A few hours later, during an NBC town hall in Miami, President Trump declared: “What we’ve done has been amazing, and we have done an amazing job, and it’s rounding the corner.”
Sadly, the president is wrong. The contagion is not in its last throes. Nor is this a regional crisis isolated to the Midwest. This is a national emergency.
More than 63,500 new cases were reported in the United States on Thursday, the highest number since July. “Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have higher caseloads than in mid-September,” Joel Achenbach and Jacqueline Dupree report. “During the past week, at least 20 states have set record seven-day averages for infections, and a dozen have hit record hospitalization rates. … The cumulative number of cases in the United States since the start of the pandemic is likely to surpass 8 million on Friday.”
One of the 8 million is the president himself. But Trump’s three-day hospitalization this month has not seemed to chasten or humble him. He downplayed the severity of his own illness, just as he publicly downplayed the lethality of the virus in the spring. Questioned by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, the president declined to say whether he had taken a coronavirus test on the day of the first presidential debate, as required by the rules.
Quote of the day
“Possibly I did,” Trump said. “Possibly I didn’t.”
Trump said during his hour-long appearance that he supports wearing a mask but, in the next sentence, expressed skepticism about how effective they are at slowing the spread of the virus. The president falsely characterized a study to claim that people who wear masks still get the virus at about the same rate as those who do not wear them.
During a simultaneous town hall in Philadelphia, which aired live on ABC, Democratic nominee Joe Biden emphasized the value of masks and reiterated that he would urge local leaders to mandate them. “The words of a president matter — no matter whether they’re good, bad or indifferent, they matter,” Biden said. “When a president doesn’t wear a mask or makes fun of folks like me when I was wearing a mask for a long time, then people say: ‘Well, it must not be that important.’”
Back in Miami, Trump repeatedly declined to express any regret about any element of his handling of the pandemic. When asked how he would improve in a second term, Trump rejected the premise. “I’ve done a great job,” the president said.
Most Americans apparently do not agree. A new NPR-PBS-Marist poll shows Biden ahead by 11 percentage points among likely voters nationally. “In an open-ended question, respondents were asked to describe the candidates in one word. For Trump, the word that stands out is ‘incompetent,’ while for Biden it is ‘honest,’” NPR reports. The president “has just a 43% job approval rating, and 47% of likely voters say they strongly disapprove of the job he’s doing. That means there are few undecided voters. In fact, in this survey, just 5% of voters are persuadable.”
The poll finds that 52 percent of likely voters describe Trump’s presidency as a “failure,” and 55 percent say they prefer Biden to handle the pandemic. “By a 71%-to-26% margin, likely voters view the coronavirus as a ‘real threat’ as opposed to it being ‘blown out of proportion.’ Republicans are split on this question, with 51% saying it’s blown out of proportion and 46% saying it’s a real threat,” per NPR. “Only 36% of likely voters say they trust what they’re hearing from Trump on the virus a great deal or a good amount; 63% say they don’t trust what they hear from the president very much or not at all. Almost two-thirds — 63% — say it would be a good idea to impose a national mask mandate. That includes almost 9 in 10 Democrats and two-thirds of independents. Two-thirds of Republicans think it would be a bad idea.”
Former New Jersey GOP governor Chris Christie released a statement Thursday saying he was “wrong” not to wear a mask, both during the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony at which Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee and in multiple debate preparation sessions with the president. “I believed that 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 wrote. “I hope that my experience shows my fellow citizens that you should follow CDC guidelines in public no matter where you are and wear a mask to protect yourself and others.”
Christie contracted covid-19 and spent seven days isolated in the ICU of a New Jersey hospital. Now he is back home and convalescing. “It is something to take very seriously,” Christie said in the statement. “The ramifications are wildly random and potentially deadly. No one should be happy to get the virus and no one should be cavalier about being infected or infecting others. Every public official, regardless of party or position, should advocate for every American to wear a mask in public, appropriately socially distance and to wash your hands frequently every day. At the same time, we should be reopening in every corner of this nation under these guidelines.”
Guthrie asked Trump about Christie’s statement. “Well, I mean he has to say that,” the president said. “He’s a good guy, and wrong or not wrong, you have to understand, as president, I can’t be locked in a room someplace for the next year and just stay and do nothing.”
Guthrie told Trump that no one is suggesting he should stay in the basement of the White House. She noted that masks are not required at his rallies. “We’re a winner on the excess mortality,” Trump said. “We were expected to lose 2,200,000 people and maybe more than that.” (Guthrie noted that that this estimate was a worst-case scenario based on what might happen with no efforts whatsoever to mitigate the spread of the virus.)
During a telephone town hall with his constituents on Wednesday night, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) accused Trump of mishandling the pandemic from the beginning. “He careened from curb to curb,” the Republican said. “First, he ignored covid. And then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this. And that was always wrong. I mean, and so I don’t think the way he’s led through covid has been reasonable or responsible, or right.”
Those comments were overshadowed because Sasse also faulted Trump for “the way he kisses dictators’ butts, … the way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor.”
“He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors,” the senator said. “His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
Audio of that town hall, which was first reported by the Washington Examiner, was confirmed as authentic by Sasse’s spokesman. “I’m now looking at the possibility of a Republican bloodbath in the Senate, and that’s why I’ve never been on the Trump train,” Sasse told his constituents. “We are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami, and we’ve got to hold the Senate, and so that’s what I’m focused on.”
Other highlights from the town halls
“In one of the most notable exchanges, [Trump] said he did not know about QAnon, a loose-knit online community that was recently banned from Facebook after sharing false stories, including ones about Democrats abusing children. Supporters of the group regularly appear with signs and apparel at Trump’s rallies. ‘They are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that,’ he said,” Michael Scherer, Jenna Johnson and Josh Dawsey report. “He also refused to apologize for recently retweeting a false conspiracy theory that holds that the Obama administration faked the death of [Osama bin Laden] and may have orchestrated the murder of U.S. Special Forces personnel. He said it was a ‘retweet,’ suggesting he was not responsible for its accuracy. ‘You’re the president,’ Guthrie replied. ‘You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.’ Trump responded by calling the media ‘so fake and so corrupt,’ and said he needed to rely on social media to ‘get the word out.’”
- The woman who nodded and gave thumbs ups during the Trump town hall is a pro-Trump activist who ran a quixotic campaign for Congress in 2018. “We have your back! You see, you see you are the best,” Mayra Joli told the president after the event, per the Miami Herald.
- The woman who said she liked the president’s smile during the town hall, and asked him about DACA, said afterward that she’s still leaning toward supporting Biden. “I think the man has a nice smile,” Paulette Dale, a registered Republican, told the Miami New Times. “However, I’m not a fan.”
- Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) welcomed the endorsement of congressional candidate and QAnon conspiracy believer Marjorie Taylor Greene. Standing alongside Greene, who has also posted racist and xenophobic videos, Loeffler said “no one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- C-SPAN indefinitely suspended political editor Steve Scully, who was supposed to moderate the scrapped second debate, after he falsely claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked. (Elahe Izadi)
More on the coronavirus
White House meddling inside the CDC is even worse than previously known.
“At 7:47 a.m. on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Jay Butler pounded out a grim email to colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Butler, then the head of the agency’s coronavirus response, and his team had been trying to craft guidance to help Americans return safely to worship amid worries that … the chanting of prayers and signing of hymns … could launch [the] virus into the air,” ProPublica reports. “Days earlier, Butler and his team had suddenly found themselves on Trump’s front burner when the president began publicly agitating for churches to reopen. … Butler’s team rushed to finalize the guidance for churches, synagogues and mosques that Trump’s aides had shelved in April after battling the CDC over the language. In reviewing a raft of last-minute edits from the White House, Butler’s team rejected those that conflicted with CDC research … On Friday, Trump’s aides called the CDC repeatedly about the guidance, according to emails. ‘Why is it not up?’ they demanded until it was posted on the CDC website that afternoon. The next day, a furious call came from the office of the vice president: The White House suggestions were not optional. The CDC’s failure to use them was insubordinate, according to emails at the time. …
“Interviews and documents show an insular, rigorous agency colliding head-on with an administration desperate to preserve the impression that it had the pandemic under control … Even when the CDC was not to blame, the Trump administration exploited events to take control of the agency’s messaging. … The CDC endured meddling on multiple fronts by officials with little or no public health experience, from Trump’s daughter Ivanka to Stephen Miller [and] a shifting and mysterious cast of political aides and private contractors — what one scientist described as young protégés of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, ‘wearing blue suits with red ties and beards’ — crowded into important meetings about key policy decisions. … The most heated disputes involved an HHS mental health office that emphasized the role of schools as integral to the psychological well-being of children. … In August, the White House crafted new guidance from Trump. Titled ‘SCHOOLS SHOULD SAFELY REOPEN,’ it contradicted the CDC recommendations. … The CDC objected, but the White House published it anyway.”
CDC Chief of Staff Kyle McGowan had been Bob Redfield’s main political protector, but he ran out of moves: “McGowan had managed campaigns for Georgia Congressman Tom Price … When Trump appointed Price as HHS Secretary, McGowan followed him. Six months after Price resigned, McGowan was named to the CDC post. … But McGowan and the CDC were often on the losing side. One of their prime tormentors was Michael Caputo, a political fixer handpicked by Trump himself to oversee communications at HHS. … Caputo began riding herd over CDC communications seen as conflicting with Trump’s political message. … McGowan reached his breaking point when Redfield asked him to stop the deportation of a dog, according to people who worked closely with him. In late June, a Peace Corps volunteer evacuated from West Africa was told that the rabies vaccine of her dog, a terrier mix named Socrates, was not valid. … McGowan spent an hour and a half on the phone with the HHS general counsel and other senior officials to figure out how to make an exception for a dog. All the while, he told colleagues, his mind kept returning to the fact that the same administration was using the CDC’s quarantine power to deport thousands of children at the border with Mexico. … McGowan resigned in August.”
The White House installed two political operatives inside the CDC in an attempt to control the flow of information and project a more positive outlook that is at odds with scientific evidence. The Associated Press reports that the two appointees, who have been there since June, have no background in public health. Their assignment is to keep an eye on Redfield, as well as on scientists, according to CDC and administration officials. When the two political appointees initially showed up to CDC headquarters in Atlanta, their roles were a mystery to senior staff. One of them, Nina Witkofsky, eventually became acting chief of staff. The other is her deputy, Chester Moeller, who sits in on meetings of scientists.
Young and healthy people may need to wait until 2022 for a vaccine.
“People tend to think, ah, on the first of January or the first of April, I’m going to get a vaccine and then things will be back to normal,” said World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan in an online question-and-answer session on Wednesday. “It’s not going to work like that. There will be a lot of guidance coming out, but I think an average person, a healthy, young person, might have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine.”
“With an unprecedented global demand for a vaccine, governments and international organizations such as the WHO will have to work to ensure that people most at risk get priority,” Antonia Noori Farzan and Adam Taylor report. “Health-care workers and others on the front lines may go first, followed by the elderly or sick. The remaining healthy, young people waiting for a return to normal life may end up at the back of the line. ‘Vaccines are going to be available in the initial years in too small quantities to vaccinate the seven billion people we have across the globe today,’ Robin Nandy, the chief of immunization at UNICEF, said in an interview. ‘Vaccines will arrive in dribs and drabs.’”
- The WHO warned death rates in continental Europe this winter could be five times as bad as the April peak. (Michael Birnbaum)
- The group also said the anti-viral drug remdesivir, which Trump recently received, has little to no effect on coronavirus patients’ chances of survival. Gilead, which manufactures the drug, rejected the WHO’s findings as “inconsistent” with other studies. (BBC)
- Trump’s $200 drug discount cards face an uncertain path as the election-season idea is mired in uncertainty over whether the program is legal. HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Medicare administration Seema Verma have distanced themselves from the idea, claiming that they weren’t consulted by the White House. (Amy Goldstein)
- A 13-year-old girl spread the coronavirus to 11 relatives across four states this summer, despite testing negative two days before a three-week family vacation, according to a CDC journal article. (Shannon McMahon)
- An outbreak in Switzerland was blamed on two indoor yodeling shows that 600 people attended last month. (Antonia Farzan)
- The president of the State University of New York at Oneonta has resigned after more than 700 students tested positive. (Farzan)
- Negotiations to reopen D.C. public schools stalled because of objections from the teachers’ union. (Perry Stein)
More on the Trump agenda
Democrats threaten payback as Republicans schedule a vote for Amy Coney Barrett.
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would begin the full Senate consideration of Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 23 and confidently declared that his GOP majority, which he is at the risk of losing in next month’s elections, had enough support to confirm her,” Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian report. “Democrats predicted a voter backlash against the GOP for confirming a conservative whose jurisprudence is the polar opposite of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg … During her nearly 20 hours of testimony over two days, Barrett declined to share her legal views on abortion rights, health care, voting rights, immigration, presidential power and climate change.” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) warned Republicans as the fourth and final day of Barrett’s confirmation hearing wrapped up: “Don’t think that when you have established the rule of ‘Because we can,’ that should the shoe be on the other foot, you will have any credibility to come to us and say, ‘Yeah, I know you can do that, but you shouldn’t.’”
- During the ABC town hall, Biden signaled he would take a firm position on expanding the size of the Supreme Court before the election. After reiterating he is “not a fan” of adding more seats, Biden hinted at “other alternatives” for transforming the court. (Sean Sullivan)
- At least 415 women’s marches and virtual events are planned across the country for Saturday. In D.C., organizers expect between 6,000 and 10,000 people to gather on Freedom Plaza for a midday Saturday rally focused on voting rights and calling on Congress to suspend Barrett’s confirmation. “After the rally, participants will march to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol,” Samantha Schmidt reports.
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) leads in his reelection race. He’s beating Jaime Harrison 46 percent to 40 percent, per an NYT-Sienna College poll. Trump leads Biden by 8 points in a state he won by 14 in 2016.
Trump rejects emergency aid to help California recover from the worst fires in state history.
“Fueled by extreme heat and tinder-dry conditions, wildfires exploded across California in September, blazing through almost 1.9 million acres, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and killing at least three people. One wildfire, the Creek Fire, became the largest single blaze in California history and grew so fierce it spun up fire tornadoes with 125 mph winds. But the Trump administration this week refused to grant an emergency declaration that would open up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for areas devastated in those fires,” Tim Elfrink reports. “In public, Trump has often been belligerent toward California’s Democratic-dominated state government, blaming their oversight for record-setting fires. … Most scientists, though, say that climate change is the most significant factor driving the bigger wildfires. And the federal government, in fact, manages 57 percent of California’s forests, as the Sacramento Bee noted.” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) plans to appeal Trump’s decision.
- The Cameron Peak Fire has become the biggest blaze in Colorado’s history. The fire, which started on Aug. 13, continues expanding and has burned through more than 164,140 acres. (Matthew Cappucci)
- Phoenix has had 144 days this year in which the temperature passed 100 degrees, breaking a record set in 1989. (Arizona Republic)
The Trump administration is trying to exclude Democratic cities from a coronavirus grant program.
“The Transportation Department said it will use a presidential memo calling for punishing ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ when deciding which cities should get money under a coronavirus grant program,” Michael Laris reports. “The American Public Transportation Association said the declaration could undermine applicants for the pandemic safety grants from Seattle, Portland, Ore., or New York City, the first three jurisdictions the Trump administration has deemed to be ‘permitting anarchy.’ … The move also comes as critics have slammed the Trump administration — and the Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao — for not executing policies needed to subdue the coronavirus. … Representatives from Seattle and Portland said the cities are exploring their legal options.” Laura Feyer, a spokeswoman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), said: “This is nothing more than political retribution. If the Trump administration tries to take away our funds, we’ll see them in court.
Mnuchin is still negotiating with House Democrats, despite opposition from Senate Republicans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “have been discussing a new spending deal between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion, although Trump has said he would support even more,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. “The rapidly developing changes came late Thursday after a nearly 90-minute conversation between the two negotiators. They both cited progress in resolving one of Pelosi’s top demands, for a national strategic testing plan to better detect the coronavirus. Mnuchin told her that the White House would accept the Democrats’ proposal with some ‘minor’ modifications, according to Pelosi’s spokesman — confirming comments Mnuchin himself had made earlier in the day. However, opposition from Senate Republicans emerged Thursday as a formidable obstacle to any deal passing Congress before Election Day. … [McConnell] spent much of Thursday doubling down on his opposition, publicly denouncing the White House deal taking shape and swatting away Trump’s directive to ‘Go big or go home!!!’ … McConnell said he didn’t think Pelosi and Mnuchin would reach a deal, anyway. And at an earlier event the majority leader all but ruled out a vote on a large-scale relief bill.”
- Trump, the RNC and affiliated joint fundraising committees said they raised $247.8 million in September, entering the month with $251.4 million cash on hand. Biden’s campaign and affiliated committees announced Wednesday that they raised $383 million in September, with $432 million in cash on Oct. 1.
- Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife poured another $75 million into a pro-Trump Super PAC, bringing their total giving for Republican groups to at least $176 million for the 2020 cycle. The couple also gave $50 million to the main Senate GOP super PAC and $40 million for the House GOP super PAC. (Politico)
There’s a bear in the woods
The White House was warned Giuliani was the target of a Russian intelligence operation to feed misinformation.
“U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, according to four former officials familiar with the matter,” Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Dawsey report. “The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine, where he was gathering information that he thought would expose corrupt acts by … Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The intelligence raised concerns that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said …
“The warnings to the White House, which have not previously been reported, led national security adviser Robert O’Brien to caution Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia … But O’Brien emerged from the meeting uncertain whether he had gotten through to the president. Trump had ‘shrugged his shoulders’ at O’Brien’s warning, the former official said, and dismissed concern about his lawyer’s activities by saying, ‘That’s Rudy.’ … The information that Giuliani sought in Ukraine is similar to what is contained in emails and other correspondence published this week by the New York Post, which the paper said came from the laptop of Hunter Biden and were provided by Giuliani and Stephen K. Bannon … The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged communications …
“Several senior administration officials ‘all had a common understanding’ that Giuliani was being targeted by the Russians, said the former official who recounted O’Brien’s intervention. That group included Attorney General William P. Barr, [Wray] and White Counsel Pat Cipollone. … In a text message on Thursday, Giuliani said that he was never informed that Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian lawmaker in Ukraine whom he met on Dec. 5 in Kyiv, was a Russian intelligence asset. … But Giuliani met again with Derkach in New York two months later.”
- “Federal investigators are examining whether the emails … are linked to a foreign intelligence operation,” NBC News reports.
- Giuliani’s daughter urged Americans to vote for Biden. “The only way to end this nightmare is to vote,” Caroline Rose Giuliani writes in Vanity Fair. “I may not be able to change my father’s mind, but together, we can vote this toxic administration out of office.”
Twitter changes the rule blocking users from sharing the Hunter Biden story.
“The link to the New York Post story will still be blocked under a policy that prohibits sharing people’s personal information,” Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. “Late Thursday night, Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde tweeted that the company made the decision after receiving ‘feedback’ over the past 24 hours that the policy on hacked materials as written could result in undue censorship of journalists and whistleblowers. Going forward, the company will remove content only if it’s directly posted by hackers or those acting in concert with them. It will label more questionable tweets.”
- Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee will subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify on Oct. 23 about this incident. (WSJ)
A veteran federal prosecutor resigns in protest over Barr’s politicization of the Justice Department.
“After 36 years, I’m fleeing what was the U.S. Department of Justice — where I proudly served 19 different attorneys general and six different presidents,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern writes in an op-ed for the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Like many of my colleagues, I fervently hoped that [Barr’s] preemptive misrepresentation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was an honest mistake or a solitary misstep … Unfortunately, over the last year, Barr’s resentment toward rule-of-law prosecutors became increasingly difficult to ignore, as did his slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will in his selective meddling with the criminal justice system in the Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases. … Barr’s longest-running politicization of the Justice Department is the [John] Durham investigation — a quixotic pursuit designed to attack the president’s political rivals. …
“I remained in government service this past year at least partly because I was concerned that the department would interfere with the [Duncan Hunter Jr.] prosecution in my absence. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues without such a rationale appear to have started abandoning Barr’s ship. Equally troubling, highly qualified lawyers appear to be unwilling to apply to be federal prosecutors while Barr remains at the helm.”
In other law enforcement news:
- The judge overseeing the criminal prosecution of the police officers charged with killing George Floyd will allow the defense to present evidence from a May 2019 encounter between Floyd and Minneapolis police they say shows Floyd exhibiting similar behavior to the Memorial Day incident that left him dead. (Holly Bailey)
- The private security guard suspected of fatally shooting Lee Keltner, a man who was demonstrating in support of law enforcement at the scene of protests in Denver, will be charged with second-degree murder. (Hannah Knowles)
- Two U.S. Park Police officers were charged by a Fairfax County special grand jury with manslaughter in the November 2017 shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, an unarmed motorist. Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, who’ve been on paid administrative duty since shortly after the shooting, were not taken into custody. Prosecutors expected them to make arrangements to surrender. (Tom Jackman)
- Mexico’s former defense minister was arrested on drug charges in Los Angeles. Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos worked for former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. The arrest was requested by the U.S. DEA. (Mary Beth Sheridan)
- Texas billionaire Robert Brockman evaded $2 billion in taxes, federal authorities said, in what they called the largest tax fraud scheme in U.S. history. A federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted the 79-year-old on 39 charges, including tax fraud, wire fraud, evidence tampering and money laundering. (Jaclyn Peiser)
Social media speed read
A Trump campaign adviser mocked Biden’s performance as low energy:
A Never Trump Republican said that’s a good thing:
Here’s how a lot of Americans feel 18 days until the election:
Videos of the day
Jimmy Kimmel reviewed the dueling town halls:
Trevor Noah said that any “normal” president would be focused on getting coronavirus under control. But Trump, he said, is not normal: