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Zeta Weakens After Crossing Yucatan, But Expected to Strengthen Again

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Zeta – now a tropical storm – has moved off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and is likely to restrengthen into a hurricane as it moves out over the Gulf of Mexico later Tuesday.  In its latest report, the hurricane center says Zeta’s maximum sustained winds are at about 100 kilometers per hour (kph), just below hurricane strength. Forecasters expect the storm to move out over the warm waters of the gulf, strengthen later Tuesday, then pick speed as it moves towards the southeastern U.S. coast.The forecasters say on its current trajectory, Zeta will likely come ashore in eastern Louisiana or western Mississippi late Wednesday or early Thursday. The storm is likely to be a category one hurricane by the time it strikes the coast.  If Zeta does come ashore in Louisiana, it will be the third major storm to hit the state this year, following Hurricane Laura in August and Delta earlier this month. The state has spent a cumulative total of at least three weeks in the National Hurricane Center’s forecast zone for a possible hurricane this season.  Hurricane Zeta Makes Landfall on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula  Hurricane Zeta pounds Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with strong winds and heavy rains    Zeta is the 11th hurricane and record-tying 27th named storm to form this season.  With more than four weeks left in the season, the record may fall. It is only the second time the hurricane center has gone this deep into the Greek alphabet to select names for a storm. The previous Zeta was in 2005 and marked the last storm of that season.

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US Senate Races Tighten Ahead of Election

With days left until the U.S. election, Democrats are in a position to win a handful of Senate races that could give them control of the chamber in 2021. No matter who wins the White House, party control of the Senate will be a key factor determining how much work gets done in Washington for the next two years.Republicans currently have a 53-47 Senate majority. If Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the presidency, Democrats would need a net pickup of just three Senate seats to assume the majority. If U.S. President Donald Trump is elected to a second term, Democrats would need to gain four Senate seats to have a working majority.According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, seven of the 35 U.S. Senate seats up for reelection November 3 are races that are too close to call. All seven of those seats are currently Republican-held. Additionally, in this cycle Republicans are defending nearly twice as many seats as Democrats, making it more challenging for Republicans to maintain their numbers.Of the 12 Democrat-held U.S. Senate seats up for reelection, only one is rated by Cook Political Report as leaning Republican – the Alabama race between Senator Doug Jones and his Trump-endorsed Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville. The former football coach has been leading Jones in the polls by double digits since the summer.Casey Burgat, director of the Legislative Affairs program at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, said polling data showing a shift in Democrats’ favor reflect how many races have been nationalized by Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket.“If we think of elections as referendums on those incumbents, Republicans are in a really tight spot right now, led by President Trump,” he said. “Candidates are having to work in their seats to distance themselves, to show a streak of independence to say that ‘I’m just not a vote for an unpopular president.’ States where just four years ago he was incredibly popular – being that he brought in some senators to the Senate based on his election tally. So quite a shift in a few short years.”Here’s where a handful of key races stand:Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) walks on Capitol Hill, February 3, 2020, in Washington.IowaEarlier this year, the central state of Iowa looked to be one of the states holding strong for Republicans. But while Trump carried the state by 9 percentage points in 2016, his trade wars have had an impact on its heavily agricultural economy.Incumbent Republican Senator Joni Ernst supported Trump’s policies and government payments to farmers to supplement the lost income. She has either trailed or tied her Democratic challenger, real estate developer Theresa Greenfield, in almost all polls throughout the year.Iowa farmer Doug Thompson, a Greenfield supporter, said Ernst’s political fortunes are tied to the president.“Her success or failure is going to be based on Trump’s success or failure in Iowa,” Thompson told VOA. “Agriculture has been devastated even though we’ve been paid off [received federal aid]. There’s still a lot of stress out here – a lot of stress on balance sheets.”Ernst stumbled in a recent debate answering a question about commodities prices, but farmer and Iowa State Senator Dan Zumbach said she understands agriculture in Iowa.“President Trump will get our trade settled down so that we can get better prices long term. Joni Ernst is genuine, honest and knowledgeable, and she works hard for our agriculture because she understands it – it’s where her roots are.”North CarolinaEarly October was a tumultuous time for both candidates in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races: North Carolina. Considered a bellwether for American politics because its demographic makeup reflects a diverse range of areas, ages and ethnicities, North Carolina is fiercely fought over in the presidential election and features a marquee contest between incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis and his Democratic challenger, former state senator Cal Cunningham.FILE – Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) talks to reporters prior to the resumption of the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 30, 2020.Earlier this month, Tillis was diagnosed with COVID-19 as a part of the outbreak of cases that impacted the White House and the U.S. Congress. While Tillis has since quarantined and recovered, the virus kept him from the campaign trail. At the same time, his opponent was facing questions about revelations he had been texting a woman who was not his wife. Cunningham ended up admitting to an intimate encounter earlier in the summer and apologized publicly to his family. According to a Real Clear Politics average of polls, Cunningham appears not to have been significantly damaged by those events. He leads Tillis by an average of 1.8 percentage points in political surveys.FILE – Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham speaks to supporters during a primary election night party in Raleigh, N.C., March 3, 2020.MaineFacing a tough reelection race, Senator Susan Collins crossed the aisle Monday to vote against the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Collins made it clear she was not voting against Barrett based on her qualifications but on timing.“I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election,” Collins said in a statement Monday.FILE – Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) talks to reporters before attending the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, January 28, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.Making decisions in the national spotlight is a familiar role for Collins, who cast a key vote earlier this year in the Senate impeachment trial of Trump. Her opponent, Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, raised funds on the basis of Collins’ vote confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, another decision that led some Maine voters to question whether Collins had maintained her reputation as an independent voice in the U.S. Senate.“Her vote for Brett Kavanaugh was kind of that breaking point, or at least one of the flashpoints in saying we like when you’re independent, but only so far as when you are agreeing with what we do as a state,” said Burgat. “She’s been kind of fighting back against that narrative ever since.”Gideon, a Maine state representative, leads Collins by an average of 4.2 percentage points in a Real Clear Politics average of polls conducted in September and October prior to the Supreme Court vote.South CarolinaThe home state of one of Trump’s strongest Senate defenders is a relatively late entry into the list of close races. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is leading his Democratic challenger, former South Carolina Democratic party chairman Jaime Harrison by 6 percentage points in the latest New York Times/Siena poll conducted the week of October 9. But a Quinnipiac University poll has shown the two candidates in a tie in multiple polls since July.FILE – Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jaime Harrison speaks at a campaign rally on Oct. 17, 2020, in North Charleston, S.C.Money is keeping this race competitive. Graham notably complained about Harrison’s fundraising abilities in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Barrett last week. Harrison, the former South Carolina Democratic party chairman, has broken the record for the largest three-month fundraising effort ever in a Senate race – a record $57 million.“His fundraising numbers have been astronomical, but a lot of that money has been coming from outside the state where voters are looking to him as an opportunity for a Democratic pickup,” said Burgat. “So they are funneling money into that race, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that Lindsey Graham has become kind of the face of Trump-enabling, Trump-supporting and going along with the Trump agenda.”Harrison has been careful not to focus his campaign on criticism of Trump – part of a balancing act intended to appeal to voters in a state that went for the president over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by 14 percentage points in 2016.Toss-upsOther toss-up races include both Georgia Senate races. Polls show Republican incumbent U.S. Senator David Perdue leading Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by 1.5 percentage points. In an open race for Georgia’s other Senate seat, a Democratic political newcomer, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, leads a crowded field by an average of 8.5 percentage points. The Montana Senate race shows encouraging signs for Republican incumbent Senator Steve Daines, who leads his Democratic challenger, Steve Bullock, by 3.3 percentage points.Kane Farabaugh contributed to this report.

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Judge: US Can’t Replace Trump in Columnist’s Slander Suit

A federal judge on Tuesday denied President Donald Trump’s request that the United States replace him as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit alleging he raped a woman in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s.  
The decision by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan came after the Justice Department argued that the United States — and by extension the American people — should replace Trump as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the columnist E. Jean Carroll.
The government’s lawyers contended that the United States could step in as the defendant because Trump was forced to respond to her lawsuit to prove he was physically and mentally fit for the job.
The judge ruled that a law protecting federal employees from being sued individually for things they do within the scope of their employment didn’t apply to a president.
“The President of the United States is not an employee of the Government within the meaning of the relevant statutes,” Kaplan wrote. “Even if he were such an employee, President Trump’s allegedly defamatory statements concerning Ms. Carroll would not have been within the scope of his employment. Accordingly, the motion to substitute the United States in place of President Trump is denied.”
Lawyers for Carroll had written that “only in a world gone mad could it somehow be presidential, not personal, for Trump to slander a woman who he sexually assaulted.”
The Justice Department relied solely on written arguments in the dispute after its lawyer was banned from a Manhattan federal courthouse last week because he had not quarantined for two weeks after traveling to New York from a state on a list of those whose coronavirus test rates were high.
Carroll, a former longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine, said in her lawsuit that in the fall of 1995 or spring of 1996 she and Trump met in a chance encounter when they recognized each other at the Bergdorf Goodman store.
She said they engaged in a lighthearted chat about trying on a see-through lilac gray bodysuit when they made their way to a dressing room, where she said Trump pushed her against a wall and raped her.
Trump said Carroll was “totally lying” to sell a memoir and that he’d never met her, though a 1987 photo showed them and their then-spouses at a social event. He said the photo captured a moment when he was standing in a line.
Carroll, who wants unspecified damages and a retraction of Trump’s statements, also seeks a DNA sample from Trump to see whether it matches as-yet-unidentified male genetic material found on a dress that she says she was wearing during the alleged attack.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.

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US Capital Recalls COVID-19 Deaths with Over 200,000 Flags

A unique and somber public art project called ‘In America: How Could This Happen…’ opened in the nation’s capital on Friday. Maxim Moskalkov has the story.
Camera: Mike Maisuradze

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Senate Approves Trump’s Third Supreme Court Nominee

The U.S. Senate approved President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on Monday. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports on the crucial vote that is happening a little over a week before Election Day.Produced by: Katherine Gypson               Camera: Adam Greenbaum  

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Trump Campaign Focuses on Hunter Biden Emails as October Surprise

Trailing in the polls, President Donald Trump has seized upon recently disclosed emails allegedly from the son of Democratic candidate Joe Biden as an “October Surprise” that could alter the race. VOA’s Brian Padden reports on how this development compares to past October Surprises.Producer: Brian Padden

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Thousands Flee Homes Near LA as Wildfire Rages

Some 60,000 people fled their homes near Los Angeles on Monday as a fast-spreading wildfire raged across more than 7,200 acres (3,000 hectares), blocking key roadways and critically injuring two firefighters. The so-called Silverado Fire erupted early in the morning in the foothills of Irvine, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, and quickly spread with no containment, fueled by dry conditions and erratic winds that prevented firefighting aircraft from flying. “It’s nuts — even inside the car, my eyes, my nose and my throat stung,” said Frederic Tournadre, a French man whose company in Irvine sent all its employees home. The inferno nearly quadrupled in size by afternoon, jumping a highway and covering the area with a huge plume of smoke and ash.   About 20,000 homes were evacuated along with several public schools that were set to remain shut on Tuesday.  The National Weather Service warned that the combination of low humidity, dry vegetation and strong winds had created “the most dangerous fire weather conditions” this year.   It said the region will remain under a red flag warning — signifying a high risk of wildfire — through Tuesday evening. “New fire ignitions in Los Angeles and Ventura counties will likely have very rapid-fire growth, extreme fire behavior, and long-range spotting, resulting in a significant threat to life and property,” the Weather Service said.   Officials said the two injured firefighters sustained second- and third-degree burns and both had to be intubated at an area hospital.   “I got an opportunity to talk to members of their families and spend time with both firefighters in the emergency room while they were being treated, but they were not in a position where they could speak with me,” Orange County Fire Authority chief Brian Fennesy told reporters.   He added that winds of 20 to 40 miles per hour (mph), with gusts up to 60 mph, had made it extremely difficult for the 500 firefighters trying to control the flames. Dry conditions, high winds”Any time winds are that bad you can’t fly, and that certainly has an impact on both hand crews and bulldozers and firefighters at the end of those hose lines,” he said.   Meanwhile another blaze in Yorba Linda, located about 17 miles north of Irvine and dubbed the Blue Ridge Fire, erupted in early afternoon Monday, scorching more than 1,100 acres and also forcing evacuations.   The Silverado and Blue Ridge fires were burning as California and much of the US west are under major fire risk because of dry conditions and strong seasonal winds.   More than four million acres have been devoured this season by flames in California alone, where 31 people have died in some of the largest fires in the state’s history. Evacuations have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic which has hit the Golden State hard and hampered the work of firefighters. The state fire agency Cal Fire said Monday that more than 4,000 firefighters are battling 22 wildfires, with 34 million people under red flag warnings. It said that wind gusts upwards of 80 miles (130 kilometers) an hour were expected in mountain areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The critical fire weather prompted Southern California Edison to shut off power to hundreds of customers in the two counties in a precautionary move to avert any electrical equipment from sparking blazes. 

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US Envoy Urges Fresh Approach to Middle East Peace 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft touted recent U.S.-brokered breakthroughs in normalizing relations between Israel and three Arab countries on Monday, and urged her U.N. Security Council colleagues to shed their “decades-old approaches” to Middle East peace and reconsider President Donald Trump’s proposal. “The conversation in the region is changing,” said Craft. “As the president said, a new chapter is beginning.”   She pointed to the Sept. 15 signing at the White House of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and two Arab Gulf countries — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They were the first such agreements between Israel and an Arab state in 25 years.  U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on the phone with leaders of Israel and Sudan in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington.On Friday, Trump announced that the U.S. would take Sudan off the list of state sponsors of terrorism after the transitional government agreed to financially compensate American victims of terror and their families and to normalize relations with Israel. Craft said these developments show that a different approach is needed to forging regional peace.  “We encourage our regional partners and the members of this body to thoughtfully consider the United States Vision for Peace and to play a constructive role in encouraging direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on its basis,” she said of Trump’s plan.   The Palestinians have dismissed the proposal outright, but have left the door open to negotiations with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also rejected the recent peace deals between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and urged others not to follow suit “at the expense of Palestinian rights.” Then-Israel Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is seen as he receives Italy’s interior minister at a hotel in Jerusalem on Dec. 11, 2018.Israel’s new U.N. envoy, Gilad Erdan, told the council in his first appearance at their monthly Middle East meeting that while their talking points have not changed for decades, the region has. He criticized the Palestinian leadership for their reaction to the peace deals. “The fact that the Palestinians attack those who make peace with Israel demonstrates that for years, the council has been applying pressure to the wrong side,” Erdan said. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki reiterated his call for an international conference early next year to reinvigorate the stalled peace process.  “The international community must act to salvage peace, or we will all bear the consequences,” he told the virtual meeting.  Several council members supported the idea of an international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Craft said the U.S. does not object but does not see how it would be any different than past meetings.  “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect things to change. We are failing the Israeli and Palestinian people,” she said. Many council members on Monday also expressed concern about Israel’s Oct. 15 announcement that it is advancing 5,000 settlements. The U.N. said about 85% of the units are in settlements in outlying locations, deep inside the West Bank, and all are in areas that would impede the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. “While the location of these units is particularly worrying, I reiterate that all settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace,” Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East Peace process, told the council from Jerusalem. In addition to Bahrain, the UAE and Sudan, Jordan and Egypt also have diplomatic relations with Israel.  

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