On the campaign trail in the USA, August 2020

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The following is the fourth edition of a monthly series chronicling the 2020 United States presidential election. It features original material compiled throughout the previous month after an overview of the month's biggest stories.

This month's spotlight on the campaign trail: a bat attacks the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, the American Independent Party picks a ticket amid controversy, and Birthers resurface to question the eligibility of the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee.

Summary

As the campaign shifted to August, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden led incumbent President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in the RealClearPolitics head-to-head polling average, 49.4 percent to 42.0 percent.

After President Trump suggested in a late July tweet that mail-in voting could result in fraud, early August debate centered around the postal service. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser Trump appointed to the post two months prior, instituted new policies at USPS that resulted in a slowed service.  Critics accused Trump of an intentional delay. DeJoy maintained the USPS could handle the increased demand for mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats in Congress pushed for extra funding to avoid potential voter disenfranchisement. Trump endorsed blocking emergency relief as a means to prevent a proliferation of mail-in ballots. Biden criticized Trump for this stance, arguing the President did not want the election to take place. Trump repeated his claim mail-in voting would be fraudulent. In addition, he initiated several lawsuits challenging certain states' mail-in voting procedures, particularly a Nevada law mandating ballots be mailed to all registered voters.

 
Joe Biden introduces Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Image: The Circus on Showtime.

Biden named Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Harris previously sought the Democratic presidential nomination but withdrew before the primaries. This fulfilled Biden's earlier pledge to pick a woman as his running mate. Trump questioned the selection. He said the "phony" and "nasty" Harris attacked Biden during Democratic debates and blasted her behavior during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing. He also said Harris' poll numbers dropped precipitously before her withdrawal. Other critics outside the Democratic party raised questions about Harris' eligibility, which Trump also briefly entertained. Commentators compared this response to the debunked Birther movement that questioned the citizenship of President Barack Obama. One entity whose members challenged Obama's citizenship and now do likewise with Harris, the American Independent Party, nominated a ticket of Alliance Party presidential nominee Rocky De La Fuente for president and rapper Kanye West for vice president. The party, which has ballot access in California, reportedly did not contact West about the nomination. West, a presidential candidate himself, with the Birthday Party, spent much of August seeking ballot access in various states. According to Forbes, West claimed to be in communication with Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner "almost daily." In mid-August, Kushner, on behalf of the White House, helped broker a deal establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Just ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump's younger brother Robert died of an unspecified illness. Biden and Harris each sent their condolences to Trump. Observers questioned whether coronavirus was the cause of death. The hashtag #WrongTrump went viral on Twitter shortly after, suggesting users wished for the President's death. The Democratic convention took place in a largely virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic.  It featured speeches that were, for the most part, previously recorded. Party business took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Speakers hammered Trump for his response to coronavirus. Biden was officially nominated with some delegates pledged to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, unlike the other withdrawn Democratic candidates, did not release his delegates to Biden in order to help shape the party platform. At 77, Biden became the oldest person ever nominated for president by either major party. Speakers throughout the four day convention included three former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Obama; former Ohio governor John Kasich, among other Republicans; and two brothers of George Floyd, whose death in police custody in May led to widespread protests. Former First Lady Michelle Obama gave the keynote address on the opening night, urging viewers, "we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it." After her speech, the anti-transgender slur "Big Mike" trended on Twitter. Harris, in her address, accepted the vice presidential nomination, becoming the first African American and first South Asian American to fill the role. On the last day, Biden delivered his acceptance speech at Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Broadcast of the speech appeared on a screen at a drive-in viewing nearby at Frawley Stadium. Trump described the convention as a "Hollywood-produced infomercial." He defended his record on the pandemic, and criticized Democrats for failing to mention Biden's opposition to Trump's ban on travel from China and Europe to slow the spread of coronavirus. In a later speech, Trump assailed the event as the "darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history." Opinion polls did not show any meaningful convention bump for Biden.

 
President Trump arrives in North Carolina for the first day of the Republican National Convention.
Image: White House.

Before the start of the 2020 Republican National Convention, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin led to protests and unrest. Blake survived the shooting but was left paralyzed. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency and deployed the national guard. Unrest continued in Portland, Oregon as well, where a Trump supporter was shot and killed. "Law and order" was a common theme at the convention. Most speeches were given from Washington D.C., though the party handled its internal business, such as the unanimous renomination of Trump, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, both gave speeches in Charlotte on the first day of the convention. Other speakers during the four day event included four of Trump's children; First Lady Melania Trump; Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who drew weapons on allegedly trespassing protesters at their St. Louis residence; and Nicholas Sandmann, a former high school student who received a settlement from CNN over the depiction of him during a 2019 anti-abortion march. From Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke, defending Trump's America First foreign policy. It was unusual for a sitting Secretary of State to speak to a political convention. Democrats in Congress vowed to investigate whether Pompeo used State Department resources to engage in partisan activities. Vice President Pence gave a speech before a crowd of about 100 people in Baltimore, Maryland. On the last night, Trump delivered a long acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House with 1,500 spectators and a large fireworks show afterwards. During the speech Trump claimed, "Biden's plan is not a solution to the virus, but rather it is a surrender to the virus." Political commentators such as Brit Hume and Chris Wallace described the speech as "flat" and lacking energy. Trump's decision to allow part of the convention to take place at the White House raised ethics questions as well. A Black Lives Matter group protested outside the White House on the last day of the convention. A group of protesters surrounded and allegedly threatened Senator Rand Paul and his wife Kelley as they exited the event. In reaction to the convention, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of ignoring "truth, evidence, data and facts" and said she would prefer Biden not participate in the presidential debates with Trump. Biden rejected Pelosi's suggestion, saying he would act as a "fact checker on the floor" during the debate.

Unlike Biden, Trump seemingly received a slight bump from his convention. At the end of August, he erased some of Biden's lead in the nationwide RealClearPolitics head to head average, trailing 49.6 percent to 43.3 percent.

Spotlight

Bat attacks LP nominee

 
Jorgensen campaigning in August 2020
Image: Jo Jorgensen for President.

For Libertarian Party presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen, the August campaign began on a hairy note. According to the campaign, on the morning of August 1 around 4:30 or 5:30 a.m. EST, a flying creature collided with Jorgensen on the front porch of her South Carolina home. That creature, a bat, apparently approached Jorgensen's neck and struck her on the chin. Wikinews contacted campaign manager Steve Dasbach and deputy campaign manager Jess Mears about the incident.  

"Jess Mears and I witnessed [the bat attack]," said Dasbach to Wikinews. "I was driving them to the airport to catch a flight to Pittsburg[h]."

Mears would not confirm Dasbach's account. Instead, she pointed to a video of Jorgensen on Facebook, which corroborated most of Dasbach's telling. Neither Dasbach nor Mears would provide Wikinews with an image of the wound.

On the campaign trail in Pittsburgh, Jorgensen stopped at a local medical facility. Jorgensen received five precautionary shots for rabies since the bat broke her skin. Bats can carry the rabies virus, which is transmittable to humans and could result in death. According to the CDC, treatment for any potential exposure requires a series of shots over a 14 day period. In her Facebook video, Jorgensen confirmed this course of treatment.

"I'm taking the instructions very seriously", said Jorgensen. "The instructions basically say if you miss any shots, if you don't take them on time, you die. They didn't say it quite like that. They said if you don't take the remaining shots on time then the shots you've taken will do you no good. So that's kind of scary. [...] It is a bit disconcerting to have an encounter with a bat."

News of the incident was not reported until after August 7 when Jorgensen tweeted about missing campaign events in Mississippi to get shots as part of her treatment. Following the tweet, Newsweek, Politico, The Hill, Time Magazine, Mediaite, The Independent, and TMZ, among others, published stories on the incident. A day after the news broke, the hashtag #LetHerSpeak, referring to Jorgensen's bid to be included in the Presidential Debates, trended on Twitter.

At the time of the news reports, Jorgensen polled at three percent nationwide in the Change Research/CNBC poll. She polled at two percent in the Monmouth poll. This falls short of the 15 percent threshold for participation in the official debates put on by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Controversy in the AIP

The American Independent Party (AIP), the same party that nominated the late Alabama Governor George Wallace for president in 1968 and future president Donald Trump in 2016, nominated a candidate with center left views for its 2020 presidential ticket. At its August 15 convention with around 20 virtual attendees, the party nominated Alliance Party presidential nominee Rocky De La Fuente for president and rapper Kanye West for vice president. The AIP, which has ballot access in California, the most populous US state, made the nomination amid three points of controversy: De La Fuente's usual running mate, Darcy Richardson, was left off the ticket in favor of West; questions surround whether the AIP nominated the ticket to assist President Trump's re-election; and before the nomination, De La Fuente made several monetary transfers to the AIP vice chairman.

 
Kanye West campaigning in 2020
Image: Nice4What.
 
De La Fuente in 2016
Image: Marc Nozell.

De La Fuente, a businessman who first ran for president in the 2016 Democratic primaries and was the Reform Party's 2016 presidential nominee, ran for president again this year; first as a challenger to President Trump in the Republican primaries, and then as the presidential nominee of the Alliance, Reform, and Natural Law parties. For each of these parties, Richardson is De La Fuente's running mate. The De La Fuente/Richardson ticket has ballot access in a total of 15 states. But for California, with the AIP, West stands in Richardson's usual place. Richardson had his own opinion on the matter. He provided Wikinews with the text of a message he sent to AIP vice chairman Mark Seidenberg: "Please let Rocky [De La Fuente] know that if he runs with the unstable, bi-polar Trump-loving Kanye West in California that I will withdraw as his vice-presidential running mate nationally. I've spent my entire adult life battling the duopoly and certainly DO NOT want my name associated with a candidacy that peripherally includes a Trump/GOP plant like the unhinged rapper .... [AIP co-founder] Bill Shearer must be rolling over in his grave."

Richardson has since reconciled with De La Fuente and remains "fully committed" to the campaign despite its new association with West.

West, who is running for president in multiple states, may not even be aware of the AIP nomination. He has, previusly, not denied allegations his candidacy is meant to assist President Trump but also not admitted it outright. The AIP is less discreet about its intentions. In comments at Ballot Access News, AIP chairman Markham Robinson, whose Twitter bio includes the hashtags #MAGA and #TRUMP2020, writes: "It’s a long shot I’ll grant you, but our ticket may draw enough votes that would otherwise go to Biden-Harris to give Trump-Pence a plurality. Think about it for a second, who would votes for our ticket? Well, there will be those [who] vote for it based on their love and/or admiration for Rocky or Ye (Kanye West). There may well be Never Trumpers from the ranks of Republicans who will not vote for Trump, but are galled by [the] thought of voting for loathsome Progressives/Socialists like Biden-Harris. And there will be those who will vote for Rocky because of his Hispanic name and roots. In fact our ticket may turn out to be the most popular protest vote receptacle ever."

According to FEC records, De La Fuente's Rocky 101 LLC political action committee gave Seidenberg a total of US$10,000 over a series of five payments between December 2019 and April 2020. The reports use the description "research services" or leave the label blank. Seidenberg defended the payments in comments on Ballot Access News and denied any allegation of quid pro quo: "[T]he advance[s] received from Rocky [were] to cover hotels and travel expenses around California to run for House and/or Senate races. None [of the money] went to work on [the] race for President. [I] spent three days alone in March 2020 at UC Berkeley Law Library looking up Texas Election Law. Most of the time was [spent] at the offices of the California Secretary of State and Registrar of Voters in Kings, Kern, Fresno, and Tulare Count[ies] on Rocky['s] run for House of Representatives."

When asked to clarify his association with Seidenberg and whether the payments influenced the AIP decision, De La Fuente gave a terse "no." Robinson and Seidenberg were each contacted for this story as well but have not responded to inquiries as of this publication.

Return of the Birthers

Prominent members of the aforementioned AIP, among others, question the citizenship and eligibility of Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Her selection as Joe Biden's running mate and ultimate nomination at the Democratic National Convention further highlighted these questions. Political commentators see similarities to the questions posed about the citizenship and eligibility of President Barack Obama from those termed Birthers. Nearly all legal experts consider the perspective of Birthers as incorrect, arguing there is no question about Harris' eligibility. Still, the vocal minority persists. "Birther King" Andy Martin, a lesser-known 2012 and 2016 presidential candidate, Wikinews interviewee, and former adjunct law professor, provided his own input on the Harris question.

At Ballot Access News, AIP vice chairman Mark Seidenberg commented: "[Kamala Harris is] Constitutionally ineligible to serve as VPOTUS (Vice President of the United States). At [her] birth her parents were from foreign countries and not US citizens, viz., she is not a natural born citizen. Then she [grew] up in her formative years in Canada and graduated from a high school in Canada."

 
Copy of the birth certificate of Kamala Harris
Image: State of California.

Harris was born October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California to an Indian-born mother, the late Shyamala Gopalan, and a Jamaican-born father, Donald J. Harris. The two parents were married before Harris' birth but divorced in 1971. Neither were U.S. citizens at the time of Harris' birth. Harris moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada with her mother and sister, Maya Harris, at the age of 12. She graduated from Quebec's Westmount High School in 1981 before returning to the United States to attend college.

The 12th Amendment to the US Constitution makes the qualifications of vice president the same as the qualifications of president. Article 2, Section 1 sets the citizenship qualification for president: "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President".

Martin argues that since the term "natural born Citizen" is not defined in the document, the meaning of the term at the time of its writing should prevail.

"Under commonly understood legal theory in 1789," writes Martin, "a natural born citizen had both parents born in the United States. Being born yourself in the US made you a 'citizen.' But you were 'natural born,' and therefore eligible to serve as president, only if both of your parents had also been born in the US."

Martin says the founders constructed this "significant barrier" to "prevent foreigners from coming to the US and procreating a baby who would then be eligible for the presidency." He claims the founders were concerned "a German Prince would come to America and father a child to establish Germanic hegemony of the new nation."

The 14th Amendment states: "all persons born [...] in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens." Martin does not consider such birthright citizenship to have any effect on what constitutes natural born citizenship, seeing the two as distinct concepts.

Differing slightly in a Newsweek essay, Professor John C. Eastman of Chapman University School of Law writes that the term "subject to" in the 14th Amendment requires parents to be citizens subject to "complete jurisdiction" rather than mere "partial jurisdiction" as noncitizens.

AIP chairman Markham Robinson reflects this view in Ballot Access News comments: "It is the AIP position that while foreign tourists (or illegal immigrants) are IN US jurisdiction, they are not UNDER it, so the children born in the US of such parents do not in fact enjoy 'birthright citizenship.'"

Eastman does not make a judgment on Harris, arguing that she needs to answer questions on the status of her parents at the time of her birth. He holds that if they were "lawful permanent residents" at Harris' birth then she meets the requirement. If they were only "temporary visitors" on student visas, she does not meet the requirement.

For Martin, it does not make much of a difference. While he believes Harris does not qualify as a natural born citizen under the 1789 view, he says court decisions made to challenge Obama's status have left the natural born citizen clause unenforceable.

"Harris can probably rest easy that despite the renewed debate", Martin opines, "she will not be blocked from taking the oath of office if she and Biden win."

The majority of legal experts reject the views Seidenberg, Martin, Robinson and Eastman espouse.

Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA School of Law writes in a Newsweek essay that the term "natural born citizen" derived from the British "natural born subjects" which included all people born within the borders of the British empire. Moreover, he says the 14th Amendment phrase "subject to" referred primarily to children born to Indian tribes. He concludes Harris meets the natural born citizen requirement.

Others dismissed the claims outright. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law called it "a truly silly argument." Professor Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School asked whether Oakland was part of the US and then declared "that's the full legal analysis."


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.