The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump, Biden blitz battleground states
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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday! Five 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 each morning this week: Monday, 225,230; Tuesday, 225,735; Wednesday, 226,722; Thursday, 227,700.
President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are parachuting back into Tampa, Fla., today and will each return to Wisconsin on Friday, determined to leave nothing to chance during the final days of the nail-biting 2020 hunt for 270 electoral votes (The Hill).
Trump is unlikely to win a second term without winning the Sunshine State, a richly diverse mix of peninsula and panhandle that he put in his column with a margin of just 113,000 votes four years ago. Polls suggest he has the barest whisper of a lead against the former vice president in a state with 29 electoral votes.
Biden also will campaign today in heavily Democratic Broward County in South Florida, considered key to his chances to capture the “half-percent state.” The former vice president was there on Oct. 13, and former President Obama stumped for the Democratic ticket in Central and South Florida in the past few days, working to increase turnout among young and minority voters.
Trump will rally supporters in Fayetteville, N.C., this evening, returning to another toss-up state he desperately wants to win. Cumberland County is considered the bellwether in North Carolina for the president’s ambitions to lock up 15 electoral votes (Citizen Times).
Friday will see the two candidates jetting around the Midwest. In addition to Wisconsin, Trump is scheduled to return to Michigan and Minnesota, and Biden will make his third visit to the Badger State and dash into Iowa to try to expand his map. On Saturday, Biden will also return to Michigan, where he leads Trump in polls and will be accompanied by Obama (The Hill).
The Hill: No one gets under Trump’s skin like the 44th president.
Trump’s campaign team is concerned that a combination of shifting demographics, an anti-Trump upswell in some Midwestern suburbs and the impact of COVID-19 in parts of the Rust Belt have altered the political landscape compared with 2016. Biden has not let a day go by without hammering Trump over his response to the pandemic, gaining traction with college educated and minority voters in battleground states where infections have been soaring.
Wisconsin officials and public health experts say the state is in serious trouble with the coronavirus. The state has seen an average of 4,221 cases per day over the past week, an increase of 46 percent from earlier this month. Hospitals are buckling under the strain of packed ICUs and exhausted clinicians and staff.
A recent Marquette University poll found that only 40 percent of likely voters in Wisconsin approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic while 57 percent say they are very worried or somewhat worried about contracting COVID-19 (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).
During a campaign stop in Flint, Mich., on Wednesday, Vice President Pence reminded supporters that the state will “play an outsized role in deciding this election, make no mistake about it.” When the crowd started chanting “Vote for Trump,” the vice president said, “We just got to make sure Michigan comes through.”
In Michigan over the past week, there have been an average of 2,334 cases of coronavirus infections each day, an increase of 83 percent from the average recorded just two weeks ago.
Poll watch: Biden maintains a 5-point lead over Trump in Wisconsin, according to a poll of likely voters conducted by Marquette Law School (The Hill).
Biden — whose campaign travel schedule has been described by some as prudently measured during a pandemic and others as too Delaware-rooted — spent part of Wednesday talking remotely to health experts about COVID-19, to local interviewers in Florida and Nevada, and to Oprah Winfrey during a Zoom event to encourage people to vote in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio (Deadline).
The Hill: Campaigning on Wednesday in GOP territory in Arizona, the president promised swift economic recovery and boasted the country is making headway against the virus. “We will deliver record prosperity, epic job growth, and a safe vaccine is coming very quickly,” Trump told supporters in Bullhead City. “We are rounding the turn regardless, you know that.”
Unprecedented turnout: More than 16 million voters who did not cast a ballot in 2016 have already voted this year, a sign that record-high enthusiasm in November’s elections will lead to an unprecedented turnout across the country. Already this year, more than 4 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 have cast ballots, suggesting the surge is partly fueled by younger voters who have been targets of turnout operations funded by Democratic groups, and by minorities who are motivated to turn out in large numbers (The Hill).
More than 76 million Americans have already voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project, representing nearly 56 percent of the 2016 turnout.
NPR: Election officials on Wednesday urged voters to use alternatives other than the U.S. mail to return ballots, noting that in many states, it is now too late to mail absentee ballots and be confident of receipt on time. They encourage voters to deliver their ballots by hand to appropriate elections offices or to cast ballots in person by Nov. 3. Absentee ballots must be received on Election Day in more than two dozen states, including a handful of key swing states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Supreme Court late Wednesday declined to block lower court rulings that allow six extra days for accepting ballots sent by mail in North Carolina. The justices left the later deadline in place, a victory for Democrats in a presidential battleground state (NBC News). … Justices also refused a plea from Pennsylvania Republicans that the court decide before Election Day whether the state can continue counting absentee ballots for three days after Nov. 3. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in either decision (The New York Times).
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LEADING THE DAY
MORE POLITICS: While Trump and Biden make their closing pitches to voters, Vice President Pence is using his campaign swings to boost support for vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection next week.
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports, Pence is campaigning alongside three GOP senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee: Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who chairs the panel, Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), using the recent confirmation of Barrett to help them in the waning days.
The stops overlap with key presidential battlegrounds, but aides view it as an opportunity to boost senators who lost valuable time on the campaign trail in recent weeks to attend hearings in Washington to further Barrett’s nomination.
While the White House looks to shore up the situations for Tillis and Ernst, and the terrain across the nation for Senate Republicans is rough, the GOP is seeing glimpses of good news in the upper Midwest as John James in Michigan and former Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) are within striking distance of incumbent Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), respectively.
While the vast majority of focus has been trained on GOP incumbents, the pair of Democrats are showing renewed vulnerabilities only days away from Nov. 3, as The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes.
The Hill: Democrats seek wave to bolster House majority.
The Hill: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): Battle for Senate “a 50-50 proposition.”
The New York Times: The 2020 campaign is the most expensive ever (by a lot).
Politico: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), potential 2024 candidate, opens wallet for Trump in Florida.
> Lone Star revamp?: Texas Republicans tell The Hill that even if Trump wins next week, the party has to rethink its direction as Democrats make inroads in Texas districts, particularly in suburban areas that have seen eye-popping growth during the past decade.
The Morning Report’s Al Weaver, reporting from Bulverde, Texas, says that while Trump is expected to win “ugly” in Texas next week (as Dave Carney, a top adviser to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), put it), the coming years represent a make-or-break stretch for the Texas GOP to get its act together, party leaders say, with the Democrats expected to flip more U.S. House and state House seats next week.
“The party’s got some work to do, and the reason they’ve got work to do is when you win the national championship every year — year after year after year — you get complacent,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) told The Hill in an interview.
“I think the Republican Party in Texas over the last 1- years … got complacent,” Perry continued, taking some responsibility for the situation, as he was governor from 2000 to 2014. “You didn’t build the structure that you need. You didn’t go recruit the bench that you need to continue to be a strong team.”
Elaina Plott, The New York Times Magazine: Win or lose, it’s Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
> Ballots present choices beyond candidates: Billionaires write checks to get voters’ attention on ballot initiatives. Nineteen donors in six states paid $1 million or more (Bloomberg Law).
> Election night: Television projections of election winners and losers soon after polls close is a modern construct, not an expectation that all ballots are scanned, tallied and certified on Election Day. Elections experts are worried that Trump’s insistence on results on Nov. 3 is a ploy to disenfranchise voters, and they were surprised and disturbed when Justice Brett Kavanaugh referred to states that “want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night” (The Hill). In fact, no state definitively announces results immediately after polls close, and each state by law complies with deadlines by which they must certify their election results, varying from a day to two days after Election Day to weeks later in December (Ballotpedia list). Political scientists and election law experts counsel patience this year, pointing out that presidential election results were in suspense in 2000 until Dec. 12 and in 2004 until the morning after election night because of a close outcome in Ohio.
The Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), interviewed on MSNBC on Wednesday, said the president should accept the election results “like a man” instead of attempting to sow doubt about the outcome when all ballots are not counted on election night.
Anonymous footnote: Back in September 2018, an unidentified Washington opinion writer inside the Trump administration caused a media stir with a New York Times piece in which the person, cast as a “senior official,” claimed to be part of a “resistance” to the president inside the government, working to “thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” The federal employee remained hidden (some would say forgotten), even after enterprising publishing agents turned the political intrigue into a book deal (The Washington Post). “We took a meeting with a senior Trump official not sure about the meeting’s purpose, and when they informed us they were Anonymous, our jaws hit the floor,” one of the wheeler-dealer agents gushed in 2019. Fast forward to Wednesday, and the “senior official” turns out to be farther down the anonymity ladder than imagined, sparking outrage from Trump supporters and shrugs from those who bought into the suspense. The official turned out to be former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor, who endorsed Biden this summer and previously denied writing either the opinion article or the book, titled “A Warning.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Bad and getting worse … The United States and Europe face new rounds of shutdowns and restrictions amid frightening surges of COVID-19 infections and rising hospitalizations in nearly all states (The Associated Press). “I’m just coming from a place with ventilators and people are just going to an indoor restaurant,” said David Letzer, an infectious diseases specialist who doubles as chairman of the Wisconsin Medical Society’s COVID-19 task force. “Those are the things that are frustrating and take their toll.”
European nations moved to reimplement lockdowns amid grim coronavirus case numbers and to prevent hospitals from being overrun with COVID-19 patients needing intensive care. More than 2 million new confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported globally in the past week, the shortest time ever for such an increase, and 46 percent of those were in Europe, The Associated Press reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a partial nationwide shutdown would be implemented starting Friday. The lockdown will be reexamined every 15 days, with schools remaining open. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a similar move, instituting an emergency month long lockdown that shutters restaurants, gyms and theaters (Reuters).
Walt Disney World on Wednesday laid off 720 actors and singers as the theme park has not resumed live shows and entertainment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The news comes weeks after Walt Disney Co. announced that it was laying off 28,000 people at theme parks in Florida and California (The Associated Press).
The NFL is planning on capping capacity at Super Bowl LV at 20 percent, with roughly 13,000 to 15,000 fans expected at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, fans will be in pods 6 feet apart and masks will be mandatory (ESPN). …The University of Wisconsin was forced to cancel Saturday’s football game against the University of Nebraska due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, with Wisconsin reporting 12 cases, including head coach Paul Chryst, on Wednesday. The game will go down as a “no contest” (ESPN).
➔ CONGRESS: Chief executives of Silicon Valley’s most influential tech companies took on partisan complaints at a high-profile hearing on Wednesday, facing concerns that content moderation decisions have become a campaign issue.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing purportedly to discuss a federal statute that provides a liability shield for internet companies for content posted on their sites by third parties and lets them make “good faith” efforts to moderate content, GOP lawmakers instead used the opportunity to question company heads about perceived political bias. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai all faced questions on the latter topic, with Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) setting the tone for the GOP as he spent his opening round of questions needling Dorsey about his company’s decisions on when to label tweets.
As The Hill’s Chris Mills Rodrigo writes, Wicker questioned why Twitter has attached labels to the president’s tweets instead of those by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Dorsey noted, unlike Trump, some of Khamenei’s tweets have been removed.
Dorsey also acknowledged that Twitter mishandled a recent New York Post story about Hunter Biden with dubious sourcing. Twitter initially prevented the spread of the article on its platform, sparking particularly harsh criticism from conservatives.
“Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked Dorsey in a heated back and forth (The Hill).
The Associated Press: Social media CEOs rebuff bias claims, vow to defend election.
The Wall Street Journal: Pelosi says details of coronavirus package could change after election.
Roll Call: Little time, big differences threaten lame-duck spending deals.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
“Not Trump” is not enough to govern, by Karl Rove, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3mCPJIZ
How far might Trump go? by Thomas B. Edsall, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/37QCOic
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House is out of Washington until after the election. Pelosi will be interviewed in the noon hour on Bloomberg TV’s “Balance of Power.”
The Senate will return to work on Nov. 9.
The president will campaign at 1:35 p.m. in Tampa, Fla., and in Fayetteville, N.C., at 6:30 p.m., accompanied by first lady Melania Trump. They return to the White House tonight.
The vice president will campaign in Des Moines, Iowa, at 1:30 p.m. and in Reno, Nev., at 5 p.m.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Malé, Maldives, where he announced plans to open a U.S. Embassy in Malé and met with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shaheed. The secretary wraps up his Asia travels in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he met with President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis report at 8:30 a.m. on gross domestic product in the third quarter is expected to shatter records seen since the end of World War II. Economists, however, suggest the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and rolling business lockdowns meant an aberration of sorts for growth during a bounce-back quarter.
Biden-Harris campaign events: Biden will campaign in Broward County and Tampa, Fla. Harris will participate in a voter mobilization event this evening, followed by a virtual finance event. The senator will also join a rally hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to support proposals for a living wage.
INVITATION TODAY to The Hill’s Virtually Live event about “America’s Agenda: Infrastructure” at 1 p.m. EDT, with Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). Information and registration HERE.
➔ ALASKA ENVIRONMENT: Trump will open up more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging and other forms of development, according to a notice posted by the government on Wednesday, stripping protections that had safeguarded one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests for nearly two decades. Because of the decision, it is legal beginning today for logging companies to build roads and cut and remove timber throughout more than 9.3 million acres of forest (The Washington Post).
➔ URBAN UNREST – POLICING: Philadelphia was under curfew last night following the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man, whose death incited heated protests, break-ins and vandalism over two days in parts of the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia Inquirer).
➔ HURRICANE ZETA made landfall on Wednesday and killed one man in southeast Louisiana. This morning, Zeta is heading northeast after being downgraded to a tropical storm. It’s the fifth named storm to strike Louisiana this year and initially brought 110 mph winds and heavy rain when it arrived as a Category 2 hurricane (The Associated Press).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Struck by rhetoric we heard on the campaign trail in this final campaign week, we’re eager for some smart guesses about ghosts of former U.S. presidents and American history. No multiple choice this week … just send your answers (and in the correct order)!
1. Which candidate said this while in Pennsylvania on Monday? “You know we’re the party of Abraham Lincoln, a lot of people don’t know that. The great Abraham Lincoln, a man that I’ve always competed against.”
2. Which candidate told Nevada voters this week, “Let’s honor the ancestors, when this year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. … Let’s also, you know, always remember history and facts: Black women couldn’t vote until 1965.”
3. Which surrogate for a candidate told Florida voters on Monday, “I’ve sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president, and they’re very different people.”
4. Which candidate said this while campaigning in Georgia on Wednesday? “FDR longed to live an independent life, a life that wasn’t defined by his illness. … It was the lessons he learned here that he used to lift a nation.”
5. Which candidate told South Carolinians on Tuesday, “Trump has signed the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan.”
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