Summary

We’ll be shutting down today’s blog shortly. Here’s a glance at today’s major news items:

The coronavirus forced baseball’s 17th postponement in 10 days on Saturday, prompting at least two more players to opt out of the season entirely and casting doubt on whether the league can complete a truncated 2020 season.

A game between the Cardinals and Brewers in Milwaukee was postponed for the second straight day after one more player and three staff members with St Louis tested positive for the coronavirus. Friday’s series opener between the midwestern rivals had been scuttled only hours before the first pitch due to two Cardinals players testing positive.

Major League Baseball said Thursday it was updating its coronavirus safety measures after a 17th player on the Miami Marlins tested positive for Covid-19, a mere seven days after all 30 clubs opened a shortened, delayed season in empty stadiums.

The Marlins outbreak, which first came to light on Monday after the team played a three-game series on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies, prompted MLB to postpone all of the team’s games through at least Sunday amid doubts the team will be able to reopen its season as planned Tuesday at home.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has reportedly ordered all teams to use surgical masks instead of cloth ones, encouraged players not to leave hotels in road cities except for games and mandated every club to travel with a virus protocol compliance officer to ensure rules are followed. According to an ESPN report, Manfred has warned players union’ executive director Tony Clark that baseball could shut down for the season if it doesn’t do a better job of managing the spread.

MLB
Cardboard cutouts depicting fans have taken the place of real-life spectators as MLB attempts to complete a shortened 2020 season in empty stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA

Dr Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the US’s top infectious disease expert, expressed concern over the outbreak when asked about it during an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday morning.

“This could put [the season] in danger,” Fauci said. “I don’t believe they need to stop, but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.”

The pandemic had already forced MLB to delay and truncate the familiar 162-game, six-month season to a 60-game, 67-day sprint with a number of rule changes designed to speed up the game and protect the players and umpires.

On Saturday, Miami second baseman Isan Diaz and two-time All-Star center fielder Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers became the latest of the more than a dozen major leaguers to opt out of the season entirely, citing the health risks stemming from Covid-19. Others who are playing, like Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, have expressed ambivalence over baseball’s return as case numbers continue to surge throughout the country.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” Doolittle said on 5 July. “We’re way worse off as a country than we were in March when we shut this thing down. And, like, look where the other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back.

“Sports are like the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”

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At least 14 members of the House of Representatives and Senate – seven Republicans and seven Democrats – have tested positive or are presumed to have had Covid-19 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic after Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva and Texas’s Louie Gohmert became the latest this week, Reuters reports.

Representative Morgan Griffith, 62, a Virginia Republican and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said in mid-July that he had tested positive. His office said he did not have significant symptoms.

The South Carolina Republican representative Tom Rice, 62, said on Facebook in mid-June that he, his wife and his son had all tested positive for the coronavirus but that all were “on the mend”.

The Utah Democratic representative Ben McAdams caught the virus in March, was hospitalized and needed oxygen.

After his release, he warned others to take the virus seriously. “I’m young, I’m 45 years old, I’m healthy, I exercise every day and it hit me really hard,” he told ABC.

Other affected lawmakers include Nydia Velazquez, 67, a Democrat from New York, the Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, 41, the Republican Florida representative Mario Díaz-Balart, 58, and the Republican Kentucky senator Rand Paul, 57, who had said on 22 March that he had tested positive and was in quarantine.

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Arizona congressman Raúl Grijalva, who said Saturday he tested positive for the coronavirus, has condemned Republican politicians for their carelessness around Congress and blamed them for spreading the virus.

The Democratic representative issued the fiery condemnation from self-quarantine at his residence in the Washington area.

“While I cannot blame anyone directly for this, this week has shown that there are some members of Congress who fail to take this crisis seriously,” he said. “Numerous Republican members routinely strut around the Capitol without a mask to selfishly make a political statement at the expense of their colleagues, staff, and their families.”

The attack comes after Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who has frequently refused to wear a mask, tested positive for coronavirus last week. In shunning a mask, Gohmert is following the lead of Donald Trump, who is rarely seen wearing one either in the White House or on presidential visits.

Grijalva had presided over a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee which Gohmert attended on Tuesday.

In a TV interview after the diagnosis, Gohmert even suggested he may have contracted coronavirus by incorrectly wearing his mask.

“I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, that if I might have put some germs or some of the virus on to the mask and breathed it in,” Gohmert said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Saturday the coronavirus pandemic was likely to be “lengthy” after its emergency committee met to evaluate the crisis six months after sounding the international alarm.

The committee “highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this Covid-19 pandemic”, the WHO said in a statement, and warned of the risk of “response fatigue” given the socio-economic pressures on countries.

The panel gathered on Friday for the fourth time since the coronavirus crisis began, half a year on from its 30 January declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) – the WHO’s highest level of alarm.

“WHO continues to assess the global risk level of Covid-19 to be very high,” said its latest statement.

“The committee highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this Covid-19 pandemic, noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.”

The coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Mexico also overtook Britain to became the third hardest hit country for virus deaths after Brazil and the US with over 46,600 fatal cases.

Going into the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic’s effects would be long-lasting.

“It’s sobering to think that six months ago, when you recommended I declare a PHEIC, there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China,” he said on Friday.

“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Saturday warned the pandemic’s effects would be long-lasting. Photograph: Reuters

Trump contradicts 'wrong' Fauci over cause of surge in US coronavirus cases

Donald Trump has again publicly contradicted Dr Anthony Fauci, claiming the US’s top infectious disease expert is “wrong” to attribute the surge in US coronavirus cases to the country’s failure to sufficiently shut down its economy.

The US president came in hot on Saturday after a lengthy-for-him 15-hour hiatus from Twitter, responding to a clip of Fauci’s testimony before Congress from Friday with the largely debunked claim that Covid-19 cases in the US are surging exclusively due to increased testing.

“Wrong!” Trump said. “We have more cases because we have tested far more than any other country, 60,000,000. If we tested less, there would be less cases. How did Italy, France & Spain do? Now Europe sadly has flare ups. Most of our governors worked hard & smart. We will come back STRONG!”

Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, had made the claim before the House’s special select committee investigating the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

“When they shut down, they shut down to the tune of about 95%, getting their baseline down to tens or hundreds of cases a day,” he told the House panel, adding that only about 50% of the United States shut down against a much higher baseline of daily cases.

The idea that case numbers are high only because diagnostic testing has expended has been continually shot down by Trump’s own top public health officials, as the increase has also revealed the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is climbing across nearly the entire country.

“A high rate of positive tests indicates a government is only testing the sickest patients who seek out medical attention and is not casting a wide enough net,” according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, a primary source of updated information on the pandemic.

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is removing its top intelligence official from his post after it was revealed the office has been surveilling the work of American journalists reporting on the unrest in Portland, circulating “intelligence reports” on them to other federal agencies in a move that has been decried as a clear violation of the constitutional right to a free press.

Brian Murphy, who has been the acting chief of a unit known as the “office of intelligence and analysis”, is being removed from that role at the behest of acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, Politco reported on Saturday.

The department has faced criticism since the Washington Post revealed on Thursday that the intelligence reports, which referred specifically to two prominent US journalists whose reporting had revealed the disarray within the Trump administration’s contentious deployment of federal agents to Portland, were distributed in the past week to law enforcement and other agencies.

One of the journalists, Mike Baker of the New York Times, had disclosed a leaked DHS memo that discussed the confusion prevalent among the federal agents sent to Portland. The memo showed that the camouflaged officers had little understanding of the nature of the demonstrations they were being asked to police.

As our Washington bureau chief David Smith has written, members of the media have become targets for both police and protesters in cities across the country amid this summer’s national uprising.

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Donald Trump departed his golf club in Virginia at 1.57pm, according to the White House press pool.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Loudoun county property in what’s become a regular occurrence as the president’s twice-weekly visits have continued over the past several months.

A much larger crowd was assembled as the motorcade departed en route to the White House compared to when the US president arrived. A number of Trump supporters holding “Trump-Pence” placards stood one side of the street, while protesters with “Biden for President” signs gathered on the opposite side.

Nearer to the protesters’ side, “TRUMP KILLED HERMAN CAIN” was written on the ground in chalk.

CNN, which tallies Trump trips to his golf clubs, reported that the visit was Trump’s 283th trip to a golf course while in office and his 376th day at a Trump property.

The motorcade arrived back at the White House at 2.36pm. The president has no public events scheduled for the rest of the day (or Sunday).

Donald Trump
Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on Saturday in Potomac Falls, Virginia. The Republican-led Senate adjourned Thursday for a long weekend with no action on Covid-19 relief, all but ensuring that a $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit expired on Friday. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

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More than a thousand people showed up in downtown Portland early Saturday to peacefully protest in the wake of an announcement that the presence of federal agents in Oregon’s largest city would be reduced.

The Associated Press reports:

Friday’s overnight protest mimicked that of Thursday, which was the first time in weeks that demonstrations ended without any major confrontations, violence or arrests. The change in tone outside a federal courthouse that’s become ground zero in clashes between demonstrators and federal agents came after the US government began drawing down its forces in the liberal city under a deal between Democratic governor Kate Brown and the Trump administration.

As of midnight on Saturday, no federal agents had emerged from the courthouse, which has been the center of protests for weeks, and there was no noticeable law enforcement presence surrounding the area.

The fence that has separated protesters and U.S. agents stationed at the courthouse was decorated with balloons and upside down American flags sewn together with “BLM” painted across, an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

At one point in the night a small firework was shot over the fence. As it sizzled out on its own, protesters pleaded with others to remain peaceful. Later, a few small fires were occasionally started outside the courthouse, with at least one put out by other protesters.

Unlike previous weeks, protesters were not centered mainly outside the courthouse, but scattered throughout downtown.

Trump, who has largely hitched his political fate to his image as the “law and order president”, downplayed the withdrawal in a tweet on Friday night, insisting the Department of Homeland Security “is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”

Protests have roiled Portland for more than two months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Florida reported more than 9,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, and hospitals in the state are making preparations as Hurricane Isaias beats down on the US coast.

Cape Canaveral Hospital, which is located on a barrier island, said it had made plans before the storm hits and had moved its Covid-19 patients to other facilities before the storm hits.

Surfers have been taking advantage of waves kicked up by Hurricane Isaias
Surfers have been taking advantage of waves kicked up by Hurricane Isaias. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“[S]hould there have been an evacuation, we wanted to make sure we took every necessary precaution,” a statement from the hospital said. “As we have prepared for the storm, we have contingency plans in place to care for all of our patients during this public health crisis, keeping them as safe as possible from not only the virus but the storm.”

Meanwhile, the storm is passing over the Bahamas and the winds are picking up:

Our senior political reporter Daniel Strauss has news on why a Silicon Valley billionaire trying to get an immigration hawk elected to the US Senate:

In usually deep-red Kansas, Democrats have the luxury of a sleepy primary contest for US Senate. Republicans do not.

That’s because in the Democratic primary the Kansas state senator Barbara Bollier is the heavy favorite to win her party’s nomination and then run a competitive general election campaign fueled by a large war chest of cash.

That prospect is sharpened because Republicans are having to go through a bloody primary between the Kansas congressman Roger Marshall and former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, the immigration hardliner and former Republican nominee for governor whose unpopularity – should he win the nod – could hand the Democrats a vital Senate seat they would never normally hope to win.

Kobach’s candidacy is notable for its support from the billionaire Peter Thiel, the libertarian venture capitalist who has at times expressed the same type of hardline immigration stances as Kobach.

You can read the full story below:

There have been fears that large outdoor gatherings will spark a resurgence of Covid-19 in New York City, where thousands of people died during the early stages of the pandemic.

On Saturday, Andrew Cuomo said 34 establishments in the city were given Covid-19 related violations on Friday night, and seven had their liquor licenses revoked.

“We need the NYPD to step up and do enforcement,” Cuomo said.

There were four reported deaths from Covid-19 in New York state on Friday. More than 82,000 tests were conducted and 753 of those came back positive for the virus.

Trump impeachment witness says nation's values under threat

Lt Col Alexander Vindman, the 21-year US army veteran who reported concerns about Donald Trump’s 2019 phone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to fellow members of the National Security Council, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post condemning Donald Trump. Vindman went on to become a key figure in the president’s impeachment inquiry.

Vindman, whose family fled from the Soviet Union when he was a child said he was alarmed by Trump’s rise and tactics. He described Trump’s administration as “reminiscent of the authoritarian regime my family fled,” adding that: “At no point in my career or life have I felt our nation’s values under greater threat and in more peril than at this moment.”

Lt Colonel Alexander Vindman
Lt Colonel Alexander Vindman during a break in his testimony before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

He did however, say that he still has faith in American institutions: “During my testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, I reassured my father, who experienced Soviet authoritarianism firsthand, saying, ‘Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.’ Despite Trump’s retaliation, I stand by that conviction,” he wrote.

Vindman is retiring from the army and said he would now spend his time looking to “issue a mandate to reject hate and bigotry and a return to the ideals that set the United States apart from the rest of the world.”

• This entry was amended on 2 August 2020 because Vindman’s family fled from the Soviet Union, not to the Soviet Union as an earlier version said.

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Donald Trump has approved a declaration of emergency in Florida as Hurricane Isaias approaches. Officials in Miami have already closed beaches, marinas and parks in the city to prepare for the storm, which has emerged from the Bahamas.

Anthony Perrone pulls the hurricane shutters closed on his home as Hurricane Isaias approaches Florida
Anthony Perrone pulls the hurricane shutters closed on his home as Hurricane Isaias approaches Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population,” the White House said in a press release.

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management is also sending 10,000 items of personal protective equipment to shelters as the potential for people crowding together as the storm peaks grows. Miami hospitals, already stretched by the Covid-19 pandemic, say they have four days of emergency power should the grid go down.

ESPN reported on Friday night that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred fears the season may be in jeopardy if baseball and, by extension, Manfred himself, does not do a better job of containing Covid-19. A host of games have been wiped out in a season that has already been shortened and intensified by the pandemic. An outbreak in the Miami Marlins camp led to the postponement of their games as well as ones involving the Yankees, Phillies and Nationals. With few spare dates in the shortened calendar to make up the missed games, the future does not look bright.

Now news is emerging of an outbreak among the St Louis Cardinals. Their game against the Brewers was called off on Friday night after a number of positive tests, and ESPN reports Saturday’s game has been postponed after four more positive tests in the team.

MLB has chosen not to play its season in an “isolated bubble” as other leagues, such as MLS and the NBA have done. Those leagues are playing at Disney World in Florida, meaning teams do not have to travel as much as their counterparts in baseball do.

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Amid all the noise of an election involving Donald Trump – all the inflammatory tweets and shadowy Facebook posts – one set of ads has somehow managed to break through.

There’s the one of the US president shuffling down a ramp that declares that the president “is not well”. There’s the whispering one about Trump’s “loyalty problem” inside his White House, campaign and family.

There’s the epic Mourning in America that remakes Reagan’s election-defining 1984 ad, turning the sun-bathed suburbs into a dark national portrait of pandemic and recession. On Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, those three ads alone have racked up more than 35m views.

The Lincoln Project, run by a group of renegade Republican political consultants, has crystallized one of the core narratives of the 2020 campaign in ways that few other political commercials have in past cycles.

Its work on brutal attack ads sits alongside the swift boat veterans against John Kerry in 2004, the Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and the daisy ad against Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Their reward? Disdain from independent media, distrust across the political spectrum and a recent series of harshly negative coverage from pro-Trump media outlets.

You can read the full article below:

Coronavirus cases remain high in Florida, one of the US hotspots for the virus. On Saturday, the state’s health department reported 9,591 new cases of the disease and 179 new deaths. It is the fifth day in a row the state has reported more than 9,000 new cases, although it is down from the recent period when more than 10,000 new daily cases were regularly reported.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration says 7,942 people are currently in hospital with the virus, down from the just over 8,000 people last weekend. Florida’s department of health says 7,022 people have now died from Covid-19 in the state.

Congress still divided as extra unemployment payments end

A record-setting quarterly fall in US economic growth was announced earlier this week. The news came as another 1.43 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are far from reaching agreement about how to implement support for the unemployed. An extra $600 in benefits a week was initially given to the unemployed during the pandemic but that aid officially expired on Friday night. Around 20 million people qualified for the payments and they accounted for 15% of the nation’s wages.

Mark Meadows and Steven Mnuchin arrive at the office of Nancy Pelosi to resume talks on a Covid-19 relief bill
Mark Meadows and Steven Mnuchin arrive at the office of Nancy Pelosi to resume talks on a Covid-19 relief bill. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday in Pelosi’s office to discuss the next stage in benefits.

Pelosi said she hopes “that we make progress on a long-term deal”, while Mnuchin told reporters: “We’re just hopeful that they’re willing really to negotiate today, if they are, we’re prepared to make a deal on behalf of the American people.”

Democrats want the $600 payments to continue until January, while Republicans want to cut the installments to $200 until states set up a system that sees the unemployed get 70% of their wages before they were laid off.

The two parties are still far apart. Democrats see the $600 payments as vital for keeping families and individuals fed and housed during the pandemic, while Republicans believe they discourage people from seeking work.

On Friday, Meadows said Democrats are “playing politics at a critical time”, while Pelosi countered that Republicans are “disrespectful of the needs of America’s working families.”

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Erum Salam in Houston has news of the surge in Covid-19 cases in Texas:

An older man in an orange apron greets customers at the Home Depot in College Station, Texas. Signs serving as a reminder they are living through a pandemic are plastered on the sliding glass doors: “Face covering required.”

The reminder is much needed because to an outsider, Texas looked almost the same in July 2019 as it does in July 2020, despite Covid-19 having claimed more than 6,000 lives in the state and more than 150,000 lives in the US since March.

Customers at the home improvement store walk in wearing masks, which have become highly politicized, only to lower them below their chins to speak or remove them altogether.

In the upscale neighborhood of Montrose in Houston, the multi-story Agora coffee house is full of people hungry for coffee, pastries and conversation. It’s difficult to spot an open seat inside or outside on the patio. It’s also difficult to spot anyone wearing anything resembling a face covering.

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, caught flak for allowing the reopening of bars, restaurants, movie theaters and shopping malls back in early May. In June, he said that Texas was “wide open for business”. Now in late July, more than four months into the Covid-19 pandemic, a mandatory mask order is in place across the state – a reversal from Abbott’s initial position that the government should not infringe on personal rights by telling citizens what to do.

But, with little enforcement except by some businesses, some worry Abbott’s reversals are too little, too late. As hospitals struggle and cases mount, much of ordinary life in Texas still appears to continue as normal.

You can read the full story below:

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Donald Trump has arrived at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. It’s the 12th day he has spent golfing out of the last 36. His motorcade was booed by a group of dogwalkers, while another person held a sign up reading “We are good trouble”, a reference to congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis who died last month. A man in a “Make America Great Again” cap saluted the motorcade as it passed.

The president fired off a few tweets last night, repeating his familiar line that Covid-19 cases in the US are surging due to increased testing (which doesn’t explain the sharp rise in deaths). He also turned his attention to a familiar enemy: protesters in Portland. “Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!” he tweeted on Friday night.

And no sooner has Karen Bass emerged as a frontrunner for Biden’s vice-presidential pick than stories, probably not discouraged by her rivals, bubble to the surface. Rightwing website the Daily Caller reports that Bass praised Scientology for its “commitment…to make a difference” during the opening of a Scientology building in California in 2010.

During the ceremony Bass also praised Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard for his belief that “all people of whatever race, color or creed, are created with equal rights”.

Scientology has come under intense scrutiny after claims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse against its followers, accusations detailed in documentaries such as Going Clear by Alex Gibney, which focused on former members of the church.

The Church of Scientology denies the allegations of abuse and mistreatment among its ranks.

Good morning. As November’s election approaches speculation over who Joe Biden will pick as his running mate mounts. The presumptive Democratic candidate for president has promised he will pick a woman as his running mate and his list of candidates is beginning to narrow.

CNN reports that 11 candidates are in the running. Kamala Harris remains the oddsmakers’ favourite, and Biden was seen holding a list with her name and handwritten notes about the California senator on it.

However, in recent days, Karen Bass, congresswoman and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has emerged as a frontrunner, and Politico reports that members of Harris’s team requested a meeting with Biden after learning their candidate was not a shoo-in for the VP slot. Harris is reported to have suffered after not showing contrition for remarks she made last year that appeared to depict Biden as racially insensitive.

Biden was supposed to name his running mate next week, but Politico reports the selection is now more likely to be announced in mid-August.

Other names in the running who have been vetted by Biden’s team include Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth; Florida congresswoman Val Demings; Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; and governors Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a Biden supporter, told CNN that Bass is seen as a safer choice than Harris.

“Kamala can rub some people the wrong way. Karen Bass is not likely to do that,” Rendell said. “The number one rule for picking the VP? Do no harm.”

One outside candidate gaining some momentum is Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser. Although she lacks the campaigning experience of Bass and Harris, she worked with Biden during his own time as vice-president and has vast experience in global relations, which could prove invaluable during a time of turmoil around the world.

“If there ever was a time to pick someone without campaign experience, this would be the year,” a former member of Obama’s administration who has worked closely with Rice told CNN. “Susan would be the best governing partner.”

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