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Romney slams Senate GOP's Biden investigation as a "political exercise"

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Wednesday criticized his Republican colleagues on the Senate Homeland Security Committee for their probe into Joe Biden and his son's dealings in Ukraine, saying that it has the "earmarks of a political exercise."

Why it matters: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is leading the investigation, told supporters on Monday that "in about a week we’re going to learn a whole lot more of Vice President Biden’s unfitness for office." The committee is investigating Hunter Biden's work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma at a time when Joe Biden was leading the Obama administration's Ukraine policy.


What he's saying: "[The investigation] from the outset had the earmarks of a political exercise," Romney said at a hearing on Wednesday. "I'm fearful that comments made in the media recently have only confirmed that perspective."

  • “It’s not the legitimate role of government, for Congress or for taxpayer expense, to be used in an effort to damage political opponents."
  • "I do believe it's very important that the committees of Congress, and ours in particular, not fall into an increasing pattern that we're seeing, which is using taxpayer dollars and the power of Congress to do political work. That's the role of campaigns."

The big picture: Romney's comments came after Johnson cancelled a vote that would have issued a subpoena to U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Bridget Brink as part of the Burisma probe.

  • The committee did, however, authorize subpoenas on Wednesday targeting former Obama administration officials' roles during the transition to the Trump administration. Romney voted in favor of those subpoenas.
  • Romney said the probe on the Obama officials could dodge "obvious political implications" by focusing on specific allegations alleged in a report by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Flashback: Romney in March said the investigation "appears" politically motivated. But a spokesperson for the senator said the next day he changed his mind after receiving assurances from Johnson that the probe would be handled behind closed doors.

Go deeper: Ron Johnson denies that theory of Ukrainian election interference is "debunked"

Philly official warns of "electoral chaos" in Pennsylvania due to "naked" mail-in ballots

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered state officials last week to throw out mail-in ballots submitted without a required inner "secrecy" envelope in November's election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The state of play: The decision went under the radar alongside the simultaneous decision to extend the time that mail-in ballots could be counted, but Philadelphia's top elections official warned state legislators this week that throwing out so-called "naked ballots" could bring "electoral chaos" to the state and cause "tens of thousands of votes" to be thrown out — potentially tipping the presidential election.

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Commission releases topics for first presidential debate

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has selected what topics he'll cover while moderating the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden next week.

What to watch: Topics for the Sept. 29 debate will include Trump and Biden's records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, economic policy, racism and the integrity of the election, the Commission for Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday. Each topic will receive 15 minutes of conversation and will be presented in no particular order.

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"A long way to go": Fed chair warns economy will feel the weight of expired stimulus

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday that the expiration of Congress' coronavirus stimulus will weigh on the U.S. economy.

Why it matters: Powell warned that the effects of dried-up benefits are a looming risk to the economy, even if the consequences aren't yet visible.

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Beijing draws Chinese companies even closer

Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping announced last week that the party must strengthen its leadership over private companies, and that entrepreneurs must meet the party's needs. 

Why it matters: Xi's new announcement will increase fears that Chinese businesses may serve as a Trojan horse for the CCP.

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Trump to meet with Supreme Court candidate Barbara Lagoa in Florida on Friday

President Trump has arranged to meet with shortlisted Supreme Court candidate Barbara Lagoa during a campaign visit to Florida on Friday, according to two sources familiar with his plans.

What we're hearing: Sources who know both Trump and Lagoa say they still expect the president to pick Judge Amy Coney Barrett, but they view the Lagoa meeting as a wild card because they say she has a charismatic personality that would appeal to Trump.

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The U.S. now has more then 200,000 coronavirus deaths

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus has now killed 200,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: Whatever contextyou try to put this in, it is a catastrophe of historic proportions — and is yet another reminder of America's horrific failure to contain the virus.

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In UN address, Trump says China "unleashed this plague onto the world"

President Trump used a virtual address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday to defend his response to the coronavirus and call on other countries to “hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.”

Setting the scene: Trump ticked through four years of major decisions and accomplishments in what could be his last address to the UN. But first, he launched into a fierce attack on China as Beijing’s representative looked on in the assembly hall.

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