The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Pence, Harris spar over COVID-19 during policy-focused debate

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 209,725; Tuesday, 210,195; Wednesday, 210,909; Thursday, 211,834.

Vice President Pence and 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 used Wednesday’s debate to describe competing national agendas, boast about starkly different presidential candidates and deliver a largely civil discussion compared with last week’s ugly cage match between 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 and former Vice President 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.


“Please vote. Vote early,” Harris urged Americans at the end of 90 minutes.


Pence, on defense following Trump’s hectoring performance in Cleveland, took aim at the career records of Biden and Harris to cast the pair as liberals who would raise taxes, adopt “radical” environmental policies, oppose law enforcement, “surrender to China,” and defend abortion on demand.


Harris, a former prosecutor, who, like the vice president, turned to speak directly to the camera from the stage in Salt Lake City, presented evidence that she said proves the “ineptitude” and “incompetence” of the Trump administration in its response to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting recession that has left tens of millions of people without jobs.


“They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you,” she said of the period in February when Trump later conceded he publicly downplayed the severity of the contagion as it began to spread. “They don’t have a plan.”


The Hill: Coronavirus takes center stage in vice presidential debate.


The Washington Post: Pence and Harris clash under the shadow of a surging pandemic.


Pence, who repeatedly blew through time limits moderator Susan Page of USA Today attempted to impose, defended the White House coronavirus task force he leads and argued that Trump’s decision not to comply with federal guidelines for masks and social distancing showed he “trusts the American people to make the best decisions” for their own health.


The Hill: Pence, Harris dodge direct answers in policy-focused debate.


Distanced more than 12 feet from Harris through two barriers of clear plexiglass as a virus precaution, the vice president attempted to glide past Trump’s infection with COVID-19 by asserting that an effective vaccine will be available “before the end of the year.” Most experts and pharmaceutical companies working on clinical trials of potential vaccines believe it will be next year before a breakthrough drug can be widely distributed.


Reuters: With Trump ailing, a steady Pence tries to keep the campaign afloat.


Harris, in response to a question, said she would be willing to be inoculated when a vaccine is recommended by 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, a virologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but not if touted by Trump. She said the president “doesn’t understand what it is to be honest.” An unsmiling Pence twice admonished Harris that she was welcome to her own opinions but “not your own facts.” Throughout, Harris smiled indulgently at Pence, shook her head without furrowing her brow and shut down interruptions by admonishing Pence that she was speaking.


The Hill: Harris, Pence spar over COVID-19 vaccine.


Niall Stanage: Five takeaways from the vice presidential debate.


The California senator accused the president and Pence of “a pattern” of hostility to science, whether as a foundation for public health policy or the “existential threat” from climate change.


Harris used the discussion of the pandemic to warn Americans that COVID-19 leaves many of those it infects with lingering health problems and conditions that insurance companies would try not to cover if not for provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. She said Trump and Pence support a challenge before the Supreme Court to overturn the law’s protections for patients amid the worst public health crisis in a generation.  


If you have a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you,” Harris said, gazing into the camera. Pence shook his head. “Trump and I have a plan,” he said, offering no details of a replacement for ObamaCare, which Republicans have failed to produce, despite a decade of promises.


The Associated Press: Pence, Harris spar over COVID-19 in vice presidential debate.


Dan Balz: In the VP debate, Trump is again the issue as Pence tries to change the focus.


The vice president accused the Biden campaign of supporting the Democrats’ Green New Deal and an outright ban on fracking, neither of which is true. After the two running mates weighed in on climate science and its merits, Pence charged multiple times that Biden wants to end fracking, which involves extracting oil and gas deposits by fracturing subterranean rock with liquid at high pressure. Harris denied any such position, although Biden calls for a transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy.


“I will repeat, and the American people know that Joe Biden will not ban fracking, That is a fact. That is a fact,” Harris said.


Fracking was a point of contention during the Democratic primaries as progressives championed wind and renewable energy sources. Fracking is an important job producer in Western Pennsylvania, and Biden, who was born in the state, is determined to put Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes in his win column on Nov. 3 (The Hill). 


Social justice and race also became a point of contention during the Utah event. After Harris argued that justice was not served in the case of the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor, the vice president, after offering sympathies to the Taylor family, said he trusted the judicial system, which he asserted did not err in handling her case. 


“It really is remarkable that, as a former prosecutor, you would assume that an impaneled grand jury, looking at all the evidence, got it wrong,” Pence told Harris, pivoting to decry the riots that have broken out across the country in the aftermath of the shootings of Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake.


Pence added that it is a “great insult” to police officers to argue that there is implicit racial bias in the ranks of law enforcement (The New York Times). 


Pence’s debate performance received high marks from his running mate, as the president weighed in roughly halfway through Wednesday’s debate.


Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump set for precedent-breaking lame-duck period Trump pardons Michael Flynn O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE is doing GREAT! She is a gaffe machine,” Trump tweeted.


The Hill: Harris: “Insulting” to suggest she or Biden would attack someone for their faith.


The Hill: Harris makes Trump's taxes an issue during debate.


The Hill: Biden campaign fundraises off of fly on Pence’s hair.


Trump and Biden are scheduled to return to the debate stage a week from today in Miami for Round 2 of their debate trilogy. The X-factor remains the president’s health as he continues to recover from COVID-19. Today Trump marks a week since he announced he tested positive for the virus.


The Florida debate will follow a town-hall format, which four years ago spawned images of Trump looming in the background as 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 answered questions. C-SPAN’s Steve Scully will handle moderating duties.


Karl Rove: In a town-hall debate, the winner is often who keeps his cool, attacks indirectly.


The Hill: Harris accuses Trump of promoting voter suppression.


Politico: The VP debate offers the nation a glimpse of a post-Trump future.





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CONGRESS: A day after Trump opened the door to supporting a narrow aid package to boost the airlines and give direct checks to Americans, there was little sign of movement at the White House or Capitol Hill to pass anything after the president closed the door on negotiations toward a multi trillion dollar deal early Tuesday. 


White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE and White House economic adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE both casted doubt on the possibility of passing any bill in the near future. Meadows, one of the few aides around Trump since his positive COVID-19 diagnosis, flatly told reporters on Wednesday that “stimulus negotiations are off,” while Kudlow told CNBC that there was a “low-probability” chance that a piecemeal approach would work.


“When the President walked away from coronavirus relief negotiations yesterday, he did great harm to America’s children,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObama chief economist says Democrats should accept smaller coronavirus relief package if necessary The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the House Democratic Caucus later in the day. She also told “The View” that there was no “rational” explanation for pulling out of talks.


However, that has not stopped the Democratic leader and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinMonumental economic challenges await Biden's Treasury secretary Biden's Treasury pick will have lengthy to-do list on taxes On The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges MORE from continuing to discuss avenues forward as the pair twice on Wednesday discussed a potential narrow deal to deal with the airlines. According to Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, the two spoke twice on Wednesday on the issue, with the Speaker pointing to Republicans blocking a bill to provide funding for the sector on Friday. Pelosi and Mnuchin are scheduled to speak again today. 


As The Hill’s Sylvan Lane and Morgan Chalfant write, the president’s decision on Tuesday signifies a massive political and economic risk by walking away from negotiations in the waning weeks before Election Day. While the move mystified Republicans and business groups alike, many economists are now warning that it will have a negative impact on a struggling economy that could continue to sag in the coming weeks and months without any aid coming down the rails. 


“The economy as a whole is not making a lot of progress,” said Claudia Sahm, a former senior economist and research director at the Federal Reserve. “There are real human costs — today and years from now — of not sending money out and turning it into a political battle.”


The Washington Post: White House lurches in new direction on stimulus talks, pushing for airline aid.


Reuters: Failed U.S. stimulus talks could threaten economic recovery. 


The Hill: Trump infuriates business groups by halting COVID-19 talks.


The Hill: Republicans frustrated by Trump's messages on COVID-19 aid.





> Supreme fight: Republicans remain undeterred in their plans to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court ahead of Election Day despite the absence of three GOP senators after they tested positive for the novel coronavirus.


As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, despite skepticism about the GOP’s ambitious timeline, Republicans are dismissive and Democrats privately acknowledge that without more Republican senators testing positive for the virus, there is little that can be done to prevent the late October vote. Republicans are moving head on into the Barrett nomination, especially after Trump urged them to worry about that rather than relief negotiations. 


On Wednesday, Barrett held calls with six Democratic members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (Calif.), the ranking member on the panel. 


“The Judge emphasized the importance of judicial independence and spoke about her judicial philosophy and her family,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, in a statement about the calls. 


The Hill: Judiciary Democrats question DOJ over Barrett's abortion ad omission. 


The Hill: Barrett noncommittal on recusing from election-related cases.


MORE 2020 POLITICS: We’re watching some interesting Senate races in the final weeks before Election Day. In South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamIs Trump headed to another campaign or to a courtroom? Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE (R) is in an unexpectedly close contest with Democrat Jaime Harrison, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved the race from lean Republican to toss up. Two hours later, Graham urged Trump on Twitter to nail down a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill. The president put a halt to administration negotiations with Pelosi on Tuesday and partially reversed course on Wednesday, leaving many GOP colleagues baffled.  


> Senate Mississippi: Democrat Mike Espy's longshot run for the Senate in Mississippi is raising questions about whether a progressive and member of former President Clinton’s Cabinet might have a serious shot in such a reliably Republican state. African American turnout is seen as the make-or-break for Espy, a second-time candidate who would be the first Black person to represent the state as a senator in more than a century, if he wins against conservative Cindy Hyde-Smith (The Hill).


> Senate North Carolina: The U.S. Army Reserve is investigating reservist Lt. Col. James “Cal” Cunningham (D), who is challenging Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters MORE (R-N.C.) on Nov. 3. Cunningham, who is married, is accused of an intimate liaison this summer in his home and exchanges of suggestive text messages with the wife of a combat veteran (The Hill). It’s unclear if voters will view Cunningham’s behavior as hypocritical, personal or a violation of military conduct (WRAL). During a live-streamed event on Wednesday, the candidate apologized for “the hurt” he caused (Charlotte News and Observer).





> Senate Colorado: Former Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperDemocrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  MORE (D), who is running ahead of incumbent Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure MORE (R), raised an eye-popping $22.6 million in the third quarter (The Hill).


> Texas: Worries that millions of votes could be suppressed can be found in states across the country, including Texas, which has become a surprise swing state between Trump and Biden, according to current polling (The Hill).


> Poll watch, reported by The Hill’s Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley: A new national survey from conservative-leaning Rasmussen, which generally finds Trump doing much better than in other polls, finds the president trailing by 12 points.


Quinnipiac University released a trio of bleak polls for the president, finding him trailing by double digits in both Florida and Pennsylvania. Both campaigns are skeptical that a presidential candidate can win Florida, which generally turns on a point or two, by double digits. Quinnipiac found Biden ahead by 11 in Florida, while a Reuters-Ipsos survey put his lead at 4 points.


In Pennsylvania, which Trump carried by less than 1 point in 2016, Quinnipiac found Biden ahead by 13 points. The survey found Biden leading Trump by 5 points in Iowa, which the president carried by 9 points in 2016.


A Marquette University survey found Biden leading Trump by 5 points in Wisconsin. Reuters-Ipsos found Biden ahead by 2 points in Arizona. In Ohio, an unexpected battleground that Trump carried by 8 points in 2016, Biden leads by 1 point in the latest New York Times-Siena College poll. The same pollsters find Biden ahead by 6 points in Nevada, a state Democrat Hillary Clinton carried narrowly in 2016.


But the Rasmussen national poll is getting the most attention today. Trump has in the past pointed to Rasmussen as evidence of bias in other pollsters. The survey has found Biden’s lead in recent weeks has grown from 1 point to 8 points to 12 points in the latest. Biden now leads by 9.3 points in the RealClearPolitics average, up from 6.1 only two weeks ago.




NATIONAL SECURITY: Two alleged Islamic State militants arrived in the United States on Wednesday to face trial on U.S. criminal charges for their alleged involvement in beheadings, torture and murders of American hostages in Syria, Justice Department and FBI officials announced at a news conference on Wednesday. ISIS suspects Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh have been under U.S. military guard in Iraq for the last year and are now in FBI custody to be tried in federal court. They were citizens of the United Kingdom, but the British government withdrew their citizenship. They are suspected of membership in a brutal Islamic State cell known as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.


The original group of four men is alleged to have detained or killed Western hostages, including U.S. journalists James Foley (pictured below while reporting in 2011) and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded, and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. The cell became notorious for alleged participation in graphic Islamic State videos posted online showing beheadings of foreign hostages (NPR and Reuters).


“James, Peter, Kayla and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria,” their families said in a statement. “Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a U.S. court.


> U.S. vulnerabilities to foreign foes: The quarantining of most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Trump’s COVID-19 illness has raised fears about U.S. adversaries seeking to exploit perceived weakness. One technique is disinformation, which is in overdrive, according to experts (The Hill). … Related to the COVID-19 diagnosis and self-quarantine of Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray, a member of the Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon is doing contact tracing to prevent additional spread of the virus within the Defense Department’s top ranks (The Hill). … Russia is able to skirt high-tech blockades to reach U.S. readers with misinformation by exploiting certain U.S. news media outlets (The Wall Street Journal).   


> National Guard: In Arizona and Alabama, the National Guard has designated military police units to serve as rapid reaction forces to respond quickly to any potential civil unrest nationwide, particularly in the wake of election results and/or legal challenges. The planning follows violent protests that rocked the nation’s capital and major cities this summer tied to calls for racial justice, reactions to police shootings of Blacks and clashes between ideological and political foes (The Associated Press).




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The House meets at 10 a.m. on Friday. Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m. today and will be interviewed on Bloomberg TV’s “Balance of Power” program, which begins at noon.


The Senate holds a pro forma session on Friday at 10 a.m. The full chamber has recessed for legislative business until Oct. 19.


The president is supposed to be recuperating from COVID-19 at the White House. He will be interviewed at 8 a.m. ET by Maria BartiromoMaria Sara BartiromoPa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report Trump on election claims: 'My mind will not change in six months' Trump: 'I'm ashamed that I endorsed' Kemp in Georgia MORE on “Fox Business.”


The vice president will headline a campaign rally in Peoria, Ariz., in vote-rich Maricopa County. 


Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. reports jobless claims for the week ending Oct. 3. The consensus forecast is for 875,000, a stubbornly high number as employers continue to shed workers even as the unemployment rate improves.


Biden-Harris campaign events: The Democratic nominee and his running mate will campaign together today in Arizona, meeting with Native American tribal leaders in Phoenix and starting a bus tour through the state.


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


COURTS: In a loss for Trump, a federal appeals court declined Wednesday to block a subpoena from a New York grand jury for several years' worth of his tax records. A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals denied an effort by Trump's lawyers to have the subpoena tossed out on the grounds that it was too broad or was politically motivated and issued in bad faith (NBC News). The district attorney's office has suggested in previous court filings that the subpoena is part of an investigation into potentially extensive criminal conduct at the Trump Organization. The prosecutors have suggested that Trump and his businesses could be investigated for tax and insurance fraud (The Hill).


CORONAVIRUS: The city of Boston says it is suspending the reopening of public schools after coronavirus infections surged past 4 percent (The Associated Press). … Indiana’s Eli Lilly on Wednesday said the drug company asked the Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval for a monoclonal antibody cocktail it says is effective in people in the early stages of illness with COVID-19 who are not hospitalized. Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic versions of the antibodies that are one of the main weapons of the immune system. Researchers believe that injecting them into patients could help treat them (STAT News). … Trump gave the Eli Lilly drug cocktail a plug during videotaped remarks released on social media on Wednesday three hours before the vice presidential debate. The president promised that therapeutics that helped him beginning on Friday would soon be “free” to average Americans who contract the coronavirus. ... In the sports world, outbreaks in the NFL continued on Wednesday as New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 (Yahoo Sports), with two more Tennessee Titans players testing positive, bringing the team’s total infections to 22. The status of Sunday’s games for both teams is up in the air (The Associated Press). … Italy on Wednesday issued a mandatory order for individuals to wear masks while outdoors as confirmed cases of the coronavirus climbed to levels unseen in the nation since April (Reuters). … In entertainment, production of the new “Jurassic World” film in Great Britain was stopped for two weeks after a “few” positive COVID-19 cases emerged on the set, according to director Colin Trevorrow on Wednesday (The Associated Press).


> HURRICANE: Weakening before it is expected to strengthen again over the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Delta is poised to slam into storm-weary Louisiana on Friday afternoon or evening along a stretch of coastline still recovering from Hurricane Laura in late August (The Washington Post).


And finally …  It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Alert to Trump’s bout with COVID-19, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the history of presidential illnesses.


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.


In 1944, Frank Lahey, a surgeon who examined President Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote in a memo that the longest serving U.S. president would not survive another four years in the White House. Roosevelt died nine months later. When was that memo made public? 


  1. 1945
  2. 1950
  3. 1992
  4. 2011


President William Henry Harrison, best known for holding the shortest presidential tenure at 32 days, died __ days after becoming ill with pneumonia.

  1. 7
  2. 9
  3. 11
  4. 13


Which health issue did President Woodrow Wilson NOT suffer from during his two terms in office?  

  1. Spanish flu
  2. Stroke
  3. Partial blindness
  4. Prostate cancer


Where did President Grover Cleveland have surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from the roof of his mouth? 

  1. The White House
  2. A friend’s yacht
  3. Hotel Washington (D.C.)
  4. Buffalo, N.Y. (his hometown)