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Primaries Breakdown: Biden Sweeps, Mail-In Ballot Concerns, and How the Coronavirus Impacted Voter Turnout

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  • Joe Biden had another strong showing in Tuesday’s primaries, securing wins in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona.
  • The election represented the first contest since the coronavirus pandemic escalated significantly in the U.S. last week, prompting officials to encourage more stringent measures for social gathering.
  • While in-person voter turnout was low in all three primaries, turnout in general was higher in Florida and Arizona, driven by mail-in ballots and early voting.
  • As the spread of the coronavirus continues to grow in America, election officials are encouraging more people to vote by mail, despite the fact that many states have laws that make it difficult to do so.

Biden Sweeps, Yet Again

Former Vice President Joe Biden swept up more wins in a set of primary elections Tuesday, taking home major victories in all three of the states holding contests— Florida, Illinois, and Arizona.

With the number of states left to vote slowly dwindling, Biden continued to expand his delegate lead, winning each state by double digits. Biden won by the largest margin in Florida, receiving 61.9% of the vote, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won 22.8%.

In Illinois, Biden handily beat Sanders by more than 20%. The former vice president also currently leads by over 10% in Arizona, where 88% of precincts are reporting and the election has already been declared for him.

Although Biden was predicted to win all three states, Tuesday’s returns bring up more questions about Sanders’ future in this race. With Biden further solidifying his lead, it seems like it is only a matter of time for Sanders’ campaign.

In a statement Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for Sanders said that the senator was going to “assess” his campaign moving forward.

Coronavirus Impact 

Tuesday’s contents also marked the first primaries held since the coronavirus pandemic significantly escalated in the U.S. last week, prompting government officials to implement and recommend more stringent measures.

Despite calls from President Donald Trump to prevent gatherings of more than 10 people, the three states went ahead with their elections anyway.

Ohio, however, which was also supposed to have its primary Tuesday, postponed the election at the last minute after a confusing legal back-and-forth. 

The decisions to still hold primaries in the other three states, and specifically to have in-person voting, made many people upset.

Some called for the elections to be postponed and said it is unsafe to encourage people to gather. Others argued that holding elections during a pandemic amounted to voter suppression.

Meanwhile, election officials told voters that they will be taking extra precautions, disinfecting voting machines and other equipment in addition to providing hand sanitizer, wipes, and similar products to voters.

Officials also encouraged voters to cast their ballots by mail or vote early, and in some places, they moved polling precincts originally located high-risk areas, like assisted living facilities.

With the decision to go forward with the primaries, the big question was how the pandemic would affect voter turnout, and if that could be offset by people who vote early or by mail.

Final results from all three states now show that while in-person voter turnout was low across the board, in both Florida and Arizona overall turnout was actually higher than in 2016. That was mostly driven by early voting and mail-in ballots.

Very notably, in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and about half of the state’s registered Democrats, in-person turnout was also higher than 2016, despite the fact that officials closed around 80 polling stations in the area.

Illinois, however, had a lower turn out on all fronts. In Cook County, which includes Chicago and composes about half of the ballots cast in Democratic primaries, turnout was down more than 200,000 votes from 2016.

That was not Illinois’ only problem. According to reports, there were a number of precincts that canceled with little or almost no notice. One Chicago election spokesperson said they had to relocate about 50 polling places at the last minute.

In some places, those who did cast their ballots in-person complained of waiting hours in long lines and cramped conditions where they could not social distance. Others also reported that some precincts did not have proper cleaning supplies or sanitizers. 

Mail-In Ballots

In Illinois, last-minute efforts to move voting centers out of nursing homes— where many residents vote— meant it was too late for those individuals to apply for mail-in ballots. At the same time, public-health protocols encouraging older people not to be in crowds made it hard for them to go vote in person.

This raised an important issue with mail-in ballots. While election officials all over the country are encouraging people to vote by mail amid the growing pandemic, it is problematized by the fact that many states have strict vote-by-mail laws.

Some states require people to apply ahead of time, like in Illinois. Others have narrow restrictions on who can vote by mail, like New York, which only lets people cast absentee ballots for six very specific reasons— none of which include a public health emergency.

As a result, there has been a renewed call to overhaul the vote-by-mail system— but there are a lot of hurdles. 

“Rolling something as complex as this out at large-scale introduces thousands of small problems — some of which are security problems, some of which are reliability problems, some of which are resource-management problems — that only become apparent when you do it,” said Matt Blaze, an election security expert and computer science professor at Georgetown Law School.

However, proponents argue that it may be the only solution for now. 

See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Politico)

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Jan. 6 Rally Organizers Say They Met With Members of Congress and White House Officials Ahead of Insurrection

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Two sources told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of meetings with “multiple members of Congress” and top White House aides to plan the rallies that proceeded the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Rolling Stone Report

Members of Congress and White House Staffers under former President Donald Trump allegedly helped plan the Jan. 6 protests that took place outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of the insurrection, according to two sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.

According to a report the outlet published Sunday, the two people, identified only as “a rally organizer” and “a planner,” have both “begun communicating with congressional investigators.”

The two told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of planning briefings ahead of the protests and said that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”

“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically,” the person identified as a rally organizer said. “I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”

The two also told Rolling Stone that a number of other Congress members were either personally involved in the conversations or had staffers join, including Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Az.), Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), Mo Brooks (R-Al.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Az.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.).

The outlet added that it “separately obtained documentary evidence that both sources were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6,” though it did not go into further detail. 

A spokesperson for Greene has denied involvement with planning the protests, but so far, no other members have responded to the report. 

Previous Allegations Against Congressmembers Named

This is not the first time allegations have surfaced concerning the involvement of some of the aforementioned congress members regarding rallies that took place ahead of the riot.

As Rolling Stone noted, Gosar, Greene, and Boebert were all listed as speakers at the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which was arranged by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.

Additionally, Alexander said during a now-deleted live stream in January that he personally planned the rally with the help of Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.

Biggs and Brooks previously denied any involvement in planning the event, though Brooks did speak at a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6.

Gosar, for his part, has remained quiet for months but tagged Alexander in numerous tweets involving Stop the Steal events leading up to Jan. 6, including one post that appears to be taken at a rally at the Capitol hours before the insurrection.

Notably, the organizer and the planner also told Rolling Stone that Gosar “dangled the possibility of a ‘blanket pardon’ in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests.”

Alleged White House Involvement

Beyond members of Congress, the outlet reported that the sources “also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”

Both reportedly described Meadows “as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests.”

The two additionally said Katrina Pierson, who worked for the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020, was a key liaison between the organizers of the demonstrations and the White House.

“Katrina was like our go-to girl,” the organizer told the outlet. “She was like our primary advocate.”

According to Rolling Stone, the sources have so far only had informal talks with the House committee investigating the insurrection but are expecting to testify publicly. Both reportedly said they would share “new details about the members’ specific roles” in planning the rallies with congressional investigators.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Business Insider) (Forbes)

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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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