Biden Pushes For Unity Two Days Before Taking Over Crisis-Laden White House

President-elect Joe Biden introduces key foreign policy and national security nominees and appointments at the Queen Theatre on November 24, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP
Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP

 

Just 48 hours before becoming president, Joe Biden pressed Monday for unity, while President Donald Trump remained secluded in the White House at the center of a capital inundated with troops and security barriers.

Biden was marking the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with a trip from his home in Delaware to Philadelphia to perform community service — a gesture symbolizing his call for Americans to come together after four divisive years.

“Service is a fitting way to start to heal, unite, and rebuild this country we love,” Biden said in a video marking the occasion.

But the 78-year-old Democrat’s fervent appeals for optimism and healing — which are also set to dominate his inauguration ceremony at noon on Wednesday — are running up against the hard reality of multiple crises.

Covid-19 is out of control, vaccine distribution is stumbling, and economic recovery remains in the balance.

READ ALSO: 108-Year-Old Italian Woman Receives COVID-19 Vaccine

And after Trump refused for more than two months to accept the results of November’s presidential election the country is seething with division and anger. When Biden takes the oath of office at noon on Wednesday, he will face a city under the protection of 20,000 National Guard soldiers.

Checkpoints and large zones closed to ordinary citizens mean there will be only a smattering of guests. Similar lockdowns have been imposed at state capitol buildings around the country where local authorities fear provocations from right-wing groups ahead of the inauguration.

A brief security scare on Monday near Congress sparked an evacuation of the site where Biden will take the oath.

– Trump mulls pardons –

Trump, who has still not congratulated Biden or invited him for the traditional tea visit in the Oval Office, has been largely out of the public eye since his supporters rampaged through Congress on January 6, triggering his historic second impeachment a week later.

According to US media, one of Trump’s final actions could be announced Tuesday at the latest: scores of pardons for convicted criminals.

Speculation is mounting over whether Trump will take the unprecedented and legally murky step of issuing himself and his children, who work as campaign and White House advisors, preemptive pardons.

According to CNN and other outlets, Trump has a list of about 100 people he will grant clemency.

After what The New York Times reports has been an intense lobbying effort, these are expected to be a mix of white collar criminals and people whose cases have been championed by criminal justice activists.

More controversial possible pardons that have been the subject of speculation for months would be for the likes of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Trump’s influential advisor Stephen Bannon.

If Trump gave himself or his children a pardon — something currently not expected, according to latest US reports — that would ensure a politically explosive finale to one of the most polarizing presidencies in US history.

A self pardon might also harden anger at Trump among Republicans in the Senate, which is expected to start an impeachment trial soon.

– Inauguration snub –

Trump, the first president to lose reelection since George H.W. Bush was replaced by Bill Clinton, is skipping Biden’s inauguration — the first ex-president to snub his successor in a century and a half.

On Wednesday, he’ll travel to his Mar-a-Lago golf club residence in Florida, departing the White House early in order to benefit from full presidential travel privileges up to the last minute.

Marine One will take him from the White House to Joint Base Andrews to catch Air Force One — the presidential plane that will no longer be his to use from noon.

According to a Bloomberg report, Trump is organizing a military style sendoff for himself at Andrews.

AFP

US Democrats Begin Process To Impeach Trump

Republican and Democrats clap as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) commends Capitol Police and law enforcement for their work after Pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the Capitol in the House chamber on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pool/Getty Images/AFP
Republican and Democrats clap as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) commends Capitol Police and law enforcement for their work after Pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the Capitol in the House chamber on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

US Democrats began the process Monday of impeaching President Donald Trump for a historic second time, accusing him of “incitement of insurrection” over his supporters’ deadly storming of the US Capitol.

The move — which threatens to torpedo the single-term president’s future political ambitions — could make for a frenetic culmination of four years of controversy ahead of Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration.

Democrats introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet to remove Trump — who has been absent from the public spotlight for days — as unfit for office under the Constitution’s 25th amendment.

But Republicans blocked an immediate adoption of the resolution, forcing a vote, and Democrats followed up by introducing an article of impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection”.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi hit out at House Republicans, accusing them of enabling Trump’s “unhinged, unstable and deranged acts of sedition to continue.”

READ ALSO: Trump Twitter Ban Problematic, Says Merkel

“Their complicity endangers America, erodes our Democracy, and it must end,” she said in a statement.

Pelosi said the House would vote Tuesday on the demand for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, and would give him 24 hours to respond.

After that, she said, Democrats would move forward with bringing impeachment legislation to the floor.

Trump has been largely silent in recent days — making few statements and holding no news conferences. Twitter, his favored public platform, has banned him for language that could incite violence.

He plans to travel to Texas on Tuesday in one of his final trips as president, reportedly to claim success in delivering on his pledge to build a border wall to keep immigrants from Mexico out of the US.

As Democrats began to act, the US Capitol building was open to lawmakers and staff but under tight security and ringed by a metal fence after Wednesday’s assault by Trump supporters that left five people dead.

– Historic second impeachment –

Inside, some windows and doors that were broken and breached by rioters remained boarded up with plywood, while reinforced glass on the outside doors near the Rotunda bore cracks from repeated battering.

The attack on Congress shook the core of American democracy and drew international condemnation. It has ignited a new effort to remove Trump, who is accused of whipping up the mob into storming the capitol where lawmakers were certifying Biden’s November 3 win.

Trump was already impeached once by the Democratic-controlled House in December 2019 for pressuring the Ukrainian president to dig up political dirt on Biden.

He was acquitted by the Republican-majority Senate.

If the House again votes to impeach, Trump would be the first US leader to be formally charged for a second time with “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Even with time running short, Democrats likely have the votes in the House to impeach Trump again and Congressman David Cicilline, who introduced the resolution, told reporters afterward he expects it will find Republican backing.

“This was an attempted coup, to overthrow the government, and we have a responsibility as Congress to respond to that,” said Cicilline.

But although two Republican Senators — Pat Toomey and Lisa Murkowski — have urged Trump to resign, Democrats are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump in the 100-member Senate and remove him from office.

– ‘Attempted coup’ –

The impeachment effort is nevertheless seen by Democrats as worthwhile.

Although any conviction would likely occur after Trump has already left office, it would lead to a secondary vote on banning Trump, who is thought to be considering a run in 2024, from holding federal public office again.

Authorities are still seeking to arrest more Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol following a rally by the president repeating false claims that he had lost the election to Biden due to fraud.

Capitol security has been stepped up and Trump supporters have threatened new action in coming days both in Washington and state capitol buildings.

Senate rules mean the upper chamber would likely be unable to open an impeachment trial before January 19.

Some Democrats, for their part, have expressed concern that a Senate trial would overshadow and hamper Biden’s efforts to quickly lay out his agenda, starting with the fight against the coronavirus and the need to support the economy.

AFP

Cyprus Leader Ready To Attend UN Meet On Ending Deadlock

A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government’s Press and Information Office (PIO) on January 11, 2021, shows UN Special Envoy Jane Holl Lute (R) meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades (L) and ministers at the presidential palace in the capital Nicosia. (Photo by Stavros IOANNIDES / PIO / AFP)

 

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told a UN envoy Monday he is ready to attend an informal conference involving Britain, Greece and Turkey to end a deadlock in peace talks, officials said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta then in power in Athens aimed at annexing the island to Greece.

There have been no official UN-sponsored negotiations on the island’s future since a conference in Switzerland –- also involving Britain, Greece, and Turkey –- collapsed in July 2017.

UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, on her second visit to Cyprus since December, held talks on Monday with Anastasiades before crossing the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

READ ALSO: Pakistan Suspends Power Plant Staff After Nationwide Blackout

“During the meeting, the President of the Republic expressed his readiness to participate in the informal five-party meeting,” Cyprus government spokesperson Kyriacos Koushios said.

“He also expressed his expectation that the… meeting will lead to a substantial resumption of talks, with the aim of reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he told reporters.

Lute had told Anastasiades that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres intended to convene a five-party conference in February.

Guterres is hoping to get the three governments more involved to build momentum.

In a report to the UN Security Council this month, Guterres said the parties had expressed a willingness to attend an informal conference under his auspices.

“I intend to invite the sides and the guarantor powers to this informal meeting as soon as practicable in 2021,” Guterres said.

Guterres also acknowledged “scepticism” on the prospects of peace talks resuming has risen on both sides of the divided island.

In November, rival Cypriot leaders held a “break-the-ice” meeting at which they promised to back a UN-led peace push involving the outside powers.

It was their first and only meeting since the Ankara-backed Tatar was elected leader of the breakaway north in October.

Tatar was elected on a hardline platform of seeking a two-state solution for Cyprus, rather than a bi-communal federation.

The two men have acknowledged their positions on the way forward are “far apart”.

Britain, Greece and Turkey act as guarantors of the island’s sovereignty under the treaty that gave Cyprus independence from British rule in 1960.

Indonesia’s President To Receive Country’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Shot

 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Wednesday he would be the first person in the country to be vaccinated for Covid-19 as he unveiled a campaign promising free inoculations for everyone in world’s fourth most-populous nation.

Widodo’s announcement comes as Indonesia battles misinformation over the virus in order to stave off a fresh wave of infections, with some 630,000 recorded by Wednesday and more than 19,000 deaths.

“The Covid-19 vaccine for all citizens will be FREE,” Widodo said in a video on his Twitter account.

The government originally said only health workers, the elderly and other key personnel would be given the vaccine for free.

Widodo did not say when he would take the vaccine, or when the national inoculation program would start.

But said he was happy to be the first to be inoculated in order to prove it was safe.

READ ALSO: WHO Urges Use Of Masks During Christmas Celebration

“There’s no reason people shouldn’t get the vaccine or doubt its safety,” he added.

Indonesia has signed deals for more than 350 million vaccine doses from various international pharmaceutical companies — including British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Chinese suppliers Sinovac.

The current vaccine deals do not, however, provide enough doses for the required two per person that would cover Indonesia’s entire 270-million population.

The country received its first delivery of 1.2 million Sinovac doses this month, with another 1.8 million to arrive in January.

South Africa’s Ramaphosa To Face First No-Confidence Motion

Cyril Ramaphosa delivers a speech during his inauguration as South African President, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, on May 25, 2019.
File photo: Cyril Ramaphosa delivers a speech during his inauguration as South African President, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, on May 25, 2019.

 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces a no-confidence motion next week, a parliament official said Thursday, his first since taking power nearly three years ago.

A small opposition party, the African Transformation Movement (ATM), which has just two seats in the 400-member National Assembly, filed a request with the speaker in February for a no-confidence debate.

“The speaker has approved that request, and our recommendation is that it be dealt with next Thursday,” Masibulele Xaso, secretary to the National Assembly, told the parliament’s programming committee.

The ATM, which was formed in 2018 after ex-president Jacob Zuma’s forced resignation, submitted a motion alleging that Ramaphosa was unfit to hold office.

When the party requested the debate, its leader, Vuyolwethu Zungula, said many people believed South Africa “has been on a slippery slope ever since President Ramaphosa occupied the highest office in the land.”

A no-confidence vote requires a simple majority of 201 votes to pass, but Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) holds 230 seats, and the motion stands little chance of success.

Ramaphosa became president in February 2018 after Zuma was forced to step down amid growing corruption scandals. The following year he won a popular mandate following general elections.

AFP

Burkina Faso Incumbent Kabore Wins Presidential Election

Burkina Faso’s President and presidential candidate Roch Marc Christian Kabore (2nd R) speaks to reporters after voting at a polling station in Ouagadougou on November 22, 2020, during Burkina Faso’s presidential and legislative elections. (Photo by Issouf SANOGO / AFP)

 

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore has won a second term after gaining an outright majority in the first round of elections, the country’s electoral board announced Thursday.

“Mr Kabore… with 57.87 percent of the vote, is provisionally elected president of (Burkina) Faso in the first round,” said Newton Ahmed Barry, head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

Eddie Komboigo, the candidate of a once-ruling party, came second in Sunday’s vote with 15.48 percent of the ballot, followed by Zephirin Diabre, considered by pundits to be the best-placed opposition hopeful, with 12.46 percent.

Kabore, 63, has been under fire for his response to a five-year-old jihadist insurgency that has rolled in from Mali.

But he was the favourite and by winning an overall majority in the first round he avoids a runoff vote in which he would have had to stand against a single candidate backed by a united opposition.

The elections on Sunday were for Burkina’s legislature as well as its presidency, where executive power in the former French colony is concentrated.

The paramount court, the Constitutional Council, has a week in which to confirm the outcome.

One of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso is struggling with a jihadist campaign that has claimed at least 1,200 lives since 2015 and forced around a million people to flee their homes.

Opposition parties say the vote was marked by fraud and flawed procedures, threatening to reject “results stained by irregularities.”

Their complaints include polling stations that either did not open or opened late, insecure handling of ballot boxes and arbitrary changes to voting areas.

Because of the unrest, the election was not held across at least one-fifth of the territory, denying up to 350,000 people the right to vote, according to CENI’s figures.

Pro-Kabore parties on Tuesday argued that all candidates were equally affected by the problems and that in any case these were not on a scale to have any major impact on the result.

AFP

Buhari Receives UN Deputy Secretary-General, Asks Youths To Keep The Peace

We Will Surely Leave A Better Nigeria For Future Generations – Buhari
(File) President Muhammadu Buhari speaks in Abuja

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has asked Nigerian youths to keep the peace, saying that it is in their own interest to do so.

The President made the call on Monday while receiving the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and ex-Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed at the State House in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

“It is in the interest of the youths to keep the peace. They want jobs, infrastructure and development,” President Buhari said.

“I have sent a team led by the Chief of Staff (Professor Ibrahim Gambari) to go round the country, talk to traditional rulers, who will then talk to the youths. The views of the youths have been heard.”

Reacting to the recent #EndSARS protest that led to the destruction of lives and properties in the country, President Buhari said: “Our own generation is on the last lap, we are exiting.”

While noting that the current administration inherited severe infrastructural deficits, Buhari explained that the Federal Government is doing its best within the available limited resources on the ground.

He also lamented the devastating effect of COVID-19 on the global economy, adding that the pandemic has destroyed lives and livelihoods around the world.

On climate change, President Buhari said Nigeria was concerned about the recharge of the Lake Chad, which has great implications on security, irregular migration, and livelihoods.

On her part, the Deputy Secretary-General said she was on a courtesy call with her team over challenges that concern the UN, particularly COVID-19, climate change, security, and humanitarian responses to the diverse challenges.

Bartomeu Announces His Resignation As Barcelona President

File photo of Barcelona President, Josep Maria Bartomeu.                           Photo: Wikimedia

 

Josep Maria Bartomeu on Tuesday announced his resignation as Barcelona president.

He disclosed this during a press conference in Barcelona, Spain.

“Good evening members of the club, I am here today to say that I resign, and also the board members,” he said.

“That’s the decision I’ve been thinking a lot and we are all in the same direction and we have decided that should resign after a lot of years of confidence.

“This morning we received the answer of the Catalan government after the letter we sent to them yesterday, the answer has been clear.”

Bartomeu’s departure comes following mounting pressure from fans and his public falling out with Lionel Messi.

His resignation could even affect the future of Messi, who will now be given a new project after the Argentinian tried to leave in August, citing a lack of direction at the club.

“I want to communicate my resignation along with the rest of the board,” said Bartomeu in a official announcement. “It’s a composed and relaxed decision, agreed with all my fellow directors.”

However, it was his revelation about a Super League which seems certain to make the biggest waves beyond Catalonia.

Bartomeu said he accepted a proposal on Monday for Barcelona to play in “a future European Super League” which “would guarantee the financial stability of the club”.

An election for Bartomeu’s successor will take place within the next three months, although it is expected to happen sooner, while an interim board will be put in charge in the meantime.

Bartomeu will go down as arguably the worst president in Barcelona’s history. His six-year tenure saw a dramatic decline in the performances of the team and he oversaw Messi, the club’s greatest ever player, trying to leave the club for free.

His resignation means avoiding a vote of no confidence, which had been triggered after more than 20,000 Barcelona members signed a petition for him to be removed following a nightmare period on and off the pitch.

Attempts to delay the vote, including citing an investigation into false signatures and problems caused by coronavirus, were rejected by the local government in Catalonia, with Bartomeu finally quitting on Tuesday night following a board meeting.

A series of political blunders had long caused a rift between the board and senior players, before Barca ended last season with a humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Messi then shocked the world of football by informing the club he wanted to depart and while he was forced to admit defeat, he did so by making clear his anger towards Bartomeu, in an explosive interview with Goal.

“He didn’t end up keeping his word”, said Messi, who added: “It has been a long time since there has been a project or anything at all. They are always juggling and plugging gaps.”

Victor Font and Joan Laporta are among the candidates expected to run to be Bartomeu’s successor.

Font has attached his campaign to the appointment of former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez as coach while Laporta was previously president during the golden era under Pep Guardiola.

AFP

Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Next Presidential Debate

US President Donald Trump gives two thumbs up from the Truman Balcony upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for Covid-19, in Washington, DC, on October 5, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP).

 

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the next debate against his Democratic challenger Joe Biden to go ahead despite his bout of coronavirus.

“I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!” Trump tweeted.

The debate, which will be in a town hall format with audience members putting questions to the candidates, has been thrown into doubt after Trump’s hospitalization last Friday with the coronavirus.

He was discharged Monday and declared himself on Tuesday via Twitter to be “FEELING GREAT!”

If Trump’s health does hold up and the debate goes ahead it will mark one of the last set piece events before the November 3 election where Trump has a chance to try and turn around his seeming slide to defeat.

Polls consistently show him behind Biden and their first debate on September 29, which immediately descended into an ugly shouting match, shows no sign of having improved Trump’s standing with voters.

A third and final debate is scheduled for October 22 in Nashville.

On Wednesday, Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence hold their sole debate in Utah.

Pence has tested negative for coronavirus, but given Trump’s illness and a widespread outbreak in the White House, they will be separated by a plexiglass barrier.

AFP

Biden Urges Pressure On Turkey Over Greece Tensions

emocratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Hotel Du Pont March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Health officials say 11,000 people have been tested for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP.

 

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden called Tuesday for US pressure on Turkey to reduce tensions with Greece, after his previous criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused a stir.

The former vice president, who leads President Donald Trump in polls ahead of the November 3 election, applauded efforts by Greece and Turkey to ease friction through talks.

“The Trump administration must press Turkey to refrain from any further provocative actions in the region against Greece, including threats of force, to create the space for diplomacy to succeed,” Biden said in a statement.

Tensions soared between the NATO allies after Turkey in August sent a vessel backed by military frigates to hunt for oil and gas reserves in waters claimed by Greece, which responded with naval exercises.

Turkey recently condemned Biden after he called Erdogan an “autocrat,” saying in a New York Times interview that the United States should “embolden” rivals to defeat him, although “not by a coup.”

Trump has developed a warm relationship with Erdogan, who has been Turkey’s pre-eminent leader since 2003, although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week also showed support for Greece on a visit.

In his latest statement, Biden also called on Erdogan to reverse his decision to convert Istanbul’s Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying the former cathedral should remain a museum with “equal access for all, including the Orthodox faithful.”

The State Department voiced disappointment after Turkey made the change in July, although the US ambassador visited Hagia Sophia soon afterward.

AFP

Putin Says Belarus Facing ‘Unprecedented External Pressure’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.
File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that neighbouring Belarus was under unprecedented external pressure, as the Kremlin’s ex-Soviet ally faces a deep political crisis over a disputed election.

Belarus is in a “difficult situation” and facing “unprecedented external pressure”, Putin said in televised remarks, after a presidential vote last month sparked ongoing protests against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Belarusian cities since Lukashenko claimed a sixth term with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9 election.

Putin has promised to provide the 66-year-old strongman with security assistance if the political crisis worsens and gave Belarus a loan of $1.5 billion.

Lukashenko has accused various Western countries and NATO of attempting to destabilise his country or support the protest movement.

Addressing a forum on the Belarusian and Russian regions, the Kremlin chief said that Moscow was ready to stand by Minsk, describing ties as “timeless and all-weather”.

Lukashenko’s relationship with Putin was strained ahead of the vote last month with Minsk accusing Russia of dispatching mercenaries to plot unrest with the opposition.

Putin has long been pushing for even closer integration between the two countries, whose “union state” alliance guarantees close military and economic ties.

European leaders have refused to recognise Lukashenko’s relection and have promised sanctions on Belarus for vote rigging and a fierce crackdown on post-election protests.

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who claimed victory over Lukashenko in the August vote has rallied Western support for demonstrators since fleeing to neighbouring Lithuania.

AFP

Trump, Biden Head Into First Debate With Presidency On The Line

This combination of file photos shows US President Donald Trump(L) speaking to the media prior to departing from the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2020, and Democratic presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden at a Nevada Caucus watch party on February 22, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the Nevada caucuses. SAUL LOEB, Ronda Churchill / AFP

 

There’ll be no handshake, but venom to spare when President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden meet in Cleveland on Tuesday for the first of three televised debates that could shake up an already volatile race for the White House.

COVID-19 restrictions will give the debate moderated by Fox News star Chris Wallace a streamlined look with a smaller audience. Naturally, there won’t be the once standard — even if occasionally forced — show of goodwill in shaking hands as the rivals go on stage.

What the 90-minute clash will have is a chance for Americans finally to see Trump, 74, and Biden, 77, go head to head.

With Trump claiming Biden is virtually brain dead — “Biden doesn’t know he’s alive” — and Biden branding the president “a toxic presence,” it won’t be for the faint hearted.

Significantly behind in the polls, Trump is in fighting mode, embarking on an endurance-testing schedule of rallies in key battlegrounds several times a week.

Biden, though, comes hoping to press his advantage.

And he arrives aided by The New York Times’ publication of a report purporting to reveal the contents of Trump’s deeply secret tax returns — finding that the self-proclaimed billionaire and champion of the working class avoids paying almost all federal income taxes.

– Hard and low –

Trump, who fancies his skills as a verbal pugilist, is expected to hit hard and low.

For months he has painted Biden as senile. As the debate approached he increasingly focused on his claim that Biden takes performance enhancing drugs.

Biden has laughed off the suggestion, but Trump, a past master at getting slurs to stick to his opponents, is doubling down.

“Joe Biden just announced that he will not agree to a Drug Test. Gee, I wonder why?” Trump tweeted Monday.

Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield responded in kind, saying that if Trump wants the debate to be conducted through “urine” samples, “he can.”

Trump, arguably, has little to lose. His hardcore support is already baked in and Americans are by now almost incapable of feeling shocked by his convention-wrecking style.

He also goes to Cleveland with what he hopes will be his own silver bullet — the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

If Barrett is quickly confirmed, as the Republican-led Senate expects, Trump will have managed to tilt the highest court firmly to the right for years to come.

Democrats are crying foul over the rushed timing on the eve of an election, but Trump expects the power play to energize many conservatives.

– Blue collar boast –

The president is sure to go heavy on previous claims that Biden’s son was involved in corruption in Ukraine. Last year Trump was impeached for using the power of his office to try and pressure the Ukrainian government into publicly backing that theory.

Biden, as frontrunner, wants to stay steady, but he has a reputation for losing his cool when challenged in public.

“I hope I don’t get baited into a brawl with this guy, because that’s the only place he’s comfortable,” he said.

Biden will instead aim to keep his sights trained on the coronavirus pandemic, which polls show about two thirds of Americans say Trump handled badly.

He will also shoot back at the filling of the Supreme Court seat, saying that Trump’s plan is for the court to restrict abortion and reverse the Obamacare health program — two areas that could worry swing voters.

But the most fiery moments may come when Biden himself gets personal, painting Trump as a spoiled playboy who only poses as a friend of the white working class that helped him get elected in 2016.

Biden, who spent his early childhood in the rough-edged town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is increasingly mocking Trump’s glitzy New York roots, calling it a “Scranton vs Park Avenue” election.

Trump points out that Biden only lived in Scranton as a young boy and spent most of his life in Congress. But the Times report on the president’s ability to avoid almost all federal income taxes will give Biden a trove of new ammunition.

AFP