Trump takes aim at Twitter, Facebook: US election news

Trump says the social media giants took down disputed posts about Biden in order “to protect” the Democrat.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport in Des Moines, Iowa, October 14, 2020. [Carlos Barria/Reuters]
  • President Donald Trump will appear in an NBC News town hall on Thursday to counter Joe Biden’s ABC News town hall held in lieu of their second debate, in a move that had been widely criticised.
  • Today was the third day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
  • As of Wednesday, early and mail-in voters had already cast more than 15 million votes, nearly 10 percent of all votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, according to the US Elections Project.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the United States elections. This is Joseph Stepansky.

Wednesday, October 14:

19:45 ET – Trump slams Facebook and Twitter over Biden allegations

President Donald Trump criticised Facebook and Twitter for “taking negative posts down” about a disputed New York Post report. The report discusses an email purportedly showing that Joe Biden’s son Hunter introduced a Ukrainian energy executive to his father.

Twitter and Facebook earlier today blocked links to the Post’s story pending fact-check reviews. Earlier today Biden’s campaign disputed the report saying “no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”

“They’re trying to protect him. They’re trying to protect Biden,” Trump said at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa. He directed a litany of criticism at the Bidens, telling the crowd, “We’ve just learned through explosive documents published by a very fine newspaper, the New York Post, that Joe Biden has been blatantly lying about his involvement in his son’s corrupt business dealings… Now we can see clearly that Biden is a corrupt politician who shouldn’t even be allowed to run for the presidency.”

18:15 ET – Amy Coney Barrett hearing ends for the day

Day three of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has gaveled to a close.

Committee chairman Senator Lindsey Graham acknowledged how polarized the Senate is and said, “the hope was not to change anybody’s mind.”

Tomorrow, the committee will meet in private to go over the FBI’s assessment of Barrett and will then convene publicly to hear from several of her supporters and opponents representing outside groups.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett leaves after testifying during the third day of her confirmation hearings, October 14, 2020 [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP]

17:40 ET – Judge: North Carolina must revise absentee ballot rules

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered North Carolina elections officials to update absentee voting rules to ensure that voters prove they had someone witness their ballot, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering state officials to rewrite a directive issued in late September that allowed voters to fix a lack of a witness signature by returning an affidavit. However, he said he would not block that kind of fix for small errors such as an incomplete witness address.

A higher court could still weigh in. The state elections board had already asked the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene at an earlier stage of the case.

17:00 ET – Harris asks Barrett about Voting Rights Act

Senator Kamala Harris, the vice-presidential candidate, asked Barrett if she agreed that voter discrimination still exists, an assertion made by Chief Justice John Roberts in a Supreme Court opinion that removed a key component of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Barrett, who has repeatedly declined to respond to questions that would indicate how she would rule on a case, said: “I’m not going to express an opinion because these are very charged issues. They have been litigated in the courts and so I will not engage on that question.”

16:55 ET – Barrett asked about possible 2020 election dispute

Barrett has been asked if there’s a potential conflict in having three Supreme Court justices who were part of the 2000 Bush v Gore challenge being called on to decide a disputed 2020 presidential election.

Barrett told Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii that “any questions of whether there was an appearance of impartiality … would be one for all justices involved to consider under the recusal statute.” Barrett said at her confirmation hearing Wednesday that “a judge always has to consider that issue.”

But given the chance by Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa to amend her remarks, the judge did. Barrett said she wanted to clarify that:  “What I meant is that in every case, judges have an obligation to consider the issues and they may conclude, ‘No’. What I meant to be saying was just not to take a position.”

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett listens during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee [Kevin Dietsch/The Associated Press]

16:45 ET – Top health official Fauci says Trump no longer contagious

Trump is can no longer actively spread COVID-19 and can attend an upcoming town hall with NBC News on Thursday without putting others at risk, top public health official Anthony Fauci said in an interview with CBS Evening News.

Fauci said during the interview that he and his colleague Clifford Lane at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed the totality of COVID-19 tests taken by the president as well as an additional test conducted at an NIH laboratory to reach the conclusion that the president is not contagious.

16:30 ET – First lady: Barron Trump positive for COVID, no symptoms

Melania Trump says her 14-year-old son, Barron, had tested positive for the coronavirus but had no symptoms. The White House initially said he had tested negative after both of his parents tested positive earlier this month.

The first lady said Wednesday that subsequent testing showed Barron had also come down with COVID-19 but has since tested negative.

Trump told reporters soon after that Barron was “fine”.

16:15 ET – Biden to deliver taped remarks to Muslim organisation

Biden will deliver taped remarks to the Muslims Making Change: National Honors event at 19:00 ET on Wednesday.

With early voting already well under way nationwide, there is evidence that, in this election, Muslim Americans are well-placed to be a significant factor in deciding the winner of the presidential election.

There are an estimated 3.45 million Muslims in the US – only about one percent of the country’s total population – but their concentrations in key swing and battleground states, such as Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, could make their vote especially impactful.

Read more here.

The estimated 3.45 million Muslims in the US are concentrated in key swing and battleground states, making their vote potentially impactful [File: Jeff Kowalsky/Reuters]

16:00 ET – Trump will not comment on keeping Barr if he wins a second term, but said he was not happy

Trump, in an interview with Newsmax television, said he would not comment on whether he plans to keep Attorney General William Barr should he win a second term, but noted he was “not happy” with “evidence” he has.

“I have no comment. Can’t comment on that. It’s too early,” Trump said when asked if Barr would be asked to stay on if he wins the election. “I’m not happy with all of the evidence I have, I can tell you that. I’m not happy.”

AG Bill Barr with Donald Trump
Trump would not commit to keeping William Barr as attorney general if he wins re-election [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

15:30 ET – NBC News criticised for scheduling Trump town hall on night of cancelled debate

NBC News has been criticised for scheduling a Trump town hall on the night of the second presidential debate – when Biden was also scheduled to appear in an ABC News town hall.

Trump had refused to take part in a reformatted digital town hall-style debate on Thursday after testing positive for coronavirus on October 2. The debate was subsequently cancelled and Biden and ABC News paired up to host a town hall on Thursday. On Wednesday, NBC News announced it would air a Trump town hall at the same time as Biden.

Veteran journalists have slammed the network’s decision, saying it would set up a ratings battle. NBC veteran journalist Katie Couric tweeted: “Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy-voters should be able to watch both and I don’t think many will. This will be good for Trump because people like to watch his unpredictability. This is a bad decision.”

Others have said there is discontent over the decision from within the network, with HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali tweeting: “I’ve heard from over a dozen NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC sources (talent and staff) and the frustration with and anger toward their employer for scheduling a town hall against Biden is palpable.”

15:00 ET – Over one million Texans have already voted, a day after early voting began

Over one million Texans had cast ballots as of Wednesday, after early voting in the state started on Tuesday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The tally, which included mail-in voting, had surpassed one million but was still being counted. Texas, which saw long lines at polling stations on Tuesday, is one of a few states in the US not allowing widespread mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has seen nearly 13.4 million US citizens already voting, an unprecedented number.

Voters line up outside Richardson City Hall in Richardson, Texas [LM Otero/The Associated Press]

14:45 ET –  Senator Coons says Barrett will ‘launch new chapter of conservative activism’ on the US Supreme Court

Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, told Supreme Court nominee Barrett he would not vote to confirm her to the high court because her opinions and academic writings signal that she holds extreme conservative judicial views in line with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a hero of the US political right, but outside the mainstream of American jurisprudence.

“My concern about originalism, and an activist willingness to reconsider precedent, is that in combination – Justice Scalia’s views, often expressed in sharply worded memorable, memorable dissents – may make for great academic reading, but I think most Americans don’t expect them to become the law of the land,” Coons said, shortly before the Judiciary Committee hearing was paused due to an audio issue.

“And in a long line of cases, they would overturn well-settled precedent that I think we have all come to expect. So, my core concern here  – your honour – is that your confirmation may launch a new chapter of conservative judicial activism, unlike anything we’ve seen in decades,” Coons said. Barrett was a law clerk for Scalia in 1998-1999 and draws on his judicial philosophy of “textualism” as a basis for her own “originalism”.

14:15 ET – Apparent audio glitch pauses Barrett hearing

An apparent problem with the audio system in the Judiciary Committee hearing of Barrett has briefly paused the proceedings.

The microphones of senators and Barrett stopped working as she was questioned by Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee [Erin Schaff/The Associated Press]

14:00 ET – Facebook limits reach of New York Post story on Hunter Biden, pending fact check

Facebook has limited a New York Post article about Biden’s son, Hunter, pending a fact check review, with policy communications manager Andy Stone tweeting: “I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.”

The New York Post said it had attained emails and media from a laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden, whose seat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company was at the centre of House impeachment proceedings against Trump at the end of last year.

The story suggested the elder Biden may have had more contact with his son’s business dealings in Ukraine than he has said. However, the story’s veracity, and the source of the information, has been questioned by other journalists.

13:30 ET – Early voting begins in Kansas, Rhode Island and Tennessee

Three more US states opened polls for early voting on Wednesday, and President Donald Trump plans to hold another rally to make up for time lost on the campaign trail to his bout with the coronavirus.

More than 13 million Americans have cast ballots, setting a record early pace, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida. Many seek to avoid the large crowds expected on Election Day. In the last presidential election, some 1.4 million Americans had cast early votes as of October 16, 2016.

About two dozen people showed up more than two hours before polls opened in Memphis, Tennessee, to claim spots in line, local media reported, as voting opened in the state, as well as Kansas, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

People wait in line to vote at the Brentwood Library on the first day of Tennessee’s early voting [Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press]

13:00 ET – Justice Department quietly ends probe of Obama-era ‘unmasking’ of Trump allies: Report

The Justice Department has ended its probe into whether Obama administration officials improperly “unmasked” associates of now-President Donald Trump mentioned in intelligence reports, two congressional sources have told Reuters news agency.

It found no wrongdoing, one of the sources said.

Unmasking refers to the naming of US citizens whose identities were blacked out in reports from the National Security Agency that captured their communications with a foreign national. Trump and his allies have sought to portray the use of the process during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, as a misuse of government authority.

President-elect Donald Trump
Then President-elect Donald Trump meets with then-President Barack Obama in the Oval Office November 10, 2016 [File: Win McNamee/Getty Images]

12:45 ET – Barrett demurs on whether Trump can pardon himself

Supreme Court nominee Barrett would not say whether a president can pardon himself but says she agrees no one is above the law.

Under questioning from Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, Barrett declined to offer a view on the pardon issue. Multiple investigations are looking into Trump’s taxes, his businesses and his associates.

Barrett would not offer her thoughts on whether Trump would be able to pardon himself. But she agreed with Leahy’s assertion “no one is above the law”.

12:30 ET – Trump tells city economic clubs election choice between prosperity, ‘crippling poverty’

Trump, in an address to economic clubs from several major cities on Wednesday, laid out the election in sinister terms.

“The choice facing America is simple: it’s the choice between historic prosperity under my pro-American policies, or crippling poverty and a steep depression under the radical left,” he told the economic clubs of New York, Florida, Washington, DC, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Sheboygan, according to prepared remarks released by the White House as the event was closed to the press.

Trump had initially planned to run for re-election on the relative strength of the economy, but those designs were dashed by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to unprecedented job losses in the country. Biden has said Trump’s botched response to the coronavirus is partly to blame for the economic fallout.

“We will swiftly defeat the China virus, end the pandemic, bring back our critical supply chains, and lift our economy to unprecedented new heights,” Trump said at the event, according to the released remarks. “If the Left gains power, they will shut down the economy, close our schools, delay the vaccine, prolong the pandemic, and impose the most extreme policies in our history.”

12:00 ET – Trump campaign suggests aide pay for advertisement after criticising president: Report

The Trump campaign has suggested that former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman pay for an advertising campaign costing nearly $1m to make up for critical comments she made about Trump in a 2018 tell-all book, according to the New York Times. An expert witness for the Trump campaign made the recommendation in documents filed in an ongoing arbitration case

“It would be my recommendation that Ms Manigault Newman pays for the corrective ads/corrective statements outlined above to counteract the long-term adverse effects of information that appeared as a result of Ms Manigault Newman violating her confidentially agreement,” crisis management expert Eric Rose wrote in the documents, according to the newspaper.

“If corrective ads are not placed, voters may continue to hold beliefs about the president as a result of Ms Manigault Newman’s statements,” he wrote.

Omarosa Manigault Newman was featured on Trump’s reality show The Apprentice before becoming a White House aide [File: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press]

11:45 ET – Amazon employees push for election-day holiday

More than 3,000 Amazon employees have signed a petition asking the technology and retail giant to provide a holiday for voting in the November 3 US election, organisers said. The petition was organised by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group active on several social issues involving the company.

“Removing barriers to voting is critical to ensure we have a voice on the issues we care about. There is no racial or climate justice without voting justice,” the group said in a blog post on Tuesday. “As the United States’ second largest employer,  Amazon can have a huge impact on voter participation,” the blog post said.

Amazon told the Associated Press news agency it has offered information and flexibility to all its employees on voting: “In all 47 states with in-person voting, employees that lack adequate time before or after their scheduled workday to vote, can request and be provided excused time off,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon online retailer
A worker assembles a box for delivery at the Amazon fulfilment centre in Baltimore, Maryland[File: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

11:30 ET – Senator Durbin says ‘orange cloud’ hanging over Barrett nomination, in apparent reference to Trump

Senator Dick Durbin has said there’s an “orange cloud” hanging over Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The Illinois Democrat didn’t specifically say he meant President Donald Trump in Barrett’s confirmation hearing Wednesday. But he said earlier on CNN that “orange cloud” hanging over the nomination was related to Trump and the Republican president’s Tweets.

Durbin said that Trump has made clear he wishes to undo the Affordable Care Act and that those wishes are also a cloud over Barrett’s nomination. Barrett has said she is not “hostile” to the Affordable Care Act and has promised to hear all arguments.

Senator Dick Durbin speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett [Susan Walsh/The Associated Press]

11:15 ET – At least 13,341,367 US citizens have already voted

At least 13,341,367 US citizens had cast ballots in the November 3 election as of Wednesday morning, according to the US Elections Project.

That number represents 9.6 percent of all votes counted in the 2016 election. As of Wednesday, voters had requested more than 78.4 million mail ballots, with Democrats outpacing Republicans in those requests, with 44.4 percent of ballots requested, compared with 25.9 percent.

11:00 ET – Barrett says she would ‘keep an open mind’ on allowing cameras to broadcast Supreme Court proceedings

Barrett has said she would “certainly keep an open mind” on allowing cameras to broadcast proceedings of the high court.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont have asked all recent nominees to the court whether they would favour live or same-day broadcasts of arguments. Previous nominees have also expressed openness but cooled to the idea once they became justices.

The court has been providing live audio of arguments, held by telephone, since May due to the coronavirus pandemic – the first time it has done so. Grassley and Leahy are longtime members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and introduced legislation earlier this year to continue the practice.

While questioning Barrett on Wednesday, the 87-year-old Grassley joked it probably wouldn’t happen in his lifetime. But he says allowing cameras in the courtroom “can bring about a better understanding of the judiciary”. Leahy also urged Barrett to consider it during his round of questioning.

Senator Chuck Grassley speaks during the third day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett [Erin Schaff/Reuters]

10:45 ET – Minnesota health officials connect coronavirus infections to campaign events: Report

Health officials in Minnesota have connected two dozen coronavirus cases to people who attended presidential campaign events in the past month, amid a surge of cases in the state, according to the New York Times.

Officials said 16 of the cases were connected to a September 18 airport rally held by Trump. While that rally was held outside, the crowd observed little social distancing and many did not wear masks. Four of those infected had gone to the rally to protest against Trump, officials told the newspaper.

Three people who attended a September 30 Trump rally in Duluth and three people who attended a September 24 rally hosted by Vice President Mike Pence in the state also tested positive. One person who attended a September 16 even for Biden in Duluth later contracted the virus, according to the newspaper.

Supporters of Trump look on as Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minnesota [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

10:15 ET – Wide margin in early Democrat voting in Florida: Report

Democrats have outvoted Republicans in early voting by a margin of 384,000 in the state of Florida, according to Politico.

The number is significant because Republicans usually slightly outpace Democrats at this point in presidential races in early voting.

Analysts in the state told the news site that Republicans will likely make up the difference in the coming weeks, with hundreds of thousands of high-propensity Republican voters who have not yet cast their ballots.

10:00 ET – Graham calls Barrett ‘unashamedly pro-life’

Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hailed Barrett on Wednesday as “unashamedly pro-life”.

“This is history being made folks,” Graham said at the beginning of the first day of the hearing. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she’s going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting for you. It will be a great signal to all young women who share your view of the world.”

Under questioning by Graham, Barrett reiterated her comments from Tuesday that the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that recognised a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned.

09:30 ET – Trump, Biden to hold rival TV town halls instead of debate

Trump will be featured in a televised town hall Thursday on NBC News, the network said, setting up a direct scheduling clash with rival Joe Biden, who had already planned his own version of a town hall forum.

The two were originally meant to have been meeting for their second debate on Thursday evening. Instead, they will be simultaneously, but separately, talking to voters in TV studios – NBC for Trump and ABC for Biden. Trump will be in Miami, the network said, while Biden, who had already booked his appearance last week, will be in Philadelphia.

Their scheduled debate had also been designed as a town hall where the two candidates would have fielded questions from voters, but this was upended after Trump contracted the coronavirus. He later refused debate organisers’ attempts to switch the format to a virtual appearance, forcing the debate’s cancellation.

09:00 ET – Third day of Barrett hearing begins

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is back before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face more questions from senators at her confirmation hearing.

The committee is scheduled to take a preliminary vote on her nomination on Thursday. The GOP-controlled Senate is expected to confirm her before Election Day. Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shifting the court’s 5-4 conservative edge to a 6-3 majority.


Read all the updates from Tuesday, (October 13) here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies