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America's debate calendar may be due for an overhaul

Updated 4:53 PM ET, Wed September 16, 2020

Editor's Note: This was excerpted from the September 16 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN) - Donald Trump has a point.

Most of the President's claims about a rigged election and mass vote dumping are false and dangerous. But he's also been stewing for weeks over the date of his first debate clash with Democratic nominee Joe Biden: September 29.

The debate could be the most crucial game-changing moment left in Trump's reelection battle. And he thinks it should happen earlier, since some states — including key battlegrounds — allow in-person early voting, absentee and mail-in balloting weeks ahead of the official election date.

The truth about Election Day in the United States is that it's actually a whole season. Seven weeks out, voters in North Carolina can already mail in their ballots. And Michigan, a crucial swing state prize, allows voting five days before the first debate.

Of course, Trump has other motives. Trailing in the race, he needs as much time as possible to slow Biden's momentum. He is also seizing on anything that makes the election seem stacked against him.

Americans champing at the bit to vote early seem unlikely to be swayed either way by the first Trump-Biden onstage showdown. And no one is forcing anyone to cast an early vote. But it's undeniable that voting in the United States has been transformed over recent elections -- especially amid the pandemic, as Americans use mail-in voting to avoid crowded polling stations.

Our debate calendar was created back when everyone flocked to vote on the same day. It may well be due for an overhaul.

'Tell me how much confidence you have in each leader to do the right thing regarding world affairs'

That's one question Pew Research Center posed to more than 13,000 adults in the world's biggest economies, comparing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and of course Trump. The results were not flattering to the White House -- Trump was overall rated less trustworthy than any of the other choices. (Merkel inspired the most trust, and the global public was nearly evenly split on Johnson.)

Nouvelle Vague

Americans have had no summer respite from the coronavirus, unlike citizens in other wealthy nations. Now, news of a second wave across the Atlantic suggests that more misery could be in store this fall. CNN's Melissa Bell writes from Paris:

For months, French authorities warned of "une deuxieme vague." Now that the daily rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases is well above anything recorded before, the expression is being avoided altogether.

Naming the resurgence of the coronavirus here would seem somehow to make it more real. Hospitalization numbers have not been rising as fast this time as they did in the spring, but that may change with some ICUs nearing capacity after the young -- who threw caution to the wind as lockdowns ended and summer holidays began -- passed the virus on to their older relatives.

As a result, authorities in hard-hit areas like Marseille, Bordeaux and Paris are warning against family gatherings, such as weddings and birthday parties, where generations tend to mix. The aim is to avoid a second general lockdown that the French economy can ill afford. The consequence is the winding down of French life as we know it.

This year's lockdown, mandatory masks and global travel restrictions had already made Paris a far less gay city than it once was. Its palace hotels are only timidly reopening; its luxury shops, largely deserted; its monuments and museums, eerily quiet. The kisses and handshakes once shared whenever two French people met have given way to an awkward and very foreign tilt of the head. Now, even life's little celebrations are being threatened with cancellation.

Back in March, the French looked on in horror as the first wave made funerals and traditional death rituals impossible. Little did they know how much of life as they knew it would vanish with the second.

The Abraham Accords

Trump got his White House signing ceremony on Tuesday -- bolstering his claims to be a great peacemaker and dealmaker 49 days before the election. The administration does deserve credit for brokering diplomatic normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, as well as between Israel and Bahrain. Yet the pacts are also a sign of changing geopolitical dynamics in the region. A perceived threat from Shiite Iran may have caused Sunni-led states to consider their common interests with Israel -- and therefore cement new Middle East divides.

Several caveats suggest that Trump's South Lawn ceremony is not quite in the league of those of years past. First, it's unclear what price the administration paid to line up a preelection win for the President. But his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hinted strongly on CNN that the US will send F-35 fighter jets to the UAE over Israel's objections. Second, Tuesday's accords actually cover up the administration's failure to achieve Kushner's planned Israel-Palestinian peace. And the President's claim that Palestinians are pining to get onboard with his team's hardline offers requires a large pinch of salt.

Then-President Jimmy Carter with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin went for a three-way handshake in 1979 after signing a peace treaty.

Then-President Bill Clinton convening Jordan's King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake over the Washington Declaration in 1994.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani signed the Abraham Accords on Tuesday.

'They haven't gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops'

HHS spokesman Michael Caputo apologized to agency staff on Tuesday after unleashing an extraordinary rant about scientists and the coronavirus in a personal Facebook Live video over the weekend. In it, he baselessly claimed that CDC scientists "haven't gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops" to plot "how they're going to attack Donald Trump next." A source familiar with the matter said Caputo portrayed himself as a victim in his apology but expressed regret for putting HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a bad light.


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