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Preview: Photos: America votes | Road to 270 | Report voting issues
Preview: • With Barrett seated, GOP pushes for SCOTUS hearing of Pennsylvania voting case • Analysis: Barrett could transform law in America for a generation
Preview: CNN's Daniel Dale fact-checks claims President Trump made during a rally in Michigan about a range of topics from manufacturing job growth to Joe Biden.
Preview: Just after sunup on a Saturday morning, when most college students are still sound asleep, sophomore Libby Klinger stands outside her dorm waiting to be picked up.
Preview: Earlier this year, Gabrielle Perry went on one of the best dates she'd ever had.
Preview: CNN legal analyst Elie Honig looks at the various legal battles Trump could face if he loses the presidential election, and how his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could impact the Affordable Care Act if she is confirmed by the Senate.
Preview: • Watch: Can Joe Biden cause an upset in this red state? • Fact check: Trump falsely claims Pennsylvanians 'can't go to church'
Preview: • The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip, one week from Election Day • Biden is closing his campaign as he began it by telling voters 'soul of the nation' is at stake
Preview: In the months leading up to his sentencing Tuesday for crimes tied to a group called Nxivm, its founder, Keith Raniere, has been "unrepentant" and has -- from behind bars -- directed efforts to "cast himself as a victim" of persecution, federal prosecutors say.
Preview: These three charts show Trump and Biden's favorite TV shows for campaign ads CNN Is Joe Biden Toast If He Loses Pennsylvania? FiveThirtyEight Road to 270: John King breaks down latest numbers a week before Election Day CNN Don't believe the polls — Trump is winning | TheHill The Hill My 'suburban mom' demographic is supposedly all in for Biden. But I'm voting for Trump. USA TODAY View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Firefighters hope for a break in the wind as 2 wildfires burn in California's Orange County as 90,000 remain evacuated USA TODAY Orange County besieged with blazes; Northern California largely spared CALmatters Southern California wildfire forces 60000 to evacuate CBS Evening News Santana: Did Faulty Power Equipment Drive 90000 Orange County Residents from Their Homes? Voice of OC 2 fires burning in Southern California as red flag warnings stretch throughout West Coast ABC News View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: E. Jean Carroll Suit Against Trump To Proceed After Judge Rules Against DOJ NPR Judge denies DOJ effort to end E. Jean Carroll defamation suit against Trump CNN Justice Dept. Blocked in Bid to Shield Trump From Rape Defamation Suit The New York Times Judge blocks DOJ from defending Trump in lawsuit over rape allegation | TheHill The Hill Judge rejects Justice Dept. bid to short-circuit defamation case brought by woman who accused Trump of rape The Washington Post View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Democrats Are Poised to Expand House Majority in GOP Turf The New York Times The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip, one week from Election Day CNN Control Of Redistricting Is Up For Grabs In 2020. Here Are The Races To Watch. FiveThirtyEight Republicans are on the verge of a spectacular upside-down achievement The Week African Americans need to reclaim their political power in the election | TheHill The Hill View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Philadelphia police say two cops each fired seven times at Walter Wallace Jr Daily Mail Philadelphia police arrest 91 people during violent riots after shooting of armed Black man; 30 cops hurt Fox News Philadelphia police, again, incapable of treating Black men as anything but a threat | Helen Ubiñas The Philadelphia Inquirer Philly Police shoot and kill man after yelling at him to drop knife The Philadelphia Tribune Philadelphia Leaders Urge Pubic to Vote After Police Shoot and Kill Black Man Bloomberg QuickTake: Now View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: More than 67 million Americans have voted with one week until Election Day CNBC 'Can I change my vote' trends on Google: What you need to know Fox News RI will start releasing mail ballot results on election night WPRI If Pennsylvania Republicans do the right thing, they might avert an Election Day disaster The Washington Post Why not make Election Day a national holiday? CBS News View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Pennsylvania health officials report 2,751 new COVID-19 cases, highest 1-day total WPVI-TV Orange County Reports 152 New COVID-19 Cases, No Fatalities CBS Los Angeles 855 new COVID-19 cases in Montana NBC Montana Dallas County, Tarrant County both report 498 new cases; three new deaths reported across eight-county area The Dallas Morning News Pa. hits COVID-19 high with 2,751 new cases reported, approaches 200,000 overall PennLive View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett sworn in and greeted with a request to recuse herself in an election case CNN Democrats say Republicans will regret Barrett confirmation, slam 'manipulation' of Supreme Court Fox News Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment is a wake-up call for female voters The Guardian Amy Coney Barrett and the Republican Party's Supreme Court The New York Times The Barret vote was hypocritical. But there's a silver lining Los Angeles Times View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Maine school bans teachers from saying controversial phrases like 'Black Lives Matter' WGME Scarborough superintendent apologizes for letter that triggered student protest Press Herald Illinois city to discuss proposed Black Lives Matter streetscape mural KTVI Fox 2 St. Louis After key victories, Maine 'Black POWER' group hints at what's to come Bangor Daily News Election officials apologize for removing voters wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ gear WSB Atlanta View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: Lesley Stahl gets death threat over Trump interview: report New York Daily News President Donald Trump: The 60 Minutes 2020 Election Interview 60 Minutes Scarborough: Putin more likely to take tough question than Trump | TheHill The Hill How President Trump's surprise gift to '60 Minutes' completely backfired CNN The 60 Minutes interview that President Trump cut short CBS News View Full Coverage on Google News
Preview: The former president ripped Trump's son-in-law at a rally for Joe Biden: "His son-in-law says Black folks have to want to be successful."
Preview: “This is how the 1% look at minorities,” wrote Rep. Ruben Gallego, who blasted Kushner for suggesting Black Americans don't work hard enough.
Preview: The cases, involving three men, appear linked to threats against Alicia Garza, a Black Lives Matter movement co-founder.
Preview: The pope has courted some criticism for declining to wear a mask when indoors, even though Vatican regulations call for masks indoors and out when social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
Preview: The former president stumped for Joe Biden in Florida, which is anyone's game as the 2020 election draws to an end.
Preview: The same brown-haired woman appears in political attack ads in Maine, Kansas and Iowa.
Preview: Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 17 points with voters over 65. But his margin is only half of that against Joe Biden, according to recent polls.
Preview: The couple have been dating since 2015 after meeting on the NBC series "The Voice."
Preview: The virus is getting worse in states that the incumbent president needs to win the most as the region is raging with new infections.
Preview: Darnella Frazier will be honored in December bythe literary and human rights organization.
Preview: Rachel Maddow shares her assessment of mood and energy of Democrats who want to counter the distortions Mitch McConnell has brought to the federal court system under Donald Trump.
Preview: The Morning Joe panel looks at new polling and the strategy for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and John Heilemann concludes Trump is in a 'state of panic'.
Preview: What the GOP has done cannot be undone—but not just swearing in a new Justice. “They have participated in a project that has led to the deaths of probably 100,000 Americans who didn't have to die. Congratulations, you got that done, too. That also can't be reversed,” says Chris Hayes.
Preview: Many of the early voters we’ve seen are first time voters. And in key battleground states, newly registered Democrats are outnumbering newly registered Republicans.
Preview: Speaker Pelosi reacts to the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court: “It’s very sad because it’s the undoing of the system of checks and balances.”
Preview: Nelini Stamp, campaign director for Election Defenders, talks with Rachel Maddow about the group's new "Joy to the Polls" campaign to bolster the morale of voters stuck in long lines at polling locations.
Preview: How does Trump try to make something false true? Repetition, repetition, repetition. Ashley Parker explains.
Preview: A little more than a week out from Election Day, Trump's niece Mary Trump joins MSNBC’s Ari Melber to discuss a new Axios report claiming Trump has what amounts to a political "hit list" and wants to remove the FBI director, CIA director and Defense Secretary after the election for refusing to use their powers to go after his “political enemies.” She provides insight into Trump’s mindset and asserts Americans “should be very worried” Trump’s efforts to dismantle American democracy
Preview: Biden is ahead in polls, early voting and cash on hand a week from Election Day. So why does everything feel so anxious and chaotic?
Preview: Voting in the U.S. is inherently difficult. But you need to do it anyway.
Preview: The best way to tell which states President Trump and Joe Biden think are in play is to track their campaign travel. Here’s the latest.
Preview: The administration is imposing new limits on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would undercut action against global warming.
Preview: Clearly relishing the chance to strike back at his successor, the former president has been willing to throw punches on behalf of Joe Biden’s unity-focused campaign.
Preview: Joe Biden has a six-point advantage in the latest New York Times/Siena College poll of Nevada, where unemployment has soared amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Preview: The legislature in this battleground state could flip to Democratic control, a prospect that is bringing out lower-income voters who stayed home in 2016.
Preview: The two presidents drove out 10,000 Cuban doctors and nurses. They defunded the region’s leading health agency. They wrongly pushed hydroxychloroquine as a cure.
Preview: The company signaled that its clinical trial is progressing slower than it had estimated. Russia mandated masks nationwide. Here’s the latest.
Preview: With state and city government support, developers are building laboratories for medical research and incubator spaces for biotech start-ups amid the race for a coronavirus vaccine.
Preview: With few avenues for spending and big purchases on hold, many Americans are saving more and paying off debts, helped by loan deferrals and relief aid.
Preview: Government data on Thursday will show a record-setting rebound in economic output. But the numbers are misleading.
Preview: Just in time for the election, USPS’ problems are back.
Preview: Kavanaugh’s opinion was stunningly sloppy and riddled with false claims.
Preview: The leader of the movement that brought down Milosevic on what Americans might need to prepare for.
Preview: This is what a power grab looks like.
Preview: It seems to be the opposite of what the experts say.
Preview: A simpler time.
Preview: A study of Jewish children split from their families during the Holocaust suggests that separation’s damage is deep and long-lasting.
Preview: An immigrant and first-time voter explains what drove her to the naturalization ceremony, and the polls.
Preview: The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google will face Congress on Wednesday in a hearing about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Preview: The delay could have genuine consequences for the election.
Preview: Bangladeshi Muslims denounce French President Emmanuel Macron for his remarks defending the right to display cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, on October 27, 2020. | Mushfiqul Alam/NurPhoto via Getty Images From Saudi Arabia to Bangladesh, thousands want a boycott of French products. Thousands of Muslims from the Middle East to Asia are protesting the French government and boycotting French products after President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to display cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed — considered a major taboo by many Muslims. From Saudi Arabia to Bangladesh, Iran to Morocco, countries are showing their displeasure at how France is treating its Muslims. It threatens to drive a wider rift between the Western European nation and much of the broader Muslim world. Earlier this month, secondary school teacher Samuel Paty brought scrutiny when, as part of a lesson on freedom of expression, he showed his students two caricatures of Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — the same images that in 2015 inspired jihadists to kill 11 staff members at the magazine and six others in Paris. Parents and teachers at the school said Paty gave his Muslim pupils the opportunity to leave the classroom or look away so as not to offend them, but an outcry ensued nonetheless. On October 16, an attacker beheaded Paty with a butcher knife as the teacher made his way home. Police found a Twitter account suspected of belonging to the assailant that featured a picture of the severed head along with a message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.” In response, Macron’s government has turned Paty into a freedom-of-expression hero. At a national memorial for the slain teacher last week, Macron said France “will continue the fight for freedom” and “intensify” efforts to end Islamist extremism in the country. Part of that campaign is to create an “Islam of France,” as the president has put it for years, that aims to seamlessly integrate Muslims into French society. Macron says extremists are impeding that integration, and his government has begun carrying out raids, deportations, and ordering the dissolution of certain Islamic groups. One of them aimed to fight Islamophobia in France and another was a humanitarian organization that does work in Africa and South Asia. Authorities also didn’t stop images of the cartoons from being projected onto French government buildings during the national remembrance. France’s interior minister, Gérard Darmanin, told local paper Libération on Monday that such measures were aimed at “sending a message,” adding, “We are seeking to fight an ideology, not a religion.” Yet to thousands of Muslims worldwide, fighting a religion is exactly what it seems like the French government is doing. And they’re speaking out against it. From boycotted yogurt to canceled “French week” We will not give in, ever. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values. — Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 25, 2020 On Tuesday, 40,000 people rallied in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, against Macron’s efforts, and even burned him in effigy. That followed less aggressive acts in other countries, with Turkey, Tunisia, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and more calling to boycott French products and grocery stores. In Kuwait, for example, they’ve already started pulling items like French yogurt and sparkling water off the shelves. Qatar University even canceled its “French week” as part of the anti-Macron movement. Kuwait started who’s next #إلا_رسول_الله#Koweit #kuwait pic.twitter.com/0t7wEE5DRq — عـبداللـه العويهان (@a_alowaihan1) October 24, 2020 #Tunisians launch the #BoycottFrenchProducts campaign in response to attacks on #Islam and #prophetMuhammed in #France.#تونس #قاطعوا_المنتجات_الفرنسية #إلا_رسول_الله #فرنسا pic.twitter.com/AKRsI28y9A — Mourad TEYEB (مــراد التـائـب) (@MouradTeyeb) October 23, 2020 It’s unclear what precisely instigated the protests. H.A. Hellyer, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, said it was likely a combination of factors, namely Macron’s defense of the cartoons and the crackdown on Islamic organizations. “A lot of people are quite aware of that outside of France, and it contradicts the claim that the French authorities are only going after extremists,” he said. The global reaction by Muslims is similar to what happened after a far-right Danish newspaper published cartoons titled “The Face of Muhammad” in 2005. Even though no image directly portrayed the prophet, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest. Some demonstrators responded violently, and 250 people were killed and another 800 were injured. But the main action was for the public in Muslim-majority countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Libya — to boycott Danish goods and companies. The message was clear then as it is now: If a country allows such cartoons to be published, it will take a major economic hit. But that message hasn’t been fully received by the target countries, and experts believe the current uprising may eventually fizzle out just like the Danish one. “It’s going to be a blip,” said Shahed Amanullah, a former US State Department official who led outreach to Muslim communities around the world, “and the fundamental problems of what’s happening in France aren’t going to be addressed by the outside world.” There’s no prominent effort by French Muslims for a boycott at the moment, Amanullah continued, which means “when they subside, they’re going to be left holding the bag.” But some world leaders actually want the protests to continue — mainly because it benefits them politically. This is an opportunity for Muslim leaders to grab power The heads of Muslim-majority countries have stepped up their criticism of France since the Paty murder, and of Macron in particular. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday tweeted the French president’s actions and statements “inevitably leads to radicalisation.” The next day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went even further, saying in a televised addressed that French products should be boycotted since Muslims in France have been “subjected to a lynch campaign similar to that against Jews in Europe before World War II.” Hallmark of a leader is he unites human beings, as Mandela did, rather than dividing them. This is a time when Pres Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation & marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation — Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) October 25, 2020 (Other figures, like those leading Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, are also making similar comments to gin up anti-Western sentiment and show themselves to be defenders of Islam.) Why say such things if it might provoke further anger? Perhaps they truly believe it, but experts argue they’re making those comments out of pure self-interest. “I don’t think they’re instigating, necessarily, but they’re definitely utilizing [the moment] for their own benefit,” said Mobashra Tazamal, a researcher on Islamophobia. “These leaders often present themselves as defenders of Islam and Muslims and it pays off for them in terms of national support.” But, she noted, they’re more talk than action. “Both Khan and Erdoğan have failed to hold China accountable in its campaign of repression against Uighur Muslims,” she said, “even as Chinese authorities destroy mosques, criminalize the observance of Ramadan, and force Uighur Muslims in concentration camps to drink alcohol and eat pork.” Still, Macron is an easy target, and may be one for months to come. On October 2, two weeks before the Paty murder, Macron delivered an address detailing his views on the role of Islam in France’s secular society. “What we must attack is Islamist separatism,” he told the nation, saying extremists preyed upon desperate Muslims in desolate neighborhoods, basically creating anti-French enclaves by spreading their radical Islamic “ideology” and “project.” He also made some sweeping, incendiary generalizations, such as that “Islam is a religion that is in crisis today, all over the world.” Such language, experts say, particularly demonizes French Muslims. That not only gives the Khans and Erdoğans of the world fodder to attack Macron, but also the space to animate their publics when it most suits them, potentially stirring up even more trouble. They might win, in other words, but France’s Muslims may lose. “This will have lasting consequences, I think, in how French Muslims are problematized in France by the elite,” RUSI’s Hellyer said. “That’s troubling.” Macron’s two reason for continuing the crackdown on French Muslims Experts say Macron’s actions are driven by two factors. First, he is trying to garner some right-wing bona fides by taking a tougher stance against Islamic extremism ahead of his reelection fight 18 months from now. Second, he’s a true believer in France’s centuries-long values of freedom of speech and secularism. “We will not give in, ever,” he tweeted on Sunday. We will not give in, ever. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values. — Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 25, 2020 The problem with that is French Muslims may feel extremely targeted by what Macron’s government is doing. After all, Holocaust denial is criminalized, which means some forms of expression are outlawed in France. But when it comes to images of the prophet, Macron says that’s fair play. “French Muslims are asking for the same respect that France gives French Jews,” said Amanullah. “They want to feel like they’re equal French citizens, not second-class citizens.” Unsurprisingly, little of what Macron’s government has done has sat well with Muslims around the world — and they’re expressing their frustrations. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: Residents of Baltimore City line up to vote as early voting begins in the state of Maryland at Edmondson High School on October 26, 2020, in Baltimore, Maryland. | J. Countess/Getty Images Tuesday is the last day to safely mail your ballot. Here’s what to do if you missed the deadline. More than 67 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election, and if you’re not one of them: What are you waiting for? Whatever the reason, don’t wait any longer: Make a voting plan now. But just one week out from Election Day, your voting plan needs to be realistic. Specifically, you should now plan to vote in person or drop off your mail ballot, if you already have one. To put it another way: It’s now probably cutting it too close to send your ballot through the mail. The United States Postal Service recommends that “as a common-sense measure, you mail your complete ballot before Election Day, and at least one week prior to your state’s deadline.” Deadlines vary by state. Some states require ballots to be received or postmarked before Election Day (Louisiana, for example, must get your ballot by November 2). Others require that ballots be received by Election Day to be counted, including swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Some states require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day but have cutoffs on how late they can be received. For example, Pennsylvania requires a November 3 postmark, but those ballots have to arrive by November 6 or they won’t be counted. (You can look up your state’s information here.) So Tuesday really is the deadline. If you haven’t dropped your stamped ballot in the mailbox yet, it’s time to come up with a new plan. The good news is there is still plenty of time for that! If you have a mail ballot in hand, you should still have the option to drop it off with election officials, at a polling place, designated drop-off location, or drop box before or on Election Day. And if you hadn’t thought about voting until today, it’s time for you to figure out how you’ll vote in person, either early or on Election Day. If you still want to “vote by mail,” drop that ballot off Voting by mail doesn’t have to mean literally voting by mail. Most states offer some of drop-off option. Many states allow you to drop off your ballot at your local election office. At least 20 states will let voters drop off their mail ballots at their polling station on Election Day. And about 40 states are offering some sort of drop boxes where voters can return ballots, though it may depend on the county where you live. Only two states — Tennessee and Mississippi — don’t allow for the hand delivery of ballots. Kentucky doesn’t allow people to hand-deliver ballots but does have drop box locations. Missouri, for some reason, makes a distinction between absentee voters (those who have a valid excuse) and people who just prefer to vote by mail. Only absentee voters can hand-deliver ballots; mail voters must send through the mail. But as always, check the rules of your state, or call your local election officials, to find the best drop-off option. If you requested a mail ballot and haven’t received it, or if you have a mail ballot and haven’t turned it in yet, you can still vote in person. Many states, like Pennsylvania, require you to bring your mail ballot to the polling station and turn it in to poll workers. If you don’t have a ballot — you requested one but never got it, or you threw it out, or your dog chewed it up — that’s also okay. But, as in Pennsylvania, you may have to vote via provisional ballot, which will count as long as election officials can verify you didn’t already vote by mail. This is just a safeguard against people voting twice, which is illegal, despite what people are saying. A few states, such as New York, automatically let your in-person vote override your mail vote, but definitely check your state’s rules first. Other states, like Florida, ask that you bring in your ballot, but if you don’t have it, election officials will let only let you cast a ballot in person if they can verify you haven’t already submitted a vote by mail. Some states, like Michigan, may ask voters who don’t turn in their ballots to sign an affidavit canceling any mail ballot before they can vote. If you’ve sent in your ballot already, or are planning to drop it off as soon as you finish reading this, do sign up for ballot tracking, if it’s available where you live. Many other states let you track the progress of your ballot on a voter portal on a state or local election site. This will tell you whether election officials have received your ballot, and, in some cases, it will let you know whether it’s been rejected or accepted. If your ballot has been rejected, some states allow you to go through what’s called a “cure process,” and many other states have adopted procedures to cure ballots during the pandemic. This process allows voters to fix any mismatched or missing signatures, or other possible mistakes that might otherwise prevent their vote from being counted. In many places, election officials are supposed to contact voters directly, but if anything seems amiss with your mail-in vote, you can always call the election office yourself. Otherwise, plan to vote in person as soon as you can Voting in person is always an option for those who haven’t cast their ballots already. If possible, you should do it now, or as soon as you can, rather than waiting until Election Day on November 3. About 40 states offer some form of early in-person voting, and much of it is happening this week. The dates and times vary by state and county, so check them out here. Lines have been long in some places for early voting, but they could be far worse on Election Day, and if you for some reason can’t wait in line on November 3, you might miss your chance to vote at all. But if you can only vote in person on Election Day, then stick to that plan and do it! For those concerned about the Covid-19 risk of voting in person, public health officials say it’s relatively safe, and about as risky as going to the grocery store. You should still take precautions, though, like wearing a mask, trying to stay 6 feet apart from others while standing in line and inside the polling place, and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer once you’ve voted. If you’re still worried, check with your local election officials to see what kinds of precautions they’re taking at your local site. This is another reason to vote early, and to try to do it during off hours, when the polls might be less crowded. As Vox’s Dylan Scott reported, voting by mail may be the safest option from a public health perspective, “but whether it’s simply too late for you to vote by mail or you prefer to vote in person to eliminate the possibility of any mistakes in your ballot being processed, you can vote safely in person.” There is still plenty of time to cast your ballot. The United States could see unprecedented turnout this election, but that still requires everyone who’s eligible to get out and vote. So go and do it, now. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: Philadelphia police in riot gear form a line in front of protesters in West Philadelphia on October 26, 2020. | Michael-Vincent D’Anella-Mercanti Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, was fatally shot in front of his mother while reportedly experiencing a mental health crisis. Philadelphia is reeling after two police officers shot and killed a 27-year-old Black man named Walter Wallace Jr. on Monday afternoon. During the encounter, which was captured on video, both officers had their guns drawn as Wallace, who was reportedly experiencing a mental break, advanced toward the officers with a knife, though the knife is not visible in the video. By Monday night, West Philadelphia, the site of heated Black Lives Matter protests in late May and early June, had become grounds for hours of unrest over the police shooting. Community leaders are calling for the police department to release body camera footage of the incident as others question whether the city’s new system for responding to behavioral health crises was put into effect on Monday. Activists with groups like Reclaim Philadelphia have long demanded the defunding and dismantling of the Philadelphia Police Department, which they say has a police union contract that allows for the surveillance, harassment, displacement, and incarceration of Black and Latinx communities in the city. What we know about the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. According to a report from the Philadelphia Police Department, officers made their way to the 6100 block of Locust Street in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia after receiving a report about a man with a knife. A live video posted to Instagram on Monday afternoon by a bystander sitting close by in a car on the block shows what took place in the moments before officers fired their weapons. Wallace, first standing on the sidewalk, moves toward officers who are standing in the middle of the street. As Wallace advances toward them, the officers walk backward away from Wallace with their guns pointed toward him. Wallace pursues the officers to the other side of the street, in between parked cars and back into the street, for about 25 seconds. During this time, Wallace’s mother follows Wallace in an attempt to shield him and stop him from advancing toward the police. Other bystanders scream for both Wallace and the officers to stop. Officers can be heard yelling, “Back off, man!” and “Drop the weapon!” Another bystander, a young Black man, follows behind Wallace before officers scream, “Move! Move! Move!” to him as they prepare to use their weapons. Once Wallace is back in the street, each officer fires several rounds of shots; Wallace falls to the ground immediately. His mother and other bystanders run to his side, visibly angry with the police for shooting him. In the video, Wallace is seen standing several feet away from the officers when they shoot him. “I’m yelling, ‘Put down the gun, put down the gun,’ and everyone is saying, ‘Don’t shoot him, he’s gonna put [the knife] down, we know him,’” Maurice Holloway, a witness, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Why didn’t they use a Taser?” Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., told the publication. “His mother was trying to defuse the situation.” He added, “He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who spoke to the family Monday night, said the video of the incident “presents difficult questions that must be answered.” The two officers, whose names have not been released, were removed from street duty and the PPD’s Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit has launched an investigation into the shooting, which Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said will fully address residents’ questions about the fatal shooting. Both officers were wearing body cameras. Ahead of the unrest, Outlaw said she planned to join Kenney to meet with members of the community and members of Wallace’s family to “hear their concerns.” “While at the scene this evening, I heard and felt the anger of the community. Everyone involved will forever be impacted,” Outlaw said. The fatal shooting led to a night of unrest across West Philadelphia neighborhoods A large crowd assembled at the scene of the police killing Monday evening, with gatherers alleging excessive use of force on the part of the two officers. Protesters eventually moved to Malcolm X Park, where they chanted “Black Lives Matter” and Wallace’s name. At a nearby police station, protesters were met with police officers who were dressed in riot gear and formed lines with shields and barricades. A caravan of dozens of cars and protestors are driving up Walnut protesting the murder of Walter Wallace #Philadelphia #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/OxTwamfV0i — Sharmin Hossain (@sharminultra) October 27, 2020 Hundreds of people also traveled to West Philly’s 52nd Street commercial corridor where vandalism and looting ensued, creating a scene that mirrored the unrest that took place in West Philly after the police killing of George Floyd in May. According to police, at least 30 officers were injured in the protests, including from thrown bricks and rocks. One officer, who was run over by a black pickup truck in the early hours on Tuesday, was hospitalized and in stable condition with a broken leg later in the morning. Black Lives Matter protests in Philadelphia #WalterWallace #OTGWestPhilly pic.twitter.com/OsCqrqG9q5 — michael vincent (@mvddm) October 27, 2020 Black Lives Matter philly protests #WalterWallace #OTGWestPhilly pic.twitter.com/codpLRNSrs — michael vincent (@mvddm) October 27, 2020 As police attempted to control the crowd, violence broke out. In various videos online, officers could be seen beating protesters with batons. #OTGWestPhilly pic.twitter.com/j1a2MJr7JH — tarynnaundorff (@xxxtarynxx) October 27, 2020 In another video, a Black woman is pinned to the ground as one officer repeatedly punches her in the face, with several officers forming a blockade around the assault. City Council member Jamie Gauthier, who leads the district where Wallace was killed, demanded that the police department immediately release the body camera footage from both officers. “The public deserves a full, unvarnished accounting of what took place today,” Gauthier said. The killing took place about a week before the presidential election, when Philadelphians will vote on a ballot measure to determine whether the city will restore its police oversight commission. Critics have long argued that the commission, however, would have no real power over the police department, as commission recommendations were historically overlooked and ignored. The body was also underfunded, and investigations into police misconduct took years. Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia, is at the center of the presidential election, with some predicting the state could be the tipping point in determining who wins. Trump has seized on this reality by advocating for poll watchers in Philadelphia, and Donald Trump Jr. sensationalized the situation in the city on Tuesday morning, suggesting that people vote for Trump to avoid “more BLM riots in Pennsylvania.” For activists, Wallace’s death further underscores their calls to push for greater attention to victims of police violence who have mental health conditions, like Daniel Prude, who was fatally shot by police in Rochester, New York, on March 23 while experiencing a mental health crisis. Activists have demanded that resources be redirected from police officers to emergency response systems and experts who are actually equipped to address such situations. At the start of October, Philadelphia announced it had launched a program to flag 911 calls related to people experiencing a behavioral health crisis. It is unclear whether this initiative was in use on Monday. But as local PBS station WHYY points out, the police department has already trained nearly half of its officers in crisis response, and the department hopes to have a behavioral health specialist accompany officers on calls by the end of the year. “Had these officers employed de-escalation techniques and non-lethal weapons ... this young man might still have his life tonight. Had these officers valued the life of this Black man — had they treated him as a person experiencing mental health issues, instead of a criminal — we might be spared our collective outrage,” Gauthier said in a statement, adding, “In this moment of reckoning and pain for West Philly, we need accountability, we need justice, and we need it now.” Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: Prior to the 2016 race, these 15 people together had donated about $7 million in total federal contributions. Over the last two years alone? That figure is over $120 million. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images These tech titans have spent $120 million over the last two years, leading Silicon Valley’s political awakening. Donald Trump has poked the bears that are Silicon Valley billionaires. Over the last four years, the tech industry’s very richest have gotten far more political than they have ever been, channeling their money and energy into the world of partisan campaigning. They’ve hired full-time political aides to manage their investments. They’ve traded notes and organized to pool their money for maximum impact. And they’ve become vocal public critics of the president, so incensed by the Trump presidency that they’ve eschewed the longstanding Silicon Valley tradition of staying out of politics. Some of the biggest Silicon Valley celebrities are indeed staying out of the race, but here are the 15 Democrats of Silicon Valley who are most responsible for the current political awakening. Recode reviewed all public federal campaign contributions this cycle through October 15. While they are backing different groups, one striking commonality is how little they had donated prior to Trump’s 2016 run. It’s new territory for almost all of them: Prior to then, these 15 people together had donated about $7 million in total federal campaign contributions. Over the last two years? That figure is over $120 million. Prior to the 2016 race, these 15 people together had donated about $7 million in total federal campaign contributions. Over the last two years? That figure is over $120 million. Some caveats to this list: Determining who qualifies as “Silicon Valley” is more subjective than you’d think (Does it apply to everyone who physically lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, no matter the industry? What about tech leaders who live in New York or Seattle?) but we focused on people whose money principally comes from founding or investing in tech companies. This list also doesn’t tally all political donations. It doesn’t include gifts to state or local candidates. And, most importantly, the sums don’t include the tens of millions of dollars — likely even hundreds of millions — that these donors are spending on outside groups that aren’t required to disclose their backers. So Silicon Valley megadonors’ true contributions to ousting Trump are impossible to assess in total, meaning it is also impossible to assess the scale of their influence in American democracy. That influence could pay off in a Biden administration that will have to wrestle with how aggressively to regulate the tech companies that have helped create these fortunes. Karla Jurvetson: $27.5 million Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images Karla Jurvetson has become one of the nation’s most generous female campaign donors. The psychiatrist has come out of nowhere over the last four years to be one of the ascendant Democratic megadonors of the Trump era. The former wife of tech mogul Steve Jurvetson, she has focused her donations on gifts to female candidates; she almost single-handedly financed a super PAC that spent big to support Elizabeth Warren’s presidential bid in its final weeks, pumping $15 million into that last-ditch effort. And in a sign of her power, she was the one chosen to host Barack Obama when he made his sole Silicon Valley fundraising trip of the cycle last fall. Dustin Moskovitz: $25 million Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images Dustin Moskovitz helped found Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg. Moskovitz is one of the most thoughtful figures in Silicon Valley in terms of his philanthropy, and his political giving is similar. A founder of Facebook alongside Harvard classmate Mark Zuckerberg, Moskovitz and his political team have scoured the academic literature to try to deduce where megadonors can get the greatest possible “return” on their investments. And his brainy dive into political science research has led him to Future Forward, a super PAC that is focusing on last-minute television ads just before voters head to the polls. Moskovitz has been closely associated with the group for much of the calendar year, and recent reports disclosed that he has put at least $22 million into the little-known group. Reid Hoffman: $14.1 million Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED25 Reid Hoffman is one of the country’s biggest and most controversial donors. No megadonor has become more controversial in the Democratic Party than Hoffman, the billionaire founder of LinkedIn. Hoffman has been trying to move the Democratic Party into the digital age, and to do so has been willing to fund unorthodox projects that push the envelope in ways that some other Democratic donors find discomfiting. One of the most unusual expenses from Hoffman has been the $4.5 million that he has spent on his own to create anti-Trump memes. He and his aides have also become the port of call for other major tech donors, building a full-scale political operation that has made Hoffman a powerful figure in Silicon Valley politics. Operatives consider getting on Hoffman’s list of recommended groups to be a major coup. In recent weeks, Hoffman has been emailing his network to encourage them to donate to Biden transition efforts, according to messages seen by Recode. Jeff and Erica Lawson: $8.2 million Jeff Lawson, the co-founder and CEO of the $45 billion software company Twilio, and his wife, Erica, had only given about $1,000 to federal candidates before the 2016 race. But in a reflection of how Trump has energized Silicon Valley, the Lawsons soon after his election started cutting checks to dozens of Democratic congressional candidates and state parties. This fall, they started really digging deep, including giving $6 million between them to Future Forward. Connie Ballmer: $7.6 million Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images Connie Ballmer and her husband, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, at the White House for a state dinner in 2011. Ballmer is of Seattle, but she’s the wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — one of the richest people in the world. Ballmer’s total comes almost entirely from the $7 million she donated to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group started by Mike Bloomberg. Jeff Skoll: $7.4 million Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival Jeff Skoll speaks onstage in 2017. Like Lawson, Skoll — the first full-time employee at eBay — had never given more than a few thousand bucks before Trump was elected. But this year, the billionaire philanthropist started funneling his fortune into Democratic efforts, including $4.5 million into Senate Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC aiming to retake the Senate. Eric Schmidt: $6 million Lee Jin-man/AP Eric Schmidt is a longtime Democratic powerbroker. Schmidt is the consummate Democratic powerbroker, having helped Google curry favor with the Barack Obama administration back when he was Google’s CEO. So, unlike others on this list, Schmidt is not new to this. He has put millions into groups like Future Forward in addition to hosting fundraisers for the Biden campaign directly. It will be interesting to see what role Schmidt may play in a Biden administration if Biden wins. Sam Bankman-Fried: $5.6 million Bankman-Fried is one of the most unusual megadonors of the cycle. A 28-year-old cryptocurrency trader who would often sleep in his office overnight on a bean bag, Bankman-Fried, like Moskovitz, identifies as an “effective altruist.” That means he’s trying to use his money for the greatest possible good — which likely has led him to donate to Future Forward. Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings: $5.3 million Hastings, the founder of Netflix, has long been involved in politics — he has been a major funder of education reform efforts, and he helped raise money for Pete Buttigieg during the primary. He and his wife, Quillin, are now funding more than ever, including $2 million to Senate Majority PAC. And that $5.3 million figure doesn’t even include the millions more that the couple is spending this year on California ballot initiatives and local politics, which have long been a political priority for them. Jessica Livingston: $5 million Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch Jessica Livingston (middle) helped found Y Combinator. Livingston is one of the co-founders of Y Combinator, the iconic Silicon Valley startup accelerator, alongside her husband Paul Graham. And she cut the biggest check by far of her career this fall when she gave $5 million to a group called Tech For Campaigns, which places tech workers inside Democratic campaigns across the country. Michael Moritz: $3.9 million Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair Venture capitalist Michael Moritz onstage at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on October 19, 2016, in San Francisco, California. Moritz, a legendary venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, had only donated $70,000 in his life to politics before Trump was elected. But since 2016, Moritz has gotten heavily involved with Acronym, a liberal group focused on digital anti-Trump advertising, and he and groups associated with him have donated over $1.5 million to its affiliated super PAC. Moritz has also emailed his associates in Silicon Valley to encourage them to support Acronym. A fun fact: Moritz’s longtime co-leader at Sequoia, Doug Leone, is one of the few big donors from tech to Trump, which should make for some interesting conversations between the two of them. Ken Duda: $3.7 million Probably the least well-known person on this list, Duda founded a public software company called Artista. He gave $2 million over the last year to Acronym. Vinod Khosla: $3.1 million MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images Vinod Khosla at an awards ceremony in 2015. A billionaire perhaps more widely known for his quixotic campaign to maintain his private access to a Bay Area beach, Khosla has given most of his donations to American Bridge, the leading super PAC that focuses on anti-Trump opposition research. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: Chef Chris Hanmer sets up the flag in front of his business in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on April 21, 2020. | Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images Here’s why the coronavirus outbreaks in the Dakotas got so bad. The third surge of Covid-19 cases is leading to worsening outbreaks across the United States. But two states — North Dakota and South Dakota — have coronavirus outbreaks that far surpass the rest of America. While the Dakotas managed to avoid big outbreaks during the spring and for most of the summer, the current situation suggests that was more an element of luck and timing than anything else. With the coronavirus, it often seems like a matter of time before it hits your area to some extent. And if a country or state doesn’t have the proper precautions in place — and the Dakotas didn’t — the virus can and likely will spread through its population. It’s a lesson in the need for constant, continued vigilance. North and South Dakota now have four to five times the weekly average for daily new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. The US, overall, is seeing 22 cases per 100,000 people as of October 26. South Dakota, meanwhile, has 95 per 100,000, and North Dakota has 105 per 100,000 — making it the first state to surpass 100 per 100,000 at any time during this pandemic. Greater testing capacity doesn’t fully explain the spikes in Covid-19 cases in either state. In North Dakota, the seven-day testing average actually fell by nearly 2 percent over the last week as the number of cases increased by more than 14 percent. In South Dakota, the testing average went up by 11 percent as cases increased by 20 percent over the previous week. Both states have also seen their hospitalizations and deaths increase since September. North and South Dakota report the highest and second-highest, respectively, Covid-19 death rate over the previous week out of all states, Washington, DC, and US territories. And the percent of tests coming back positive, which is used by experts to gauge testing capacity, is more than 11 percent for North Dakota. In South Dakota, it’s an astonishing 40 percent. The recommended maximum is 5 percent — which North Dakota surpasses and South Dakota completely demolishes. That suggests that, if anything, testing in the Dakotas is still missing a lot of cases, and each state’s outbreak is even worse than the official figures indicate. Unlike other states, South and North Dakota never fully closed down, with the Republican governors in each state resisting ever issuing a stay-at-home order. So most of each state remained open — allowing the virus to spread freely through bars, restaurants, parties, celebrations, rodeos, rallies, and other large gatherings. Among those potential spreading events was a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, in early August, which some experts now blame for a Covid-19 surge that followed in the region, particularly in the Upper Midwest. Neither state has adopted a mask mandate, which research shows can help suppress the coronavirus. Based on some national data, both Dakotas have some of the lowest rates of mask-wearing in the US. Bonny Specker, an epidemiologist at South Dakota State University, was blunt in her assessment of the situation in the Dakotas. “Federal and many state leaders have not implemented mandates or reinforced [public health agencies’] recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus,” she told me. “In South Dakota, the governor had the information needed to minimize the impact of this virus on the health of South Dakotans, but she ignored that information as well as national recommendations from the CDC.” Meanwhile, much of the public never saw the coronavirus as a major threat to the Dakotas. “Our low rates in the spring and summer built a sense of complacency, and that it was more of a problem for the rest of the country,” Paul Carson, an infectious disease expert at North Dakota State University, told me, speaking of his state’s experience in particular. This follows the playbook set by President Donald Trump, who has pushed a false sense of normalcy and told his followers to not let the coronavirus “dominate your life” even after he himself got sick with Covid-19. North and South Dakota are led by Republican governors, and Trump won each state by 36 points and 30 points, respectively, in 2016. Trump also held a massive July Fourth rally in South Dakota at Mount Rushmore, attracting thousands of his supporters from around the region, despite public health experts’ advice against large gatherings. All of this — a public rejection by state and national leadership of even the most basic precautions against Covid-19 — has allowed the coronavirus to spread out of control. With each new interaction, the virus has an opportunity to spread. While mostly rural states like the Dakotas managed to avoid big outbreaks during the early phases of the pandemic, experts say that it was only a matter of time — and perhaps a bit of bad luck — before the virus hit such places. The only way this could turn around quickly is if the public and its leaders act. But there’s still a lot of resistance to stricter measures, including mask mandates and especially lockdowns. So there’s another possibility: The coronavirus will continue spreading in North and South Dakota, fueling more serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. “I fear we won’t see behavioral changes until people have been personally affected, or can’t get medical care because our hospitals are being overrun — which may not be too far off,” Carson warned. The Dakotas resisted basic policies to fight Covid-19 North and South Dakota have taken a laissez-faire approach to dealing with Covid-19 — never instituting stay-at-home orders or mask mandates as other states, including some of their neighbors, did. South Dakota in particular took a very hands-off approach, with no restrictions even on large gatherings. The strongest action Republican Gov. Kristi Noem took was to push businesses to follow safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Otherwise, Noem has boasted about her state’s loose strategy: She argued in an ad that businesses struggling with restrictions in other states should “come grow [their] company” in South Dakota. “Here in South Dakota, we trust our people,” Noem said. “We respect their rights. We won’t shut them down.” Noem still defends her approach, arguing in a recent op-ed that she’ll continue to resist stricter measures. “I’m going to continue to trust South Dakotans to make wise and well-informed decisions for themselves and their families,” she wrote. North Dakota has done a little more. While avoiding statewide restrictions and lockdowns, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in October called for reduced business capacity in some counties as cases spiked in his state. But these are mere recommendations — it’s hard to know if any businesses are following them — and, even then, he stopped short of recommending closures. North Dakota also has one of the most expansive testing regimes in the US — consistently reporting one of the highest rates of coronavirus testing in the country. This may partially explain its high case count, although its positivity rate indicates that it still doesn’t have enough testing. And that testing-and-tracing system can only do so much once the virus is completely out of control, which growing hospitalizations and death rates are evidence of. “Our contact tracers are overwhelmed with a backlog of cases,” Carson said. “We have further heard from many of our contact tracers that they are meeting increasing resistance from people to give up their contacts or abide by quarantine rules. People have become fatigued with the restrictions.” Similar to South Dakota’s governor, North Dakota’s Burgum has pushed a message of personal responsibility. “It’s not a job for government,” he said. “This is a job for everybody.” Social distancing and masking are effective for curtailing Covid-19. As a review of the research in The Lancet concluded, “evidence shows that physical distancing of more than 1 m is highly effective and that face masks are associated with protection, even in non-health-care settings.” Government mandates seem to help, too. A study in Health Affairs found that “government-imposed social distancing measures reduced the daily growth rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases by 5.4 percentage points after one to five days, 6.8 percentage points after six to ten days, 8.2 percentage points after eleven to fifteen days, and 9.1 percentage points after sixteen to twenty days.” And a study from the nonprofit research institute IZA found that Germany’s local and regional mask mandates “reduced the cumulative number of registered Covid-19 cases between 2.3% and 13% over a period of 10 days after they became compulsory” and “the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 40%.” Carson acknowledged that such mandates “did not seem so necessary earlier in our epidemic.” But by not instituting government policies and allowing the public to act recklessly, North and South Dakota kept themselves vulnerable to the coronavirus. That vulnerability took a while to expose itself in two sparsely populated states with relatively little travel in and out — but once it appeared, Covid-19 has exploded, rapidly spreading across both of the Dakotas. This wasn’t unpredictable. In the spring, a South Dakota meat plant became the US’s top coronavirus hot spot — showing Covid-19 could reach even mostly rural areas like South Dakota. But the outbreak didn’t change Noem’s approach. Ian Fury, a spokesperson for Noem, defended her actions: “Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Noem has provided her citizens with up-to-date science, facts, and data, and then trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones.” Burgum’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The public, fueled by Trump, didn’t follow proper precautions It wasn’t just the government that allowed Covid-19 to spread in the Dakotas. The public has played a role too, with large parts of each state acting as though everything is normal and refusing to embrace even the most basic precautions against the coronavirus. COVIDcast, a project from Carnegie Mellon University that tracks real-time Covid-19 data, shows that North and South Dakota have some of the lowest levels of uptake in the US for both social distancing and masking. South Dakotans are the sixth most likely and North Dakotans are the eighth most likely, out of the 50 states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, to leave their homes for six or more hours a day. South Dakotans and North Dakotans are also among the least likely — 50th and 49th, respectively, out of all 50 states plus DC — to wear masks. While touring Bismarck, North Dakota, Deborah Birx, a White House coronavirus task force leader, acknowledged the problem: “This is the least use of masks that we have we seen in retail establishments of any place we have been,” she told reporters. Perhaps the most infamous example of either state’s lack of adherence to Covid-19 precautions is the Sturgis motorcycle rally. From August 7 to 16, bikers came from across the country, attending events and hitting up local bars and restaurants. Masks were uncommon — even shunned. Among the T-shirts sold at the events, one stated, “Screw Covid-19, I went to Sturgis.” Insufficient contact tracing makes it difficult to say with any certainty how much of the current epidemic originated at the Sturgis rally, but Covid-19 cases surged in the region, and particularly the Dakotas, in the weeks after the rally. It’s not just Sturgis, though. On July Fourth, Trump held a large rally at Mount Rushmore, which is in South Dakota, that thousands of people attended, seldom wearing masks. Families and friends held their own parties and celebrations around the summer holidays, including Labor Day in September. There were rodeos and state fairs. Schools have reopened, with universities and colleges in particular fueling outbreaks nationwide. “Those events, combined with the lack of leadership in encouraging the public to wear masks or practice social distancing, have contributed greatly to the current situation we are in,” Specker said. Bars and restaurants are of special concern to experts: In these spaces, people are close together for long periods of time, they can’t wear masks as they eat or drink, the air can’t dilute the virus the way it can outdoors, and alcohol can lead them to drop their guards further. Another problem is older teens and young adults may act more recklessly, believing they’re at lower risk of contracting Covid-19. But as a recent CDC study noted, younger people tend to spread the virus to their parents, grandparents, teachers, and so on. That, Carson said, appears to have happened in North Dakota: “We saw a surge of cases in our communities that had students coming back to start college. Those cases spiked in the young college-age population, then eventually spilled over into the broader community.” Trump and Republican leaders have encouraged this. While touting their messages of personal responsibility, many Republicans have also downplayed the threat of Covid-19. Trump has deliberately done this — telling journalist Bob Woodward, “I wanted to always play [the coronavirus] down.” Even after his illness, Trump has tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” He’s even mocked masks and claimed — falsely — that they’re ineffective. (In reality, the evidence for masks keeps getting stronger.) For Trump, the goal here is obvious: If he manages to convince the public that things are okay and normal, it could boost his reelection chances. Republican lawmakers, in many ways beholden to Trump’s supporters, have by and large followed the president’s lead. In North and South Dakota, that has seemingly translated to a predominantly Republican public going out, too often without masks, and spreading the coronavirus across the states. North and South Dakota now have a serious and growing crisis Experts often compare the spread of the coronavirus to a runaway freight train: The virus can take a while to build up, but once spread hits exponential growth, it takes an immense amount of work and time — up to weeks or months — to slow things down. “Until the leaders of state and federal government support recommended public health policy, it is going to be difficult to slow the spread of this virus,” Specker said. For the coronavirus, the solutions are the same things everyone has heard about for months now: More testing and contact tracing to isolate people who are infected, get their close contacts to quarantine, and deploy broader restrictions as necessary. More masking. More careful, phased reopenings. More social distancing. This is what’s worked in other countries, from Germany to South Korea to New Zealand, to contain their respective outbreaks. It’s what’s worked in parts of the US, like New York and San Francisco. But, crucially, this has to be sustained. Until a vaccine or similar treatment is available, the coronavirus will remain a constant threat in the US. Even less densely populated places — like the Dakotas — aren’t going to be safe for long without proper precautions in place. Yet North and South Dakota leaders have continued resisting more hands-on approaches, calling for personal responsibility and limited, if any, role for government. Some local officials have stepped up to fill the vacuum, but they have more limited powers and reach than state leaders. The fall and winter stand to hasten the spread of the coronavirus, too. Schools will continue to reopen. The cold will push people indoors, where, due to poor ventilation, the virus has an easier time spreading than it does outdoors. Families and friends will gather for the winter holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s. A looming flu season could strain hospitals further, inhibiting their ability to treat a surge of Covid-19 patients. If it gets bad enough, the only possible solution to avert further spread could be a lockdown. Already, the mayor of Fargo, North Dakota, mentioned the possibility. “The concern is that if we don’t start turning this around and our numbers keep going up, it’ll be difficult to keep the businesses going and being open,” Democratic Mayor Tim Mahoney, a physician by training, said. Given that the outbreaks are already so bad and state leaders have still refused tougher actions, another possibility is the Dakotas will continue tolerating a high number of cases and deaths, failing to take any serious action in response. If so, the two worst outbreaks in one of the countries struggling the most with Covid-19 will remain bad and perhaps get even worse. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: An image of Chinese President Xi Jinping appearing by video link at the United Nations 75th anniversary is seen on an outdoor screen as pedestrians walk past below in Beijing on September 22, 2020. | Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images Progressives want to revive global cooperation. But the US must compete, not just cooperate. With Election Day looming, American progressives yearn for an about-face from President Trump’s foreign policy — perhaps nowhere more so than when it comes to US multilateralism. Multilateralism — working with other countries both through large international institutions and looser coalitions toward common goals — has been a pillar of American foreign policy since World War II. From the creation of the United Nations and NATO to President George W. Bush’s Iraq War “coalition of the willing” and President Barack Obama’s negotiations alongside Russia and China on the Iran nuclear deal, America has rarely operated alone. But Donald Trump changed all that. The Trump administration’s approach truly has been America First equals America Alone. Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He’s in the process of exiting the World Health Organization (WHO). He’s repeatedly questioned the value of NATO and mused about withdrawing from it. Yet, amid calls to reprioritize “international cooperation, not competition,” progressive aspirations cannot paper over the real geopolitical frictions that will persist post-Trump. Just as conservative efforts to desert multilateral institutions are self-defeating, so too is the belief that international cooperation will blossom after November 3. American progressives should seek to reengage in multilateral institutions, from the WHO to the UN. But they cannot forget that those institutions remain competitive zones where democracies must defend their values against authoritarian rivals. Multilateral cooperation has never seemed more urgent — or more lacking Covid-19 is only the latest instance in which the Trump administration is truculently set against the world, not just withdrawing from the WHO but also refusing to join the Covax initiative, a historic, global multilateral effort to ensure that all countries, rich and poor, will have access to a novel coronavirus vaccine if and when one or more become available. Amid the pandemic-induced economic crisis, congressional Republicans seek to dismantle the World Trade Organization (WTO), all while a trade war batters American consumers and farmers. The last of the major US-Russia nuclear arms control agreements teeters on the verge of collapse, and both North Korea and Iran continue to improve and expand their nuclear and missile programs. Given this bevy of undoubtedly self-injurious policies, it is understandable that some progressives are calling on a potential Biden administration to undertake a “fundamental re-envisioning of the United States’ role in the world,” emphasizing international cooperation. But a desire for the United States to rejoin international institutions and agreements should not be synonymous with a belief that global cooperation will define a post-Trump world. That belief naively and recklessly ignores a stark reality that has become all too apparent in recent years: Multilateral institutions have become one of the primary battlegrounds where the unfolding international clash of systems between democratic and authoritarian regimes is being waged. Authoritarian countries like China and Russia know this fact well and are skilled at manipulating and exploiting international institutions to serve their own ends. The United States used to understand this fact, too, once upon a time, but it seems to have forgotten it lately. It’s time for America to remember. It’s time for America to start using these institutions to punch back. Hope that shared threats will outweigh geopolitical divides is not new An American belief that international organizations could “help depoliticize controversial issues by treating these as neutral, technical challenges” underlaid the building of global institutions following World War II. More recently, the early Obama administration viewed the “challenges of a new century” — countering violent extremism, nuclear nonproliferation, climate change, economic growth, and pandemic disease — as common ground around which international stakeholders would rally. In both instances, however, cooperative visions foundered on the shoals of geopolitical differences. Neither in 1949 nor in 2009 could shared “problems without passports” outweigh the equally immediate threat posed by liberal, democratic norms to authoritarian regimes. As the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Wright has written, a resurgence in geopolitical rivalry was “rooted in a clash of social models — a free world and a neo-authoritarian world — that directly affects how people live.” That clash stemmed not only from traditional military frictions, but even more basically from the threat that open, democratic societies pose to the stability of authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, those authoritarian regimes are striking back. Senator Elizabeth Warren has described a “belligerent and resurgent” Russia and a China that has now “weaponized its economy,” both of which seek to undermine open, democratic societies. Similarly, Sen. Bernie Sanders has outlined a future contested between “a growing worldwide movement toward authoritarianism, oligarchy, and kleptocracy” and “a movement toward strengthening democracy, egalitarianism, and economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.” Consequently, while dangers like Covid-19 threaten everyone, differences between democratic and authoritarian regimes can yield contrasting responses. Take, for instance, something as basic as using technology like smartphones and apps to aid in contact tracing in the fight against Covid-19. As Vox’s Dylan Scott explains: In the United States and across the world, smartphone applications are seen as a promising option to automate some of the work that health workers have traditionally been asked to do. Namely, they could silently track which people we’ve been in contact with, and if one of those people tests positive for Covid-19, our phone would send us a notification letting us know about our potential exposure. But the data collection needed to do this quickly becomes entangled in concerns surrounding “digital authoritarianism,” where illiberal regimes employ such tools to “surveil, repress, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations” alike. The Chinese Communist Party’s use of this public health crisis to expand the scope of its surveillance and control shows that even when the world can agree on a common challenge, solutions may diverge based on a regime’s values. Thus, even amid areas of international cooperation, a degree of vigilance is required to defend democratic interests. By no means is cooperation entirely foreclosed — which is why the Trump administration’s rejection of the Covax initiative is misguided. Nonetheless, democracies should not mistakenly believe that unalloyed cooperation in the face of every shared challenge advances their interests. How to stand and compete from within ... While the United States cannot be starry-eyed about multilateral engagement, it also can’t afford to be cavalier as to its value — as Republican leaders increasingly are. Not only does the United States confront a true peer competitor in China, making allies more necessary than ever, but the key domains of that competition — from trade and investment flows to advanced technologies and communications infrastructure — are already deeply enmeshed in multilateral institutions. Authoritarian leaders understand this emerging dynamic. Russia, long skilled in multilateral diplomacy, has amplified its efforts to shape international institutions, as President Vladimir Putin declares “the liberal idea” has “outlived its purpose.” Likewise, China, in seeking “reform of the global governance system,” looks to realign the world to better support the CCP’s illiberal rule at home — including its persistent surveillance of its citizens and the internment and forced “reeducation” of Uighur minorities. Thus, rather than use cooperative mechanisms like Interpol for the intended purpose of catching criminals, Russia and China have focused on abusing the system to pursue political dissidents. Authoritarian leaders do not hesitate to twist international institutions to defend illiberal behavior beyond their own borders, such as the Russian head of the UN Counterterrorism Office striving to legitimate Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang. As Beijing and Moscow lead the charge to redefine global norms, democracies must meet that challenge. From privacy rules for artificial intelligence to norms for combating transnational corruption, international standards set abroad will not remain overseas. As the 2020 Hong Kong National Security law demonstrates, if authoritarian actions at the national level can reach into democracies around the world, so will global rules set by illiberal states. Consequently, the United States and like-minded partners must compete in international institutions to defend the values that underpin open societies. That competitive posture does not necessitate withdrawal from international organizations, as some conservatives have preached. As Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute recently argued, “it is a ridiculous solipsism...to believe that if we stop participating in international cooperation and institutions that that cooperation stops happening.” Instead of shifting the locus of competition to more advantageous ground, by withdrawing from these institutions, the United States merely cedes influence in the very arenas where the essential debates are occurring. Rather than isolating authoritarians to increase democratic states’ leverage, the United States is cutting itself off from the partners it needs. So long as more universal forums, such as the UN International Telecommunications Agency, are where relevant standards are set, then active participation is called for. Abandonment only opens space for authoritarian powers to press their agendas. This is perhaps nowhere clearer than the juxtaposition of the sidelining of Taiwan in the WHO against the March 2020 election for head of the obscure, but important, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Despite Taiwan’s robust performance in managing Covid-19 — with only seven deaths thus far — Beijing has continued to block Taipei’s participation in WHO meetings, hampering sharing from that success. The Trump administration’s response? Only to throw up its hands and complain about China’s influence as it heads for the WHO’s door. Conversely, in the March election to lead WIPO, the UN organization charged with protecting intellectual property, the United States chose to show up and take a stand. Recognizing the impact of Chinese-based intellectual property theft and cyberespionage, the Trump administration, in a rare moment of diplomatic engagement, rallied a near 2-1 vote in favor of the US-supported candidate against the Chinese alternative. The message is clear: The United States leaning into a coordinated diplomatic push can make all the difference. ... and from without Simultaneously, continuing to participate in universal institutions like the UN or WTO does not preclude pursuing new multilateral innovations to better defend democratic societies. A decade ago, proposals for a “concert of democracies” or a “global NATO” stalled. Mistrust in the wake of George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq coupled with a fear that being seen to push the expansion of Western-style democracy would alienate rising powers from India to Brazil, scuttling such efforts. Why needlessly stir the pot in a world where cooperation on shared transnational threats seemed critical and the march of liberal democracy appeared inevitable? However, the current international landscape differs vastly from then. New institutions to enhance democratic societies’ defensive coordination may have seemed unnecessary a decade ago but should be seen in a different light today, when authoritarian regimes pose a real challenge to the liberal model. Thus, today’s version — what Edward Fishman of the Atlantic Council and Siddharth Mohandas of the Center for a New American Security have called “councils of democracies” — would aim to protect democracy at home, rather than justify its forcible expansion abroad. In doing so, the United States and its democratic partners should neither pull up the drawbridge from universal bodies that include authoritarian actors nor remain beholden to those institutions, as they constrain democracies’ ability to better cooperate in their own defense. Fortunately, US Cold War strategy offers lessons on managing that balance. Importing a Cold War strategy lock, stock, and barrel for current challenges would undoubtedly be mistaken. Nevertheless, that history reveals democracies are not forced to choose between more universal organizations like the UN and more values-based ones like NATO. Rather, working at times through narrower groups grounded in a shared belief in liberalism and democracy can enhance the position of open societies in those larger bodies. For instance, instead of being caught between abandoning the WTO — a folly few other states would join in — and continuing to struggle along with the system’s real limitations and abuses, the United States could work outside the system to build leverage within it. Here, as Jake Sullivan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Kurt Campbell of the Asia Group have outlined, a forum convening democratic states to build shared norms and standards on 21st-century economic issues — digital tax, data privacy rules, etc. — could be “layered over the WTO system.” Such a combination would not only create a space to build the norms that democratic societies need for managing 21st-century governance challenges, but also maximize their leverage within the WTO to raise standards across a global economy. At the same time, democracies should work in values-based coalitions to promote democratic security in increasingly strategic areas of international finance, advanced technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence, and battling transnational corruption. To protect democratic ideals, there will be times when it is necessary to exclude those who would seek to undermine them. Today’s threats and circumstances may not require a global expansion of a formal alliance like NATO. Nonetheless, deepening ties between democratic societies will be essential on issues from sharing best practices on countering disinformation to maintaining information systems that appreciate values of transparency, accountability, and respect for individual privacy. Here, the United Kingdom is an example of an early mover on what’s possible. Against rising concerns over cybersecurity and espionage from Chinese 5G leader Huawei, London has begun exploring a potential democracies-only grouping to better secure 5G communications technology, alongside other national security supply chains. 5G is only one illustration of a range of issues at the intersection of advanced technologies and the evolving digital economy where democracies must set the international rules if they are to maintain values such as privacy and free speech for their own citizens. Thus, steps such as closer transatlantic coordination on investment security — reviewing foreign purchasers and investors in US or European companies — and export controls for new technologies emerge as essential in maintaining a lead in tomorrow’s technologies, in order to shape their use around liberal principles. Fundamentally, as democracies increasingly compete with an economically powerful China and revanchist Russia, their best defense rests in recognizing that not only are democracies more competitive together, but that a gap in the armor in one is likely a gap for all. A contest that cannot be wished away In only four years, President Trump has left the United States embattled on nearly every front. An urge to trumpet international cooperation as a departure from his administration’s ceaseless antagonism is understandable. However, in considering a world post-Trump, progressives must separate his disastrous policies from the structural reality of a growing clash between open and authoritarian societies — a contest that cannot be wished away. Democracies must reengage multilaterally, but without losing sight that shared challenges do not necessarily beget shared solutions. Good-faith efforts at cooperation must be tempered by vigilance against authoritarian leaders who will not hesitate to use multilateral institutions to roll back and undermine liberal values in order to “make the world safe” for authoritarianism. Given that reality, assertive measures are necessary to close ranks with other like-minded partners to defend democratic values in a more interconnected, but more contested, world. A post-Trump foreign policy may open the door for the pursuit of progressive goals; but they will have to be fought for abroad as much as at home. Will Moreland is a foreign policy analyst focusing on US alliances and multilateralism. Previously, he served as an associate fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Project on International Order and Strategy. Find him on Twitter at @MorelandBW. 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Preview: Amanda Northrop/Vox Electoral power, health care, and voter enthusiasm are on the line. Former Vice President Joe Biden has made a late-stage play for Texas in the hope of bringing to fruition his party’s longtime dream of flipping a once reliably red state. Local Democrats have set their sights lower on the ballot: They’re hoping to pick up nine seats in the Texas House of Representatives, enough to give them control of the state’s House for the first time since 2002. The goal could be within their grasp. Those seats are all in districts that Democrat Beto O’Rourke won in his ultimately unsuccessful 2018 US Senate run. Even if President Donald Trump claims Texas’s 38 electoral votes in November and Sen. John Cornyn fends off newcomer MJ Hegar, Democrats hope that the state House will be the first domino to fall in their mission to remake Texas politics for good. In 2018, Democrats picked up 12 seats in the state House. Genevieve Van Cleve, the Texas state director of All On the Line, the advocacy arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said that her organization’s polling suggests that they are on track to flip at least another six to seven seats, with the remaining seats being more of a reach. Polling from the Texas Democratic party, however, show them up in 11 districts. The consequences of a Texas House win are bigger this year than in a typical election year because the state legislature will be responsible for redrawing electoral districts in 2021 after the results of the 2020 census come in. In a state that has long engaged in partisan gerrymandering, Democrats are hoping that, if they control the lower chamber, they will at least get a seat at the table during the redistricting process — improving their chances of winning elections in the state over the next decade. “Democrats can compete just fine if we’re on a level playing field, and what we don’t have in Texas is a level playing field,” Van Cleve said. They are also aiming to use a state House majority to prioritize expanding Medicaid for low-income Texans in the middle of a pandemic that has hit the state particularly hard, though with a Republican governor and state Senate that have long opposed that goal, it will likely be out of reach for at least the next two years. Beyond those policy goals, Democrats hope that flipping the state House could give voters a reason to show up in future elections. Texas has historically low turnout, especially among Hispanic voters, in part because it has among the most restrictive voting laws nationwide. That has been a major obstacle to Democratic hopes of flipping the state. “If we win a majority in the state House, you now have a seat at the table where you can begin to draw people back into democracy, draw them back in [with] a reason to vote,” O’Rourke said in an interview. “We have the ability to actually cure some of this.” A state House majority would give Democrats a seat at the table in redistricting Texas’s current electoral maps favor Republicans, but Democrats are trying to change that by flipping the state House and having a say in the redistricting process that will begin next year. Winning the majority would offer them only modest gains in power — a single seat at the table on the state’s five-person legislative redistricting board and the possibility of sending the maps to federal court. That’s an improvement over the veto power they currently have over the maps (none), but it’s still a far cry from taking the reins and being able to redraw them more equitably. Both congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years. In most states, including Texas, the state legislature controls the process. In 2021, the redistricting committees of both the state House and state Senate will convene and attempt to pass new electoral maps, which must include districts of equal populations that do not discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. The governor has the power to veto those maps. But if the chambers can’t come to an agreement or the governor vetoes their maps — as is likely to be the case if Democrats take control of the state House — that’s when it gets tricky. A panel of three federal judges in San Antonio would have the final say over the congressional maps. But the process is different for the state legislative maps: a five-person board composed of the lieutenant governor, state attorney general, state comptroller, commissioner of the General Land Office, and speaker of the Texas House draw the maps in closed-door meetings, with no public input. A simple majority of the board would have to approve the maps. Currently, Republicans hold all of the seats on the board, but if Democrats win the state House and select their speaker, they would gain a seat at the table. That’s the only way Democrats can begin to reverse the partisan gerrymandering that has plagued Texas for decades. Republicans have been accused of diluting the power of nonwhite voters (who tend to favor Democrats) with their electoral maps in 2003 and 2011, spurring protracted legal battles. And they have sought to break up the state’s growing urban, Democratic centers and create districts that extend well into redder, rural areas. The practice is particularly obvious in Travis County, home to Austin, a city often described as a “blueberry in tomato soup.” The county has five congressional districts, all anchored in liberal Austin, but only one of those districts is represented by a Democrat. “I’ve been in these districts where they’re sliced and diced, cracked and packed,” Van Cleve said. “Somebody who wants to run for office quickly discovers that no matter how great a message they have and no matter how awesome their volunteer support is in the community, their voice is not going to be heard at the Texas Capitol if they live in a district that’s totally gerrymandered.” There could be additional complications to redistricting next year. Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General, has been accused of committing crimes including bribery and abuse of office, and it’s possible that a Democratic state House could move to impeach him and force him to step down. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, would have to appoint his successor, meaning that his seat on the redistricting board would go to someone who “no Texan has vetted or voted for,” Van Cleve said. The redistricting process also hinges on the new population counts from the 2020 census, which has been delayed on account of the pandemic and obstructed by the Trump administration. The population of Texas has grown substantially over the last 10 years, which can largely be attributed to growth in the Latino community and in major metro areas. The state is on track to gain two to three congressional seats, but if the results of the census are delayed or found to be inaccurate, that could impact whether the electoral maps accurately reflect population trends. “It just doesn’t serve ordinary people,” Van Cleve said. “This system of rigged maps and hyperpartisan gerrymandering really goes lockstep with voter suppression.” Democrats are highlighting Medicaid in their battle for the state House On the campaign trail, Democratic candidates have sought to make their battle for the state House about one of voters’ top priorities, particularly in the middle of a pandemic: health care. In particular, they want to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act’s joint state-federal program that has offered health care coverage to individuals with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line (about $17,600 for a single adult) since 2016. It’s a central pillar in their so-called “contract with Texas,” laying out policies they would seek to enact if they captured the majority. It’s also been highlighted in ads funded by the national Democratic super PAC Forward Majority, which has sunk $12 million into the Texas state House battle. But since the GOP still holds a decisive majority in the state Senate, Democrats won’t likely be able to pass Medicaid expansion even if they capture the state House. And even if they did manage to pass it, Abbott could still veto it. Texas, which has the highest uninsured rate nationwide, is one of only 12 states that has yet to expand Medicaid. The federal government covers 90 percent of costs associated with the program as of 2020, and Democrats estimate that it could bring in $110 billion in federal funds over the next decade. Expanding Medicaid would extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 1 million low-income Texans amid the pandemic. Coronavirus hospitalizations peaked over the summer after Texas became one of the first states to reopen its economy, and 650,000 Texans have lost their health insurance during the pandemic. There have been concerning signs that Texas is due for another surge as cases have recently spiked in El Paso and North Texas. “We have got to expand Medicaid,” state Rep. Erin Zwiener, a Democrat who is up for reelection after flipping their district in 2018, told KXAN. “Texas is leaving $10 billion of federal funding on the table every year because we got stubborn in 2009.” Republicans, including Abbott, have long cautioned that it would nevertheless be too expensive and raise health care costs across the board. “Medicaid expansion is wrong for Texas,” Abbott said in 2015, calling it a “broken and bloated” program. A few Texas Republicans appear to be changing their position on the matter, but not nearly enough to be able to get the legislation through the state Senate and Gov. Abbott. Democrats see winning the state House as a driver of voter enthusiasm The Democrats’ play for the state House is coming on the heels of a particularly divisive few years in the Texas legislature, marked by controversies around a bill protecting businesses like Chick-Fil-A that donate to religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage, and a failed proposal that would have barred transgender people from using public bathroom facilities that align with their gender identity. Democrats see this election as an opportunity to show Texans, and the whole country, that their state politics can be different. “This is ground zero for the fight for LGBTQ rights. This is ground zero for the fight for voting rights. It’s ground zero for the fight for reproductive health care,” Charlie Bonner, a spokesperson for MOVE Texas, a voter registration and engagement group, said. “For that reason, there’s a lot of national interest in ensuring that we see progress here.” State House candidates have the challenge of getting their names out there in the middle of a pandemic that has made rallies, town hall meetings, and door-knocking impossible. Texas Republicans have also put up their own defenses, with Abbott injecting a mid-seven-figure investment into down-ballot candidates during the final weeks before Election Day. And they have sought to curb voter participation, limiting the number of ballot drop-off locations to just one per county, banning counties from sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters, and seeking to curtail drive-thru voting. But organizations like MOVE Texas have observed that Democratic voters are now more activated in the state than ever. While the top of the ticket is driving voters to the polls, so are competitive down-ballot races, particularly among young people. “We haven’t been having this discussion before about the hyperlocal basis for these issues that our generation really cares about, like racial justice and climate change,” Bonner said. “The president can’t have that much of an impact on those issues. But you can make a big difference on those issues in your city.” Turnout already appears to be up this cycle. As of October 20 — with 10 days of early voting still to go — almost one-third of registered voters had cast their ballots in the state’s 10 largest counties. (That includes both Democrats and Republicans.) And Harris County, which has historically voted Democratic, has set early voting records. Democrats are hoping that their play for the state House will keep voters activated for future contests: Abbott will be up for reelection in 2022, and his approval ratings have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic, possibly leaving him vulnerable to a Democratic challenger down the road. A Democratic PAC has already started fundraising to defeat him. A win in the state House could add momentum to those efforts. “People have written off Texas for so many years that Texas voters didn’t believe in themselves,” Bonner said. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. 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Preview: A doctor, who is taking part in a clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine, receives an injection in Worcester, Massachusetts, on September 4. | Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Getty Images Experts say local and state governments need more time and resources to scale up vaccination efforts. Early results from the two leading US Covid-19 vaccine trials are expected in November, in what will likely be a major milestone in the race to end the pandemic. The final leg of the race, however, will be actually getting people vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered guidance on jurisdictions’ plans, and has given them a deadline of November 1 to be ready to roll out a potential vaccine (a timeline administration officials assert is unrelated to the November 3 election). Will health departments be ready to distribute a vaccine by then? “Probably not, if you mean completely ready,” says William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who also serves as a consultant to the Tennessee Department of Health. “Are they working hard? Absolutely.” No matter when it commences, a nationwide vaccine administration effort will require a massive workforce of health professionals (who are already in short supply and are often already working on other Covid-19 responses). It also may require costly medical-grade freezers to keep vaccine doses at supercold temperatures — or lots and lots of dry ice. And it needs a robust new data management system to track who gets which vaccine when and where, particularly if vaccines require multiple doses to be effective, and if there ends up being more than one approved vaccine. The trouble is, states and local health departments have not received funding from Congress to make any of this happen. This “makes it nearly impossible to do what you need to be doing at this stage of the game if your go date is November 1,” says Adriane Casalotti, head of government affairs for the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO). Like many things in the pandemic, it didn’t have to be this way, she says. “This is one of the few areas of Covid-19 where we can plan in advance, where we don’t have to build the plane while flying it.” She adds that although their group has been asking the federal government for support for distribution since early vaccine research began, “now it’s late.” if jurisdictions do not have the resources to implement their COVID vaccination plans, there is only so much they can do! @ASTHO https://t.co/PB4YWz8wui — Marcus Plescia (@MarcusPlescia) October 20, 2020 To be sure, there will not be enough vaccine to immunize 328 million people right away, which simplifies logistics somewhat. And many experts are expecting it will be the end of this year or the beginning of 2021 before the first doses are available. (Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently said there might be enough doses to vaccinate health care workers, first responders, and seniors by the end of January, with some doses arriving sooner.) But even with a relatively modest beginning (and we’re still talking about tens of millions of people), public health workers want to make sure they have plans and systems in place, rather than rushing to meet a deadline, Schaffner points out. “The government is antsy about getting things started, but most health departments are saying, ‘Whether I start vaccination this week or next week doesn’t matter so much because this is going to be going on for eight months,’” he says. Let’s take a closer look at the challenges facing the vaccine rollout and how the government could help things get on track sooner rather than later. Health experts say they need billions of dollars to be ready; the federal government hasn’t promised any money State health departments were asked in late September to submit their proposed vaccine rollout plans to the CDC by October 16. For this task, the federal government distributed $200 million, which was split among the states, major metropolitan areas, and US territories. Not only did this mean relatively little funds for each of the 64 jurisdictions (states, territories, and major cities), Casalotti notes, but it also did not guarantee any funding would reach the thousands of smaller local health departments around the country, which is where much of the on-the-ground work of preparing to get people vaccinated will take place. More importantly, the government has yet to promise any money to support actually building out these plans and helping the health organizations be ready when the vaccines are. Without more federal funding for #COVID19 #vaccines distribution, it's kind of like setting up tent poles without having the tent, @MEPublicHealth @nirav_mainecdc says.#pandemic — Donna Young (@DonnaYoungDC) October 19, 2020 A well-coordinated, well-supported effort by health departments to vaccinate the US population will likely cost at least $8.4 billion, according to an October 1 letter NACCHO sent to Congress requesting that much be appropriated for the effort. And other public health groups, including the Association of State and Territorial Health Offices (ASTHO), agree. CDC Director Robert Redfield put the number slightly lower, but still in the billions. In a congressional subcommittee meeting in mid-September, Redfield said the CDC would need $6 billion to help states and localities adequately prepare to distribute a potential vaccine. But the federal government still has not said if it will fund the effort, or how much it will allocate to vaccine distribution and administration. “That needs to change soon, or that’s going to be a limiting step,” says Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for ASTHO. “It’s great that we have an opportunity to plan for some element of the Covid-19 response, because so far we’ve just been reacting.” Health officials are hoping a new, broad Covid-19 relief package, approved by Congress, will include funds earmarked specifically for vaccine distribution readiness. And soon. “That would mean we could finally be really prepared, and we could finally get a step ahead of things,” Plescia says. Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Getty Images A Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial participant receives an injection at the University of Massachusetts Medical School on September 4. If the federal government doesn’t step up, would states and localities be able to? Experts we spoke with agree that the funds need to come from the top. The first reason for this is logistical. With local and state budgets tapped out from pandemic response and lost revenue — and unable to run deficits — the federal government remains the only level of government that could bankroll this effort. The second reason has to do with equity. “We’ve seen throughout the pandemic response when we’re not working as a nation, it’s really hard for us to make any ground,” Casalotti says. For a vaccine rollout to be most effective, it needs to be supported at a national level, she notes. “People travel, and what happens across state borders can directly impact your community. The virus doesn’t care about jurisdictional boundaries.” If states and localities are left to somehow support vaccine deployment, the results are going to be uneven, and likely accentuate disparities the pandemic has already laid bare, she says. “It really has to come from federal sources,” concludes Plescia. Major unknowns remain, making preparations even more difficult Planning a national vaccine rollout is a sizable ask, but it is also happening in the midst of major continued uncertainties — and not just about funding. This has left state and local health departments scrambling to prepare as best they can. “They’re not only planning, but they have to plan for several different contingencies,” Schaffner says. One big unknown is which vaccine or vaccines will be approved and distributed first. This matters in part because many have different requirements, such as extreme cold chains. If health departments need to keep vaccine doses in storage way below zero, as some front-running candidates require, that will necessitate medical-grade freezers. “You’re not going to find those freezers in pharmacies and doctors’ offices,” Schaffner says. Nor are they “something you can just run down to the hardware store and buy,” Casalotti adds. So if thousands of vaccine locations around the country are ordering these freezers at the same time — on an expedited timeline — it is possible there could be a shortage. Or if there is not a shortage, they could follow the path many other pandemic specialty supplies have: With such a sudden increase in demand, there could also be a drastic price increase. This would throw another wrench in even the best-laid plans. It’s quite possible, Casalotti says, for example, that health departments could already have established how many freezers they will need, and where they will procure them, but then encounter a new price, many times higher due to the surge in demand. The federal government has the ability to step in and prevent this sort of price gouging. Although “we haven’t seen those tools deployed” in previous instances of this during the pandemic, Casalotti says. Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, which is among those leading the race to approval, requires temperatures of about -94 degrees Fahrenheit (and even then is only stable there for about 10 days). To address this challenge in distribution, it has devised a freezer alternative, in which the vaccine vials can be stored in specially designed boxes filled with dry ice. Although these boxes will need to have their dry ice replenished during storage, which means that “all of our states have been spending a lot of time sorting out their dry ice supplies,” Plescia says. Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images A lab technician sorts blood samples for a Covid-19 vaccine study at the Research Centers of America on August 13. Even this workaround might not prove to be a solution for everyone. Dry ice isn’t readily available everywhere, such as in some US territories, notes Plescia. And a shortage in the carbon dioxide supply has made it hard for some dry ice makers to keep up with demand. So Plescia hopes that even if a vaccine requiring drastic cold storage is approved first, a less temperamental one will not be far behind. Another big unknown is precisely who will get the vaccine first and when. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which Schaffner also helps advise, is working on finalizing this rubric for who will get the vaccine first. But they might not be able to complete their work until it’s known what vaccine or vaccines will be approved. Many expect that health care workers and first responders will be first to receive an approved vaccine, which aligns with an assessment put out by the National Academy of Medicine in September and the CDC’s interim playbook for states. (President Trump, at an October 16 stop in Florida, claimed inaccurately that “seniors will be the first in line for the vaccine.” The CDC has listed those 65 and older — along with others at higher risk for severe Covid-19, and essential workers — in the second half of the first phase for vaccination, although this could change based on the results of the ongoing vaccine trials.) Vaccinating health workers first would also give those working on vaccine distribution a slightly gentler start. As Plescia notes, this population would generally be easy to reach and follow up with through their employers, and tend to be in favor of vaccinations in general. If this prioritization group does come first, he is optimistic about the possibility of health departments being equipped to provide these early doses when they become available. “I think being ready for that is not overly ambitious, and as we roll that out, we start to learn more and gives us a little more time to be ready to do it in community settings — those are the things that are going to require more capacity and more planning, and just more people,” he says. What distribution might look like after that is fuzzier, making it hard for health departments to plan logistics, but also communication. Local health departments are eager for the federal government to take on the job of clear messaging once these priority groups get established. If local health departments are in charge of telling their communities who gets priority for the vaccine, “that’s just putting local health departments in a really hard position as people are looking at who is at the front of the line and who is at the back of the line,” Casalotti says. And animosity toward health departments has already been building, resulting in reluctance to participate in contact tracing efforts and even, in some cases, threats of violence, she notes. So she asks for “clear messages from the top that we’re all in this together, and not everyone is in prioritization group 1 — and that’s okay because we, as a nation, are all going to get through this.” Health departments will need time to get staff and systems up and running One clear challenge in being ready to vaccinate millions of people as quickly as possible is having enough well-trained workers to give those shots. Hiring people to give shots in a public health setting is challenging even in the best of times, Casalotti says. The pay tends to not be that great and the hours can be hard. Not only that, but much of this available workforce has already been hired out to other much-needed positions, like those in hospitals, she notes. There are also procedural considerations. “In most governmental structures, you can’t get a million dollars on Monday and hire people on Friday,” Schaffner says. “You have to go through a laborious administrative process to post openings, make sure they are available to everybody, interview applicants — and this all takes time.” And after they get hired, they still need to be trained before they can get to work. Mario Tama/Getty Images A nurse administers a flu vaccination shot to a woman at a free clinic held on October 14, in Lakewood, California. Public health departments and other locations will also likely need to acquire additional ancillary supplies, such as PPE and other items that are already in high demand in the midst of the pandemic and flu season. “We can be all ready to go and have planned perfectly and have our people in place and our capacity built, and then we run out of PPE,” Plescia says. He worries about that, he says, because “that supply still doesn’t seem to be secure.” And shortages, as we saw earlier in the pandemic, lead to unequal distribution, in which larger and wealthier states can procure more supplies. There is also the little-discussed — but critical — issue of data infrastructure. As a country, we have a patchwork method for tracking vaccinations. For most adult vaccines, only the patient and office or clinic receive records about a given dose. (As Schaffner jokes, “When my father-in-law lived in New Hampshire, and spent time in Tennessee, then spent winters in Florida, I was his vaccine registry, I told his doctors. It worked fine for my father-in-law, but I can’t do that for everybody.”) Even pediatric vaccinations are usually logged just on a state-level basis. (And still the CDC encourages parents and caretakers to be in charge of tracking their child’s vaccines themselves.) So the idea of states and localities tying into a robust national vaccine tracking program — and on short order — is daunting, but crucial. Especially with many leading candidate vaccines requiring multiple doses, and different time spans between doses. And this information will have to flow easily among vaccine administration sites across the country in close to real-time. “We have to have a good ability to track people and know who got the initial dose, and we need to be able to do that across state lines,” Plescia says. “If someone got the first dose in Florida and moves to South Carolina, we need to see what they got.” Even beyond that sort of rapid record look-up, health workers will also need a way to get in touch with people to remind them to get their second dose in the right time frame, he says. One candidate vaccine has a 21-day space between doses; another is 28 days. “It would be good to go ahead and have the funding so we can start building those systems,” Plescia says. And not only that, Casalotti says, “we need time to make sure those systems are interoperable, and to train the users in how to employ them. And, frankly, we don’t have the time.” “The marathon continues” For many health departments, support from the federal government can’t come soon enough. Despite asking the federal government for vaccine distribution guidance and funding since this spring, Casalotti says they have still wound up behind the eight-ball. “We have ended up in a position where we no longer have the luxury of time. Now we’re behind.” Additionally, many local health departments still hadn’t recovered from the budget cuts of the 2008 recession, and now a number of them have faced further budget reductions and have had to furlough staff. “That is certainly not what you want to be doing when you know you’re going to be in the middle of a pandemic,” she says. In the meantime, the CDC has been directed to transfer $300 million from its budget to the public affairs office at its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, Redfield said in a September 16 Senate subcommittee hearing. At least $250 million of that has been allotted for a massive public relations campaign “to defeat despair and inspire hope,” with the bulk of the funds to be used before January. Some of this could be used toward general vaccine safety education and information, but experts are dubious that will be the case. “I haven’t seen that this program would be addressing this issue,” Casalotti says. She asks for support from the federal government in reminding people that even after the first round of vaccine doses is distributed, the pandemic lifestyle will be here to stay for most people for quite a while. “The marathon continues, and we’re all running it whether we want to or not.” Other public health experts are also looking to the federal government for a unified message and response. “This is a pandemic; it’s a national issue,” Schaffner says. “We have not had a coherent, sustained response to Covid-19 from the beginning. Every public health person I know of thinks we need it. This has to be largely directed and funded from a federal level. This is akin to disaster assistance. Sure, the locals go to work, but you really have to deal with this from a federal level. This is a hurricane that’s hit all 50 states.” Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance science journalist and author of Cultured and Octopus! Find her on Twitter at @KHCourage. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: Activist Tamara Stevens, dressed as a Handmaid, leaving the Georgia Capitol, May 16, 2019. | John Amis/AFP/Getty Images They’re not actually connected. But the story spread anyway. On Monday, Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s nominee to take Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, was officially confirmed and sworn in. Barrett’s controversial confirmation was the final chapter of the spectacle surrounding her rapid nomination and confirmation, especially so close to a presidential election. And it only further served to reignite the extremely polarized conversation around Barrett’s religion that has been building since 2017. Barrett is a devout Catholic. She has written before about her belief that Catholicism should affect a judge’s jurisprudence, and Democrats discussed her views widely when she was nominated to the federal bench in 2017. In a moment that has become infamous on the right, Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared that “the dogma lives loudly within you” during Barrett’s hearing, a phrase some conservatives took to be an attack on Barrett’s Catholicism. Barrett is also part of a small Catholic group known as People of Praise, and that’s where her religious affiliations get especially touchy. Some liberals argue Barrett’s membership in this group, which teaches that husbands are the heads of families and have authority over their wives, signals that she will hand down religiously motivated conservative opinions as a Supreme Court justice, particularly when it comes to women’s reproductive freedom and the rights of the queer community. Meanwhile, conservatives reply that Barrett is a high-powered judge who is also married, so she can’t be all that oppressed by her husband, and that liberal critiques of the way Barrett’s religion affects her judicial obligations are nothing more than anti-Catholic prejudice at work. One of the weirder ways this debate has played out since Barrett was first discussed as a potential Supreme Court nominee is the fight over whether or not People of Praise, the group she belongs to, is also one of the inspirations for The Handmaid’s Tale. In Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel (and its recent TV adaptation), fertile women are forced to live as childbearing slaves called handmaids. The group isn’t an established inspiration for the book — but the story has developed legs anyway. The inaccurate link between the People of Praise and Atwood’s story, perpetuated by a series of confusing coincidences and uneven fact-checking, first emerged in a Newsweek article and was later picked up by Reuters. Both articles have since been corrected, but the right was furious at both. The Washington Examiner called it a “smear that just won’t die.” Fox News noted several other outlets have mentioned Barrett and The Handmaid’s Tale in the same story. To be absolutely clear: People of Praise is not an inspiration for The Handmaid’s Tale, and the group does not practice sexual slavery or any of the other dystopian practices Atwood wrote about in her novel. But the argument over whether or not the two are connected reflects the deeply contentious atmosphere in which Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court occurred — and the immense symbolic weight The Handmaid’s Tale carries in American popular culture. The Handmaid’s Tale is actually inspired by People of Hope. They’re different from People of Praise. Two coincidences led to the idea of a People of Praise–Handmaid’s Tale connection. The first coincidence is that the People of Praise once had a religious rank called “handmaid.” As reported by the New York Times in 2017, People of Praise members are all accountable to a personal adviser. Those advisers offer guidance on major life decisions, including, per the Times, “whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children.” And these advisers used to be called “heads” when they were men and “handmaids” when they were women. They have since been renamed “leaders.” The second coincidence is that when Margaret Atwood explained her Handmaid’s Tale inspirations to the New York Times in 1987, she described one of them as “a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect, which calls the women handmaids.” Atwood did not at the time name the sect, so when her quote resurfaced in 2020, it was very easy for some readers to think, Well, People of Praise is a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect that calls the women handmaids, so there you go. Accordingly, on September 21, Newsweek reported that People of Praise was one of Atwood’s inspirations for The Handmaid’s Tale. Asked about her inspiration for The Handmaid’s Tale by Politico as the controversy heated up, Atwood said she wasn’t sure which group she was talking about in 1987. Her archive of work and research is at the University of Toronto, where she can’t currently access it due to Covid-19 restrictions. But she’s on the record as going through her Handmaid’s Tale archives for journalists plenty of times in the past, and during those interviews, she’s always cited People of Hope, a different Catholic charismatic spinoff that calls women handmaids. Specifically, People of Hope is a fundamentalist group in New Jersey that some former members have said behaves like a cult and which has allegedly arranged marriages between teenagers. The People of Hope call wives “handmaids,” and when Atwood saw that word in an Associated Press clipping about the group, she underlined it in pen. It’s rumored that it’s here that she developed the idea of using the name to begin with. In a weird wrinkle, the timing of the lore here doesn’t quite work out. Reporting for the Star-Ledger in 2017, Tom Deignan found that the story didn’t hit the AP until after The Handmaid’s Tale came out in 1985, meaning that Atwood couldn’t have pulled the word “handmaid” from that mythical news article after all. But regardless, the AP clipping in Atwood’s archives, the one that she always shows reporters, is about People of Hope. And while it’s plenty plausible that Atwood has indulged in a little self-mythologizing about her creative process over the years, it’s not really that relevant to any questions about Amy Coney Barrett and her religious leanings today. The outrage over the controversy speaks to the symbolic weight Handmaid’s Tale holds today in American pop culture The slippage between People of Praise handmaids, People of Hope handmaids, and Margaret Atwood handmaids is where this whole misunderstanding originated. And it is, in its own way, telling about the world Atwood was writing about in 1984 when she built Gilead, her theocratic dystopia. Atwood was drawing from the cultural norms of lots of different North American charismatic Christian groups at the time, including harmless ones. The reason there’s so much confusion about exactly where she took the word handmaid from is that handmaid is the kind of word a lot of North American charismatic Christian groups were into in 1984: suggestive of purity, duty, and feminine obedience to divine will. Again, that does not mean these groups were practicing sexual slavery. It means they were working with a very specific vocabulary, and the way Atwood made her dystopia feel real was by skillfully mimicking them. But that this slippage occurred in 2020 is also telling about how immensely fearful people are, on both the right and the left, about America’s future — and how powerful The Handmaid’s Tale is as a symbol of what that future might look like. People on the left look at Amy Coney Barrett and see someone who has denounced both abortion and marriage equality in explicitly religious terms, someone who they fear will, now that she is seated on the Supreme Court, turn back the clock on both those issues. They see a symbol of the same fear that drove protesters to don Handmaid robes at the Kavanaugh hearings in 2018: the fear that women are going to lose control of their bodies, and that when that day comes, we might just as well be in Gilead. So they have linked Barrett to The Handmaid’s Tale because The Handmaid’s Tale is now our culture’s most potent symbol for the idea of a world in which women’s bodies are not their own. People on the religious right, meanwhile, see the left’s focus on Barrett’s Catholicism as confirmation that American Christianity is losing its cultural power, and that they may soon become a persecuted minority. Articles that mistakenly link Barrett’s People of Praise to The Handmaid’s Tale, viewed through this lens, become examples of the left trying to make Barrett’s religion a disqualifying mark against her, and by extension to make all Christian faith disqualifying for higher office. The result is a controversy about two political parties that increasingly see themselves as pushed to the breaking point — and who believe they have no space left to interact with the other side in good faith. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Preview: Judge Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in as a judge for the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. | Julian Velasco An expert explains originalism, the Roberts Court, and what a Justice Barrett might do. On Monday, by a narrow vote of 52 to 48, the US Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. The 48-year-old Barrett was appointed by Trump to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, and was also reportedly a finalist for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat in 2018. She has been portrayed as a favorite of social conservatives seeking to push against the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence. She is unusual, compared especially to famously (and perhaps strategically) tight-lipped recent nominees like Brett Kavanaugh and Elena Kagan, for her extensive paper trail on questions of constitutional law. As a legal academic, she’s written extensively on what obedience to the original meaning of the Constitution requires of judges and members of Congress; how to reconcile the importance of precedent with allegiance to the Constitution’s original meaning; and how precedent can be used to mediate deep disagreements about the law. As a result, we know more about her jurisprudential beliefs than we’ll know about those of any new SCOTUS justice since, perhaps, Ginsburg. We know she identifies as an originalist who believes that the original public meaning of the Constitution is binding law. But we also know that she is skeptical of the radical libertarian originalist idea that economic regulation is presumptively unconstitutional, and that she believes some Supreme Court decisions that originalists may conclude are incorrectly decided nonetheless stand as “superprecedents” that the Court can abide by. Her legal writing has also prompted heated reactions from detractors. One piece (with fellow law professor John Garvey) on when Catholic judges might be obligated to recuse themselves from death penalty cases, prompted criticism from Senate Democrats during her appeals court confirmation hearings, who suggested Barrett was unable to separate her faith from her jurisprudence (a charge she strongly rejected). Another piece (with late Notre Dame colleague John Copeland Nagle) on how members of Congress should incorporate the original meaning of the Constitution into their votes has raised the eyebrows of some commentators, because it begins by noting that there are originalist arguments (which the paper itself does not accept, except for the sake of argument) to think that West Virginia was invalidly admitted as a state; that the 14th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified; and that paper money is unconstitutional, among other surprising conclusions. To better understand her academic writings, I reached out (a few days before Barrett was actually nominated) to Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton and a leading expert on originalism and constitutional interpretation. I wanted to get a better sense of what it means that Barrett is an originalist, how her variety of originalism works, and how to understand her most prominent academic papers. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows; note that it took place before Barrett’s actual nomination. If you want to dig deeper, Whittington teaches a course on constitutional originalism and the syllabus is a great place to start. See also my colleague Ian Millhiser’s introduction to Barrett. Dylan Matthews Let’s start very basic: What is originalism? Keith Whittington I think of it simply as a commitment to think that one, the meaning of the text of the Constitution is fixed at the time of its adoption, and two, that that has consequences for how judges ought to adjudicate cases. Then there’s lots of wiggle room as to how much consequence that should have for judges in particular kinds of cases, how exactly do we determine what the meaning of the Constitution is, etc. But [University of Virginia law professor] Larry Solum has characterized those as the two central principles of originalism, and I think that’s right. Dylan Matthews Is it possible to divide the current Supreme Court into originalists and non-originalists? Who would fall in each camp? Keith Whittington I think they all act as originalists to some degree, actually. Many different approaches to thinking about constitutional decision-making would say that there are times when originalist arguments are appropriate, and you ought to pay attention to them. So a case I was just writing about recently, the “faithless electors” case from this last term [about whether Electoral College electors can be required to vote for the presidential candidate who won their state], Elena Kagan wrote the majority, Clarence Thomas writes a concurring opinion, and both those opinions are basically originalist in their structure and design. There are moments when all the justices are willing to draw on that kind of argument. Some see it as more foundational than others and draw on it more exclusively. Thomas is clearly the leader on this front. Since Scalia has left the court, Thomas is the one who is most consistently committed to thinking about historical meaning, and is most emphatic that the justices ought to be thinking about the original meaning of the text and trying to apply it to cases before them. I think it’s too early to say the degree to which Kavanaugh is particularly committed to originalism. Gorsuch certainly has indicated that he thinks it’s important. I think both Alito and Roberts, on the other hand, have indicated that they are a little more pluralistic. Originalism is part of what goes into their decision-making, but it’s not the only consideration they have in mind. They’re similar to previous conservative justices. I think Chief Justice Rehnquist was like that. He sometimes talked about originalism, sometimes it’s important, but also sometimes departed from it and didn’t focus on it very much. All the conservative justices would say it’s important, but they aren’t all equally committed to thinking it’s the primary goal that ought to be driving their opinions. Dylan Matthews Let’s talk about Amy Coney Barrett. She’s a legal academic who has contributed extensively to debates about how originalists should act and rule. Where does she fall on some of those questions? Keith Whittington She’s been pretty vocally committed to originalism as really being the guiding light, more so than some others. She is more explicitly committed to the notion that one ought to be an originalist, and that it is the primary principle for judges, than Roberts is, or than Kavanaugh historically was. In that sense, she’s a little more like Thomas and Gorsuch. She has a clear judicial philosophy, and originalism is at its core. I think it’s less clear to what degree she is a pure textualist the way Gorsuch tends to be, and to what degree she’s willing to think beyond the text as she thinks about original principles. I don’t think she’s really emphasized the kind of narrow textualism that Gorsuch has emphasized. I suspect her originalism is going to look a little different than his version. On the other hand, she has also suggested that judges ought to care more about stare decisis [the doctrine that courts should generally abide by their previous rulings] than Thomas tends to. I think she’s a more moderate figure in that regard than Thomas. She would be trying to navigate precedents that are in conflict or in tension with original meaning, rather than just thinking they ought to be tossed overboard. She clearly is a kind of originalist. She doesn’t look quite like either Gorsuch or Thomas, but she’s probably playing in the same sandbox. Dylan Matthews I’m glad you brought up stare decisis. A paper she wrote with her colleague John Copeland Nagle, “Congressional Originalism,” has caused a bit of concern among critics, in part because she leads with a list of precedents that arguably conflict with the original meaning of the Constitution. Brown v. Board of Education is the most incendiary one, but she mentions arguments that West Virginia was invalidly admitted, that the 14th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified, that paper money is unconstitutional, and so forth. She doesn’t say she thinks they ought to be overruled — and indeed suggests that the point is moot in most cases as these issues would never come before the Court — but I think even putting up the examples has raised hackles. How should people weighing her nomination think about that paper? Keith Whittington I tend not to think it’s terribly significant. To some degree, it is an academic enterprise of trying to think about, “What are the tensions here? What are the implications of adopting a certain theoretical perspective? What are the implications if you think there are tensions between the theory and some of these foundational constitutional decisions that have been made over time, whether they are things like creating the state of West Virginia or things like Brown v. Board?” For her, that’s just a starting point for then trying to think about how to deal with the fact that there are going to be these tensions. Importantly, her view was not, “you’ve got to go overturn all these decisions,” whether it means getting rid of the state of West Virginia, or whether it means overturning judicial decisions that have been made that are hard to justify on originalist grounds. From her perspective, the question is, “What do you do about the fact that there are, from a theoretical perspective, mistakes that have been made over time?” The answer is not always that you’ve got to run out and correct all the mistakes. Sometimes you have to figure out how to live with those mistakes. Part of what’s interesting about her work is that she’s in part concerned with figuring out how to live with our mistakes. That’s not an easy question, from a theoretical perspective. From a judicial perspective, they often don’t have to confront that very directly. An academic is very interested in trying to say, “Let’s look at the creation of West Virginia or the Brown decision and think through the constitutionality of that and what it means about how the system works.” From a judge’s perspective, that’s not much of a practical problem that’s going to come in front of you. But there might be implications in how you think about those issues that do have more practical consequences for how you behave as a judge. I think her enterprise, of trying to think more practically about what those implications are, is helpful. Dylan Matthews A concrete worry a lot of left-of-center people have about Barrett is that a commitment to originalism puts important precedents — Roe v. Wade is the obvious one, but also the cases establishing a right to same-sex marriage, for instance — at risk of being overturned if she concludes they conflict with the Constitution’s original meaning. Barrett’s willingness to concede that we have to live with some decisions she considers “mistakes” in a theoretical sense is pretty interesting then. Why would an originalist think that? Why doesn’t every originalist act like Thomas in consistently putting precedent second to original meaning? Keith Whittington For at least a couple of reasons. One is a practical political one, that you can’t overturn all the mistakes. But the more you think there are quite dramatic mistakes. the more you need a theory about, “How do you live with those mistakes rather than try to overturn them?” If you think all the mistakes that your theory identifies are actually relatively minor and small, you can more easily imagine getting out there and cleaning them up. The more you think they’re actually big and important, then the more important it becomes to try to figure out a theory that allows you to live with those mistakes and figure out how to move forward given the existence of those mistakes. Originalist theory has moved on this front. It’s increasingly become interested in that question of how many and how significant are the mistakes out there from an originalist perspective? And then how do you deal with them and manage them? Some of the early academic literature in particular was often interested in adopting a fairly revolutionary posture and suggesting there’s lots of big, important, mistaken decisions, and we ought to be trying to correct them all. The more recent literature has really moved away from that, in part because it’s become more practical. It’s not just an academic exercise anymore. The other issue that a lot of originalist scholars are starting to circle around is that judges made all kinds of decisions in the past that they themselves did not try to ground in original meaning. It’s an easy instinct to think all those things are mistaken. But instead, we might start analyzing those more closely and finding, actually, it turns out you can build an originalist argument that gets you to a very similar place. So we ought to be trying to think about to what degrees those precedents can actually be salvaged, can be regrounded on better foundations from an originalist perspective, that might provide better guidance as to what you ought to do in the future, given those precedents, and how we ought to be trying to develop them, how they fit more coherently within the overall constitutional scheme. Dylan Matthews The other paper of hers that’s gotten a lot of popular attention relates to how judges should balance their faith and their rulings. She’s responding in part to William Brennan, a Catholic liberal on the Court who spoke about leaving his faith at the door when acting as a justice, and partially disagreeing with him. What do you make of that piece? Does it imply anything important about her jurisprudence? Keith Whittington My impression of that was that she wants to recognize it as being a problem, and therefore try to figure out how it ought to be reconciled. A lot of people have run with the notion that she’s emphasizing the significance of her religious belief and, likewise, the religious beliefs of other judges and justices. But I think it’s one of these cases where that’s the starting point for her, saying, “It is true that judges have religious beliefs. And those religious beliefs sometimes have implications for the kind of issues that come before the court.” And then the question is how judges ought to deal with that. Certainly her conclusion is not simply that judges ought to therefore impose their religious beliefs. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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