The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump resumes maskless COVID-19 recovery at White House

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators, and readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 209,725; Tuesday, 210,195.

President TrumpDonald TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports MORE is back inside the White House this morning after spending three days receiving aggressive treatment for COVID-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He returned to the residence Monday evening to recover under what are supposed to be quarantine conditions.


White House physician Sean Conley said Monday that the White House medical office could handle the president’s continuing treatment regimen and tests, making him fit enough to be discharged from the hospital’s presidential suite, although he said his patient is “not out of the woods yet.


The president’s public advice via Twitter put a brave face on his brush with the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans, including some of his friends. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” he said. “You’re going to beat it,” he added in a mask-free video released by the White House on Monday after his return.


Conley said Trump on Monday launched a vigorous discussion with doctors, including infectious disease specialists, about his illness before tweeting on Monday that he would leave the hospital.


We have been back and forth on what’s safe and what’s reasonable, and he has never once pushed us to do anything that was beyond safe and reasonable practice,” said Conley, who refused to say when the president last tested negative for the coronavirus and what the scans of his lungs showed as he was administered oxygen on Friday and again on Saturday.


Trump continues to receive the steroid dexamethasone, which is considered experimental with COVID-19 patients, and the broad-spectrum antiviral drug remdesivir. The president will be tested until doctors determine he is no longer shedding the virus. “Maybe I’m immune. I don’t know,” Trump said during his improvisational video message.


Nobody who is a leader would not do what I did,” he boasted, arguing he knew the risks of infection. “The vaccines are coming momentarily,” Trump added, contradicting government experts and the pharmaceutical companies trying to develop an effective, safe vaccine that can be used widely by 2021.


Asked if the president would resume traveling, which Trump appears eager to do during his currently sagging bid to defeat former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia MORE, Conley said he was not responsible for the president’s schedule. “We’ll see,” he added.


The Associated Press: Trump, still infectious, is back at the White House — with and without a mask.


The president, who said during his hospitalization that he learned “a lot” about the coronavirus, returned by helicopter to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., walked up the South Portico steps to the balcony and removed his mask to give a thumbs-up to the cameras (The Hill).


First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpHere's how presidents move into the White House in just hours on Inauguration Day Ashley Biden says Melania Trump has not reached out to Jill Biden CNN poll: Melania Trump leaving office as least popular first lady ever MORE continues to recover from the coronavirus and tweeted that she is “feeling well.”


Awaiting him today is a White House and campaign team pinned down by the spread of COVID-19 among top aides, lower-level staff members, residence staff, his campaign chairman and the Republican National Committee chairwoman, all of whom are supposed to be in isolation for what could be a period of weeks until they are no longer contagious.


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump risks new backlash with COVID bravado.


The Washington Post: Trump returns to “ghost town” West Wing while downplaying the virus that hospitalized him.


The New York Times: Trump’s campaign saw an opportunity. He undermined it.


The infections inside the West Wing continued to climb on Monday as press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive for the virus. McEnany’s positive result came after three straight days of testing negative for COVID-19 (The Hill).


As recently as Sunday afternoon, McEnany appeared outside the White House to gaggle with reporters, having taken off her mask to do so (seen below). According to CNN, two of McEnany's deputies — Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt — have also tested positive for the coronavirus.


At least 27 people who have been connected to the White House or have attended events with White House personnel have tested positive for the virus, with more likely to come, as chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsAuthor: Meadows is history's worst White House chief of staff Agency official says Capitol riot hit close to home for former Transportation secretary Chao Republicans wrestle over removing Trump MORE predicted over the weekend (Politico). 


Among those who also tested positive was Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif. Laurie is the latest individual to test positive after attending the Rose Garden ceremony to unveil Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a nominee for the Supreme Court. Laurie tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. The pastor also attended the Prayer March on the National Mall on Saturday, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Franklin Graham (The Hill).


As for Meadows, he tested negative for the virus once again on Monday despite being one of the few staffers around Trump at Walter Reed since he arrived there on Friday, according to a spokesman. 


Fox News: Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceFox News's DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire Arkansas governor: Intelligence on state capitol protests 'not to the level that I'm bringing out the National Guard' Mulvaney: Earlier Trump controversies were 'policy differences' or 'stylistic,' but 'Wednesday was existential' MORE tests negative for coronavirus after moderating last week’s presidential debate.


The Washington Post: “Unjustifiable hysteria”: Republican recalcitrance about the virus persists even as GOP faces growing turmoil.



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2020 POLITICS: During any other presidential election cycle, a debate between vice presidential running mates has rarely been must-watch TV. But Wednesday’s debate between Pence and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisScalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration McConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag Howard University's marching band to escort Harris at inauguration MORE (D-Calif.) may lure viewers with the drama of a main event and three or four subplots.


Because Trump, the underdog incumbent, is sick at age 74, and Biden, 77, is working hard to remain COVID-free during the pandemic, the two lieutenants naturally draw voters’ attention to the risks of electing senior citizens to be president. Pence is 61. Harris is 55.


And because the president was widely panned for his chaotic rope-a-dope with Biden during the first presidential debate, Pence’s anticipated role in any other cycle as debate attack dog would be repetition this week rather than restoration, especially against a woman who is known for having prosecuted a pointed argument against Biden as well as a Republican Supreme Court nominee while on live TV. The resulting discussion may produce more policy depth, substantive contrasts and complete sentences than the Trump-Biden debacle.


The New York Times: The Pence-Harris VP debate now has big consequences.


The Associated Press: As Harris pitches to Black voters, some want to hear more.


Pence, an experienced debater, has been tasked with easing a jittery public reeling from the president’s illness and unpopular handling of the pandemic, and he will try to overcome Trump’s struggles to explain what a second term could deliver.


The live event with a large television viewership will also be a chance for the conservative former Indiana governor to prove that the GOP presidential campaign is not a sinking ship. Harris, a multiracial former attorney general from the Golden State, wants to use the evening to explain again that the Democratic ticket holds the Trump administration accountable for a pandemic and recession and has a rescue plan to help Americans. 


“It will matter,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, told The Hill’s Amie Parnes. “The president’s health condition has made the vice presidency more important than ever, not just in terms of thinking about the next few years but possibly the next few weeks. More than usual, Americans will watch this event with an eye toward two potential presidents.”


One of the debate subplots is the decision to be there. On Monday, the change was made to the staging to add plexiglass as well as distance to divide the two candidates as a COVID-19 precaution (CNN). The White House has said Pence, who is already in Utah, has tested negative for the virus. 


Nonetheless, a group of high-profile progressive women wrote to the Commission on Presidential Debates on Monday asking that Pence be required before the event to clear three negative COVID-19 tests that screen for the virus using polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, considered more accurate than rapid antigen tests. The group wants the vice president to adhere to mask-wearing and other federal guidelines and to submit contact tracing information for his events and meetings since Sept. 26, when at least 11 people who were at the White House subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. Signing the letter: a dozen political activists who support Harris and Biden, including Valerie JarrettValerie June JarrettBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Richmond says new pandemic relief bill should be passed before Christmas Progressive group Justice Democrats criticizes Biden appointments MORE, Donna BrazileDonna Lease BrazileHarris selects Tina Flournoy as chief of staff: report Biden takes steps toward creating diverse Cabinet Donna Brazile emotional about Harris vice presidency: 'Grateful this moment has come' MORE, Cecile Richards, Hilary Rosen and civil rights leader Roslyn Brock.


The Associated Press: Vaunted White House virus testing could not protect Trump.


The Wednesday debate will air from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET at the University of Utah with a small in-person audience. The moderator will be Susan Page of USA Today.


Deseret News: In Utah, Trump leads Biden in new poll, 44 percent to 36 percent, among likely voters.


The Hill: White House coronavirus outbreaks underscore debate safety concerns.


The Hill: Biden considered phoning Trump after learning of the president’s coronavirus diagnosis, but was advised it would be “intrusive,” he said during a town hall event hosted by NBC News on Monday night.


Another week, and there are more polls to cheer the Biden campaign, reports The Hill’s Jonathan Easley. Post-presidential debate surveys, which indicate Trump is trailing the former vice president nationally and in swing states, have Republicans in a panic that the party could be headed for heavy losses on Nov. 3. Biden has opened up his largest national lead in months (8.5 points) in the RealClearPolitics average, boosted by two recent surveys that show him leading by landslide margins. Two new polls conducted in Pennsylvania, a potential tipping point state that could propel Biden to the necessary 270 electoral votes, also show him with a substantial lead.


Reuters: Poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos and released Monday shows Biden leading the president in Wisconsin (6 points) and Pennsylvania (5 points). 


The Hill: COVID-19, text messages roil North Carolina Senate race.


The Associated Press: South Carolina voters began lining up on Monday for the first day of early in-person voting. A number of counties opened polling places where people could vote in person instead of having to mail absentee ballots. Lines formed in Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Spartanburg and Rock Hill, among other locations, and some South Carolinians waited as long as two hours to participate.


NBC News: Trump is leaving the hospital. GOP candidates are still stuck in a box.



CONGRESS: White House and Democratic negotiators continued to haggle over a potential coronavirus stimulus package on Monday, with a deal remaining elusive as the two sides trade proposals and ideas. 


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Memo: Trump leaves changed nation in his wake New York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration GOP Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene referred to Parkland school shooting as 'false flag' event on Facebook MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinTreasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference Sanders defends push to impeach Trump: Insurrection won't be tolerated MORE spoke for roughly an hour on Monday as the two progress toward a resolution. According to Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, the two negotiators “discussed the justifications for various numbers” in their proposals and planned to exchange documents ahead of another scheduled phone call on Tuesday (The New York Times). 


As of last week, the two sides remained roughly $600 billion apart in their proposals. Pelosi and Democrats proposed a $2.2 trillion package, which narrowly passed the House on Thursday, while the White House upped its offer to $1.6 trillion, including $250 billion in funding for state and local governments — a major sticking point in negotiations. 


After talks broke down in early August, they were revived last week, with the White House strongly pushing for an agreement. 


The Associated Press: CEO says Southwest Airlines needs union pay cuts to avoid furloughs.


> Supreme Court fight: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Graham pushes Schumer for vote to dismiss impeachment article MORE (R-S.C.) made it official on Monday: The Senate is moving forward with its planned schedule for Barrett’s nomination hearings. 


Graham announced that the hearings will start on Monday at 9 a.m., as was expected before the Senate recessed until Oct. 19 after three members tested positive for COVID-19, including two who sit on the panel (The Hill). 


“Just spoke with President @realDonaldTrump and he sounds terrific -- very engaged and ready to get back to work! He’s also very excited about Judge Amy Coney Barrett being confirmed to the Supreme Court and focused on a good deal to help stimulate the economy,” Graham tweeted.


Barrett is expected to testify in person. In recent days, Democrats have called for Graham to delay the hearings, arguing they would jeopardize the health and safety of both senators and their staff (The Hill).


With less than a month until Election Day, Barrett’s nomination could have the power to affect some key Senate contests on the 2020 map. While it helps in red states such as Iowa, North Carolina and Montana, it could do harm to two Senate Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (Maine) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (Colo.) — who hail from states that supported Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene referred to Parkland school shooting as 'false flag' event on Facebook Senators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS CNN poll: Melania Trump leaving office as least popular first lady ever MORE in 2020, according to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.


While Barrett is still expected to be confirmed before Nov. 3, Republicans are wondering what the political cost could be. 


The Hill: COVID outbreak threatens GOP's Supreme Court plans.


The Associated Press: Trump court nomination hangs over Senate shuttered by virus.


National Review: Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.) says he will vote in person to confirm Barrett despite testing positive for coronavirus: “I’ll go in a moon suit.”


The Associated Press: Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyWyoming county votes to censure Liz Cheney for Trump impeachment vote GOP divided over Liz Cheney's future Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots MORE (R-Texas) calls on state attorney general to resign.


The Hill: CEOs of Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify to Senate.


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! 


James Bond and the death of cinema, by Alex Webb, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/30C5Iy7 


Forget politics and take COVID-19 seriously, by Felicia Goodrum Sterling and James Alwine, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/34qY4b8 


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The House meets at 9 a.m.


The Senate holds a pro forma session at 11:30 a.m. The full chamber has recessed for legislative business until Oct. 19.


The president is recuperating at the White House after hospitalization for COVID-19 infection.


The vice president is in Utah in preparation for the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSenate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen US secretary of State on last day in office equates 'wokeness' with totalitarianism Trump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash MORE is in Tokyo meeting with Japanese, Australian and Indian counterparts.


Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks remotely to an annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economists (NABE) at 10:40 a.m. NABE livestream HERE.


Biden-Harris campaign events: The former vice president will headline an afternoon virtual fundraiser and fly to Gettysburg, Pa., to deliver a campaign speech about healing the nation. According to a campaign aide, Biden chose the setting for its symbolism in terms of “the cost of division and the strength of American ideals.” Harris is preparing for Wednesday’s vice presidential debate in Utah.


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


SUPREME COURT: Justices on Monday sided with South Carolina Republicans in reviving a requirement that voters who submit absentee ballots in the state provide a valid witness signature (The Hill).The court on Monday heard arguments in a case that asks whether judges are partisan policymakers or neutral umpires, taking up a timely question amid a bitterly divisive confirmation fight that could solidify a conservative majority on the bench for decades (The Hill). … On Monday, while commenting on an appeal from a former county clerk in Kentucky who objected to issuing same-sex marriage licenses, Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasTrump eyes lawyer who spoke at rally to help in impeachment trial: report Biden's identity politics do a disservice to his nominees For conservative justices, faith in 'religious freedom' trumps public health MORE wrote that the 5-4 majority in a 2015 case had “read a right to same-sex marriage” into the Constitution, “even though that right is found nowhere in the text.” Unnerving supporters of LGBTQ rights who believe a larger conservative majority on the high court will seek to undo what some progressive groups see as U.S. strides toward equality, Thomas wrote that the decision “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots” (The Associated Press).


NOBEL PRIZE WEEK: Winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize for physics, announced this morning in Stockholm, Sweden, by the head of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, are Roger Penrose of the United Kingdom, Reinhard Genzel, German astrophysicist at the University of California at Berkeley, and Andrea Ghez, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. The academy awarded half the prize to Penrose “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity,” and the other half to Genzel and Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy” (The Associated Press). 


CORONAVIRUS: COVID-19 is potentially transmissible to other people while indoors at social distances beyond six feet in poorly ventilated spaces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in revised guidance on Monday. But the CDC emphasized that the coronavirus remains a higher risk for infection with close contact. "CDC continues to believe, based on current science, that people are more likely to become infected the longer and closer they are to a person with COVID-19," the agency said. "Today's update acknowledges the existence of some published reports showing limited, uncommon circumstances where people with COVID-19 infected others who were more than 6 feet away or shortly after the COVID-19-positive person left an area. In these instances, transmission occurred in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces that often involved activities that caused heavier breathing, like singing or exercise. Such environments and activities may contribute to the buildup of virus-carrying particles” (CNN). Some researchers who have explained aerosolized COVID-19 that can hang in the air and drift compare it to how we think about smoke. … In Wisconsin, outbreaks of COVID-19 surged to more than 2,000 cases per day until Sunday, when the number of positive tests fell to 1,800 (a still-alarming infection rate exceeding 17 percent) (WBAY). … In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) last week revoked most of a statewide mask mandate. The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports why he did it. … In New York City, Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoDe Blasio: New York City will run out of COVID-19 vaccine this week without resupply Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February Health workers refusing vaccine is new growing US problem MORE (D) and Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioOvernight Health Care: US passes 400,000 coronavirus deaths | How Biden HHS pick could make history | De Blasio says NYC will run out of COVID-19 vaccine this week De Blasio: New York City will run out of COVID-19 vaccine this week without resupply The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? MORE (D) (pictured below in March) feuded again on Monday. The governor blocked the mayor’s request to the state on Sunday to roll back openings of businesses in virus hot spots in Brooklyn and Queens because of new outbreaks of the coronavirus. Schools and houses of worship, including many that cater to Orthodox Jews, are bigger problems than businesses that “are not large spreaders,” the governor said. Cuomo second-guessed the mayor and moved up to today the closing of schools in newly hard-hit areas, which forced parents to adjust with little notice (The New York Times).



PANDA WATCH: The National Zoo in Washington made it official: It’s 6-week-old baby panda is a boy. The zoo held a gender reveal for its celebrated new arrival in which panda-keepers displayed a canvas featuring blue markings made by Tian Tian, the baby’s father. The zoo conducted a genetic test to determine the sex of 22-year-old mom Mei Xiang’s offspring (pandas appear identical on the exterior). The tiny black and white celebrity, born on Aug. 21, has not yet been named (The Associated Press).


And finally … NASA astronauts on the International Space Station can vote electronically this fall using a special ballot process first used in 1997. The space agency calls the system “vote while you float,” and perhaps four astronauts this year will take advantage of the password-protected electronic ballot uplink prearranged with county clerks using NASA’s Johnson Space Center as the middleman. No stamps. No U.S. Postal Service delivery snafus. No waiting in lines. But alas, 240 miles away, no “I Voted” lapel stickers (Fox News).