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Senate to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court tomorrow

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1.35pm EDT13:35

Senate to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court tomorrow

The Senate just made a 51-48 vote to move forward with the final vote for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans overrode a Democratic filibuster with today’s vote, and the final vote for her confirmation will take place tomorrow night.
With the Republican majority in the Senate, Barrett’s nomination is pretty much a guarantee, despite weeks of criticism from Democrats about a Supreme Court nomination weeks before the presidential election.

Manu Raju
(@mkraju)
#Breaking: Amy Coney Barrett on track for confirmation tomorrow evening after Senate Republicans defeat a Democratic filibuster, 51-48, during a rare Sunday session just nine days before the election

October 25, 2020

1.10pm EDT13:10

The NFL has fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 for violating protocols leading to the league’s first Covid-19 outbreak during the season, multiple outlets are reporting.
The Titans had 24 people, including 13 players, test positive for the coronavirus between 24 September and 11 October. The outbreak led the NFL to postpone two Tennessee games and the rescheduling of a game against Pittsburgh from 4 October to today and the second against Buffalo from 11 October to 13 October.
The league and its players association sent officials, including infectious disease experts, to Nashville where they reviewed video and interviewed players, coaches and other personnel.
ESPN reports the NFL informed the Titans last week that their review had concluded and the organization would face a potential fine. Individuals would not be disciplined and there was no discussion of forfeiture of draft picks.

12.35pm EDT12:35

Archie Bland

One of the more surprising headlines of the day comes from the Wall Street Journal in: Health Agency Halts Coronavirus Ad Campaign, Leaving Santa Claus in the Cold.
The WSJ reports that the Trump administration offered Santa Claus performers a deal: if they agreed to promote a Covid-19 vaccine, they would get early access to it. The story says that performers playing Mrs Claus or elves would also have been included. But the plan has now been called off.
The article continues:

Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news “extremely disappointing”, adding: “this was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won’t happen.”

You can read more of this belter at the Wall Street Journal (although it’s behind a paywall).

12.08pm EDT12:08

The US Senate has started day two of a rare weekend session to continue debate over the confirmation of federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court.
Democrats have expressed outrage at the vacancy being filled so close to the election – in fact boycotting Thursday’s vote to advance her nomination to the full Senate – but the Republicans’ 53-37 majority in the upper chamber ensures they have the votes they need to approve her nomination and cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court for years to come.
No supreme court nominee has ever been installed so close to a presidential election and, just four years ago, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and senator Lindsey Graham, who now chairs the judiciary committee, said that installing a nominee in an election year would be a shameful defiance of the will of voters.
Barrett, 48, is expected to be confirmed Monday and quickly join the court.

12.04pm EDT12:04

More from Richard Luscombe…
Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, was grilled on NBC’s Meet the Press about the Democrat nominee’s “light physical footprint”.
To the backdrop of a graphic comparing Biden’s appearances since September in four key battleground states – North Carolina, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania – to Trump’s (the president leads 19-14), host Chuck Todd wanted to know why Biden was concentrating heavily on Georgia instead of more northerly swing states.
The answer: Biden is “focused on maintaining as many paths to 270 electoral votes as we possibly can.” Bedingfield also pointed out that at a scheduled appearance in Warm Springs, Georgia, on Tuesday, Biden would deliver his closing arguments at a place “which obviously has historical significance in this country”.
Warm Springs is the resort town where the 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, built his Little White House, a cottage he used while suffering from polio in the 1930s.
“Vice-President Biden has visited all of these battleground states multiple times,” Bedingfield said. “He was in Pennsylvania yesterday, doing two events, along with Dr [Jill] Biden. So no, we have been very aggressively campaigning.
“Here’s the difference between what we’re doing and what Donald Trump is doing, we’re doing it safely.”
Bedingfield noted that the president’s rallies feature large, mostly maskless crowds with no social distancing.
A new CBS poll, meanwhile, showed Biden tied with Trump in Georgia and holding narrow leads in other southern battlegrounds, including Florida and North Carolina.
Todd also pressed Bedingfield on Biden’s comments at last week’s final debate about the oil industry. Why, he wondered, would oil workers in Texas or elsewhere support a candidate who supports a transition away from the industry at a risk to their jobs?
“There is only one person in this country who Joe Biden thinks should lose his job and it’s Donald Trump,” she said.
“Joe Biden … is not going to end the fossil fuel industry, he’s going to end subsidies for the oil industry. He believes your taxpayer dollars should go to education. Donald Trump believes they should go to Exxon. That’s a conversation we’re willing to have any day.”

11.26am EDT11:26

A CBS News/YouGov poll of three southern battleground states finds Joe Biden in a dead heat with Donald Trump in Georgia with slight edges in Florida (by two points) and North Carolina (by four).
Some other key findings from CBS News:

• Early voters in each told us they favored Joe Biden, but those who have not yet voted favor Donald Trump, setting up a key turnout test running now through Election Day for both parties.
• Very different views on the coronavirus outbreak still shape the race in all these states. In all, most Biden voters are very concerned about getting it, and Trump’s voters, by comparison, are far less concerned. Biden also gets better marks overall on how he would handle the outbreak.
• Biden voters are more likely to say the outbreak and a candidate’s personal character are major factors in their vote. For Trump voters, the economy and immigration are the biggest factors.
• In splits among key demographic groups, Biden currently leads among White women with college degrees in Florida and North Carolina; and across all three states it’s shifts from 2016 that are helping Biden. In Georgia, White voters without college degrees – both men and women – tend to like how Trump handles himself personally and dislike Biden’s approach. Biden is cutting into Trump’s 2016 margins with seniors in Florida and Georgia, cutting Trump’s 2016 advantage in half. In North Carolina Biden has a two-point edge with seniors.

Last week Trump was forced to play defense when he staged a prime-time rally in Georgia, which no Republican presidential candidate has lost since George HW Bush in 1992 – a far cry from his original designs on expanding the map into Democratic-leaning states.

Belarus 'people’s ultimatum' protest met with violent crackdown

Belarusian riot police launched another violent crackdown in Minsk on Sunday evening, throwing stun grenades into crowds of peaceful protesters, chasing people through courtyards and making arrests as they attempted to curtail the 11th consecutive Sunday of protest in the country.
At least 100,000 people marched through the centre of the Belarusian capital earlier in the day to give what they called a “people’s ultimatum” to Alexander Lukashenko: step down, or face a nationwide strike that could cripple the economy.
Long columns of protesters, wrapped in the red-white traditional Belarusian flag that has become the symbol of the protests, streamed through the city centre, shouting “resign!” and “strike!”
As usual, authorities cut off mobile internet across central Minsk, closed metro stations and placed cordons of riot police at key sites. Military and riot control vehicles were positioned throughout the centre and officers in balaclavas and wielding shields stood at almost every intersection, but they did not attack the crowds until the evening.
Quick guide Where are they now? The Belarusian women who opposed Lukashenko
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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya

Initially a stand-in for her husband, a popular blogger barred from running and jailed by the authorities, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya became the main opposition candidate to the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, as part of an all-female opposition campaign spearheaded by herself, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo.
She fled to neighbouring Lithuania in early August, from where she posted a video indicating she had faced an ultimatum involving her family. 
In September, in a video appearance before the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee, she vowed that the country’s movement for democratic change would not give up, even in the face of continued intimidation and violence from Lukashenko’s regime.

Veronika Tsepkalo

A former Microsoft employee, she was the campaign head for her husband Valery Tsepkalo before he was forced to flee with the couple’s children to Moscow before the election. Having campaigned alongside Tikhanovskaya and Kolesnikova, she joined him there on the day of the election.
Apart from a one-day stopover in Belarus, when she says she was threatened with jail, she has remained in exile in Moscow. She told a radio interviewer in early August “I think I can do more being in Moscow, being free, and being able to speak up for Belarus’ people to the international community.”

Maria Kolesnikova

Kolesnikova had been head of the presidential campaign for another opposition politician, Viktor Babariko, also barred from the elections and jailed by the government. She was the only one of the three women to remain in Belarus in the aftermath of the disputed August election. 
On 7 September, it was reported she was abducted by unidentified masked men from the street in the capital, Minsk. Kolesnikova’s press aide, Anton Rodnenkov, confirmed her abduction to the media, then reportedly vanished himself about 40 minutes later. According to a Ukrainian minister, Kolesnikova then ripped up her passport at the Belarus-Ukraine border in order to frustrate attempts to deport her. She is currently being held in Minsk.
She had announced on 31 August she was forming a new political party, Together.

Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

The current wave of discontent was prompted by Lukashenko declaring an overwhelming victory in August presidential elections that were widely believed to be rigged, and then cracking down ruthlessly on those who came out to protest.
In the first big rallies in August in response to the crackdown, euphoria and disbelief combined to create a heady excitement that Lukashenko’s days were surely numbered. The authoritarian leader, who has been in charge for 26 years, has since made it clear he does not intend to give up power without a fight.
A number of opposition leaders have been forced out of the country or arrested over the past two months, and authorities have threatened to use live ammunition on protesters.The crowds on Sunday were still largely buoyant though, with several bands of drummers providing a thudding musical accompaniment and many people flashing victory signs.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood against Lukashenko after her husband was imprisoned, was able to act as a lightning rod for protest voters but was forced to flee to neighbouring Lithuania the day after the vote, having been given just 10% in the official tally. Tikhanovskaya has declared herself the legitimately elected leader from Vilnius, and has said she wants to oversee a transition period before arranging a new, free election.
“Today at 23:59 the term of the people’s ultimatum will expire, and if the demands are not met, Belarusians will start a national strike,” she said in statement on Sunday. Few in Minsk expect the strike to be successful, however. Strikes in August and September drew some support from workers at big factories but were soon crushed.
“I support the strike, but of course I’ll still go to work,” said Sergei, a 29-year-old sales assistant who was draped in a red-and-white flag at the protest on Sunday. “We need to get rid of Lukashenko, but I also need to keep my income.”
Whether or not the strike is a success, it is clear that Lukashenko has lost legitimacy among huge swaths of the population, and he appears to have little chance of regaining it. A counter-rally in central Minsk in his support was planned for Sunday but called off late in the week, ostensibly to avoid the risk of clashes with the opposition protesters. Most people felt the real reason was a fear that embarrassingly few people would show up.

Hopes rise for approval of coronavirus vaccine by end of this year

Hopes are rising that a coronavirus vaccine will be approved by the end of the year, with healthcare workers receiving their first dose in early 2021.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading expert in infectious diseases, said on Sunday it should be known by the end of November or early December if a vaccine was safe and effective.
The Irish government added to the growing optimism that a vaccine would soon be available.
“I’m increasingly optimistic, as is government, that we will see a vaccine approved in the next couple of months and that in the first half or first quarter of next year it’ll be possible to start vaccinating those most at risk,” Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, who is also a doctor, told RTE radio on Sunday.
Fauci’s remarks came after a report that the NHS in the UK is preparing to start immunising frontline staff with a vaccine within weeks. The Mail on Sunday published a memo by Glen Burley, the chief executive of a group of hospitals in the Midlands, in which he said NHS care providers had been told to be prepared to start a Covid-19 staff vaccine programme in early December.

“The latest intelligence states a coronavirus vaccine should be available this year with NHS staff prioritised prior to Christmas,” according to Burley’s message, which was sent earlier this month, the paper reported.
However, well-placed NHS sources said that, while hospitals were preparing plans to help roll out any vaccine that is approved, the timescale Burley set out is premature and overly ambitious.
“There is no progress at all [on when a vaccine will arrive], no date, no national steer [from NHS England bosses] and only frustration,” said a senior official at one of the major NHS trusts that has been handed a key role in the drive to distribute whichever vaccine is the first to be approved.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told MPs and peers that a vaccine would not be available in the UK until the spring.