WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden squared off, in a way, in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to a pandemic that has reshaped the nation.
Coming just two and a half weeks before Election Day, the events Thursday night offered crystalizing contrasts and a national, if divided, audience. But it seemed unlikely to have produced a needed moment for a president running out of time or opportunities to appeal beyond his core base.
He was defensive about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 217,000 lives in the United States, and evasive when pressed about whether he took a required COVID-19 test before his first debate with Biden. Angry and combative, Trump refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy group — and only testily did so regarding white supremacists.
The Republican president also appeared to acknowledge revelations from a recent New York Times report that he was in debt and left open the possibility that some of it was owed to a foreign bank. But he insisted that he didn’t owe any money to Russia or any “sinister people” and suggested that $400 million in debt was a “very, very small percentage” compared to his overall assets.
Biden denounced the White House’s handling of the virus, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served. Though vague at times, he suggested he will offer clarity on his position on expanding the Supreme Court if Trump’s nominee to the bench is seated before Election Day.
After Biden’s 90-minute town hall event formally concluded, the candidate spent another half-hour taking questions from those in the audience who didn’t get an opportunity during the televised program.
Trump and Biden were supposed to spend Thursday night on the same debate stage in Miami. But that faceoff was scuttled after Trump’s coronavirus infection, which jolted the race and threatened the health of the American president.
Trump wouldn’t say whether he had tested negative on the day of his first debate with Biden on Sept. 29, allowing only, “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.” Debate rules required that each candidate, using the honor system, had tested negative prior to the Cleveland event, but Trump spoke in circles when asked when he last tested negative.
The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said it would be held virtually following his COVID-19 diagnosis.
The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the pair held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. The difference in the men’s tone was immediate and striking.
Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, rebuking his FBI director, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount of doubt on the likeliness of fairness.
“And then they talk, ’Will you accept a peaceful transfer?’” Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will.’ But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else.”
He again sought to minimize revelations from a New York Times investigation that he has more than $400 million in debt and suggested that reports are wrong that he paid little or no federal income taxes in most years over the past two decades.
Biden, meanwhile, took a far different, softer approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the program and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words. At times his answers droned on.
Holding a white cloth mask in one hand, the Democratic nominee brought a small card of notes onstage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He said doing so would save, as he consulted his notes, “let me see … $92 billion.”
Biden vowed to say before Election Day whether he will support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate and hold the House after November.
He has for weeks refused to answer the question but went further Thursday night. He said, “I’m still not a fan” of expanding the court, but said his ultimate decision depended on how the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court “is handled” and “how much they rush this.”
Biden also blasted Trump’s foreign policy, declaring that “‘America first’ has made ‘America alone’” and “This president embraces all the thugs in the world.” He turned introspective when asked what it would say if he lost.
“It could say that I’m a lousy candidate, that I didn’t do a good job,” Biden said. “But I think, I hope that it doesn’t say that we’re as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds as it appears the president wants us to be.”
Biden said he plans to participate in next week’s debate but he would ask Trump to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. “It’s just decency” for everyone around him, including non-candidates like camera operators, Biden said.
The two men are still scheduled to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville.
4th Resident of Retirement Haven Charged with Voter Fraud
THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — A fourth resident of a massive Florida retirement community has been arrested on a charge of voter fraud.
Charles Barnes, 64, was arrested Tuesday and charged with voter fraud for casting more than one ballot, according to an arrest affidavit filed in court.
The arrest affidavit doesn’t detail the basis for the charge. Barnes entered a not guilty plea on Thursday.
His attorney, Victor Mead, didn’t immediately return an email inquiry.
Online voting records showed Barnes wasn’t affiliated with any political party and that he first registered to vote in Sumter County in 2019.
Barnes’ arrest was the fourth for voter fraud in the past two months of residents of The Villages retirement community in a county that is a Republican stronghold in Florida. Of the three other residents, two were registered Republicans and the third had no party affiliation.
The arrests come after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to create a law enforcement agency to investigate election crimes, despite there being little evidence of electoral malfeasance by voters in the Sunshine State.
Florida House Public Integrity and Elections Committee Review 2020 Election Physical and Cybersecurity
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Many of the legislative committees are meeting in preparation for the upcoming legislative session on March 2, 2021.
The Public Integrity and Elections Committee met on February 9, 2021, to discuss whether or not Florida’s laws are working to produce secure, reliable, fair, and efficient elections. The presentations during this meeting were intended:
- Give the members of the committee an opportunity to learn more about the nuances of election law
- To appreciate what went right in the 2020 election
- To evaluate areas where there might be room for improvement
Secretary of State Laurel Lee talked about the physical and cybersecurity of the elections, with her main focus being on infrastructure.
On May 22, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis instructed Secretary Lee to do a review of the statewide elections infrastructure to identify any vulnerabilities and address any vulnerabilities that were identified not only at the state level but across all 67 counties.
To create a baseline, the Department of State needed reliable information and the same information across all counties. The Department developed a plan along with the Supervisors of Elections from across the state. This plan involved sending Department of State cyber navigators to each of the 67 counties to conduct an election specific risk assessment on the individual networks.
This meant for the first time ever, the State Department had statewide visibility on the elections related systems, networks, and physical facilities. They were then able to send resources and personnel to the areas most in need and to work side-by-side with each county to address and mitigate any vulnerabilities.
Secretary Lee said that with the help of our federal partners, which included the US Attorney, FBI, and Homeland Security all critical intelligence and threat information was passed along in a timely manner and these partners helped in the fight against election-related misinformation.
Another new thing for this election was that the state joined the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) in order to enhance election security and maintain accurate voter rolls. Membership in ERIC allowed the state and the Supervisors of Elections to cross-check their rolls with those of all other member states to find deceased voters, duplicate registrations, or other list maintenance activities in order to maintain more accurate and up-to-date rolls.
The State Department also used ERIC to conduct the state’s most sweeping effort to date to register new voters. 2.2 billion postcards were sent out to potential voters. Within 10 days of the households starting to receive those postcards, the state saw 300,000 new registrations with a total of 14.4 million registered voters this year which is an increase of 1.4 million.
Secretary Lee applauded Judge Pete Antonacci, former Supervisor of Elections in Broward County for his and his team’s work on correcting the many problems plaguing Broward County elections. She said that in 2020, Broward County was truly a success story.
When asked by the committee about the breakdown in the online voter registration site this year and in past years, Secretary Lee said that her office had made improvements to the system but they were only expecting to handle 100,000’s of thousands of new registrations on the last night of registration but instead they had millions of voters trying to register. Her office immediately began to upgrade the system and she extended the deadline for another 24 hours, giving voters time to register online. Secretary Lee said that improvements have been made to the programming as well as the system capacity so that the online registration system now will be able to handle huge numbers of voters who may try to register online.
Judge Antonacci offered his observations to the committee from his time as Elections Supervisor. Judge Antonacci said that his biggest concern is with mail-in ballots. Broward County received 475,000 mail-in ballots over a 32-day period in the 2020 election. He said that verifying signatures is definitely an area that needs improvement. Antonacci also said that vote by mail request lists are available to certain political entities which makes ballot harvesting possible because these entities can now show up at a voter’s home and this should be addressed by the legislature.
Judge Antonacci also said that he was concerned about the people who came to the dropbox sites and deposited large numbers of mail-in ballots. He feels that there should be a limit to the number of ballots that are allowed to be dropped off by one person.
Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley disagreed with this observation by pointing out that because of the pandemic, many neighborhoods had one person designated to pick up all the mail-in ballots for the neighborhood and drop them off at a dropbox location. He also said that he knew of many families in his county that did the same thing.
The committee appeared to have their concerns and questions addressed. There were a few questions posed to Secretary Lee that she did not have the answer to but she promised to get those answers for the committee.
Lynn DeJarnette is a reporter for Florida National News. | email@example.com
[OPINION] Yes, American Democracy is at Risk
ORLANDO, Fla. – On January 6, 2021, the United States witnessed more history in the making. As United States representatives and senators went to work to confirm the electoral college votes for the duly elected President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, thousands of people showed up to persuade congress to overturn the election results. All of this overshadowed the historic victories of United States Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia.
To be clear, this was not a protest, this was an insurrection put together with leaders of QAnon and white supremacist organizations such as the Proud Boys at the forefront. These were terrorists. After the insurrection died down, 66% of Republican House members voted to overturn the election results and eight Republican Senators – including Rick Scott of Florida – voted to overturn the election results. 147 Congressmen effectively voted in favor of terrorists. The worst part of this insurrection is that it was led by a powerful leader: President Donald J. Trump.
2020 broke many records, including the Black Lives Matter protests. Between 15 and 26 million protestors gathered, possibly becoming the largest protest in the history of the United States. Of the tens of thousands of BLM demonstrations that took place, 93% of them were entirely peaceful, meaning not one brick was thrown. However, the peaceful nature of BLM protestors did not stop law enforcement from using unnecessary force against them, it was common to see the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. In fact, President Trump condemned BLM protestors numerous times and even had peaceful protestors tear-gassed just so he could get a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church around Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C.
When far-right Trump supporters with confederate flags and Trump flags barreled into the United States Capitol breaking glass, assaulting officers, calling black officers racist slurs, erecting nooses, and breaking into congressional office buildings, the presence of officers were low. There was a large contrast between the officer response to peaceful BLM protests and the violent insurrection that got blood in the halls of the nations’ capitol. Instead of seeing violent arrests or racial profiling that occurs during BLM protests, people saw officers helping terrorists and members of guerilla movements walk down the stairs of the Capitol building and even take selfies with them.
Don’t be mistaken. This discrepancy between the response of law enforcement for left-leaning protests involving climate change or racial justice and right-leaning “protests” such as the so-called “Stop the Steal” protests and Wednesday’s violent riot are not completely unintentional. Over a decade ago, the FBI expressed concern about white supremacy in law enforcement, but those fears were not taken seriously by the U.S. government and over the past four years with a racist President Trump in office, law enforcement has only doubled down on racial bias.
For far too long, right-wingers have stood up for what they refer to as “blue lives” against the calls for reform and accountability in the law enforcement system to counteract efforts of social justice. The primarily white terrorists who launched the insurrection at the nations’ capitol were significantly more comfortable breaking glass and hurling insults at officers than BLM protestors were when they peacefully marched the streets. This comfort was caused by a sense of entitlement among right-wingers.
Since BLM protests first started, right-wingers flooded their social media pages with seven-point stars, placed thin blue hearts on their cars, and flew thin blue flags on their homes. This allegiance to police officers was viewed more as an alliance, so when the time came for them to start protesting, police officers would inevitably be on their side. Even when some officers retaliated against these terrorists, it was met with shock and anger.
If the pandemic didn’t get citizens thinking about how developed the U.S. is, this insurrection certainly should. The United States is supposedly one of the wealthiest and most developed countries, but the wealth inequality is high, right-wing demagoguery is on the rise, and more evidence is pointing to the idea that members of the Capitol Police colluded with terrorists to possibly harm members of Congress along with their staff. The U.S.’s status as a developed democracy is at risk, but it could be fixed.
The members of Congress who constantly voted to appease this dangerous president over the past four years and the members who chose to vote against certifying the results of a democratically held election must be held accountable. This means removing them from committees and even expelling those members, including Senator Rick Scott. The U.S. should also do more to hold law enforcement officers accountable and make them follow the same laws that ordinary citizens follow by getting rid of qualified immunity. There must be a stronger movement to shift funding to mental health resources in local communities to counter this large increase in white supremacy in law enforcement.
Democracy is at risk and the United States must do everything it takes to protect it from the same people who damaged it by placing this dangerous and corrupt administration at the top.
Nathaniel Douglas is a newly elected Supervisor on the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Board, making history as the youngest to ever be elected to that board, and was the youngest to be elected to public office in the state of Florida during the 2020 election. He is a Florida National News political contributor. | firstname.lastname@example.org
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