Briefs: Another day of questions for Amy Coney Barrett
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett returns to Capitol Hill for a third day of confirmation hearings as senators dig deeper into the conservative judge's outlook on abortion, health care and a potentially disputed presidential election — the Democrats running out of time to stop Republicans pushing her quick confirmation.
Wednesday's session is set to be Barrett's last before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has been batting away questions in long and lively exchanges, insisting she would bring no personal agenda to the court but decide cases "as they come."
Her nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has ground other legislative business to a halt as Republicans excited by the prospect of locking in a 6-3 conservative court majority race to confirm her over Democratic objections before Election Day.
"We're going to fill this vacancy," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman, said late Tuesday after a nearly 12-hour session.
Graham said he appreciated that Trump had nominated a judge "who's unabashedly pro-life, somebody who embraces their faith, but somebody who understands the difference between their personal views and judging."
Dueling town halls
In lieu of a formal debate, President Donald Trump has agreed to answer voters’ questions during a town hall program sponsored by NBC News on Thursday night.
The event will be held outdoors at the Perez Art Museum in Miami.
NBC News says it has a statement from National Institutes of Health clinical director Dr. Clifford Lane indicating he and White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci have reviewed Trump’s medical data and concluded with a “high degree of confidence” the president is “not shedding infectious virus.”
Trump tested positive for the coronavirus Oct. 2. He spent three days at the Walter Reed military hospital. He resumed public appearances over the weekend and resumed campaign travel Monday.
A formal matchup between the Republican president and Democrat Joe Biden that was scheduled for Thursday in Miami by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debate was canceled. The commission shifted the format from a town hall to a virtual meeting, and Trump declined to participate.
Biden is participating in an ABC News town hall Thursday in Philadelphia.
Fighting in swing states, Trump also forced to play defense
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is being forced to play Electoral College defense with a trip to Iowa, a state he won handily in 2016 but where Democrat Joe Biden is making a late push.
Trump's heavy travel this week, including his rally Wednesday in Des Moines, reflects his uphill climb three weeks before the election. He has already visited Pennsylvania and Florida and will head to another battleground state he likely can't win without — North Carolina — as well as those he once thought were in his grasp but where recent polling shows Biden improving — Iowa and Georgia.
Both candidates tailored their campaigning Tuesday to best motivate voters who could cast potentially decisive ballots.
Biden went to Florida to court older voters, looking to deliver a knockout blow in a state Trump needs to win while trying to woo a group whose support for the president has slipped. And Trump visited Pennsylvania, arguably the most important state on the electoral map, unleashing fierce attacks on Biden's fitness for office in his opponent's backyard.
"He's shot, folks. I hate to tell you, he's shot," Trump told a big rally crowd in Johnstown, saying there was extra pressure on him to win because Biden was the worst presidential candidate of all time. "Can you imagine if you lose to a guy like this? It's unbelievable."
More masks, less play: Europe tightens rules as virus surges
GENEVA — Governments across Europe are ratcheting up restrictions to try to beat back a resurgence of the coronavirus that has sent new confirmed infections on the continent to their highest weekly level since the start of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday there were more than 700,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Europe last week, a jump of 34% from the previous week. Britain, France, Russia and Spain accounted for more than half of the new infections.
The increasing caseload is partly the result of more testing, but the U.N. health agency noted that deaths were also up 16% last week from the week before. Doctors are warning that while many of the new cases are in younger people, who tend to have milder symptoms, the virus could again start spreading widely among older people, resulting in more serious illnesses.
Italy and France are restricting parties and putting limits on restaurants and bars. The Netherlands went further and ordered the closing of all bars and restaurants, And to discourage partying at home, it banned the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m.
The Czech Republic is closing all schools until Nov. 2, while Latvia is ordering teenagers to switch to distance learning for a week. And Britain unveiled a three-tiered system for deciding what restrictions to impose, based on how severe the outbreak is in certain areas.
Northern Ireland shuts schools; Liverpool slams revelers
LONDON — Northern Ireland on Wednesday introduced the tightest COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom, closing schools, pubs and restaurants to slow the spread of the virus.
The move came as England's new three-tiered system of restrictions took effect, with the northwestern city of Liverpool facing the most severe measures. Authorities in the city said hospital services were already heavily stressed by virus patients and decried pictures of partiers filling the streets as bars closed ahead of a local lockdown.
The restrictions in Northern Ireland include a two-week closure for schools and a four-week shutdown of pubs and restaurants, except for takeaway orders. The announcement came after talks among political parties in the region's power-sharing government that stretched from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
"This is not the time for trite political points," First Minister Arlene Foster told lawmakers at the regional assembly in Belfast. "This is the time for solutions."
U.K. health officials were also meeting Wednesday to discuss whether to add other areas of northern England — including Manchester and Lancashire — to the highest virus risk tier, meaning additional measures such as closing pubs could soon be imposed there. Only Liverpool was placed in the highest risk category when the plan was unveiled Monday.
In the U.K.'s system of devolved authority, responsibility for health is controlled by regional authorities. This means that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are imposing their own COVID-19 rules. The U.K. government controls the policy for England, but says it is coordinating with the others.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Northern Ireland has recorded 1,156 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, compared with 995 in Wales, 960 in England and 755 in Scotland.
Coronavirus lockdown 2.0 deepens divisions in Israel
JERUSALEM — When Israel went into lockdown last spring, Jerusalem pub owner Leon Shvartz moved quickly to save his business — shifting to a delivery and takeaway model that kept him afloat throughout the summer. Then came the second lockdown.
With restaurants and shops shuttered again, Shvartz's business is struggling to survive. He has laid off 16 of his 17 employees.
By contrast, Israeli software maker Bizzabo, which operates in the hard-hit conference-management sector, quickly reinvented itself last spring by offering "virtual events." It has more than doubled its sales and is expanding its workforce.
Such tales of boom and bust reflect Israel's growing "digital divide."
Even before the pandemic, Israel had one of the largest income gaps and poverty rates among developed economies, with a few high earners, mostly in the lucrative high-tech sector, while many Israelis barely get by as civil servants, in service industries or as small business owners.
Supreme Court halts census in latest twist of 2020 count
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration can end census field operations early, in a blow to efforts to make sure minorities and hard-to-enumerate communities are properly counted in the crucial once-a-decade tally.
The decision was not a total loss for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the administration's decision to end the count early. They managed to get nearly two extra weeks of counting people as the case made its way through the courts.
However, the ruling increased the chances of the Trump administration retaining control of the process that decides how many congressional seats each state gets — and by extension how much voting power each state has.
The Supreme Court justices' ruling came as the nation's largest association of statisticians, and even the U.S. Census Bureau's own census takers and partners, have been raising questions about the quality of the data being gathered — numbers that are used to determine how much federal funding and how many congressional seats are allotted to states.
After the Supreme Court's decision, the Census Bureau said field operations would end on Thursday.
Racial justice movement a factor for 5 state ballot measures
The Black Lives Matter movement isn't named in any of the 120 statewide ballot measures up for a vote on Nov. 3. But this year's nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice are major factors in the campaigns in several states for measures with distinctive racial themes.
In California, voters will decide whether to allow affirmative action in public hiring, contracting and college admissions — 24 years after Californians approved an initiative outlawing programs that give preference based on race and gender.
Elsewhere, the topics include a replacement for Mississippi's Confederate-themed state flag, a proposed change in Rhode Island's official name to remove the word "plantations," and efforts in Nebraska and Utah to strip language from the state constitutions providing an exemption to the ban on slavery.
In California, key supporters of the new affirmative-action measure — Proposition 16 — said they weren't sure they could get the needed two-thirds support in both legislative chambers to move forward. That changed, they said, amid the nationwide outcry over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.
"Before his death, it was touch and go," said Black businessman and civil rights activist Walter Wilson. "Now there's been a sea change. …Social justice and racial reform are on the ballot."
Russian-US crew launches on fast track to the space station
MOSCOW — A trio of space travelers launched successfully to the International Space Station, for the first time using a fast-track maneuver to reach the orbiting outpost in just three hours.
NASA's Kate Rubins along with Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos lifted off as scheduled Wednesday morning from the Russia-leased Baikonur space launch facility in Kazakhstan for a six-month stint on the station.
For the first time, they tried a two-orbit approach and docked with the space station in just a little over three hours after lift-off. Previously it took twice as long for crews to reach the station.
They will join the station's NASA commander, Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been aboard the complex since April and are scheduled to return to Earth in a week.
Speaking during Tuesday's pre-launch news conference at Baikonur, Rubins emphasized that the crew spent weeks in quarantine at the Star City training facility outside Moscow and then on Baikonur to avoid any threat from the coronavirus.