What to Know in Washington: Trump, Biden Plan Dueling TV Events

President Donald Trump’s refusal to hold a virtual town hall debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden after his hospitalization for the coronavirus has created one of the stranger events of the 2020 campaign — two town halls, each featuring a candidate, before different audiences in different cities at the same time.

The concurrent hourlong events — starting at 8 p.m. with Trump on NBC and Biden on ABC — threaten to fracture television viewership, making it harder for the candidates to deliver their messages to a broad audience.

Even so, the event will give Trump one of his highest-profile opportunities before the Nov. 3 election to reverse his slide in polls that show Biden ahead.

Instead of sparring with each other over topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and health care, the town hall format typically gives the candidates a less contentious opportunity to lay out their positions, and engage one-on-one with voters about issues they care about.

Trump backed out of the originally scheduled debate that was planned for today as a town hall format. His campaign rejected revised plans by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates for the candidates to appear remotely after Trump was hospitalized for Covid-19, insisting that the president and his aides, a number of whom have also tested positive for coronavirus, posed no health risk.

With 19 days until the election, early voting is already under way in two-dozen states. In-person and mail-in voting are surpassing records amid concerns about Covid-19 transmission at polling places and what strategists in both parties say is heightened interest in the race. Jennifer Epstein and Justin Sink have more on what to expect tonight.

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg
Trump and Biden at the first debate on Sept. 29.

What to Watch in Congress

Barrett Hearings Continue: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its final hearing of the week on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Senate Democrats used their final day of questioning yesterday to grill Barrett over statements made by Trump. The committee will hear from outside witnesses today. Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he will move to set a committee vote to advance the nomination to the full Senate on Oct. 22. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled he’ll set the stage for a full Senate vote the following week.

Democrats have invited four people to testify, including a mother of 7-year-old twins who rely on the ACA for coverage to address several conditions arising from their premature birth. They also have invited a woman who fought to obtain an abortion at the age of 16 who will speak about reproductive rights, a doctor who runs a clinic to speak about the ACA and the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. Read more from Greg Stohr and Laura Litvan.

Stimulus Doomed by Diverging Goals: Even with the U.S. still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, Washington fell short in delivering more stimulus before the election, whipsawed by Trump and hobbled by the diverging agendas of the top Republican and Democrat in Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a self-proclaimed “master legislator,” entered the talks in July with a reputation for legislative acumen honed over years of consequential budget battles and in previous showdowns with Trump. She put in her bid for an even bigger pandemic rescue plan than the $2 trillion package passed in March. Unlike in March, when both parties rallied around the Cares Act as the virus prompted nationwide shutdowns, the Trump administration couldn’t side with Pelosi even if it wanted. McConnell and many of his fellow Republicans resisted any stimulus of much more than $1 trillion, and especially the massive state and local aid sought by Democrats. Some in the GOP didn’t think the economy needed more aid.

There also was a lack of trust in the White House negotiating team. Senate Republicans blamed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for giving away too much in the $2 trillion plan passed in March. Democrats were suspicious of White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who joined the administration in March after building a reputation during more than seven years in the House as an uncompromising partisan. Now there is less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 election, and Mnuchin said that “reality” is getting in the way. Read more from Billy House and Laura Davison.

More Elections & Politics

Republicans Battle Each Other, Democrats in Georgia: Republicans are battling among themselves as well as with Democrats to keep both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, and the potential for a delayed outcome in the state could leave control of the chamber in doubt until January. Georgia has an unusual double bill of Senate contests on the November ballot with an additional twist. One of the races is a 20-candidate special election that is certain to result in a Jan. 5 runoff between the top two finishers. The other race also could be forced into a second round.

The state has reliably sent Republicans to the Senate for almost two decades and hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. But the rapid growth in new residents moving from other states to the Atlanta metropolitan region, which accounts for almost half of the votes in Georgia, has caused a churn in Peach State politics. Read more from Billy House.

Battleground States Will Decide the Presidential Race: The multiple crises of 2020 have redrawn the political map, as the pandemic, the economic crash, and racial justice protests have shaken the competitive states that will decide the presidential election. Combined with strong reaction to Trump’s style, the changes will make for a different campaign and a chaotic election night. Gregory Korte and Reade Pickert take a look at the state of the race in the battle ground states.

Trump Loses Fight Over North Carolina Ballot Deadline: Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee lost a legal challenge to North Carolina’s extended deadline for accepting mail-in ballots, even though a judge said the plan backed by Democrats was probably unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge William Osteen yesterday said the extension was improper because it was implemented by election officials rather than the state legislature. But the judge said it’s too close to the Nov. 3 contest to reverse such a significant change, which allows the state to accept ballots for up to nine days after election day as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3. Read more from Erik Larson.

Trump Demands Biden Release Info on ‘Business Dealings’: Trump demanded that Biden release e-mails and other documents detailing his son Hunter’s international business interests in the wake of a New York Post story linking the Bidens to a Ukrainian energy company that figured in Trump’s impeachment investigation. “Joe Biden must immediately release all emails, meetings, phone calls, transcripts, and records related to his involvement in his family’s business dealings, influence peddlings around the world, including China and including Russia,” Trump said yesterday at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa. Read more from Justin Sink.

Trump and his political allies reacted with fury after Facebook and Twitter yesterday restricted the New York Post article on the Bidens. Facebook said it would reduce distribution of the article, seeking to slow the pace of its spread before the social network’s fact-checkers have a chance to evaluate its authenticity. Twitter inserted a warning to people who clicked on the article. “So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of ‘Smoking Gun’ emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the @NYPost,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician. REPEAL SECTION 230!!!” Read more from John Harney.

Biden Raises $383 Million in September: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden raised $383 million in September, breaking the monthly record his campaign set in August when it pulled in $364.5 million. Biden announced the total in a video posted on his Twitter account last night. Bloomberg News previously reported the campaign had surpassed its August fundraising record. “I’m really humbled by it,” Biden said in the video. Read more from Tyler Pager.

What Else to Know Today

Statistician Says 2020 Census Is Being ‘Sabotaged’: Every ten years, as the U.S. Census Bureau completes its constitutionally mandated count of the population of the U.S., it faces new obstacles. But the 2020 census has weathered some extraordinary blows, from challenges rolling out new technology to political machinations over the questionnaire itself. “I do not believe that a fair and accurate census can occur,” says Robert Santos, vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute and the president-elect of the American Statistical Association. “I expect it to be one of the most flawed censuses in history.” Read more from Kriston Capps.

Groups Slam Trump’s Transit Grant Hurdles: Transit officials slammed the Federal Transit Administration for its decision to consider violence in New York City, Portland, and Seattle when deciding winners of coronavirus transit research grants. The move reflects escalating tensions between Trump and Democratic leaders from each city, as the president touts his stance on law and order before the November elections. It also raises concerns that the policy may apply to additional grant programs at the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies in the coming weeks. Read more from Courtney Rozen.

Union Sues Over USDA Scrapping Data: The sudden scrapping of an Agriculture Department survey of farm workers’ pay is triggering a prominent union to mount a legal fight. The United Farm Workers and its foundation filed a complaint Tuesday against the department, Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey over a recent decision to stop collecting the Farm Labor Survey data, set to be published next month. Read more from Megan U. Boyanton and Ian Kullgren.

TikTok Continues to Fight U.S. Ban: TikTok asked a federal judge to block a broad set of government restrictions designed to curb use of the Chinese-owned video-sharing app in the U.S., less than three weeks after the company succeeded in halting the Trump administration’s ban on new downloads. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington blocked the download ban on Sept. 27, ruling that the U.S. likely exceeded its legal authority under the emergency powers statute it invoked to justify the prohibition. TikTok yesterday asked Nichols to issue an injunction against proposed rules forbidding companies from providing the underlying web services that make the app accessible in the U.S. Read more from David Yaffe-Bellany.

Tax Burden Equal to 70% Rate Crushes Some: Millions of low-income Americans are locked into poverty thanks to U.S. tax policy, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta researchers say. About a quarter of lower-income workers effectively face marginal tax rates of more than 70% when adjusted for the loss of government benefits, a study led by Atlanta Fed Research Director David Altig found. That means for every $1,000 gained in income, $700 goes to the government in taxes or reduced spending. In some cases, there are no gains at all. Read more from Steve Matthews.

National Service Faces Uncertain Future: It’s difficult to find an issue that polls as well in the U.S. as voluntary national service. In a survey conducted in May by a Republican data firm and commissioned by the advocacy group Voices for National Service, 80% of respondents across the political spectrum said they supported increasing federal funding for programs like AmeriCorps, which places workers in stints with nonprofits such as health clinics and Habitat for Humanity. But it’s been more than a decade since Congress last voted to expand national service—and even then, funding was never authorized. Read more from Rachel Cohen.

China Defends Tibet Labor Practices: Chinese officials defended their labor practices in Tibet, in the face of growing concerns about rights abuses in the region and the Trump administration’s appointment of a senior official to scrutinize Tibetan affairs. Tibet Governor Qi Zhala told a briefing in Lhasa that forced labor transfer “does not exist,” maintaining that the local government was focused on “increasing the idle work force’s income through job-skills training.” That came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo named Robert Destro as a special coordinator for Tibetan issues. Destro will be responsible for advancing dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama and protecting the religious, cultural and linguistic identity of Tibetans, the State Department said. Read more.

U.S.-South Korea Alliance Shows Strain: The U.S. for the first time withheld its commitment to maintaining troop levels in South Korea, in the latest sign of strains facing the 70-year-old military alliance ahead of the U.S. presidential election. The two sides remained at odds over Trump’s troop-funding demands and South Korea’s calls for greater control over forces during a conflict as they held annual defense meetings in Washington. Read more from Jeong-Ho Lee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com