On the campaign trail in the USA, September 2020

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The following is the fifth 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: the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee secures ballot access in all 50 U.S. states, the Unity Party of America presidential nominee proposes a novel solution to the issue of "packing" the U.S. Supreme Court, and three candidates give their thoughts on the latest military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Summary

As the campaign entered September, Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden led President Donald Trump, the Republican Party presidential nominee, in the RealClearPolitics head-to-head polling average, 49.0 percent to 43.0 percent.

 
National Guard in Kenosha, Wisconsin to maintain "law and order" ahead of visits by President Trump and former Vice President Biden. (Image: Lightburst)

President Trump started the month visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin, where riots had broken out due to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August. Trump referred to the riots as acts of "domestic terror" and placed further emphasis on maintaining "law and order." His opponent, Biden, in a message to fundraisers, accused Trump of "trying to scare the hell out of America." Biden himself visited Kenosha two days after Trump in what was his first campaign trip to the swing state of Wisconsin. During the appearance, Biden delivered a speech on racial inequality while wearing a mask, discussing the "original sin" of slavery. He also visited the family of Jacob Blake and spoke to Blake on the phone. The Trump campaign criticized Biden for not denouncing Antifa and for making the trip despite claiming previously that it was not safe to do so due to the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, said he would have preferred that neither Trump nor Biden had made the stop. At least three unfavorable claims about Trump surfaced in early September. First, after CNN reporter and former Bill Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart questioned whether the President's impromptu visit to Walter Reed Hospital last November was the result of a stroke, Trump alleged the media was falsely claiming he had suffered from "mini-strokes." Thereafter, Matt Drudge posted a report from The Hill about Trump's "mini-strokes" tweet as the top story on the Drudge Report. Trump attacked Drudge as a consistent Trump opponent and his campaign called for CNN to fire Lockhart. Next, The Atlantic claimed that during a 2018 trip to France, Trump refused to visit a cemetery of U.S. soldiers killed during the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood and referred to the soldiers buried there as "losers" and "suckers." Furthermore, Trump allegedly questioned whether the U.S. allied with the correct side during the war. Aides publicly denied the story as did Trump-critic and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Nevertheless, others, including Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, confirmed key parts of the story. Trump called on Fox News to fire Griffin. Lastly, excerpts from Bob Woodward's book Rage, for which Trump gave insider access, revealed Trump downplayed the coronavirus in February in order to avoid public panic. Trump confirmed the claim, arguing it was not in the national interest to stir up panic about the virus. Biden, while campaigning in Michigan, called Trump's action "a life-and-death betrayal of the American people." He described it as "beyond despicable" and "almost criminal." Trump stirred controversy for himself both during an interview with a local Wilmington, North Carolina outlet and again at a rally in Pennsylvania. He suggested supporters fill out absentee ballots, and then visit their polling places and vote in-person if records indicated they had not voted. After Trump tweeted the same advice, Twitter placed a warning over the tweet. People in the Trump administration and campaign said his comments were misconstrued and that he did not support voting twice. According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, voting twice is a felony.

 
Smoke plumes from the 2020 California wildfires as seen from satellite on September 9. (Image: U.S. National Weather Service)

In mid-September, Trump held his first indoor rally in three months, in Nevada, flouting local coronavirus mandates. Afterwards Trump visited California to discuss the wildfires wreaking havoc in the state. In a public briefing that included California governor Gavin Newsom, Trump denied the effect of climate change on the intensity of the fires, arguing they were largely the product of forest mismanagement. The climate change issue reappeared on the campaign trail. Biden delivered a speech in Delaware in which he called Trump a "climate arsonist," citing the recent California wildfires, flooding and Atlantic hurricanes. He argued that if Trump wins re-election, "these hellish events will continue to become more common." In Florida, where hurricanes have a disproportionate impact, polls revealed Trump strengthening with Latinos; perhaps due, League of United Latin American Citizens president Domingo Garcia indicated, to Trump's social conservative positions and stances against socialism and protests. As Kamala Harris visited the state and focused more on the African American constituency, Biden campaign officials expressed concern about Latino support. Biden improved his standing among another large voting bloc in Florida, senior citizens, who voted heavily for Trump in 2016. Furthermore, a major boost for Biden in Florida came with the announcement that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to invest US$100 million into the state and offered to pay fines for former inmates to regain their ability to vote. Trump claimed the move was criminal.

 
President Trump with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett (Image: The White House)

Building on the deal brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) the previous month, the Trump administration announced additional deals between Israel and Bahrain and between Serbia, Kosovo, and Israel. Like the UAE, the Muslim majority nations of Bahrain and Kosovo recognized Israel and opened diplomatic relations with the nation. The formerly antagonistic nations of Serbia and Kosovo opened economic ties as well and Serbia agreed to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Representatives from the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel held a special signing at the White House with President Trump. Trump hailed the agreements as the "dawn of a new Middle East." Meanwhile, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region escalated to violence. Back home, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, leaving an opening on the Court. Democrats claimed the election should decide who picks the next justice, citing the Republicans' refusal to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland after the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016. Republicans argued this was a different situation than in 2016 because now the party controlling the Senate matches the President's party. President Trump nominated Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the seat. Citing concerns Barrett's placement would upset the balance of the Court for conservatives, some Democrats advocated packing the Court with liberal justices until it reached a liberal majority. That would only be possible if Democrats won the presidency and the Senate. When confronted with the possibility of Democrats winning the election, Trump would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power, claiming the possibility of fraud occurring as a result of increased mail-in voting. Trump received criticism for the statement. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a sometime Trump critic, said the peaceful transfer of power is what separates the U.S. from nations like Belarus, and described Trump's potential unwillingness as "unthinkable and unacceptable." The Biden campaign recycled a statement it first put out in July: "The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House." Trump received further criticism just ahead of the first presidential debate, when The New York Times published allegations about his tax returns. The reports indicated Trump paid US$750 in taxes in 2016 and the same amount in 2017, and that he owed on loans in excess of US$300 million due in four years. Trump labeled the report as "fake news" and said he would release his tax returns once he was no longer under audit. Biden left the campaign trail a few days before the debate to prepare both virtually and in-person at his Delaware house. According to CNN, a source told them Trump prepared for a total of two hours, enlisting help from former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He continued to hold campaign rallies and White House events.

 
Logo for the September 29 presidential debate. (Image: Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic)

The first presidential debate between Trump and Biden took place on the penultimate day of September in Ohio. During the debate, the candidates often interrupted each other. Although Biden was the first to do so, Trump interrupted far more often. Moderator Chris Wallace was criticized for his inability to maintain control. During the debate, Biden would not say whether or not he supported Court packing. Once, when Trump interjected, Biden said "Will you Shut up, man?" During the course of the debate, Biden called Trump a clown, a racist, and the worst president. Trump insulted Biden as unintelligent. After Biden attacked Trump for the alleged "losers" and "suckers" comment reported in The Atlantic, Trump brought up Biden's son Hunter Biden and his dealings in Ukraine and China. Biden defended his son's struggle with drugs. Biden attacked Trump for the over 200,000 U.S. deaths from coronavirus. Trump countered that Biden would have lost even more if he were president due to his opposition to the travel ban from China. Trump claimed Democrats pushed Biden to the far left on socialized medicine, the Green New Deal and defunding the Police. Biden referred to himself as the Democratic Party and said he did not support the policies Trump mentioned. Trump argued Biden had just lost the far left by saying he didn't support those things. He challenged Biden to name any law enforcement individuals or groups who endorsed Biden's campaign, which Biden did not do. Trump made a confusing statement about the far right organization Proud Boys, when asked to condemn them, stating "stand back and stand by" but argued the far left Antifa organization needed to be addressed. Biden called Antifa an "idea." Trump continued his claims about postal voting causing fraud and again would not commit to accepting the results of the election. After the debate, CNN anchor Dana Bash described the event as a "shitshow." Republican Senator Ben Sasse had the same response. Fox News commentator Ari Fleischer called it "a mess." Biden called Trump a "national embarrassment" for his performance, while the communications director for the Trump campaign, Tim Murtaugh, declared victory for Trump. According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, moderators would have "additional tools" to maintain order in future debates.

As September came to a close, Biden maintained his lead over President Trump in the RealClearPolitics head-to-head polling average, 49.7 percent to 43.1 percent.

 
President Trump speaks at a September 30 campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota (Image: Dan Scavino)

Spotlight

On the ballot in all 50 states

 
Jo Jorgensen (Image: Jo Jorgensen for President)

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen passed a milestone in September, becoming the only third party candidate in this election to secure ballot access in all states and the District of Columbia. The party had the same access in 2016, but in that cycle there was no coronavirus pandemic hampering petitioning efforts. Before 2016, the last time the Libertarian Party had ballot access in all jurisdictions was 1996 when Jorgensen was on the ballot as the running mate of the late Harry Browne. The Browne-Jorgensen ticket, as well as the Reform Party ticket of the late Ross Perot that same year, was the last time before 2016 that any third party or independent candidate achieved full ballot access.

In a celebratory email to supporters, Jorgensen exclaimed: "It's official — my campaign is on ballot in ALL 50 states! I want to thank all the volunteers and staff who made this possible. It was a lot of work! We're talking about hours upon hours of collecting petitions."

With the access secured, Jorgensen aimed to gain entry to the presidential debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commission's criterion for inclusion remains a showing of 15 percent support in opinion polls. In late September polls, when included, Jorgensen was in third place.  She drew two percent in the September 25–27 Léger poll, two percent in the September 26–27 Redfield & Wilton Strategies survey, and five percent in the September 25–27 Zogby Analytics poll.

"We are the real choice for American voters in November," Jorgensen argued, "yet the corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates refuses to have me. Our campaign is the only viable option to both Trump or Biden."

In 2016, despite full ballot access and a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates, then-Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson was denied access to the debates. Nevertheless, he received 3.27 percent of the vote on Election Day, the most a Libertarian Party presidential nominee has ever received.

A novel approach to Court packing

 
Pete Buttigieg (Image: Gage Skidmore)

In mid-September, staunch liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after a long battle with cancer. President Trump nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett as her replacement. With a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, Barrett's confirmation was likely, resulting a 6–3 majority for conservatives in the Court. In response, some Democrats, such as former 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, proposed major changes to the Court, similar to what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed in the 1930s. While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden did not say in the debate whether he supports significant changes, one third party presidential nominee proposed to Wikinews a novel approach, aiming both to prevent future Court packing and promote ideological balance.

 
Franklin D. Roosevelt (Image: Vincenzo Laviosa)

After his New Deal programs suffered a series of defeats in the Supreme Court, President Roosevelt looked to add justices that would interpret the Constitution to uphold his agenda. Capitalizing on the public perception of the Court as being too old, Roosevelt sought to tie the number of justices to age. In 1937, he proposed a bill to amend the Judiciary Act of 1869, which sets the number of Supreme Court justices at nine. Roosevelt's bill would allow the President to nominate one additional justice for every justice over the age of 70 years and six months with at least ten years of experience on the bench. The proposal capped the number of justices to be nominated this way at six. The plan did not receive much support, even from his own Democratic Party. The Senate voted 70 to 20 to send the bill back to committee, where it died.

Now, 83 years later, some Democrats have revisited a plan to expand the number of justices that Buttigieg proposed during his campaign. He suggested expanding the Court to 15 justices: five Republicans, five Democrats, and five to be chosen by the other justices. Other Democratic plans include a straight-up expansion of the number of justices and a plan to institute term limits for justices. According to a 2019 Marquette University poll, 57 percent of the U.S. public opposes expanding the number of justices. However, 72 percent support term limits.

 
Unity Party of America presidential nominee Bill Hammons (Image: Bill Hammons)

Bill Hammons, 2020 presidential nominee of the Unity Party of America, whose running mate Eric Bodenstab spoke to Wikinews in August, provided Wikinews with his own plan for the Court.  While it would expand the number of justices, it aims to prevent future Court packing:

"The number of Justices should be set at 13 with a Constitutional Amendment to prevent future Court Packing," says Hammons, "and the four new Justices should be smart non-ideologues who have been ignored for their lack of ideology."

The U.S. Constitution provides two ways to propose a Constitutional Amendment as Hammons proposes: (1) a two-thirds affirmative vote in the Senate and House of Representatives, or (2) an affirmative vote in the state legislatures of two-thirds of the states to call a constitutional convention. The latter route has not yet been used. If an amendment is successfully proposed, three-quarters of states must then ratify it in order for the amendment to become part of the Constitution. The last successful amendment occurred in 1992.

While both the Hammons plan and the Buttigieg plan aim for balance, Hammons's approach differs from Buttigieg's in that future Court packing, like that proposed from President Roosevelt, would not be possible absent further amendment to the Constitution. Furthermore, there is no partisan classification of justices provided and party identification does not serve as the basis for judicial ideology. Curiously, the number of justices Hammons favors matches the current number of U.S. circuit courts; the courts from which the Supreme Court hears appeals.

 
The Supreme Court prior to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Image: Fred Schilling)

Candidates react to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

A longstanding conflict between the nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted into violence late in September. The conflict between the two Post-Soviet states centers on the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It lies within the internationally-recognized borders of Azerbaijan but the Armenian-backed separatist Republic of Artsakh currently occupies it. After inquiry from Wikinews, U.S. presidential candidates Phil Collins of the Prohibition Party, Don Blankenship of the Constitution Party, and Jo Jorgensen of the Libertarian Party, weighed in on the issue.

 

██ Territory controlled by the Republic of Artsakh including Armenian-controlled territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh

██ Territory claimed by the Republic of Artsakh but controlled by Azerbaijan

██ Territory captured by Azerbaijan

(Image: w:User:VartanM, w:User:Kmusser, and w:User:Solavirum)

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in 1994. Russia brokered a cease-fire agreement but skirmishes continued to break out. The latest violence began with conflicting claims from both sides. The Armenians claim they were retaliating against missile attacks from Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijanis state they were responding to Armenian aggression. The president of Turkey vowed support for Azerbaijan, while Russia called for a cessation of fighting. As of September 30, Armenia claimed 790 Azerbaijani soldiers had been killed, with 103 Artsakh deaths. Azerbaijan claimed to have killed about 2,300 Artsakh soldiers.

President Trump commented on the matter during a White House Press Briefing, "[W]e're looking at it very strongly. [...] We have a lot of good relationships in that area. We'll see if we can stop it." Although Trump's State Department asked for any "external party" not to involve themselves in the conflict, his main presidential rival Joe Biden called on the President to demand directly that Turkey stop interfering on Azerbaijan's behalf.

Collins saw compromise as the best way for the two nations to resolve their differences: "I think that those countries should compromise and split the disputed area in half." Nevertheless, Collins did not want the U.S. to involve itself militarily and calls on Washington to remain neutral. His opponents, Jorgensen and Blankenship, shared this view.

"The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is their conflict. Not ours", said Jorgensen. "We have no business taking either side. Our foreign policy should resemble one giant Switzerland, armed and neutral."

Blankenship concurred: "We need to stop policing the world and allow other countries to manage their own affairs", he argued. "We need to withdraw our troops from all but a very few foreign countries. Armenia and Azerbaijan should be given the freedom to solve their own issues. "

There is precedent for the U.S. President mediating international disputes. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt mediated a peace agreement between Japan and Russia, fostering the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt's efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. President Jimmy Carter mediated an end to the conflict between Israel and Egypt at the Camp David Accords in 1978 that brought about the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty and the normalization of relations between the two nations. The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited this in awarding Carter the 2002 Peace Prize. And President Trump, in September 2020, addressed the Arab–Israeli conflict in mediating the Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.



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Sources

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.