Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Sept. 24, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

The Trump administration’s negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices for seniors — a move intended to be an “October surprise” in the 2020 election — have collapsed, according to The New York Times. Trump’s plans included drug companies mailing $100 cash cards to seniors before Nov. 3. However, the PhRMA trade group said it did not want to be positioned as teaming up with the president right before the election. What’s more, the savings cards would “not provide lasting help.”

The White House put a stop to plans to send 650 million cloth face masks to everyone in the U.S. early in the COVID-19 pandemic, with the reasoning that “receiving masks might create concern or panic,” The Washington Post recently reported. Had the masks been sent and used, a study by the Center for Economic Policy says 40,000 lives could have been saved in April and May.

Wildfire smoke may increase the intensity of COVID-19 symptoms, according to UC San Francisco. Of particular concern are microscopic particles that injure lung linings.

A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Postal Service must reverse changes made by the postmaster general that slowed the mail, calling those actions “politically motivated” to “disrupt” mail-in voting for the election. Fourteen states have sued, The Washington Post reported, after a USPS letter to 46 states warned that the USPS could not guarantee mail-in ballots would arrive on time for counting.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at age 87 on Sept. 18 after serving 27 years on the highest court in the land. Nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed 96-3 in the Senate, Ginsburg was known for strict adherence to equality under the law in cases involving both men and women.

Shortly after Ginsburg’s death, President Donald Trump and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they will rapidly move to replace her. 

To pass Trump’s court nominee, 51 votes are needed in the Senate, which now has 53 Republicans. When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, 2016, McConnell blocked a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee — citing as his reason that it was an election year. Other past and present statements by prominent Republicans have also gone against the current drive a pre-election court confirmation.: 

“It’s been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year,” Sen. Ted Cruz said in 2016. Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2016 said, “If there’s … a vacancy [that] occurs in the last year of the first term… let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.” 

According to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, speaking after Ginsburg’s death, “I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50-some days away from an election.”

A week after the Tuesday, Nov. 3 election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a Republican-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The court upheld the legality of the law in 2012 by a 5-4 vote.

House Leader Nancy Pelosi indicated on ABC News that her fellow Democrats want to defend the U.S. Constitution and will explore ways to prevent another politicized Supreme Court appointment.

Since mid-March the total net worth of the nation’s billionaires has risen by $850 billion — a 29% increase, according to a new study from the Institute for Policy Studies.

Blast from the past: While numerous Republicans said four years ago there should be no Supreme Court Justice replacement made in an election year, that is not a rule, says historian Heather Cox Richardson. At least 14 Supreme Court justices have been nominated and confirmed during an election year, and three others were nominated after a presidential election. The current controversy has its roots in the aftermath of the Senate refusing to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016 and Ronald Reagan using judicial nominees to undo the works of justices appointed by prior Republican presidents. Specifically, Reagan’s nomination process was politicized with questions about abortion and affirmative action. In 1992, when then-Sen. Joe Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, he proposed that if a court vacancy occurs close to an election, it should not be filled until after the vote to avoid the politicization that took place under Reagan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls that the “Biden Rule.” A number of Republicans who said four years ago that they opposed election-year replacements of justices are now reversing their stance.

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