August 24, 2020

A Russian hospital claimed last week that a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn't poisoned — but a hospital in Berlin says tests suggest that he was.

Charite Hospital in Berlin on Monday said that Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and Putin critic who fell ill last week, is suffering from "intoxication by a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors," CNN reports. It did not identify the substance he was allegedly poisoned with.

Navalny was hospitalized last week after falling ill on a flight to Moscow from Siberia, and his press secretary said at the time that "we suspect that Alexei was poisoned by something mixed into [his] tea." A state-run hospital in Siberia, however, subsequently said that "we do not believe that the patient has suffered poisoning," claiming that he suffered from "a sudden drop in blood sugar" due to a "metabolic disorder," CBS News reports.

The Russian doctors at that point were not permitting Navalny to be transferred to a hospital in Germany, saying he was too unstable, but he later did arrive in Berlin to be treated. Charite Hospital on Monday said that Navalny is still in a coma and that "his state of health is serious, but there is currently no acute danger to his life."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a statement on Monday said that after the hospital's findings, "those responsible must be identified and held accountable." Brendan Morrow

3:32 p.m.

President Trump has received a dose of good polling news days ahead of the election — but it may not be enough to turn his fate.

In polls wrapping just a week before Election Day, Democratic nominee Joe Biden has posted no new gains in the swing states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, a Quinnipiac University survey out Thursday reveals. Meanwhile Trump's support has grown in Florida, Iowa, and Pennsylvania — and enough so in Florida and Iowa to be well in contention of winning.

In Florida, Biden has 46 percent to Trump's 42 percent, the poll of likely voters showed. That's a 6-point loss for Biden and a 2-point gain for Trump from Quinnipiac's poll earlier this month, in which Biden posted a massive 11-point lead. Biden also lost 4 points in Iowa as Trump gained 2, enough to give the incumbent a narrow 47-46 lead. Biden meanwhile maintains a solid 51-44 point lead in Pennsylvania and a 48-43 lead in Ohio, where Trump slid 4 points from earlier this month.

Analysts say a loss in Florida for Trump will likely cost him the whole election, but Biden has enough support in the midwest to override a Florida slump. A CNN poll out late Wednesday — its last before election day — gives Biden a 12-point lead over Trump nationally, also a gain of 4 points for Trump from CNN's previous poll.

Quinnipiac surveyed between 1,186 to 1,324 likely voters from Oct. 23–27 in each of the states, with margins of error between 2.7 and 2.9 percentage points. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:11 p.m.

At least one swing state may be spared the political controversy of a late absentee ballot count seemingly changing its 2020 election results.

Every U.S. state is receiving a boatload more mail-in ballots than it usually does during a typical election year, and four of them — Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — won't even be able to open those ballots until Election Day. This almost guarantees a delayed result from those four states, but Wisconsin is confident it'll have everything set by the morning after the election, local election officials tell NBC News affiliate WTMJ Milwaukee.

Wisconsin's electoral votes will be critical in determining the winner of the 2020 election, as the previously Democratic state went for President Trump in 2016. County clerks all say they'll count ballots nonstop until they're finished, and expect results at 9:30 p.m. at the earliest. Waukesha County, the third most populous in the state, says its count will wrap around 3 a.m. And Milwaukee County, home to nearly a million people, expects to be done by 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) is preparing for a long haul, including pushback from Republicans. The state accepts all absentee ballots that were mailed before Election Day even if they arrive later, meaning a count to finalize the swing state's results could take days. Shapiro fears Republicans may use these late ballots "as a hook to challenge all mail-in ballots," and a court may then halt the count of all absentee ballots while the challenge is considered, he told The Washington Post. So to prepare, Pennsylvania officials will separate late-arriving ballots in hopes of avoiding a total counting shutdown.

Find when every state expects to count its absentee ballots at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:26 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top coronavirus expert, said Wednesday he believes the Trump administration needs to instate a nationwide mask mandate. "If we don't get one, then I would hope that the governors and the mayors do it locally, if it's not done nationally," Fauci told CNBC's Shepard Smith on his Wednesday evening show.

But Smith was confused by Fauci's "hope," asking if he was "still in the president's ear." "I haven't spoken to the president in quite a while about the situation with regard to the outbreak," Fauci said, again saying the U.S. needs, "mandate or not," to wear masks.

Fauci's recommendation comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record highs in 13 states. The U.S. also recorded 80,662 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, close to a new high as well. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:27 a.m.

America just posted its biggest annualized and single-quarter GDP growth of all time. It isn't that impressive.

The U.S. GDP jumped at a 33.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, a growth of 7.4 percent from Q2, Commerce Department records released Thursday reveal. But as Gregory Daco, the chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, put it in a tweet, that growth is both "record-breaking and meaningless at the same time."

It's true that the 7.4 percent GDP rise from Q2 to Q3 is a record. But it also comes after a record contraction from Q1 to Q2, and a total loss of 10.3 percent throughout 2020, so it doesn't even come close to making up what was lost amid the pandemic. In fact, the 3.5 percent total GDP shrinkage during 2020 "means we are still down almost as much as we were during the height of the Great Recession," tweets Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

Economist Justin Wolfers meanwhile debunked the 33.1 percent growth rate the entire Trump family was touting Thursday morning. Looking at annualized growth reveals how much bigger the economy would be if it "grew at this rate for the next three quarters," Wolfers tweeted. "But there's no chance that will happen, so the annualized rate answers a question no one is asking." And if that wasn't convincing enough, Wolfers had another way of looking at it. Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

Unemployment claims are continuing to sink, but they're still far above even pre-pandemic records.

Around 751,000 Americans filed unemployment claims for the first time last week, Labor Department numbers released Thursday revealed. That's down 40,000 from the week before, marking a continuing slide in the final jobs report before the election.

Jobless claims hit an overwhelming record high in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have largely decreased since then. But their decline has slowed over the past few months as the pandemic continues — and starts to worsen again. Congress has also failed to agree on a COVID-19 relief package that could extend loans to businesses that would let them rehire workers, as well as boost the amount of benefits unemployed people receive.

Also growing in the past week are the number of people applying for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the first time. More than 360,000 people filed for PUA benefits, which Congress created to help gig workers, the self-employed, and others not eligible for typical unemployment. Meanwhile continued jobless claims decreased 709,000 to 7.8 million in the week. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:45 a.m.

COVID-19 continues spreading in the U.S. at a pace that alarms public health experts. "If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths," Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC's Shepard Smith on Wednesday evening.

The U.S. recorded about 80,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — by NBC News' tally, the 80,662 new cases signified a new record, topping 80,000 for the first time; the COVID Tracking Project and Johns Hopkins University both registered about 83,000 new cases on Friday and Saturday, and just under 80,000 Wednesday. By any count, these are the worst numbers since the previous peak in July. U.S. COVID-19 deaths are up to about 1,000 a day, also, and hospitalizations hit new highs in 13 states on Wednesday.

A South Dakota resident, for example, was nearly 40 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than someone in Maine on Wednesday, Bloomberg's Steven Dennis noticed. Overall, about 228,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and 8.9 million have tested positive for the new coronavirus. Peter Weber

7:31 a.m.

In a debate earlier this month, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) was asked if she disagreed with anything President Trump has ever said or done, and she replied with an emphatic "no."

So on Wednesday, WXIA-TV asked Loeffler if she disagreed with Trump's "statements about personally sexually assaulting women." Loeffler replied, "I'm not familiar with that." And when another reporter tried to jog her memory — "He's referring to the Access Hollywood tape" — she shook her head again and said, 'Yeah, no, look, this president is fighting for America," adding that she will always stand by Trump.

In the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential election, The Washington Post published a video from 2005 in which Trump bragged on Access Hollywood about his technique for kissing and grabbing women, including married women. "You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them," he told host Billy Bush on a hot mic. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything," including "grab them by the p---y." The tape made quite a splash in 2016, leading many GOP figures to temporarily disavow their presidential nominee.

Loeffler, a millionaire appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) last year, is trying to win her seat in what's essentially a three-way primary against Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a staunch Trump ally, and Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat who currently leads in the polls. If no candidate hits 50 percent, as expected, the top two will face off in a January runoff election. Peter Weber

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