September 15, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign has created what it calls the largest election protection program in U.S. presidential history, assembling a team of hundreds of lawyers to fend of expected legal challenges and work to ensure a fair election. The new legal operation will be headed by Dana Remus, the Biden campaign's general counsel, and former White House counsel Bob Bauer. Its "special litigation" unit includes two former U.S. solicitors general, Donald Verrilli Jr. and Walter Dellinger, and former Attorney General Eric Holder has signed on to act as liaison to allied independent voting rights organizations.

The legal war room is girding itself for potentially decisive legal battles after the election, but it is also combating voter suppression efforts, teaching voters how to cast their ballots, guarding against foreign interference, and protecting access to mail-in voting in the face of issues at the U.S. Postal Service and voter fraud conspiracies touted by President Trump. With the COVID-19 pandemic still active, "some unique challenges this year," Bauer said.

"We can and will be able to hold a free and fair election this November," Remus said, "and we're putting in place an unprecedented voter protection effort with thousands of lawyers and volunteers around the country to ensure that voting goes smoothly." Peter Weber

9:15 a.m.

Mustapha Adib, Lebanon's prime minister-designate, resigned Saturday after he was unable to form a non-partisan cabinet in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion in August that killed around 200 people and left thousands homeless, prompting the last cabinet to step down amid accusations of corruption and neglect.

Even before the blast, Lebanon was struggling with ongoing political and economic crises. Adib, who was designated prime minister at the end of August, was reportedly trying to move away from Lebanon's sectarian-based system of government and "create a government of experts" to address the crises, but his efforts reportedly ran into trouble when two of Lebanon's dominant Shia parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, insisted "they wanted the finance minister portfolio."

Adib's resignation also hinders French President Emmanuel Macron's controversial efforts to break Lebanon's political stalemate. Macron's initiative gave the country's political parties 15 days to nominate a cabinet of independent experts, The Financial Times reports, and afterward, France would convene an international pledging conference in October. Paris' attempt to intervene in Lebanon was not well received by everyone, given that France ruled the country for around two decades after the Ottoman Empire fell, but Macron's plan does have support within Beirut's political system, and leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri said Saturday that "those who applaud" the initiative's collapse "will bite your fingers in regret." Read more at Al Jazeera and The Financial Times. Tim O'Donnell

8:30 a.m.

Johnson & Johnson announced the start of phase three of its coronavirus vaccine trial this week, citing "positive interim results" from earlier stages of its study. Those were published Friday, and they were indeed promising.

The pharmaceutical giant reported that 99 percent of the participants between the ages of 18 and 55 in early-to-mid stage clinical trials developed neutralizing antibodies against the novel virus. The analysis also found that most of the side effects associated with the vaccine were mild and resolved within a matter of days.

It wasn't clear, however, whether participants over 65 were well-protected since immune response results were available for only 15 people in that demographic. Additionally, Reuters reports, the rate of adverse reactions — like fatigue and muscle aches — to the vaccine in that age group was just 36 percent, far lower than those seen in 64 percent of the younger participants. That might sound like good news, but it actually suggests the immune response in older people may be weaker.

One of the key aspects of Johnson & Johnson's trial is that just a single dose produced a strong immune response in participants. Other companies developing vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer are using a two-dose approach. If Johnson & Johnson's phase three trial, in which 60,000 volunteers will enroll across three continents, eventually proves the single dose is safe and effective, it could simplify distribution of the vaccine. Read more at Reuters and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

September 25, 2020

President Trump has reportedly settled on a Supreme Court nominee.

Trump plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court, senior Republican sources tell CNN and and multiple sources involved in or familiar with the selection process tell CBS News. Trump may still change his mind, but as of Friday evening, he's expected to announce Barrett as his pick on Saturday afternoon.

Barrett is a Notre Dame Law School professor and a judge for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. She formerly clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and her judicial style has been likened to the conservative originalist. Her confirmation would give the conservative wing of the court a solid 6-3 majority.

Ginsburg died last week at age 87, after decades fighting for gender equality and leading the court's liberal wing. Democrats are expected to oppose Barrett's nomination, largely because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) avoided hearing from former President Barack Obama's nominee in the last year of his presidency. Nearly all Republican senators have indicated they will support a vote on Trump's nominee, making it extremely likely that if Barrett is nominated, she will be confirmed. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 25, 2020

Ben Carson has some problems with the White House.

The secretary of housing and urban development spoke Friday in Atlanta ahead of President Trump's speech outlining his platform for Black Americans. But it's what Carson didn't say that stole the show: A bulleted list of talking points and complaints he seemingly wanted to bring up with Trump.

In a photo captured by Bloomberg's Justin Sink, words on a paper in front of Carson at the event clearly showed Carson has some problems with the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and its director John McEntee. "I am very loyal to you and after you win I hope to stay in your administration," the first bullet reads. "I am not happy with the way PPO is handling my agency," the next bullet says. The final line reads "I like John and respect what he is doing, however I am sensing a severe [illegible] of trust," with the illegible word blocked by a microphone stand.

Carson didn't say any of those things during the speech. The White House declined to comment to Bloomberg, and Carson's team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 25, 2020

There was an idea ... to bring Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury to Disney+.

Jackson will once again play Fury, his character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a new Marvel series on Disney+, Variety reported on Friday.

Details about the plot of the series weren't available, but this is another Disney+ show Marvel has in the works based on its characters from the films, in addition to the upcoming WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye. Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk are also Marvel shows in development at Disney+. Marvel for years has had television shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D running simultaneous to the films, but these upcoming Disney+ projects are expected to be more directly connected to the continuity of the movies.

As Variety notes, this new Marvel Disney+ series would be Jackson's first regular television role ever.

Jackson memorably debuted as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. during the end credits of 2008's Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first film, and he has played the character all the way up to last year's Spider-Man: Far From Home. A post-credits scene of that 2019 film revealed Fury to be on a spaceship, possibly working on a galactic version of S.H.I.E.L.D., where he stumbled about asking where his shoes were. Might we see Fury among the stars in the Disney+ show? And will he ever find his shoes? Either way, this is one series that may be worth keeping an eye on. Brendan Morrow

September 25, 2020

Former Rep. Ron Paul says he's "doing fine" after being hospitalized in Texas.

After alarming video emerged on Friday showing Paul starting to slur his words as he spoke during a livestream, Fox News reported that the former congressman was hospitalized for "precautionary" reasons. Fox News' Harris Faulkner also reported that Paul is "lucid and optimistic" at the hospital, according to the Washington Examiner.

A picture that was soon posted to Paul's Twitter account showed him giving a thumbs up at the hospital, while a message from the former congressman said, "I am doing fine. Thank you for your concern." His son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), also tweeted, "Thank God, Dad is doing well. Thank you for all your prayers today."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was among those who had quickly wished Paul well on Twitter following the livestream, tweeting, "For many decades, he has been an extraordinary warrior for liberty. May God's healing hand be upon Dr. Paul, and may God's peace and grace be upon the entire family." Brendan Morrow

Opinion
September 25, 2020

President Trump's Wednesday refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election has exacerbated all the worries raised by his trolling about serving an unconstitutional third term. No American president should dally with declining to cede power rightfully lost, and anger over the president's comments is justified. But panic, fortunately, is not.

I understand fears about dissolution of democratic norms and the apparently nonexistent floor in the cravenness of Republican officials in Trump's thrall. But Trump lacks two necessary things for the coup attempt some of his critics anticipate, and those deficiencies reassure me greatly.

The first is competence. As my colleague Damon Linker has ably argued, the president is very good at exercising rhetorical power, but he is very bad at actually doing things, because he is deeply incompetent. He cannot plan. He certainly cannot keep a secret or keep his story straight.

The second is the absolute loyalty of the military Trump would need to retain the physical seat of power. If he had strong support among active-duty service members, it would still be quite a leap to say they'd help make him a dictator. But Trump doesn't even net a positive approval rating from U.S. forces anymore. An August survey by Military Times found half of active-duty troops disapprove of Trump, while just 38 percent support him. A plurality of current service members said they plan to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a marked divergence from military voting habits in elections past.

For all he speaks of "my generals," Trump is even less popular among the officer corps, whom he'd need to organize the military behind his cause. Indeed, as The New York Times reported Friday, Pentagon leaders have already publicly and privately considered the prospect of Trump attempting to involve them deciding the election. "In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military," Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month. "I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this process."

Trump is, in short, no Napoleon, and the American military is not going to give him a coup. Bonnie Kristian

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