What to Know in Washington: Trump Keeps His Cool in Final Debate

President Donald Trump turned in a more composed and disciplined debate performance last night, offering a marked contrast to the chaos and fury that defined his first battle with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

But even as the president earned credit for engaging in a more civil exchange of views — and maybe even brought a few doubters back into his camp — there was little reason to think he had scored the kind of dramatic victory he badly needed to turn around a race polls show he’s losing.

Trump’s supporters had spent more than a week teeing up an attack on the foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter, but standing next to Biden during the final presidential debate in Nashville, Trump failed to make it stick. Biden managed to flip it back on Trump, pointing out news reports showing it was the president’s company that had a bank account in China, not him.

Biden’s best moments occurred when he resisted taking the bait as Trump accused him of being corrupt, leading Biden to call out Trump for failing to release a single tax return. “What are you hiding?” Biden said.

The former vice president was less sure-footed elsewhere in the debate. When under pressure from Trump, he appeared to endorse the eventual elimination of the oil industry. Trump immediately seized on Biden’s remark for voters in all-important Pennsylvania, where Biden’s position on reducing fracking wins him few friends in a state where fracking employs thousands of people.

After the first debate devolved into a mess of cross-talk and bitterness, this session was notable for its substance, as voters could watch the two men lay out their closing arguments on almost every topic — the coronavirus, immigration, race relations — and see the clear choice they face less than two weeks before Election Day.

Trump scored when he resurrected the parts of his persona that won him fans in 2016, contrasting his outsider’s stance to Biden’s 47 years in public life. And on the coronavirus, Trump accused Biden of supporting further economic shutdowns that have crushed the U.S. economy.

Even as the president’s allies crowed that the president’s tone could bring reluctant voters back home – or erase the memory of a first debate where even his debate coach said he was “too hot” – indications were that he had done little to change the underlying dynamics. Read more from Justin Sink.

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg
Trump and Biden debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Trump, Biden Fact Check: Trump and Biden’s final debate last night touched on Trump’s vaccine timing claims, the Green New Deal, the president’s taxes and his response to the coronavirus. Read a fact check here.

Trump Seizes On Biden Oil Comment: Trump seized on Biden’s pledge to eventually replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, turning Biden’s remarks into a warning for swing state voters that oil and gas jobs could be at risk. Biden’s comment came in response to a question from Trump about whether he would shut down the oil industry. The former vice president, in one of his starkest comments of the campaign on the issue, said “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.” “The oil industry pollutes significantly,” Biden said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

Two Democrats in toss-up races distanced themselves from the comments. Rep. Kendra Horn, the incumbent in an Oklahoma swing district Trump carried in 2016, and Xochitl Torres Small, who’s in a toss-up race in New Mexico, both took exception to what Biden said. “Here’s one of the places Biden and I disagree,” Horn wrote. “We must stand up for our oil and gas industry.” Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ari Natter.

  • Biden’s plans for discouraging the use of fossil fuels would “plunge America back in a depression” and could drive gasoline prices to $6 a gallon, billionaire oilman Harold Hamm said, beyond any level previously recorded. Hamm, a confidant of Trump’s and the chairman of Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, made the fringe prediction in an interview with Bloomberg hours before the debate. Jennifer Dlouhy has more.

What to Watch in Congress

Senate: The Senate is slated to meet at noon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to hold a vote advancing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The chamber could hold a procedural vote on the motion to proceed to Barret’s nomination, which requires a simple majority. McConnell could then file for cloture, or to limit debate, on the nomination. The chamber will remain in session through the weekend as Republicans run down the amount of time required for debate. McConnell says he’s aiming for a final vote on the confirmation on Monday. Laura Litvan has the latest on the nomination.

House: The House is slated to meet in a pro forma session at 11:30 a.m.

Pelosi-Mnuchin Stimulus Talks Drag On: Prospects for a U.S. stimulus package passing Congress before the Nov. 3 election are fading fast as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dicker over the details of a nearly $2 trillion aid package. With the pace of talks dragging, resistance from Senate Republicans is building and Trump’s ability to twist arms into supporting a deal appears to be waning. Now some House Democrats are telling Pelosi that they don’t want to vote on legislation before the election if the Senate won’t do so, according to a party official.

Putting off votes on a stimulus package until after the election raises the risk that the Trump administration will be less inclined or able to push a package through the GOP Senate. That likely would be amplified if Trump loses to Biden and Republicans lose their Senate majority — leaving action on stimulus for the pandemic-stricken U.S. economy until late January at the earliest. Read more from Erik Wasson and Billy House.

Also Happening on the Hill

Bill Would Stop President from Shutting Down Internet: A bipartisan House measure seeks to add checks to the president’s ability to shut down communications networks, including the internet—a response to Trump’s criticisms of internet companies. The legislation, dubbed “the Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act,” follows allegations by Trump that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook suppress conservative content, and his call for the repeal of a law that shields the companies from lawsuits, Rebecca Kern reports.

Clyburn Threatens HHS Subpoena Over CDC Info: House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) is threatening to subpoena the Health and Human Services Department if it doesn’t turn over records and witnesses sought in a probe of alleged political meddling at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Covid pandemic. “If you refuse to comply voluntarily, you will force the Select Subcommittee to consider issuing subpoenas,” he wrote in a letter to Secretary Alex Azar. HHS has offered “zero documents and zero witnesses,” Clyburn says. Read more from Max Reyes.

  • Meanwhile, the CDC will update school opening guidance to reflect the rise of Covid-19 cases, House Democrats said, Alex Ruoff reports. Michael Beach, the CDC’s deputy incident manager for the Covid-19 response, told staff for the House coronavirus panel that the agency’s school reopening guidance is “outdated and will be updated to reflect the current science on risks to children,” according to a readout of a meeting between Beach and the panel provided to reporters. Beach also said that college students’ return to campuses this fall contributed to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S., according to the readout.

Election Sanctions Bill Blocked: Senate Republicans yesterday blocked Democrats’ attempt to pass bipartisan foreign election interference legislation (S. 1060), the DETER Act, by unanimous consent. The bill would trigger a range of sanctions following Russian election interference.

Ways and Means Democrats Question IRS Readiness: House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) wrote to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig yesterday seeking answers by Oct. 29 to questions about the agency’s ongoing backlogs due to the pandemic, how prepared it is for the 2021 tax season, and when that season might begin. Read more from Kaustuv Basu.

More Elections & Politics

Judge Elections Heat Up in Michigan, Ohio: With the nation’s attention fixed firmly upon the all-but-certain elevation of Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, largely overlooked is the high court drama taking place outside the Beltway. A total of 35 states are conducting Supreme Court elections this year, with 73 of 344 judicial seats up for grabs. Court watchers are particularly interested in Ohio and Michigan, where the ideological balance may shift from right to left.

Among the top issues for courts in the states? Litigation arising from redistricting challenges, thanks to a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively took such decisions out of the hands of federal courts. The shift is one example of why state supreme court races are so important this year, said Douglas Keith, a state courts expert at the Brennan Center. Read more from Jennifer Kay and John Dunbar.

Court Pick Adds Scrutiny to Abortion Ballot Issues: Trump’s nomination of Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court has raised the stakes for a proposed partial abortion ban in Colorado and a proposed constitutional amendment in Louisiana to restrict abortion rights. The two measures on Nov. 3 ballots come at a time when Barrett, if confirmed, could be involved in decisions about women’s reproductive health that could last for decades. Barrett personally opposes abortion, although she pledged to set aside her views in her work on the court.

The Colorado measure (Proposition 115) would ban abortions after 22 weeks gestation with no exceptions for rape, incest, non-life-threatening health risks, or a diagnosis determining that the fetus wouldn’t survive outside the womb. The only exception would be for abortions that are “immediately required to save the life of the pregnant woman.” Read more from Tripp Baltz and Jennifer Kay.

Biden Using Multiple Ads to Keep Message Fresh: Biden’s fundraising advantage is letting him run several ads on different themes in crucial markets, giving him an edge over Trump, who can’t afford as many spots and is passing on some key areas. By churning multiple ads in a single market, Biden is able to increase the voters he reaches, keeping his content fresh and keeping viewers from tuning out. In more than two-dozen markets in critical battleground states in recent weeks, Biden has been reaching significant numbers of viewers with at least five different ads, while Trump is doing so in just one market. Read more from Bill Allison and Gregory Korte.

Trump Campaign Suit Over N.J. Ballot Plan Dismissed: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee to block New Jersey’s plan to send mail-in ballots to all registered voters, saying the GOP’s oft-stated fear of a wave of voter fraud was speculative. National Democrats who intervened in the lawsuit successfully argued the Trump campaign’s claims that unsolicited ballots would lead to illegal voting “are largely conjectural, hypothetical, and lacking in imminence,” U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp ruled. Read more from Erik Larson and Christopher Yasiejko.

  • The U.S. Postal Service pledged that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would prevent it from delivering ballots on time for the election, even as mail service falls short of on-time delivery in places like Detroit and Philadelphia. “Election mail will not be delayed,” Kristin Seaver, the USPS chief retail and delivery officer, said during an online briefing yesterday. “The Postal Service is committing all resources to ensure the timely movement of all election mail.” Read more from Todd Shields.
  • A federal judge last night ordered the U.S. Postal Service to restore high-speed mail-sorting machines at any facilities that are unable to process First Class election mail quickly enough — a major concern for states as the postal agency continues to struggle with service performance. The order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington is a win for a group of states that successfully sued USPS and Trump to halt a series of operational changes that hobbled the postal service just before an expected surge in use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic. Read more from Erik Larson.

Michigan GOP Blocks Paid Voter Transportation: Michigan Republicans scored an appeals court victory upholding a law that makes it a crime to pay for transportation of voters to the polls in the battleground state unless they’re physically unable to walk there. The 2-1 verdict yesterday blocks an injunction against the enforcement of the law that had been issued by a lower court judge as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Read more from Erik Larson.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

FDA Vaccine Rules Challenged as Weak: U.S. vaccine advisers questioned whether safety and efficacy standards set by Food and Drug Administration officials were high enough to warrant emergency authorization of a shot. About two dozen outside advisers to the FDA with expertise in infectious diseases met yesterday to weigh in on agency standards that require a vaccine to work in at least 50% of people and for drugmakers to collect two months of safety data on at least half of clinical trial volunteers.

“They haven’t gone far enough” in terms of safety, said Hayley Altman-Gans, a panel member and pediatrics professor at Stanford University Medical Center. Read more from Anna Edney and Robert Langreth.

  • The FDA approved Gilead Sciences’s antiviral therapy remdesivir yesterday, making it the first drug to obtain formal clearance for treating the coronavirus. Regulators had granted an Emergency Use Authorization for remdesivir earlier this year, and since then the drug has become a widely used therapy in hospitalized Covid patients. It was given to Trump this month when he was diagnosed with the virus. Read more from Robert Langreth.

Airlines Weigh Testing as Quarantine Alternative: A coalition of airline and travel industry groups is urging top U.S. officials to develop standards for rapid testing and other measures to sidestep the growing quarantine restrictions imposed by states. Eighteen states have some type of quarantine for people arriving from Covid-19 hot spots, but “this patchwork of rules is confusing and discourages travel,” the coalitions of 20 industry group wrote in a letter. Read more from Alan Levin.

What Else to Know Today

Rise in Russian, Iranian Hacks on Aviation, Agencies: Russia has been targeting U.S. government agencies since at least September and may be planning more severe attacks in the days leading up to Election Day and even afterward, according to a cybersecurity advisory issued by a pair of U.S. agencies.

Russian state-sponsored operators have been targeting dozens of government and aviation networks, including successful attacks against two unnamed victims whose data was stolen as of Oct. 1, according to one of two guidances issued jointly by the FBI and the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency. There’s no evidence that the attacks have disrupted victims in aviation, education, elections or government, yet the agencies called for heightened awareness in case attackers return, especially in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 election. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra and Alyza Sebenius.

Related:

Facebook Faces Looming FTC Antitrust Suit: U.S. antitrust officials are nearing a final decision on bringing a lawsuit against Facebook that accuses the social-media giant of using its dominance to harm competition, according to a person familiar with the matter. Staff at the Federal Trade Commission support bringing a case, which could be filed in the coming weeks, the person said. A final decision about suing the company rests with the five-member commission. The commission met yesterday to discuss the case, according to the person, who declined to be named because the investigation is confidential. Read more from David McLaughlin.

Uber, Lyft Ordered to Comply with Labor Law: Uber and Lyft failed to persuade a California appeals court to overturn a judge’s order to comply with a state labor law that threatens to upend their business models. The law, Assembly Bill 5, in effect since January, mandates that the companies treat their drivers in California as employees instead of independent contractors. Read more from Robert Burnson.

Federal Workforce Order to Reverberate in Second Term: An executive order from Trump that may potentially make it easier to hire and fire hundreds of thousands of federal workers in policymaking jobs will take a while to fully implement—meaning it will be of much greater consequence if the president is reelected. The order, which the White House said is intended to provide federal agencies more leeway to hold top employees below the level of the senior executive service “accountable,” establishes a new “excepted service” hiring authority aimed at federal workers in “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making,” or “policy-advocating positions.” Read more from Louis C. LaBrecque.

‘White Fragility’ Training Banned by Trump Order: A Labor Department official said “white privilege” or “white fragility” training for employees of federal contractors is outlawed by the Trump administration’s executive order that’s already led to the filing of over 100 complaints over allegedly illegal diversity training. “That is not appropriate in a work environment,” Craig Leen, head of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said, Paige Smith reports.

Trump Adviser Indicates Support for New Opportunity Zones: A White House official shed some light on what a second term for Trump would mean for opportunity zones, suggesting what would amount to a possible doubling of the number of areas eligible for the tax breaks. There are currently more than 8,700 census tracks across the U.S. designated as opportunity zones under the 2017 tax law. Read more from Lydia O’Neal.

Trump Orders Review of Delphi Pensions: Trump signed an order yesterday seeking a solution to the pension solvency crisis plaguing underfunded retirement plans within 90 days. The memorandum orders several agencies to review the legislative and administrative options available to address lost pension benefits related to the termination of Delphi auto workers’ retirement plan over a decade ago. Delphi, which was based in the battleground state of Ohio, was part of General Motors. Read more from Warren Rojas.

With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@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

Top