“I have had conversations in the last week that I would not think was possible,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), who has been heavily involved with Democratic recruiting and campaigning in recent cycles.
“We have a shot at winning in Alaska, we have a shot at winning in Montana,” Kuster said.
In a sign of their growing optimism, Democrats canceled millions of October TV reservations for lawmakers like Reps. Jared Golden in Maine or Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania — in two districts that Trump had won by about 10 points in 2016. And party officials also nixed ad time in a pair of purple Michigan districts belonging to freshman Reps. Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin, which Trump also won in the last presidential election.
Now Democrats are pouring that cash into capturing red seats — in Michigan, Colorado, Montana and Alaska — that the party hadn’t been eyeing until late in the election cycle as Trump sagged in the polls and GOP campaigns entered crisis mode.
The NRCC, the House Republicans campaign arm, declined to comment.
Overall, Democratic groups are providing air cover to protect roughly two dozen of their members and running offensive TV ads in about as many GOP-held districts from the third week of September through the first week of October, according to an analysis of data by from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
At the same time, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sitting on nearly $105 million and armed with polling that shows Democrats ahead in districts that the president carried handily in 2016.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) said in a brief interview, stressing that party officials began early with recruitment and on-the-ground staff in battleground districts. “We’re raising money like it’s falling from the sky.”
But Bustos also said that having Joe Biden at the top of the ticket for Democrats makes a difference in winning the kind of seats, as well as electoral votes, needed for an all-around victory in November. Recent polling shows Biden ahead by an average of about 7 points.
“Joe Biden is viewed as a guy who can sell in rural America,” Bustos said. “We probably won’t win a lot of these small towns, but you’ve got to be able to pick up enough votes where it adds up, and we can win these races. And that’s how Joe Biden is going to win these races, too.”
Democratic lawmakers and party officials insist they’re not making any assumptions in 2020, working aggressively to protect their endangered incumbents, particularly in Trump country.
But they also acknowledge that Republicans’ recruitment failures have shored up their incumbents and saved them millions of dollars. Members in swing districts, like Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Josh Harder (D-Calif.) are in such strong shape that the DCCC and House Majority PAC, Democrats’ chief congressional outside group, aren’t airing any TV ads to help them.
And they realize that the GOP’s dismal showing, as well as Biden’s consistently strong polling, has helped stretched the map into Arizona, Texas and North Carolina — unlike four years ago, when a less popular Hillary Clinton was seen as a drag in some House races.
“Not only are people feeling good about Biden, he’s up in a lot of places where Hillary wasn’t. He’s not toxic to voters,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said.
“They may not be enthusiastically supporting him, they may even support Trump, but they don’t have malevolent feelings about Biden. That’s tremendously helpful because you don’t have the drag on our down-ballot races when the person is, not only going to the polls and voting for Trump, but they hate the guts of our candidate,” said Wasserman Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats are so confident heading into November that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has begun eyeing more elaborate math that goes beyond her majority in the House — specifically, looking at the party breakdown of state delegations in the unlikely event that the House would need to decide the election this fall. Pelosi has been looking specifically at states like Alaska or Montana, where a single win could hand Democrats control of the delegation.
Swing-district Democrats, particularly freshmen, are entering the final month of the election better positioned than they ever could have expected a year ago.
Just before the pandemic, endangered Democrats’ biggest threats would have likely involved GOP attack ads on the subject of impeachment, the Green New Deal or Medicare for All.
But the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout upended this year’s narrative, making health care — once again — the biggest issue of the 2020 campaign.
Virtual town hall events for the most endangered Democrats now focus squarely on the health crisis and its battering of the economy, a far cry from a year ago, when question-and-answer sessions at lawmakers’ events were more likely to draw attacks against self-described socialists within the Democratic party, than present real questions about health care access.
Another seismic political event last week — the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the abrupt threats to the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights — only further solidified health care as Democrats’ biggest selling point in the final weeks.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, who won a swing seat in 2016 and has gone on to help other moderate Democrats win in Trump country, said strong polling of Democrats, including Biden, does help incumbents breathe a sigh of relief.
“Unlike in other races, you don’t see Democrats running away from the top of the ticket as you might in other campaigns,” she said. “Certainly, that’s probably easier than having to run as a Democrat, running away from your top of your ticket.
But she also cautioned that polling — on both the state and district level — didn’t guarantee a win for Democrats if they can’t also deliver the votes.
“I really don’t know any pollster who has a good handle of what turnout is going to look like in a pandemic. So I think everybody really needs to keep running through the tape as hard as they can, irrespective of what the polls say,” Murphy said.
How The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Exacerbating The Mental Health Crisis At UK Universities
10 min read
Student representatives have warned that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will only worsen the mental health crisis that has gripped British universities in recent years.
“There was a mental health crisis across universities prior to the pandemic,” said Sara Khan, NUS vice president for equality and liberation.
“Students were not being given adequate support or access to mental health services, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these issues.”
Statistics from the past decade paint a poor picture of the state of mental health provisions across higher education.
There was a fivefold increase in first-year students reporting a mental health problem in the 10 years to 2016, according to a recent IPPR study, and 94% of higher education institutions claimed to have seen a rise in demand for counselling services over the past five years.
The result has been widespread reports of long waits for support services, lack of funding, inconsistencies in approach across the sector, and significant gaps in NHS provision.
And the cost has sometimes been tragic—2015 saw a record number of deaths by suicide among students, representing a 79% rise since 2007.
The crisis came into the spotlight in 2018 after it was revealed that at least 11 students at the University of Bristol had died by suspected suicide in just 18 months.
James Murray, whose son Ben committed suicide at the university in 2016, said he feared the next crisis in university mental health was already on the horizon.
If we can’t physically see somebody to spot the signs because they’re working remotely, then we’ve got a potential crisis on our hands
– James Murray, father of Ben Murray who committed suicide as a student in 2016
“I think the first thing is to recognise that, sadly, the stats tell us that students are most vulnerable at this time of year. The highest peak in suicides is in January,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
“And we know from pre-Covid days that there were 95 student deaths in 2016. And one in five students has suicidal thoughts, ideation, that doesn’t necessarily lead to suicide, but it makes them vulnerable.
“Given that two-thirds of the suicides are unknown to support, if we can’t physically see somebody to spot the signs because they’re working remotely, then we’ve got a potential crisis on our hands. January is the crunch month and I’d like to see more action.”
Steps were being taken by the government late last year to remedy the situation, including supporting a sector-backed University Mental Health Charter, which set out best practice and recognised institutions demonstrating it.
But much of this progress has been hindered by the ongoing pandemic, and many have criticised the government for advocating the return of students to university campuses, only for them to be met with online-only classes, limits on social activities and the threat of coronavirus quarantines.
Thousands of students across the UK were told to self-isolate due to coronavirus (Image: PA)
“The decision to encourage students back to campuses was motivated by income over the welfare of students,” Ms Khan said.
“The marketised system of higher education has meant that universities were forced to prioritise tuition fees over the safety of their students, in order to secure their future sustainability.
“This is completely unacceptable and has led to a complete lack of consideration of the effect that this would have on students.”
How this social isolation could impact the mental health of young people this academic year is one of the biggest areas of concern, said Sophia Hartley, welfare officer at Leeds University Union (LUU).
She told PoliticsHome: “Many students in Leeds have already had to experience a two-week isolation period which naturally lends itself to low mood, anxiety around leaving the house and feeling closed off from the outside world.”
“All students want is to be heard. This can sometimes feel like an impossible task when you are one voice amongst a group of almost forty thousand. However, it is so important that students feel like their needs are met.”
Though the university had been able to expand the capacity of its services, said Katie Hughes, LUU’s deputy head of help and support, they were seeing many more students struggling with the new normal.
Nightline reported triple the number of calls relating to loneliness or problems with friends and family between March and April this year
“What we are hearing is that students who have previously been able to manage their mental health are finding that the strategies they’ve used before aren’t currently an option, for example seeing friends and family, taking part in group sports activities etc., so they are reaching out to try and find alternative ways,” she explained.
Statistics published by Nightline—a student-run listening service operating at universities across the UK—tell a similar story.
Their phone lines reported triple the number of calls relating to loneliness or problems with friends and family between March and April this year, as well as double the number of calls related to academic stress.
No data is available yet for the current academic year, but according to Beth Scahill, coordinator of Nottingham University’s Nightline, a similar trend was playing out on their service.
“We’ve seen more use out of our phone lines than actually through our instant messaging service,” she said.
“More people have been calling us rather than messaging us, which I thought was quite interesting because it seems people are missing their human contact and sometimes it’s nicer to hear someone’s voice than to see a message.”
There are concerns about the impact of social isolation may have on young people (Image: PA)
The universities contacted by PoliticsHome reported that they had been able to offer expanded and/or adapted mental health provisions, such as delivering one-to-one counselling via Zoom or setting up digital support groups to help struggling students.
But, there were still accounts of young people who had seen therapy services disrupted due to the pandemic, or had struggled to access support when needed.
One student said she had been offered three mindfulness sessions in April by her university while suffering poor mental health, but had them cancelled after one appointment as the counsellor administering them had been furloughed.
Meanwhile, an undergraduate at a different institution said the counselling service took four weeks to reply to him at the height of lockdown, only for them to say they were unable to offer any sessions.
And, as students returned for the new school year, concerns were raised after thousands of students across the UK were forced to self-isolate regardless of whether they had symptoms of coronavirus.
Undergraduates at Manchester Metropolitan University, where 1,700 people were required to quarantine in late September, complained they felt “neglected” and were struggling to access food.
Even before the pandemic, students were placed on long waiting lists for access to mental health services – we cannot have students falling through the cracks now.
– Shadow minister for mental health Rosena Allin-Khan
Shadow minister for mental health Rosena Allin-Khan is now leading calls for the government to step in and ensure universities have support provisions in place.
Writing for The House Live earlier this month, she said young people were facing a “unique set of challenges during the pandemic” resulting in a “mental health crisis ready to explode”. Her proposed measures, however, are yet to be brought forward.
“Even before the pandemic, students were placed on long waiting lists for access to mental health services – we cannot have students falling through the cracks now,” she told PoliticsHome.
“The Education Secretary acknowledged that the situation on campuses will affect the mental health of students. However, the Government has failed to act on our request for a package of support for students’ mental health.
“Students cannot be forgotten in the crisis–their mental health and wellbeing depends on it.”
Meanwhile, NUS vice president Ms Khan said universities needed show greater flexibility and offer more support for students self-isolating
“Universities should be providing care packages with food, household products, wellbeing materials and general necessities, and targeted educational and mental health support, with facilitation of social activity,” she added.
“The government needs to fully fund our education and healthcare systems, otherwise the student mental health crisis, which existed pre-Covid-19 and is only being exacerbated now, will persist.”
My students are telling me now, ‘please don’t call quite so often we’re fine’. That’s not the point. The point is keeping in contact with them
– Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England
For now, many universities are focusing on how they can ensure the mental wellbeing of their students within existing resources.
Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England (UWE), said education leaders should prioritise keeping students in contact with their lecturers and tutors and giving them avenues to reach out if they need help/
“At my university, we have a 24-7 serious concerns helpline. And that helpline is available for parents or friends to raise concerns about their loved ones or friends. Students can also access it as well,” he told the Today programme.
“That’s been hugely important to make sure that we capture people early and continue to encourage students to call out and to ask for help.”
UWE is also using data analytics, he explained, to identify and understand when students were starting to disengage from university life so they could be contacted by university staff.
“Covid-19 has changed everybody’s life. So welfare calls into students who are self-isolating are hugely important, and they have to be regular,” he continued.
“In fact, my students are telling me now, ‘please don’t call quite so often we’re fine’. That’s not the point. The point is keeping in contact with them.”
Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, had a similar message, urging young people struggling at university to talk to someone if they felt they needed help.
“It can be hard to know how to ask for help, or where to turn to. But if you notice changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that last longer than two weeks, keep coming back, or affect your day-to-day life, tell someone you trust as soon as possible,” he said.
“If you feel you can’t talk to a GP, open up to a friend, family member or think about talking to an academic supervisor, tutor, or a welfare staff member, who can help get you the support you need.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Protecting the mental health of students continues to be a priority, which is why the Universities Minister convened a task force of higher education and health representatives to address the issues students are facing at this time.
“We have been clear that universities have a responsibility to support their students and many have bolstered their mental health and welfare services during the pandemic, particularly to support those students who are self-isolating.
“In response to the pandemic, we have worked closely with the Office for Students to provide up to £3 million to fund the mental health platform, Student Space, in addition to over £9 million of government funding to leading mental health charities.”
Need support? You can contact Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mind’s confidential Infoline is available Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393. Mind’s website also has information on how to cope with student life and how to manage feelings related to coronavirus.
If students would like to find out if their university is covered by a Nightline, and what services they’re currently providing, they can check by visiting their website.
Israel and Sudan have agreed to normalize relations, Trump announces
Trump made the announcement from the Oval Office while joined on the phone by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudanese Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
According to a joint statement from the three countries, the leaders of Sudan and Israel “agreed to the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations” and “agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture.”
“The leaders also agreed that delegations will meet in the coming weeks to negotiate agreements of cooperation in those areas as well as in agriculture technology, aviation, migration issues and other areas for the benefit of the two peoples. The leaders also resolved to work together to build a better future and advance the cause of peace in the region,” the joint statement said.
Netanyahu said Israeli and Sudanese delegations will meet “soon” to begin discussions on cooperation in various fields, such as agriculture and trade.
Palestinian leaders slammed the normalization agreement, with one calling it a “serious stab in the back of the Palestinian and Sudanese people.” Militant groups in Gaza also voiced their anger.
The normalization announcement came shortly after the White House said Trump had informed Congress of his intent to remove Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list. The rescission of the 27-year old designation was widely seen as being tied to the deal with Israel, despite Khartoum’s initial desire to keep the issues separate.
Speaking from the Oval Office on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the normalization and move to lift Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list “both have one thing in common: They made sense for the Sudanese people.”
Pompeo said Sudan “did all the things that they needed to do” to be removed from the list and he noted that the US wanted to support the civilian-led government, which was established after Sudan’s strongman leader, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted in a military coup in April 2019 after three decades in power.
“The Sudanese leadership is now driving toward a really strong outcome and improved life for the people of Sudan and we think for the broader region in north Africa as well,” he said.
Designation change required by Sudan
Senior government sources in Sudan told CNN earlier this week that the state sponsor of terrorism designation change was a requirement by Hamdok, the leader of the transitional government in Sudan, before talks on normalization could proceed.
“The designation change was our priority and normalization is theirs,” one source said.
The Trump campaign has touted the President’s foreign policy achievements in the Middle East. In the past several weeks the administration has overseen normalization agreements between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and has teased that additional countries could follow suit.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that the formal notification to Congress “follows on Sudan’s recent agreement to resolve certain claims of United States victims of terror and their families.” Sudan agreed to settle with survivors and families of victims of the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole and the 2008 murder of US Agency for International Development employee John Granville in Khartoum.
“Yesterday, in fulfillment of that agreement, the transitional government of Sudan transferred $335 million into an escrow account for these victims and their families,” she said.
“Today represents a momentous step forward in the United States-Sudan bilateral relationship and marks a pivotal turning point for Sudan, allowing for a new future of collaboration and support for its ongoing and historic democratic transition,” she said.
Hamdok thanked Trump for the move to lift the designation.
The spokesman for Sudan’s sovereign council, Mohammed Al Faki, told CNN: “We have been formally notified that President Trump has signed the order rescinding Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terror. The order will be enacted in 45 days.”
Congress does have the ability to overturn the President’s decision to remove the designation, but only if both the House and Senate pass veto-proof joint resolutions of disapproval within 45 days.
Sudan has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993, and it is one of only four nations total designated as such. Iran, North Korea and Syria are also listed. As a result, Sudan faces a series of restrictions including a ban on defense exports and sales and restrictions on US foreign assistance.
According to the joint statement, “The United States will take steps to restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity and to engage its international partners to reduce Sudan’s debt burdens, including advancing discussions on debt forgiveness consistent with the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.”
In her statement Friday, McEnany called on Congress to “act now to pass the legislation required to ensure that the American people rapidly realize the full benefits of this policy breakthrough.”
Stuart Newberger, an attorney at Crowell & Moring who represents US victims of the 1998 embassy bombings and their families, told CNN this week that Congress must pass legislation because the agreement between Washington and Khartoum “requires that Sudan be basically relieved of being sued in federal court as a sponsor of terror under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.”
“So that’s why Congress has to get involved to provide Sudan what’s called ‘legal peace.’ The President can’t do that on his own; that’s something only Congress can do,” he said.
Such legislation must be passed before the $335 million can be paid out.
However, some are concerned that legislation that implements the settlement will imperil pending litigation from 9/11 families and victims against Sudan.
Others, including some victims of the twin al Qaeda bombings of the US embassies in Nairiobi and Dar es Salaam, have objected to the terms of the settlement — it would give different payouts to those embassy employees who were US citizens at the time of the attacks, those who have since become US citizens and those who are still foreign nationals.
However, other victims of the bombings and family members welcomed the news earlier this week that Trump intended to lift the state sponsor of terrorism designation and urged Congress “to immediately pass the legislation that is needed to implement the agreement, and begin the payment process.”
This story has been updated with further details.
CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Oren Liebermann, Nima Elbagir, Yassir Abdullah, Abeer Salman and Ibrahim Dahman contributed to this report.
Senate inches closer to Barrett’s confirmation despite Dem tactics
“Every new escalation, every new step, every new shattered precedent, every one of them, was initiated over there,” McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer shot back, saying McConnell is using “a convoluted version of history … to justify steering the Senate towards one of the lowest moments in its long history.”
Senate Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy for moving to confirm Barrett eight days before the election, after blocking former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016. But Republicans argue that history is on their side because unlike in 2016, the White House and the Senate are now controlled by the same party.
In an act of protest, Senate Democrats forced the Senate Friday to go into a rare closed door session, which lasted about 20 minutes and ended after a party-line vote. The Senate has not held a closed-door session in more than a decade.
Senators emerged from the session saying that nothing notable happened. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) described the move as “a super-spreader event” since the lawmakers remained in the chamber and in close quarters.
“It’s just for show,” Rubio said. “It’s just theater. It’s just so they can tell their activist class that they’re fighting tooth and nail every step of the way. It’s just for show. It is what it is.”
Democrats also boycotted a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday to advance Barrett’s nomination to the floor and have forced a series of procedural votes throughout the week. But they do not have the procedural tools to stop the nomination altogether from going forward.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted Friday against a procedural step to move to Barrett’s confirmation. Both senators have said they oppose Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court before the election, but it’s unclear if they will vote against her final confirmation.
If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Sept. 18.
Burgess Everett and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.
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