The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump, Biden intensify battleground focus as 2020 race tightens

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday. We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger has the reins while Al Weaver is off this week. You can find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and please recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 183,068. Tuesday, 183,598. Wednesday, 184,689. Thursday, 185,747.

Early in the summer, pundits opined that the presidential race was Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Five things to know about Georgia's Senate runoffs MORE’s to lose. Then a tightening contest in national polls suggested President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE had pulled wavering 2016 supporters back into his tent.


The two nominees are traveling in nearly identical contested territory (a handful of battleground states, over and over) and pursuing strategies that depend on record-breaking fundraising and ad wars over the next two months aimed at motivating likely voters, most of whom say they’ve already made up their minds.


Trump visited Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday — to salute law enforcement and condemn what he calls lawless protesters. Democratic nominee Biden will be in Kenosha today — to urge peace and to meet with relatives of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man shot by police 10 days ago (The Hill).


The president is focused on America’s safety and what he calls “mob rule” in the streets and “fascism” favored by Democrats. Biden, too, is campaigning to reduce risks and make Americans safer — from the coronavirus and what he calls the Trump administration’s “failed” and flailing performance during the pandemic.


The Associated Press: In Kenosha, Biden will put his campaign promise to unify the nation to a test.


“Get off Twitter,” Biden advised the president during remarks in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday while discussing the safety of school reopenings (pictured above) (The Hill). “President Trump still does not understand that in order to fully and effectively restart the economy, we must defeat the virus,” he repeated. 


The Washington Post: Biden blames Trump for coronavirus-related school closures, calls education gap a “national emergency.” 


The Associated Press: Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian (D) lifted his city’s curfew ahead of Biden’s visit following several peaceful nights but warned it could return. “Criminal activity will not be tolerated,” he said on Wednesday.


As Amie Parnes reports, Biden through Election Day wants to keep the national conversation on the coronavirus and what he argues are Trump’s missteps. Democrats see COVID-19 as the issue that could cost Trump the election.  


The presidential contest is now a 60-day sprint animated by Biden’s taunts that a second term for Trump would be disastrous and the incumbent’s defense that denying him a second term risks America’s way of life. 


Neither candidate seems to have received a significant bounce coming out of the party conventions last month, report The Hill’s Jonathan Easley and Max Greenwood. New polls show Biden opening up a wide national lead but there are glimmers of hope for Trump in surveys of key battleground states.


One of the first major national polls released after the Republican National Convention shows Biden with an almost double-digit lead over the president. The survey, conducted by veteran pollster Ann Selzer for Grinnell College, finds Biden leading 49 percent to 41 percent, on the strength of a huge advantage among female voters, suburbanites and Americans with a college degree (The Hill).


Biden leads the suburbs by a 58 percent to 35 percent margin. Among those suburban residents, Biden is ahead with women by a 64 percent to 31 percent margin, a sign that the most coveted voters in the electorate — the “suburban housewife,” in Trump’s recent lexicon — are rejecting the incumbent.


“Among suburban women, the president’s numbers are terrible,” said Peter Hanson, a political scientist at Grinnell College who directed the poll. “If the president’s coalition is going to consist of non-college-educated white men, evangelicals and seniors, then he’s going to have a hard time.”


The Washington Post: How turnout and swing voters could get Trump or Biden to 270.


> Battlegrounds: Biden is favored to carry Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes but Trump’s campaign is plowing resources into a state that hasn’t gone for the GOP presidential nominee since 1972, the longest such streak in the nation. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Groups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's MORE won in Minnesota four years ago by 1.5 percent.  


The Trump campaign went up with new ads on Wednesday accusing Biden of standing with “rioters and looters” in Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd in May sparked nationwide protests and demands for police reform. The ad is part of $14 million in television reservations the Trump campaign made in Minnesota through Election Day. Democrats in the state believe Biden is in a better position but acknowledge that the same cultural trends that helped Trump turn Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania red have forced Democrats to play defense in Minnesota for the first time in decades (The Hill).  


The Hill: A new poll on Wednesday in swing-state Pennsylvania shows a tight race. Trump was the first Republican to win the state since George H.W. Bush won there in 1988.


The president, who was in Wilmington, N.C., on Wednesday (pictured below) and will return to North Carolina for a campaign rally on Tuesday, is eyeing the state as a linchpin in his Electoral College math. 


Recent polls show the president and Biden running neck and neck in the state (The Hill).  


As Biden heads to Kenosha today, his campaign unveiled a new television ad condemning rioters and looters who have mingled with protesters in some cities as he tries to blunt the GOP argument that Democrats embody the party of lawlessness. The Biden campaign is investing $45 million in a one-week television and digital advertising campaign that is the candidate’s largest buy to date (The New York Times).


Campaign cash: Biden reports raising $364.5 million in August, a record (The Hill).





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2020 POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Trump and Biden will both visit Shanksville, Pa., on the anniversary of 9/11 next week. The site includes the Flight 93 National Memorial under the supervision of the National Park Service (The Hill).


> Purse strings: The president on Wednesday directed the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department in a memo to identify “anarchist” Democratic-led municipalities and states and move to withhold federal funding. “My administration will not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” he wrote. The action, which garnered national and local news coverage as the presidential campaign heats up, was denounced by prominent state and local officials and is expected to face legal challenges (The New York Post).


> Mail-in voting: Trump early in his administration created a voter fraud task force that quietly disbanded because it found no evidence of widespread illegal voting, despite the president’s assertion that 3 million to 5 million illegal ballots had been cast for Clinton in 2016. On Wednesday, Trump encouraged North Carolinians to vote more than once, which would be illegal. The president suggested his supporters should vote once by mail and once in-person to test if mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud and manipulation (NBC News).  


During a testy CNN interview on Wednesday, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrNew DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Five federal inmates scheduled for execution before Inauguration Day MORE likened mail-in voting to “playing with fire.” But he said absentee voting — which also relies on the Postal Service — is acceptable for individuals who are at a higher risk of falling seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus, noting that he has personally voted absentee in the past. Trump and Barr say absentee voting by mail is safe because voters must specifically request a ballot for that purpose (The Hill).


> Debates: The Commission on Presidential Debates on Wednesday named moderators for three debates between Trump and Biden, as well as for the sole debate between Vice President Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden announces all-female White House communications team Biden to nominate Neera Tanden, Cecilia Rouse to economic team: WSJ Memo to Biden: Go big — use the moment to not only rebuild but to rebuild differently MORE (Calif.). Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden adviser: 'He does not have any concern' about Trump lawsuits Public health expert: Americans no longer acting 'with common purpose' on pandemic Anti-Defamation League criticizes White House appointee 'who has consorted with racists' MORE, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor, will moderate the first debate on Sept. 29; Steve Scully of C-SPAN will steer the town hall-style format scheduled on Oct. 15; and Kristen Welker of NBC News was selected for the Oct. 22 debate. Susan Page of USA Today will provide the questioning of Pence and Harris on Oct. 7 (The Hill).





CORONAVIRUS: With each passing day, the focus on potential coronavirus vaccines intensifies, as do worries within the medical community, skepticism among the general public and glowing predictions from the administration about a breakthrough that can cure a virus and unleash an expansion of the U.S. economy.


The Associated Press: Local health officials, who would help deliver any future vaccine to 330 million Americans, worry the nation is not ready.


The Hill: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked states to have vaccine sites ready by Nov. 1, two days ahead of Election Day. A vaccine candidate is not expected to clear large-scale phase three trials before Nov. 1.


Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci: Restrictions likely won't be reversed before Christmas Health officials warn of post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 case surge Year-end parties banned in South Korea MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Wednesday repeated his optimism that a “safe and effective” coronavirus vaccine will be developed by the end of the year (NBC News). The National Institutes of Health, which includes his institute, is collaborating with private drug companies on vaccine development and Fauci is privy to data from clinical trials. 


"I believe that by the time we get to the end of this calendar year that we will feel comfortable that we do have a safe and effective vaccine," Fauci told NBC's "Today" on Wednesday. He added that in a number of vaccine trials, there is "enough data that you would really feel comfortable it was safe and effective for the American public."


The Hill: Fauci warned that the United States has an “unacceptably high” level of confirmed coronavirus infections heading into the fall, when the pandemic is expected to worsen because people move indoors and the flu season begins.


CNN: Ahead of the Labor Day weekend, Fauci implored people to practice virus mitigation with caution and common sense. “Wear a mask, keep social distancing, avoid crowds. You can avoid those kinds of surges,” he said. “You don’t want to be someone who’s propagating the outbreak. You want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” 


The New York Times: Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, is a new West Wing adviser to the president who helps shape federal responses to the pandemic. His ideas are described by some as scientifically disputed and ideological.


Rick Perlstein, opinion contributor, The New York Times: Gerald Ford rushed out a vaccine. It was a fiasco.


> State updates: Ahead of Labor Day, Maryland on Friday will move into the third phase of its reopening, inviting all businesses to resume operations at 5 p.m. with expanded capacity restrictions indoors and outside (The Hill). Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the reopening of movie theaters, live entertainment, churches and retail outlets is part of the state’s final phase of unwinding the COVID-19 shutdowns ordered in the spring. Local jurisdictions have the authority to move more slowly to resume commercial activity if they wish (DCist). Maryland’s positivity rate for the virus based on current testing is 3.4 percent.


Virginia, which has a higher positivity rate of around 7 percent, will not alter its current restrictions before the Labor Day weekend, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said, noting his caution after seeing outbreaks following the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays. “Overall, Virginians are doing a good job of keeping this curve flat,” he said during a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, but he noted that “the trend line has risen slightly over the past week or so” (WTOP).


> Treatments: The hope that cheap, widely available steroid drugs can help seriously ill patients survive the coronavirus has been confirmed with data from international clinical trials. The World Health Organization on Wednesday strongly recommended steroids for treatment of patients with severe or critical COVID-19 infection worldwide, but the global health agency recommended against administering the drugs to patients with mild cases of the virus (The New York Times).




The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 


A warning to Democrats: Small business owners are getting angry — very angry, by Gene Marks, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2QR1Nse


Would the United States military intervene in the election results? by former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Nervous Democrats don't see 2016 nightmare repeating itself Biden's debate strategy is to let Trump be Trump MORE (D-NY), opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2QNACyv


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The House will convene at 10:30 a.m. on Friday for a pro forma session. 


The Senate meets at 10 a.m. on Friday for a pro forma session. The full Senate is scheduled to meet on Tuesday. 


The president will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE. Trump will fly to Latrobe, Pa., for a campaign rally at the airport there at 7 p.m. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).


Pence will travel to Raleigh, N.C., today and tour Gateway Women’s Care and participate in a roundtable discussion. He will campaign for Trump during a discussion at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh. Pence will accept a campaign endorsement from the Southern States Police Benevolent Association in the afternoon and return to Washington, D.C. 


Pompeo participates at 8 a.m. in a virtual G20 foreign ministers meeting..


Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report initial jobless claims filed in the week ending Aug. 29. U.S. applications for unemployment benefits are expected to fall slightly, although layoffs continue to soar as part of the pandemic’s economic wreckage.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube


Administration news: The Department of State, noting the United States insists on reciprocal access to educational and cultural institutions for U.S. diplomats around the world, announced on Wednesday that it will require senior Chinese diplomats in the United States to receive approval to visit U.S. university campuses, to meet with local government officials and before hosting cultural events for more than 50 people (The Hill). … The CDC is under intense pressure to implement and enforce the administration’s sweeping new ban on residential evictions, which in theory could help tens of millions of struggling households during the pandemic (The Hill). … The Department of Justice is coming under fire for announcing a probe into nursing home deaths. Critics say the department’s law enforcement focus on the civil rights of residents in nursing homes who live in blue states appears political and could harm future investigations into nursing home deaths (The Hill). … A new government report projecting a $3.3 trillion federal deficit this year complicates negotiations over a new coronavirus relief measure, particularly among fiscal conservatives in GOP (The Hill). 


➔ Russia: Anti-corruption campaigner and leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned in Russia on Aug. 20 with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group, according to toxicological tests described as "unequivocal evidence" by a spokesman for the German government. … "The United States is deeply troubled by the results released today. Alexei Navalny’s poisoning is completely reprehensible," White House National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement on Wednesday. "Russia has used the chemical nerve agent Novichok in the past." The Trump administration vowed to work with allies to call those responsible in Russia to account (The Hill). Novichok is a Soviet-era chemical weapon used before in poisoning plots mounted against critics of Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinScarborough says he'll never return to Republican Party after GOP supported Trump Will Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? Russian vessel threatens to ram US warship in disputed waters in Sea of Japan MORE. To global leaders and intelligence experts, the identification of a Novichok agent ties the August poisoning to the Kremlin.





Sports:  The college football season is back this week, sort of. South Alabama takes on Southern Mississippi tonight (Yahoo Sports). Schedule for the week is HERE. New York magazine’s Will Leitch wrote this week about public health risks as revenue-focused colleges and universities move ahead with a college football season that includes public attendance in stadiums: “Three major college-football conferences, the SEC, ACC and Big 12, have decided that nothing is going to stop them from playing football, and so nothing has.”


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Alert to this week’s political explorations of policing and civil unrest, we’re eager for some smart guesses about former U.S. presidents and their ties to law enforcement.


Email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and/or aweaver@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


Which sitting U.S. president was placed under arrest after being cited by a Black police officer for speeding in Washington, D.C.?


  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. Ulysses S. Grant
  3. Benjamin Harrison
  4. Dwight D. Eisenhower


How many U.S. presidents were lawyers?


  1. 12
  2. 26
  3. 33
  4. 44


Before becoming U.S. president, who served as president of the New York City Police commission?


  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  2. Millard Fillmore
  3. Theodore Roosevelt
  4. Martin Van Buren


Ronald Reagan starred as a gun-toting U.S. marshal in which Hollywood film before he was elected president?


  1. “Law and Order”
  2. “The Tin Star”
  3. “Supercop”
  4. “Coogan’s Bluff”