What to Know in Washington: Trump’s Chance to Win Is Fading

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While the lesson of the 2016 campaign was never to count out Donald Trump, his path to re-election is narrowing dramatically as Democrat Joe Biden’s lead continues to grow and voters sour on the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump now trails Biden by an average of 9.7 percentage points nationally, and by about 5 to 7 points in key battleground states, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polling. With 25 days left, it’s not clear how Trump can make up lost ground.

The challenge got even harder Thursday when Trump rejected the idea of a virtual debate with Biden next week, erasing one of his few remaining opportunities to change the trajectory of the race.

“I don’t see how Donald Trump catches Joe Biden without having two debates,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Bloomberg Television yesterday. “Without that debate, I can’t do the math to take him to where he needs to be if he expects to win this election.”

Democrats, still haunted by Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, aren’t yet celebrating. Clinton enjoyed a 5.3-point lead against Trump, on average, the same number of days before the election four years ago. But there are crucial differences this time, including a much higher favorability rating for Biden than Clinton enjoyed and Biden’s competitiveness in several states Trump carried in 2016, which also could shrink the president’s possible paths to re-election.

Trump may yet find a way to pull it out again this year, and he’s said he won’t leave office if he doesn’t believe the results are fair. Polls also may slightly exaggerate Biden’s lead if some Trump voters are undercounted.

But Democrats are growing hopeful that Biden’s lead is large enough that it could overcome small irregularities in polling or any last-minute ballot challenges from Trump that, in that case, wouldn’t be enough to erase a victory. And there are strengthening indications that Trump may take Republican control of the Senate with him. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Donald Trump wears a protective mask while boarding Marine One outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Debate Spat Ends Where It Started: A day-long back and forth over how to conduct next week’s debate between Trump and Biden ended late last night where it started with the Commission on Presidential Debates insisting it will be virtual, leaving its future unclear.

Commission chairman Frank Fahrenkopf told The Associated Press that the nonpartisan group was not going to rescind its decision to conduct the debate remotely after Trump was infected with the coronavirus, despite demands from the Trump campaign that they do so. The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move leaves the second debate, which had been scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, in doubt since Trump has refused to participate in a virtual face-off. Read more from Emma Kinery and Josh Wingrove.

Trump May Resume Public Events Tomorrow: Trump’s physician says that he can probably “safely return to public engagements” tomorrow.

The physician, Sean Conley, said in a memorandum released last night that Trump had completed his course of therapy for Covid-19 and “had responded extremely well to treatment.” An examination showed that Trump had “remained stable and devoid of any indications to suggest progression of illness,” Conley said. Read more from Bloomberg News.

  • Trump later said he’s aiming to hold a rally in Florida tomorrow night and another in Pennsylvania on Sunday night, Ben Livesey reports.
  • The president is set to appear tonight on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.

What to Watch Today on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate will hold pro forma sessions at 10 a.m. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans a press confrence with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to introduce a resolution to create a commission on presidential capacity.

More Elections & Politics

Democrats Use Barrett Fight to Elevate Health Care in Campaign: Senate Democrats are prepared to lose the fight over Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, but her confirmation hearings give them a platform to highlight a timely issue just before the election: health care. More than almost any other issue, Democrats say the fate of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic will drive home the stakes of GOP control of the White House and Senate.

If Republican plans for Barrett’s confirmation hold, she would be on the court when it hears arguments just one week after the Nov. 3 election in a case that could undo the law, which provides health insurance for 20 million Americans and other benefits — like parents being allowed to keep children on their plan until they turn 26 — for millions more. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Biden Withholds Stance on Court Seats: Biden said yesterday he will share his view on adding additional seats to the Supreme Court if he wins the presidential election. “They’ll know my opinion on court packing when the election’s over,” he told reporters in Phoenix. Biden said if he revealed his opinion on the issue, “the headline in every one of your papers will be about that, rather than focusing on what’s happening now.” Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Biden Will Need Big Deficits to Get Economy Off to a Fast Start: Financial markets are warming to the idea that the U.S. economy could get a Biden bounce — but it hinges on a new government being able and willing to run big budget deficits. He’s promising more than $3 trillion in extra spending over a four-year term if he wins next month. On top of that, pandemic relief measures worth another couple of trillion — stalled in Congress for months — are likely to get pushed through, especially if Democrats win Congress as well as the White House. Read more from Laura Davison and Jenny Leonard.

Lindsey Graham Is Suddenly in Trouble in Deep-Red South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham‘s (R-S.C.) lead role in next week’s Supreme Court nomination hearings will be the high-wire finale to his suddenly close race for re-election. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is staking his political career on supporting Trump and on delivering Barrett to the high court. That should be a winning strategy in a conservative state that Trump won by 14 points four years ago. But 2020 is anything but a typical year in American politics. Instead of cruising to a third term, Graham finds himself deadlocked with Democrat Jaime Harrison in recent polls and being out-raised and outspent as the election draws closer. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Republicans Aim to Flip Minnesota Blue-Dog Democrat’s House Seat: Rep. Collin Peterson’s (D-Minn.) social and fiscal conservatism has helped him fend off Republican challengers as his largely rural district in Minnesota has gone deep red. Trump swept the district by 31 points four years ago, making this the most Republican House district in America still represented by a Democrat. Will enough Trump voters split their tickets this time around and send Peterson back to Washington? Republicans are betting no. They see 2020 as their moment to flip the seat. Read more from Kim Chipman and Derek Wallbank.

Whitmer Blames Trump for Fostering Hate Groups: Hours after authorities charged six people with attempting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), she held a press conference and cited Trump as fostering an environment that encourages extremist criminal behavior. Trump has spent the last several months “stoking distrust, fomenting anger,” and “giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division,” Whitmer told reporters.

Trump later lashed out at Whitmer in a series of Twitter posts and a Fox interview. In one, he said that federal authorities “had foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist.”Read more from David Welch and Keith Naughton.

Biden, Trump Ads Go Positive as Election Nears: Trump’s hospitalization for Covid-19 rumbled through the 2020 race in one noticeable way: a sharp, if temporary, drop in negative campaign ads. Advertisements from Trump and Biden have shifted toward more positive spots over the past week since the president’s diagnosis, according to data compiled by Advertising Analytics.

Biden’s campaign ads were already remarkably positive compared to previous elections, with less than 10% of his ads qualifying as the 30-second attack ad genre that’s become a staple of modern campaigns. Perhaps even more surprising is that Trump, too, has become more positive in recent days. Since his hospitalization, the Trump campaign has slowly and quietly replaced its own attack ads with spots that emphasize his economic record, his commitment to seniors, and his “boundless optimism.” As of Thursday, about 77% of Trump’s ads this week were entirely positive. Read more from Gregory Korte and Bill Allison.

‘Builder President’ Trump Trails Biden With Real Estate Donors: Four years ago, Trump thrilled the real estate industry as he ascended to the White House, calling himself the “builder president” and promising a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending. Since then, while his tax overhaul kept breaks for investors like himself, it stung home buyers in many states. The blitz of spending on public projects fizzled. The pandemic and languishing talks for stimulus left much of the industry struggling. Now, a tally of contributions from real estate professionals shows more support for Biden than for re-electing a man who hails from the business. Read more from Shahien Nasiripour.

Rich Americans Rush to Shield Fortunes From Possible Biden Win: Wealthy American families are being told by their advisers that they should act now or risk losing millions of dollars later. That’s in case Democrats win back the White House and Senate in November. Biden has proposed substantially higher taxes on the rich, including making it much harder to avoid a 40% levy on large estates. By transferring fortunes to the next generation now, the wealthy can exploit the generous estate tax rules ushered in by Trump. Read more from Ben Steverman.

Millions Have Already Cast Ballots: More than 6.6 million people already have cast their ballots in the U.S. election, with Wisconsin, Virginia and South Dakota already exceeding 20% of their vote total from four years ago. In Florida, where voters are accustomed to voting by mail, about 1.2 million ballots have already been cast, about 12% of the 2016 total, according to data gathered by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who tracks early voting. Read more from Todd Shields.

USPS Ordered to Resume Overtime Pay: The U.S. Postal Service must ensure that election mail is delivered on time this fall, a federal judge held, ordering it to reverse its policy of not paying overtime and not permitting carriers to make late or extra trips. The decision against the Postal Service follows a number of similar decisions from the federal bench, including one from New York in which the USPS was ordered to pre-approve overtime requests between Oct. 26 and Nov. 6. Read more from Porter Wells.

Ohio Limit on Ballot Drop Boxes Blocked: A federal judge in Ohio overruled a limit of one ballot drop box per county imposed by the Republican secretary of state. The prohibition on off-site drop boxes was an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote because 15% of Cincinnati and Cleveland’s voting population, who are primarily poor and people of color, would have to travel more than 90 minutes to and from their single drop box location at the county election office, the judge said. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

U.S.-Based Disinformation Strains Social Media: Facebook’s announcement yesterday that it had shut down a network of phony accounts attempting to influence the November elections reinforced fears that people are working to use social media to undermine U.S. democracy. But unlike 2016, when most attention focused on campaigns associated with the Russian government, this year’s wave of disinformation is coming largely from Trump and his American supporters, a growing body of research shows, raising new challenges for social media companies. Read more from Eric Newcomer.

Perdue Rebuked for Campaigning on the Job: The federal government office responsible for ethics enforcement reprimanded Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue yesterday for violating the federal Hatch Act by using an official event to urge Trump’s re-election. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel ordered Perdue to reimburse taxpayers for his travel expenses and other costs associated with his attendance at the Aug. 24 event in North Carolina, in which he and Trump announced an additional $1 billion of funding for the Farmers to Families food distribution program. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Trudeau Braces for Post-Election U.S.: Canada is preparing for the potential of a disputed election in the U.S., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. Trudeau, who has steadfastly avoided discussing Trump’s lack of commitment to a transfer of power, offered his clearest comments yet on such a possibility yesterday. “What happens in the United States is going to be impacting Canada after the election, but our job is to be ready for all outcomes,” Trudeau told reporters. Read more from Kait Bolongaro.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

FDA’s Marks on Crusade to Defend Vaccine Safety: Peter Marks is becoming the poster child of Covid-19 vaccine promotion. The director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research is a career scientist who has made confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine his personal mission, with virtual appearances every day this week.

Other public health officials, including HHS Secretary Alex Azar, are also touting the safety of the FDA’s process, stating Covid-19 vaccines in development are receiving as much, if not more, medical scrutiny than in other clinical trials. Jeannie Baumann has more.

China Joins WHO-Backed Virus Vaccine Program: China will take part in a World Health Organization-backed effort to provide a coronavirus vaccine to developing nations, filling a void in global health leadership after President Trump spurned the program. Beijing yesterday joined the $18 billion Covax initiative that aspires to give lower-income countries the same access to vaccines as wealthier nations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Read more from Bloomberg News.

Military Rethinks Hospital, Medical Staff Cuts: The pandemic is causing the Pentagon to reassess an overhaul of the military health system that’s aiming to eliminate 17,000 medical positions and force 190,000 beneficiaries into private care, the Defense Health Agency said. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is collecting data on the effects of Covid-19 and recommendations to decide if the military should go ahead with its plans after pausing them at the beginning of the virus outbreak, Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, the agency’s director, said yesterday. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

CDC Expands Warning to Include Overweight: The link between extra pounds and severe Covid-19 grew stronger, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people who are merely overweight, not just the obese, may be at high risk of serious disease from the infection. The warning, posted on the agency’s website on Tuesday, means about two-thirds of Americans could face higher risks. Nearly 40% of American adults are obese and 32% are overweight, according to the agency. Read more from Emma Court.

D.C. Asks White House Guests to Get Tested: The District of Columbia Health Department asked people who have worked in the White House in the past two weeks or attended the Supreme Court event in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 to get a test for coronavirus and contact their local health service on their possible need to quarantine. Recipients of the letter also include those who’ve had close contact with people working in those spaces. Read the statement here.

SCOTUS Won’t Halt by-Mail Abortion Pill for Now: The U.S. Supreme Court let women, for now, keep obtaining abortion-inducing pills by mail during the Covid-19 outbreak, deferring action on a Trump administration request to reinstate a requirement that patients visit a medical facility. Read more from Greg Stohr.

What Else to Know Today

Barr Tells GOP Durham Report Won’t Be Ready By Election: Attorney General Bill Barr is informing top Republicans that the Justice Department’s review of the origins of the Russia investigation won’t be released before the election, Axios reports, citing an unidentified senior White House official and a congressional aide briefed on the matter, Nour Al Ali reports. No indictments or comprehensive report should be expected before Nov. 3, the people say.

Ratcliffe Warned Congress of Foreign Influence Push: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe briefed lawmakers at the House and Senate Intelligence panels about foreign influence campaigns targeting Congress, saying they’re more expansive than previously known and being carried out primarily by China, The Hill reports, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Ratcliffe indicated that a dozen to about 50 lawmakers have been targeted, according to the report, though he declined to specify which members of Congress were affected. Read more from Nour Al Ali.

U.S. Sues Yale Over Race-Based Admissions: Yale University was sued by the Department of Justice, which claims the Ivy League school illegally discriminates against White and Asian American applicants in undergraduate admissions. The lawsuit, which was filed yesterday in federal court in Connecticut, was previously threatened by the government in a letter that gave the university a deadline to agree to stop considering an applicant’s race or national origin in its 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Read more from Patricia Hurtado.

Crypto Said to Pose a Growing Security Threat: The emergence of cryptocurrencies presents opportunities for terrorists, rogue nations and other criminals who present a threat to U.S. national security, the Department of Justice said in a report. “Current terrorist use of cryptocurrency may represent the first raindrops of an oncoming storm of expanded use,” the Cyber-Digital Task Force said in the report. Read more from Elaine Chen.

Government Eases Forgiveness Hurdles for Smaller PPP Loans: Businesses will have fewer obstacles to clear to get virus relief loans of $50,000 or less forgiven under new rules from the government. The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration offered relief in interim final rules yesterday. The government also released a forgiveness form and accompanying instructions. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

World Food Program Wins 2020 Nobel Peace Prize: The World Food Program was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger, particularly in conflict zones. The organization is being honored “for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said today. Read more from Lars Erik Taraldsen and Jonas Cho Walsgard.

To contact the reporters on this story: Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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