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U.S. Senator Rand Paul pushes back against criticism for not entering self-quarantine while awaiting coronavirus results

Kentucky Republican was reportedly using Senate gym just hours before positive test result

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is pushing back against criticism that he may have put others in the Senate in danger by continuing with his work as a senator for nearly a week while awaiting the results of a coronavirus test that came back positive.

Paul was reportedly seen working out in a Senate gym on Sunday morning, just hours before he learned he had tested positive for the virus and went into self-quarantine.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky

In a statement issued Monday, Paul acknowledged he took the coronavirus test on March 16 and did not self-quarantine while waiting for the results, which came back on March 22.

However, Paul said he had no reason to believe that he had been exposed to coronavirus prior to the positive result and had only been tested as a precaution because of a lung injury he suffered during an attack by a neighbor in 2017.

“For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol,” Paul said. “The current guidelines would not have called for me to get tested nor quarantined. It was my extra precaution, out of concern for my damaged lung, that led me to get tested.”

Paul also said that while he did attend a March 7 museum fundraiser in Louisville that was also attended by two people who later tested positive for coronavirus, he did not have contact with either of them, and his decision to get tested was unrelated to his attendance at the benefit.

“The event was a large affair of hundreds of people spread throughout the museum,” he said. “I was not considered to be at risk since I never interacted with the two individuals even from a distance and was not recommended for testing by health officials.”

Paul said he was “at a higher risk for serious complications” because he had part of his lung removed after he developed complications from rib fractures he suffered when he was attacked by a neighbor, Rene Boucher, outside of his Bowling Green home in 2017.

In his statement, Paul also renewed his call for more immediate, widespread testing of people who do not yet show any symptoms of coronavirus.

“The broader the testing and the less finger-pointing we have, the better,” he said.

Paul’s positive test prompted two fellow senators who had contact with him — Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of Utah — to enter self-quarantine, which means five Republican senators are now out of action as Congress grapples with emergency coronavirus legislation.

In his statement, Paul did not confirm or deny reports that he swam and worked out in the Senate gym on Sunday before the results of his coronavirus test came back.

Politico reported that one of Paul’s colleagues, Jerry Moran of Kansas, told colleagues a Republican lunch on Sunday that he had seen Paul using the facilities. That report led another senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to blast Paul’s behavior as “absolutely irresponsible.”

“You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results,” she said in a tweet. “It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus.”

Paul’s office responded by noting that he had left the Senate “immediately” after the diagnosis and entered self-quarantine.

Paul’s actions with regard to coronavirus are also being scrutinized because of his background — he is a graduate of the Duke University School of Medicine who worked for 20 years as an ophthalmologist before being elected to the Senate.

In an interview on MSNBC Monday, Ezekiel Emanuel, former chief of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health and health policy adviser in the Obama administration, accused Paul of a “lack of leadership” for not going into self-quarantine until his test results came back.

“Multiple times Rand Paul has sort of violated his basic oath of being a physician, that he should model good, healthy behaviors,” Emanuel said.

In addition to Paul, Romney and Lee, two other Republican senators — Rick Scott of Florida and Cory Gardner of Colorado — are in self-quarantine after coming into contact with people who tested positive for the virus.

That leaves just 48 GOP members in the upper chamber who are able to vote on coronavirus legislation because Senate rules require senators to be present in person in order to vote.

Paul was among just eight senators who voted against an emergency coronavirus funding bill that passed March 18 and the only senator who opposed an earlier coronavirus funding measure that passed on March 5.

In a letter to his constituents sent over the weekend, Paul vowed to continue to oppose “more spending, more debt, and more mandates on the American people.”

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Decision ’18: Democrat Bill Nelson concedes defeat in Florida U.S. Senate race

Republican Governor Rick Scott will move from Tallahassee to Washington after winning recount

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After protests, a flurry of lawsuits and two recounts, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has conceded defeat to Republican Governor Rick Scott, possibly bringing the curtain down on a political career that spanned more than four decades and included a trip into space.

Scott’s victory means there will be just four Democrats among the 28 senators representing Southern states, down one from the last Congress. And Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction in 1875.

In a video released by his campaign, Nelson said that while he lost the Senate race, “I by no means feel defeated, and that’s because I’ve had the great privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.”

“It’s been a rewarding journey as well as a very humbling experience,” he said.

He also made a plea for more civility to combat “a gathering darkness” in American political life.

“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable,” he said.

Scott, who has now won three consecutive statewide elections by thin margins, issued a statement thanking Nelson “for his years of public service.”

Nelson’s concession came after a machine recount of ballots in all 67 counties and a hand recount of ballots with under-votes or over-votes in the Senate race did not overturn Scott’s margin of victory.

Scott defeated Nelson by just 10,033 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million cast.

Scott had led on election night, but late reports of ballots from Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties began narrowing the lead. Both Scott and President Donald Trump suggested that fraud was occurring in both counties, although evidence seemed to point to mismanagement rather than deliberate malfeasance.

In the following days, both campaigns went to court, and protests erupted outside elections offices in Broward — scenes reminiscent of the recount battle that erupted in the Sunshine State after the 2000 presidential election.

Nelson’s last hope was turning up uncounted ballots in Broward, where 25,000 fewer people voted in the Senate election than in the race for governor. But the hand recount confirmed that those ballots were indeed under-votes, which could have been caused by a flawed ballot design.

In Broward, the Senate race was listed at the bottom of a column underneath voting instructions, which could have resulted in some voters not seeing it.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Scott, 65, went into politics after building a fortune in the health care industry. Financial disclosure reports put his net worth at around $250 million.

He won the governorship in 2010 with a margin of just 1.2 percent and won re-election in 2014 in an even closer race, 1 percent. His margin over Nelson in the Senate race was narrower still, 0.12 percent.

Scott’s win means Republicans will have at least 52 seats in the next Senate to 47 for Democrats, a net pickup of two seats. One seat remains to be decided in Mississippi, where Republicans are favored.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

Nelson, 76, won his first election, to the Florida House, in 1972. He served 12 years in the U.S. House and six years as Florida’s insurance commissioner before winning election to the Senate in 2000.

In 1986, while a sitting member of the House, Nelson went into space as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia. His district included the Kennedy Space Center.

Just 10 days after his return, a different space shuttle, Challenger, exploded during launch, which ended NASA’s program of sending civilians into space.

With Nelson’s defeat, the only Democrats representing Southern states will be Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.

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Decision ’18: Time and options running out for Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum in Florida

After machine recounts, Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis maintain leads in races for U.S. Senate, governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After a machine recount of ballots in all 67 Florida counties, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis maintained leads in races for U.S. Senate and governor, with time and options running out for their Democratic rivals, Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum.

In the Senate race, vote totals updated after the conclusion of the machine recount showed Scott with a lead of 12,600 votes over Nelson — a small enough margin that a hand recount of overvotes and undervotes in the race was ordered, with a Sunday deadline.

Ron DeSantis

Andrew Gillum

In the governor’s race, DeSantis’s lead over Gillum was 33,700, not enough to trigger a hand recount. That would seem to leave Gillum with no path to victory before final results are certified on Tuesday, unless he can successfully contest the election’s outcome in court.

However, because totals from three counties that missed a Thursday deadline for the recount — Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough — were not included in the revised totals, Gillum has refused to concede, saying “there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted.”

“We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process,” he said in a statement. “Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally cast vote is counted.”

But DeSantis, who has declared victory, made it clear he is now planning for his transition into the governor’s chair.

“Campaigns of ideas must give way to governing and bringing people together to secure Florida’s future,” he said in a statement. “With the campaign now over, that’s where all of my focus will be.”

Bill Nelson

Rick Scott

In the Senate race, the rival campaigns have filed a flurry of lawsuits since election night, as Scott’s lead over Nelson has steadily decreased.

Most of the contention has centered around Broward County, a Democratic bastion where late tabulation of vote totals has prompted Republican leaders, including Scott and President Donald Trump, to allege fraud.

In Broward, 25,000 fewer votes were cast in the Senate race than in the race for governor, an anomaly that Nelson’s camp hopes might turn the race around.

If those undervotes were the result of a tabulation error, then the hand recount of ballots where no vote for Senate was cast could turn up additional Nelson votes. However, if those results are the result of a flawed ballot design, the race would come to an end.

In Broward, the Senate race was tucked at the bottom of a long column on the ballot, under lengthy voting instructions, where some voters might not have seen it.

Once the recounts are over, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, will certify the votes. At that point, both Scott and Gillum have the option of going to court to contest the election, although that would require evidence of irregularities serious enough to change the outcome.

Scott’s victory in the Senate race would be a pickup for Republicans and mark the first time the GOP has held both of the state’s Senate seats in more than 100 years. DeSantis would succeed Scott in the governor’s chair.

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Decision ’18: Machine recounts ordered in Florida U.S. Senate and governor’s races

Elections officials will send ballots through machines a second time and retabulate before Thursday

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Elections officials in all of Florida’s 67 counties will recount ballots in three razor-close statewide races, amid lawsuits, claims of fraud and partisan protests reminiscent of the 2000 presidential recount battle in the Sunshine State.

On Saturday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner, after unofficial results showed all three races within the 0.5 percent margin that triggers a recount under state law.

The deadline for completing the recount is Thursday.

In the Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott led Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by just 13,200 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million votes cast, a margin of 0.16 percent.

In the governor’s race, Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 33,700 votes, a margin of 0.4 percent.

The third race headed for a recount is the contest for state agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 5,300-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

Scott, DeSantis and Caldwell all led on election night but have seen their margins slip away as additional votes were reported in Broward and Palm Beach counties, both Democratic strongholds.

The slow vote-reporting process in those counties have prompted Republican officials to raise the specter of fraud, although claims of fraud have not yet been substantiated.

Scott sued election supervisors in both counties, saying he would “not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.” Nelson in turn sued Detzner over the process being used to verify signatures on mail-in and provisional ballots.

President Donald Trump has also been stirring the pot, taking time during a visit to France to tweet, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

Meanwhile, Gillum, who conceded to DeSantis on election night, took it back in a Saturday tweet: “I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote.”

After the recounts were ordered, protestors from both camps gathered outside the office of Broward County Supervisor of Election Brenda Snipes, whose handling of the election has come in for criticism. Pro-Republican protestors offered chants of “Lock Her Up,” an apparent reference to Snipes.

Broward begins its recount of more than 700,000 ballots on Sunday morning.

After Detzner ordered the recount, Scott’s campaign called on Nelson “to accept reality and spare the state of the Florida the time, expense and discord of a recount.” State law allows Nelson to call off the recount.

But Nelson was having none of it: “We believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election,” he said in a statement.

In Florida, voters mark ballots with a pen, which are then read by optical scanning equipment. During the recount, all of the ballots cast in the election will be run through tabulating machines a second time, except for ballots where voters did not vote in a race or voted for more than one candidate.

If any of the three races is within 0.25 percent after the machine recount, the overvotes and undervotes will be examined by hand to determine voter intent.

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. After an lengthy court fight that reached both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts, Bush was declared the winner.

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Lawsuits fly as Florida readies to recount three close statewide races

Recounts expected in contests for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Eighteen years after the nation was transfixed by a vote recount in the presidential race in Florida, state officials are bracing for recounts in three statewide races, including contests for U.S. Senate and governor — a process that has already become contentious before it has even begun.

The Senate candidates, Republican Governor Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, have already filed lawsuits over the election process. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has walked back the concession he made on election night to Republican Ron DeSantis, after subsequent returns from Broward and Palm Beach counties narrowed DeSantis and Scott’s leads.

President Donald Trump also weighed in Friday, calling the election process in Broward and Palm Beach counties “a disgrace” and suggesting he might have the federal government intervene.

“All of the sudden, they’re finding votes out of nowhere,” said Trump, a part-time Florida resident who owns an estate in Palm Beach.

By Saturday at noon, county election officials across the Sunshine State must submit unofficial counts from Tuesday’s election. Those counts are expected to trigger recounts in the Senate and governor’s races, as well as the race for agriculture commissioner.

In all three races, the Republican and Democrat candidates are separated by less than a percentage point.

Scott, whose small lead in the Senate race has dwindled since election night, has filed a lawsuit against election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, alleging that they are withholding documentation about the voting process. Scott’s lead has been narrowing because of changes in results in both counties, which tilt heavily Democratic

“It’s been over 48 hours since polls closed, and Broward and Palm Beach County are still finding and counting ballots, and the supervisors Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher cannot seem to say how many ballots still exist and where these ballots came from or where they have been,” Scott said in a Thursday press conference. “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.”

Scott also asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the election supervisors, a move that drew criticism from Democrats. An FDLE spokesperson later said no investigation had been launched because no allegations of voter fraud had been raised.

Nelson filed his own lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner alleging that the signature matching process being used to validate main-in and provision ballots is “standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable” and disproportionately affects young and minority voters who favor Nelson.

Detzner, a Republican, was appointed by former Scott. Snipes and Bucher are elected Democrats.

In Florida, if two candidates are within 0.5 percent of each other, ballots in all 67 counties will be counted again by machine, excluding ballots voided because voters either picked no candidate or more than one. That process will have to be finished by Thursday, November 15.

If a race is within 0.25 percent after Saturday’s county reports, ballots will go through a new machine count, and the overvotes and undervotes will all have to be examined by hand to determine voter intent. That process will have to be finished by Sunday, November 18.

In the Senate race, as of Friday afternoon, Scott holds a 15,000-vote lead over Nelson out of nearly 8.2 million votes, a small enough margin to trigger a hand recount. A hand recount is also expected in the agriculture commissioner race, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 3,000-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

The governor’s race is not as close. Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gilllum by 36,000 votes, but that is still a small enough margin to trigger a machine recount.

Gillum, who conceded the race to DeSantis on election night, could opt not to proceed with a recount. But his campaign issued a statement indicating that he would not stop a recount and now considers his concession to have been premature.

“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” the statement said.

“Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Voters in Florida now mark their ballots with a pen, and they are then optically scanned.

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