September 16, 2020

Japan's parliament elected Yoshihide Suga, the longtime right-hand man to outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the country's new prime minister Wednesday. Suga, 71, was Abe's Cabinet secretary during his record-setting tenure in office. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party selected him party leader Monday, all but ensuring his elevation to prime minister. The lower house of parliament ratified the choice with 314 votes out of 462 cast. Abe, 65, resigned for health reasons and said he will support Suga's government as a lawmaker.

Suga has listed battling the COVID-19 pandemic and turning around a coronavirus-battered economy as his first priorities, and he will also seek to finish Abe's unfinished reforms. He is expected to retain about half of Abe's Cabinet ministers. Peter Weber

8:53 p.m.

A member of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's security detail tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week, two people with knowledge of the matter told Politico on Thursday.

Azar has been tested and the HHS headquarters has been thoroughly cleaned to prevent the spread of the virus, Politico reports. This is the first known instance of a staffer who regularly interacts with Azar testing positive for COVID-19.

On Thursday, Azar traveled with President Trump to Charlotte, North Carolina. A spokesperson for Azar told Politico they could not comment on whether any staffer tested positive for coronavirus, but did say the secretary "practices social distancing guidelines as recommended by the CDC and wears a cloth face mask in any setting where social distancing isn't possible. Furthermore, he is tested regularly for COVID-19 before attending meetings at the White House and the results of all tests have been negative." Catherine Garcia

8:10 p.m.

Thursday was the first day of early voting in Illinois, and officials in Lake County were surprised by how many people showed up to cast their ballots.

At the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, the first voter arrived at 8 a.m., an hour before doors opened, and by mid-afternoon, at least 300 people had voted, Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor told The Washington Post. At some points, the wait to get inside was more than two hours, and now that officials know there is demand, a fourth voting machine will be in operation on Friday.

Voters stood six feet apart and had no problems waiting, O'Connor said, adding, "They're courteous, they're being polite, they're following the rules, it's beautiful. It's truly beautiful." Lake County has sent 126,000 mail-in ballots to voters, which is quadruple the number of people who voted by mail in November 2016, and O'Connor said officials expect "well over 100,000" ballots to be returned.

One person in line told the Post he decided to vote early because he did not trust the mail to deliver his ballot, while Socorro Herrera, 36, said she came out to "set an example for people," adding, "We are all busy, but you can vote, too. I want my young kids to know this is important — we all lead busy lives. It's a privilege, it really is." Toby Wong, 68, told the Post she is an immigrant and takes "voting rights seriously. I wasn't going to let fear about the coronavirus stop me. I am going to make sure my vote counts." Catherine Garcia

6:57 p.m.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday said he will soon resume talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about another coronavirus relief package.

Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee that he has "probably spoken to Speaker Pelosi 15 or 20 times in the last few days" on a continuing resolution to extend government funding, and "we've agreed to continue to have discussions about the CARES Act." He also asked Congress to give him the authority to distribute $130 billion in unused Paycheck Protection Program funds to provide loans to small businesses hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline to apply for PPP loans was Aug. 8.

Pelosi told reporters that she will "hopefully soon" start negotiations with Mnuchin, and for now is talking with her caucus and leadership. "We'll see what we're going to do," she said. "But we're ready for a negotiation. That's what we're ready for."

Top Democrats spent Thursday working on a $2.4 trillion relief package that could be used in negotiations or be voted on as a stand-alone package sometime soon, a senior Democratic aide told The New York Times. The House approved a $3.4 trillion rescue measure in May, which Republicans said was bloated and had no chance of passing the Senate. Catherine Garcia

5:14 p.m.

Some of the biggest and most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. stemmed from the meatpacking industry. But Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) was reluctant to call for accountability, including when it came to a Colorado-based plant Gardner received donations from, Business Insider reports.

Early in the pandemic, meatpacking factories' close quarters became home to massive COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the country. An outbreak at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado led to at least 291 confirmed cases and six deaths — the biggest localized outbreak in the state. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) explicitly called for an investigation at the facility, as did a JBS employee union, which called out Gardner for failing to provide promised coronavirus tests for workers. But Gardner wouldn't discuss the situation with Business Insider, and similarly avoided questions about JBS in a local radio interview.

Throughout his Senate career, Gardner has been one of the top recipients of donations from JBS; He has received $24,000 from the company over the years. This election cycle, he received the second most money from JBS of any senator, as well as the second largest contribution total from the meatpacking industry as a whole. Gardner is considered one of the most vulnerable senators this fall as he faces former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). Kathryn Krawczyk

3:16 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany is trying to spin President Trump's election fraud allegations back on Democrats.

In a Wednesday press conference, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he's not re-elected this fall, and alleged without evidence Democrats are running a "scam" to steal the election. The comments earned widespread condemnation from Democrats and Republicans alike, and got a bit more clarity from McEnany on Thursday.

During Thursday's press conference, ABC News' Jon Karl asked McEnany if Trump would "assure us that there will be a peaceful transfer of power" should he lose this fall. McEnany tried to debate just how the Wednesday question was asked of Trump, but went on to affirm "the president will accept the results of a free and fair election." She then alleged Karl's question was "better to be asked of Democrats," and shared some quotes from Democrats in which they appeared to be challenging Trump's many attacks on the electoral process.

McEnany's response also remains complicated due to Trump's baseless suggestions that this will not be a free and fair election. While Trump has alleged attempted fraud, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed Thursday there was no evidence of a national effort to commit fraud "by mail or otherwise" this election or "historically." Kathryn Krawczyk

2:58 p.m.

Prosecutors are reportedly dropping prostitution charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Kraft in 2019 was charged for allegedly soliciting prostitution at a Palm Beach County massage parlor, but court papers filed on Thursday showed that the charges against him are being dropped, NBC News reports.

"Although there was probable cause to make an arrest, the evidence cannot prove all legally required elements of the crime alleged and is insufficient to support a criminal prosecution," a court filing said.

This comes after last month, the Florida 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Jupiter police violated Kraft's rights by secretly installing cameras inside the spa's massage rooms, and the court said that video footage of Kraft allegedly paying for sex at the spa couldn't be used during the trial, The Associated Press reports. This decision was expected to lead to charges against Kraft being dropped after prosecutors did not appeal it. The owner and the manager of the spa still face charges in the case, per the AP.

Kraft had pleaded not guilty to the charges. He issued an apology in March 2019, though, saying, "I am truly sorry. I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard." Brendan Morrow

Opinion
2:33 p.m.

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday released a proposed rule change putting new limits on visas for international students, exchange visitors (au pairs, visiting scholars, and the like), and foreign journalists. The rules for students especially have drawn immediate criticism because, as is so often the case with the Trump administration's immigration policy, they are needlessly onerous and cruel.

As it stands, the student visas in question don't have an expiration date — their duration is linked to the duration of study. The new rule would limit these visas to four years, regardless of degree length. But for students from certain countries, the limit would be just two years, typically half the time to complete a bachelor's degree. Students could request extensions, but they're not guaranteed. The risk of spending two years of time and tuition on a degree that can't be completed is likely great enough to deter many students from studying in America at all.

Those familiar with President Trump's past country-specific immigration rules won't be surprised to learn the stricter, two-year version applies overwhelmingly to nations in Africa and the Middle East, including many Muslim-majority countries. It does this by targeting the four nations on the state sponsors of terrorism list and, crucially, "citizens of countries with a student and exchange visitor total overstay rate of greater than 10 percent."

But overstay rate often doesn't correlate with overstay volume (India, for example, has more than 20 times as many overstays as Iraq, but a much lower percentage rate). Thus using the overstay rate limits student visas for what Trump would reportedly dub "shithole countries" via an ostensibly neutral formula while doing relatively little to cut down on total visa overstays.

Perhaps most galling of all is this metric's inclusion of nations like Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States is actively at war and engaged in nation building, ostensibly spreading democracy and promoting education. Other countries we've invaded or otherwise subjected to military intervention — including Yemen, Vietnam, and Somalia — are on the list, too. Citizens of these countries get American bombs, but maybe not books. Bonnie Kristian

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