Biden to hold rival TV town halls instead of debate

Trump will be featured in a televised town hall Thursday on NBC News, the network said, setting up a direct scheduling clash with rival Joe Biden, who had already planned his own version of a town hall forum.

The two were originally meant to have been meeting for their second debate on Thursday evening. Instead, they will be simultaneously, but separately, talking to voters in TV studios – NBC for Trump and ABC for Biden.

Trump will be in Miami, the network said, while Biden, who had already booked his appearance last week, will be in Philadelphia.

Their scheduled debate had also been designed as a town hall where the two candidates would have fielded questions from voters, but this was upended after Trump contracted the coronavirus. He later refused debate organisers’ attempts to switch the format to a virtual appearance, forcing the debate’s cancellation.

09:00 ET – Third day of Barrett hearing begins

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is back before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face more questions from senators at her confirmation hearing.

Tuesday’s session lasted nearly 12 hours. Barrett declined to voice an opinion on potential election-related litigation involving Trump or the presidential transition of power. She also said she didn’t view the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that affirmed the right to abortion as an inviolable “super-precedent” that could not be overturned.

Regarding the Affordable Care Act – which was passed during the era of President Barack Obama, provides healthcare for more than 20 million people, and comes before the court next month – Barrett says she doesn’t recall seeing Trump’s statements that he planned to nominate justices who would repeal the law.

The committee is scheduled to take a preliminary vote on her nomination on Thursday. The GOP-controlled Senate is expected to confirm her before Election Day. Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shifting the court’s 5-4 conservative edge to a 6-3 majority.


Read all the updates from Tuesday, (October 13) here.

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