Latest on 2020 election and SCOTUS battle

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:20 PM ET, Tue September 22, 2020
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5:01 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Collins says she would oppose SCOTUS nominee because "we're simply too close to the election"

From CNN's Ted Barrett, Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav

Sen.r Susan Collin speaks to reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, September 22.
Sen.r Susan Collin speaks to reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, September 22. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Image

Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she will vote against anyone President Trump names to fill late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat because "we're simply too close to the election."

The Maine senator issued a statement on Saturday, saying that she believes waiting until after the election is the right decision.

She reiterated that statement today. 

"My statement was a model of clarity,” she said. “I made it very clear, yes, that I did not think there should be a vote prior to the election. And if there is one, I would oppose the nominee, not because I might not support that nominee under normal circumstances, but we're simply too close to the election, and in the interest of being fair to the American people — and consistent, since it was with the [Merrick] Garland nomination. The decision was made not to proceed, a decision that I disagreed with, but my position did not prevail. I now think we need to play by the same set of rules."

However, Collins' announcement may not make a difference, as more Republicans fall in line with GOP leaders are now making clear they are pressing ahead to get the nomination confirmed before Election Day, which would amount to one of the quickest proceedings in modern times. And it comes despite Senate Republicans' refusal to move on then-President Barack Obama's nomination of Garland to a seat in 2016 when they said his choice — eight months before November — was too close to the elections.

Currently, there are 53 GOP senators — meaning Republicans can only lose three votes to advance the nomination if Vice President Mike Pence stepped in to cast a tie-breaking vote.

So far, only two Republicans — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Collins — have voiced opposition to taking up whomever Trump nominates to fill Ginsburg's vacant seat before Nov. 3. 

It is unclear if there will be any further defections within GOP ranks. 

4:43 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Senate intel committee to hold election security briefing tomorrow

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

The Senate Intelligence Committee is receiving a closed-door election security briefing Wednesday afternoon from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, top US counterintelligence official Bill Evanina and election security official Shelby Pierson, according to a source familiar with the matter. 

The briefing is happening after Ratcliffe had told Congress last month that lawmakers would only be briefed in writing, not in person, before he reversed that position last week. 

Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, is planning to return to the Capitol to attend the briefing. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee is also receiving a closed-door briefing on the election and US cyber operations from Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command.

Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio criticized Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday for invoking the Senate’s “two-hour rule,” which shuts down Senate committee meetings, which included another briefing the intelligence committee had scheduled with Evanina. 

Schumer objected to the Senate conducting business in protest of the Republican plans to move forward with a Supreme Court confirmation following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

It’s not yet clear when the House Intelligence Committee will receive an election security briefing.    

3:57 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Schumer on SCOTUS pick: "The names we've heard are not acceptable at all, not even close”

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Kristin Wilson 

Pool
Pool

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that the names Democrats have heard so far as potential Trump’s Supreme Court nominees “are not acceptable at all, not even close.”

When asked whether there are any Trump nominees Democrats could get behind, Schumer replied, “Well, you know, right now they come from the list of the Federalist Society, which has some very strict strictures and that makes it very, very difficult, but you’d have to wait and see each nominee. The names we’ve heard are not acceptable at all, not even close.”

Schumer said the GOP moving forward with this vote is creating a lot of “mistrust” and “ill-feeling” between senators across the aisle “in a way that I haven’t seen it occur...in a very long time.”

“It’s hard…when they do such an about-face on such an important issue that’s so dramatically contradictory,” Schumer said, specifically calling out Sen. Lindsey Graham and Leader Mitch McConnell for 2016 remarks against confirming President Obama’s Supreme Court pick of Merrick Garland during a presidential election year.

But he added that “we’ll always have to try.”

On whether he intends to eliminate the filibuster if Democrats take the majority in the Senate, he echoed many previous comments saying “everything is on the table.” 

When asked why Democrats are opting to use procedural tactics that could create a slow down, Schumer said, “we invoked the two hour rule because we can’t have business as usual when Republicans are destroying the institution as they have done.”

4:55 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Michelle Obama: "Don't listen to people who will say that somehow voting is rigged"

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

Courtesy When We All Vote
Courtesy When We All Vote

Former first lady Michelle Obama spoke to young voters Tuesday about the importance of casting a ballot. 

“Voting is easy. It is something that we can do. Don’t listen to people who will say that somehow voting is rigged and your vote will get lost and it won’t be counted. That is not true,” Obama said in a conversation with actress Zendaya during an event hosted on Instagram Live by When We All Vote, Obama’s voter engagement organization. 

“I don’t want people to be discouraged by those conspiracy theories that are being peddled out there about the validity of our election process because it’s just not true,” Obama said, in a nod to efforts meant to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election, including comments made by President Donald Trump that voting by mail is not secure.

Obama emphasized current misinformation about voter fraud and stressed to viewers the importance of not succumbing to voter intimidation.

“What I want young people to think about is that if you feel intimidated to the point where you’re not voting, that’s exactly what folks want you to do,” she said. “They want you to stay home. They want you to feel so confused by the process that you just throw your hands up. And then, you know, they let those in power make the choices for you. But you know, you can’t let any process make you feel so intimidated that you don’t make your voice heard.”

Obama also talked about both voting by mail and in person, adding that all voters must have a plan in place. She encouraged those watching to visit her organization’s website, Whenweallvote.org, for assistance with election oriented questions. 

Obama also did an Instagram Live with Jennifer Lopez Tuesday, during which she spoke about her and former President Barack Obama’s relationship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She called Ginsberg an “amazing force of a woman.” 

“To think about how far she had to come, and how hard she fought to make sure that we had the rights that we deserve to protect our interest as women to protect our rights, to control our bodies, that is the legacy,” Obama said.

When We All Vote has been live on Instagram throughout the day in celebration of National Voter Registration Day. On Tuesday evening, Obama will be live again via When We All Vote with actress Ayesha Curry and basketball player Chris Paul. 

3:31 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Trump will lay out additional health care steps in coming two weeks, press secretary says

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak 

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday she expects President Trump to lay out his vision for health care in the coming two weeks. 

When a reporter asked McEnany if the President’s health care plan actually exists, McEnany responded by saying, “No, it certainly does exist.” 

“The President in the next week or so will be laying out his vision for health care. Some of that has already been put out there – telemedicine and lowering the cost of drugs... and protecting preexisting conditions. But the President will be laying out some additional health care steps in the coming, I would say, two weeks,” she added. 

Additionally, Vice President Mike Pence said President Trump will take executive action soon guaranteeing that Americans with pre-existing conditions must be covered by health insurance, even as his administration works to dismantle those protections under the Affordable Care Act.

"In the days ahead I would anticipate that the President will be taking some action under his executive branch authority to make it clear to every American that those who are facing pre-existing conditions will be covered under insurance plans," Pence said in an interview with CBS News. "They will not be denied coverage."

Trump is expected to deliver remarks on health care when he visits Charlotte on Thursday.

Some context: This comes as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden intends to make a push on health care that is focused on defending the Affordable Care Act and its sweeping protections for pre-existing conditions.

3:28 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Twice as many absentee ballots have been requested in Ohio compared to 2016 

From CNN's Devon M. Sayers 

Mike Babinski opens applications for voter ballots at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, July 14, in Cleveland.
Mike Babinski opens applications for voter ballots at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, July 14, in Cleveland. Tony Dejak/AP/FILE

Twice as many Ohio absentee ballots have been requested compared with the 2016 election cycle, the state’s top election official announced Tuesday. 

Nearly 1.8 million applications have been received compared to 805,000 at this same point during 2016 cycle, Ohio Secretary of State Frank Larose said in a press release.  

LaRose said over the past week alone, there were 385,657 new absentee ballot requests.

3:12 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Facebook takes down accounts it says were run from China and posting about 2020 election  

From CNN’s Donie O'Sullivan

Facebook on Tuesday said it shut down more than 150 fake accounts run from China that included accounts posting about November's US presidential election. 

The accounts "posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy wrote in a post on the company's website. 

Graphika, a social media analytics company commissioned by Facebook to study the network of accounts, wrote in its report Tuesday, "In 2019-2020, the operation began running accounts that posed as Americans and posted a small amount of content about the US presidential election. Different assets supported President Donald Trump and his rival Joe Biden; one short-lived group supported former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The operation did not single out either candidate for preferential treatment. Many of the accounts in this phase of the operation were barely active."

Facebook did not say if the accounts were tied to the Chinese government, only that the accounts were run from China's Fujian province. Though the company did point out that the accounts had been posting about "Beijing's interests in the South China Sea."

Graphika said accounts in the network had defended Beijing. 

Gleicher stressed that most of the activity focused on South East Asia and only a very small amount of activity focused on the 2020 election. 

However, there was a sense of urgency in Facebook's announcement Tuesday.

The company normally discloses takedowns like this once a month, and the next announcement not due for another week or two.

Gleicher told reporters Tuesday given the nature of the company's findings "we thought that it was important that people should be aware of what we are seeing." 

Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika told CNN, "The US-focused content was the least and last part of the operation. It ran one group each to support President Trump, Vice President Biden and Pete Buttigieg; all together, they had under 2,000 members. Some of their fake accounts did not engage with political content at all, and liked content from the US military instead. Most of the US-focused assets were taken down when they were a few months old, so they didn't have time to build a substantial audience."

2:57 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Maine's Supreme Court clears the way for ranked-choice voting 

From CNN's Marshall Cohen and Ross Levitt 

Maine’s Supreme Court has sided with the state’s Democratic secretary of state and has rejected a Republican challenge to ranked-choice voting in the upcoming election. The ruling means Mainers will use ranked-choice voting in the presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, barring further appeals.

The five judge panel ruled that the secretary of state acted correctly in rejecting a ballot referendum on the future of ranked-choice voting – which would’ve meant Maine couldn’t use the voting method for this year’s election.

How this works: Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank all of the candidates by preference and for a voter’s next choice to considered if their first candidate doesn’t have enough votes to be viable.

The decision is the latest twist in a long legal battle over ranked-choice voting in Maine.

3:04 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

SCOTUS confirmation process requires more time than "speed dating," former Ginsburg clerk says

Neil Siegel, who worked as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2003, said rushing to confirm a new nominee to fill the vacant SCOTUS seat doesn't allow for the democratic process to take place –– something that requires more time than "speed dating," he said.

"We're talking about a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, the most powerful court in the land. Advice and consent, public evaluation – it requires a lot more time than speed dating. Yet that seems to be the process that the President and Republican senators are insisting on," Siegel told CNN on Tuesday.

Siegel is no stranger to the steps of this process. He served as special counsel to Delaware Sen. Chris Coon during the confirmation of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

So, here's what he means when he talks about "advice and consent" and "public evaluation."

Advice and consent: This is the job of the Senate – to advice the President on a qualified nominee to fill a vacant seat. This happens as the President's short list goes through background checks and a vetting process, but also a confirmation hearing where Senators have an opportunity to learn about the nominee.

"Consent" refers to the confirmation of the nominee after this hearing and "advice" phase. Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, so it takes only a simple majority. Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie, which in this case, might happen if three Republicans decide they won't vote for Trump's nominee.

Public evaluation: Outside organizations can do their own vetting and research on nominees and submit recommendations – something CK Hoffler, the president of the National Bar Association, says is difficult to accomplish when the confirmation process is rushed.

She said the National Bar Association has a team of scholars vetting potential nominees right now, but said the speed this confirmation is moving is "compressing that process."

"Rushing to get someone appointed and confirmed before the election, in less than 45 days, takes away the democracy and it takes away the ability of organizations who are doing proper vetting with their ability to vet the process," Hoffler said.

She said moving so quickly that other organizations don't have time to look into nominees is "undemocratic" and "makes it so that the American people will not have the ability to even see and vet these candidates that will be ruling on such important issues."