What to Know in Washington: Trump On Defense in Crucial States

President Donald Trump is running out of time to reverse his campaign’s downward trajectory after a widely criticized debate performance that left him little room to pick away at Democrat Joe Biden’s lead with just 33 days to go until the election.

Biden has maintained a persistent lead both in national polling and in key states while Trump is defending parts of the map he should be able to take for granted, including reliably Republican Iowa and Georgia. In fact, nearly every state that pollsters view as competitive is a state the president won in 2016, meaning Biden is able to take the fight to Trump country.

“I think you’re seeing states that you thought a year ago would be slam dunks are now iffy or are near certain losses and that tells you how much the president is on his heels,” said Tim Malloy, an analyst for the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Is there an October surprise? There better be, because this is headed off the cliff for him.”

Trump’s standing with voters has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic, the economic collapse that followed and racial unrest across the country. His attempts to right his campaign have been met with criticism. When he seems to make headway on one of those crises, he’s hit with a new report over his alleged remarks about U.S. war dead, or revelations that he might not have paid all the taxes he owes, as the New York Times reported.

“The tidal wave of controversies have in a way boxed the president in as far as growth in the Midwest, in a place where he’s made a lot of promises,” Malloy said.

State-by-state polling averages in the three most competitive states in the Midwest that Trump won in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — show Biden up by more than 5 points. Biden is also up by nearly 7 points nationally.

At the same time, Biden and Trump are neck and neck in states like North Carolina, Arizona and Florida. And this week news came that the president is tied with Biden in Iowa, Georgia and Ohio. Trump won all six of those states in 2016. Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Gregory Korte.

Photographer: Ben Brewer/Bloomberg
Trump at a Rally Thursday in Minnesota

Biden Targets Trump on Economy: Biden took a seven-city Amtrak tour through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania yesterday, bringing his economic message right to the heart of Trump country. “A lot of White working class Democrats thought we forgot them and didn’t pay attention,” Biden said after the trip, adding that he believed he could win them back because he understands “their sense of being left behind.”

While those voters might not think Trump and his policies have helped them, Biden said, “They’re not sure that there’s the old Democratic Party back and looking at them, listening to them. And so I think it’s important.”

The Biden campaign chartered a train to bring the Democratic nominee on a seven-hour journey through the Rust Belt, home to many of the White working class voters the vice president wants to win back from Trump, especially in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. It also gave Biden, who thrives on contact with voters, the opportunity to charm people who came to see him as well as local officials and the press on a lively day of retail politicking – an experience that has eluded him since March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Happening on the Hill

Mnuchin, Pelosi Extend Stimulus Talks: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plan to resume discussions today on a new pandemic relief package, racing against the clock to resolve their differences on another round of coronavirus stimulus. Mnuchin and Pelosi yesterday held their first in-person talks since August, yet fell short of reaching an agreement that would bridge the gaps between the administration and Democrats on further aid for the U.S. economy. House leaders postponed a planned vote yesterday on a $2.2 trillion Democrat-only stimulus bill that Pelosi had described as a “proffer” in negotiations with the White House. The proposal had no chance of getting Republican support, but it would give Democrats running for re-election something to tout to voters if talks failed. Some of them had been pressing Pelosi to hold the vote.

“The president has instructed us to come up significantly, so we have come up from the trillion-dollar deal,” Mnuchin said on Fox Business last night, adding that he and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had met with Trump before they went to Capitol Hill for negotiations. Read more from Erik Wasson and Billy House.

Trump Signs Bill to Avert a Shutdown: Trump signed stopgap spending legislation early today to avert a government shutdown weeks before the presidential election, the White House said. The spending authority of the U.S. lapsed at midnight. The White House announced he signed the bill shortly after returning from a campaign trip to Minnesota. The bill will keep the government operating through Dec. 11 at current spending levels. The Senate yesterday approved the bill, which easily passed the House last week. Read more from Erik Wasson and Justin Sink.

Nominations: The White House in a statement said it sent to the Senate the nomination of Brian Davis to be Defense Department assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs. A former Air Force officer, Davis currently serves as the director of the Defense Personnel and Family Support Center for the Pentagon.

Thune Says Shelton Still Lacks Votes: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 GOP leader, told reporters the leadership team still doesn’t have the votes to confirm Judy Shelton to the Fed, but they haven’t given up. “We continue to work it. And we’re making some headway. We’re making some good progress but nothing really to report about a schedule yet in terms of a vote,” Thune said, Laura Litvan reports.

More Elections & Politics

Trade Wars, Covid Response Could Cost GOP Iowa Senate Seat: Trump’s newfound struggle to keep Iowa in Republican hands, just four years after a comfortable win in the Midwestern state, could also prove decisive for control of the U.S. Senate. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is running behind in her quest for reelection on Nov. 3, after binding herself both to the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) leadership team in her first term. A member of the Judiciary Committee, she’s looking to the fight with Democrats over Trump’s pick to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to energize Iowa Republicans. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Trump Is Losing the TV Advertising War: Trump has lost many of the older voters who helped propel him to victory in 2016, and Republican strategists say they think they know why: Trump is losing the ad war to Biden. The Democratic nominee has outspent Trump on television and is well positioned to press that advantage in the final month of the campaign, with $119 million in reserved time to Trump’s $98 million. Biden has also been buying up additional time in recent weeks, while Trump has canceled his television ad buys amid a campaign cash crunch. Older voters are the ones most exposed to political ads on broadcast and cable television, with younger viewers more often using subscription streaming services, which have little or no ads. Read more from Gregory Korte, Mario Parker and Bill Allison.

Biden Raised Nearly $10 Million During Debate: Tuesday evening’s chaotic presidential debate produced a surge of money for Joe Biden from grassroots donors, who poured nearly $10 million into his campaign between 9 p.m. and midnight. Biden had his best hour of fundraising in the campaign as the verbal slugfest was winding down, taking in $3.8 million between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to a Biden campaign official, 85% of which came via mobile phones. The campaign then had its best single day of fundraising to date, raising more than $21.5 million on Wednesday, according to a campaign official. Read more from Bill Allison.

Parscale Steps Aside From Trump Campaign: Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has stepped aside from his role in the campaign days after he was detained at his Florida home and taken to a hospital, a campaign official said last night. Parscale was taken into custody on Sunday after Fort Lauderdale police responded to a 911 call indicating he had barricaded himself inside the house and perhaps had fired a gun. The police said his wife told them he had threatened to harm himself. Read more from Josh Wingrove, Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink.

Judge Says Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims Are ‘Fiction’: Trump’s campaign lost an effort to block Montana election officials from automatically mailing ballots to all registered voters for the Nov. 3 election — a setback for Republicans in a state with a tight Senate race that could help flip control of the chamber to Democrats. U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen in Helena, Montana, yesterday denied the campaign’s request for an injunction blocking the plan, saying there was no evidence it would lead to rampant voter fraud in the state. Mail-in ballots have been used widely in Republican-leaning Montana for two decades. Read more from Erik Larson.

What Else to Know Today

Religious Rights, Arbitration and Pot Cases Await Supreme Court: The 2020 U.S. Supreme Court term will feature high-profile political and policy battles, potentially including litigation over the presidential election, but several notable if less splashy cases with workplace implications are also waiting in the wings. The justices have already agreed to hear arguments in disputes touching on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Federal Arbitration Act, and a conflict over LGBT rights and religious exemptions. Petitions for review are pending in cases concerning wage-and-hour class actions, long-running disputes about class-wide arbitration, and several cases about religious accommodations. Union fee disputes under consideration by the court could expand a previous high court ruling that weakened public-sector unions. Read more from Erin Mulvaney.

Trump Moves to Expand Rare Earths Mining: Trump signed an executive order declaring a national emergency in the mining industry, a move aimed at expanding domestic production of rare earth minerals vital to most manufacturing sectors. The order directs the Interior Department to explore using the Defense Production Act to hasten the development of mines. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Joe Deaux.

U.S. Plans to Announce Probe on Vietnam Currency: The Trump administration plans to announce an investigation into Vietnam’s currency practices, according to three people familiar with the matter. The probe, undertaken through section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, would come after the Departments of Commerce and Treasury in August determined Vietnam had manipulated its currency in a specific trade case involving tires, the people said. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Saleha Mohsin.

IRS Cuts Entertainment Tax Break Trump Now Favors: The Internal Revenue Service issued guidelines yesterday scaling back a tax break for client entertainment, following through on an element of Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul that he has said he wants to reverse amid the virus pandemic. Trump’s tax law eliminated the deduction for so-called entertainment expenses — golf outings, cruises and concert tickets, although it left in place a 50% break for business meals. The rules out yesterday finalize implementation of the 2017 legislation, specifying how accountants should define client meals. Read more from Laura Davison and Samuel McQuillan.

Air Force Orders Shift to Telework: The Air Force made a “seismic shift” this week to adopt telework formally as the default for its Pentagon headquarters staff including service members, civilians, and contractors wherever possible—even after the pandemic. Secretary Barbara Barrett ordered supervisors in the National Capitol Region to offer full-time, part-time, or situational remote work to personnel, and to create programs to ensure work performance, work-life balance, and reduced costs. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

Study Says Malaria Drug Won’t Prevent Covid: A dose of hydroxychloroquine every day won’t prevent a coronavirus infection, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. University of Pennsylvania researchers said that their paper marks the first published clinical trial to see if the anti-malaria drug, often touted by Trump, will prevent Covid-19. About 125 physicians, nurses, emergency technicians, and other front line workers took hydroxychloroquine or a placebo every day for two months. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Hundreds Accused of Making $6 Billion in False Health Claims: Nearly 350 defendants, including 100 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, face charges they submitted more than $6 billion in false and fraudulent claims to federal health-care programs and private insurers, the Justice Department said yesterday. Read more from Cheryl Bolen.

With assistance from Brandon 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