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With the Senate GOP majority in peril, Republicans view the Supreme Court confirmation fight as an opportunity to energize conservative voters, particularly as Trump lags behind Joe Biden in most national polls and faces criticism for his response to the coronavirus crisis. Unlike previous confirmation hearings, this one is taking place just weeks before Election Day on an uncharacteristically fast timeline. Public polling suggests that the majority of Americans want the Supreme Court seat filled after the election.

Graham, the chair of the Judiciary panel and a close Trump ally, faces an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Jaime Harrison. While South Carolina is still considered a lean red state, several polls have Graham and Harrison tied. Meanwhile, both Ernst and Tillis are in toss-up races in Iowa and North Carolina that could decide control of the Senate and Cornyn is likely in the most challenging reelection bid of his career in Texas politics.

In an interview, Graham suggested that the hearings could help his closing argument.

“If you ask me what’s the most important thing I could be seen as doing in South Carolina? Confirming a Supreme Court justice, a conservative justice,” Graham said. “It doesn’t hurt me at all to be doing my day job for something this important.”

Contentious Judiciary panel hearings can lead to viral moments, such as when an enraged Graham accused his Democratic colleagues of “the most unethical sham” he’d seen in politics during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. Graham even mentioned the moment during a debate Saturday night with Harrison, suggesting his opponent’s fundraising was “about liberals hating my guts because I stood up for Kavanaugh.”

Those moments can be risky to incumbents, and Democrats argue they could backfire. Democrats are also raising records amounts of money off the confirmation fight. ActBlue, a digital fundraising platform used by many Democratic candidates, saw tens of millions of dollars in donations after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett’s confirmation hearings will likely be widely watched — more than 20 million people tuned into Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

So far, Senate Republicans up in 2020 are betting that Democratic opposition to Barrett will inflame tensions on the committee, suggesting that a contentious hearing will help their campaigns.

“I’m not a viral kind of guy but I could see some people going off the rails and alienating some people,” said Tillis (R-N.C.), who faces Democrat Cal Cunningham, a prolific fundraiser.

“The one thing that we saw in the Kavanaugh hearing is how crazy the left gets,” added Cornyn (R-Texas), who is facing Democratic challenger MJ Hegar. “They can’t help themselves. That will help me persuade that they should not be given the power to govern.”

Democrats have universally called for the confirmation to wait until after the election, and reiterated those calls after Lee tested positive for coronavirus. Democrats have pointed to public polling, both nationally and in some contested Senate races, showing that voters think the next president should nominate a justice, and say the high-profile hearings will harm the GOP.

“When [Cornyn] has the spotlight on him, he says things that really show us who he is,” Hegar said in an interview. “When Texans have an opportunity to see who he is, that is not good for his campaign.”

Hegar further cited that Cornyn questioned whether individual police brutality cases constitute systemic racism. Cornyn made the remarks at a Judiciary Committee hearing over the summer in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, prompting Democrats in Texas and nationally to condemn his remarks.

The hearings will also draw attention to Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, who has developed a reputation for tough questioning of Trump nominees. During the most recent Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Harris drew praise from Democrats when she grilled Kavanaugh about special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

“She is always extraordinarily insightful,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “I think she will do her job without regard to the immediate political consequences.”

But just as Kavanaugh helped Harris, Senate Republicans argued that Kavanaugh’s ugly confirmation fight amid sexual assault allegations against him helped them expand their Senate majority. (Several of the Democratic senators who lost reelection in that cycle were running in red-leaning states.)

Partisan sniping over Barrett’s Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings has already started. Senate Republicans are accusing Democrats of anti-Catholic bias toward Barrett, citing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, telling the nominee during her 2017 hearing for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the “dogma lives loudly within you.”

Senate Democrats and Democratic challengers, meanwhile, are focusing their message on health care and the future of Obamacare. They argue that if Barrett is confirmed, the Supreme Court will strike it down. Prior to becoming a federal judge, Barrett criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ move to uphold the law.

The Judiciary Committee hearings are expected to last three to four days. Graham indicated recently that the committee could vote to advance Barrett’s nomination by October 22, setting up a floor vote just days away from the election.

While the hearings and final vote means incumbents will have less time on the ground to meet with voters, Senate Republicans also note that the coronavirus pandemic has upended traditional campaigning, with many candidates increasingly relying on virtual events.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) acknowledged that the hearings would take up time particularly for senators up in cycle, but views the Supreme Court as a net positive for Cornyn and other members of the Judiciary Committee.

“The voters expect us to do our jobs,” Cruz said. “I have long been a believer that good policy is good politics and that delivering on our promises to the voters. … Delivering on the core promise of Republican senators to deliver strong constitutionalists I have believed has a tremendously positive impact on the polls.”

But others are less willing to speculate, noting that the Supreme Court fight is just one more controversial issue in a year that’s seen a global pandemic, an economic recession and nationwide protests over racial injustice.

“I listen to all these experts explain how this is going to impact the election, none of them have ever run for office in their life,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “If they had they would understand this is an unusual political environment and I don’t know anybody who knows the answer to that question.”

James Arkin and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

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US election 2020: Fact-checking Trump and Biden’s final week

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By Reality Check team
BBC News

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After months of bitter campaigning – and plenty of spin and distortion of the facts – the US election is drawing to an end.

We’ve been fact-checking the candidates throughout, and here is our selection from the final week of the campaign.

Donald Trump has been far more active on the campaign trail over the past few days, with a punishing schedule of rallies in key states.

There’s been no let-up of his repetition of false claims about the pandemic, his record in office and the integrity of postal voting.

Mr Biden has appeared in public far less, but he’s also presented fact-checking challenges and often misrepresented the economy under President Trump.

Trump: You can change your vote in “most states”

Verdict: This is not correct. Only in a few states can you change your vote after you’ve submitted a postal ballot.

There are just a handful of states – including Michigan, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin – where your postal vote can be cancelled after it has been submitted.

In these states, you can then either request a new postal ballot or vote in person.

Most states will allow you to vote in person if you’ve been sent a postal vote but haven’t returned it. Some of these ballots have to be counted last to make sure no-one votes twice.

Biden: “Donald Trump crashed the economy that Barack and I left him. Like everything else he’s left and inherited, he squandered it.”

Verdict: Only after the onset of the pandemic did economic growth take a nose-dive. It has subsequently experienced a strong recovery.

The latest numbers show economic output surged by an annualised 33% in the third quarter of 2020, following a record fall as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the economy has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Prior to the pandemic, during President Trump’s first three years in office,

he oversaw an annual average growth of 2.5%.

The last three years of the Obama administration saw a similar level of growth (2.3%).

Mr Trump has said the recent recovery in growth is “the biggest in the history of our country by almost triple… that’s bigger than any nation”.

This isn’t right. Over the third quarter period (July-September) this year, the economy grew by 7.4% in the US (33.1% is the annualised figure). This is less than Germany, Italy and the eurozone as a whole.

If you look at economic growth from the start of the pandemic to the present, the US has done better than Europe but “worse that China and some other Asian economies” such as South Korea, says Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics.

image copyrightReuters

Biden: “It’s estimated that if we wore masks the next few months, by his own experts in the CDC and other agencies… we’d save 100,000 lives.”

Verdict: The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not make this projection, nor do others.

Mr Biden may have been referring to a projection, not by the CDC, but from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

However, the 100,000 figure Mr Biden quotes is significantly above the IHME’s latest estimate that 62,000 lives would be saved by the end of January 2021, if mask-wearing was almost universal.

The CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings, events and gatherings, to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

image copyrightGetty Images

Trump: Joe Biden ending cash bail would free “400,000 dangerous criminals”

Verdict: This needs context. Joe Biden does want to end the cash bail system, but Mr Trump is wrong about its impact.

Joe Biden has pledged to end cash bail – the deposit a defendant pays to avoid being kept in detention while awaiting trial.

His website says: “The cash bail system incarcerates people who are presumed innocent.”

There are about 450,000 individuals currently detained before trial. However, a significant proportion of these are not given the option of bail – in particular those charged with serious crimes.

So Mr Trump’s figure of 400,000 is too high, say experts. And it’s also not correct to call all the people who can’t afford to pay bail “dangerous criminals”.

“Cash bail results in detention based on inability to pay. As a result, a low-risk indigent person may be detained and a high-risk wealthy person may be released,” says Prof Crystal Yang at Harvard University.

Biden: “91 of the top corporate companies in America paid zero federal income tax.”

Verdict: This is true, according to a study.

The context for this claim is that Mr Biden has criticised big cuts in taxes under the Trump administration that have led to companies and wealthy individuals paying substantially less.

In 2018, 91 of the top 500 companies in the US effectively paid no tax, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Despite making almost $80bn in pre-tax income, some companies paid no taxes, as the US corporate tax code “lowers the bar for the amount of tax avoidance it takes to get you down to zero”, according to the Institute.

The companies paying zero tax included Amazon and Starbucks.

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Why Amazon and Reliance are fighting for Future Retail in India

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Amazon (AMZN), the Seattle-based e-commerce firm owned by Jeff Bezos, is fighting a $3.3 billion deal struck between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and the Indian retail conglomerate Future Group.

What’s at stake is strategic access to a network of popular grocery stores and retail shops in India — something both Amazon and Reliance want to either have for themselves, or to prevent the other from acquiring.

“If someone backs down, it will give the impression that one has lost and the other has won, when the fight has just started,” said Counterpoint Research analyst Tarun Pathak.

Amazon has 31.2% market share in India’s e-commerce industry, just behind Walmart-owned Flipkart’s 31.9%, according to a recent report from market research firm Forrester. But Ambani has made no secret of his ambitions to upend the market with JioMart, which is part of his sprawling conglomerate.

At the heart of the current battle is Future Retail, the cash cow of Future Group. The retail unit includes brands like Big Bazaar, a well-known, popular hypermarket chain in India. In August 2019, Amazon invested in a Future Group entity that gave it a roughly 4.8% stake in Future Retail as of September 30 this year, according to stock exchange filings. The deal gave Amazon the right of first refusal to acquire more shares in Future Retail, according to one of the filings.

Then Covid-19 hit. India enforced one of the strictest nationwide lockdowns, ordering shops to shutter and millions of people to stay indoors for months.

The pandemic has had a “significant adverse impact” on Future Retail’s business operations, the company said in its most recent earnings report. In July, Future Retail’s credit rating took a hit after it missed a bond payment. Fitch Ratings downgraded Future Retail’s rating two notches to C, signaling that the company was “near default.”
The following month, Reliance and Future Group announced that Reliance was buying Future Retail and several other assets. The deal allowed Future Group to “achieve a holistic solution to the challenges that have been caused by Covid and the macro economic environment,” Kishore Biyani, Future Group CEO, said in a statement at the time.

A legal dispute

The announcement took industry watchers by surprise.

“Everyone knew Amazon had a stake in Future Retail, and the deal didn’t mention what would happen to Amazon’s stake,” said Satish Meena, analyst at research firm Forrester.

Amazon responded by filing a complaint to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

Indian companies and foreign companies operating in India often agree to settle disputes in Singapore because “it’s a neutral jurisdiction with high integrity and international standards,” according to Ashish Kabra, a lawyer who heads the International Dispute Resolution & Investigations Practice for Nishith Desai Associates in Singapore.

The arbitration process is confidential and none of the submissions are public.

Amazon argued that the 2019 deal struck between it and the Future Group entity included a non-compete clause, a person familiar with Amazon’s perspective told CNN Business. The clause listed 30 restricted parties with which Future Retail and Future Group could not do business, and Reliance was on that list, the person said.

“The key question really is what’s the validity of contracts if you just ignore them,” said the person familiar with Amazon’s side.

“Are companies just going to ignore contracts and do what they please?”

A SIAC emergency arbitrator gave Amazon a small victory this week when it ordered a temporary halt on Future Group’s deal with Reliance, according to the legal order seen by Reuters, which has not been made public.

Future Group had argued that if the deal with Reliance falls through, its retail unit will be forced into liquidation and 29,000 people will lose their jobs, according to Reuters, which cited the Singapore order. The order is not public, but the person familiar with Amazon’s perspective confirmed that Future presented this argument.

But the arbitrator ruled that “economic hardship alone is not a legal ground for disregarding legal obligations,” according to the order, Reuters reported.

“We welcome the award of the Emergency Arbitrator. We are grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

CNN Business contacted Future Group for comment, and received a statement from Future Retail.

Future Retail said it “is examining the communication and the order” from SIAC.

Reliance (RRVL) said in a statement that its deal with Future Retail is “fully enforceable” under Indian law.

“RRVL intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” said the statement.

But in the past, Indian courts have usually followed the lead of orders passed by emergency arbitrators outside of India, according to Kabra, the lawyer.

“What parties have previously done, is they approach Indian Courts and ask for similar reliefs in India, while relying on the order of the Emergency Arbitrator. Indian Courts usually grant the same relief,” said Kabra.

A ‘clash of the titans’

For Reliance, which operates 11,000 stores throughout India, and Amazon, the No. 2 e-commerce player in the country, Future Retail’s 1,500 stores are not a must have, says one analyst.

“It’s not like without it you can’t have your ambitions, if you don’t have Future [Retail],” said Pathak, of Counterpoint Research.

This is “less about Future and more about the clash of the titans,” as well as “protecting your turf,” he added.

To compete with Amazon and Flipkart, Ambani’s JioMart has been growing its presence in India. It expanded to hundreds of cities across India earlier this year and plans to branch into electronics, fashion, pharmaceutical and healthcare soon. The company will also likely tap into Reliance Retail’s network of physical stores across the country to fulfill online orders, according to analysts.

The industry had expected Amazon and Reliance to forge some kind of deal in the future, because they need each other’s expertise, according to Meena, of Forrester. Amazon needs more shops to expand inventory and use retail spaces as storage and delivery hubs. And Reliance doesn’t have a lot of experience in e-commerce, according to Meena.

But any kind of partnership between Amazon and Reliance in the future “depends upon how much bad blood is between them now,” said Meena.

“It might end up becoming an ego battle between the CEOs of both the companies,” he said.

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Ivory Coast elections: Voters go to the polls amid opposition boycott

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image captionVoting cards have been distributed ahead of the presidential election

Polls are set to open in Ivory Coast’s controversial presidential election.

At least 14 people have been killed since riots broke out in August after President Alassane Ouattara said he would run again following the sudden death of his preferred successor.

The main opposition candidates, Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Henri Konan Bédié, say it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to stand for a third term.

They are boycotting the vote and have called for civil disobedience.

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What is it so controversial?

According to the constitution, Ivory Coast has a two-term presidential limit. Mr Ouattara – who has been elected twice – initially said he would stand down.

But, in July, the ruling party’s previous presidential nominee, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a heart attack.

Mr Ouattara subsequently announced that he would run for president after all.

His supporters argued that a constitutional change in 2016 reset the clock and that his first term did not count.

His opponents do not share that view, arguing instead that it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to run for a third term.

What’s the background to the tension?

There has been a decades-long quarrel between some of the country’s leading political figures.

In 2010, Laurent Gbagbo, who was president at the time, refused to concede to Mr Ouattara following the election in that year and this sparked a bitter civil war.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the five months of violence.

Mr Gbagbo also put himself forward to stand in this year’s election but the electoral commission blocked him because he had been convicted in the Ivorian courts.

He was one of nearly 40 potential candidates who were turned down by the commission.

Who are the four presidential candidates?

  • Alassane Ouattara, 78, an economist. Became president in 2011, serving his second term after years in opposition.

    Party: Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP)

  • Henri Konan Bédié, 86, career politician. Served as president between 1993 and 1999, deposed in coup. Party: Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PCDI)
  • Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67, career politician. Served as prime minister between 2000 and 2003 under then-President Laurent Gbagbo. Party: Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) faction
  • Kouadio Konan Bertin, 51, career politician, known as KKB, was once youth leader in the former ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, is now an MP. Independent candidate

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