What to Know in Washington: Trump’s Style Risks Repelling Voters

President Donald Trump brought his chaotic and confrontational style directly to the debate stage last night during his first face-off with Democrat Joe Biden, seemingly unconcerned that his approach could alienate independent and moderate voters.

Trump’s frequent interruptions and personal barbs during the roughly 90-minute showdown were the personification of his re-election strategy, which has focused largely on exciting a core group of die-hard supporters who revel in his willingness to insult and shock while giving no ground.

And he at times flustered Biden — who Trump has for months attempted to paint as senile – with unrelenting attacks on his family and policies. But Biden never looked out-of-touch, and he did match Trump attack for attack, calling the president a “clown,” a “racist” and “the worst president America’s ever had.”

Polls have shown the president can’t win re-election with his base alone: He needs to reverse his fortunes at least around the margins with college-educated, suburban, and female voters who are dismayed by the controversies of his first term.

There was little evidence his debate performance would accomplish any of that, particularly as he declined to explicitly disavow White supremacists and suggested he wouldn’t leave office if the election results were not to his liking. Biden is leading Trump by about 7 percentage points in national polls, a remarkably consistent lead over recent months.

Even some in the president’s camp thought Trump took it too far.

“It was too hot,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the president’s debate coach, said after the debate on ABC News. “Listen, you come in, decide you want to be aggressive and that was the right thing to be aggressive, but that was too hot. And I think that what happens is, with all that heat, as you said before, you lose the light.”

For viewers at home, the display was unnerving — the sitting president goading and talking over his rival, matched with a two-term former vice president reduced to name-calling. Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to maintain order, reminding Trump frequently that his own campaign had agreed to the rules of the debate. CNN anchor Dana Bash, flabbergasted, called the event a “s–tshow” on live television after it was over.

In a CBS News poll of debate watchers, 69% described themselves as “annoyed” while another 19% said they were “pessimistic.” Justin Sink offers more analysis of the first presidential debate.

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg

‘Stand Back and Stand By’: Trump’s biggest miscue of the night was his hesitation to condemn White supremacist organizations under pressure from both Wallace and Biden. When Wallace asked a second time what he would say to the Proud Boys, a violent White nationalist group, Trump said they should “stand back and stand by.”

The Proud Boys organization started in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes to fight “political correctness” and a “White guilt” agenda, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group has participated in rallies across the U.S., including a violent clash with protesters in Portland, Ore., in 2018. They also attended the “Unite the Right” rally alongside other White supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

Following the debate exchange, members of the Proud Boys were celebrating the president’s comments on platforms such as Parler and Telegram. Joe Biggs, a Proud Boys supporter on social media who organized anti-antifa protests in Portland posted, “This makes me so happy.” The post was viewed 12,000 times in two hours and spread across mainstream platforms. Biggs soon followed-up the post with a logo adopting the president’s debate-night statement as a Proud Boys slogan. It was viewed just over 9,000 times in an hour on Parler.

In response to Trump’s comments, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that Trump “owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.” Read more from Naomi Nix.

Facts Given Short Shrift: Trump made a raft of assertions that didn’t stand up to fact-checking, from election integrity, to his tax returns, the coronavirus, and health care. Gregory Korte gives a rundown of the most hotly contested issues from the debate.

Happening on the Hill

Pelosi Awaits Mnuchin’s Stimulus Counter-Offer: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and congressional Democrats are awaiting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin‘s counter-offer to their stimulus plan as time is running out to get a deal before the election. Pelosi and Mnuchin are scheduled to talk again today, after a 50-minute conversation yesterday in which she laid out more details of the Democrats’ latest proposal for a $2.2 trillion pandemic relief package.

At the same time, Pelosi has already asked Democrats to deliver a “strong vote” for the package they unveiled Monday. In a letter to colleagues, she said the Democratic plan is a “proffer” in talks aimed at breaking the deadlock with Republicans. If no deal is reached, Democrats could vote on their proposal today or tomorrow. The House Rules Committee will meet today at 9 a.m. to discuss the measure, and it is listed on the House schedule for consideration today. Timing ultimately will depend on the result of Pelosi’s talks with Mnuchin. Read more from Erik Wasson and Billy House.

  • The U.S. has used pandemic aid to purchase more than $355 million in bonds issued by companies in the battered oil and gas industry, according to a report being released today by critics who say the investments amount to a bailout. The Federal Reserve began buying corporate debt to shore up the reeling economy in March. Some of the acquisitions benefited drillers, integrated and independent refiners, pipelines, and oil field services companies, according to the report, released by the advocacy group Public Citizen along with the environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Bailout Watch. Read more from Ari Natter.

Senate Advances Stopgap to Avert Shutdown: The Senate yesterday voted 82 to 6 to clear a procedural vote on the stopgap spending bill needed to prevent an Oct. 1 shutdown of the federal government. Final passage is expected today on the measure, which easily passed the House last week on a 359-57 vote. The spending bill would keep the government operating through Dec. 11 at current spending levels. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Graham to Hold Panel Vote on Barrett Oct. 22: Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said his committee will vote on advancing the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett on Oct. 22. “I want to give her a full, challenging hearing,” Graham said. “If they start playing games, we’ll just move on.” Graham and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have set a fast timetable to vote on Barrett’s confirmation, with four days of hearings starting Oct. 12. Read more from Laura Litvan.

  • Trump offered Barrett a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 21, three days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, according to a Senate questionnaire. “The President offered me the nomination on that day, and I accepted, subject to finalizing the vetting process,” Barrett said in answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire released yesterday. Coney was contacted on Sept. 19 by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Barrett said. She spoke to both again the next day and Meadows invited her to Washington, an invitation Trump “later called to confirm,” Coney said. Read more from Madison Alder and Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

GOP Releases Report on China: The U.S. military must keep bases, expeditionary air fields, and ports on islands in the Indo-Pacific region to be able to counter China immediately in a potential conflict, a Republican-led China Task Force is recommending in a report to be released later today. Republicans are also urging industries to shift supply chains away from China. China poses a “generational threat” similar to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the China Task Force composed entirely of GOP House members, said. Democrats declined to join what was supposed to be a bipartisan committee, amid tensions between their leadership and Trump. Read more from Roxana Tiron.

Schumer Takes Floor in Bid to Protect Obamacare: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed for cloture on a motion to proceed to a measure aimed at preventing the Justice Department’s efforts to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. A motion to proceed to this legislation will be the pending business of the Senate, according to a Schumer aide. The move appears aimed at forcing Republicans to go on the record on the Obamacare lawsuit ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Megan Howard and Steven T. Dennis report.

Student Loan Bankruptcy Relief Advances: The House Judiciary Committee approved a measure that would extend bankruptcy protections to borrowers with private or federally held student loans. Lawmakers advanced the bill by a 19 to 5 vote, with bipartisan support. A 2005 bankruptcy revamp made private student loans ineligible to be discharged by bankruptcy. Andrew Kreighbaum has more.

NLRB Won’t Comply With House Subpoena: The National Labor Relations Board told a congressional chairman it won’t comply with a subpoena for documents related to potential ethics conflicts, escalating a dispute with House Democrats. Providing the documents House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) requested—including written guidance from the board’s internal ethics officer and working documents related to the board’s joint-employer rule—would discourage candid debate among board staff, a top NLRB lawyer said in a six-page letter to Scott. Read more from Ian Kullgren.

More Elections & Politics

Biden Pulls Even With Trump in Georgia: Biden is running even with Trump in Georgia, which previously went for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1992. In a Quinnipiac University poll, 50% of likely voters in Georgia backed Biden, and 47% backed Trump, a lead within the margin of error. Trump took Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016, but the state has been trending Democratic in recent years. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Postal Service Pledges Speedy Handling of Ballots: The U.S. Postal Service is pledging to work overtime to ensure the speedy handling of mail-in ballots this fall. In a letter from agency management posted online by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the office is telling workers that it will authorize extra trips to carry ballots, and permit overtime “as needed.” Read more from Todd Shields.

Wisconsin Ballot-Count Extension Upheld: A federal judge’s ruling that allows Wisconsin election officials to accept mail-in ballots for six days after Election Day in the battleground state can be implemented, a U.S. appeals court said. The Chicago-based appeals court yesterday lifted a hold that it had imposed earlier. The court said the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin State Legislature had no standing to fight the judge’s decision. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

N.Y.C. to Replace Ballots for Some Voters: New York City will resend absentee ballots to around 100,000 people in Brooklyn who got return envelopes printed with the wrong names. Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said the situation was “appalling” and called on the elections board to fix the problem immediately. The mistake marred the beginning of the state’s early voting and gave Trump fresh material to continue his attacks on mail-in balloting. Read more from Keshia Clukey and Henry Goldman.

What Else to Know Today

Warning Signs Flash Ahead of Second Winter: Public health officials in the U.S. could take heart at the end of the summer. Even as the new coronavirus continued to spread, fewer people were ending up in the hospital because of Covid-19, and fewer were dying. But now, as the seasons turn and the global death toll from Covid-19 tops 1 million, signs show there will be more deaths and serious illness ahead.

Data collected by the Covid Tracking Project shows that the number of people hospitalized has plateaued at about 30,000 over the past week, after a decline from nearly 60,000 that began in late July. Deaths, meanwhile, averaged about 750 over the seven days through Sunday, higher than the roughly 600 deaths a day in the first week of July.

Scientists had hoped that a warm-weather reprieve could soften an expected re-emergence of the new coronavirus in the colder months. Instead, the contagion continued to spread across the country after Memorial Day, with early-summer outbreaks in Sun Belt states followed by the recent surge of infections in Upper Midwestern states and on college campuses across the nation. Read more from Michelle Fay Cortez.

FDA Official Says Vaccine Makers Know Data Agency Expects: The head of the Food and Drug Administration office that oversees vaccines said drugmakers developing Covid-19 shots are aware of the data that will be required to gain an emergency-use authorization, regardless of whether the agency provides formal guidance. “There’s no there there about this guidance to get excited,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s biologics office, at a Friends of Cancer Research event yesterday. “The companies know what we’re expecting.” Read more from Anna Edney and Jeannie Baumann.

IRS Asks Watchdog to Probe Security: The Internal Revenue Service has asked a watchdog to investigate the tax system’s security after the New York Times disclosed its reporters reviewed more than two decades of Trump’s tax information. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig asked the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to look at whether the agency’s system to protect private taxpayer data is secure, according to a statement released yesterday. After the New York Times reported Sunday on Trump’s taxes, the agency said it confirmed the integrity of its processes and procedures and has asked the watchdog to check its work. Read more from Laura Davison.

Census Judge Sets Contempt Hearing for Commerce: A federal judge initiated contempt of court proceedings over allegations that the Commerce Department defied her order not to rush completion of the census. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said during a hearing yesterday that Monday’s announcement that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is targeting Oct. 5 to wrap up the once-a-decade population count “is doing exactly” what she ordered the agency not to do last week. The judge said the proceeding could be identified by a more formal name but made clear she believes Ross violated the order. “You don’t have to call it contempt,” she said. “You can call it something else.” The judge set a Friday hearing. Read more from Joel Rosenblatt.

Fee Hikes for ‘Vulnerable’ Migrants Blocked: A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from immediately jacking up the fees immigrants pay when they come to the U.S. Federal District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, California, wrote in a 35-page opinion that the proposed fees would “prevent vulnerable and low-income applications from applying for immigration benefits” and “block access to humanitarian protections.” The new fees were to have taken effect Oct. 2. Read more from Robert Burnson.

U.S. Seeks Global Blueberry Probe: The Trump administration is asking the International Trade Commission to open a Section 201 probe into whether a surge in blueberry imports in recent years is harming U.S. growers of the fruit. The move was touted by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as part of Trump’s effort to help farmers. It follows a recent request for an investigation of Mexican blueberries. Read more from Kim Chipman.

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