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court

Brittney Griner’s Nine Year Sentence Upheld by Russian Court

Brittney Griner, an American basketball player currently serving a nine-year sentence in Russia for drug charges, has had her appeal against the sentence dismissed by a Russian court.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport when cannabis oil vape cartridges carrying less than a gram of hashish oil were discovered in her luggage. She was convicted in August for “drug smuggling” and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Officials believe that the lengthy sentence was politically motivated by the collapse of U.S. and Russian relations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The White House called the legal proceedings a “sham.” Elizabeth Rood, a high-ranking U.S. diplomat who was present at the hearing, also called the penalty “excessive and disproportionate.”

Her case has been referred to the State Department’s office under the label of hostage affairs.

Griner was legally prescribed the oil for pain management by her doctor in the U.S. She apologized for possessing it in her appeal, admitting she had packed the cartridges by accident while rushing to pack her luggage. During the U.S. basketball offseason, she had wanted to travel to Russia to play club basketball.

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In July, shortly before pleading guilty, Griner had written to President Joe Biden expressing her distress and calling for help from the government.

“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments. I’m terrified I might be here forever. I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”

The state prosecutor arguing against her case called the continuing sentence “fair.” Alexander Boykov, the athlete’s lawyer, stated that “no judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law.”

“Brittney is [a] very strong person and has a champion’s character. However, she of course has her highs and lows as she is severely stressed being separated from her loved ones for over eight months.”

Russia and the U.S. have discussed the possibility of a prisoner exchange between the two countries. There is speculation that the White House may offer up Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “merchant of death.”

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement saying Griner was being “wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances” and reaffirmed that President Biden had demanded her immediate release.

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“President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately. In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan. The President has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his Administration has done successfully from countries around the world. The Administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.”

The sports star spoke to the appeals court remotely from a detention center located in a town near Moscow.

“I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very very stressful and very traumatic…I’ve been here almost eight months and people with more severe crimes have been given less than what I was given.”

Though she is still imprisoned, she is grateful for the people working toward her release.

“Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me.”

congress

House Passes Election Bill in Response to Jan. 6 Insurrection

The House of Representatives voted to reform the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act Wednesday. The legislative overhaul is to prevent events like the Jan. 6 insurrection from happening again.

The bill is the first legislative step taken by congress to address the assault on the Capitol in January 2020, with the House voting 229 to 203 in its favor. However, it is unlikely that the bill will pass in the Senate. House members mostly voted along party lines, with only nine Republicans supporting the bill.

The original Electoral Count Act was implemented to set deadlines for states to certify presidential election results, standardize the procedure to send electors to the Capitol, name the vice president as the overseer of the vote count, and create a process for lawmakers to challenge election results.

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Former President Donald Trump tried to use the Electoral Count Act to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The Senate drafted its own bipartisan bill in July, sponsored by 10 GOP senators—the number needed to overcome any potential Senate filibuster. However, it is unclear if all Democrats will vote in favor of the legislation.

Both bills are similar in changing the number of lawmakers needed to object to electoral results procedurally. In the House’s bill, one-third of each chamber needs to object. In the Senate’s bill, only one-fifth need to object. Both restrictions are significantly more stringent than the original act’s, which only required one objector in each chamber.

The House bill also states that the president of the Senate, traditionally held by the vice president of the United States, will be “ministerial.”

“Except with respect to the procedures described in this section, the presiding officer shall not have any power to determine or otherwise resolve disputes concerning the proper list of electors for a State, the validity of electors for a State, or the votes of electors of a State.”

The bill also states that the vice president “shall not order any delay in counting or preside over any period of delay in counting electoral votes.” The Senate bill similarly states that the vice president “shall have no power to solely determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes over the proper list of electors, the validity of electors, or the votes of electors.”

The Senate bill included provisions related to presidential transition, while the House bill did not. The House bill also addresses “when states could declare a ‘failed election’ and substitute electors approved by voters.”

Democrats believe several issues will be on the ballot for voters in November. Protecting the transition of presidential power and abortion rights may rally more voters to support their party. It is becoming easier for Democrats to associate the GOP with the violent events of Jan. 6 in public spaces, given their dissatisfaction with the bill and continued support for the last administration. The GOP is focusing more on inflation and economic policy as driving motivators to bring voters to the poll.

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By and large, Republicans still do not support election reform legislation because many party members still follow Trump’s election narrative. After the insurrection, Republicans backed his election lies and opposed the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee and bipartisan commission proposal.

Prominent Republicans, like Representative Liz Cheney, rejected their party’s support of Trump. Cheney eventually became vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee. Republicans were especially reluctant to support the bill because she co-sponsored it.

When asked about Republican lack of support for the bill, Representative Liz Cheney told reporters about the importance of this legislation.

“Protecting future elections is something that we ought to all be able to agree upon, regardless of party.”

 

hulu

Following Backlash, Hulu Will Begin To Accept Political Advertisements

After facing political backlash from Democratic leaders following their rejection of advertisements on hotly contested topics like abortion, gun control, and the Jan. 6 insurrection, Hulu is now going back on their decision and announced they will allow the ads, effective immediately.

“After a thorough review of ad policies across its linear networks and streaming platforms over the last few months, Disney is now aligning Hulu’s political advertising policies to be consistent with the Company’s general entertainment and sports cable networks and ESPN+,” Disney, the owner of Hulu, told Axios on Wednesday.

With the acceptance, Hulu is now more aligned with other Disney properties like ESPN and FX Networks. However, Disney also stated they still reserve the right to ask clients for edits or alternative creative “in alignment with industry standards.”

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The ads, which run on other popular media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, NBCUniversal, and Roku, were originally rejected by the service back on July 15, according to The Washington Post. The Democratic campaign groups attempting to place the ads on Hulu, as well as ABC and ESPN, were told the rejection was for “content-related” issues.

According to Hulu’s advertisement guidelines, advertisements that take “a position on a controversial issue of public importance (e.g. social issues)” are not allowed. The streamer’s guidelines also note that political ads are reviewed on a “case-by-case basis.”

Hulu had previously forced New York congressional candidate Suraj Patel to cut abortion and gun control topics from his advertisements earlier this month and replace them with “non-sensitive issues” like climate change and education.

“Our path to victory runs through making sure we can reach so many of these disaffected younger people,” Patel told Jezebel. “This ad is a very important part of that, and Hulu is an incredibly important part of reaching that audience.” Patel’s campaign team sent Hulu a letter demanding them to end their “unwritten policy” on “censoring” a campaign advertisement before it could be aired.

“We are at an absolutely critical time in our nation’s history. How are voters supposed to make informed choices if their candidates cannot talk about the most important issues of the day?”

Responses on social media aimed at Hulu’s latest rejection were particularly intense and widespread, with #BoycottHulu hitting the number one spot on Twitter Tuesday morning.

“Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous and offensive. Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ extreme agenda on abortion – Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) tweeted.

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Unlike regular broadcast channels, which are bound by the FCC to run spots from candidates, streamers have more flexibility when it comes to both the issues at hand, as well as the candidates attempting to advertise.

New Book Reveals Top Military Officials Thought Trump Was Planning A Coup, Planned A Mass Resignation 

“I Alone Can Fix It” is a new book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker which details reports of top military officials who knew former president Donald Trump was planning a coup after his defeat in the 2020 election. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley is one of the many military officials who discussed resigning if they were to be given illegal or dangerous orders from the former president should he attempt a coup. 

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Experts of the book showed Milley and others discussing the possibility of a coup with lawmakers, friends, and other White House top officials. 

“They may try, but they’re not going to succeed. You can’t do this [a coup] without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI, we’re the guys with the guns.” 

Other officials also discussed resigning one by one rather than carrying out any illegal orders they may receive. According to the book, one of the main focuses of their concern was Trump’s decision to replace top officials at the Departments of Defense and Justice.

On November 9th Trump announced that former Defense Secretary Mark Esper had been “terminated,” just one week after Esper warned if Trump replaced him, the new Secretary would be “a real yes man, and then God help us.” 

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According to the book, “Milley grew increasingly concerned by Trump’s behavior ahead of January 6, believing that Trump was deliberately seeking to stir unrest with his bogus election-fraud claims to invoke the Insurrection Act and summon the military.” One excerpt quoted an unnamed friend who warned Milley of Trump’s potential coup.

“What they are trying to do here is overturn the government. This is all real man. You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff.” 

The book claimed that Milley was so concerned over Trump that he compared the former president’s behavior to Adolf Hitler’s after he used the 1933 Reichstag fire to declare a state of emergency and seize full authoritarian power. 

Milley has been the target of multiple attacks from the former president and his allies this week after he also defended the US’s military policy of teaching members about racism in the US before Congress. 

At the congressional hearing, Milley claimed that he was committed to understanding his own “white rage and the motives of the far-right Capitol insurrectionists.”

Medical Masks

CDC Director Defends Controversial New Mask Guidelines 

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, took to Capitol Hill this week to justify the CDC’s decision to release new guidelines that allow vaccinated individuals to go without a mask in most outdoor and indoor settings. 

Initially, Walensky was just going to discuss the CDC’s proposed budget with the press, however, she quickly began being confronted with questions about the guidelines and the controversy surrounding it; many people think the CDC was premature in their announcement, and are giving non-vaccinated individuals a free pass to go without a mask in public. 

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“The country is not uniform, you really need to interpret our guidence in the context of what is happening in your community.” 

The major issue with this statement from Walensky is that America is so large, and so many individuals feel differently about being vaccinated. She continued to discuss how the “United States is not a homogenous country, so the CDC is letting states and localities decide how to implement the new guidance.” 

Although the CDC released these new guidelines, they did not tell any governors or local leaders how to implement the guidance based on their specific infection and vaccination rates. This has left political leaders completely blind, and confused, as to when it’s safe enough to lift their mask mandates. 

Wednesday’s press conference proved that America’s lawmakers are just as confused as average Americans, which is a major problem considering our political leaders have been the main authority figures throughout this pandemic. Now that the CDC has more of an authority in the White House, it’s confusing that they’re not helping specific state leaders determine when to lift their mandates. 

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Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin spoke out against the confusion: “What should workplaces be doing right now? I’m especially concerned with food-processing plants, of which Wisconsin has a high number. Many such plants are crowded facilities where there’s going to be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. My state also experienced multiple coronavirus outbreaks in a number of meat-processing plants last spring.”

United Food and Commercial Workers International is a union that represents people in the food service industry in America. They also spoke out against the CDC’s general guidelines, claiming that the guidance “fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks. We worry that these workers could be forced to become the vaccination police, asking people about their status, and potentially asking them to mask up.” 

As most of us have seen, many businesses have had to fight customers tirelessly who refused to wear a mask for whatever reason. The CDC claimed that they will be giving update guidance for workplaces and other settings, but it’s unclear as to when that will be; the White House was apparently completely surprised by the CDC’s initial announcement that vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks. 

Although there’s an obscene level of confusion among the individuals who are supposed to be keeping us safe and guiding us in the right direction toward the end of this pandemic, the rate in which Americans are being vaccinated is a major turning point for the past year. Hopefully more Americans will continue to get their vaccines, and life can really begin to feel normal again.

Matthew McConaughey Is Apparently ‘Making Calls’ About Running For Texas Governor

According to reports, Matthew McConaughey is seriously considering a run for Texas Governor after sources claimed that the “‘Dallas Buyers Club’ star has been quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles as he mulls a run for governor.”

McConaughey was born in Uvalde, Texas, and currently lives in the state capitol of Austin with his wife and children. Last year he hinted at a run for governor after an appearance on a podcast following the release of his autobiography where he claimed running for governor was something he was “truly considering.” 

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“I’m looking into it now again, what is my leadership role? Because I do think I have some things to teach and share, and what is my role? What’s my category in my next chapter of life that I’m going into?”

Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based Republican strategist, told Politico  he was “a little more surprised that people aren’t taking him more seriously, honestly. Celebrity in this country counts for a lot … it’s not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal.”

This isn’t the first time the entertainment industry has collided with American politics; we all remember who our president was the past four years, additionally Ronald Reagan was an actor before his time in politics, as well as famous bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger who became the governor of California. 

Besides McConaughey, reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner is also considering running for governor in her state of California. This is a part of a major effort from California Republicans who want to recall Gavin Newsom. 

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Current Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is seeking a third term next year, and is already polling rather successfully despite his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the massive winter storm that cripples the state’s power grid and left 125 dead. 

Karl Rove, a senior adviser to George W Bush, the last governor of Texas who went on to become President, claims that he’s not surprised by McConaughey’s decision to run, and he’s curious to see how he’s going to align himself politically.

“McConaughey running for governor was seen as improbable but never out of the question. So now the real question is will he run as a Republican? Democrat? Independent? Where exactly does he fall on the political scale? He says he has a funny phrase about being a hardcore centrist, but what party would he run under?”

Proggressive and democrat citizens in Texas are hoping McConaughey doesn’t run as independent and instead runs as a Democrat so that the vote would be more evenly split between him and Abbott.

US Covid Vaccine

President Biden Urging Governors To Be Patient With Vaccine Rollouts As Reopenings Begin

Biden warned the nation this week that we must remain vigilant and protect one another from Covid-19 spreading any further while we wait to be vaccinated.

US Presidental Debate

Biggest Takeaways From The Final Trump-Biden Debate 

The second and final debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden took place Thursday night in what experts are calling a “more normal” debate when compared to the original showdown between the two candidates. 

Trump entered the debate and maintained a relatively calm presence, under the advice of his administration who pleaded with the president to cool down this round. The basis of his arguments remained the same as the previous debate: he downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and took no personal responsibility for America’s failings in handling it, threw personal attacks at Biden, and lacked an overall sense of substance in his answers. For example when asked about a health care agenda for his second term, Trump avoided the question and yet again made it through the night without mentioning a plan.

Additionally, the first question Trump was asked regarded how he would lead during the next stage of the coronavirus pandemic, to which the president reflected on the “success” he’s already had within the past year. The centerpiece of Trump’s arguments focused on the mentality that “it could be worse,” despite the fact that more than 220,000 Americans have now died. 

“It will go away and as I say, we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”

Trump made the above claim while avoiding discussing the multiple surges in cases occurring all across the nation currently. He did optimistically claim that a vaccine would be arriving “within weeks,” despite having no real evidence that that’s true. In a later portion of the debate he backtracked and mentioned that there was no “guarantee” one would be ready but he’s hopeful one will be ready by the end of the year. 

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Biden then offered a much darker, more realistic, painting of America’s handling of this virus, claiming we’re heading toward a very “dark winter” due to the action’s of Trump. Biden accused Trump of denying responsibility for Covid’s spreading in the US and downplaying the virus for months despite the piles of evidence being presented to him. 

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths [over 200,000] should not remain as President of the United States of America.”

When discussing how he would handle the virus, Biden was able to list out some more specifics in terms of a concrete plan of action. He said he would establish a national standard for the reopening of schools and businesses and stimulus payments to get the nation as a whole back on track. He also projected that a vaccine wouldn’t realistically be available in America until at least the middle of next year, which is more on par with what public health experts are claiming, so instead he knows the biggest concern will be minimizing the spread. 

Trump, however, already has 50 million votes cast for him, and as he nears the same position he was in four years ago when he was going up against Hilary Clinton, he’s decided to resort to the same tactics he used back then to hopefully secure him another win. He tried to paint Biden to be a typical politician, like he did with Clinton, and pointed out that he’s been in office for nearly 50 years and America still has the same issues it did 50 years ago, like systemic racism. Trump continued to try to place every systemic issue America has experienced within the past five decades on Biden, which only gave Biden an opening to discuss all the successes that occurred under the Obama administration. 

Trump then continued to attack Biden and brought up the allegations made against his son Hunter and his involvement with the Ukraine, to which Biden just turned it back around and mentioned that “the guy who got in trouble in Ukraine was this guy,” pointing to Trump, “trying to bribe the Ukrainian government to say something negative about me, which they would not do.” Remember, it was Trump’s actions in the Ukraine that led to his impeachment. 

Biden then fully flipped the attack on Trump by going down the list of all his failings, specifically in terms of his administration’s economic, health care, and immigration policies. This was the moment in the debate that viewers really saw the difference between their two candidates. One answered every policy related question with a series of detailed proposals that explained how each would impact the average American household while the other kept the statements short, general and in high praise of the current administration. 

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Biden continued to assert his position byt slamming Trump for trying to have the Supreme Court undo the Affordable Care Act and all of its protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions; a pool of people that Biden mentioned will soon include those who suffered from Covid-19. Trump has long promised a new health care plan that would protect all Americans regardless of their current health status, but hasn’t even mentioned the specifics of a new plan once within the past four years. 

Biden, on the other hand, detailed his already existing proposal that would allow Americans to buy into a public health insurance program, he called the proposal “Bidencare.” He also asserted that minimum wage should be nationally raised to $15 an hour while Trump said the matter was up to the states. 

Then, more importantly, the issue of immigration was brought up, to which Biden immediately mentioned the 545 children that were separated from their parents at the border this week, to which Trump responded that they were being “very well taken care of,” despite the fact that some haven’t seen their families in months, which made Biden very upset. 

“They got separated from their parents, and it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”

The issue of race and systemic racism was then raised, to which Trump claimed he’s done more for African Americans than any previous president since Abraham Lincoln, claiming to be the “least racist person in the room.” Biden then cast Trump and his entire administration as one that has consistently sought out to divide the country racially. 

“Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. This guy has a dog whistle as big as a fog horn.” The night then ended with Biden claiming he would transition the country away from the oil industry because of how much it pollutes the earth. As of right now the race is stagnant, so the most important thing to remember is to get out and vote!! 

For all questions/information regarding voting in the upcoming presidential election, click here.

United States Covid Cases

US Covid-19 Cases Surging As Indoor Gatherings And Travel Increases Throughout Country

Small gatherings and interstate travel is leading to a massive surge in Covid-19 cases in the US as 36 states are now reporting increases in hospitalizations and deaths nationwide.

The Latest On Donald Trump’s Covid-19 Diagnosis

***Last Updated 10/5/2020 at 11:00 a.m.***

This past Friday President Donald Trump was hospitalized at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland after announcing that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Dr. Brian Garibaldi is a leader on Trump’s medical team who recently updated media outlets claiming that the president could be discharged from the medical center as early as Monday afternoon. 

On Saturday, Garibaldi claimed that Trump completed his second dose of redesivir and was feeling better by Sunday. Now, Trump is hoping to be discharged to complete his treatment in the White House. White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, recently claimed that the president could be released from the medical center after he consults with his doctors later Monday afternoon; which is also when his discharge decision will be made public. 

Trump received scrutiny on Sunday, however, after leaving the medical center with his security team so he could ride in an SUV past his supporters who were cheering him on outside the hospital. 

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The White House claims all “appropriate precautions” were taken before Trump went on the SUV ride, however Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, criticized the decision as something that could further endanger the lives of the Secret Service agents who accompanied the president, claiming that his “irresponsibility is astounding.”

On Sunday it was reported that the president’s oxygen levels had dropped for a second time since his diagnosis last Friday. Trump had also been receiving supplemental oxygen due to these dips, and was also given the corticosteroid drug dexamethasone. Dexamethasone is a widely available steroid that’s been used throughout this pandemic for patients on supplemental oxygen/ventilated individuals. 

When it comes to the president’s official release from the hospital, Rudy Giuliana claims that he will be waiting until his doctors actually give him the stamp of approval to do so. 

“He wants to get out. He sounds perfect. I just cautioned him to listen to his doctors. I said I hope that’s not your decision, it’s the doctors, He said ‘no no, these guys are great. I’ll do what they tell me.’”

After Trump’s brief trip out of the hospital to greet supporters, Giuliani admitted that the Secret Service would be at a greater risk protecting the president in the coming weeks, however, he also supported the decision on the basis that all parties involved were wearing masks at the time. 

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First lady Melania Trump also contracted the virus but has no plans of leaving the White House to continue out her treatments. Since her diagnosis Melania has quarantined in the Executive Residence in the White House and will be remaining there until it’s deemed safe for her to be around others again. The first lady has been relatively precautious when it comes to following Covid-19 procedures and has already cut back on all of her traveling plans/public appearances. 

When it comes to the pandemic in general, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, claims that there has never been a global health crisis to this degree before; for reference Fauci has worked on a number of other viral outbreaks in the past such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Ebola, and Zika virus. 

“We’re living in such a very divisive society right now that’s very charged politically. You always have a degree of that when you have outbreaks as we’ve been in the past but nothing to the intensity that we’re experiencing now with Covid-19.”

With one month left before the 2020 election, Trump and his team are also scrambling to manage catching up to Biden in the polls and maintaining a strong media presence despite the president’s now lack of ability to be around others. Ballots are currently already out in 35 states and with voting beginning in the swing states next week, there’s no way the president’s diagnosis mixed with his downplaying of the virus that has killed over 200,000 Americans won’t have an impact on voters. 

Since the announcement of Trump’s diagnosis Mike Pence and Joe Biden have both tested negative for the virus, however, both will have to continue to be tested daily along with a whole slew of other US political leaders who have been working with/around Trump and his team within the past few weeks. As of right now at least 10 people within Trump’s family, the US Government, and Trump’s circle of advisors have tested positive while 23 others within his inner circle have continued to test negative.