Californians vote in recall election as polls show Newsom holding favor – as it happened

By Maanvi Singh (now) and Joan E Greve (earlier)
Californians cast their ballot in the recall election at a polling station in Beverly Hills.
Californians cast their ballot in the recall election at a polling station in Beverly Hills. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Summary

  • California is holding its recall election today to determine whether its Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, will be allowed to remain in office. Newsom appears poised to retain his position, with polls and early returns indicating he’s in a strong position. His Republican opponents, including rightwing radio host Larry Elder, have been spreading misinformation to undermine the election results.
  • Senate Democrats unveiled a new voting rights bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday and require states to offer same-day registration by 2024. The legislation is unlikely to become law unless Democrats alter the Senate filibuster, and moderates like Joe Manchin, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, have given no indication they would support such a proposal.
  • Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, threatened to subpoena defense secretary Lloyd Austin for information about the Afghanistan withdrawal. Menendez said he was “very disappointed” that Austin declined the committee’s request to testify at this morning’s hearing on the withdrawal operation. “I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future,” Menendez said. “And if he does not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him, and others over the course of these last twenty years, to testify.”
  • US poverty fell in 2020, even as unemployment rose because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from the Census Bureau. The supplemental poverty measure (SPM) showed that two rounds of pandemic-related stimulus checks lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty in 2020, and expanded unemployment benefits helped another 5.5 million people out of poverty.

– Maanvi Singh and Joan E Greve

Updated

Dani Anguiano and agencies report:

As Californians head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to keep Gavin Newsom in office, the Democratic governor’s leading challenger is already trying to sow doubt about the outcome of the election.

Larry Elder, the rightwing radio host who’s currently leading the pack of Republican challengers to Newsom in the polls, has been spreading conspiracy theories to falsely imply that, if he loses, the election was rigged against him.

Elder has told reporters there might be “shenanigans” in the election and has a link on his website to a website encouraging users to “fight California election fraud” by submitting reports of “irregularities, interference, or intimidation”. There’s no proof of widespread election fraud.

Polling has suggested that Newsom, who is still broadly popular in the state despite the Republican-led recall effort, has a comfortable lead in Tuesday’s election.

Elder’s conspiracy theories echo efforts by Donald Trump to falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen and rigged against him. The language on the website the Elder site linked to appears lifted from a petition circulated to help Trump’s effort to overturn the results of last year’s presidential election.

And on Monday, Trump added fuel to the fire with a statement that said, “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?”

Republicans across the US have turned to Trump’s big lie to propose legislation that makes it more difficult to vote and easier to overturn future elections.

“It’s just an extension of the big lie and ‘stop the steal’,” Newsom told reporters last week. “The election hasn’t even happened, and now they’re all claiming election fraud. I think it’s important to highlight that.”

Read more:

Facebook aware of Instagram’s harmful effect on teenage girls, leak reveals

Damien Gayle reports:

Facebook has kept internal research secret for two years that suggests its Instagram app makes body image issues worse for teenage girls, according to a leak from the tech firm.

Since at least 2019, staff at the company have been studying the impact of their product on its younger users’ states of mind. Their research has repeatedly found it is harmful for a large proportion, and particularly teenage girls.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said a slide from one internal presentation in 2019, seen by the Wall Street Journal. “Thirty-two per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” a subsequent presentation reported in March 2020.

Another slide said: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Comprised of findings from focus groups, online surveys and diary studies in 2019 and 2020, the Instagram research shows for the first time how aware the company is of its product’s impact on the mental health of teenagers. And yet, in public, executives at Facebook, which has owned Instagram since 2012, have consistently downplayed its negative impact on teenagers.

As recently as March, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, claimed social media was more likely to have positive mental health effects. In May, Adam Mosseri, who is in charge at Instagram, said he had seen research suggesting its effects on teenagers’ mental health was probably “quite small”.

Read more:

Joe Biden to propose target of vaccinating 70% of world in a year

Joe Biden will reportedly propose a target for 70% of the world’s population to be vaccinated within the next year at a global vaccines summit he intends to convene alongside the UN general assembly in New York this month.

The US president’s target, reported by the New York Times, is in line with ambitions set jointly by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the WTO and the World Health Organization (WHO) but is more ambitious than current performance and the targets set at the G7 meeting in Cornwall chaired by the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson. The G7 agreed to donate 870m doses of Covid-19 vaccines directly, with an aim to deliver at least half by the end of 2021.

The west has been repeatedly accused of hoarding surplus vaccines and of moral failure by providing jabs to teenagers or a third set of vaccines to adults when large tracts of Africa remain totally unvaccinated.

The 70% target “is ambitious but consistent with existing targets”, according to the White House.

In June the heads of the World Bank Group, IMF, WHO and World Trade Organization (WTO) set a target of having 60% of the world’s population vaccinated by the middle of 2022.

Read more:

Regardless of whether Governor Gavin Newsom prevails in California’s gubernatorial recall election, the race will help his Republican challengers boost their name recognition and gain national prominence, political experts said.

Case in point: “I have now become a political force here in California,” said the rightwing radio host and Republican frontrunner in the recall Larry Elder, on KMJ Now radio. “I’m not going to leave the stage.”

“The recall can be a rallying cry, in California and across the county,” said Mindy Romero, the founder of the Center for Inclusive Democracy, a non-partisan research organization. “For the Republican candidates running against the governor, it can raise their national profiles.”

Romero explained that anything short of a landslide victory for Newsom will be a boon to Republicans, who will be able to capitalize on the message that even in deep-blue California, conservative candidates got close to unseating a Democratic governor. Ahead of the midterm elections, the recall results in California could potentially fuel Republican messaging that the Democratic party is out of touch and losing relevance.

Updated

Opinion: Condom ‘stealthing’ is a vile practice. California is right to ban it

Moira Donegan writes:

She told him a condom was “non-negotiable,” and that if he would rather not use one, she would leave. The young woman, identified as “Sara” in a 2017 study, describes the encounter, saying, “I set a boundary. I was very explicit.” Yet she then discovered that her partner, a man she’d been seeing for a couple of weeks, had secretly removed the condom during sex.

“I ended up talking to him about it later,” Sara told the study’s author, the feminist civil rights attorney Alexandra Brodsky. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, trust me.’ That stuck with me, because he’d literally proven himself to be unworthy of my trust.”

The man who removed the condom was telling her to trust him not to put her at risk for the potential consequences of unprotected sex – for STD infection, or for unplanned pregnancy. But if he was someone she could trust on those issues, he never would have removed the condom in the first place.

Sara was a victim of a phenomenon that 12% of women say they have experienced, and that 10% of men say they have perpetrated, but which for years has had no legal recognition and no name other than the one given to it by its practitioners: “Stealthing”, the non-consensual removal of a condom.

Now, the violation experienced by Sara and others may finally be made illegal, at least in one state. A bill introduced by California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has passed both houses of the state’s legislature, and would make non-consensual condom removal a civil offense. It now awaits a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom.

If the bill goes into effect, it would give victims the power to sue men who removed condoms without their permission for the non-criminal charge of sexual battery and open the door for monetary damages. The Wisconsin and New York legislatures are considering similar bills. If California’s is signed, the state will become the first in the nation to recognize stealthing as a violation in law.

Because the bill makes stealthing a civil offense, not a crime, it does not create the possibility that perpetrators will serve prison time. Instead, it makes them liable for fines and penalties if their victims prevail in court. (The pending bills in Wisconsin and New York do have criminal provisions.) But Brodsky believes that the worthiness of a civil avenue for justice should not be overlooked. “I’m glad to see California pursuing this approach,” she told me. “In my experience, many survivors find the kinds of outcomes available in civil litigation – including money damages – more meaningful and useful.”

Read the full opinion piece here:

Here’s more background on the legislation, which is awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature before it becomes law:

Joe Biden’s approval rating has dipped into negative territory for the first time since he took office, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

Overall, 42% approve of Biden and 50% disapprove. In early August, 46% approved and 43% disapproved.

Respondents to the national poll of US adults found that opinion was mixed on the president’s handling of the pandemic. The majority of respondents disapproved of Biden’s foreign policy.

Although nearly 7 in 10 Americans said the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was the right thing to do, 65 % disapproved of the way Biden handled withdrawing troops.

Updated

California’s recall election: the frontrunners in a field of 46 candidates

Californians are voting in the state’s gubernatorial recall election, where for only the second time in California’s history voters will get a chance to decide if the governor should keep his job.

With the only requirements to run being a $4,200 filing fee “and a dream”, as recall expert Joshua Spivak put it, a total of 46 candidates have made it on to the ballot. Here are some of the frontrunners:

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • California is holding its recall election today to determine whether Democratic governor Gavin Newsom will be allowed to remain in office. Newsom held a campaign rally last night in Long Beach alongside Joe Biden, who warned that Republican candidate Larry Elder is a “clone of Donald Trump”. “Can you imagine him being governor of this state? You can’t let that happen,” Biden said.
  • Senate Democrats unveiled a new voting rights bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday and require states to offer same-day registration by 2024. The legislation is unlikely to become law unless Democrats alter the Senate filibuster, and moderates like Joe Manchin, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, have given no indication they would support such a proposal.
  • Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, threatened to subpoena defense secretary Lloyd Austin for information about the Afghanistan withdrawal. Menendez said he was “very disappointed” that Austin declined the committee’s request to testify at this morning’s hearing on the withdrawal operation. “I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future,” Menendez said. “And if he does not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him, and others over the course of these last twenty years, to testify.”
  • US poverty fell in 2020, even as unemployment rose because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from the Census Bureau. The supplemental poverty measure (SPM) showed that two rounds of pandemic-related stimulus checks lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty in 2020, and expanded unemployment benefits helped another 5.5 million people out of poverty.

Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

The department of homeland security is expecting around 700 people to show up for the “Justice for J6” rally on Saturday, which is being held in support of the insurrectionists who carried out the Capitol attack in January.

NBC News reports:

The Department of Homeland Security is estimating roughly 700 people will attend the ‘Justice for J6’ rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, and has taken steps to make sure law enforcement is better prepared than it was prior to Jan. 6, said Melissa Smislova, deputy undersecretary for intelligence enterprise readiness.

Saturday, Sept. 18 is the date supporters of former President Donald Trump, many with ties to groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in protest of his election loss, will return to Washington for a rally. Smislova said DHS has also learned via social media that similar protests are planned in other cities across the country.

Smislova, speaking at the Homeland Security Enterprise Forum on Tuesday, estimated ‘tens of thousands’ of protesters attended the pro-Trump rally that turned violent in January.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One this afternoon, deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed confidence in law enforcement officials’ ability to respond to the rally.

“We hope Saturday remains peaceful,” Jean-Pierre said. “To the extent needed, executive branch law enforcement agencies are postured, prepared and ready to assist Capitol Police.”

US poverty fell in 2020 as government support offset pandemic damage

US poverty fell in 2020, evidence that government aid can lift millions of Americans out of poverty – even in a global health and economic crisis.

The first months of 2020 were marked by unemployment levels unseen since the Great Depression, but the US supplemental poverty rate fell to 9.1% in 2020 from 11.7% the year before, according to Census Bureau estimates released on Tuesday.

The Census Bureau produces two estimates on poverty: the official rate which only looks at cash resources, and the supplemental poverty measure (SPM), which includes benefits such as pandemic relief aid.

The official estimate rose slightly in 2020 to 11.4%, up from a record low of 10.5% the year before. In 2020, more than 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line.

The supplemental measure, however, showed that two rounds of stimulus checks lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty in 2020. Expanded unemployment benefits also lifted 5.5 million people out of poverty and decreased poverty across all racial groups and all age groups, according to the census.

Read the Guardian’s full report:

Governor Gavin Newsom made a last-minute campaign stop in San Francisco today, as California voters cast ballots to determine whether he will be allowed to remain in office.

Per Fox affiliate KTVU, Newsom was in San Francisco to thank some of his campaign volunteers for assisting him with the recall effort.

Top Republicans, including Donald Trump and gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, have circulated baseless claims of voter fraud in the California recall election – even before the results are known.

An NBC News reporter pressed Elder yesterday on whether he would commit to accepting the results of the election, but the conservative radio host refused to do so.

“I think we all ought to be looking at election integrity,” Elder said. “No matter whether you’re a Democrat, an independent or a Republican, let’s all make sure that the election is a fair election.”

When asked again whether he would commit to accepting the results, Elder repeated his deflection, saying, “Let’s all work together on both sides of the aisle to make sure that the election is a fair election.”

Updated

Early returns show that, of those who have already cast their votes in the recall election, most have been Democrats who are likely to oppose removing governor Gavin Newsom. More Republicans are expected to vote in person on election day.

No major Democratic candidates are running against Newsom, who has encouraged supporters to leave the question of his replacement blank on their ballots. If even a hair more than 50% of voters opt to boot the governor, conservative radio host Larry Elder or any other challenger with a plurality could take office and upend politics in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Such an outcome would cause national reverberations by placing a potentially antagonistic Republican leader at the helm of the nation’s most populous and economically productive state, and potentially dooming Democrats ahead of the midterm elections.

The implication that a Republican could unseat a Democrat in deep-blue California would fuel criticism that the party is out of touch with voters. An upset in the Golden state “could also encourage recall elections potentially around the country”, said Mindy Romero, who heads the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of Southern California.

Californians cast their ballots as polls show Newsom pulling ahead in recall election

California is holding its recall election today to determine whether Democratic governor Gavin Newsom will be allowed to remain in office.

Many Democrats had previously been concerned about Newsom getting recalled because polls taken over the summer indicated that he might be in trouble. However, the governor appears to have mitigated that threat in recent weeks.

According to polling data compiled by FiveThirtyEight, about 57% of likely voters in California now oppose removing Newsom from office.

Joe Biden visited California yesterday to encourage voters to support Newsom in the recall race, warning that Republican candidate Larry Elder is a “clone of Donald Trump”.

“Can you imagine him being governor of this state? You can’t let that happen,” Biden said.

Defense secretary Lloyd Austin said he could not attend the Senate foreign relations committee hearing this morning because of a scheduling conflict but welcomed the invitation to testify.

However, the Democratic chairman of the committee, Bob Menendez, said he was given no prior warning about Austin’s scheduling issue.

“First time I heard that,” Menendez said of Austin’s claim, adding that he hoped the defense secretary would speak to his committee about the Afghanistan mission in the near future.

When asked by MSNBC whether he would move forward with subpoenaing Austin if he did not testify, Menendez replied, “I will do what is necessary to exercise that oversight function. I hope that in this case and in others, there will be cooperation because I expect to call others as well from the past.”

The Senate foreign relations committee held a hearing this morning on the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Democrat Tim Kaine argued the US had unrealistic goals going into the war.

“We had good intentions about what we might have wanted in Afghanistan,” the Virginia senator said.

“But let’s face it: we can’t get 30% of Americans to get a vaccine. We can’t get 30% of Americans to acknowledge the results of a presidential election. Do we really think that we can determine what the culture of another country should be?”

Secretary of state Antony Blinken testified at the committee hearing, and defense secretary Lloyd Austin was invited to appear as well but declined to do so.

In response, committee chairman Bob Menendez warned that he may subpoena the defense secretary to get more information about the withdrawal operation and the Afghan military’s failure to push back against the Taliban’s territorial gains.

AOC responds to critics of Met Gala dress

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a white gown with the message “tax the rich” emblazoned in red to the Met Gala, she was sure to ruffle some feathers.

Critics duly disparaged the move as hypocritical and tone deaf. The New York congresswoman, a leading House progressive, was happy to set the record straight.

“The medium is the message,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram.

“NYC elected officials are regularly invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibilities in overseeing our city’s cultural institutions that serve the public. I was one of several in attendance. Dress is borrowed.”

Ocasio-Cortez was also determined to use the spotlight to reiterate her commitment to principles that have made her both an icon and a lightning rod on the national political scene, widely known by her initials, AOC.

“The time is now for childcare, healthcare and climate action for all,” she wrote. “Tax the Rich.”

On Tuesday, in response to further criticism, Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram that she was accustomed to being “heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically”.

“Ultimately the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful,” she wrote. “But we all had a conversation about Taxing the Rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the fourth wall of excess and spectacle.”

Some ancestors of Joe Biden enslaved people, according to a new genealogy of the 46th US president.

According to Alexander Bannerman, co-author with Gary Boyd Roberts of an article in American Ancestors Magazine, Biden’s great-great-great grandfather on his father’s side, Jesse Robinett, was listed in the 1800 census as enslaving two people in Allegany county, Maryland.

Bannerman also told Politico records show that in 1850, another Biden great-great-great grandfather in Maryland, Thomas Randle, enslaved a 14-year-old male. Randle was still listed as enslaving one man in 1860, a year before the outbreak of the American civil war, which ended with slavery abolished.

Maryland, a border state between slave-owning south and abolitionist north, stayed loyal to the union. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery there around 1818, before escaping and becoming perhaps the greatest abolitionist of the 19th century.

Bannerman also noted that Biden is distantly related to Jefferson Davis, president of the confederate states which seceded to defend slavery and were totally defeated.

But he said Biden’s ties to slavery did not make him an exception among Americans. In fact, Bannerman said, Biden had “not a lot of ancestors [who had] not a lot of slaves”.

The White House did not comment.

In summer 2020, as a presidential election was fought amid anti-racism protests and the defacement or removal of statues to Confederate figures and slaveowners, a meme circulated which purported to show a Biden ancestor who fought for the Confederacy.

Fact-checking sites determined the claim to be false, though links between Biden and the slave-owning Robinette family were raised. Biden’s middle name is Robinette, the spelling having varied from the Robinett listed in 1800.

Politico also cited past cases of prominent politicians being found to be descended from slaveholders, among them the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and another prominent Irish American Democrat, Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

In 2019, as the former congressman ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Guardian reported the existence of “abundant documentation … of his and his wife Amy’s ancestors’ slave-owning and their support for the Confederacy”.

O’Rourke said: “Amy and I sat down and talked through this. How Andrew [Jasper, his ancestor] was able, through his descendants, to pass on the benefits of owning other human beings. And ultimately I and my children are beneficiaries of that.”

In a blogpost, he added: “We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine.”

Updated

FBI director Chris Wray is facing new scrutiny of the bureau’s handling of its 2018 background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh, including its claim that the FBI lacked the authority to conduct a further investigation into the then supreme court nominee.

At the heart of the new questions that Wray will face later this week, when he testifies before the Senate judiciary committee, is a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding that the FBI has recently said constrained the agency’s ability to conduct any further investigations of allegations of misconduct.

It is not clear whether that claim is accurate.

Full story:

Woodward details Biden's first steps in power

Bob Woodward’s third book on Donald Trumpthe forthcoming Peril, written with Robert Costa, also of the Washington Post – also contains reporting on Joe Biden’s first months in power.

The Post reports that Biden’s “frustration with Joe Manchin”, the West Virginia senator who holds huge power in a Senate split 50-50, “is matched only by his debt to House majority whip James Clyburn of South Carolina”.

Biden is shown telling Manchin that regarding passage of the $1.9tn coronavirus stimulus bill in March this year, “if you don’t come along, you’re really fucking me”. As the Post puts it, “the measure ultimately cleared the Senate through an elaborate sequencing of amendments designed to satisfy the centrist Democrat”.

Clyburn, meanwhile, is reported to have made Biden’s promise to put a Black woman on the supreme court a non-negotiable condition of the endorsement that rocket-fuelled Biden’s candidacy after a poor start to the Democratic primary.

In a passage of heightened relevance in the aftermath of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden is reported to have said in 2009, “the military doesn’t fuck around with me”.

The same book which says the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acted to thwart Trump shows Gen Mark Milley taking “a deferential approach to Biden on Afghanistan”.

“Here’s a couple of rules of the road here that we’re going to follow,” Milley is quoted as saying. “One is you never, ever ever box in a president of the United States. You always give him decision space.”

Milley is also reported to have called Biden “a seasoned politician here who has been in Washington DC 50 years, whatever it is.”

Biden is reported to have said Trump “isn’t really an American president”.

While all this was coming out, Trump was issuing a statement seeking to cast doubt on the propriety of the California recall election, which most expect the Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, to survive.

Experience suggests we might expect a statement about Woodward, Milley and Biden some time rather soon.

Updated

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Senate Democrats unveiled a new voting rights bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday and require states to offer same-day registration by 2024. The legislation is unlikely to become law unless Democrats alter the Senate filibuster, and moderates like Joe Manchin, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, have given no indication they would support such a proposal.
  • California is holding its recall election today to determine whether Democratic governor Gavin Newsom will be allowed to remain in office. Newsom held a campaign rally last night in Long Beach alongside Joe Biden, who warned that Republican candidate Larry Elder is a “clone of Donald Trump”. “Can you imagine him being governor of this state? You can’t let that happen,” Biden said.
  • Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, threatened to subpoena defense secretary Lloyd Austin for information about the Afghanistan withdrawal. Menendez said he was “very disappointed” that Austin declined the committee’s request to testify at this morning’s hearing on the withdrawal operation. “I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future,” Menendez said. “And if he does not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him, and others over the course of these last twenty years, to testify.”

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

The date Saturday 9 October 2021 might go down in political history. Or at least that is what Donald Trump would like you to believe.

That night, Trump will hold a rally in Iowa, the celebrated launchpad for US presidential candidates, the state that goes first in the major parties’ selection process and that is already drawing potential contenders for the Republican nomination in 2024.

Trump’s ability to draw raucous crowds there will only fuel speculation that, despite his first term ending in defeat and disgrace, the 75-year-old intends to exact revenge by recapturing the White House from Democrat Joe Biden.

No one knows if this is true - quite possibly not even Trump himself. But the tease over 2024 suits Trump just fine on multiple levels. It keeps him relevant as the dominant figure in the Republican party. It keeps cash flowing from donors still devoted to his cause. And it flatters an ego that has always craved celebrity and being at the centre of attention.

Read the Guardian’s full report:

Top US general feared Trump would go 'rogue' and launch nuclear attack after election loss, new Woodward book claims

Legendary journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are out with a book that includes new details on Donald Trump’s final days in office.

CNN reports:

Two days after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump’s top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took top-secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons, according to ‘Peril,’ a new book by legendary journalist Bob Woodward and veteran Washington Post reporter Robert Costa.

Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, ‘was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.’

Milley worried that Trump could ‘go rogue,’ the authors write.

‘You never know what a president’s trigger point is,’ Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.

In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon’s war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.

During the Senate foreign relations committee hearing on Afghanistan, Republican Jim Risch pursued a bizarre line of questioning about whether White House staffers have the power to “press the button” and cut off Joe Biden’s mic while speaking to reporters.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken appeared bemused by the line of questioning, telling Risch, “There is no such person. Again, the president speaks for himself.”

Risch’s questions appeared to be in response to a New York Post article about Biden’s mic cutting out toward the end of a press pool spray yesterday.

But as CNN’s Daniel Dale noted, there was nothing unusual about the incident:

Updated

Two senior Taliban leaders have gone missing from public view, leading some Afghans to question whether the group’s supreme leader and new deputy prime minister are alive.

The top Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has not been seen in public a month after the militants seized control of Afghanistan. A spokesperson has gone on the record to deny rumours of his death.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the Taliban’s most recognised faces, has also gone missing. Questions about the wellbeing of the head of the political office and key figure in peace talks began mounting after he was not seen in public for several days.

There have been rumours in Kabul that he had been killed or badly injured in a fight with another senior Taliban figure during an argument about how to divide Afghanistan’s ministries.

Menendez threatens to subpoena defense secretary over Afghanistan withdrawal

The Senate foreign relations committee is now holding a hearing on the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, a day after the panel’s House counterpart held a similar hearing.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken is present to testify at the hearing, but defense secretary Lloyd Austin declined the committee’s request to appear.

“I’m very disappointed that Secretary Austin declined our request to testify today,” said Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the committee.

“A full accounting of the US response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon – especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the US trained and funded Afghan military,” Menendez added.

The chairman warned that Austin’s refusal to testify may affect his personal judgment on defense department nominees, a significant threat in an evenly divided Senate.

“I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future,” Menendez said. “And if he does not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him, and others over the course of these last twenty years, to testify.”

Appearing alongside Gavin Newsom in Long Beach last night, Joe Biden warned that the governor’s top rival, conservative radio host Larry Elder, is a “clone of Donald Trump”.

“Can you imagine him being governor of this state? You can’t let that happen,” Biden said.

Underscoring the importance of the recall election, the president added, “The decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world.”

Newsom shared a similar message with the audience, arguing that the recall election represented an opportunity to repudiate the entire Republican party.

“We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism,” the governor said.

California holds recall election to determine whether Newsom will remain in office

Californians will decide on Tuesday whether to keep Gavin Newsom in office as a recall election that has left the Democratic governor fighting for his political life draws to a close.

The gubernatorial recall effort is only the second in California’s history to make it on to the ballot and a rare chance for Republicans to seize control in a deep blue state. Voters are being asked two questions: should Newsom be removed from office, and, if he is recalled, who should take his place?

Millions of Californians have already cast their ballots, either by mail or at early voting locations, and registered voters will have until Tuesday evening to make their choice, in a special election that is costing the state $276m.

Newsom, who has been a broadly popular governor since he was elected in 2018, found himself in a peculiar position after a Republican-led recall effort gained steam amid the worst of the state’s pandemic.

He appeared confident heading into the final stretch, spending Monday campaigning with Joe Biden. Polls that had signaled peril for him during the summer have recently given him a more comfortable lead. Meanwhile, the leading Republican challenger, the rightwing radio host Larry Elder, has been laying a groundwork of misinformation to falsely imply that the election, if he loses, was rigged against him.

Early returns show that of those who have already cast their votes, most have been Democrats who are likely to oppose the recall. More Republicans are expected to vote in person on election day.

Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, described the Freedom to Vote Act as a “very strong bill” that should be passed immediately.

“The Freedom to Vote Act would protect millions of Americans’ access to the ballot box, now under siege by state laws meant to disenfranchise voters and subvert our elections. It would defend civil rights and advance racial justice,” Waldman said in a statement.

“There is now no substitute for action. As redistricting unfolds across the country, time is of the essence. Lawmakers from both parties should embrace this new legislation, and will do so if they are serious about protecting democracy.”

Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, called on the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act as quickly as possible to strengthen Americans’ voting rights.

“The assaults on our constitutional right to vote are unprecedented,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Congress has got to get this voting rights bill to the President’s desk as promptly as possible. Conservative, progressive or moderate, protecting the people’s right to vote is the most American thing anyone in congress can do.”

Johnson added, “Future generations will look back on this moment. Do the right thing. Get it done.”

Voting rights groups continued to call for eliminating the filibuster on Tuesday immediately after Democrats unveiled new, compromise voting rights legislation.

The groups said they support the new bill, which includes significant reforms, like 15 guaranteed days of early voting, protections against subversion for local election officials, required vote-by-mail, and same-day registration.

But their focus on the filibuster reflects a widely-accepted reality in Washington – as long as the filibuster is in place, the bill is likely dead on arrival in the US Senate. Getting 10 Republicans to even support a compromise measure, crafted with significant input from Senator Joe Manchin, is a longshot.

“Now that it appears that all 50 Democrats are on board with a bill to protect our freedom to vote, it’s time to get all 50 Democrats on board with reforming the filibuster to get it passed,” Sean Eldridge, the founder and president of Stand Up America, which supports the bill.

“The Senate must do whatever it takes to pass this bill immediately to ensure everyone has a say in our democracy, not just corporate interests and big donors. It cannot let outdated procedures stand in the way. We will continue the fight until the job is done,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, which also supports the legislation.

Manchin, a key Democrat who does not support getting rid of the filibuster, has indicated he wants to keep the senate rule in place for now.

“The filibuster is permanent,” Manchin said on Monday, according to CNN.

Other Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also support keeping the filibuster in place. Joe Biden, who long supported the filibuster, has said recently that he is prepared to pressure Democrats to get rid of the practice to pass federal voting reform.

Updated

Joe Manchin, a moderate member of the Senate Democratic caucus who has been steadfastly against eliminating the filibuster, is another co-sponsor of the Freedom to Vote Act.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our Democracy and the Freedom to Vote Act is a step in the right direction towards protecting that right for every American,” Manchin said in a statement.

“As elected officials, we also have an obligation to restore peoples’ faith in our Democracy, and I believe that the commonsense provisions in this bill - like flexible voter ID requirements - will do just that.”

But as of now, there is no indication that Manchin would be willing to alter the filibuster, which will almost certainly be necessary to get this bill passed.

Amy Klobuchar, the chairwoman of the Senate rules committee, unveiled the new voting rights legislation with several of her Democratic colleagues this morning.

“The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country. These attacks demand an immediate federal response,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

“With the Freedom to Vote Act, the entire voting rights working group, including Senators Manchin and Merkley, is united behind legislation that will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in.”

Senate Democrats unveil new voting rights bill but filibuster hurdles remain

Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.

Senate Democrats have released a new voting rights bill aimed at bolstering the nation’s election systems, after 18 states enacted 30 laws restricting voting access over the past several months.

The Freedom to Vote Act, which was unveiled by Senator Amy Klobuchar, would make election day a federal holiday and require states to offer same-day voter registration at all polling places by 2024, according to reports.

The bill would also include a voter ID requirement, although a wide range of documents would be considered proof of identification.

The legislation builds off the framework of the For the People Act, another voting rights bill that was blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

And this bill will likely face the same challenges in the evenly divided Senate. It would take 10 Republican “yes” votes to overcome the expected filibuster, which seems nearly impossible given the political division within Congress.

So the question (once again) comes back to the filibuster and whether Democratic moderates like Joe Manchin, a co-sponsor of the bill, would be willing to alter the filibuster to get this new proposal passed. Time will tell.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.


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