FDA to furlough more workers to fund review of new treatments

Jan. 18 (UPI) — WASHINGTON — The longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history continues to disrupt the Food and Drug Administration‘s oversight of potentially life-saving drugs such as allergy medication.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted Friday the agency will have to furlough more workers to stockpile money for the review of new medications.

“As review workload declines, because we’re not receiving new applications, we’ll have to furlough more people who are in user-fee slots,” Gottlieb wrote.

There are new medications in the pipeline that could save people’s lives, such as generic epinephrine auto-injectors.

Advocacy groups like Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, or the AAFA, are looking out for patients as the shutdown affects the availability of new allergy medicines.

Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the AAFA, said the shutdown hinders the FDA’s oversight of the shortage of epinephrine auto-injectors.

“I don’t know how the shutdown of government might affect the release of some of those generic auto injectors because that seems to be slowing down as well within the FDA,” Mendez said.

In May 2018, the FDA first reported the shortage of epinephrine auto-injectors, which are manufactured by Meridian Medical Technologies, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Andrew Powaleny, a spokesperson for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the organization supports using FDA user fees to fund necessary programs during the shutdown. Under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, the FDA collects fees from drug manufacturers to pay for the approval of new medications.

If the shutdown continues past Feb. 8, the FDA will run out of user fees and cannot collect new fees from drug companies during the shutdown.

“As an innovative industry, our companies depend on certainty and predictability to bring tomorrow’s treatments and cures to patients,” Powaleny said. “We support FDA using its existing authority to deploy user fee funds to continue to review applications.”

The issue first became widely public when Aimmune, a biotechnology company, filed a Securities and Exchange Commission report this week saying the shutdown caused the FDA to not review its new peanut allergy medication.

Without naming them directly, Gottlieb disputed Aimmune’s claim in a tweet the day following the filing.

“As challenges grow, I fear we’ll see more parties inadvertently or deliberately blame the shutdown,” Gottlieb wrote.

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 over a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over funding the president’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Published in conjunction with UPI Logo

FDA resumes some inspections as workers return — without pay

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The Food and Drug Administration has resumed inspections of some high-risk foods, like cheese and milk, with inspectors returning to work without pay during the government shutdown.

Other popular foods, like cake mix, peanut butter, and crackers, are still not being inspected, as the shutdown continues in its fourth week.

FDA watchdog groups have expressed concerns about food and drug safety, such as food-borne illness.

Sarah Sorscher, a regulatory expert at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, “We don’t ever want people to be afraid of what they eat, but as this shutdown continues, this risk is going to get higher. ”

In pointing out ways the shutdown has impacted regular FDA activities, Sorscher pointed to warning letters. The FDA posts these letters, written to companies violating FDA policies, online to inform the public of risks related to food or drugs that were found to be problematic through inspection.

At this time last year, 29 warning letters were posted on the FDA website. Since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, the FDA has not posted any warning letters.

With a furloughed communications office, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has been communicating with the public via Twitter, posting frequent updates about food inspections.

Gottlieb said hundreds of furloughed workers were coming back to the office to inspect high-risk food and medical products.

“About 400 total staff are being engaged in this mobilization. The vast majority are inspectors and others are professionals who work in support inspectors,” Gottlieb wrote.

Sorscher emphasized the importance of inspectors’ work, looking for feces and disease in the foods that people eat daily.

“They’re looking out for sources of contamination that could make us sick,” Sorscher said. “We really want them to be able to focus on their work and not be stressed out about covering the bills at home or putting food on the table for their own families.”

The shutdown is a result of a budget impasse between Congress and President Donald Trump over funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the funding for the Department of Agriculture and the FDA. His office said the FDA is looking into all options to mitigate the shutdown’s impact.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., ranking member of the subcommittee, said, “President Trump and GOP leaders are holding the government hostage at the expense of working families’ financial security, safety, and health. The FDA’s oversight of food and drugs ensures Americans have access to safe medications and groceries.”

Published in conjunction with UPI Logo

US House Democratic Leaders Make Good on Promised Gun Control Legislation

By Jessica Floyd, Daniel Grimes and Beverly Banks

WASHINGTON — Democratic House leaders attempted this week to shift focus from the shutdown and the related border wall dispute in order to draw attention to popular gun legislation, which pollsters and party strategists contend played a role in their midterm victory.

“With the youth vote and the Parkland Shooting, that’s a base that the Democrats want to hold together and want to move forward on that issue,” said pollster Spencer Kimball, director of the Emerson College Polling Society.

According to an October 2018 Gallup poll, 92 percent of Americans support requiring background checks for all gun sales.

At the start of the new Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced her intention to balance between churning out campaign-promised legislation and the politics of divided government in the Trump era.

Democratic lawmakers held a press conference held on Tuesday, January 8, to tout the legislation, which would require universal background checks for all gun sales, and marked the eighth anniversary of former Rep. Gabby Giffords’s shooting.

Democratic lawmakers campaigned on gun control policy as a priority for the majority of Americans.

The bill’s sponsor Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California, pointed to the midterm results on Tuesday.

“From the public polling to the ballot box, the American people have spoken up and demanded action to help end the tragedy of gun violence that far too many in our country face every day. We will continue our fight and we will deliver,” Thompson said.

Giffords joined her former House colleagues, Pelosi and Thompson at Tuesday’s event.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right,” Giffords said. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line, now is the time to come together. Be responsible.”

Though no Republicans attended the event, five Republicans are credited as co-writing the legislation along with Thompson (and four Democratic lawmakers). Thompson said the legislation is likely to advance with the Democratic majority in the House. GOP Reps. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., Brian Mast, R-Fla., Fred Upton, R-Mich., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., co-wrote the measure.

Spencer says that in the short term the legislation may gain momentum but face obstacles in the Republican-controlled Senate. “In the long term, what does the opposition do? Are they just going to sit idly by or are they going to come out? Does the NRA come out and spend more money on elections?” Kimball said.

Mother of a gun violence victim and newly-sworn in Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a co-authored the bill, defeated an NRA top rated Republican incumbent in part on a campaign that emphasized firearm sale background checks.

“Seven years ago my son, Jordan, was violently torn from my life, a victim of a gun in the wrong hands,” McBath said. “Today, I join my colleagues and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords to prevent more families from facing the horror and heartbreak that is brought on by gun violence.”

Part of McBath’s gun safety platform included laws that require background checks for all gun sales. In addition to McBath’s race, public opinion in favor of stricter gun control contributed to other Democratic House victories. According to the Brady Campaign, Democrats defeated 30 House Republicans with “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association lost elections.

Bipartisan Bill Graphic Final.jpg

The battle for the legislation is likely to occur in the Senate, where Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and 40 other Democratic senators also introduced legislation tied to the anniversary on Tuesday that would require background checks for gun sales.

“We’re now at a tipping point — on the cusp of breaking the grip of the NRA and special interests who are in the way of reasonable reforms,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Beginning with background checks, we must seize this historic opportunity to move forward on common sense gun safety measures.”

The Senate bill includes exemptions for transfers between law enforcement officers, temporarily and loaning firearms for hunting and sporting events. The measure also addresses exemptions for providing firearms as gifts to immediate family members and transferring a firearm as part of an inheritance. The legislation also permits elf-dense through the temporary transfer of a firearm.

“Voters stood up this fall and made it clear they want Congress to do more to keep our kids safe from gun violence. We need to listen to them and pass our bill to save lives,” Murphy said.

Published in conjunction with  Illinois-Channel-Logo-Retina-300x126.jpg

In West Virginia: More Jobs, Fewer People

 

WEST VIRGINIA’S employment numbers have risen thanks to more coal, natural gas and construction projects, but young people say they need more diverse career options in order to stay in the state.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on employment and unemployment data, West Virginia has experienced steady increases in employment in construction, manufacturing and trade. But employment gains in business, education and finance have remained stagnant, and the lack of career diversity is one reason why the state’s population is dropping.

Spenser Wempe, 26, was born in Shepherdstown, attended West Virginia University, represented the state in 2011 as Miss West Virginia and has the state’s motto, “Montani Semper Liberi” (“Mountaineers Are Always Free”) tattooed on her arm. Still, she left for Washington, D.C., earlier this year, a move she says was “more of a necessity than a desire.”

“The industries that have thrived in the state are not necessarily the ones I find myself in,” said Wempe, who works as the communications director for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a nonprofit that supports infrastructure projects in rural communities across the U.S. “I think if we want to see long-term success for the state of West Virginia that really means diversification.”

West Virginia has experienced steady declines in population since 2012. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual estimate of the resident population in 2017 was 1,815,857 — almost 40,000 fewer people than five years earlier. The number of residents age 18 to 24 declined from 171,866 in 2012 to 158,605 in 2017, the census data show – a 7.9 percent drop.

Dr. Unk Christiadi, a research associate with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research noted a few counties in the Eastern panhandle — such as BerkeleyJeffersonMorgan and Hampshire — have witnessed population increases because residents are moving there and commuting to the Washington, D.C. area for work. But the rest of the state is still experiencing a decline.

“In 2017 about 80 percent of the counties saw a decline in population.” Christiadi said. “For some counties the population decline has been going on for a while.”

Overall, a majority of West Virginia’s 55 counties are losing a significant number of residents, but Kanawha County, where the state’s capital is located, saw the one of the most significant declines. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Kanawha County lost 1.5 percent of its population between 2016 and 2017.

In order to lure more young residents, the state is turning to the technology sector.

Generation West Virginia, an organization dedicated to attracting and retaining young residents, is launching a new program in January, called NewForce, to train young people and connect them to software employment opportunities in the state. NewForce has received nearly 200 applications for the first cohort of 18 students.

“Software development is becoming a critical skill set for jobs in all most every field,” Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia, said. “We feel it’s really important to make sure that West Virginians have access to a pathway to take advantage of these new fields.”

wv

West Virginia’s employment numbers have risen thanks to more coal, natural gas and construction projects.

West Virginia State Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, said the addition of information technology jobs in the state would attract more businesses and help retain young West Virginians who want employment outside the energy sector.

“Our kids are graduating from high school and college and they have to leave and go elsewhere because we don’t have anything for them. There’s no jobs here,” Ojeda said. “I want to bring IT capability. We need broadband.”

Christine Wharton, 61, grew up in Wheeling. Currently a human resource specialist for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, she moved to Eagan, Minnesota for seven years for her former husband’s job, but returned to the Mountain State to be with her family. Wharton said policymakers need to understand that focusing on the steel and coal industry isn’t enough – a more diversified economy is the answer both to keeping young people in the state and lowering the unemployment rate.

“I know people that would just rather be unemployed than to move away because they love it so much here,” Wharton said.

But for some, West Virginia’s lack of diversity goes beyond job opportunities.

Hilary Kinney, 23, was born and raised in Moundsville and graduated from West Virginia University in 2017. After graduation, she worked in Morgantown for Inspire U.S., an organization that focuses on registering young people to vote. She recently moved to Philadelphia, as the organization’s regional manager, and says she won’t come back to West Virginia until the politics in the state reflect a more progressive attitude.

“I’m not going to raise my kids in a state that doesn’t prioritize things like education, health and jobs,” Kinney said.

Jonathan Hensel, 26, of Morgantown, graduated from West Virginia University with a Master of Science in industrial relations and human resources, but he has had difficulty finding a job that matches his degree.

For now, he is a unit clerk at Ruby Memorial Hospital, but his ideal job is in the business and human resources sector. Although he does not want to leave West Virginia, he said the lack of opportunities may force him to seek employment in Pennsylvania.

“I would love to stick round here as much as possible for work and life. It’s just, it’s home,” Hensel said. “I haven’t really had a whole lot of a desire to leave it.”

US News Logo

Published in conjunction with

Indian Affairs Committee considers legislation to protect the sovereignty of Native Indian communities

WASHINGTON – The Senate Indian Affairs Committee appeared sympathetic Wednesday to a bill that would empower Native American communities as sovereign nations and allow the return of land to indigenous peoples.

Principal Chief James Floyd of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation told the committee that the proposed amendments to the Stigler Act are essential to creating fairness for the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee and Seminole tribes.

The 70-year-old Stigler Act only allows the allotment of lands to individuals with one-half or more Native American blood. The new amendments would remove that requirement and make it easier for tribal members to acquire land.

“If not resolved quickly, we could lose everything: our land, our history, out stability and our sovereignty,” Floyd said.

The committee also considered a bill that would redraw some boundary lines in Arizona  so the Gila River Indian Community would have tribal land legally.

Darryl LaCounte, acting director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, supported the two proposals.

The committee approved an amendment to Savanna’s Act legislation that Heitkamp sponsored to update federal databases to help solve cases of missing and murdered Indians.

“I will not have a chance to see the reporting and the implementation of this legislation, but I want to encourage this committee to not let this issue slide to the backburner,” said Heitkamp, who lost a re-election bid.

When Heitkamp asked LaCounte about funding for the future improvement of the quality of law enforcement in Indian Country, he said the budget information was embargoed. Heitkamp expressed her disdain with the lack of plans for greater protection of the Native Indian tribes.

“I continue to experience a lot of frustration about the lack of a plan,” Heitkamp said.

Both the Stigler Act Amendments of 2018 and Gila River Indian Community Federal Rights-of-Way passed in the House and await a vote by the Senate.

BATTLE GROUND VIRGINIA: Wexton Beats Comstock

By Beverly Banks and Kietryn Zychal

DULLES, Va. — State Sen. Jennifer Wexton easily beat Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock 57 percent to 42 on Tuesday in a formerly reliable GOP district whose voters had become disenchanted with President Donald Trump.

“We demand a better nation,” Wexton said in her victory speech, “a nation where we treat each other with dignity and with respect.”

Wexton, a Democrat who currently represents the 33rd state Senate District of Virginia, ran her campaign on policies in opposition to those of the Trump’s administration.

Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 10th congressional district Jennifer Wexton gives victory speech to a crowd full of excited supporters Tuesday evening. (Kietryn Zychal/MNS)

Voters at the polls shared their admiration for Wexton and the platform she touted during the campaign. She supports universal health care and expansion of mandatory background checks for gun purchases.

Comstock based her platform on support of Trump’s tax cuts, tough talk on border security and repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, though she voted against repeal in 2017.

As Wexton cast her ballot at Loudoun County High School Tuesday morning, she said she felt confident that voters in the 10th Congressional District wanted a representative in Congress who would fight Trump’s agenda.

“The values that he has been espousing and the things he’s been saying are not what we are as Americans,” she said.

Charlie Hagan, 68, of Winchester, supported Wexton because he wants the people of the 10th District to have a congresswoman who understands the reality of what climate change will mean in Virginia.

“I’ve met Barbara Comstock, she’s a lovely lady but Barbara came up far short in her interest in protecting the environment,” Hagan said.

At her election night party,

Lance Simon and his son, Ben, were overjoyed with Wexton’s win after having spent the day knocking on doors of 100 voters.

Jeniffer Green, of Manassas and a long-time supporter of Wexton, said, To have a Democrat in this seat,  I’m very happy.”

Nicholas Johnston, 30, a transgender man of Fairfax County, cast his vote for Wexton early Tuesday.

“Based on Donald Trump’s attacks on the trans community and several prominent Republicans’ refusal to condemn that, including Comstock’s, I just can’t bring myself to vote Republican, maybe not ever again” Johnston said.

Business owner Tyler Dashner, 35, of Berryville, voted for Wexton to take a stand against Trump.

“I’m not a big fan of Trump and anyone who stands up to Trump gets my vote,” Dashner said.

Pam Kirschner, 52, from Stephens City, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Pam Kirschner, a 52-year-old farm worker in Stephens City, voted for Democrat Jennifer Wexton in the 10th Congressional District as a statement against President Donald Trump.“I think we have got to get these people out who are supporting everything he is,” she said. Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, fighting to keep her seat, has been closely aligned with Trump’s policies.

Kirschner especially noted the she opposes the Trump administration’s environmental policies.

Carol Casey, 74, Stephens City, Va.

Another Stephens City resident, 74-year-old Carol Casey, said she was upset that many of the GOP statements about Wexton were “lies.”“She did not make it so that the tolls increased like they said and she is for Planned Parenthood.” Casey said.

She also said Comstock’s support for Trump was a reason not to vote for her.

“Honestly, he’s trying to run this country like a company and if you disagree with him he complains and whines,” she said.

Michael Rogers, 60, from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Michael Rogers, a 60-year-old Washington firefighters who lives in Berryville, voted for embattled incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock because of “her strong voice and her professionalism behind the desk and just everything she stands for.”
Rogers, a Republican, said he supports President Donald Trump. “I’m approving up pretty much everything he’s doing as far as the border, and legal and illegal immigrants, and trying to put a stop to that.”

Toni Horn, 64, from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Like Rogers, 64-year-old Toni Horn of Berryville, voted for Comstock and usually votes Republican. She said she supports Trump “to a degree.”

Amy Sarch, 52, from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Amy Sarch, 52, also voted for Wexton.

“I’m really liberal and I live in a pretty conservative area, and we need some change,” she said.

Gregory Wooddell, 48, from Winchester, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Winchester resident Gregory Wooddell, 48, said his vote was “against Comstock” because “she won’t speak out against Trump for his “bigotry and the racism against our fellow citizens.”

Tyler Dashner, 35, from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Tyler Dashner, a 35-year-old small businessman in Berryville, said that “anyone who stands up to Trump gets my vote.”“I just feel like it’s a culture of racism and bigotry in the Trump administration, that I just don’t, can’t agree with.”

He voted for Comstock’s Democratic opponent, Jennifer Wexton.

“I feel like Republican voters just tend to support the party because that’s what their pastors tells them to and they don’t really think about it too much because they have to vote for the pro-life candidate and that’s the only thing they care about really.”

Martha Howard, 57, and her son, Billy Martins, 35 from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

In Berryville, Martha Howard and her son, Billy Martins, voted for Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock because they support Republicans, especially President Donald Trump.Howard, 57, said that “we should have the rights of our amendments, of our constitution” especially the right to own guns.“I believe everything Trump has done is wonderful,” she said “I knew he should be president the minute he came up and said he might be. … Something very different that the United States really needed.”

Martins, a 35-year-old teacher, said he was voting for the first time because he has lived in Brazil for years.

Like his mother, he is concerned about ensuring “the right to bear arms.”

He said it’s time for new ideas rather than dynasty politics and that why he supports Trump.

“It just opens up the range for different style of politics.”

Elizabeth Powers, 68, from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

In Berryville, Elizabeth Powers and Tom Miller voted for Rep. Barbara Comstock, the northern Virginia Republican who’s in a tight race to stop Democrat Jennifer Wexton from taking her seat.Both said they feared a Democratic return to power in the House.

“I do believe that if Democrats were to take office, all they would be doing is trying to get Donald Trump impeached and (Supreme Court Justice Brett) Kavanaugh impeached and I think that’s wrong” said Powers, 68.

“I agree with the way the resident is working hard for us,” she said. “He’s brought jobs into the country. He’s brought jobs back from different countries. He’s had tax reductions.

Tom Miller, 67, from Berryville, Va. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Miller, 67, said if Wexton wins, “she’s going to vote for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House. I don’t see anything positive there.”

“She’s interested in spending more tax money to give more things to the people,” he said.

Ed Jaffee, 85, from Winchester, VA. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Winchetser voter Ed Jaffee cast his ballot for Democratic challenger Jennifer Wexton, who hopes to unseat Rep. Barbara Comstock .

 

 

“I like what she stands for, I like her reasoning,” Jaffee said of Wexton. “I like especially the fact that she is willing to reach across the aisle to get things done.”

The 85-year-old retired journalist and public relations professional said he and his wife contact Comstock’s office several times, but got “the usual nonresponse responses. ‘Thank you for giving us your thoughts, be assured that we will take them into consideration,’ but no response to the specifics.”

Wexton, a state senator, “responded, course that’s easy to say because she’s running but she did a good job in the state also so that’s the principle reason.”

Jaffee said of President Donald Trump: “I think like the great majority of Americans, of either party, we wish he were more prudent, more judicious in his comments, and give up with the tweets.”

Nicholas Johnston, 30, Fairfax County resident. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Nicholas Johnston, a 30-year-old transgender man, said that, “based on Donald Trump’s attacks on the trans community and several prominent Republicans ‘refusal to condemn that, including (Barbara) Comstock, I just can’t bring myself to vote Republican, maybe not ever again.”The Fairfax resident said re voted for state Sen. Jennifer Wexton in her bid to unseat the Republican Comstock.

When asked if he had voted for Republicans in the past, he said, ““Not that I’d be willing to.”

Chris Ritz, 45, from Winchester, VA. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Another Winchester voter, Chris Ritz, said he voted for Democrat Jennifer Wexton to unseat Republican Rep. Barbaral Comstock because he wants the district to be “back in the Democratic hands.”

Charlie Hagan, 68, Winchester, VA resident. (Beverly Banks/MNS)

Another Wexton voter, 68-year-old Charlie Hagan of: Winchester, said he couldn’t support Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock’s re-election bid because she “came up far short in her interest in protecting the environment.”“Comstock and the Republicans have been reluctant to take the kind of urgent action that we need to protect the environment.”

He said the Trump administration “has been an environmental nightmare.”

Tennessee voters cast ballot for issues over candidates in midterm election

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In a state with historically low voter turnout, early and absentee vote totals more than doubled the number from the 2014 midterm election and voters seem more motivated by issues – ranging from tightening the border to expanding education spending — than the candidates.

While voting at Farragut Town Hall in Knox County, Mitch Burnett and his wife Peggy, said that their votes were based on their support for stronger border security and respect for police officers. They voted for Republican Marsha Blackburn instead of Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen in the race for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican.

“Sanctuary cities should be abolished,” Burnett said. “I think it’s time to get back to American values.”

A public school teacher in Tennessee, Mary Nipper said she voted early for Bredesen at the Downtown West polling place because he supports educators.

“He’s very moderate and he makes decisions based on issues,” she said.

In Knox County, the final totals for early voting – reported at 117,750 votes– broke records and surpassed the 2014 midterm election early voting numbers. The records for high early voter turnout display Tennessee voters’ level of motivation to cast their ballots.

Fran Daniels, a social studies teacher in Farragut, was more concerned with the increase in voter turnout than the success of one political party or candidate.

“I hope people turn out regardless if they think their party will win or not,” Daniels said.

After early voting ended in Tennessee on Nov.1, the Secretary of State’s office reported over 1,378,840 early and absentee votes cast. In the 2016 presidential election, that number was 1,689,989. In the 2014 midterms, only 634,364 absentee and early votes were cast – more than half of this year’s totals with nearly a week left until Nov. 6.

In this election, Blackburn has not been a likable candidate and Bredesen, while popular as governor, is still a Democrat running in a red state.

But the strong pull of issues that matter to them brought many voters to the polls despite their feelings about the Senate candidates.

Farragut resident LeighAnna Colgrove brought her daughter to the polls so she could witness the voting process. Colgrove said her vote in the Senate race was driven by important issues affecting her and her daughter’s life.

“There’s some people on the ballot with good views on education and health care,” Colgrove said.

The Cook Political Report calls the race a toss-up. Real Clear Politics’ average of multiple polls gives Blackburn a more than 6 percentage point lead over Bredesen. But over the summer and into September, Bredesen had a lead of as much as 6 percentage points over Blackburn; the lead closed during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

Some voters were disappointed when Bredesen announced he would have voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh if he had been in the Senate.

Alesa Grant, 53, said she was offended by Bredesen’s support for Kavanaugh, but she still voted for him because she believes he will improve health care and the economy.

Downtown West voter Rachel Kraft was upset that Bredesen supported Kavanaugh and said that “he could have kept his mouth shut.” But casting her ballot for Blackburn was not an option because, Kraft said, “Blackburn is anti-woman.”

“I never liked Phil Bredesen but now he’s our only hope,” Kraft said.

Timothy Hickman, a conservative voter in Knoxville, felt much the same about Blackburn.

“I held my nose when I voted for the Senate race,” said he said of his vote for Blackburn. But he wanted a senator who would uphold President Donald Trump’s agenda.

One central theme for many early voters in Knox County was their hope that elected officials would address political polarization and the harsh rhetoric that permeates politics.

Bredesen supporter Gail West cast her ballot early because she felt it was her civic duty. She hoped the negativity in politics would end with the election of unifying politicians in Congress.

“I want to see the bickering stopped,” West said. “I want to see people getting along together.”

In Farragut, Mark Larsen said his greatest concern as voter was the effects of partisan politics in Washington.

“I think in general the stuff that’s going on in Washington kind of concerns me because it’s so much adversarial and that type of thing,” Larsen said.

Early voting in Tennessee ended this week, a few days before Trump’s Nov. 4 visit to Chattanooga, Tennessee to campaign for Blackburn.

Helsinki Commission tackles U.S. policies on European nationalism and Russia

WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Thursday disagreed over the effectiveness of the European Union on addressing the rise of nationalist parties in Europe nationalism and increased Russian aggression in Europe.

A strong U.S. and European partnership is crucial to face challenges from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and international terrorism, according to Jeffrey Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“U.S. success in meeting any of those challenges will be enhanced greatly by partnership with Europe,” Rathke said.

But Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow in Anglo-American relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, echoed President Donald Trump’s sentiments that the EU is a “foe on trade” and said it is not helpful in furthering the U.S. post-World War II strategy in Europe.

“The EU is an open and declared enemy to the role the U.S. assumed in Europe after 1945,” Bromund said.

Rathke disagreed: “To portray the European Union as a foe is frankly absurd.”

Bromund said nationalism is a dirty world in Europe because of Nazism, but nationalism is essential to the political order of Europe.

“Nationalism is a necessary thing,” Bromund said. “If you don’t have it or you try to repress it, it’s space will be filled with other kinds of group identities that are fundamentally incompatible with democracy.”

Paul Coyer, a research professor at the Institute of World Politics, said the U.S. should shape a healthy form of nationalism to curb the threats to European democracy.

“A healthy nationalism, in my view, is one that appreciates one’s own traditional culture while also appreciating those of other people,” Coyer said.

All panelists agreed that Russia is not blame for the rise of populism and nationalism in Europe, but nevertheless is a threat to global security.

Bromund chastised the European Union’s response to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine since 2014. He said the EU  economic sanctions on Russia are weak and not deterring aggression.

“If the EU and Europeans want to play a serious security role in their own continent,” Bromund said. “The invasion of a nation needs to be met with more than a few economic sanctions.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision this week to not seek re-election has raised concerns about who will replace one of Europe’s strongest leaders.

Although Merkel may remain chancellor for another three years, Rathke said her successor will determine how Europe deals with nationalism and Russia in the future.

“She’s weakened by the recent political developments,” Rathke said. “Whether Germany is going to play an active role will depend a lot on how this succession takes place.”

Coast Guard Commandant Speaks on China, Russia Advances in Arctic

Coast Guard Commandant

ARLINGTON, Va. — Beverly Banks speaks with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz about the United States security measures in the Arctic at the Military Reporters and Editors annual conference. Schultz says the United States is prepared for China and Russia’s advances in the strategically important region.

Video by Patty Nieberg.

Published in conjunction with Military Times Logo

Midterm Elections in West Virginia and Tennessee

Senator Joe Manchin Interview

ARLINGTON, Va. — Beverly Banks spoke with WJLA 24/7 anchor Dave Lucas about her midterm reporting trip in West Virginia and Tennessee. While traveling across the Appalachian region, the Medill news team covered House and Senate races. Beverly interviewed Senator Joe Manchin and Richard Ojeda, the Democratic candidate for the third congressional district in West Virginia. While in Tennessee, Beverly talked with voters in Knox County about the issues that we’re driving them to the polls.

Published in conjunction with