Sunday, August 1

First Thing: Lindsey Graham accused of suggesting legal ballots be thrown out – The Guardian

Good morning. Georgia’s secretary of state has said that the Republican senator Lindsey Graham asked him if it was possible to throw out legal ballots, following Donald Trump’s narrow defeat in the state.

In an explosive interview with the Washington Post, Brad Raffensperger said he was “stunned” by the question, in which Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to reject legally cast absentee ballots. “It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” he said. Graham, who is chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, confirmed the conversation to reporters on Capitol Hill but said accusations he had pressured Raffensperger to throw out ballots was “ridiculous”.

  • A Pennsylvania court will hear Trump’s voter fraud lawsuit today, in the president’s latest attempt to overturn the election result. Trump’s team had asked for a delay, but Judge Matthew Brann told lawyers that they must show up and “be prepared for argument and questioning”.

  • Trump’s refusal to concede could be a deliberate strategy to keep Republican voters energised for the Senate runoffs in Georgia, political strategists have said. However, others warn that this could backfire, leading Republicans to wonder “If that election wasn’t legitimate, why should the Georgia elections be different?” Daniel Strauss examines what impact Trump’s head-in-the-sand approach could have.

“It’s a very calculated political move to keep the base energized and demonstrate the kind of ‘pitched battle’ mentality of ‘the other guy is the enemy’,” said Beth Noveck, who served on the transition team for Barack Obama.

Trump considered a strike on Iran

Donald Trump

Donald Trump reportedly asked several top aides, including the vice-president, Mike Pence, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, ‘whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks’. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump asked his aides last week about the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear sites in the final weeks of his presidency, according to a report in the New York Times. Senior officials reportedly “dissuaded the president” from making the move, warning that it could trigger a broader conflict.

The outgoing president is also thought to be planning to cut the US military presence in Afghanistan by almost half, from 4,500 to 2,500, before Joe Biden takes over the presidency in January. The plans come just a week after senior Pentagon officials were replaced en masse by relatively inexperienced Trump loyalists. These reports suggest that earlier warnings from political analysts that the final weeks of a Trump presidency could be the most dangerous might be coming to fruition.

  • In the wake of his divorce from Fox News, Trump has found new networks to promote. The latest is the far-right media outlet One America News Network (OANN), which has repeatedly pushed a number of baseless conspiracy theories and spread outlandish disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. Jason Wilson finds out more about OANN.

Biden warned that ‘more people may die’ without Trump’s cooperation

Joe Biden says Trump blocking Covid plans may lead to more deaths – video

Joe Biden has warned that Trump’s refusal to concede the election, and thus enable a smooth transition to the next administration, could cost lives. Without cooperation between the outgoing and incoming administrations, “more people may die”, he said. “We are going into a very dark winter. Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier,” Biden added. The virus is currently killing around 1,000 Americans each day.

Yesterday, California was forced to pull the “emergency brake” on reopening plans after an alarming surge in the number of coronavirus cases. In the first week of November, California recorded the fastest rate of increase in cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and case rates have doubled in the state over the last 10 days.

People wearing masks in front of a coronavirus sign urging citizens to 'stop the spread'.

On Monday, the California governor, Gavin Newsom, warned that the rapid spread of the virus ‘could quickly overwhelm our healthcare system and lead to catastrophic outcomes’. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP

However, there is some good news. US biotech firm Moderna has announced that its coronavirus vaccine candidate, of which the US has been promised 100 million doses, is almost 95% effective. Moderna’s vaccine is easier to store and distribute than Pfizer’s, which was declared to be more than 90% effective last week, and news of the trial’s success led equity prices around the world to soar.

  • Pfizer has launched a vaccine delivery trial in four US states. The trial is designed to address distribution problems, caused by the requirement to keep the vaccine at extremely cold temperatures.

  • The US has recorded almost 245,000 deaths from coronavirus, and more than 11 million cases. Follow live updates on the pandemic in the US with our coronavirus map, which offers state specific information.

In other news…

In October, the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified remotely during the Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee hearing.

In October the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified remotely during the Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee hearing. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock
  • Twitter and Facebook CEOs are testifying again over allegations that their platforms have an anti-conservative bias. While researches have not found any evidence for this claim, a Senate hearing was called in response to the companies’ handling of a New York Post article about Joe Biden.

  • Obama said he is ‘sympathetic to a certain strain of conservatism’, saying that he shared the “religious critique of modern society” that the country has lost a sense of community. He also took aim at Trump, saying: “If we were going to have a rightwing populist in this country, I would have expected somebody a little more appealing.”

Stat of the day

While Trump pushed a number of anti-Muslim policies during his presidency, he still enjoys some reasonably strong support among Muslims. A survey conducted by Associated Press revealed that 35% of Muslims said they voted for Trump, and the margin between Trump and Biden among Muslims was closer than experts predicted.

Don’t miss this

In this long read, Gary Younge examines Trump’s attempts to stop Black people from making their vote count, applying “old school racism to new demographics”. He explores the history of racism in voting, and how voters fought it in 2020.

It is important to remember that the US was a slave state for more than 200 years – and an apartheid state, after the abolition of slavery, for another century. Throughout that time, in certain parts of the country, all Black votes were, by definition, illegal, and conservatives worked hard to keep it that way. It has only been a nonracial democracy for 55 years. And that short reign now hangs in the balance.

Last Thing: Hollywood comes to… Wrexham

The offer from Reynolds (pictured) and McElhenney includes £2m investment and a Netflix documentary.

The offer from Reynolds (pictured) and McElhenney includes £2m investment and a Netflix documentary. Photograph: @Wrexham_AFC/PA

It isn’t just Joe Biden who is taking on the job of improving relations with US allies. Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are in the process of deepening their ties to a small town in Wales, where their offer to buy the local football club has been accepted. The pair have already started courting local businesses, releasing a video message that promoted a trailer manufacturer – the club’s primary sponsor.

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