News briefs

Florida county's GOP demands statewide election audit

ORLANDO, Fla. — Lake County Republicans are the latest GOP group to echo former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud by demanding a statewide forensic audit of Florida, a state Trump won by almost 372,000 votes.

In a letter and two resolutions unanimously approved last week and sent to Florida GOP leaders, the Lake County Republican Executive Committee claimed “a majority of citizens doubt that the November 3, 2020, election was conducted openly and fairly” and “doubt the number of legal votes cast for each candidate equals the reported and certified results, in Lake County, the State of Florida, and the United States.”

The Lake County GOP said it “demands” that the Legislature conduct an “immediate, open, transparent and independent full forensic audit, including a hand recount” of Lake County and the entire state, “at least as thorough as the audit being conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona.”

Trump received almost 60% of the vote in Lake County over President Joe Biden in 2020, and won Florida by 51% to 48%.

Despite DeSantis’ praise for how the state conducted the election, he later called for and signed a controversial election law that significantly reduced drop boxes and added new restrictions for mail-in ballots and canvassing.

Asked about the call for the audit, Helen Aguirre Ferre, Republican Party of Florida executive director, didn’t say whether or not the state party supported it.

Despite the controversy, similar audits are being sought in other states Biden won, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump also has called for an audit in Texas, a state he won by more than 600,000 votes.

—Orlando Sentinel

NIH director Collins to step down

WASHINGTON — National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who led the agency through the COVID-19 pandemic and helped spearhead the Human Genome Project, announced he would step down by the end of the year.

Collins, the longest-serving NIH director, has been at the agency’s helm for 12 years under three presidents. A physician-geneticist, he led the Human Genome Project at NIH before being nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the entire agency.

Collins consistently received broad bipartisan support and was confirmed by voice vote in the Senate in 2009.

The NIH loses a successful advocate in Collins, who leveraged his plainspoken appeal and genial relationship with both parties to secure a 38 percent increase in the NIH budget over his tenure.

The $41.3 billion NIH budget for fiscal 2021 covers a number of bipartisan research priorities at the agency’s 27 institutes and centers. Increasing NIH funding has been championed by lawmakers including Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

His successor, who has not been identified, will face the task of ensuring that the agency receives similar funding bumps.

—CQ-Roll Call

NYC judge denies another challenge to vaccine mandate

NEW YORK — Another legal challenge to New York City’s vaccination mandate for state Education Department staffers has fallen flat.

Manhattan federal Judge Mary Kay Vyscokil denied a request Tuesday for a temporary restraining order to overturn the DOE’s vaccine requirement, which took effect Monday.

The request was filed by a group of DOE staffers who have opposed the mandate, and their lawsuit will get a full hearing later this month.

The staffers argued that the city’s process for granting exemptions to the vaccine mandate based on religious beliefs is too narrow and violated their First Amendment rights.

Vyscokil noted that the process for approving religious exemptions was decided by independent arbitrator overseeing a dispute between the city and the teachers union.

In her decision to deny the temporary restraining order, Vyscokil said that the plaintiffs had failed to show a likelihood that their case would succeed, noting there is substantial legal precedent supporting vaccine mandates.

She added that the staffers didn’t demonstrate that they would suffer “irreparable harm” from the DOE’s vaccine mandate. DOE staffers who refused to get vaccinated were placed on unpaid leave starting Friday, but Vyscokil ruled that the damages caused by going on unpaid leave don’t qualify as “irreparable.”

—New York Daily News

Jussie Smollett case appears poised for trial in November

CHICAGO — A Cook County judge Tuesday said he has scheduled trial dates in November for Jussie Smollett, accused of faking a hate crime in a case that caused an international firestorm in 2019.

During a hearing that was mostly conducted out of public view, Judge James Linn put a jury selection date of Nov. 29 on his calendar, but said that he will formalize the trial date at a hearing Oct. 15. That’s when Smollett’s defense plans to argue a last-ditch motion to dismiss the charges.

But absent a last-minute resolution or delay in coming weeks, the criminal case could go to trial just after Thanksgiving in proceedings that are sure to be a media circus.

Attorneys began Tuesday’s hearing about 11:40 a.m. and almost immediately went into a closed-door session without media access. After more than 30 minutes, the parties returned and Linn summarized the discussions, saying they “covered quite a bit of ground.”

Linn asked Smollett to attend the hearing this month.

The parties will also go over any other “loose ends” before formally setting the trial date, Linn said.

During the portion of the hearing that was closed to the media, Linn said he took suggestions from attorneys about media coverage during the trial, including how to handle requests from the media for cameras in the courtroom. Linn said he has taken the matter under advisement.

Smollett is accused of orchestrating the phony hate crime on himself with the help of the two brothers who are now key witnesses in the case. Cook County prosecutors initially charged Smollett with disorderly conduct, then abruptly dropped the case outright about a month later, with little explanation.

—Chicago Tribune

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