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The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump combative, Biden earnest during distanced TV duel

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Whew, it’s Friday! 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, 214,771; Tuesday, 215,086; Wednesday, 215,910; Thursday, 216,903; Friday, 217,700.

During competing town hall programs broadcast on Thursday night, President Trump wavered on QAnon while defending his first-term record and handling of the pandemic, while former Vice President Joe Biden dug into policy details and conceded that the 1994 crime bill he helped enact was a “mistake” and that he “has not been a fan of court packing.”

The dueling ABC and NBC programs featuring voter and moderator questions were in lieu of a planned debate in Florida on Thursday that was canceled because Trump objected to coronavirus precautions requested by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Instead, the candidates blasted each other from a distance, but Trump turned combative while Biden was eagerly earnest on live TV. Both candidates are scheduled to appear together during a socially distanced debate on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. 

The Hill: Trump refuses to disavow QAnon.

The New York Times: A combative Trump and a deliberate Biden spar from afar at town talls.

The Hill: Biden draws sharp contrast with Trump in low-key town hall.

The Hill: Trump fields questions on coronavirus, conspiracy theories in combative town hall. 

Trump, sweating on a warm outdoor NBC set in Miami, repeated many of the boasts and explanations he’s used for months to champion his much-criticized handling of the coronavirus crisis. He repeated his view that his decision in January to close U.S. borders to travelers from China saved “thousands and thousands of lives.” 

“I knew it was a big threat,” the president said of the virus he has downplayed for nine months. Pressed by moderator Savannah Guthrie to explain why he resisted scientific advice to urge mask-wearing to help save many more lives from COVID-19 infection, Trump bristled, saying, “I was OK with it. … I say ‘wear the mask,’ I have no problem with it.”  

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, Biden, a mask in his hand, told one woman questioner that he would consider as president mandating a future COVID-19 vaccine, depending on its effectiveness, safety and the duration of the protection it provided. He said he would try to mandate mask-wearing by using the power of the Oval Office to encourage mayors, governors, local officials and businesses to require them. “A president’s words matter,” the former vice president said when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to explain how a mask mandate could be enforced.

Queried about the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, Biden offered a tangled explanation about why he thought the 1994 law was both well intentioned at the time and also a “mistake” in hindsight because of the lifelong consequences of imprisonment and criminal records within communities of color. “Things have changed a lot,” he said, describing his recognition of the damage, his support for community policing and his desire to create a task force, if elected, of stakeholders to recommend changes to improve racial justice and police reforms. 

The Hill: Biden says crime bill was “mistake” during ABC town hall.

Trump, asked about his second-term plan for Dreamers and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, tried to sidestep his administration’s desire to revoke while speaking in South Florida to voters who know the subject well.

We are going to take care of DACA, of Dreamers. It’s working right now,” he said before changing the subject to boast about a wall being built at the southern border with Mexico. “We are working very hard on the DACA program,” he persisted when Guthrie reminded him that the administration curtailed the program created during the Obama administration to offer deferred enforcement for young undocumented immigrants. The Trump administration sought to revoke the program but was blocked by the Supreme Court. “What happened was the pandemic,” the president replied, inaccurately.

The New York Times: Fact-checking the Trump and Biden town halls. 

Politico: Inside Trump’s town hall: Plenty of sparring and a few cheers.

Biden had his own uncomfortable exchange about his view of expanding the Supreme Court beyond nine justices if he’s elected. After agreeing with a voter’s question that he believes a more conservative court puts LGBTQ rights and the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy, Biden, when pressed by Stephanopoulos, said he will tell voters before Nov. 3 if he would support working with Congress to expand the number of justices. 

“I have not been a fan of court packing,” he said, displaying frustration that his reluctance to buck members of his party on the question leaves him open to pressure from Trump, Republicans and the news media to tell voters what he would do. “It depends on how this turns out,” Biden said, referring to how Senate Republicans “handle” the upcoming committee and floor votes scheduled this month on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett

“Maybe,” he replied when asked if he’d be open to court packing if Barrett is seated on the Supreme Court before the election. 

The Hill: Biden leaves door open to adding Supreme Court justices. 

The Hill: Six takeaways from Trump and Biden’s dueling town halls.

With the town halls in the rearview mirror, the president will head back on the road this weekend, with stops in Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan in the coming days as he seeks to boost turnout among his base to hand him a second term in the White House. 

In the money chase, Biden continues to outpace the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. The president and his team on Friday reported raising $247.8 million in September, far behind Biden’s $383 million over the same period. The president, the RNC and its joint fundraising committees finished the month with $251.4 million cash on hand — dramatically less than the $432 million Biden reported just weeks before the Nov. 3 election (The Associated Press).

The Hill: With 18 days to go, the 2020 election cycle already is the most expensive ever.

The Hill: Democrats raise $1.5 billion in third quarter through ActBlue. 

As Niall Stanage writes in his latest Memo, Trump has made it a point to toss red meat to his hard core supporters, having repeatedly brought up a recent New York Post story about Hunter Biden. He also continues to blast former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Hillary Clinton, but it remains an open question whether this is a strategy that can propel him to victory on Nov. 3.

The Hill: States seeing record early voting turnout amid pandemic.

The Associated Press: Avalanche of early votes transforming 2020 election.

As of Thursday, voters have cast more than 17.5 million ballots in advance of Nov. 3 (U.S. Elections Project). 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) took herself off the campaign trail until Monday as a precaution because two people tied to the campaign tested positive for COVID-19, although the senator said she had tested negative. Harris had expected to be in North Carolina on Thursday and to travel every day through Nov. 3 (The Hill).

NBC News contributor David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report: Why Sumter County in Florida could reveal early on Election Night who is likely to capture the Sunshine State. For Trump, the state is a must-win. 

The Hill: Steve Bullock raises $26.8 million in third quarter for Montana Senate bid. 

David M. Drucker: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) says Trump “kisses dictators’ butts” and mocks evangelicals. 

The Associated Press: C-SPAN suspends journalist Steve Scully after he admits to lying about a hack.




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SCOTUS: The Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up four days of hearings and set a vote next Thursday to send the nomination of Barrett to the full Senate to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court (The Associated Press). 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans have the votes to confirm Barrett before the end of the month. “She’ll come out of committee next Thursday … and we’ll go to the floor with her on Friday the 23rd and stay on it until we finish,” he said. “We have the votes” (The Hill). 

The Senate confirmed Barrett in 2017 to be an appeals court judge by a vote of 55-43. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska initially objected to filling the court vacancy so close to Nov. 3 (The Hill). Collins, who is seeking reelection, has said she will vote no for that reason. Murkowski says she’s open to confirming Barrett before Election Day (National Review). 

This week’s committee hearings, during which Barrett declined to respond to questions and sidestepped nearly every public policy debate of the era, shaped up into a proxy for the upcoming elections, The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. Republican senators used the judge’s nomination to warn that Democrats will try to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court in 2021 if they’re in control. Democrats used GOP court challenges to the Affordable Care Act as a pre-Nov. 3 warning that a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court backed by Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate would try to take away affordable insurance and protections from 20 million Americans. 

The New York Times: Hours of questions, few answers: What we learned about Barrett.

One of the many issues the judge, 48, tried to dodge during her 18 hours of testimony was climate change. Environmentalists interpreted her comments as betraying some skepticism about whether global warming is manmade and scientifically proven to be a planetary crisis. Critics of her nomination said her comments should disqualify her to join the high court (The Hill). Barrett observed that climate change is a “contentious matter of public debate,” telling Harris in response to a question, I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial” (The Hill).



MORE (or Less) CONGRESS: The president on Thursday opened the door to once again increasing the White House’s coronavirus relief offer, only to see Senate Republicans pour cold water over the possibility of supporting any comprehensive proposal in the coming weeks. 

“Absolutely, I would. I would pay more. I would go higher. Go big or go home, I said it yesterday. Go big or go home,” Trump told Fox Business in a phone interview on Thursday morning.

Trump, without specifying a dollar amount, said that he had directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to increase the offer to Democratic negotiators, but noted that Mnuchin “hasn’t come home with the bacon.”  

However, the president lobbed criticism in the direction of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for her handling of negotiations, reiterating that her stance on funding for state and local governments amounts to a “bail out.” In the latest offer, the White House is offering $300 billion for states and cities, compared to $436 billion in the Democratic offer. 

“She is asking for all sorts of goodies. She wants to bail out badly run Democrat states and cities. She wants money for things that you would never, you just couldn’t, just your pride couldn’t let it happen,” Trump said (The Hill).



Trump’s push for a “big” deal, however, is running into an intra party roadblock as McConnell said on Thursday that he does not plan on bringing any potential agreement between Mnuchin and Pelosi to the floor at the current price tag levels. The latest White House offer totals $1.8 trillion, while Democrats are sticking at $2.2 trillion. 

“I don’t think so. That’s where the administration is willing to go. My members think half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go,” McConnell said, pointing to his plan to force a vote next week on a $500 billion bill that would include an increase in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. “That’s not what I’m going to put on the floor,” he added, referring to the current proposals by the White House and Democrats (The Hill).

The Washington Post: Trump again upends stimulus strategy, complaining that Mnuchin hasn’t “come home with the bacon.” 

Roll Call: Trump wants bigger coronavirus relief package; GOP support tepid.

> Trump vs. Pelosi: With the two sides continuing to haggle over a coronavirus stimulus package, negotiations have repeatedly taken place between Pelosi and Mnuchin, with Trump weighing in on Twitter or during interviews. In fact, Trump and the Speaker have not spoken in exactly a year, highlighting the level of dysfunction between the two most powerful people in Washington.

As The Hill’s Cristina Marcos notes, the two party leaders rarely let a moment go by without exhibiting intense disdain for the other one, let alone coming together to strike a deal. Their last face-to-face meeting on Oct. 16, 2019, resulted in Pelosi and Trump unable to agree on whether he called her a “third-rate” or “third grade” politician and the Speaker saying afterward that people should pray for the president’s health. Since then, the two have gone further down the gutter, with Trump questioning Pelosi’s mental acuity, and the Speaker at one point labeling Trump “morbidly obese.” 

The Hill: Rep. Cedric Richmond’s (D-La.) next move: “Sky’s the limit” if Biden wins.


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How to actually make America great, David Brooks, columnist, The New York Times.

A dangerous libertarian strategy for herd immunity, by Tyler Cowen, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion.



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The House is out of Washington until after the election.

The Senate will take up legislative business on Monday, including a vote on a GOP-backed stimulus bill. 

The president will speak at 1:30 p.m. about America’s seniors at Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater in Fort Myers, Fla. Trump will hold an afternoon rally in Ocala, Fla., and an evening event with supporters in Macon, Ga. On Saturday, Trump will campaign in Muskegon, Mich., and Janesville, Wis., with a campaign appearance also set for Sunday in Carson City, Nev.

Vice President Pence leads a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 10:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room. He leaves in the afternoon for a campaign rally in Selma, N.C., at 2:30 p.m. 

Economic indicators: The Census Bureau will report retail sales in September at 8:30 a.m. and the Federal Reserve will report on industrial production in September at 9:15 a.m.

Biden-Harris campaign events: Biden is scheduled to be in Michigan to speak in Southfield this afternoon about affordable health care, followed by an event in Detroit to promote early voting. Harris will participate in a virtual campaign fundraiser while she is in self-quarantine until next week after being in proximity to campaign operatives who tested positive for COVID-19.  

INVITATION: The Hill Virtually Live hosts Tuesday’s “America’s Most Reliable Voter” at 11 a.m. ET, with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin (D), Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R), League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase and more to discuss how voters over the age of 50 are approaching the elections. Information to register is HERE

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


CORONAVIRUS: What is happening in the United States with COVID-19 infections is coast-to-coast cautionary. For the first time since early August, the number of newly reported cases on Thursday topped 60,000. More than 36,000 people are hospitalized nationally with the coronavirus amid a crisis that is intensifying almost everywhere. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have higher caseloads than in mid-September. Wisconsin set a record Thursday when it surpassed 4,000 newly reported cases. Illinois also reported more than 4,000 cases, eclipsing records set during the state’s first wave in April and May. Ohio set a new high, as did Indiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Montana and Colorado. In El Paso, officials have ordered new restrictions and lockdowns amid a coronavirus surge (The Washington Post).

> Recovered, but with regrets: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he was “wrong” not to wear a mask at the White House when attending a Sept. 26 Rose Garden event and while preparing the president for a Sept. 29 debate. “I believed when I entered the White House grounds, that I had entered a safe zone, due to the testing that I and many others underwent every day,” Christie said in a statement. He urged people to “follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines in public no matter where you are and wear a mask to protect yourself and others.” Christie checked himself into a hospital on Oct. 3 with symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 and was released a week later (The New York Times). 

> Herd immunity: The science is far from clear that someone who recovers from COVID-19 has some amount of protective immunity. That uncertainty raises prospects that a herd immunity strategy could kill more people than otherwise projected during the pandemic (The Hill). … Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News on Thursday that herd immunity is “total nonsense” and risks “serious consequences” (The Hill).

> CDC political eyes and ears: Congressional investigators are examining what impact twp political operatives added to the senior staff of the nation’s public health agency in June are having after evidence has mounted of political interference in CDC scientific publications, guidance documents and web postings (The Associated Press).

> “Time is running out” in Europe: The European Commission urged member nations on Thursday to step up preparations against the new surge of coronavirus infections and recommended common measures to roll out vaccines should they become available. “Time is running out,” said European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, urging greater coordination in tracing infections (Reuters). … London, the world’s international financial capital, will enter a tighter COVID-19 lockdown beginning midnight tonight to tackle a swiftly accelerating second coronavirus wave (Reuters). … French health authorities on Thursday reported rising COVID-19 infections — 30,621 over just 24 hours — while hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb. New curfews have been ordered by the government in France’s major cities (Reuters). 

TECH & ELECTION: Trump’s Twitter election campaign account was unblocked on Thursday after the social media company temporarily restricted it, saying a video from the account about Hunter Biden violated its rules (Reuters). … Facebook and Twitter largely bungled their separate efforts on Wednesday to limit the spread of a controversial and thinly sourced New York Post cover story about Hunter Biden, inviting allegations of censorship and ensuring the article stayed in the news and on social media (The Hill). … YouTube, the video service of Google parent Alphabet Inc., said on Thursday it was banning content that targets an individual or a group using conspiracy theories such as QAnon or pizzagate that have “been used to justify real-world violence” (Reuters).

➔ CLONED ‘KURT’: In August, a rare, endangered Przewalski’s horse was born at the San Diego Zoo, created from stallion cells that sat frozen for 40 years before they were fused with an egg from a domestic horse. Tiny 2-month-old Kurt is the result, and you might want to see the adorable video HERE. The zoo views the cloned horse as a milestone in efforts to restore the population of Asiatic Wild Horse or Mongolian Wild Horse. The small, stocky animals are believed extinct in the wild and number only about 2,000 in zoos and wildlife habitats. “This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” said Bob Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global, which operates the zoo (The Associated Press).



And finally …  Bravo to winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz!  

Here’s who Googled or guessed correctly about some Supreme Court history: Mary Anne McEnery, Ki Harvey, Patrick Kavanagh, Gary Breakfield, Candi Cee, Mary Ellen Krohner, Steve Jenning, Jimmy Verner, David E. Letostak, Eric Chapman, Donna Minter, Matthew DeLaune, Terry Pflaumer, Kathleen Dobe-Call, J. Patrick White, Q. Bernard Driskell, Robert Nordmeyer, Rich Gruber, John Donato, Phil Kirstein, Mike Roberts and Debbi Coleman.

They knew that in 1863, the Supreme Court had more than nine justices (in fact, 10) (SCOTUS blog).

The Senate has voted to reject 11 nominees to the Supreme Court (Newsweek). 

Former U.S. president William Howard Taft went on to serve as chief justice on the Supreme Court from 1921 to 1930 (Supreme Court Historical Society).

There are few specific qualifications for Supreme Court justices. Our multiple choice menu included some myths; the correct answer was “all of the above” (Supreme


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