Global Refugee Forum takes stock of international response to the biggest human displacement in history

Special Global Refugee Forum takes stock of international response to the biggest human displacement in history
People stand near tents at the Sahlat Al-Banat makeshift camp for internally displaced people set-up next to a waste dump on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, on July 10, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2023
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Global Refugee Forum takes stock of international response to the biggest human displacement in history

Global Refugee Forum takes stock of international response to the biggest human displacement in history
  • With 114 million people displaced worldwide, aid agencies and developing nations demand concrete action at Geneva summit
  • Saudi Arabia has provided $18.57 billion in aid to refugees in the Kingdom, KSrelief chief Abdullah Al-Rabeeah tells forum

LONDON: Even before the war in Gaza led to the displacement of some 1.9 million people, the world was already in the throes of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, with conflicts, crises and climate catastrophes forcing people from their homes.

More than 114 million people are now on the move worldwide, up from 75 million in 2019, with conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and the Sahel, drought on the Horn of Africa, and economic crises from Lebanon to Venezuela sending people in search of security.

In response to these immense challenges, which have significant implications for the economies of host and transit nations, the UN has organized its latest Global Refugee Forum in Geneva — its first since the pandemic — which ran from Dec. 13 to Dec. 15.

“The Global Refugee Forum is taking place at a time when displacement around the world is at record levels,” Ezekiel Simperingham, the global lead on migration and displacement for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Arab News.




King Abdullah II of Jordan delivers a speech during the Global Refugee Forum, in Geneva on December 13, 2023. (AFP)

“This is compounded by climate change, conflict and diseases, but the needs of refugees and other displaced people are urgent and complex.”

The forum’s opening sessions on Wednesday were dominated by the issue of Gaza, where the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which began on Oct. 7, has led to the displacement of some 85 percent of Gazans.

Opening the forum with a call for an immediate ceasefire, Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, warned that continued fighting would only add to the number of globally displaced.

“A major human catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza and, so far, the (UN) Security Council has failed to stop the violence,” Grandi said in his opening remarks, referring to Washington’s recent veto of a motion calling for a ceasefire.

He warned that further displacement in a region already saturated with refugees from multiple ongoing conflicts posed a major threat to security and stability.

His comments reflected a tweet he posted earlier in the week warning that “massive displacement” beyond Gaza’s borders would not only be “catastrophic for Palestinians, who know the trauma of exile” but impossible to solve, “further jeopardizing any chance of peace.”

Since Hamas launched its unprecedented cross-border attack on the towns of southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostage, the Gaza Strip has come under sustained bombardment by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Although the IDF’s stated aim is to destroy Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, Israel’s military campaign has come at the cost of some 17,000 lives, the majority of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Some Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan, have accused Israel of trying to drive the Palestinians out of Gaza altogether in a repeat of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, which saw the population forced from their homes to make way for the new Israeli state.




More than 114 million people are now on the move worldwide. (AFP)

If Gaza’s two-million strong population were to spill out into Egypt and other neighboring countries, it is likely they would never be permitted to return, making the possibility of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel even less likely.

Such a wave of dispossessed humanity would also place an immense burden on the shoulders of neighboring countries, which already host vast numbers of Palestinians alongside millions displaced by the war in Syria.

Speaking at the Global Refugee Forum on Wednesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said that the world must not turn its back on the displaced or on host nations, warning that a failure to act risked “leaving a lost generation behind.”

“Instead of making headway in resolving this ever-evolving and expanding refugee crisis, and even as new displacement crises emerge, we see attention waning. We can’t afford for this to continue,” he said, citing the 1.4 million Syrians including 650,000 refugees hosted by Jordan.

Abdullah pointed to what he called a model of “fluctuating support” from governments in Europe and the wider Western world, where refugees have at times been welcomed, as in the case of Ukrainians, and at other times refused entry.

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Also speaking at the forum on Wednesday, Colombia’s vice president, Francia Elena Marquez Mina, likewise called for greater support from Western nations. Her country, which sits at the crossroads between South and Central America, has played host to millions of Venezuelans and other nationalities escaping hardship and persecution.

Robinah Nabbanja, prime minister of Uganda, which is host to the world’s fourth largest refugee population, also said an “enormous strain has been placed on our meager economic resources” by the displacement crisis — a burden that has not been shared by wealthier nations.

Responding to these calls, Yoko Kamikawa, Japan’s foreign minister, said that it was time for the world to take “a more forward-looking approach” to the issue of displacement.

“We can’t improve the situation merely by providing food, water and shelter,” she told the forum. “I believe we all must envision a future where every refugee and displaced person can talk about their dreams and have opportunities to work hard to make their dreams come true.”

Emphasizing the urgent need for conflict resolution, Yoko said the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, could help ease some of the suffering, but stressed it could not address the underlying causes.




The UN has organized its latest Global Refugee Forum in Geneva which ran from Dec. 13 to Dec. 15. (AFP)

“UNHCR can help save people’s lives and ease some of their suffering, but it cannot resolve conflict. (That) is the responsibility of politicians such as myself, and many others here today,” she said.

Mindful of its responsibility to assist vulnerable communities, Saudi Arabia has provided more than $18.57 billion in aid to refugees in the Kingdom to date, according to Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, the supervisor general of Saudi aid agency KSrelief.  

Speaking at the forum, Al-Rabeeah said the Kingdom hosts 1.07 million refugees, who account for 5.5 percent of the nation’s population, and provides them with free health care, educational opportunities and help to integrate with their new communities.

Saudi Arabia has also provided $1.15 billion in aid to refugees in other host countries around the world, Al-Rabeeah added, revealing that the Kingdom plans to launch several new projects worth $170 million, including the provision of $40 million of aid for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, and $10 million for the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees.  

Despite these efforts, many of those working in the humanitarian sector have expressed concern over the lack of willingness among other developed countries to match their rhetoric with policy action.




Palestinians wave their identity cards as they gather to receive flour rations for their families outside a UNRWA warehouse in Rafah. (AFP)

Taking the UK as an example of this trend, Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, noted a disconnect in the government’s championing of humanitarian support for children and its policy aim of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

“As the UK delegation champions its ambitious package at the forum, its colleagues back home celebrate the dubious success of passing the second reading of a bill that torches the UK’s international commitments to refugee protection,” Reynolds told Arab News.

“Why would any state take seriously the UK’s promises to share responsibility for ensuring the protection and welfare of refugees?

“The same UK government is conspiring and scheming to send children, fleeing the exact same conflict and persecution as those subject to the Global Refugee Forum’s worthy ambitions, to an uncertain future in Rwanda.”

In 2019, the Global Refugee Forum garnered more than 1,400 initiatives and pledges to support displaced people and host nations. However, to date, fewer than a third of these have been met.

Carenza Arnold, a spokesperson for the UK-based charity Women for Refugee Women, said while the forum represented “a great opportunity” to push forward initiatives to support people seeking safety around the world, it is vital these are put into action.

INNUMBERS

• 114m Refugee population worldwide in 2023.

• 43.3m Global refugee population who are children.

• 4.4m People who are deemed stateless.

• 69 percent Refugees living in countries neighboring their place of origin.

(UNHCR)

“We know that there’s an increasing number of people who are forced to flee their homes to save their lives each year,” Arnold told Arab News.

“It is crucial that initiatives are put into place to support people to move safely when they need to, to recover from the trauma they have experienced, and to rebuild their lives with dignity.”

For South Sudanese refugee Adhieu Achuil Dhieu, who addressed the forum on Wednesday, one essential component to redressing the waning interest was by offering refugees a platform to share their stories.

Recognizing the “increased participation” of displaced peoples in strategic dialogues since the 2019 forum, Dhieu said: “There is still considerable distance to go before we realize genuine refugee leadership.

“There must be tangible change led by displaced and stateless persons, to secure our rightful place in the decision-making processes that impact our lives.”

Adding that “displacement is a temporary challenge, not a permanent condition,” Dhieu said that governments had to up their funding for refugee-led organizations, reminding global leaders that the escalating refugee crisis was “a shared responsibility.”




King Abdullah II of Jordan (L) speaks with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (R) during the Global Refugee Forum, in Geneva. (AFP)

Najwa Al-Abdallah, chief executive of Amna, formerly the Refugee Trauma Initiative, shares Dhieu’s perspective.

“Our vision of refugees determining their futures, unbounded by the impacts of conflict and displacement and our mission of nurturing joy and belonging aligns with the message of the forum,” Al-Abdallah told Arab News.

“That message has so far emphasized refugee leadership, trauma informed solutions and community as an answer to a complex problem.”

She added: “The global community cannot thrive if its most vulnerable are left behind. Let’s make this forum count.”


Many Democrats back Harris in 2024 race, but Pelosi, others silent

Many Democrats back Harris in 2024 race, but Pelosi, others silent
Updated 19 sec ago
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Many Democrats back Harris in 2024 race, but Pelosi, others silent

Many Democrats back Harris in 2024 race, but Pelosi, others silent

Many Democrats on Sunday quickly backed Vice President Kamala Harris to run as the party’s presidential nominee against Donald Trump after incumbent President Joe Biden’s abrupt departure from the race, but some powerful party members, including former House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, stayed quiet.

After weeks of in-party fighting between Democrats on whether Biden, 81, should stay in the race, a rush of support coalescing behind Harris is crucial just over 100 days before November’s election.

However, there are plenty of doubts inside the Democratic Party about whether Harris can beat Trump in November.

Biden himself endorsed Harris on Sunday, not in his initial letter stepping down, but in a separate statement. He was quickly followed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, several key donors, lawmakers including US Senator Patty Murray, and super PACs including Priorities USA and Unite the Country.

“Today I want to offer my full support and endorsement for Kamala to be the nominee of our party this year,” Biden said on social media platform X. “Democrats — it’s time to come together and beat Trump. Let’s do this.”

Dmitri Mehlhorn, an adviser to Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn founder and a major Democratic donor, called Harris “the American dream personified,” noting she was the daughter of immigrants. “She is also toughness personified, rising from my home town of Oakland California to become the top prosecutor of the state. With Scranton Joe stepping back, I cannot wait to help elect President Harris.”

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, also endorsed Harris in a statement.

Still, others including Pelosi and former President Barack Obama thanked Biden for his patriotism but did not yet throw their support behind Harris or any other candidate.

“We will be navigating uncharted waters in the days ahead,” Obama said in a statement. “But I have extraordinary confidence that the leaders of our party will be able to create a process from which an outstanding nominee emerges.”

US Senator Peter Welch, the first Democratic senator to call on Biden to drop his reelection run, called for an open process to nominate Harris.

The Democrats should have “an open process so that whoever our nominee is, including Kamala, has the strength of having a process that shows the consensus position of the party,” he said. “The debate in the Democratic Party is who can carry on the legacy of President Biden and defeat Trump.”

One Democratic donor told Reuters they would support a ticket for Kamala Harris as the presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro as her vice president, as a way to gain votes in Pennsylvania. It is not clear yet whom Harris would pick as her vice president if she were to become the nominee.

Though Shapiro said on Sunday he was grateful for Biden’s leadership, he did not endorse Harris.


World leaders pay tribute to Biden as he ends re-election bid

World leaders pay tribute to Biden as he ends re-election bid
Updated 9 min 17 sec ago
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World leaders pay tribute to Biden as he ends re-election bid

World leaders pay tribute to Biden as he ends re-election bid

PARIS: World leaders lined up to pay tribute to US President Joe Biden Sunday after he announced he was dropping out of the US presidential race, even as Republicans called on him to step down from the job before the end of his term.

Biden announced his decision in a letter released on Sunday, a stunning move that upends the 2024 race for the White House. He endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party’s new nominee.

One senior Republican argued that if he was not fit to run for re-election then he was not fit to serve out his term. But world leaders lined up to pay tribute to the Biden’s achievements as US president.

“You’ve taken many difficult decisions thanks to which Poland, America and the world are safer, and democracy stronger,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“I know you were driven by the same motivations when announcing your final decision. Probably the most difficult one in your life,” added Tusk, who served as the European Council president between 2014 and 2019.

UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer said he respected Biden’s decision, adding: “I look forward to us working together during the remainder of his presidency.

“I know that, as he has done throughout his remarkable career, he will have made his decision based on what he believes is best for the American people,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also paid tribute to Biden’s legacy.

“My friend @POTUS Joe Biden has achieved a lot: for his country, for Europe, for the world,” he wrote on X. “His decision not to run again deserves respect.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog thanked him for his decades of support.

“I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to @POTUS Joe Biden for his friendship and steadfast support for the Israeli people over his decades long career,” Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, wrote on social media.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also thanked Biden for his years of service.

“I’ve known President Biden for years,” he wrote on X.

“He’s a great man, and everything he does is guided by his love for his country. As President, he is a partner to Canadians — and a true friend. To President Biden and the First Lady: thank you.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote on X: “Thank you for your leadership and ongoing service President Biden.”

“The Australia-US Alliance has never been stronger with our shared commitment to democratic values, international security, economic prosperity and climate action for this and future generations.”

Former president Barack Obama, with whom Biden served two terms as vice president, praised his record in office as president.

“Internationally, he restored America’s standing in the world, revitalized NATO, and mobilized the world to stand up against Russian aggression in Ukraine,” he said.

While he had every right to run for reelection, Biden’s decision to drop out of the race was testament to his “love of country,” Obama added.

The Kremlin said it was monitoring developments.

“The election is still four months away. And it’s a long time, during which a lot can change. We need to pay attention, follow what will happen and go about our business,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Life.ru news outlet.

Even as world leaders paid tribute to his performance on the world stage, leading Republicans were insisting he was unfit to remain president.

“If Joe Biden is not fit to run for president, he is not fit to serve as president,” said a statement from House Speaker Mike Johnson, the top Republican in Congress.

“He must resign the office immediately. November 5 cannot arrive soon enough,” he added.

Former president Donald Trump, who is running for the presidency again, wrote on his Truth Social network: “Crooked Joe Biden was not fit to run for President, and is certainly not fit to serve.”


’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest

’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest
Updated 56 min 32 sec ago
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’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest

’Give me his body’: Relatives grieve victims of Bangladesh unrest
  • Faith’s customs dictate that anyone who dies must be given a prompt burial

DHAKA: Grief-stricken widow Fatema Begum wept when hospital staff said her husband had been killed in the unrest that has roiled Bangladesh for nearly a week. She wept again when they refused to hand over his body.
Islam is the majority religion in the south Asian country, where 155 people have died since Tuesday in clashes between student protesters and police over contentious civil service hiring rules.
The faith’s customs dictate that anyone who dies must be given a prompt burial.
But staff at one of the biggest hospitals in the capital Dhaka has a longstanding requirement to only release bodies to relatives with police permission, and that is no longer easily forthcoming.
“Where is my husband?” Begum, 40, shouted at staffers outside the hospital’s morgue, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Give me his body.”
Begum’s husband Kamal Mia, 45, eked out a tough living as a pedal-rickshaw driver, transporting people around the sprawling megacity of 20 million people for the equivalent of a dollar per fare.
The family says he was not taking part in any of the clashes that have wrought widespread destruction around the city, but was killed by stray police fire.
Begum and her two daughters were told to go to a nearby police station for clearance. When her eldest daughter Anika went there, it was barricaded shut.
Officers had closed the station after arson attacks on dozens of police posts by protesters.
Anika was then sent to another police station farther away — a 10-kilometer (six-mile) round trip from the hospital — despite a nationwide government-imposed curfew.
Police there refused to give the necessary permission for the release of the body.
“My father was not a protester,” Anika said. “Why did my father have to die?“


Mia was among more than 60 people whose deaths in the unrest were recorded at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the country’s largest health care facility in the heart of the capital.
The relentless influx of patients since the start of the police crackdown on protesters has stretched the hospital to its limits.
Ambulances, private cars and rickshaws carrying the wounded were at one point arriving an average of once per minute, an AFP correspondent at the scene saw.
The entry gate of the emergency department, guarded by paramilitary Ansar forces, was blood-stained.
As soon as casualties arrive, staff rush with stretchers and trolleys. Some wounded people were given first aid for a rubber bullet, while others who were hit by injuries had to wait — sometimes for hours — for the doctors on duty.
Some are brought in already dead. Loved ones burst into tears as soon as a doctor or nurse makes it official.
A group of volunteers stood by the emergency department using loudhailers to call for blood donors after the hospital’s stocks were depleted.
Among the dozens of grieving relatives at the hospital, the steps the police took to quell the student demonstrations have prompted untempered fury against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.
“Hasina’s police have killed my son to keep her in power,” the father of a 30-year-old mobile phone shop owner shot dead in the capital, who asked not to be identified, told AFP.
“God will punish her for this unjust torture.”


Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east

Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east
Updated 21 July 2024
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Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east

Civilians killed and wounded as Russia and Ukraine trade attacks, Russia claims gains in the east
  • Overnight into Sunday, Ukraine’s air defenses intercepted 35 of the 39 drones launched by Russia

KYIV: Russia and Ukraine exchanged drone, missile and shelling attacks on Sunday. At least two people were killed in Ukrainian strikes on the partly Russian-occupied Donetsk region, Russian state media said, while Ukrainian officials said Russian strikes wounded at least five people.
Along the front line in the east, Russia said it had taken control of two villages, one in the Kharkiv region and one in the Luhansk region.
Ukrainian shelling of Russia-held areas of the Donetsk region killed two people in the village of Horlivka, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said.
Three people were wounded by Russian drone strikes in southern Ukraine’s partly occupied Kherson region, local officials said Sunday morning. In the country’s northeast, officials in the Kharkiv region said two people were wounded when a village was hit by Russian shells.
Overnight into Sunday, Ukraine’s air defenses intercepted 35 of the 39 drones launched by Russia, according to air force commander Mykola Oleschuk. In addition, Russia launched three ballistic missiles and two guided air missiles, which did not reach their targets, he said.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said Sunday that its troops had taken control of two villages: Pishchane Nizhne in the Kharkiv region and Andriivka, sometimes referred to as Rozivka, in the Luhansk region. Kyiv did not immediately comment.
Officials in the northern Sumy region said Sunday that Russia launched a missile strike on “critical infrastructure facilities” in the city of Shostka. City mayor Mykola Noha specified that “two heating facilities” had been destroyed and called on residents to use electricity sparingly and stock up on water.
With few changes reported along the 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line, where a recent push by the Kremlin’s forces in eastern and northeastern Ukraine has made only incremental gains, both sides in the war have taken aim at infrastructure targets — seeking to curb each other’s ability to fight in a war that is now in its third year.
Russian air defense systems overnight destroyed eight drones over the country’s Belgorod region and over the Black Sea, the Russian Ministry of Defense said.
Russian air defense also shot down two long-range ballistic ATACMS missiles in the sky over the Kherson region heading for Russia-annexed Crimea, Russia-installed Kherson governor Vladimir Saldo said.
Nine people were wounded over the previous day in shelling in the town of Shebekino in Russia’s Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Sunday morning.


What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work

What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work
Updated 21 July 2024
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What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work

What happens next? Joe Biden wants to pass the baton to Kamala Harris, here’s how that might work
  • Democrats are set to hold their convention in Chicago on Aug. 19-22 - now an open contest

ATLANTA: With President Joe Biden ending his reelection bid and endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris, Democrats now must navigate a shift that is unprecedented this late in an election year.

Democrats are set to hold their convention in Chicago on Aug. 19-22. What was supposed to be a coronation for Biden now becomes an open contest in which nearly 4,700 delegates will be responsible for picking a new standard-bearer to challenge Republican Donald Trump in the fall.

The path ahead is neither easy nor obvious, even with Biden endorsing Harris. There are unanswered questions about logistics, money and political fallout.
Can Biden redirect his delegates?
Biden won every state primary and caucus earlier this year and only lost the territory of American Samoa. At least 3,896 delegates had been pledged to support him.
Current party rules do not permit Biden to pass them to another candidate. Politically, though, his endorsement is likely to be influential.
What could happen at the convention?
With Biden stepping aside, Democrats technically start with an open convention. But realistically, his endorsement pushes Democrats into murky territory.
The immediate burden is on Harris to solidify support across almost 4,000 delegates from the states, territories and District of Columbia, plus more than 700 so-called superdelegates that include party leaders, certain elected officials and former presidents and vice presidents.
Will anyone challenge Harris?
Even before Biden announced his decision, Democrats floated California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as potential contenders in addition to Harris. Yet some Democrats argued publicly, and many privately, that it would be a no-brainer to elevate the first woman, first Black woman and first person of south Asian descent to hold national office.
Given how important Black voters -– and Black women especially -– were to Biden’s nomination and his choice of Harris as running mate, it would be risky, to say the least, for Democrats to pass her over for a white nominee. Democrats already faced historical headwinds before Biden’s withdrawal. Newsom and Whitmer, both of whom are white, and any other Democrat would also have to weigh the short-term and long-term benefits of challenging Harris now versus preserving goodwill for a future presidential primary.
Yet, fair or not, Harris also has not been viewed as an especially beloved or empowered vice president. The best scenario for her and Democrats is to quickly shore up support and project a united front. Democrats could even go forward with their plans for an early virtual vote – a move they’d planned to make sure Biden was selected ahead of Ohio’s general election ballot deadline.
What happens to Biden’s campaign money?
Biden’s campaign recently reported $91 million cash on hand. Allied Democratic campaign committees brought the total at his disposal to more than $240 million. Campaign finance experts agree generally that Harris could control all those funds since the campaign was set up in her name as well as Biden’s. If Democrats do nominate someone other than Harris, party accounts could still benefit the nominee, but the Biden-Harris account would have more restrictions. For example, legal experts say it could become an independent expenditure political action committee but not simply transfer its balance to a different nominee.
How will a vice presidential nomination work?
The vice presidential nomination is always a separate convention vote. In routine years, the convention ratifies the choice of the nominee. If Harris closes ranks quickly, she could name her choice and have the delegates ratify it. In an extended fight, though, the vice presidency could become part of horse-trading — again, a return to conventions of an earlier era.
Can Republicans keep Harris off state ballots?
Any curveball during a US presidential campaign is certain to produce a flurry of state and federal lawsuits in this hyper-partisan era, and some conservatives have threatened just that.
State laws, though, typically do not prescribe how parties choose their nominees for president. And some GOP figures – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey – have worked already this year to ensure their party did not deny Democrats’ routine ballot access.