When Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said in April that President Trump might try to postpone the election and blame the coronavirus, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh dismissed his warning as “incoherent, conspiracy-theory ramblings” and added that the president “has been clear” the election would go on, no matter what, on Nov. 3.
Yet Trump floated postponing the election on Thursday, 96 days before the U.S. elections and minutes after the federal government released the worst quarterly economic data since at least 1875. The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to regulate the “time, place and manner” of federal elections. A chorus of Republican legislative leaders promptly pushed back on the president’s trial balloon. They made clear that Election Day will not change this year.
But make no mistake: The voting wars are just beginning. The cascading legislative and judicial battles over ballot access and related issues seem poised to escalate over the coming months. Trump’s preemptive efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy and integrity of the election, combined with his refusal to commit that he will respect the results, raise the specter that the results will be challenged in court. It is not inconceivable the Supreme Court might need to get involved, as it did in Bush v. Gore in 2000, especially if the outcome is close.
“I want to have the election, but I also don’t want to wait for three months and find out that all the ballots are all missing and the election won’t mean anything,” Trump said at a Thursday news conference. “That’s what’s going to happen, and everyone knows it.”
Late Thursday, a divided Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling to shut down a lower court’s decision that cited the coronavirus as a justification to ease the rules on gathering signatures for a ballot initiative. “The case from Idaho was the latest example of the high court deferring to state officials, rather than lower-court judges, in how to deal with election-related issues caused by the outbreak of covid-19,” Robert Barnes reports. “The justices put on hold a lower-court order that Idaho officials either put on the ballot an education initiative promoted by a group called Reform Idaho or allow the group to gather signatures electronically, although the deadline had passed. … In this election year, the court is increasingly being called upon to decide election issues related to the pandemic. The conservative justices have been in the majority as the court in most cases has sided with state officials when they ask for stays from lower court decisions they don’t like.”
Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, who were nominated by Trump, as well as Justice Samuel Alito, in writing for the majority. “The District Court did not accord sufficient weight to the State’s discretionary judgments about how to prioritize limited state resources across the election system as a whole,” Roberts wrote.
Liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. “By jumping ahead of the court of appeals, this court once again forgets that it is ‘a court of review, not of first view’ [and] undermines the public’s expectation that its highest court will act only after considered deliberation,” Sotomayor wrote. (It is unclear from the order how Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan voted, but at least one of them sided with Roberts to give him a fifth vote.)
Trump has attacked mail voting nearly 70 times since late March in interviews, remarks and tweets, including at least 17 times this month. “Several Trump advisers said no internal discussions were underway within the White House about moving the date. The tweet caught aides by surprise, said one senior adviser … ‘He is just trolling,’ said another,” Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey and John Wagner report. “A recent study by Stanford University researchers found no partisan impact of expanding voting by mail.”
President Abraham Lincoln said postponing the 1864 election, during the Civil War, would mean “our system has been defeated.” President Franklin Roosevelt said postponing the 1942 election, during World War II, would mean “we have become fascists ourselves,” according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Many conservative thought leaders expressed alarm about Trump’s suggestion to postpone the election. Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society that has helped the administration identify committed conservatives for judicial appointments, called Trump’s tweet appalling and argued that it could be “grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment” a second time. “Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic,” wrote Calabresi, a Northwestern University law professor, in an op-ed for the New York Times.
“Trump’s suggestion to delay the election is the most anti-democratic thing any president ever said,” writes conservative columnist Henry Olsen.
The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board says delaying the election is “a dreadful idea.”
The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing days-long backlogs of mail across the country after a top Trump donor, who was recently installed atop the agency, imposed policy changes. Insiders warn that these will cause chaos and disenfranchise voters in November. “Postal employees and union officials say the changes implemented by Trump fundraiser-turned-postmaster general Louis DeJoy are contributing to a growing perception that mail delays are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Jacob Bogage report. “The new policies have resulted in at least a two-day delay in scattered parts of the country, even for express mail, according to multiple postal workers and union leaders. Letter carriers are manually sorting more mail, adding to the delivery time. Bins of mail ready for delivery are sitting in post offices because of scheduling and route changes. …
“Voters and postal workers have reported scattered problems across the country in recent days, including in key battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, raising concerns among residents whether their states are being targeted because of their importance in the presidential and Senate elections. In Michigan, which is gearing up for its Aug. 4 primary, election administrators said they have fielded complaints from voters who had not yet received their ballots as of this week. Election clerks are advising voters to drop off their ballot Tuesday rather than sending it back via mail, out of fear that the ballots will not be returned in time to be counted. … A delay in delivering ballots to voters and then returning them to election officials could cause people to be disenfranchised — especially in states that require ballots to be returned by Election Day, voting rights experts warn.
“Already, tens of thousands of ballots across the country have been disqualified in this year’s primaries, many because they did not arrive in time. In Wisconsin, 2,659 ballots that were returned after the April 13 deadline for the spring primary were not counted due to their late arrival, according to the state election commission. In California, 70,330 ballots were disqualified because they missed the deadline, according to an AP analysis.”
Former president Barack Obama used his eulogy at John Lewis’s funeral on Thursday to outline specific actions related to voting. He said the best way to honor the late congressman and civil rights leader is to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down in 2013 and to overturn state laws that he said are designed to suppress minority voters. Obama then called for automatic voter registration, restoring voting rights for felons who have been released from jail, expanded early voting hours, a national holiday for Election Day and “equal representation” in the federal government for citizens of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick,” Obama said in a 40-minute speech.
Most significantly, the former president endorsed changing the rules of the Senate if that would be necessary to achieve these goals. “And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” Obama said. (As a senator from Illinois, Obama sought to filibuster Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. As president, he said he “regrets” doing so.)
Quote of the day
“Keep moving to the ballot box, even if it’s a mailbox,” former president Bill Clinton said during his eulogy.
Meanwhile, members of Trump’s Cabinet stayed silent about possibly postponing the election. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet. Attorney General Bill Barr demurred during a House hearing earlier this week when asked whether Trump could move the election. “I’ve never looked into it,” Barr told Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to say on Thursday whether Trump trying to postpone the election would be illegal or wrong. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked Pompeo during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing about the appropriateness of the president’s tweet. All Pompeo would say was that the election “should happen lawfully.”
Trump called on Americans who have recovered from covid-19 to donate blood plasma.
“The call for donors is based on a simple, but powerful fact about the immune system,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “People who recover from a coronavirus infection typically have virus-blocking antibodies circulating in their blood in the weeks after they recover. Those antibodies can be harvested in plasma donations and transfused to the next people who get sick, helping boost their immune systems. In contrast, developing treatments for a new virus is an uncertain and time-consuming process. Blood plasma from people who have successfully recovered from coronavirus infection has been widely used in the United States, even though researchers are still gathering evidence to definitively show it works. About 50,000 people have been transfused with the treatment, called convalescent plasma, under an expanded access program sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration.”
- The federal government announced a $2.1 billion agreement Friday with the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi and its British partner, GSK, to support the development of a coronavirus vaccine the companies are working on together. (Johnson)
- Internal emails obtained by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee suggest that the Trump administration failed to enforce an existing contract with a major medical manufacturer, delayed negotiations for more than a month and overpaid by as much as $500 million for tens of thousands of ventilators. (NBC News)
- Thursday was the fourth consecutive day the U.S. reported more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths. “The tally of confirmed cases increased by more than 69,000, with Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio and Hawaii among the states setting new records,” according to our live blog, as the official U.S. death toll nears 150,000.
- Despite experiencing milder symptoms, children may carry as much of the coronavirus in their respiratory systems as adults. (JAMA Pediatrics)
- Debbie Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said states and localities should mandate wearing masks in public. (Carol Morello)
- The head of the largest union representing retail workers says businesses have unfairly placed the burden of enforcing mask mandates on low-paid employees, who frequently face violence, abuse and threats. (Kim Bellware)
- Two staff members of the Philadelphia Phillies tested positive, raising fears they got it during the series against the Miami Marlins. (Dave Sheinin)
- Prince George’s County in Maryland is targeting large parties at private homes. (Rachel Chason and Dana Hedgpeth)
- The National Hurricane Center posted a special advisory at midnight noting Isaias had intensified to hurricane strength. The tempest is now predicted to hit the Bahamas and track perilously close to Florida this weekend and the rest of the East Coast next week. (Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow)
Several virus outbreaks have been linked to students returning to college campuses.
- At least 40 coronavirus cases have been linked to fraternity row at the University of Southern California. (Los Angeles Times)
- Colorado State University suspended football team workouts after eight players tested positive. (Colorado Public Radio)
- Preseason football workouts have been halted at Rutgers University after 15 football players tested positive. Authorities blame an on-campus party. (Star-Ledger)
- A dozen cases at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., are also blamed on an off-campus social gathering where no masks were worn and students failed to practice social distancing. (Chicago Tribune)
- School districts across the country are trying to decide how bad an outbreak would have to be to cause them to shut down again. “So far, schools are getting little consensus from federal and state officials on how best to plan,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
White House willing to support stimulus without liability shield.
“The White House is willing to cut a deal with Democrats that leaves out Senate Republican legislation aimed at protecting employers, hospitals and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits, according to two people with knowledge of internal White House planning,” Jeff Stein and Erica Werner scoop this morning. “The White House wants and is pushing for the ‘liability shield’ as a top priority but would be willing to sign off on a deal that lacks the legal protections, those people said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) controls the Senate floor and could shoot down any deal that leaves out what he has said is a necessary component of any stimulus package. One of the people familiar with the administration’s thinking said the measure was ‘considered important but not absolutely essential.’”
Another coronavirus stimulus measure has been stalled on Capitol Hill this week as emergency unemployment benefits expire today. “Senate Republicans and the Trump administration on Thursday began moving on a temporary extension of expanded unemployment insurance — confronting significant pressure to keep that temporary financial lifeline while negotiations on a broader coronavirus relief bill continued to flounder and senators left Washington for the weekend,” Seung Min Kim, Werner and Stein report. “But the short-term efforts pushed by Republicans ran swiftly into Democratic resistance, as top leaders chastised Senate GOP leaders and the administration for waiting until just days before the additional jobless aid expired to offer their proposal. After a two-hour meeting that stretched into the night, the chief negotiators — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — made clear they remained at an impasse. … One Republican pollster, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss private conversations, said there is growing alarm among GOP lawmakers about the political consequences of letting the unemployment benefits lapse.”
This recession is already deep. If Congress fails to act, a lot of damage could be permanent.
“Once the downward spiral starts — more job losses leading to less consumer spending leading to more business closures leading to more job losses — it can lead to an even deeper downturn that permanently damages the economy for years to come. Economists say the United States is not spiraling yet, but the nation is at an inflection point,” Heather Long reports. “With a vaccine still months away, there’s a growing consensus among economists that the best tool the nation has to prevent a long, ugly downturn is for Congress to go big on another relief package. Out of 25 economists surveyed by The Washington Post, 20 urged Congress to pass a stimulus of $2 trillion or more. The others, mostly conservative economists, agreed that Congress needs to act by mid-August. They favored a roughly $1 trillion package. … Right-leaning economists said Congress should focus on ways to make the nation safer, including at schools and workplaces, so people can resume more daily activities. Now is not the time to worry about the debt, they say.”
- As tens of thousands of workers in the airline industry stare down job losses starting Oct. 1, a coalition of 13 labor groups — with some support from company bosses — are pushing Congress to extend a $25 billion payroll support program through March. (Ian Duncan and Lori Aratani)
A secretive Pentagon agency helped lay the ground work to find a more rapid coronavirus cure.
For more than a decade, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has quietly been seeding the ground to produce antibodies for pathogens like covid-19 as a way to protect American troops if they were to confront a deadly new virus in the field. “The first company in the United States to enter clinical trials with a vaccine for the virus was funded by DARPA. So was the second company,” Paul Sonne reports. “Some of the vaccines and antibodies linked to DARPA could be ready later this year, which would mark one of the speediest responses to a global pandemic in the history of medicine. … Established in 1958 in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, DARPA was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower out of a sense of urgency.”
Brazil’s first lady tested positive for the coronavirus.
Michelle Bolsonaro contracted the disease days after her husband said he had recovered from the disease. (NPR)
An undocumented immigrant who spoke out about working for Trump faces deportation proceedings.
“Victorina Morales, 47, had asked the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to grant her asylum because of violence in her home country of Guatemala. But the agency rejected her request, saying Morales had waited too long to apply,” Dave Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow report. “Morales, who entered the United States illegally in 1999, worked for five years as a housekeeper at Trump’s golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., cleaning the villas used by Trump and his family. She was close enough to see family arguments and to learn Trump’s personal habits: Irish Spring soap in the shower, two and a half containers of Tic Tacs on the bureau, and Bronx Colors face makeup at the ready … Morales told The Post last year that she was motivated to come forward by Trump’s harsh comments about undocumented immigrants.”
- The Justice Department dropped its support for a gag order that would have prevented Michael Cohen from writing his forthcoming book. This clears the way for Trump’s ex-lawyer to publish a tell-all in September, which he says will include examples of the president making racist and anti-Semitic remarks in private settings. (Shayna Jacobs)
- The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed to revisit U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s plan to scrutinize Bill Barr’s effort to drop the case against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russia contacts. (Ann Marimow)
An Epstein accuser alleged that Ghislaine Maxwell was his partner in abuse.
“A woman who has accused deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein of years-long abuse that began when she was a teenager alleged in a newly unsealed deposition that his former partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, was both his chief accomplice and a participant in the sexual abuse,” Roz Helderman and Jacobs report. “Maxwell, who was arrested earlier this month and charged with trafficking minors, had fought unsuccessfully to keep the court documents under seal. She has pleaded not guilty. The unsealed court documents stem from a defamation suit she settled for an undisclosed sum in 2017 with the woman, Virginia Giuffre, who has alleged that she was forced to have sex with Epstein and his friends. She has claimed that Maxwell recruited her to serve as a traveling masseuse for Epstein after spotting her working a summer job as a locker room attendant 20 years ago at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s private estate.”
DHS compiled “intelligence reports” on journalists who published leaked documents.
“The Department of Homeland Security has compiled ‘intelligence reports’ about the work of American journalists covering protests in Portland, Ore., in what current and former officials called an alarming use of a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors,” Shane Harris reports. “Over the past week, the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists — a reporter for the New York Times and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare — and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The intelligence reports … include written descriptions and images of the tweets and the number of times they had been liked or retweeted by others.
“After The Post published a story online Thursday evening detailing the department’s practices, the acting homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, ordered the intelligence office to stop collecting information on journalists and announced an investigation into the matter. … Some of the leaked DHS documents the journalists posted and wrote about revealed shortcomings in the department’s understanding of the nature of the protests in Portland, as well as techniques that intelligence analysts have used. A memo by the department’s top intelligence official, which was tweeted by the editor of Lawfare, says personnel relied on ‘FINTEL,’ an acronym for financial intelligence, as well as finished intelligence ‘Baseball cards’ of arrested protesters to try to understand their motivations and plans. Historically, military and intelligence officials have used such cards for biographical dossiers of suspected terrorists, including those targeted in lethal drone strikes. … The Intelligence and Analysis Office has for years been the butt of jokes among larger, more established agencies like the CIA and the FBI, who liken it to a team of junior-varsity athletes.”
Early morning clashes between federal agents and protesters intensified in Portland.
The violence Thursday tests the Trump administration’s withdrawal plan and prompted the president to threaten to keep federal forces in the city “until there is safety,” Marissa Lang, Adam Taylor and Josh Partlow report. “What had been an evening of unity and triumph among protesters — with songs and dancing and people celebrating the departure of federal forces — quickly devolved late Wednesday into another chaotic night of violence and arrests, as federal agents unleashed several rounds of gas and a cloud of pepper spray on the crowd. ‘I was literally just commenting that this is the way I wish all protests were when they blasted me,’ said Adam Winther, 44, a Navy veteran who was hit in the leg with an exploding flash bang.”
- No charges will be brought against the former Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in 2014, St. Louis County’s top prosecutor announced. (Jessica Wolfrom and Reis Thebault)
- Pinellas County, Fla., Sheriff Bob Gualtieri expressed anger over a tweet from the Tampa Bay Rays, saying he may reevaluate his office’s relationship with the baseball team after its official account tweeted that Kentucky officers who killed Breonna Taylor should be arrested. (Tampa Bay Times)
- Michigan protesters camped out near a juvenile detention center to oppose the ongoing imprisonment of a Black 15-year-old girl, after a judge ruled in May she had violated her probation by not completing her schoolwork. (Detroit Free Press)
- Nebraska protesters say police used excessive force while breaking up protests and making 120 arrests over the weekend. (Omaha World-Herald)
- California protesters gathered after a Black man posted a video of himself being pulled from his car by police officers in Redlands during a traffic stop. (KABC)
- Police in Berkeley, Calif., suspect arson in a fire that erupted at a church a few hours after the pastor draped a Black Lives Matter banner over the entryway. (KPIX)
- Alabama state Rep. Will Dismukes (R), who attended a private “birthday party” to honor the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, resigned from his job as a Southern Baptist pastor of a rural church. But he said he has no plans to resign from his political office. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is removing the names from campus buildings of three men who were tied to racism and white supremacy. A fourth building, a residence hall, will be renamed for its current namesake’s son. (Raleigh News & Observer)
- An investigation conducted by an outside law firm concluded that the University of Iowa football program under coach Kirk Ferentz has suffered from a culture that perpetuated racial bias against Black players. (AP)
- New York’s Bronx Zoo is apologizing for racism in its past, including putting a central African man on display in the Monkey House in 1906. (AP)
More on the elections
The Trump campaign has temporarily paused ad spending to review its messaging.
“Two weeks after Trump demoted former campaign manager Brad Parscale and replaced him with Bill Stepien, the reelection effort is reviewing its spending, messaging and strategy in an attempt to boost the president’s fortunes,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey report. “The Trump campaign’s efforts to hit the reset button and refocus ahead of the vote come as the president has continued to push divisive messages that have frustrated members of his own party. … The president’s ‘delay’ tweet, and others about ‘Suburban Housewives’ have frustrated some in his campaign who are looking to hone their message against Biden in the final stretch of the race … Stepien recently polled staff members and learned most had never worked on a presidential election before … Stepien has also told other advisers that the campaign must talk about coronavirus more often and forcefully.”
Mitch McConnell is fuming at Trump for not opposing Kris Kobach in Kansas.
The Senate majority leader is worried the former Kansas secretary of state who lost the 2018 governor’s race may win the Senate primary next Tuesday and lose the seat in November. “Mr. McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders have made urgent pleas to the president to block Mr. Kobach by endorsing one of his opponents, Representative Roger Marshall. But Mr. Trump has so far declined to do so, and his aides said they had no plans to change course. Compounding the frustration of Capitol Hill Republicans, White House aides have refused to tell Mr. Kobach, a longtime booster of Mr. Trump, to stop using the president’s imagery in his campaign materials,” the New York Times reports. “With a number of incumbent Senate Republicans trailing in polls, and being out-raised by their Democratic rivals, they have little margin for error as they seek to protect their 53-47 majority. … ‘We have eight months of data that says the majority is gone if Kris Kobach is the nominee,’ said Josh Holmes, a top lieutenant to Mr. McConnell. ‘It’s that simple.’”
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), in a conversation Wednesday with Trump on Air Force One, highlighted that Marshall endorsed John Kasich in 2016. (CNN)
- “The Census Bureau is cutting short critical door-knocking efforts for the 2020 census amid growing concerns among Democrats in Congress that the White House is pressuring the bureau to wrap up counting soon for political gain,” NPR reports.
- Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) says he’s exploring a run for Virginia governor in 2021, potentially as an independent — bucking the Republican Party that last month rejected his bid for reelection in favor of a former county supervisor running as a “biblical conservative.” (Meagan Flynn)
- Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) confirmed that she has been interviewed by Biden’s team to be his vice presidential nominee. (Annie Linskey)
- Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), a potential Biden pick for V.P., traveled to Cuba in 1973 with the Venceremos Brigade. “I didn’t have any illusions that the people in Cuba had the same freedoms I did,” she tells the Atlantic, which notes that, in 1992, being associated with the Venceremos Brigade stopped Bill Clinton from nominating Johnnetta Cole to be secretary of education.
- Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) has admitted to 11 ethics violations related to improper spending and other financial rulebreaking and has agreed to a $50,000 fine, the House Ethics Committee announced. As part of the deal, the House will vote to reprimand him. “The news deals a blow to the reelection campaign of Schweikert, who has been under investigation since June 2018,” Felicia Sonmez reports.
- Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is lining up support to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2022 election cycle ahead of a possible run for president in 2024. (WSJ)
Social media speed read
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) isn’t going to the gym because of the contagion, but he voted in his gym clothes:
The Gray Lady offered this stark visualization of the terrible GDP numbers:
Another New York paper contrasted Trump’s antics with the eulogies by his predecessors:
Videos of the day
Players with the New Orleans Pelicans and the Utah Jazz took a knee before starting the NBA’s reopened season on Thursday:
Seth Meyers focused on how Trump cannot postpone the election, as much as he might want to do so:
And Trevor Noah made a case for “why justice is overdue” in the Breonna Taylor case: