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Wake Up To Politics - September 25, 2020

Wake Up To Politics: September 25, 2020
Wake Up To Politics - September 25, 2020

It’s Friday, September 25, 2020. Election Day is 39 days away. The first presidential debate is 4 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Included in this morning’s newsletter: My report from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ speech yesterday in Washington, D.C., plus a graphic contributed by a fellow student journalist comparing the top two Supreme Court contenders.

Have you been enjoying my D.C. coverage, from the Capitol to the Supreme Court to a COVID memorial at the Washington Monument, as well as recent contributions from other young reporters? All of that work is made possible by your generous donations to Wake Up To Politics! If you’d like to support my work in D.C. and that of the other student journalists that have contributed to the newsletter, donate here.

Campaign 2020

President Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power sparked rare rebukes from top Republicans on Thursday. “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Twitter. “There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”

The day before, Trump had declined to make such a pledge, saying only “we’re going to have to see what happens” when asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the presidency in November.

After a chorus of congressional Republicans made clear that the party would uphold the election results — from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) — White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany seemed to backtrack on the president’s comments. “The president will accept the result of a free and fair election,” she said at a press briefing. “He will accept the will of the American people.”

But, hours later, the president doubled down on his original stance regardless. “We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be,” Trump told reporters on Thursday, again spreading baseless claims that the election will be a “big scam” because of mail-in voting.

According to the Washington Post, officials across the country are preparing for a potential “constitutional crisis” in November, as Democratic state attorneys generals strategize “on what to do if the president refuses to accept” the election outcome. “State election officials said they were bracing for legal battles and civil unrest to follow” the voting, the Post also reported.

But the biggest fear among Democratic officials was that Trump’s “drumbeat of unfounded accusations about fraud could undermine public confidence in the election,” according to the Post.

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced an investigation into nine Pennsylvania military mail-in ballots that were improperly discarded, at first specifying that all nine were cast for President Trump and then correcting that numnber to seven. Election experts told the New York Times that it was “highly irregular” for the DOJ to make such an announcement in the middle of a campaign and “almost unheard-of” for the department to disclose for whom a set of ballots had been cast.

Undercutting Trump’s claims that the November election will feature widespread voter fraud, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate on Thursday that his agency had not seen “any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”

According to the Times, fears of a constitutional crisis have spread even to the military: Trump’s refusal to a peaceful transfer of power reportedly “incited deep anxiety among senior military and Defense Department leaders,” many of whom fear that the preisdent will order active-duty military personnel into the streets to quell post-election protests.

“Several Pentagon officials said that such a move could prompt resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals,” including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, the Times reported.

Reporter's Notebook

Democrats also blasted Trump for his comments on a transfer of power Thursday, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who devoted his first in-person address since ending his presidential campaign to the topic.

“Under Donald Trump, we have a president who has little respect for our constitution or the rule of law,” Sanders warned in a speech at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “Today, the peaceful transition of power, the bedrock of American democracy, is being threatened like never before.”

Sanders’ address was delivered in an auditorium that could seat 250, but all but seven or so of the chairs were blocked off, designated for a small group of news outlets that included Wake Up To Politics.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers his first in-person speech since March to a largely-empty auditorium. (Photo by Gabe Fleisher)

For the two-time presidential candidate, the speech on election integrity marked a return of sorts to politicking. “It feels good to be doing one of these again,” one of his aides said to another before the event began. “It really does,” the other replied, calling it “the most exciting things we’ve all done” in months.

Wake Up To Politics was also in attendance at the last in-person rally of Sanders’ presidential bid, which was held in St. Louis on March 9. That event, held just before lockdown orders began, was attended by nearly 3,000 adoring supporters as well as dozens of journalists from around the globe. Sanders briefly spoke about the coronavirus pandemic, but no attendees or reporters wore face masks.

But on Thursday, journalists covering Sanders’ speech traded in their own masks for N95’s supplied by the senator’s team, were temperature-checked at the door, and sat with rows of chars between them.

The pair of events underlined just how much politics has changed in just a matter of months. Lines that would have received applause and cheers at one of Sanders’ rollicking rallies were met with eerie silence; the true audience was not in the room, after all, but tuning in through a virtual livestream that captured the whole thing.

“In the United States, the president does not determine who can or cannot vote and what ballots will be counted. That may be what his friend Putin does in Russia... But it is not and will not be done in America,” Sanders declared, pausing for a response that never came from the stony-faced set of reporters watching him.

Much of Sanders’ speech was focused on Trump, but towards the end he did mention his onetime rival Joe Biden as well, urging his own supporters to back the Democratic nominee in droves. “As someone who is strongly supporting Joe Biden, let’s be clear: A landslide victory for Biden will make it virtually impossible for Trump to deny the results and is our best means for defending democracy,” the Vermont senator said.

After holding forth before the largely empty room for about 30 minutes, Sanders donned a loose, orange face mask, and walked off.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in St. Louis in March, with almost 3,000 supporters in attendance. (Photo by Gabe Fleisher)

Supreme Court

President Donald Trump will announce his nominee to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 5 p.m. on Saturday at the White House.

Student journalist Prayag Gordy of Rice University contributes this graphic comparing the top two contenders for the seat:


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump will begin the day in Florida, participating in a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable in Doral at 11 a.m. He will then travel to Georgia, delivering remarks on “Black economic empowerment” in Atlanta at 2:40 p.m.

In the evening, the president will return to Washington, D.C., and participate in a fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel at 6:45 p.m. He will then travel to Newport News, Virginia, to deliver remarks at a campaign rally at 9 p.m.

The Senate is not in session.

The House will convene at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session.

  • After two days of lying in repose at the Supreme Court, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol today. Her casket will arrive at 9:30 a.m., followed by a ceremony led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt. Ginsburg is the first woman and first Jew to lie in state at the Capitol.

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will travel to Washington, D.C., to pay his respects to Justice Ginsburg at the U.S. Capitol.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will also pay her respects to Justice Ginsburg at the Capitol, and then participate virtually in the 111th annual NAACP National Convention.

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