Explainer: ‘Dueling electors’ pose risk of U.S. vote deadlock

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most “electoral” votes rather than winning a majority of the national popular vote. Known as the Electoral College, the system allots electors to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population.

It is theoretically possible for the governor and legislature, each representing a different political party, to submit two different election results, leading to so-called “dueling slates of electors.”

Below are details of how that might play out.

What are electors?

The U.S. president is selected by 538 electors, known as the Electoral College, with electors apportioned based on each state’s population. The popular vote in each state typically determines which candidate receives a state’s electoral votes.

The U.S. Constitution and the 1887 Electoral Count Act govern the counting of electoral votes and any related disputes. The electors will meet on Dec. 14 to cast votes, which are then counted by Congress on Jan. 6 in a process overseen by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as Senate president.

What are dueling electors?

States with close contests between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden could produce competing slates of electors, one certified by the governor and the other by the legislature.

The risk of this happening is heightened in the battleground states of Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

Some election law experts are concerned that an unprecedented volume of mailed-in votes and legal challenges will delay the outcome of the election for weeks, creating an extended period of uncertainty.

Trump has repeatedly said the election is rigged and made unfounded attacks on mail-in voting, which tends to favor Democrats.

If early returns show a Trump lead, experts say the president could press Republican-controlled legislatures to appoint electors favorable to him, claiming the initial vote count reflects the true outcome.

Governors in those same states could end up backing a separate slate of electors pledged to Biden if the final count showed the Democratic candidate had won.

Both sets of electors would meet and vote on Dec. 14 and the competing results would be sent to Congress.

Which set of electors would prevail?

Both chambers of Congress could accept the same slate of electors, which would almost certainly put the matter to rest.

The chambers could also split, which is more likely if the Republicans retain control of the Senate and Democrats hold onto their House majority.

If lawmakers cannot agree on a set of electors, the country will find itself in uncharted territory.

The Electoral Count Act, often described by academics as “unintelligible,” seems to favor the slate of electors certified by the state’s governor, according to Ned Foley, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

But Foley notes that some scholars and an analysis by the Congressional Research Service have rejected that conclusion.

Academics have sketched out several scenarios. Under one, Pence as president of the Senate could throw out both sets of a state’s electors. Another contemplates that the House of Representatives would end up choosing between Biden and Trump. There is even a scenario in which the Speaker of the House, currently Democrat Nancy Pelosi, could become acting president.

Would the U.S. Supreme Court get involved?

The Supreme Court may be called upon to interpret the Electoral College Act to break any deadlock.

A Supreme Court ruling helped resolve the 2000 election in favor of George Bush over Al Gore, but that case was about a recount in Florida and the decision was reached before electors met to cast their votes.

“I think there will be legal challenges,” said Jessica Levinson, director of Loyola Law School’s Public Service Institute. “But I could see a court saying this would really be better left up to Congress.”

Has this happened before?

In 1876, dueling electors in three states were deadlocked until a deal was brokered days before Inauguration Day.

The dispute was resolved after Republican Rutherford B. Hayes became president in exchange for withdrawing U.S. troops left over from the Civil War from Southern states.

“I hope it’s a very low probability event but 1876 is a reminder that it is not zero and we have come very close to falling over that cliff in our history,” Foley said.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

Twitter unblocks Trump campaign account

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter election campaign account was unblocked on Thursday after the social media campaign temporarily restricted it saying a video from the account about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son violated its rules.

The video posted by the @TeamTrump account referred to a New York Post story from Wednesday that contained alleged details of Hunter Biden’s business dealings with a Ukrainian energy company and said the former vice president had met with an adviser of the company.

The Trump campaign, with 2.2 million followers, said in a new tweet it was “re-posting the video Twitter doesn’t want you to watch.” Twitter did not respond to a request for a comment about why the account had been unblocked.

“Joe Biden is a liar who has been ripping off our country for years,” the video was captioned.

Twitter said earlier the video violated its rules against posting private information, adding the account may need to delete the post in order to continue tweeting.

“It’s going to all end up in a big lawsuit and there are things that can happen that are very severe that I’d rather not see happen, but it’s probably going to have to,” Trump said, when asked about the move by Twitter.

Twitter said on Wednesday the Post story violated its “hacked materials” policy, which bars the distribution of content obtained through hacking that contains private information or trade secrets, or puts people at risk of physical harm.

Facebook Inc and Twitter took proactive steps on Wednesday to restrict dissemination of the Post story in the hours after it was published.

Twitter had placed similar restrictions on the account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday, after she shared the Post story.

Other Twitter, users, including a journalist, said their accounts had been suspended because they had posted a link to the New York Post story. The accounts were unblocked after they deleted the offending tweets.

After Twitter imposed the restrictions, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee moved to subpoena Twitter’s Chief Executive Jack Dorsey.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and Republican senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley said the committee will vote on sending the subpoena on Tuesday, Oct. 20 and plans to have Dorsey in front of the committee by Oct. 23.

Dorsey said on Twitter Wednesday “our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, Elizabeth Culliford in London, and Nandita Bose and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Lisa Shumaker)

Split screen: Trump and Biden to headline dueling town halls

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will hold dueling prime-time town halls on Thursday instead of their second presidential debate, which was canceled after Trump declined to take part in a virtual matchup.

With less than three weeks to go until the Nov. 3 vote, the Republican president is searching for ways to change the dynamics of a race in which Biden has a double-digit advantage in some national polls.

Nearly 15 million Americans, a record for this date, have cast ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, as voters seek to avoid in-person lines on Election Day because of concerns about the novel coronavirus.

North Carolina, a highly competitive state, began more than two weeks of in-person early voting on Thursday. Local news reports showed long lines of voters eager to cast ballots, and Trump was due to hold an afternoon rally in Greenville in the eastern part of the state.

Trump’s campaign is counting on a surge of last-minute votes. But Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted between Oct. 9 and Oct. 13 shows there are far fewer undecided likely voters this year – around 8% – and they are just as likely to pick Biden as they are Trump.

Four years ago at this stage of the campaign, more than twice as many people were similarly wavering between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Biden holding a 10 percentage-point lead nationally, with a tighter margin in the battleground states that will help decide the election.

Both candidates have been visiting those states this week, with Trump holding rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa and Biden traveling to Ohio and Florida.

Trump has pulled into a statistical tie with Biden in Florida, a key battleground, with 47% support versus Biden’s 49%, and a credibility interval of 4 points, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed.

Thursday’s town halls, in which each candidate will field questions from voters, will take place at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia.

Trump pulled out of the scheduled debate when the commission in charge of organizing the event said it would be held virtually after the president contracted the coronavirus. A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

On Thursday, the Biden campaign said two people involved in the campaign had tested positive for COVID-19, including one on the staff of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate.

Although neither Biden nor Harris was in close contact with the people, the campaign said it was cancelling Harris’ travel until after Sunday, “in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution.”

Trump has returned to the campaign trail after spending several days being treated for the virus in a military hospital.

NBC said on Wednesday that Clifford Lane, clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, and the government’s top infectious disease specialist, Anthony Fauci, had concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that Trump was no longer “shedding infectious virus.”

The election could be the most closely contested in recent memory due to a deeply divided electorate and the possibility that Trump will challenge widely used mail-in ballots, claiming without evidence they are fraudulent.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Chris Kahn in New York and Doina Chiacu and James Oliphant in Washington; Writing by Joseph Ax and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)

Explainer: The Electoral College and the 2020 U.S. presidential race

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – In the United States, the winner of a presidential election is determined not by a national vote but through a system called the Electoral College, which allots “electoral votes” to all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on their population.

Complicating things further, a web of laws and constitutional provisions kick in to resolve particularly close elections.

Here are some of the rules that could decide the Nov. 3 contest between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

How does the Electoral College work?

There are 538 electoral votes, meaning 270 are needed to win the election. In 2016, President Donald Trump lost the national popular vote to Hillary Clinton but secured 304 electoral votes to her 227.

Technically, Americans cast votes for electors, not the candidates themselves. Electors are typically party loyalists who pledge to support the candidate who gets the most votes in their state. Each elector represents one vote in the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was a compromise between the nation’s founders, who fiercely debated whether the president should be picked by Congress or through a popular vote.

All but two states use a winner-take-all approach: The candidate that wins the most votes in that state gets all of its electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska use a more complex district-based allocation system that could result in their combined nine electoral votes being split between Trump and Biden.

Can electors go rogue?

Yes.

In 2016, seven of the 538 electors cast ballots for someone other than their state’s popular vote winner, an unusually high number.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws intended to control rogue electors, or “faithless electors.” Some provide a financial penalty for a rogue vote, while others call for the vote to be canceled and the elector replaced.

When do the electors’ votes have to be certified by?

Federal law requires that electors meet in their respective states and formally send their vote to Congress on “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.” This year that date is Dec. 14.

Under U.S. law, Congress will generally consider a state’s result to be “conclusive” if it is finalized six days before the electors meet. This date, known as the “safe harbor” deadline, falls on Dec. 8 this year.

Those votes are officially tallied by Congress three weeks later and the president is sworn in on Jan. 20.

What if officials in a particular state can’t agree on who won?

Typically, governors certify the results in their respective states and share the information with Congress. But it is possible for “dueling slates of electors,” in which the governor and legislature in a closely contested state could submit two different election results.

The risk of this happening is heightened in states where the legislature is controlled by a different party than the governor. Several battleground states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

According to legal experts, it is unclear in this scenario whether Congress should accept the governor’s electoral slate or not count the state’s electoral votes at all.

What if a candidate doesn’t get 270 votes?

One flaw of the electoral college system is that it could produce a 269-269 tie. If that occurs, a newly elected House of Representatives would decide the fate of the presidency on Jan. 6, with each state’s votes determined by a delegation, as required by the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Currently, Republicans control 26 state delegations, while Democrats control 22. Pennsylvania is tied between Democratic and Republican members. Michigan has seven Democrats, six Republicans and one independent.

The composition of the House will change on Nov. 3, when all 435 House seats are up for grabs.

Will the system ever change?

Critics say the Electoral College thwarts the will of the people. Calls for abolishing the system increased after George W. Bush won the 2000 election despite losing the popular vote, and again in 2016 when Trump pulled off a similar victory.

The Electoral College is mandated in the Constitution, so abolishing it would require a constitutional amendment. Such amendments require two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate and ratification by the states, or a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of state legislatures.

Republicans, who benefited from the Electoral College in the 2000 and 2016 elections, are unlikely to back such an amendment.

Individuals states do have some freedom to change how their electors are chosen, and experts have floated proposals for reforming the system without a constitutional amendment.

Under one proposal, states would form a compact and agree to award all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the nationwide popular vote.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

Coronavirus fuels historic legal battle over voting as 2020 U.S. election looms

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – The Nov. 3 contest between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden has generated an unprecedented wave of election-related litigation, as both sides seek to shape the rules governing how votes are tallied in key states.

With 40 days left, the court clashes have spread to every competitive state amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has fueled pitched battles over seemingly mundane issues such as witness signatures, U.S. mail postmarks and the use of drop boxes for ballots.

Trump’s unfounded attacks on voting by mail and delivery delays amid cost-cutting measures at the U.S. Postal Service have only intensified the urgency of the litigation.

A Reuters analysis of state and federal court records found more than 200 election-related cases pending as of Tuesday. Overall, at least 250 election lawsuits spurred by the coronavirus have been filed, according to Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who has been tracking the litigation.

The pandemic has turned what were once minor hurdles, such as witness signature requirements, into potentially major obstacles, while exacerbating existing concerns.

“In the past, long lines would be disenfranchising or deterring, but in this case they can be deadly,” said Myrna Perez, who directs the voting rights and elections program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Democrats generally have sought to ease restrictions on mail ballots, which are surging as voters want to avoid the risk of visiting in-person polling sites.

“The Biden campaign has assembled the biggest voter protection program in history to ensure our election runs smoothly and to combat any attempt by Donald Trump to interfere in the democratic process,” Mike Gwin, a Biden spokesman, said.

Republicans say they are trying to prevent illegal voting, although experts say voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

“Democrats are working to shred election integrity measures one state at a time, and there’s no question they’ll continue their shenanigans from now to November and beyond,” said Matthew Morgan, general counsel for the Trump campaign.

A flurry of court decisions this month have delivered several Democratic wins, although many remain subject to appeal. In the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina, officials will count ballots that arrive after Nov. 3, as long as they were sent by Election Day.

Several pending cases, including in competitive Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan, could have a major impact on those states’ elections.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Republicans will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in after the state’s highest court rejected their bid to limit drop boxes and disqualify late-arriving ballots. The Trump campaign is pursuing a separate federal lawsuit over some of the same issues.

In Texas, state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, has sued officials in Harris County to stop them from sending absentee ballot applications to all voters. The county, which includes Houston, is the state’s most populous, with nearly 5 million residents.

Republicans prevailed in several earlier cases.

In Florida, a federal appeals court blocked hundreds of thousands of ex-felons from voting in November. In Texas, where only those 65 years and older can vote by mail without having to provide a valid reason such as disability, a series of court rulings have stymied Democratic efforts to extend that right to all residents.

SUPREME COURT BATTLE TO COME?

The influx of cases may also be a preview of what is to come after Nov. 3, when new fights could arise over which ballots should be counted.

Both campaigns have assembled armies of lawyers in preparation.

The Biden campaign has lined up hundreds of attorneys and has brought in top lawyers like former U.S. Solicitors General Donald Verrilli and Walter Dellinger and former Attorney General Eric Holder as advisers.

Marc Elias, the Democratic attorney who has coordinated many election lawsuits this year on behalf of left-leaning groups, is heading a team focused on state-by-state voter protection.

Trump’s campaign, for its part, has filed multiple challenges to states like Nevada and New Jersey that plan to mail a ballot to every voter.

Some Democrats are concerned that if Republicans succeed in getting a successor to the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the election, it will ensure Trump wins any dispute that ends up at the high court.

The Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 to stop the Florida recount handed the presidency to Republican George W. Bush, the only time the high court has decided the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.

Trump has seemingly laid the groundwork for a post-election fight, repeatedly asserting without evidence that voting by mail will yield a “rigged” result.

On Wednesday, the president said explicitly that he wanted to have Ginsburg’s successor in place because he expects the election to end up at the Supreme Court.

Levitt, the law professor tracking the cases, said he still trusted that judges would reject challenges not backed by evidence.

“Filing a case costs a few hundred dollars and a lawyer, and can often be useful for messaging,” he said. “But courts of law demand evidence that the court of public opinion doesn’t.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe and Disha Raychaudhuri; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Peter Cooney)

Billionaire Bloomberg raises millions to help restore Florida felon voting rights

By Trevor Hunnicutt

(Reuters) – Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has raised over $16 million to help former felons restore their voting rights in the critical battleground state of Florida, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The fundraising tally comes just over a week after Bloomberg aides said the former New York City mayor, who made an unsuccessful 2020 bid for the Democratic nomination, would spend at least $100 million to help Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign against President Donald Trump in Florida.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Bloomberg said in an emailed statement, adding that he is working with a group that has been helping former felons’ pay fines and access the ballot box.

In-state voting by mail starts on Thursday in Florida, which will be the biggest prize among competitive states on Nov. 3’s Election Day, offering 29 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.

Florida voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the state’s constitution to grant voting rights to felons who served their time and were not convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Republicans later backed a law requiring people with past felony convictions to pay court fines and fees before being able to vote. A federal appeals court upheld that law this month, reversing a lower court ruling that held the measure unconstitutional.

Voting rights advocates and Democrats have accused Republicans in a number of states of passing laws aimed at suppressing the voting ability of groups who tend to support Democratic candidates.

Bloomberg promised to be a political force even after spending $1 billion of his own money to unsuccessfully compete with Biden for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

He sees an opportunity to make a difference in the closing weeks of the race in Florida, a state Trump won by 113,000 votes in 2016, or 1.2 percentage points.

The president has since adopted the state as his residence and visits regularly. Recent polls have shown Biden with a very slim margin there.

White nationalism upsurge in U.S. echoes historical pattern, say scholars

By Katanga Johnson and Jim Urquhart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first Black woman is on a major party presidential ticket, Americans of all races are showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and at the same time white nationalists are ramping up recruiting efforts and public activism.

That nationwide backing for America’s stated goal of equal rights for all has been met by a rise in hate-related activities is part of a decades-long pattern in the United States, six scholars and historians say – any expansion of civil rights for a minority group leads to a rise in intolerance.

“Each wave of civil rights progress brings us a little closer to real equity, but there will always be backlash from those who feel threatened by that progress,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of research with the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University in Washington. People who feel vulnerable to change become “eager to recruit and radicalize support to slow things down, even if by use of violence or radicalized propaganda,” she said.

After the first Black president, Barack Obama, was elected in 2008, the number of hate groups “ballooned,” Miller-Idriss said, just as Ku Klux Klan activity grew again after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed. decision desegregating schools, and during the 1960’s civil rights movement. Backlashes happened after women got the right to vote, and as LGBTQ rights expanded, too.

One of the things that makes this moment so heated is there’s been a bigger embrace by politicians, businesses and white people in general supporting racial justice movements than in the past, historians and civil rights experts said.

America rests on the “great social challenge of creating a successful harmonious, multiracial democracy,” said Simon Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP). The backlash against that accelerated during the Black Lives Matter protests and “is both a political one and a violent, social one,” he said.

Protests against excessive use of force by police and racism swept the United States, and the world, this summer after a Black man, George Floyd, died on May 25 while a white Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck.

The latest police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23 has sparked more protests that have sometimes become violent.

Two white nationalist groups, who want an independent state for whites, told Reuters their numbers are also increasing, which Reuters could not independently confirm. The National Socialist Movement Corporation and the ShieldWall Network said many of the new prospects reject the Black Lives Matter protesters mainly out of fear the demonstrations will impose on their freedoms, such as the right to bear arms.

“I’ve got guns. I’ve got a lot of bullets and an armor, too. And if people come down my street looking for trouble, I am going to fight it,” Burt Colucci, self-described commander of the Corporation, said a prospective recruit told him in a recent phone call.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has documented 3,566 “extremist propaganda incidents” and events in 2020, compared to 2,704 in the same period of 2019. Almost 80% of this year’s cases involve white nationalist ideology, the civil rights advocacy organization found. Anti-Semitic incidents and plots and attacks of terrorism among others made up the rest, the ADL said.

MARCH IN WASHINGTON

Patriot Front, a white nationalist group, marched in Washington in February, and flyers and leaflets advertising the group have been found on college campuses from Arizona to Vermont in recent months. White nationalist groups posted messages on Facebook this summer advocating bringing guns to Black Lives Matter protests, and staged demonstrations in Florida and Pennsylvania in July.

While the ethnic and racial diversity of the United States is growing, whites remain a majority, about 60% of all Americans, according to Pew Research Center analysis published a year ago.

One-third of eligible voters in the Nov. 3 elections, in which Senator Kamala Harris of Jamaican and Indian parentage is running on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s ticket, will be non-white, according to Pew, up from one-quarter in 2000.

Most Americans say they embrace diversity, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last year about race, society, and their political engagement. Sixty-three percent said the statement “I prefer to live in a community with people who come from diverse cultures” reflects their point of view.

Among registered Democrats, that affirmative answer jumped to 78%, while among Republicans it dropped to 45%.

In the election campaign, Biden has accused President Donald Trump of stoking divisions. The Trump campaign has said that the president “works hard to empower all Americans.”

‘HEAR THE RAGE’

“I’ve never seen the country so divided – not only divided, but charged, on all sides,” said Billy Roper of the Arkansas-based white nationalist organization, ShieldWall Network.

America has been at similar crossroads before, though, the scholars and historians interviewed by Reuters say.

The Ku Klux Klan, founded at the end of the U.S. Civil War, is the oldest and most violent of white extremist organizations, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) civil rights advocacy group. The KKK, bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive policies during the period known as Reconstruction, used violence against Black people in Southern states, particularly to deny them the newly-won right to vote.

Women’s voting rights, granted in 1920, coincided with a rise of the word “bitch” in newspapers around the country, Representative Pramila Jayapal said recently on the floor of the House of Representatives because, she contends, voting “was just a little too much power for too many men across the country.”

During the early years of the civil rights movement, a number of monuments honoring the war heroes of the Confederacy, the slavery-supporting states that lost the Civil War, were erected in the South, according to a SPLC report.

At least 780 monuments remained in public places in the South and elsewhere in the United States as of February 2019, the report said, among other Confederate symbols that are deeply divisive. Of those monuments, 604 were dedicated before 1950, but 28 others were unveiled from 1950 to 1970 and 34 after 2000.

National legalization of gay marriage in 2015 contributed to a powerful resurgence in conservative politics and legal challenges to LGBTQ rights, advocates said.

Colucci says his group has seen an uptick in calls and emails after racial justice protests and growing corporate and public support for Black Lives Matter and other groups.

“Some of those e-mails, I mean, you could just hear the rage,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington and Jim Urquhart; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)

Biden says all U.S. governors should mandate masks to slow coronavirus’ spread

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden on Thursday called on all U.S. governors to mandate mask wearing to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 165,000 people in the United States.

In his second day on the campaign trail with former rival and now running mate Kamala Harris by his side, Biden made the call for a nationwide mandate on masks after a virtual meeting with public health advisers in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months,” Biden said. “Every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing.”

He said that early delays in calling for masks led to unnecessary deaths.

President Donald Trump, the man he is trying to unseat in November, long refused to wear one in public. That turned masks into a political symbol and sparked squabbles across the country in which other Republican elected officials and some Trump supporters have angrily refused to wear them.

Public health officials agree that wearing masks in public slows the spread of the respiratory disease that has infected more than 5.2 million Americans.

“I hope we’ve learned our lesson. I hope the president has learned his lesson,” said Biden, the former vice president.

Harris, a U.S. senator from California and former prosecutor, added: “I think it’s important that the American people looking at the election coming up ask the current occupant of the White House, ‘When am I going to get vaccinated? When am I actually going to get vaccinated?’

“Because there may be some grand gestures offered by the current president about a vaccine but it really doesn’t matter until you can answer the question ‘When am I going to get vaccinated.’”

The first Black woman and Asian American on a major-party U.S. presidential ticket, Harris will have three roles to play in the campaign: energizing people to vote and volunteer, outlining Biden’s policy vision, and prosecuting the case against Trump, according to a person familiar with the strategy.

Trump long played down the risks of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more people in the United States than in any other country and thrown tens of millions of Americans out of work.

Harris is expected to focus on Trump’s response to the crisis, which has been an effective argument for Biden so far.

After introducing Harris’ personal story on Wednesday in their first joint appearance since picking his running mate, Biden quickly moved to talking about the urgency of the moment.

Trump, for his part, on Thursday tweeted that the media were giving Harris “a free pass despite her Radical Left failures and very poor run in the Democrat Primary.”

A Trump ally conceded privately that the Democratic pair had a “good day” on the campaign trail. Biden’s campaign said they collected $34.2 million on Tuesday and Wednesday after announcing Harris as the running mate, a record pace of fundraising.

In her debut appearance as Biden’s running mate on Wednesday, Harris delivered a rebuke of Trump’s leadership and highlighted the historic significance of her new role.

In the coming weeks, Harris will do events in person and virtually, including several jointly with Biden, similar to some of the socially distanced campaign stops and speeches Biden has given in recent weeks in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The campaign is still unsure of how they will conduct future appearances, saying they intend to follow local public health guidance that continues to discourage large gatherings.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Scott Malone, Nick Zieminski and Sonya Hepinstall)

Democrat Joe Biden chooses Senator Kamala Harris for White House running mate

By James Oliphant and Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday picked Senator Kamala Harris as his choice for vice president, making her the first Black woman on a major-party U.S. presidential ticket and giving him a partner well prepared to go on the attack against Republican President Donald Trump.

With social unrest over racial injustice rocking the country for months, Biden had been under increasing pressure to select a Black woman as his running mate. Harris is also the first Asian-American on a major presidential ticket.

In Harris, a 55-year-old senator from California who made her own run for the White House, Biden gains an experienced politician already battle-tested by the rigors of the 2020 presidential campaign as they head into the final stretch of the Nov. 3 election.

Biden on Twitter called Harris “a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants.” Harris wrote on Twitter that Biden could “unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us.”

Biden and Harris will appear together on Wednesday at an event in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, the campaign said.

Harris, who became only the second Black female U.S. senator in history when elected in 2016, will be relied on to help mobilize African Americans, the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency. Four years ago, the first dip in Black voter turnout in 20 years contributed to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s upset loss to Trump.

Biden, whose foundering campaign was rescued by Black voters in South Carolina’s primary in February, needs their strong support against Trump. They will be crucial in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump narrowly prevailed in 2016, as well as Republican-leaning southern states like Georgia and Florida that polls show have become competitive this year.

Biden served as vice president for eight years under President Barack Obama, the first Black U.S. president.

Numerous Black leaders, including politicians who had themselves been considered as Biden’s running mate, emphasized the historic import of Harris’ selection.

“To see a Black woman nominated for the first time reaffirms my faith that in America, there is a place for every person to succeed no matter who they are or where they come from,” said U.S. Representative Val Demings, a Black woman who had been a contender.

Obama, perhaps the party’s most popular figure, praised Harris on Twitter: “She’s spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake.”

The Biden campaign notched its best grassroots fundraising day following the announcement, according to one of its digital directors, Clarke Humphrey.

Republicans immediately tried to portray Harris as a “radical” who embraces far-left priorities such as sweeping police reform and a ban on fracking.

During a White House briefing on Tuesday, Trump called Harris “the meanest, the most horrible, most disrespectful” and “most liberal” senator and said she was his “No. 1 draft pick” given her unsuccessful presidential campaign.

On a conference call the Trump campaign hosted for reporters, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn asserted that Harris supports eliminating private insurance in favor of Medicare for All and said her selection reflects the “leftist takeover” of the party.

As a presidential candidate, Harris proposed a government-run system that would still allow private insurers to offer plans; she also supported a fracking ban. Biden has not embraced either proposal.

Harris, a former prosecutor and state attorney general in California, is known for her sometimes aggressive questioning style in the Senate, most notably of Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

As a presidential candidate, she also took Biden to task in a nationally televised debate over his past stances on mandatory busing for students as a means to desegregate schools. Some Biden advisers have told Reuters the attacks made them question whether she would be a trusted working partner because of her political ambitions.

While that exchange failed to boost her White House hopes, the Biden campaign will now look for her to train her fire on Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Harris is scheduled to debate Pence on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The choice of a running mate has added significance for Biden, 77, who would be the oldest person to become president if he is elected. His age has led to speculation he will serve only one term, making Harris a potential top contender for the nomination in 2024.

Biden publicly committed to choosing a woman as his No. 2 in a March debate after discussing the matter with his wife Jill.

After the protests that erupted over the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Biden’s search focused predominantly on candidates of color.

Harris will be confirmed as Biden’s running mate at the Democratic convention that begins on Monday, where Biden will also be formally nominated to challenge Trump.

A PROMINENT VOICE

Harris has become a key ally for Biden at a time when race has been thrust to the forefront of the campaign.

After Floyd’s death, she became a leading voice in the push for racial justice and police reform.

Harris came under criticism from some in the Black community and from progressive advocates for her record as California attorney general where, they say, she did not do enough to investigate police shootings and too often sided with prosecutors in wrongful conviction cases.

Her defenders say she has always been reform-minded – and point to her record in the Senate, where she has championed a police-reform bill and an anti-lynching bill, among other measures.

Harris, whose mother and father emigrated from India and Jamaica, respectively, was the first woman to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney and the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general.

Historically, the vice presidential nominee has taken the lead in criticizing the opposing ticket, although Trump has largely shredded that tradition. Brian Brokaw, a California political consultant who managed Harris’ campaigns for attorney general and Senate, said she fits that role well.

“She is someone who can really make Republicans quake in their boots,” Brokaw said.

(Reporting by James Oliphant and Joseph Ax, Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Editing by Soyoung Kim, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Palestinians hope Biden would roll back Trump’s embrace of Israel

By Rami Ayyub

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian leaders hope Democrat Joe Biden will tone down Washington’s pro-Israel policies if he becomes U.S. president, and Palestinian-Americans have been pressing his campaign for a change, sources familiar with the efforts said.

So far, their efforts have had little impact, the sources said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy to the city and made peace proposals envisaging Israeli sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank, territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Trump’s moves — including aid cuts to the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank — have prompted Palestinian officials to sever ties with Washington.

“If Mr. Biden (is) elected in November, we hope that it will be a totally different dynamic,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week during a virtual conference with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Biden is the presumptive Democratic challenger in November’s election. He is on record as challenging plans by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank — de facto annexation of territory Israel seized in a 1967 war.

“Biden opposes any unilateral action by either side that makes the prospects of a two-state solution less likely – including annexation, which Biden opposes now, and would continue to oppose as President,” campaign spokesman Michael Gwin said in a statement for Reuters.

Gwin did not address what action Biden might take if he were president and Israel annexed West Bank land.

Netanyahu’s proposed move, under Trump’s peace blueprint, has been criticized by Arab and European nations. The Israeli leader is awaiting the green light from Washington.

PROGRESSIVE SUPPORT

Buoyed by support from progressives in the Democratic party, Palestinian diaspora activists want Biden to take a more critical look at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

More than 120 prominent Palestinian-Americans have signed a “Statement of Principles” that they say determine their community’s support for candidates for federal office.

They include making aid to Israel conditional on it ending “practices that violate Palestinian rights and contravene international law”, and revoking any potential U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in occupied territory.

“We want to see Biden embrace the party’s progressives, who have recognized the shared struggle between Palestinians living under military occupation, and Black and brown Americans who face police brutality, systemic racism and injustice,” said Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in August.

Those positions have failed to gain traction with Biden’s team, three people familiar with the campaign’s thinking said.

“The progressives want a full-throttle platform change — a pro-Palestinian flank, an anti-annexation flank — but there just isn’t appetite in the campaign so far,” one of the sources said.

(Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)