Author Archive: Economist

How American Voters in Israel Could Affect US Election Outcome

An estimated nine million Americans live abroad – half a million of them in Israel where observers expect an unprecedented number will cast absentee ballots in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem.Camera:  Ricki Rosen   Produced by:   Marcus Harton 

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For American Voters in Israel, 2020 US Election Really Matters

An estimated nine million Americans live abroad – half a million of them in Israel where observers expect an unprecedented number will cast absentee ballots in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem.Camera:  Ricki Rosen   Produced by:   Marcus Harton 

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Democrats Say Republicans Rushing Barrett Supreme Court Nomination

Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said Republicans are rushing the Supreme Court confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and reiterated calls for postponing the review of her nomination until after the presidential inauguration in January.In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham released late Wednesday, Democrats said the timeline Graham has set does not allow for a thorough FBI background investigation, review of her entire judicial record or for Barrett to answer senators’ questions.“This timeline is a sharp departure from past practice,” the Democrats wrote. “Even more, it undercuts the Senate’s ability to fulfill its advice and consent role and deprives the American people of a meaningful opportunity to gauge the nominee and her record for themselves.”Graham, a South Carolina Republican, met with Barrett on Tuesday. He described her as highly qualified and has said he is “committed to ensuring that the nominee gets a challenging, fair, and respectful hearing.”President Donald Trump nominated Barrett, a conservative jurist he previously tapped for the federal bench in 2017, to fill the seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s best-known liberal who died September 18 at the age of 87.Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and it appears Barrett has enough Republican support to be confirmed, despite fierce opposition from Democrats.The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin three to four days of formal confirmation hearings on October 12. A vote in the full Senate could come by the end of the month.Democrats have argued the next justice should be named by the winner of the November presidential election, a view Republicans championed when there was a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016. In that year, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, put forth a nominee to replace the late justice Antonin Scalia, an arch conservative.A public opinion poll by The New York Times and Siena College released Sunday showed 56% of voters indicated the seat should not be filled until after the election, while 41% said Trump should make the choice.Barrett has been meeting with other Republican senators, including talks Wednesday with Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Todd Young of Indiana. She is scheduled to meet Thursday with Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. So far, no Democrat has agreed to meet with her.Democrats have also argued that if Barrett joins the court, she should recuse herself from any potential cases that may arise from the November election due to potential conflicts of interest.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected that view Wednesday, calling it “ridiculous” and saying Democrats “are grasping at straws.” 

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Trump Administration Proposes Limiting Refugee Admissions to 15,000

The Trump administration said late Wednesday it wants to cut the number of refugees admitting into the United States to 15,000 in fiscal year 2021, which begins Thursday.The figure represents the latest in a series of annual cuts since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.In 2020, the administration put the cap at 18,000, and the United States allowed 10,892 refugees into the country before putting the program on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.That was the fewest since the modern refugee program was approved by Congress in 1980.  The annual cap during the administration of President Barack Obama was between 70,000 and 85,000.The State Department said Trump’s 2021 proposal “reaffirms America’s enduring commitment to assist the world’s most vulnerable people while fulfilling our first duty to protect and serve the American people.”Krish Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a federally funded agency charged with resettling refugees in the United States, said the decision to further limit the number of refugee admissions “is a complete abdication of our moral duty and all that we stand for as a nation.” 

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Notorious Hate Group Proud Boys Celebrates Trump’s Debate Comments

The Proud Boys are fired up.The notorious hate group has been celebrating since President Donald Trump refused to directly disavow them and other white supremacists during Tuesday night’s presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.Trump, who has been criticized for never explicitly denouncing right-wing extremism, was asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News if he would condemn white supremacy.“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked before Democratic challenger Joe Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump right-wing group. “The Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” Trump responded cryptically.“But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what,” Trump continued. ”Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”Prominent leaders of the Proud Boys, who frequently appear at Trump rallies, took that as a ringing endorsement of their fight against anti-fascist activists known as antifa.On Instagram, Enrique Tarrio, a well-known Proud Boys leader, wrote that he was “excited about the mention on the debate stage.”“Him telling the ProudBoys to stand back and standby is what we have ALWAYS done,” Tarrio wrote.Joe Biggs, another Proud Boys organizer, went further.”Trump basically said to go [expletive] them up!” Biggs wrote.  “This makes me so happy.”Members of the Proud Boys cheer on stage as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Ore.Apparent shiftIn the wake of widespread criticism of his refusal to denounce white supremacy, Trump on Wednesday appeared to shift his stance.”I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Whoever they are, they need to stand down.”Asked if he denounced white supremacy, Trump said, “I’ve always denounced any form, any form of any of that you have to denounce.”Among Proud Boys, the apparent reversal in Trump’s position was anticipated and is unlikely to diminish their enthusiasm.”Don’t be surprised if he makes a statement on us in the upcoming days to appease the masses,” Biggs wrote Tuesday night. “But he knows we are the good guys.”Biden was highly critical of Trump’s debate performance. Asked by a reporter in Ohio whether he had any advice for the Proud Boys, the former vice president responded, “Cease and desist.”The controversy comes as Trump continues to blame the violence at racial justice protests around the country almost exclusively on antifa, contradicting his own FBI director’s assessment that violent white supremacy remains the biggest domestic national security threat.Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said far-right white supremacists are thrilled with what they see as Trump’s endorsement of the Proud Boys — who are making money off Trump’s comment by selling T-shirts.“And all the talk in those sectors is about how great this is, how they’re ready to support the president,” Beirich said. “President Trump basically gave the Proud Boys a new slogan.”Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Ore.Who are the Proud Boys?The Proud Boys describe themselves as a drinking club of “Western chauvinists.” But extremism watchdogs say that’s just a guise for what is at its core a misogynistic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant group. Although the group has never advocated a white ethnostate championed by white nationalists, its bigotry is just as extreme, Beirich said.”The organization itself says it stands for Western chauvinism, sometimes Western civilization, which are code words for the white supremacist movement,” Beirich said.In an FILE – Members of a group wearing shirts with the logo of the far-right Proud Boys group argue with counterprotesters during a small protest against Washington state’s stay-at-home orders, May 1, 2020, in downtown Seattle.InterminglingJason Kessler, a former member of Proud Boys, was the main organizer of the 2017 far-right “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally, which brought together neo-Nazis, anti-government militiamen and members of the Klan, ended in the death of a counterprotester. Conversely, in recent years, far-right nationalist groups have attended rallies organized by Proud Boys.“We believe that there are streams of white supremacy and white nationalism that run deep through what they do,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.Last year, a Connecticut police officer was forced to retire after the Lawyers Committee exposed him as a Proud Boys member, Clarke said.While Proud Boys publicly disavow violence, their members have engaged in violent acts over the years.FBI Director Christopher Wray testified on Capitol Hill last week that white supremacists and anti-government extremists have been responsible for most of the recent deadly attacks by extremist groups within the United States.Last year, two Proud Boys were convicted of assault and riot charges in connection with beating up antifa activists in New York City in 2018.This year, members of the Proud Boys have taken part in violent clashes between right-wing and left-wing activists in Portland, Oregon, and several other cities. On August 22, Proud Boys fought with left-wing counterprotesters in Portland, engaging in multiple acts of violence, according to ADL.
 

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Republican Lawmakers Grill Comey on Leadership of Russia Probe

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday confronted former FBI Director James Comey about his oversight of the Trump-Russia investigation during a politically charged hearing that focused attention on problems with the probe that have become a rallying cry for President Donald Trump’s supporters.Comey, making his first appearance before Congress since a harshly critical inspector general report on the investigation, acknowledged under questioning that the FBI’s process for conducting surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser was “sloppy” and “embarrassing.” He said he would not have certified the surveillance had he known then what he knows now about applications the FBI submitted in 2016 and 2017 to eavesdrop on the aide, Carter Page.The questioning of Comey, conducted with the election just weeks away, underscores the extent to which the FBI’s investigation four years ago into potential coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia remains front and center in the minds of Republican lawmakers, who see an opening to rally support for the president and cast him as the victim of biased law enforcement. The hearing was part of a review of the Russia probe by the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee.Just a part of investigationThough Comey acknowledged the FBI’s shortcomings in the surveillance of Page, he also described that aspect of the probe as a “slice” of the broader Russia investigation, which he defended as legitimate and valid.But those answers, including Comey’s repeated assertions that he had been unaware at the time of the extent of problems, frustrated Republicans who point to the surveillance flaws to try to discredit the overall Russia investigation.Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asks questions to former FBI Director James Comey, during an oversight hearing to examine the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation, Sept. 30, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.A Justice Department inspector general report identified errors and omissions in each of the four applications that the FBI submitted to obtain warrants to surveil Page, who was never charged with any wrongdoing. The FBI relied in part on Democratic-funded research in applying for those warrants. The inspector general report and documents released in recent months have raised questions about the reliability of that research.The FBI relied on that documentation “over and over and over” again, even though it was “fundamentally unsound,” said the Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.’That’s the way it goes'”What do we do? We just say, ‘Well, that was bad, that’s the way it goes’? Does anybody get fired? Does anybody go to jail?” Graham said. “To my Democratic friends, if it happened to us, it can happen to you.”Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017 but has remained a prominent and complicated character for Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans have joined Trump in heaping scorn on Comey, but Democrats have not embraced him either, angered by his public statements made during the Hillary Clinton email case that they believe contributed to her loss.Democrats lamented the backward-looking nature of Wednesday’s hearing, saying the FBI had good reason to investigate contacts between Trump associates and Russia and that the committee’s time could be better spent on other matters.Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 30, 2020, to examine the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”Most people think we should be talking about other things, except maybe President Trump,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.Comey defended the investigation, which was opened after a campaign adviser boasted that he had heard Russia had damaging information about Clinton. The probe examined multiple contacts between Russians and Trump associates during the 2016 campaign. Comey noted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation resulted in criminal charges against dozens of people.”In the main, it was done by the book. It was appropriate, and it was essential that it be done,” Comey said.He later added: “The overall investigation was very important. The Page slice of it? Far less, given the scope.”But Comey, the latest high-profile former official from the FBI or Justice Department to testify in Graham’s investigation, acknowledged “embarrassing” problems in the handling of surveillance applications. He said had he known then about the problems, he would not have certified the surveillance “without a much fuller discussion” within the FBI.”I’m not looking to shirk responsibility,” Comey said. “The director is responsible.”Legitimate probeA Justice Department inspector general report did not find evidence of partisan bias and concluded the investigation was opened for a legitimate reason. But Republican lawmakers have seized on the critical aspects of the watchdog report to cast broader doubt on the Russia investigation. They have also released documents they say support the conclusion that the probe was flawed.On Tuesday, Graham revealed that he had received declassified information on the probe from national intelligence Director John Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist, even though Ratcliffe has said he does not know if it is true.In a letter to Graham made public Tuesday, Ratcliffe said that in late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained “insight” into Russian spycraft alleging that Clinton had “approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against” Trump.But Ratcliffe added that American intelligence agencies do “not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”Comey brushed aside questions about that document, saying, “I don’t understand Mr. Ratcliffe’s letter well enough to comment on it. It’s confusing.”The Senate panel has already heard from Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates, both former deputy attorneys general, and has scheduled testimony from ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
 

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US Debate Commission Promises More ‘Structure’ for Next Trump-Biden Encounters

The independent U.S. presidential election debate agency said Wednesday that it would move soon to tighten the format of the encounters after critics panned Tuesday’s first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden as the worst in American political history.The two candidates frequently interrupted each other or talked at the same time, with debate moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist, rebuking Trump for failing to adhere to the rules of the debate to allow both candidates to finish answering questions unimpeded.The Commission on Presidential Debates said the debate debacle showed the need for “additional structure” to the format “to ensure a more orderly discussion.”The commission commended Wallace for his “professionalism” for his handling of the chaotic affair on a debate stage at a university in the Midwestern city of Cleveland, Ohio. But the agency said it would soon impose new restrictions before the second and third Trump-Biden debates set for October 15 and 22.Some critics of the first Trump-Biden encounter suggested cutting off the microphone of either Trump or Biden when the other was speaking.Both claim successBoth Trump and Biden claimed they were successful in Tuesday’s encounter and then headed back out on to the campaign trail Wednesday, with the November 3 election now less than five weeks away.“I thought the debate last night was great. We’ve gotten tremendous reviews on it,” Trump told reporters as he departed for Minnesota. “I thought it was a great evening. It was an exciting evening.”Trump was headed to Minnesota, a Midwestern battleground state that he narrowly lost in 2016 but hopes to recapture against Biden. Polls show the president trailing in the state and throughout the country. Trump was to attend a campaign fundraising event at a private home near Minneapolis, the state’s biggest city, then head to Duluth, the westernmost Great Lakes shipping port in the U.S., for a rally with supporters.   U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks Air Force One upon arriving at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, after returning from the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 30, 2020.Biden started a campaign train trip through parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, two political battleground states that Trump won four years ago against Democrat Hillary Clinton but where polls show Biden has pulled ahead of the president. Biden is especially attempting to recapture blue-collar workers in the two states that historically have voted for Democrats but turned to Trump in 2016. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Amtrak’s Alliance Train Station, in Alliance, Ohio, Sept. 30, 2020.After pillorying each other in Tuesday’s debate as unfit to lead the country for the next four years, the two candidates resumed their attacks Wednesday on Twitter.  Trump claimed, “Nobody wants Sleepy Joe as a leader, including the Radical Left (which he lost last night!).” The president said Biden “disrespected” Bernie Sanders by “effectively calling him a loser!” Sanders, the Vermont senator who is the leader of the Democrats’ progressive wing, was the last remaining Democratic contender opposing Biden for the party’s presidential nomination before conceding the race to him earlier this year. Nobody wants Sleepy Joe as a leader, including the Radical Left (which he lost last night!). He disrespected Bernie, effectively calling him a loser!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Debate moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace directs the first 2020 presidential campaign debate between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 29, 2020.More than an hour into the debate, moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist, rebuked the president for not adhering to the debate rules agreed to ahead of time by the two campaigns that each candidate would allow the other to finish answering questions unimpeded. Trump and Biden are set to debate each other twice more in the coming weeks, on October 15 and 22, after next week’s debate between their respective vice-presidential running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris. It is not immediately clear what could prevent another verbal free-for-all encounter between Trump and Biden, short of moderators cutting off the microphones to let Trump and Biden answer questions without the other interrupting.  University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato posted a blunt message on his Twitter account:  “CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES.”CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES. It is impossible to have an orderly, productive exchange with Donald Trump. Stop pretending otherwise. The front page of French weekly newspaper Le Point displays a photo of President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden with a headline reading “America on a volcano, (and Us too)” in Paris, Sept. 30, 2020.Veteran Washington Post political analyst Dan Balz said, “Judging the debate by traditional standards gives the evening more credit than it deserves. For most people, this was unwatchable, a grab-the-remote, change-the-channel moment in a forum that in past election years has served the country well. What two more debates like this will accomplish is hard to imagine, other than to heighten tensions in a country already on edge.”  Markus Feldenkirchen of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel posted on Twitter, saying, “The debate was a joke, a low point, a shame for the country. Roaring, insults, two over-70s who interrupt each other like 5-year-olds — and a moderator who loses all control. The trigger, of course: Trump’s uncouth, undignified behavior.” 
 

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US Court Upholds Extended Wisconsin Ballot Deadline

A U.S. federal appeals court has upheld a ruling allowing Wisconsin’s absentee ballots in the November general election to be counted if they arrive up to six days after Election Day. The panel of three judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, agreed with a September lower court ruling that said if the ballots are postmarked by November 3, they can be accepted for counting as long as they arrive by November 9. The Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republicans argued against allowing the deadline extension and could appeal Tuesday’s ruling.  They said voters had plenty of time to obtain and return an absentee ballot by Election Day. Wisconsin Democrats welcomed the court’s decision and said it would give more people in the state an opportunity to “have their voices heard in this election.” Absentee voting has been a focus of the election in the United States this year with state officials allowing more flexibility for people to cast ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.FILE – A voter drops off his election ballot in the drop box at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, in Cleveland, Ohio, April 22, 2020.As of Tuesday, about 1.2 million absentee ballots had been requested in Wisconsin and more than 308,000 returned. The state is one of the key battlegrounds that will determine whether President Donald Trump wins another term or whether former Vice President Joe Biden takes over the White House in January.  Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and recent opinion polls show Biden with a slight lead. Eighteen other U.S. states allow ballots to be counted even if they arrive in the mail after Election Day.  Almost all of them require the ballots to be postmarked by Election Day to be eligible, except in Iowa and Ohio where the deadline is November 2. The receipt deadlines vary, with Texas allowing just one extra day, six states allowing until November 6, two accepting ballots until November 9, four others giving until November 10, and three states allowing until November 13 for the ballots to arrive in the mail to be counted. Illinois allows until November 17, while California has the latest receipt deadline — November 20. Louisiana is the only U.S. state that requires absentee ballots to be received by the day before the election. 

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Fierce Reaction Pours in After First Trump-Biden Debate

Reaction to Tuesday night’s presidential debate between Republican President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, split along partisan lines but also featured sharp criticism of how the event, often a verbal free-for-all, played out. Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted after  the debate that “For ninety minutes, @realDonaldTrump made a confident, commanding and compelling case for his re-election and took Joe Biden to task for supporting radical policies that would raise taxes, destroy jobs and make our communities less safe.”For ninety minutes, @realDonaldTrump made a confident, commanding and compelling case for his re-election and took Joe Biden to task for supporting radical policies that would raise taxes, destroy jobs and make our communities less safe. (1/3)— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) September 30, 2020Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for President Trump’s re-election campaign, told VOA’s Carolyn Presutti  the president’s performance  was “fantastic.” “What viewers saw was President Trump who was in command of every moment of the  debate, and I think what they saw was a weak Joe Biden,” Murtaugh said, “looking around for someone to bail him out.”  Prominent Democrats, meanwhile, called the debate for the former vice president and said Trump’s performance provided ample reason to deny him a second term in office.  “Donald Trump has failed this country with his lies, bigotry, and reckless leadership,” tweeted U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who competed against Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier in the year. Booker in particular denounced the president for declining to condemn white supremacists, instead urging them to “stand by.”Donald Trump has failed this country with his lies, bigotry, and reckless leadership.We can’t have four more years of a president who tells white supremacists to “stand by.” The choice in this election is very clear. https://t.co/AQNVH52gt4— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 30, 2020Many debate watchers slammed the loud and chaotic exchanges between the two candidates, including Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor for The Washington Post newspaper, who called the event “a national embarrassment.”This whole debate is a national embarrassment— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) September 30, 2020Some, including presidential historian Michael Beschloss, harshly faulted the president.  “Democracy was trashed tonight by a President who ran roughshod over the rules,” he wrote, “refused to condemn white supremacists and would not tolerate any form of dissent—a harbinger of what a second term might be like,” Beschloss tweeted.Democracy was trashed tonight by a President who ran roughshod over the rules, refused to condemn white supremacists and would not tolerate any form of dissent—a harbinger of what a second term might be like.— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) September 30, 2020Others, like former Republican senator Jeff Flake, expressed sorrow over the entire spectacle. “We are a better country than was on display tonight,” Flake wrote on Twitter.We are a better country than was on display tonight.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) September 30, 2020University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato posted a blunt message on his Twitter account:  “CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES.”CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES. It is impossible to have an orderly, productive exchange with Donald Trump. Stop pretending otherwise. #Debate2020— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) September 30, 2020But Murtaugh defended the exchanges as illuminating. “I think a freewheeling conversation like the president was driving is actually good, it allows for a much better exchange of ideas and for viewers to see the real difference between the two,”  he said. 

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