The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday! Twelve days until Election Day. 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, 219,674; Tuesday, 220,133; Wednesday, 221,076; Thursday, 222,210.

The election contest between President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE has somehow seemed nearly earthquake proof, featuring an incumbent who has lagged behind his challenger in poll after poll, month after month, pinned down by contagion, recession and a muddled message during crisis times.


Tonight on a stage in Nashville, Tenn., the president has a final chance to turn things around (The Hill). 


To viewers, a second debate may be overshadowed by memories of a chaotic brawl  between the two men on Sept. 29, and by the fact that so many voters have already made up their minds. Nonetheless, Trump won the presidency by a mere 77,000 votes in three key states four years ago, and political analysts who pore over polls and focus groups, voter registration data and early voting statistics say a second Trump term is possible, albeit a longshot.


As The Hill’s Niall Stanage reports, the president’s team hopes he will tonight clearly frame the choice as between a GOP agenda of "freedom and prosperity” and “socialist” policies he says are favored by Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden officially clinches Electoral College votes with California certification Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-Calif.). Trump's unpredictability, however, can be self-injurious. “You won't know what he will do until he does it,” Stanage’s source conceded.  


The Associated Press: Face to face: Trump, Biden to meet for a final debate.


The New York Times: How Trump and Biden are gearing up for the last presidential debate.


Does Trump change tactics? It is but one of the unknowns on a list compiled by The Hill’s Max Greenwood. Trump’s debate advisers have suggested that trying to push Biden over a debate cliff is not as effective on live television as patiently encouraging a verbose challenger to talk himself over the edge. Biden’s debate team expects Trump to get personal and have prepared the sometimes short-fused Democratic nominee accordingly. 


Might tonight’s event seal the deal when it comes to the Electoral College math, and for which contender?  


The Associated Press: 5 questions as Trump and Biden prepare for their final debate.


On Wednesday night, U.S. intelligence officials abruptly announced during a hastily called news conference that Iran and Russia obtained U.S. voter registration data and are interfering with the U.S. election to undermine voter confidence through disinformation. Tehran sent threatening spoof emails and texts to Democrats purporting to be from pro-Trump, far-right groups, such as the Proud Boys, they said. There is no evidence that actual ballots or votes were tampered with, according to officials, who asserted that Iran’s motive is to hurt Trump. Questions abound, and the administration did not immediately provide answers (The New York Times and The Hill).     


Axios: “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Pompeo imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over 'intimidation' tactics Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security MORE announced.


Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' MORE (R-Fla.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.), in a joint statement in advance of the government statements, said, “As we enter the last weeks before the election, we urge every American — including members of the media — to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting” (The Hill).


Noteworthy: According to a recent Ipsos poll focused on international technology dominance, 74 percent of voters are concerned about the possibility of foreign interference in the election.


The Washington Post: Focused on investigating Hunter Biden, Trump discusses firing FBI Director Christopher Wray.


The Charlotte Observer: Trump, campaigning in Gastonia, N.C., on Wednesday night (pictured below), told an estimated crowd of 15,000 people that a Democratic administration poses dire consequences for America. “If Biden wins, the flag-burning demonstrators in the street will be running your federal government,” he asserted, returning to a law and order theme. “They will re-educate your children, letting rioters and MS-13 killers roam free without masks.”


While urging progressive voters to turn out in North Carolina, Harris told reporters on Wednesday that Biden can handle attacks from the president during the debate because he understands what voters want to learn from the candidates. 


They need to hear a conversation about how we’re going to put food on America’s tables when people are standing in food lines,” she said. “He knows that people want to hear about how we’re going to help working families get through the end of the month and pay the rent.”  


At an outdoor drive-in rally in Philadelphia on Wednesday, former President Obama, who is stumping for the former vice president in the final days of the campaign, blasted Trump for U.S. job losses, uncontrolled outbreaks and deaths from COVID-19, and GOP efforts to jettison the Affordable Care Act during a pandemic as well as for betraying the essence of “We the People” (The Hill). 


“Our democracy is not gonna work if the people who are supposed to be our leaders lie every day and just make things up,” Obama said after he removed a mask decorated with the word “VOTE.” Attendees stood on their cars, honked their horns and cheered as dusk fell. “This notion of truthfulness, and democracy and citizenship and being responsible — these aren't Republican or Democratic principles. They’re American principles,” he continued. “And we need to reclaim them.” 


The former president will campaign for Biden and Harris in Miami on Saturday (The Hill).





Earlier on Wednesday, Obama urged Black men to exercise their power by voting by Nov. 3. “The government’s us. Of, by and for the people. It wasn’t always for all of us, but the way it’s designed, it works based on who’s at the table,” he told a roundtable of 14 men at an event in Philadelphia (The Associated Press). 


The U.S. Elections Project reports that more than 44 million Americans have already voted as of this morning, nearly 32 percent of the total turnout in 2016.




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CONGRESS: The White House and Democratic negotiators are sounding notes of optimism as they enter a crucial couple of days towards securing a potential coronavirus relief package, possibly before the November election.


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.) was bullish on Wednesday over the possibility of striking an accord with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Sweeping financial crimes bill to hitch a ride on defense measure On The Money: Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms | Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks | Poll: Most Americans support raising taxes on those making at least 0K MORE and the White House to provide a new round of stimulus funding to keep the economy afloat. The Speaker declared that “help is on the way,” with the goal of passing a bill before November to help individuals make rent payments. 


“There will be a bill. It's a question of, is it in time to pay the November rent, which is my goal? Or is it going to be shortly thereafter, and retroactive?” Pelosi told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "We're in a better place than we have been.”


“I'm optimistic, because even with what Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE says, ‘We don’t want to do it before the election.’ ... let's keep working so that we can do it after the election,” Pelosi said, pointing to McConnell’s desire not to act before Election Day. “We want it before. … But again, I want people to know: Help is on the way. It will be bigger, it will be better, it will be safer, and it will be retroactive” (The Hill).


The Hill: Power players and chess match on COVID-19 aid.


Pelosi resumed talks with Mnuchin on Wednesday, which brought the two sides “closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation,” according to Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman. Hammill added that while “more work needs to be done” to fund schools, the two sides are bridging the gap on various health priorities. Pelosi and Mnuchin are expected to speak again today. 


Hours earlier, the White House projected a similar sense of hopefulness. Chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Alyssa Farah resigns as White House communications director Trump hits Barr over voter fraud remarks: 'He hasn't looked' MORE said in an interview that the 48 hours between Wednesday afternoon and the end of the week would prove crucial in deciding whether the two parties can agree on a path forward, adding that discussions have entered a “new phase.”


“The negotiations have entered a new phase, which is more on the technical side of trying to get the language right if we can agree upon the numbers,” Meadows told Fox Business. “We are still apart, still a number of issues to work on, but the last 24 hours have moved the ball down the field” (The Hill).


The Associated Press: Pandemic relief faces uncertainty in postelection session.


The Wall Street Journal: Stocks decline as stimulus talks continue.


Despite the progress, Trump made his latest foray into talks on Wednesday evening to reiterate his opposition to any package including a substantial amount of funds for state and local governments. The president tweeted that he doesn’t “see any way” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.) are willing make the right decisions for workers given that their “primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states.” 


In the White House’s most recent $1.8 trillion offer, $300 billion was included to aid state and local governments. Democrats have asked for $436 billion in their $2.2 trillion proposal.





While talks continue between the principal negotiators, Senate Democrats blocked a targeted $500 billion package of coronavirus relief on Wednesday, which would have provided a new round of funding for a small business loan program and gives Senate Republicans a talking point in the final 12 days ahead of the November election. 


As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, the bill included a federal unemployment benefit, another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, more than $100 billion for schools and new funding for coronavirus testing and vaccine research and distribution. While Democrats derided the vote as a stunt, McConnell was eager to force the minority party to go on the record on the proposed legislation. 


“The overwhelming bulk of it is programs that Democrats claim they support. Well, it turns out there’s a special perk to being a United States senator. When you actually support something, you get to vote for it. ... When you actually want an outcome, you vote it. Strangely enough, that’s not what seems to be happening,” McConnell said ahead of the vote.


The Washington Post: Senate Democrats block slimmed-down relief bill as Capitol Hill rancor worsens.


Alexander Bolton, The Hill: GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell. 


Politico: Senate Democrats voted on Wednesday to block Republicans’ $500 billion coronavirus relief plan. The bill was nearly identical to a GOP stimulus plan Democrats rejected in September.


The Hill: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal McCarthy woos Freedom Caucus with eye on Speakership House GOP uses procedural tool to protest proxy voting MORE (R-Calif.) faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments.


> Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs MORE met with senators on Wednesday ahead of today’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote on her Supreme Court nomination (Fox News). The panel is expected to vote today along party lines to send her nomination to the full Senate for a vote scheduled on Monday, but 10 Democrats plan to boycott the committee roll call, complicating the procedural rules for Republicans in the majority (The Hill). The 48-year-old appeals court judge is widely anticipated to win confirmation and be sworn in before Election Day to fill a vacancy created by the late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs Cuomo likens COVID-19 to the Grinch: 'The season of viral transmission' For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty MORE


MORE POLITICS: The president’s reelection campaign has tried to turn the page from the COVID-19 pandemic, but another wave of new confirmed cases is sweeping the United States in the run-up to Election Day, bringing into focus the administration’s decisions from the outset of the pandemic. 


“We’re in a really precarious time,” said David Rubin, a pediatrician who runs the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose models show devolving situations across much of the nation. The pandemic “is accelerating, and it’s accelerating quickly. We’re now seeing hospitals exceeding capacity in the Upper Midwest, in Salt Lake, where hospitals are filling up, and it’s just mid-October.” 


According to analysis by The Hill, the number of new coronavirus infections confirmed over the last week rose in 44 states compared to the week prior. Cases have declined for two or more consecutive weeks in just two states: California and Hawaii.


> House of pain: House Democrats are pushing deeper into Republican territory, seeking to capitalize on Trump’s polling weakness at the top of the ticket and a tough environment for the GOP with two weeks to go before Election Day. 


As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley writes, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, which has outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee by more than $60 million this cycle, is going up with new ads in districts where Trump won by double digits four years ago. The seats sit in states such as Arizona, Minnesota, Montana and Michigan, with the committee hopeful to pick up seats in districts even if Trump wins them narrowly in 2020. 


Overall, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has circled 18 districts it hopes to flip in less than two weeks. 


> Alabama: The Supreme Court on Wednesday in a 5-3 decision blocked a trial judge’s ruling that would have allowed, but not required, counties in Alabama to offer curbside voting to help older and disabled people complete in-person ballots without standing in long lines during the coronavirus pandemic (The New York Times).


> More than 4.9 million ads have aired in federal political races (House, Senate and president) on broadcast and national cable television since January 2019, a volume twice as large as seen in the 2012 and 2016 presidential election cycles, and well above the previously record-setting 2018 midterms, according to a report released Wednesday by the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads. If you don’t think you’ve seen these political messages, it could be because you don’t live in Phoenix, Charlotte, N.C., or Des Moines, Iowa, the media markets targeted most heavily for political TV ads this cycle. Presidential advertisements on broadcast and cable TV currently exceed 100,000 airings per week, well above the past two presidential cycles.  


Poll watch: A new Suffolk University-USA Today network poll of likely voters in Pennsylvania found Biden ahead of Trump 49-42 percent, while 18 percent of those surveyed said they had already voted. A Quinnipiac University poll of likely Pennsylvania voters reports Biden leads Trump by 8 points. … A New York Times-Siena College poll of likely Iowa voters found Biden leading Trump by 3 points, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points. … A Politico-Morning Consult national poll of registered voters found that Biden holds a slight 45-44 percent edge over Trump when it comes to which candidate voters trust to handle the economy, while Biden outpaces the president 51 percent to 36 percent on trust with health care. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said the Senate should confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court.


> Giuliani: Former New York City Mayor and Trump personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiHow Trump's election lawsuits became his worst nightmare Michigan voter fraud hearing goes viral for alleged flatulence, unruly witness Trump hits Barr over voter fraud remarks: 'He hasn't looked' MORE succumbed to a Sacha Baron Cohen film prank in a movie sequel to “Borat” to be released on Friday. In the film, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, Giuliani and a young woman posing as a reporter, who was part of Cohen's satiric sting, can be seen going into a hotel bedroom — at the woman's invitation — after completing what Giuliani apparently believed to be a real interview about the coronavirus pandemic and Trump's response to it. The film, to be released on Amazon Prime Video, shows a clothed Giuliani, 76, on a bed. The former mayor denies he did anything wrong, saying he was tucking in his shirt (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! 


What’s in a name? A lot, if it’s ‘Kamala,’ by Francis Wilkinson, opinion contributor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3kjmFFn 


Winter is coming for bars. Here’s how to save them, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3kjFFnt 


The House is out of Washington until after the election.


The Senate will convene at noon. The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to hold a 1 p.m. vote on Barrett to become an associate justice on the Supreme Court.


The president will fly to Nashville with first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpDC attorney general: Ivanka Trump 'highly misleading' on lawsuit deposition Biden warns Americans against traveling for Christmas McEnany hits Democratic leaders for not following their own COVID-19 restrictions MORE and will host a roundtable campaign event at 3 p.m. in the city before participating in the second and final debate with Biden at 9 p.m. EDT.


Vice President Pence flies to Waterford Township, Mich., to headline a rally at 12:35 p.m., then travels to Fort Wayne, Ind., for another campaign rally at 4:30 p.m. He will remain overnight in Indianapolis.


Economic indicators: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report on unemployment claims filed in the week ending Oct. 17. Continued signs of labor dislocation are anticipated with a consensus expectation of 875,000. The National Association of Realtors reports at 10 a.m. on sales of existing homes in the United States in September (expected to be a surging trend for the fourth consecutive month; August saw an increase of 2.4 percent). 


Biden-Harris campaign events: Biden will appear opposite Trump on tonight’s presidential debate stage. Harris will hold a virtual “Women for Biden” rally at 4:30 p.m. EDT. 


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


GAY RIGHTS: During comments filmed for a documentary released on Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival, Pope FrancisPope FrancisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy Pope warns new cardinals against 'slumber of mediocrity' Pope Francis pays visit to predecessor with elevated cardinals MORE became the first pontiff to endorse gay civil unions. In contrast with the official teachings of the Catholic Church, the pope said same-sex couples have a right to have a family and are “children of God.” His comments were cheered by gay Catholics and challenged by conservatives in the church (The Associated Press). 


➔ PURDUE PHARMA GUILTY: OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal charges in a prominent U.S. prosecution related to its marketing of the addictive painkiller. The Justice Department on Wednesday announced an $8.3 billion settlement with the company. The Sackler family, owner of Purdue Pharma, agreed to pay $225 million in civil penalties while investigations continue. Because Purdue sought bankruptcy court protection amid an onslaught of lawsuits, it is unlikely the company will pay anything close to the government’s negotiated settlement deal (The New York Times). Opioids have killed more than 450,000 Americans in the last two decades. 





CORONAVIRUS: Hospitals in large and small states across the country are starting to buckle under the weight of rising COVID-19 infections, indicating a resurgence in caseloads that may soon be followed by overworked clinicians and rising fatalities, according to public health experts. Some states, eyeing grim statistics and a long winter ahead, are racing to ensure that hospital capacity is backed by emergency preparations, such as field hospitals, if necessary. The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases has reached nearly 60,000 — the highest since July (The Associated Press). 


> Vaccines: A volunteer in AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial died in Brazil, but a Brazilian newspaper reported the patient received a placebo rather than the experimental vaccine. The trial will continue (Reuters).


> Events: The annual Cherry Blossom parade in the nation’s capital has been canceled next spring because of pandemic precautions, but the Cherry Blossom Festival will take place from March 20 to April 11 (WTOP). 

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And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the 116th World Series, featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the history of the Fall Classic.


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 two players (batter and pitcher) hold the career record for most home runs and strikeouts in World Series history? 


  1. Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson
  2. Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson
  3. Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford
  4. Lou Gehrig, Bob Gibson


Which current franchise is the only one to have both won and lost a World Series while based in three cities?

  1. Atlanta Braves
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. Baltimore Orioles


Which player has NOT hit three home runs in a single World Series game?  

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Reggie Jackson
  3. Hank Aaron
  4. Albert Pujols


Which World Series championship team is believed to be the first to visit the White House? 

  1. Washington Senators
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Philadelphia Athletics
  4. Washington Nationals