- Candidates for two special elections in the Georgia Senate runoffs participated in separate televised debates on Sunday, though incumbent David Perdue (R) refused to attend his debate against challenger Jon Ossoff (D).
- In the other debate, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) and Democratic Reverend Raphael Warnock (D) attempted to cast each other as radical and out of touch with Georgian voters.
- Notably, Loeffler refused multiple times to answer a question about whether or not she believed the election was rigged, a claim President Donald Trump has repeatedly made despite his arguments consistently being struck down in court.
- Likewise, Warnock did not answer questions regarding how much he believes a second coronavirus stimulus package should total or if Democrats should add additional justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, should they win the Senate.
Ossoff Debates Alone
One candidate debated alone onstage Sunday in a precursor to a special Senate election that will ultimately decide which political party controls the chamber for the next two years. Meanwhile, in another debate connected to that same election, two other Senate candidates tried to paint each other as radical and out of touch with voters.
The lone candidate onstage was Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is challenging incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue in Georgia. During that debate, Ossoff called Perdue a “coward” because last month, Perdue announced that he would not appear at Sunday’s debate.
“My message for the people of our state, at this moment of crisis, is your senator feels entitled to your vote,” Ossoff said. “Your senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent because he believes he shouldn’t have to.”
While Perdue’s staff has said he wants to focus on meeting with voters instead debating Ossoff, not showing up also means that Perdue wasn’t challenged on a number of topics — including the pandemic, his refusal to admit that President Donald Trump lost the Presidential Election, and a scandal involving accusations of insider trading.
Loeffler Won’t Say if Election Was Rigged
In the other debate, both candidates — Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Reverend Raphael Warnock — appeared. Notably, they are campaigning for Georgia’s other Senate seat.
Easily one of the biggest takeaways from the night came with the first question when moderator Greg Bluestein asked Loeffler to explicitly state whether or not she believes, like President Donald Trump, that the 2202 Election was rigged. Additionally, Bluestein asked if she supports Trump’s demand that Governor Brian Kemp (R) call a special election to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.
Notably, that win was democratically decided by the people of Georgia. It’s also a win that has already been confirmed twice and is in the process of being confirmed again, per a recount request from the Trump campaign.
For the past month, the Trump campaign has filed dozens of lawsuits in multiple states alleging voter fraud. Despite this, those claims have been overwhelmingly dismissed by judges — even ones appointed by Trump himself — as baseless.
Instead of denying the claim that the election was rigged, when asked, Loeffler dodged the question.
“Look, it’s vitally important that Georgians trust our election process, and the president has every right to every legal recourse and that’s what’s taking place,” she said. “But I’ve called for investigations and now, there’s 250 investigations open here in Georgia.”
“Senator, do you believe the election was rigged?” Bluestein followed up.
“It’s very clear that there were issues in this election,” Loeffler responded. “There are 250 investigations open, including an investigation into one of my opponent’s organizations for voter fraud. And we have to make sure that Georgians trust this process because of what’s at stake in this election. The promise that Chuck Schumer made was to fundamentally change America and I’m making sure that we don’t go down the road of socialism.”
Loeffler then went on to dodge the question three more times over the course of the debate.
Last week, Attorney General Bill Barr, who had previously supported Trump’s calls for an investigation into voter fraud, told the Associated Press that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
On Sunday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said that while 250 investigations are underway in the state, his office has found no evidence of “systemic fraud” that could change the election results. In fact, Raffensperger has repeatedly denied such claims while also saying that, as a conservative Republican, he had wanted Trump to win.
On Saturday, at a rally in Georgia, Trump continued to spurt baseless fraud claims and call on Kemp to overturn the results; however, on Sunday, Kemp affirmed that he would not call a special session and that Georgia’s election results will stand.
While it’s very striking that Loeffler won’t outright admit Trump’s loss, it’s not exactly shocking. Much of the Republican base is also the super-charged Trump base. Even ardent supporters of the president like Barr have faced criticism from conservative media, which blasted him as part of the “deep state” after he contradicted the president.
Thus, how many votes could Loeffler have compromised had she said the opposite of Trump? How many votes from moderate Republicans would she have compromised if she openly went along with Trump?
Warnock Won’t Answer Questions on Stimulus Cost or SCOTUS
Among other unanswered questions, after moderators asked Warnock how much money Congress should siphon into a second stimulus package, Warnock refused to give a specific number. Instead, he answered more generally, stressing the need for that package to support small businesses, essential workers, and infrastructure and green energy.
“Can you give me a number?” moderator Russ Spencer followed up.
“Look, I think that we should at least make sure that whatever we do, workers are at the center of that relief,” Warnock said.
Bluestein later asked Warnock if he supports calls to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court. That idea has been pushed by some Democrats following Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation by Senate Republicans on Oct. 26 — a week before the 2020 Elections. In 2016, Senate Republicans argued against starting the confirmation process for Obama-appointed judge Merrick Garland because it was an election year.
“As I move all across the state, Greg, people aren’t asking me about the courts and whether we should expand the courts,” Warnock said. “I know that’s an interesting question for people inside the beltway to discuss, they’re wondering when in the world are they going to get some COVID-19 relief?”
“But it will impact people on the ground, so I am wondering if you can answer the question, do you support expanding the Supreme Court?” Bluestein pressed.
“I’m really not focused on it,” Warnock said before shifting the subject back to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other Key Highlights
Among other key highlights, both Loeffler and Warnock said they would take a coronavirus vaccine supported by health experts. Both also said they’ll encourage others to also take that vaccine.
The concern that a large number of Americans might be hesitant to take the vaccine has been around since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s persisted, in part, because vaccine development has been so rapid. At the moment, top vaccine candidates, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, appear to be safe; however, the FDA has not yet confirmed them for emergency-use.
Despite answering similarly to this one question, much of the debate was Loeffler and Warnock trying to paint the other as out of touch voters.
Several times throughout the night, Loeffler called Warnock a socialist and referred to him as a “radical liberal,” but Warnock affirmed that he believes in“our free enterprise system,” meaning capitalism.
Loeffler accused Warnock of wanting to defund the police, which Warnock denied.
“I don’t think we should defund the police but we certainly do need criminal justice reform,” he said.
“We need to make sure that we have an independent review process when civilians die at the hands of police. We need to make sure that police officers and departments that have a pattern of misconduct are held accountable. We can do that and celebrate police at the same time.”
Warnock attacked Loeffler’s record by repeatedly accusing her of using a private coronavirus briefing in January to engage in insider trading in the stock market. While that investigation has been the subject of high-level scrutiny, a Senate Ethics Committee investigation found no evidence that she had violated rules.
Like Loeffler, Warnock also trying to paint Loeffler as radical, saying she “welcomed the support of a QAnon conspiracy theorist,” that being Representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R).
Last month, Loeffler denied attachment to the conspiracy theory, saying, “Look, I don’t know anything about QAnon.”
The elections for both of these seats are going to take place on Jan. 5. Monday is the last day to register to vote both online and through mail.
There is no Election Day registration in Georgia.
From there, early voting will begin next Monday. It will continue until Jan. 1. That is the same day as the deadline to request an absentee ballot. That ballot must also be received, by mail or in person, no later than Jan. 5 at 7 p.m.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (The Hill)
Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants
A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.
A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face
After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.
It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.
According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.
On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”
“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”
Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”
Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.
Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.
He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla
Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.
She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.
Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.
Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.
The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.
Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.
It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.
DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.
Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.
Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)
Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration
Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.
The Pandemic’s End
“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.
“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.
The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.
“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.
“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.
Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.
“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”
To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question
Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.
The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”
The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.
The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.
New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.
In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio
In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.
The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol
In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.
Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.
Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”
But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.
“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.
When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.
“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”
Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”
When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.
The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.
“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”
He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”
Trump Warms to QAnon
QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.
The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.
He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.
When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.
In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.
In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.
Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”