Why Chief Justice John Roberts might decide the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election

The controversy over mail-in ballots will result in Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts deciding the 2020 presidential election, political commentator Dick Morris said on Sunday.

Speaking on “The Cats Roundtable” radio show on WABC 770 AM in New York hosted by John Catsimatidis, Morris explained that “the blue state governors are mailing out tens of millions of ballots. They’re going to be returned with a vote on them, probably for [Democratic presidential nominee Joe] Biden.”

Morris, who was a political advisor to President Bill Clinton before returning to the Republican Party in 2011, said that on election night, President Donald Trump will appear to have won all the swing states and emerge victorious in a landslide.

But then, Morris contended, “day after day, week after week, you’re going to find another million ballots counted here, another half million there… And gradually these Democratic liberal secretaries of state who are in charge of the election in most of these blue states, will say, ‘We’re sorry. It turns out Biden carried Wisconsin, not Trump.’”

Morris said the next step will be that the Trump campaign will sue, but the suit “will have to be in state court. The state court judges are largely liberal, largely Democrat. And they will [rule] in favor of the state [that] Biden carried it.”

At this stage, the dispute will “probably go up to the federal courts. And the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually make the decision. And then the entire election will be in the hands literally of John Roberts. And we’ll see what he’ll do.”

Russia investigating another suspected case of toxic poisoning

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny fell into a coma after he collapsed in an aeroplane toilet on Thursday, prompting his allies to suspect poisoning.

If true, he would not be the first prominent, outspoken Russian to be the target of a toxic attack.

Here are some other people who have criticised the Kremlin and then fallen victim to suspected poisonings:

Alexander Litvinenko

A former agent for the KGB and post-Soviet successor agency FSB, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Litvinenko defected from Russia in 2000 and fled to London, where he fell violently ill six years later after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.

He died after three weeks. A British inquiry found that Russian agents had killed Litvinenko, probably with President Vladimir Putin’s approval. Russia denied any involvement.

Before his death, Litvinenko told journalists that the FSB was still operating a secret Moscow poisons laboratory dating from the Soviet era.

He was one of several former Russian intelligence officers to accuse Moscow of being behind the dioxin poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during his 2004 election campaign.

At the time of Litvinenko’s poisoning, he had been investigating the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya three weeks earlier.

Anna Politkovskaya

An investigative journalist, Politkovskaya had written critically about abuses by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces fighting separatists in Chechnya – work that earned her repeated death threats.

In 2004, she fell severely ill and lost consciousness after drinking a cup of tea. She said she was deliberately poisoned to prevent her from covering the 2004 seizure of a school in southern Russia by Chechen separatists.

Two years later, Politkovskaya was shot to death outside her Moscow apartment building, a murder that drew widespread condemnation in the West. Five men were sentenced for carrying out the killing but no one was convicted for ordering it.

Vladimir Kara-Murza

Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr was hospitalised with poisoning symptoms twice, in 2015 and 2017.

A journalist and associate of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed in 2015 while crossing a bridge near the Kremlin, and oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Kara-Murza nearly died from kidney failure in the first incident.

He suspects poisoning but no cause has been determined.

He was taken to hospital with a sudden, similar illness in 2017 and put into a medically induced coma.

His wife said doctors confirmed he was poisoned. Kara-Murza survived, and police have refused requests to investigate the case, according to his lawyer.

POISONED former Russian Spy feared for his life after wife and son died in separate car accidents

Ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were attacked with a nerve agent

Ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal had poison in his home

Ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal leaves Salisbury hospital

Sergei and Yulia Skripal

A Russian spy who became a double agent for the UK, Sergei Skripal fell ill in the British city of Salisbury in 2018.

Authorities said Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. The two spent weeks in critical condition.

The UK put the blame squarely on Russian intelligence, but Moscow denied any role.

Putin called Skripal a “scumbag” of no interest to the Kremlin because he was tried in Russia and exchanged in a spy swap in 2010.

The UK charged two Russian men with the poisoning. They claimed they had visited Salisbury as tourists and denied any involvement in the attack, which came amid revelations about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign.

Pyotr Verzilov

Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the Russian protest group, Pussy Riot, was placed in an intensive care unit after a suspected poisoning in 2018 and had to be flown to the German capital, Berlin, for treatment.

German doctors treating him said a poisoning was “highly plausible”. He eventually recovered.

Verzilov, his partner and two other Pussy Riot members had served jail time earlier that year for running onto the field during the World Cup final in Moscow to protest against excessive Russian police powers.

He has also served time on other charges that he calls politically motivated.

Russia slams world powers for trying to destabilize Belarus

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday it was concerned by the situation in Belarus and said there were attempts by outside forces to meddle in and destabilize the country following Sunday’s contested election.

Belarus on Thursday began releasing some of the thousands of people detained in a crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko that has prompted the European Union (EU) to consider imposing sanctions.

Prisoners release 

Some of those freed in the capital Minsk had bruises and described being tightly packed inside cells and complained of mistreatment, including beatings. A spokeswoman for the interior ministry declined immediate comment, CGTN reported.

Their release came as thousands of people formed human chains and marched in the streets for a fifth consecutive day of protests against Lukashenko, who has dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and unemployed.

The government said that 700 more people had been detained in a fourth night of clashes on Wednesday between police and protesters.

President Alexander Lukashenko 2

New measures of EU sanction 

EU eyes sanctions over disputed Belarus election “as soon as end-August”, diplomats and officials said.

Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Sweden have spoken publicly in favor of sanctions and Austria was another hawk, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of emergency talks between EU foreign ministers on Friday.

With any EU decision on sanctions requiring unanimity of all the 27 member states, Hungary was the main sceptic, according to the sources. Hungary on Thursday called on the bloc “to pursue dialogue with Belarus and avoid ostracizing it.”

Suggesting it could agree to some restrictions, however, Budapest passed up the opportunity to block a statement earlier this week on behalf of all EU countries that specifically mentioned sanctions “against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results” as an option.

“The direction of travel seems clear. How many people would be blacklisted, how deep we go will largely depend on Hungary,” said one EU diplomat in Brussels.

No final decision was expected on Friday, but the response could be finalized within days after another discussion among EU foreign ministers due in Berlin on August 27-28, the sources said.

What experts say about China’s countermeasure

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday the diplomats of the U.S. consulate general in Chengdu interfered in China’s internal affairs and engaged in activities that were not in line with their diplomatic identities.

Wang urged the U.S. to withdraw its decision to close China’s consulate general in Houston and make efforts to bring bilateral ties back on track, adding that the Chinese side has lodged representations with the U.S. many times.

China has ordered the U.S. to close its consulate general in southwest China’s Chengdu City in response to U.S. directive for China to shut its consulate general in Houston, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

China

Image shows the US embassy in Beijing and Consulate offices in other parts of  China

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the decision was a justifiable and necessary response to the unreasonable act of the U.S. on July 21 of abruptly asking China to close its consulate general in Houston by Friday.

The U.S. consulate general in Chengdu was established in 1985, and it covers the southwestern part of China, which includes Sichuan Province, Tibet Autonomous Region and Chongqing Municipality.

Following China’s decision of countermeasure, experts have said that the core principle behind the decision is seeking equality in diplomatic exchanges while China is also avoiding sending out a strong message of a divided China-U.S. relation.

Shen Yi, an expert on U.S.-related issues at Shanghai-based Fudan University, told the Global Times that the move sent a clear signal to the U.S. that China does not intend to damage the Sino-U.S. relations, but it will surely fight back this kind of abrupt move.

If China does nothing in the beginning, it runs the risk of gradually being trapped into a situation of having to making compromises for each move made by the U.S., Shen said.

Meanwhile, Li Haidong, a professor with the Institute of International Relations Studies under China Foreign Affairs University, told the news outlet that China is also dealing with the issue in a restrained way that tries to prevent a sudden escalation of China-U.S. tensions.

He said that among all the U.S. embassy and consulates general in China, the Chengdu consulate general covers relatively smaller scale of regions and thus it would only affect a limited number of U.S. citizens and enterprises.

China retaliates against Trump’s decision to close its embassy in Houston

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday the diplomats of the U.S. consulate general in Chengdu interfered in China’s internal affairs and engaged in activities that were not in line with their diplomatic identities.

Wang said the Chinese side has lodged representations with the U.S. many times. He urged the U.S. to withdraw its decision to close China’s consulate general in Houston and make efforts to bring bilateral ties back on track.

Wang added that China’s consulate general in Houston is still running so far.

China has ordered the U.S. to close its consulate general in southwest China’s Chengdu City in response to U.S. directive for China to shut its consulate general in Houston, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the decision was a justifiable and necessary response to the unreasonable act of the U.S. on July 21 of abruptly asking China to close its consulate general in Houston by Friday.

Shortly after the announcement, Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said on Twitter that China had ordered the U.S. side to vacate the consulate in 72 hours and notified them at 10 a.m. on July 24. The consulate will be shut at 10 a.m. local time on July 27.

The ministry said that the U.S. provocation has seriously violated international law, basic norms of international relations, as well as relevant provisions of the China-U.S. consular treaty.

It has severely damaged the Sino-U.S. relations, the statement said.

“The current situation in China-U.S. relations is not what China desires to see, and the United States is responsible for all this,” the statement said. “We once again urge the United States to immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track.”

The move, according to the U.S. State Department, was to “protect Americans’ intellectual property and private information.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the announcement on Wednesday and urged the U.S. to recall its wrong decision.

Lionel Vairon, a former French diplomat, said in an op-ed published with CGTN that this is the U.S.’s containment policy, trying to pressure China with every opportunity.

“Since the last six months, you’ve seen that for the listed companies, you’ve seen that for students, you’ve seen that for technology exchanges, you’ve seen that in telecoms, you’ve seen that on Tibet and so on. We see Hong Kong today,” Vairon said. “And this is just one more way to pressure China.”

Afghan president hopeful of a peace treaty with Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that peace talks with the Taliban could begin “in a week’s time,” following the completion of a crucial prisoner exchange.

“To demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Ghani told senior officials at the presidential palace.

“With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week’s time,” he added, speaking in English.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Meanwhile, the Taliban announced on Tuesday that they will observe a three-day ceasefire in Afghanistan for the Muslim occasion of Eid al-Adha, starting Friday, the group’s spokesman said.

“In order for our people to spend the three days of Eid in confidence and happiness, all fighters are instructed not to carry out any operations,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

However, he added that if Taliban fighters come under attack from government forces, they will retaliate. Violence in Afghanistan has increased over recent weeks as the prisoner exchange between the Afghan government and Taliban has stalled.

The prisoner exchange issue, agreed to under a deal between the U.S. and the Taliban earlier this year, has been a major sticking point ahead of the intra-Afghan peace talks.

The Afghan government is supposed to release up to 5,000 Taliban fighters, while the armed group has pledged to free 1,000 Afghan security forces in their custody, according to the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

People inspect a police vehicle which was hit by magnetic bomb in Kabul
People inspect a police vehicle which was hit by magnetic bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

The Taliban said last week that it was prepared to hold peace talks with the Afghan government next month straight after the holiday of Eid al-Adha, if the prisoner swap is completed.

Kabul had released about 4,400 Taliban captives. The armed group said it had freed 864 government inmates.

The Taliban is “likely… ready to begin intra-Afghan negotiations immediately after Eid in case the process of the release of the prisoners is completed,” the armed group’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.

Russian interference in global politics is the “new normal”

A long-awaited report published Tuesday on Russian influence in British politics criticized the British government for its slow response to Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The authors said it was “astonishing” that no one sought to protect democratic process in the United Kingdom, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

While the report from the parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said it would be “difficult—if not impossible—to prove” allegations that Russia sought to influence the referendum, it was clear that the government “was slow to recognize existence of the threat” even after evidence emerged of Russian interference in the US elections back in 2014. “As a result, the government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016,” the report said.

“What we do know about Russian interference in the UK is it is the new normal.” The report’s authors criticized the British government for “actively avoiding” looking into the Russian threat.

“Serious questions needed to be asked” why ministers didn’t look into the issue, the authors said.

The report says Russia sees Britain as one of its top intelligence targets in the West. It said Russian influence in the UK is the “new normal,” and said successive governments have welcomed Russian oligarchs with open arms.

The report’s release comes only days after Britain, the United States, and Canada accused hackers linked to Russian intelligence agencies of trying to steal information from researchers working on a potential coronavirus vaccine.

China warns nations to stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs

The day before, China’s parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution to draft a law on national security in Hong Kong that would outlaw secessionism in the territory and hefty fines or jail terms for those ridiculing China’s anthem among other things.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry called on foreign nations on Friday to cease attempts at meddling in Hong Kong affairs.

The day before the UK joined Australia, Canada and the US in criticizing China’s decision to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong.

A resolution to draft a law on national security in Hong Kong was passed on 28 May with 2,878 lawmakers supporting it, while one voted against and six others abstained.

Under this resolution, the National People’s Congress Committee has been charged with writing a bill on Hong Kong’s security.

According to the media reports, the new legislation would require Hong Kong’s regional government to set up new institutions that would guarantee the safety of civilians.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has called for the legislation to be enacted without delay, and the bill has the support of leading Hong Kong politicians, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Prior to the voting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that Washington would have to reconsider the level of autonomy in Hong Kong if the new legislation is passed, while US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that Beijing could face sanctions if the US finds that Hong Kong’s autonomy has been compromised.

Nigeria breaks my heart

Nigeria broke my heart with its response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

First, Nigeria’s level of preparedness for disaster/pandemic risk management is too low as compared to countries like China, where the virus originated around November 2019. To control spread of the virus and protect millions of lives, the Chinese government responsibly announced stay-at-home orders and strictly implemented lockdown guidelines together with disinfection of affected areas — mostly public places. These steps hastened the Asian country’s path to recovery from the deadly virus.

In the United States, budgetary allocations to the healthcare sector were increased; in addition, the government provided financial assistance for students, workers, elderly people, and the homeless; even prisoners were released from selected jails — depending on the charges against them — to reduce risks of exposure to the virus and save lives.

Nigeria 2

Image shows the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari

The story was totally different in Nigeria. Billions of Naira received from charitable individuals and organizations were literally embezzled by public office holders. Office of the Accountant General caught fire and everyone knew it was the same old song in a country where mysterious snakes can swallow millions public funds valued at millions of Naira. What next? Our leaders claimed the relief funds were spent on “unidentified” poor masses, including prisoners and street beggars. But, in fact, how the “corofunds” were shared, with what formula or criteria, and who the beneficiaries are, remain a mystery to Nigerians. Wonders shall never cease!

The coronavirus pandemic increased poverty level in Nigeria.  Many low-income earners whose sources of livelihood were shut down to control spread of the virus have suffered unbearable hardship. Moreover, palliative measures which were widely announced in the media have been a source of controversy and anger among Nigerians (just like the Revenue Sharing Formula), increasing the level of mistrust towards political leaders. Nothing works in Nigeria; those in government circles apparently have their own agenda, which is totally unrelated to expectations from the masses. Our political elites believe poverty for the masses is well-deserved and there’s nothing even God can do about it. Little wonder most Nigerians rejoice at the demise of any “Aso Rock” politician — an attitude which many moralists, however, believe should be replaced with political consciousness and activism.

On this backdrop, the unprofessional handling of Late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari’s burial by officials of the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) speaks volume of Nigeria’s aberrant attitude toward public safety. Disregard for public safety guidelines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows the level of lawlessness in the country, especially among the ruling elite. But I am most concerned that our democratically elected leaders have, by this act, shown that they are unfit for public service.

I weep for thousands of lives to be affected by the novel coronavirus due to our leaders’ incompetence and ignorance. Bit I won’t join the clamor for violent revolution. Nonetheless, to those who died natural death and were treated as COVID-19 victims, I wish your soul find eternal rest.

May good heavens vindicate us (every Nigerian committed to building a lasting legacy for posterity through selfless public service) from our gluttonous leaders whose protruding bellies will, someday, show us the real samples of COVID-19.

Join the campaign against #corruption, #poverty, #violence and #lawlessness which will soon become a norm — even for babies in the womb — if we choose to be observers rather than changers. #Nigeriawillrise #Changebeginswithme

US governors disagree on Trump’s plan to reopen the economy

For weeks, the Trump administration played up the dangers of the coronavirus as it sought to convince Americans to disrupt their lives and stay home.

Now, as President Donald Trump aims for a swift nationwide reopening, he faces a new challenge: convincing people it’s safe to come out and resume their normal lives.

It’s a defining question for a cloistered nation — and a political imperative for Trump, whose reelection likely rides on the pace of an economic rebound. Can the country move beyond a crippling fear of the virus and return to some modified version of its old routines, doing what’s possible to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, but acknowledging it may be a fact of life for years to come?

“We need to create the kind of confidence in America that makes it so that everybody goes back to work,” said Kevin Hassett, a White House adviser and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

“And that confidence is going to require testing and confidence that your workplace is a healthy place, but also confidence in the economy.”

At the White House, officials believe they’ve entered a new chapter of the pandemic response, moving from crisis mode to sustained mitigation and management. It began last Thursday with the release of guidelines to governors for how to safely reopen their states. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence celebrated Americans for successfully “flattening the curve” of the epidemic.

A day later, a phalanx of the administration’s top medical officials sought to reassure the nation that there were plenty of tests available to safely begin easing restrictions. Governors have been lifting restrictions each day since then, including aggressive moves announced Wednesday in Montana and Oklahoma. The Montana governor gave schools the green light to open their doors in early May, and Oklahoma will allow salons, barbershops, spas and pet groomers to reopen Friday.

Trump, in his evening press conference, did take issue with Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s bold reopening plans. “I disagree strongly,” he said. “I think it’s too soon.”

The governors’ moves coincided with lingering bleak news around the country. The death toll in Massachusetts eclipsed 2,000 on Wednesday, doubling from just a week earlier. About 16,000 people remained hospitalized across New York. A meat plant in Iowa that is vital to the nation’s pork supply is the latest slaughterhouse to shut down because of outbreak. With the economy in for a long, brutal slump, Congress was on the verge of passing an almost $500 billion relief bill to bolster small businesses.

Trump flatly promised Americans that there will no repeat of the national lockdown. “We will not go through what we went through for the last two months,” he said. It’s a sharp shift in rhetoric after Trump and allies stressed the threat of an “invisible enemy” to persuade people to abide by social distancing recommendations. The American people have also been scarred by the daunting death toll and images of body bags piled up in refrigerated trailers.

Moving from fear to acceptance will take confidence in government, medical professionals and businesses at a time when faith in those institutions is low. White House aides say restoring confidence will require the same “whole-of-America” approach that slowed the virus spread.

“It’s one thing for government to say, ‘OK, it’s safe to go out,’’’ New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Tuesday. “If people don’t believe it’s safe, they’re not going to go.” While there have been isolated protests in states aimed at lifting aggressive stay-at-home measures, most Americans don’t believe it will be safe to ease the restrictions anytime soon, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Kim Jong Un likely sick and unfit to rule North Korea

With North Korea saying nothing so far about outside media reports that leader Kim Jong Un may be unwell, there’s renewed worry about who’s next in line to run a nuclear-armed country that’s been ruled by the same family for seven decades.

Questions about Kim’s health flared after he skipped an April 15 commemoration of the 108th birthday of his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. It’s North Korea’s most important event, and Kim, 36, hadn’t missed it since inheriting power from his father in late 2011.

North Korea’s state media on Wednesday said Kim sent a message thanking Syria’s president for conveying greetings on his grandfather’s birthday, but didn’t report any other activities, while rival South Korea repeated that no unusual developments had been detected in the North.

Kim has been out of the public eye for extended periods in the past, and North Korea’s secretive nature allows few outsiders to assert confidently whether he might be unwell, let alone incapacitated. Still, questions about the North’s political future are likely to grow if he fails to attend upcoming public events.

Kim is the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, and a strong personality cult has been built around him, his father and grandfather. The family’s mythical “Paektu” bloodline, named after the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, is said to give only direct family members the right to rule the nation.

The unwritten agreement between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un

That makes Kim’s younger sister, senior ruling party official Kim Yo Jong, the most likely candidate to step in if her brother is gravely ill, incapacitated or dies. But some experts say a collective leadership, which could end the family’s dynastic rule, could also be possible.

Kim Jong Un says missile launch was a warning to South Korea

“Among the North’s power elite, Kim Yo Jong has the highest chance to inherit power, and I think that possibility is more than 90%,” said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. “North Korea is like a dynasty, and we can view the Paektu descent as royal blood so it’s unlikely for anyone to raise any issue over Kim Yo Jong taking power.”

The world awaits ‘Christmas gift’ from DPRK leader Kim Jong Un

Believed to be in her early 30s, Kim Yo Jong is in charge of North Korea’s propaganda affairs, and earlier this month was made an alternate member of the powerful Politburo. She has frequently appeared with her brother at public activities, standing out among elderly male officials. She accompanied Kim Jong Un on his high-stakes summits with President Donald Trump and other world leaders. Her proximity to him during those summits led many outsiders to believe she’s essentially North Korea’s No. 2 official.

“I think the basic assumption would be that maybe it would be someone in the family” to replace Kim Jong Un, U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters Tuesday. “But again, it’s too early to talk about that because we just don’t know, you know, what condition Chairman Kim is in and we’ll have to see how it plays out.”

Kim Jong Un finds solace in Vladimir Putin

The fact that North Korea is an extremely patriarchal society has led some to wonder if Kim Yo Jong would only serve as a temporary figurehead and then be replaced by a collective leadership similar to ones established after the deaths of other Communist dictators.

“North Korean politics and the three hereditary power transfers have been male-centered. I wonder whether she can really overcome bloody socialist power struggles and exercise her power,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.

Coronavirus not engineered in a Chinese lab, govt says

China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday (April 16) the World Health Organization has said there is no evidence that the coronavirus that has infected more than 2 million people globally was made in a lab.

Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the remark in response to a question about accusations the coronavirus originated in a lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the epidemic first emerged in late 2019.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (April 15) that his government is trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from a lab in Wuhan, China, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing “needs to come clean” on what it knows.

Read: Wuhan, an example of risk management failure

COVID-19: Funeral homes in Wuhan advertising salaries above $1,000 per day

The source of the virus remains a mystery. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday (April 14) that US intelligence indicates that the coronavirus likely occurred naturally, as opposed to being created in a laboratory in China, but there is no certainty either way.

Fox News reported on Wednesday that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory not as a bioweapon, but as part of China’s effort to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the US.

This report and others have suggested the Wuhan lab where virology experiments take place and lax safety standards there led to someone getting infected and appearing at a nearby wet market, where the virus began to spread.

HEARTBREAKING: Why Chinese authorities are shutting down the internet in Wuhan

Read: Coronavirus: US government to airlift Americans in Wuhan, China

At a White House news conference, Trump was asked about the reports of the virus escaping from the Wuhan lab, and he said he was aware of them.

“We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened,” he said.

 

Trump threatens to do the unthinkable, and he’s not joking

President Trump on Wednesday threatened to use a constitutional clause that’s never been invoked before in order to forcibly adjourn Congress so he can push through nominees who would otherwise need to be confirmed by the Senate.

He says there are 129 nominees for various federal agencies awaiting confirmation, and since senators are away from Washington until May 4 amid the coronavirus pandemic, he needs to do something.

“As the entire US government works to combat the global pandemic, it is absolutely essential that key positions at relevant federal agencies are fully staffed,” Trump said during Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing.

“We have many positions that are unstaffed because we can’t get approval.”

  • Recess appointments: As the AP, CNN, and NBC explain, the president has the power to make “recess appointments” to fill certain positions without Senate confirmation while Congress is in recess—but Congress has in recent years refused to fully adjourn in order to prevent Trump and, before him, President Obama, from making such appointments.
  • The current situation: So, while lawmakers have gone back home on a break, Congress is not technically in recess. The unstaffed positions include the director of national intelligence, two members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, an assistant secretary of the Treasury Department, and an undersecretary of agriculture. Trump seemed to be arguing Wednesday that he needs people filling those vacancies in order to help with the government’s coronavirus response.
  • Trump’s take on the recess appointment provision: “The Constitution provides a mechanism for the president to fill positions in such circumstances,” Trump said. “The Senate’s practice of gaveling into so-called pro-forma sessions, where no one is even there, has prevented me from using the constitutional authority we’re given. … The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro-forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis.”
  • What he might do next: He called on Congress to adjourn so he can make the appointments, but said “if the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress.”
  • How that would work: The constitutional clause Trump is threatening to invoke allows the president to adjourn Congress if there is a disagreement between the House and the Senate as to whether to adjourn. While Obama did attempt to make recess appointments during a pro-forma session and was thwarted by the Supreme Court, SCOTUS has not ruled on this clause, because no prior administration has ever invoked it.
  • What would need to happen: The House is unlikely to hold a vote to adjourn, so the most likely scenario involves senators coming back to Washington and voting to adjourn, thus creating the necessary disagreement with the House.
  • Trump’s take on the never-before-invoked clause: “I have a very strong power. I’d rather not use that power but we have way over a hundred people that we very badly need in this administration that should have been approved a long time ago. … Perhaps it’s never been done before, nobody’s even sure if it has, but we’re going to do it.”

What are experts saying?

“To get away with it, he would obviously have to do this with the support of the Senate,” says a senior fellow in governance studies at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

“If [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell agrees to this, it would be the most extraordinary abdication of power. And somehow I can’t believe he would do it.”

Will it come to that? 

A spokesperson for McConnell later said the Senate majority leader and Trump talked about the issue, and that McConnell “pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the COVID-19 pandemic, but under Senate rules that will take consent from [Minority] Leader [Chuck] Schumer.”

NBC notes that appeared to be an attempt to “defuse” the situation by acknowledging Democrats would need to agree to adjourn.

US and Russia at the brink of war

Russia is concerned by how close Pentagon-funded biological warfare labs are to its borders at the same time as it battles the coronavirus, a Foreign Ministry source told reporters on Sunday.

The official slammed US authorities for blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic and manipulating its data on the virus, and in turn, accused the United States of spinning the global health crisis into political attacks.

“We do have questions for the US. It would be nice to hear its justification for placing so many labs near Russia and China, instead of its playing propaganda games with the coronavirus”, the official said.

He admitted that Russia had no credible information on a US role in the emergence of the deadly virus, which was first reported in China last December, but said globalisation made transmission of viral diseases “a matter of hours”.

“Thus, the accusatory tone of remarks directed against China from Washington is outright baffling”, the official said, adding that the source of the virus was yet to be discovered.

China hit back at the United States this month, after getting a grip on the epidemic, saying that US military personnel might have introduced the new coronavirus to Wuhan during the 2019 Military World Games in October.

Joe Biden to pick a female VP, Sanders says ‘not necessary’

In a debate dominated by discussion of the coronavirus outbreak, Joe Biden promised to pick a woman as his running mate if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

“I commit that I will, in fact, pick a woman to be vice president,” the former vice president said.

“There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.”

Sanders declined to make the same promise, but he said he would “in all likelihood” pick a female running mate, ABC reports.

Sanders said the most important thing would be to pick a fellow progressive as his running mate, “but there are progressive women out there.”

Biden also promised to nominate an African-American woman to the Supreme Court for the first time, Politico reports.

Andrew Yang, who endorsed Biden after Super Tuesday, tweeted that he liked that Biden had committed to a woman as VP, “but he didn’t mention that to me when we spoke.”

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