Election Day is little more than two weeks away, but as the second full week in October comes to a close, it is safe to say that there has never been one like this in modern history, if ever. Something historic was happening nearly every day.
The week began with a sitting President making a return to the campaign trail after recovering from a virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and making that return in Florida (see “Trump rallies” below) before thousands of boisterous supporters.
While President Donald Trump rallied in Sanford, former Vice President Joe Biden came to South Florida for two events intentionally planned for only a handful of people and a few dozen cars (see “Biden in Broward” below). The campaign accomplished its mission by getting local media coverage.
For the first time ever, confirmation hearings for a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court began during the final month of a presidential campaign and continued for four days (see “Nomination moving forward” below). Democrats decried the timing, claiming the choice belongs to the winner of the election on Nov. 3, pointing out that “people are voting.”
That was a statement no one can deny, illustrated by the fact more than 18 million have already voted as of October 16. In Florida, well over 2 million among the state’s 14.4 million registered voters have already cast ballots, smashing previous records.
Democrats account for half that total, while Republicans and independents combine to make up the other half. Mail voting has been a key to GOP success in recent Florida elections.
Steps taken to enhance mail and early voting led to these numbers because for the first time ever, a presidential election is underway during a worldwide pandemic. The Spanish flu outbreak was controlled early in 1920, a few months before that year’s election.
Presidential debates are now a staple of each campaign, but this week brought some bizarre history to those highly anticipated events. After the Commission on Presidential Debates (COPD) canceled this week’s scheduled encounter after Trump refused to go along with a virtual debate, the candidates eventually wound up fielding questions but were hundreds of miles apart.
Biden was onstage in Philadelphia, while Trump was in Miami as the events both began at 8:00 o’clock Eastern time. Dueling town halls was another first for any campaign.
This unique week comes to a close with Trump holding a Friday rally in Ocala.
How can next week top this?
Barrett moving forward
Barring something unforeseen, appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett is on track to be confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court less than a week before the election. After four days of hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to forward the nomination to the full Senate on October 22.
Senate Democrats had little chance to stop Barrett, while House Democrats could play no role in the proceedings. One week before the hearings began, the House Pro-Choice Caucus wrote to Senate leadership as well as the chair and ranking member of the committee opposing the nomination, fearing a new vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Judge Barrett’s record shows she is a clear and present threat to Roe and reproductive freedom,” the lawmakers wrote. “She has publicly opposed abortion and ascribes to such extreme views that she could also call into question the legality of certain forms of birth control and fertility care.”
Among delegation Democrats signing the letter was Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Val Demings, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Donna Shalala. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the letter into the official record.
Barrett was praised by supporters for her presentation, even eliciting some grudging admiration from some of her Democratic questioners. Neither Sen. Rick Scott nor Sen. Marco Rubio serve on the committee but look forward to the chance to vote for Barrett later this month.
“The Democrats keep coming up empty in their desperate attempts to trip up Judge Barrett. They know they can’t question her qualifications so they’re grasping at straws,” Scott said on Twitter. “I say keep it coming. Judge Barrett is proving she is highly qualified and will do an excellent job.”
If the committee advances the nomination next week as scheduled, a floor vote is expected the week of October 26.
The 2020 October surprise arrived on October 14 when the New York Post published a story purporting to show emails belonging to Hunter Biden had contradicted statements made by his father. Another story claims the younger Biden tried to leverage connections to obtain compensation from Chinese firms.
The contents of that story were somewhat overtaken when Twitter blocked the Post and other account holders from tweeting the articles, claiming the senders were violating Twitter rules. Facebook also slowed the spreading of the article.
Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, took another approach to spread the article. In a series of tweets, he posted pictures of the contents of the article and attached them on his Twitter page.
“Twitter has censored @nypost, @JudiciaryGOP, @kayleighmcenany, and thousands of other users for sharing this damning story on Hunter Biden,” Gaetz said. “So I’m tweeting the entire storyline byline in a thread below. RT BEFORE IT’S DELETED!”
He was referring to Twitter claiming a link to the story from Judiciary Committee Republicans was “unsafe,” and the fact White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was locked out of her Twitter account for forwarding the article.
“Big Tech’s censorship efforts have nothing to do with true fact-checking or censoring information — it has always been about targeting conservatives and censoring the truth to benefit the Democrat Party and their causes,” Sarasota Republican Greg Steube said in a news release. “Twitter and Big Tech will be held accountable for their blatant and un-American interference in our elections.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized for the abrupt nature of the blocking, but added the tech giant will not relent because the emails contained “personal information.” The explanation came soon after Trump threatened to seek the removal of an exemption from FCC rules known as Section 230. This allows social media to operate as a platform and not as an editor, providing them with protection from lawsuits.
“So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of “Smoking Gun” emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the @NYPost. It is only the beginning for them. There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician. REPEAL SECTION 230!!!”
FCC Chair Ajit Pai said on October 15 he intends to “clarify” Section 230. He pledged to do this through rule-making without the need for congressional action.
“Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech,” Pai wrote in a statement. “But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”
Trump rallies return
Trump returned to the campaign trail this week with his first stop coming at the Orlando Sanford International Airport. The huge rally drew thousands, including several delegation Republicans.
It was a typical Trump rally with people congregated in close quarters, with many wearing masks, but others going without. The President’s doctor revealed he had tested negative twice for the coronavirus.
Trump introduced those members including Reps. Gaetz, Michael Waltz, John Rutherford, Gus Bilirakis and CD 15 candidate Scott Franklin. Some were asked to offer remarks as “warmup” acts to fire up the crowd leading up to Trump’s arrival onstage.
“We’re going to settle this by voting, we’re going to settle this with the ballot box in just three weeks,” Waltz told the crowd.
Trump spent an hour touting his accomplishments, blasting his opponents and otherwise entertaining the crowd who came for the red meat only the President can provide. If the goal was to fire up those to vote, he achieved that goal.
Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson noted the rally’s location as she recalled a tragic historical event.
“Sanford, Florida is where Trayvon Martin was viciously murdered by George Zimmerman,” Wilson tweeted. “An extremely unjust criminal justice case that rocked this nation and made the name TRAYVON Martin a household word.”
U.S. arming Taiwan
Adding to the rising tensions between China and the U.S. was the revelation the Trump administration plans to sell three weapons systems to Taiwan. The informal notice was sent to Congress late last week.
The U.S. sales involve the Lockheed Martin-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, a truck-mounted rocket launcher; the Boeing-made over-the-horizon, precision strike missile Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response; and external sensor pods for Taiwan’s F-16 jets.
The move is likely to anger China further as they claim Taiwan as its territory and have recently increased threats to use force against the island if necessary. Among those pleased with the announcement was Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, the ranking member of the House subcommittee overseeing policy in Asia and the Pacific.
In August, the Trump Administration also made a deal to sell Taiwan 66 new F-16 fighter jets and also made plans for a new economic dialogue focused on technology, health care, energy and other sectors. The jet sale lingered, but reports indicate the President was urged to sign off on the deal to assist Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who is also running for reelection.
In July, the State Department gave its approval for a $2 billion sale of Abrams tanks to Taiwan.
“The U.S. must embrace strategic clarity and commit to defending #Taiwan in the event of an attack on Taiwan’s territory,” Yoho added. “We gain nothing by sitting on the sidelines while Taiwan has everything to lose.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is moving forward with plans for the future of 21st-century lunar exploration. NASA and several partner countries have signed documents establishing the Artemis Accords, signifying cooperation on earth as well as the moon.
The accords establish a practical set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations. While NASA is leading the program, which involves sending the first woman to the moon in 2024, international collaborations will play a key role in creating a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. The planning continues while also preparing to conduct a historic human mission to Mars.
“Today marks a new dawn for space exploration. Traveling to the moon is a team effort, so I’m proud to see the U.S. & our allies united to innovate and strengthen space exploration while protecting our assets in space,” Waltz tweeted. “Together, we’re reaching for the stars!”
The Artemis Accords reinforce and implement the 1967 agreement known as the Outer Space Treaty. They also reinforce the commitment by the U.S. and partner nations to the Registration Convention, the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, and others NASA and those with whom they work have supported.
Joining the U.S. in signing are Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
PPE shortages described
With the presidential election dominating news coverage, stories of medical supply shortages for health workers on the front lines have faded from the headlines. This week, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg held a virtual conference with Pinellas County health care workers to discuss these challenges and others that still exist in some places.
The workers voiced specific concerns about the handling of the pandemic including staffing and personal protective equipment (PPE), lack of tests, and the mental toll it is taking on them.
For example, Denise Belville, President of the Home Care Association of Florida, said the home health care community has been overlooked for receiving testing equipment. She noted that home care organizations did not receive any of the 400,000 tests the federal government is providing the state per week.
Crist also heard from Dr. Larry Feinman, chief medical officer for HCA hospitals in West Florida. He said if “we let our guard down, we are gonna see a very strong second wave.”
After listening to the stories and views from participants, Crist shared the foundation for why he organized it.
“My father, who was a family doctor here for 55 years, used to tell my three sisters and me that God gave you two ears and one mouth,” Crist said. “And it’s important to respect this ratio and listen as much as you talk, and I try to do that.”
Crist recently looked toward the day when a vaccine is approved and ready for distribution. On October 9, he introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution and Production Act which would expedite the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.
SCOTUS ends Census
A legal battle over when the canvassing for the 2020 Census should end. After a federal judge prevented the Commerce Department from ending the counting on September 30 and ordered another month of knocking on doors, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to step in, who has ordered the counting to stop on October 15.
Those advocating a longer count spoke of “irreversible” harm to the mission of getting an accurate count, leading to cities and states receiving less federal funding than they deserve and affecting the allocation of congressional districts in 2022.
“I am disappointed by U.S. Supreme Court’s abrupt order halting #Census2020 count,” tweeted Soto, a consistent advocate for the Census. “It needs to be extended to 10/31 as originally planned. Only positive news is that all 3 of our counties already posted better 2020 response rates than in 2010.”
The Commerce Department cited a statutory requirement to submit their completed work by December 31 as the reason to end the counting, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, citing the harms from an inaccurate census as “avoidable and intolerable.” She was the only justice among the eight participating who offered a dissent.
Scenic river highlighted
Florida is well known for its environmental treasures of beaches, lakes, parks, rivers and others with some receiving national protection. Rep. Vern Buchanan seeks a special designation for a water body in his district.
Earlier this week he introduced legislation that would establish a federal designation for the Little Manatee River as a “Wild and Scenic River.” If approved the river would become part of the National Parks System’s Wild and Scenic River program.
“Protecting our precious natural resources should always be a top priority,” the Longboat Key Republican said in a news release. “Our region is blessed with many natural treasures including Sarasota Bay, Emerson Point Preserve and Myakka River State Park. Designating the Little Manatee River will ensure that it is kept in its current pristine condition for generations to come.”
The Little Manatee River, which Buchanan describes as one of the most pristine blackwater rivers in the state, begins in southeastern Hillsborough County and flows downstream into Tampa Bay and through Little Manatee River State Park.
If it receives the designation, the river will join the Loxahatchee River and the Wekiva River as the only rivers in Florida currently recognized under the federal program. It is also recognized at the state level as an ‘Outstanding Florida Water’ and is one of the most pristine blackwater rivers in the state.
Statute of limitations
More than 20 years ago, Air Force trainee Harmony Allen was raped and beaten by an instructor. It took more than 17 years to bring him to justice, but he was released after just two years on a technicality described as a military statute of limitations.
Allen’s Congressman, Palm City Republican Brian Mast, has introduced legislation to address the loophole. Harmony’s Law would close the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault in the military before 2006.
“Despite Congress intending that there is no statute of limitations for rape in the military, the court applied a 5-year statute of limitations,” Mast said upon introducing his bill. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
The bill has 28 co-sponsors, including 13 bipartisan members of the delegation. Time is running out for the bill to move forward. If not passed during the remaining few months of this Congress, it will need to be resubmitted in 2021.
“Those that have committed these crimes are not going to be set free on the technicality of a falsely created statute of limitations by a court that was not meant to create law,” Mast told CNN.
Breast cancer coverage
Each year tens of thousands of Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Many require breast reconstruction, prompting new legislation during Breast Cancer Awareness Month designed to ensure health care benefits exist for survivors.
Hastings has introduced what he titles as the Comprehensive Breast Reconstructive Act. The bill, co-sponsored by Buchanan and Wasserman Schultz, would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to work with states to ensure full coverage of post-mastectomy breast reconstruction procedures.
“Breast cancer diagnosis has been on the rise each year,” Hastings said in a joint news release. “With increased cases and the number of those who seek reconstruction surgery, this legislation will be vital in their recovery and relief from a life-altering illness. I am proud to have my colleagues join me in supporting a critically important bill to help breast cancer survivors.”
The Comprehensive Breast Reconstructive Act amends the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 (WHCRA) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It provides for health coverage of nipple-areolar complex tattooing in connection with reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy.
“Restoring a breast-cancer patient physically and mentally is critical to the healing process,” said Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor. “I’m proud to join with my colleagues Congressmen Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan to introduce legislation to ensure nipple-areolar tattooing, a medically necessary surgery, will become accessible to the thousands of Americans fighting breast cancer.”
The legislation also amends titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act to extend the coverage of certain breast reconstructive services following mastectomy under the Medicare and Medicaid programs and adds licensed tattoo artists to the list of Medicare providers.
“Breast cancer is a very serious issue with nearly one in eight women developing breast cancer during their lifetime,” Buchanan said. “I am glad to join with my Florida colleagues Reps. Alcee Hastings and Debbie Wasserman Schultz to introduce legislation to ease the recovery of women going through comprehensive reconstructive surgery.”
Biden in Broward
Biden was also in the state this week for two get-out-the-vote events in Broward County. Biden campaign events, in stark contrast to Trump rallies, limited attendees to 10 people at one event while a later event featured 100 cars in a drive-thru rally.
Wasserman Schultz was among those participating. She focused on Trump’s recent executive orders funding unemployment benefits from a source of Social Security funding.
“Our seniors rely on #SocialSecurity, but Trump’s executive orders would endanger its stability,” she tweeted. “@JoeBiden is committed to ensuring seniors get the benefits they’ve earned and making sure the next generation can count on it.”
Trump is making another play for revving up his voters in Florida when he returns to the state on Friday for another rally in Ocala.
Human rights champions?
This week, another move by the United Nations raised eyebrows. Added to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council were the nations of China, Russia and Cuba. American diplomats expressed outrage and described the additions as a “mockery.”
Rep. Shalala was most interested in the inclusion of Cuba. The first-term Democrat from Coral Gables represents the area of Miami that includes Little Havana.
“Today, the United Nations elected Cuba to the Human Rights Council,” she tweeted. “This is a grave error. The Castro regime has never stopped being oppressive and authoritarian. It is undeserving of a seat on the council.”
All three countries have a history of authoritarianism but were still able to gain enough votes for inclusion on the council. Also seeking a spot, but not able to win enough support, was Saudi Arabia, who has a checkered past with human rights as well.
The U.S. withdrew from the council in 2018 citing the council’s history of admitting known human rights abusers. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week’s controversial action serves to only “further validate the U.S. decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.”
On this day
October 16, 1986 — Less than three weeks from Election Day, Democrats are within reach of regaining control of the U.S. Senate they lost in 1980. Republicans hold a 53-47 edge, but polls show several Democratic challengers have victory within their grasp.
Among those is Gov. Bob Graham, who has an 11-point lead over Sen. Paula Hawkins. Two surprises include Democratic Rep. Harry Reid leading by nine points in Nevada, while North Dakota Tax Commissioner Kent Conrad is running even with Republican Sen. Mark Andrews.
October 16, 2013 — After 16 days of acrimonious finger-pointing, the partial government shutdown is over. The Senate voted 81-18 to approve the deal hours before the government was scheduled to go into default. President Barack Obama said he would sign it immediately.
Rubio was among the Senators not supporting the deal. In a statement, he said: “It postpones any significant action on pro-growth and spending reforms and does nothing to provide working-class Americans even one shred of relief from Obamacare’s harmful effects.”