The Finance 202: Coronavirus relief talks are beyond help as time runs out

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pointed to progress after a 90-minute call on Thursday afternoon. It was tempered by a late-night letter she sent House Democrats noting “many other disagreements remain,” and steady Senate Republican opposition to a pricier package. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to claim he wants as hefty package and says Pelosi is the only obstacle.

Grim news from the real economy should be injecting new urgency into Washington.

Jobless claims jumped to 898,000 last week, “up more than 50,000 from the previous week, the largest increase in first-time jobless applications since August” and fresh evidence of a stalling recovery, per Eli Rosenberg. 

That marks the 30th straight week unemployment claims have outstripped the previous one-week record. Eight million people have slid into poverty since May, a new Columbia University study finds, with millions more on the brink as emergency relief programs run dry.

Yet even as Pelosi and Mnuchin narrowed the distance between their overall price tags — they are discussing a package costing between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is tacking in the opposite direction. He announced his intention to put a $500 billion proposal on the Senate floor next week.

“The Senate GOP leader 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!!!’,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.

McConnell, speaking while campaigning for reelection in Kentucky, noted he doesn’t support the level of spending Trump is calling for:

McConnell also said doesn’t believe Mnuchin and Pelosi will strike an agreement. The two agreed to include a national testing strategy. But they remain at odds over some basics beyond the top line: Among others, Pelosi objects to Republicans’ insistence on including corporate liability protections, while Mnuchin opposes the Democratic push to include more support for state and local governments. 

If Pelosi and Mnuchin prove McConnell wrong, it will fall to Trump to bring Senate Republicans aboard.

It’s hardly clear he could, despite his insistence otherwise. The president, in full-time campaign mode, has taken an array of contradictory positions on the stimulus in recent days. In a Thursday morning interview on Fox Business Network, he called Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion bill a non-starter because it includes items “your pride couldn’t let it happen.” He also said he wants Mnuchin to secure an even bigger package but “so far he hasn’t come home with the bacon.”

Later, at a rally in North Carolina, Trump “never raised the issue, despite speaking for more than an hour in a state with a hotly contested Senate race and a vulnerable GOP incumbent,” Erica and Jeff note.

Throughout the day, he renewed attacks on Pelosi:

At the NBC News town hall event in Miami, he said he is ready to “sign a big beautiful stimulus,” which he said Senate Republicans would support. He said Pelosi remains the stumbling block: “The Republicans want to approve a stimulus. She doesn’t want to do it because she thinks it’s bad for her election.”

Pelosi, for her part, sounds unwilling to make concessions. 

“On a private call with members of her caucus on Thursday afternoon, Pelosi said that House Democrats have ‘maximum leverage’ now, according to several people on the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it,” per Erica and Jeff. “She said the Mnuchin proposal remains inadequate, and said she could not accept something that the administration can’t even sell to the Senate.”

In her letter to Democratic lawmakers, she said remaining disagreements with Republicans “are about more than dollars and cents.  They are about values and common sense and respect for lives, livelihoods and life of our American Democracy.”

Market movers

Morgan Stanley crushes profit estimates.

A flurry of trades continues to lift America’s big banks: “While Morgan Stanley’s trading unit did not hit the record highs of the previous quarter, the latest performance was still good enough to help the bank comfortably beat expectations,” Reuters’s Matt Scuffham and Ambar Warrick report.

“Even as trading returns to the spotlight amid the pandemic, CEO James Gorman has been taking steps to shore up Morgan Stanley’s asset and wealth management businesses to insulate the bank from weak periods for trading and investment banking.”

U.K, E.U. remain at odds on Brexit talks. “Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday it was now time to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit as the European Union had refused to negotiate seriously and that unless Brussels changed course there would not be an agreement,” Reuters’s Guy Faulconbridge and William James report. “A tumultuous ‘no deal’ finale to the United Kingdom’s five-year Brexit crisis would sow chaos through the delicate supply chains that stretch across Britain, the EU and beyond – just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.”

Derivatives traders on high alert for “big bang”: “In a critical development in the global shift away from old benchmarks that was triggered by Libor’s shortcomings, interest-rate swaps on more than $80 trillion in notional debt will transition this weekend to a new rate for determining their value,” Bloomberg News’s William Shaw, Liz McCormick and Tasos Vossos report.

“While the switch to the secured overnight financing rate, or SOFR, is expected to boost longer-term liquidity in the new benchmark, it also is fueling concerns about unruly price action because it is expected to trigger the sale of swaps on tens of billions of dollars of debt.” 

Coronavirus fallout

From the U.S.:

  • At least 7,944,000 cases have been reported; at least 216,000 have died.
  • U.S. surpasses 64,000 new coronavirus infections for first time since late July: “In 44 states and the District of Columbia, caseloads are higher than they were one month ago, and many of the new infections are being reported in rural areas with limited hospital capacity,” Antonia Noori Farzan and Jennifer Hassan report.
  • Rich cities continue to have a grip on the U.S. economy: “This elite class of American city, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and the District, is made up of densely populated economic powerhouses with deep reserves of talent and wealth. But without an office to report to, their relative high cost of living becomes harder to justify, especially as technology and necessity have opened pathways to work pretty much anywhere,” Hamza Shaban reports.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) suspends travel after two in her orbit test positive: “Harris canceled her travel through this coming weekend after two people who were around her tested positive for the coronavirus … A person who recently flew on the same plane as Biden also tested positive, the campaign said, but that individual was never within 50 feet of the former vice president, who is not taking any additional steps to isolate himself,” Chelsea Janes and Sean Sullivan report.

From the corporate front:

  • Pfizer won’t seek vaccine authorization until at least mid-November. “The chief executive of Pfizer said on Friday that the company would not apply for emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine before the third week of November, ruling out [Trump’s] assertion that a vaccine would be ready before Election Day on Nov. 3,” the New York Times’s Katie Thomas and Noah Weiland report
  • There’s now a glut of plastics: “Petrochemical makers are pausing multibillion-dollar U.S. expansions as the pandemic subdues what had been rapid growth in demand for plastics,” the WSJ’s Collin Eaton and Saabira Chaudhuri report.

Pocket change

Business groups urge Trump to withdraw diversity training order.

The White House has decried sensitivity trainings: “More than 150 business and nonprofit groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are asking Trump to withdraw his executive order that puts a limit on some diversity training,” the WSJ’s Khadeeja Safdar and Lauren Weber report.

“The groups said the order ‘is already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate’ diversity training and its ambiguity could lead to unwarranted complaints and investigations. A senior administration official defended the order … referring to the training at issue as ‘indoctrination sessions’ that force some people to apologize ‘for the color of their skin.’ ”

  • Morgan Stanley launches Black recruitment program: “The Morgan Stanley Experienced Professional Program within its Fixed Income & Business Resource Management Divisions is seeking Black professionals with at least two years’ full-time work experience in any field who want to work in finance,” Reuters’s Imani Moise reports. “Morgan Stanley’s program is only open for up to 20 people. Derek Melvin, a managing director who designed the program, said he hopes the program, if successful, will be replicated across the firm’s institutional securities business.” 

Facebook and Twitter take unusual steps to limit spread of New York Post story.

Republicans slammed their actions, saying more regulations are needed: The social media giants “limited readership of an article by the New York Post about alleged emails from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, one of the rare occasions they have sanctioned a traditional media outlet,” Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. (Twitter reversed some of its actions last night, but the story will still be blocked)

“The social media giants took that action before verifying the contents of the article, in which Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon claimed to have obtained and leaked a trove of private materials from Hunter Biden. The leaked documents suggested at one point he gave a Ukrainian executive the ‘opportunity’ to meet the former vice president. The Biden campaign said his schedule indicated no such meeting took place.”

  • Republicans to subpoena Jack Dorsey: “The subpoena would require the Twitter executive to testify on Oct. 23 before the committee, according to the Republicans who announced the hearing,” the WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes reports. “GOP lawmakers are singling out Twitter because it prevented users from posting links to the articles …”
  • FCC chairman says he will move to “clarify” Section 230: Ajit Pai said “he plans to move forward with rulemaking to ‘clarify’ the scope of Section 230, an important legal shield for tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter,” CNBC’s Lauren Feiner reports. “In a statement, Pai said the decision came after the FCC’s general counsel determined the agency has the legal authority to interpret the statute.”

Amazon says third-party sellers made more than $3.5 billion from Prime Day: The tech giant said “during this year’s Prime Day shopping event, an increase of nearly 60 percent compared with last year and a record for the small and midsize businesses that make up the marketplace,” CNBC’s Annie Palmer reports.

Houston tech mogul Robert Brockman charged in record tax evasion scheme: “Brockman has been charged in the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history after fellow billionaire Robert Smith turned against him to avoid prosecution himself, the Justice Department said …” Reuters’s Sarah N. Lynch reports.

“Brockman, the 79-year-old chief executive of Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds Co, hid $2 billion in income from the Internal Revenue Service over two decades, using a web of offshore companies in Bermuda and St. Kitts and Nevis, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday.” 

Trump tracker

Ex-Trump fundraiser to plead guilty to illegal lobbying. 

Elliott Broidy was a former Trump ally: Broidy, a former top political fundraiser for Tump and the Republican Party, plans to plead guilty to participating in an illegal foreign lobbying scheme and cooperate with investigators in the matter,” Bloomberg News’s David Yaffe-Bellany and David Voreacos report.

“Broidy was charged on Oct. 8 with illegally lobbying the Trump administration to stop investigating the embezzlement scandal at the 1MDB Malaysian state investment fund. Jho Low, a Malaysian fugitive who was charged as the mastermind of the 1MDB fraud, initially paid Broidy $6 million to lobby the U.S. Justice Department to stop its investigation and promised an additional $75 million if the lobbying succeeded, prosecutors said.”

Campaign 2020

Ray McGuire to leave Citigroup to run for mayor of New York.

He has been privately been discussing a run since January: “McGuire is a vice chairman of Citigroup and chairman of banking, capital markets and advisory,” CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports.

“McGuire, 63, is getting into a crowded Democratic primary field for the mayor’s office …Valerie Jarrett, a longtime close advisor to former President Barack Obama, will act as co-chair of McGuire’s campaign.”

Trade fly-around

U.S. offers tariff truce if Airbus repays billions in aid.

There is a long-running fight over aircraft subsidies with the European Union: “The offer was made by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer days before the World Trade Organization’s release on Tuesday of a report authorizing Brussels to slap counter-tariffs on U.S goods over subsidies to planemaker Boeing,” Reuters’s Tim Hepher, Andrea Shalal and Philip Blenkinsop report.

“Lighthizer’s proposal, however, is unlikely to win support from the EU, which appears set to ask the WTO at an Oct. 26 meeting to endorse $4 billion in EU tariffs on U.S. goods. The imposition of $7.5 billion of U.S. tariffs over Airbus subsidies has already started to hit European goods.”

The regulators

CFTC votes to pass final rule on position limits.

This a long delayed effort dating back to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act: The nation’s top derivatives regulator voted ”to establish limits on the size of speculators’ bets in markets for commodities including gold, cattle and crude oil …,” the WSJ’s Paul Kiernan reports.

“The Commodity Futures Trading Commission established so-called position limits for the first time on 16 agricultural, metal and energy commodities, while updating federal caps on nine agricultural products that were already subject to them. By limiting the number of contracts that a single participant can amass, the rule aims to prevent speculators—as opposed to users or producers of the commodities—from causing price swings that don’t reflect underlying supply-and-demand dynamics.”


The funnies

Bull session

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The Energy 202: Trump’s toughest rebrand yet? Being seen as a ‘great environmentalist’

The announcement, which reversed an earlier Trump administration effort to open nearly all federal waters to oil and gas drilling, is one of the biggest policy turnarounds of his presidency.

But Trump’s effort to green up his record is more than a year in the making, only accelerating in the final stretch of the race against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. 

The moves are meant to parry attacks from Biden on Trump’s environmental record.

And they come as concern about climate change grows among voters — especially young ones.

“Unlike Joe Biden, who is willing to sacrifice millions of U.S. energy jobs to appease the radical left, President Trump and his administration are promoting both energy independence and environmental health through innovation,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said.

In addition to the offshore oil moratorium, Trump signed a law in August investing $900 million a year into expanding everything from huge wildlife preserves to neighborhood baseball diamonds, while his Environmental Protection Agency backed funding for the restoration of the Great Lakes. Both moves are stark reversals of the administration’s previous positions.

And just this week, Trump created a new “subcabinet” to improve water quality and management and approved an executive order in support of a plan backed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to plant a trillion trees and suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

But a green pivot may be too little, too late after four years of rolling back environmental rules. 

Many of Trump’s critics say he has one of the worst environmental records of any president. 

“This is an administration that spent four years bragging about how much fossil fuels they can get into the global economy,” said Jerry Taylor, a former global warming skeptic who now advocates for federal climate action as head of the Niskanen Center.

“At the 11th hour, these gestures, after four loud years of that, are extremely unlikely to resonate,” he added.

Republicans are responding in part to a voting public that increasingly sees climate change as a crisis.

While Democrats and independents are more likely to think humans are warming the planet, a majority of Republicans — 60 percent — said they believe that as well, according to a poll conducted last year by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet years of undoing Obama-era efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants have helped cement the anti-environment reputation of Trump’s party.

The Democratic Party holds a 31 percentage point edge over the GOP when registered voters polled by Pew Research Center were asked which would be better at confronting climate change. That is the largest edge between the parties among a dozen issues included in the survey over the summer.

Trump, despite the backpedaling, has been unable to maintain a steady message on climate change. 

During the first presidential debate Sept. 29, he showed a fleeting willingness to acknowledge that humans are contributing to the problem “to an extent.”

But two weeks earlier, he had shrugged off any links between rising temperatures and natural disasters during a briefing with California officials as the state saw its worst wildfire season on record. “It will start getting cooler,” he said, “you just watch.”

The muddled message could make his actions even harder to sell, especially as Biden consistently calls climate change an “existential threat” and is proposing to spend $2 trillion over four years to reduce emissions and prepare for its effects.

“I don’t know why the president says certain things that he says” about climate change, said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), a graduate of Yale’s forestry school who is behind the GOP’s trillion trees plan.

Westerman suggested Trump’s moves are informed by his background as a businessman. “But I do believe he recognizes a good deal when he sees one. And I think when he sees good policy, like the Trillion Trees Act, and he sees market-based conservation ideas, I think those are things that that he will embrace.”

George David Banks, who served as a climate adviser in Trump’s White House during his first year in office, said that the president does not have deep ideological convictions on climate change and “doesn’t see the political benefit of pushing a climate change agenda with his base.”

“It’s difficult for any Republican to break through politically in the minds of voters who place environment at the top,” Banks said.

When Trump has tried to turn over a green new leaf, it’s usually on local — not global — issues.

When announcing the offshore oil moratorium in Florida, Trump emphasized how the ban would protect “your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean” from potential spills — not how it would forestall emissions from burning oil and gas.

And Trump’s August signing of a major environmental bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, that would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the first time since the 1960s, appeared designed to help Republican senators.

The White House has earlier called for slashing money to that program, but Trump changed his tune at the behest of Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), whose home states stand to gain from the funding. Both GOP lawmakers are in tough reelection races.

While not officially part of the Trump campaign, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler went on a whirlwind nationwide tour this fall to issue grants and highlight efforts to restore the Great Lakes, with stops in Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

His agency is weeks away from finalizing a new rule updating the way water companies test for lead contamination in drinking water, a policy meant to tackle pollution still plaguing Flint, Mich., and other Midwestern cities with large African American populations Trump is trying to court.

“EPA has not forgotten what happened in Flint,” Wheeler said in Michigan in September. “What we need to do is ensure that nothing like that ever happens again anywhere in the country. Everyone, regardless of their Zip code, deserves to have safe drinking water.”

Historically, it has been tough for Republicans to win on environmental issues.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush flipped the script on Michael Dukakis, blaming the Massachusetts Democrat for pollution in Boston Harbor. Once in office, Bush signed into law a major update to the Clean Air Act to curb acid rain.

Even with that record, it was hard for Bush to outflank a Democratic ticket in 1992 that included Al Gore, who as a senator from Tennessee was already known as an environmental champion.

“How much environmental support did he gain for those steps?” the Niskanen Center’s Taylor said of Bush. “Very little.”

But Susan McManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida, said Trump may have better luck with his environmental pitch in the Sunshine State, which is crucial to his reelection chances.

Republicans are able to win on environmental issues in Florida, she said, because of the “extremely strong linkage” between the state’s ecology and economy.

“Florida’s economy is totally contingent upon the coastal areas,” she said. “Whether it’s tourism, fishing — you name it — it’s a critical part of our economic fortunes.”

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

Note: The Energy 202 will not publish on Monday or Tuesday of next week. Talk to you Wednesday.

Power plays

Biden distances himself more from the “new green deal.” 

During a town hall on ABC, the former vice president tried to further distinguish his plan for combatting climate change with the Green New Deal, a favorite of progressives. 

Biden said that his plan called for a later deadline of 2035 for net-zero emissions, while still allowing some use of gas if its carbon emissions can be captured. “The new green deal calls for elimination of all non-renewable energy by 2030,” he told moderator George Stephanopolous, flubbing the name of the other plan. “You can’t get there.” 

Yet the Green New Deal resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calls for “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” — not strictly renewables.

The candidate released a $2 trillion climate plan in July in part to endear themselves to the Democratic Party’s left flank. But as the general election nears, however, and Biden courts votes from moderates and disaffected Republicans, he has sought to set his own climate plan apart from the politically polarized Green New Deal.

Biden also reiterated he does not want to end fracking, although he promised to “stop giving tax breaks and subsidizing oil.” 

The Trump campaign has repeatedly accused Biden of seeking to ban fracking, even though Biden’s plan would only prohibit new fracking permits on federal lands. 

The overarching theme of Biden’s climate answer came back to his core talking point of green jobs, rattling off a number of jobs that his green energy push would make possible.

Trump administration is rejecting an emergency declaration for California fires.

State officials told our colleague Tim Elfrink that the 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.”

It’s not clear why the request from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 28 was denied, but Trump has previously threatened to withhold aid to the state “over disputed claims that the state isn’t doing enough to prevent wildfires.”

Trump and Newsom have butted head before over the causes of the state’s record-breaking wildfire season, including whether rising global temperatures are contributing.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signaled that states can go forward with carbon pricing.

The regulatory body “proposed a new rule Thursday encouraging state and regional power regulators to set a price on carbon emissions as a way to accelerate the development of clean energy,” the Houston Chronicle reports.

Power market regulators ”should have confidence that those proposals will be not be a dead letter on our doorstep,” Chairman Neil Chatterjee, a Republican Trump appointee, said in a statement.

The move comes as many states consider carbon pricing as a way to limit emissions, but some state officials have expressed concern that FERC would block the pricing structures.

Law students pledged to boycott employment at a top law firm over its work for fossil fuel.

The pledges were part of a #DropExxon campaign, organized by students to highlight law firms that they say are contributing to climate change by representing oil and gas clients.  

“Students gathered at the Manhattan headquarters of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP last week to hand-deliver a box of signatures collected from about 600 students at 45 law schools including Harvard University, Stanford University and Yale University,” E&E News reports. Paul Weiss has represented ExxonMobil in climate litigation.

Law students behind the #DropExxon campaign compared oil companies to the tobacco industry:

The EPA announced it will allow use of a radioactive material in road building.

“Reversing a strict, decades-old policy, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced it will allow limited use of a radioactive byproduct of phosphate mining to build roads,” The Tampa Bay Times reports. 

The EPA policy was strongly supported by the fertilizer industry, which produces the substance, phosphogypsum, as a byproduct of the production of phosphate fertilizer. Because it is radioactive, miners are required to follow strict regulations in its disposal.

Wheeler said that the plan will put the substance “to productive use rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.” He also committed that the EPA would work with industry to reduce environmental waste and protect public health.

Environmental advocates, however, have raised concerns that the use of the substance in roads could put people’s safety at risk.


Data from Fannie, Freddie points to increased mortgage risk tied to climate change.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose portfolios underpin half the $16 trillion U.S. mortgage market, recorded changes in home sales prices and an uptick in mortgage defaults among damaged properties in Texas after the destruction caused by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, a storm whose extreme rainfall scientists say was worsened by climate change,” Politico reports.

Experts say that housing officials have been increasingly concerned about what climate-fueled flooding means for their portfolios.

“Freddie Mac found housing prices inside the federal floodplain [in Texas] fell sharply compared to those outside the vulnerable zone after the storm. Separately, Fannie Mae discovered homes outside the 100-year floodplain — which aren’t required to have flood insurance — were more likely to experience mortgage defaults after severe flood damage,” Politico writes.

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The Cybersecurity 202: Trump clings to unfounded ballot claims even when called out at NBC town hall

When the NBC Today Show co-anchor noted that Trump’s own FBI director has said there is no evidence of widespread mail ballot fraud, Trump just pivoted to attacking Christopher Wray. “Oh well, then he’s not doing a very good job,” the president said. 

It’s clear that Trump has no intention of dropping these charges with just three weeks to go before the election – and with more than 14.5 million ballots already cast – and with his own administration against him on the topic. 

And he seems to be using the pervasiveness of misinformation about the ballots – which he’s done perhaps more than anyone to foment – as an argument in his favor

When Guthrie accused Trump of “sowing doubt about our democracy,” he shot back incredulously.

“How can you say that? … All you have to do is pick up the papers every day. Fifty thousand in Ohio, the great state of Ohio. Fifty thousand in another location, I think North Carolina. Five hundred thousand applications in Virginia. No, no. There’s a tremendous problem.”

The misleading claims reflect Trump’s willingness to frequently embrace conspiracy theories and phony news stories. 

When Guthrie asked why he retweeted a QAnon-linked conspiracy theory that the Obama administration may have had Navy SEALs killed to cover up a plot involving an Osama bin Laden body double, he insisted he was merely raising questions and not taking a position.

“That was an opinion of somebody and that was a retweet,” he said. “I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position,” he said.

Guthrie responded, “You’re the president. You’re not someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”

Just this morning the president retweeted a satirical news site that suggested last night’s Twitter problems were actually a conspiracy to aid his challenger Joe Biden.

In fact, there has been no evidence of mail ballot fraud in the states Trump listed – as reliable news services have reported. 

What has happened are foul ups that should be expected in a highly complex election held in the midst of a pandemic. But those foul ups have provided enough fodder for Trump to spread phony claims and insinuations that the integrity of the entire election is in danger.  

Here are the real stories:

Voters in North Carolina are often waiting weeks for requested mail ballots to arrive – which is certainly concerning but doesn’t suggest any malfeasance. The delays are most likely the result of slow processing of ballot requests in a state that has historically had low rates of mail voting, an Associated Press analysis found

The 500,000 ballots Trump mentioned in Virginia is likely a reference to 500,000 ballot applications with incorrect return addresses mistakenly mailed in August by The Center for Voter Information, a non-partisan organization that’s not affiliated with Virginia’s Department of Elections. 

As for Trump’s claims about thousands of ballots with his name on them found in a garbage can – it’s likely a reference to just nine ballots found in the Luzerne County, Pa. elections office and promptly reported to federal law enforcement. 

Seven of those ballots, which were opened, included votes for Trump. Authorities have not determined why they were discarded. 

And yet, seen through the lens of Trump’s exaggeration, these minor incidents could be used to justify doubts about the integrity of more than 150 million ballots likely to be cast in the election. 

And Trump is already linking the claims to questions about whether he will accept a peaceful transition of power if he loses. 

Trump told Guthrie he wants a peaceful transfer of power – a slight step back from his position during the first presidential debate with Joe Biden.  But he immediately pivoted back to false claims about ballots. 

“They talked about will you accept peaceful transfer. And the answer is, yes, I will,” he said. ”But I want it to be an honest election. And so does everybody else. When I see thousands of ballots dumped in a garbage can and they happen to have my name on it. I’m not happy about that.”

Joe Biden’s competing town hall on ABC was far less contentious and it didn’t touch on the integrity of the election. 

Biden did grab a chance to tout one of the Obama administration’s lesser known cybersecurity initiatives as he answered a question about why Black Americans should vote for him. 

The former vice president described a $25 million federal grant for cybersecurity education the administration gave to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, crowing that those schools “now will be able to produce young Black women and men who are going to go into a field of the future that’s burgeoning: cybersecurity.”

If he’s elected, Biden said, he plans to provide an additional $70 billion to HBCUs. 

The keys

Intelligence agencies warned Trump last year that Russian intelligence targeted Rudy Giuliani to feed him misinformation. 

The officials feared Giuliani was being used to feed misinformation to the president, Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Josh Dawsey report. The warnings were based on multiple sources including intercepted communications between Giuliani and people tied to Russian intelligence. Giuliani spoke with the individuals during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine during which he attempted to gather information on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

The communications prompted national security adviser Robert O’Brien to caution Trump against any information Giuliani gained from the Russian assets. Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Wray and White Counsel Pat Cipollone were also aware of the warnings, a former official told The Post. 

Trump shrugged his shoulders at the warnings, a former official said. 

The revelation, first reported by The Post, comes after Giuliani helped facilitate the release of emails allegedly from Hunter Biden that experts fear may be part of a disinformation operation. The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the emails, which were reported by the New York Post.

A National Security Council spokesman disputed the characterization of the meeting. O’Brien “can say that the president always treats such briefings with the utmost seriousness,” spokesman John Ullyot said in a written statement

Twitter is overhauling its policies on hacked materials amid political fallout. 

Twitter blocked links to the New York Post story because of that ban but faced intense backlash from conservatives. “The link to the New York Post story will still be blocked under a policy that prohibits sharing people’s personal information, the company said,” Elizabeth Dwoskin reported

The ban resulted in temporarily suspending several leading conservative accounts including those for Trump’s campaign and White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany.

Vijaya Gade, Twitter’s legal, policy, trust and safety lead, said last night that the company would be overhauling the hacked materials policy in response to criticism. Going forward, it will only remove material directly shared by hackers and those working with them, and it will label tweets rather than banning links from being shared on Twitter. 

C-SPAN suspended a host for lying about a Twitter hack.

C-SPAN host Steve Scully claimed that a tweet he sent to former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci last week had been the result of a hack after the tweet stirred controversy, Elahe Izadi reports.  “@Scaramucci should I respond to trump, Scully tweeted at Scaramucci in the now deleted message.

Scully, who was set to host yesterday’s canceled debate, now says he sent the tweet out of frustration with Trump’s barrage of attacks against him ahead of the debate.

Trump jumped on debacle to justify his criticism.

Scully told C-SPAN and the Presidential Commission on Debates late Wednesday about the deception.

“By not being immediately forthcoming to C-SPAN and the Commission about his tweet, he understands that he made a serious mistake,” C-SPAN said in a statement. “We were very saddened by this news and do not condone his actions.”

C-SPAN expects to reinstate Scully after a period of absence.

Government scan

The Pentagon has designated a new top official as its chief adviser on information operations. 

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has designated acting undersecretary of defense for policy James Anderson to serve also as the secretary’s “principal information operations adviser,” a Pentagon spokesman tells our colleague Ellen Nakashima. The new role was mandated by this year’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, a major defense policy bill, and places oversight of policy, planning and strategy for all military information operations under one person.

The designation took place last week, said people familiar with the matter.

The move comes as the Pentagon debates how best to organize for information operations as major adversaries, including Russia and China, are increasingly active in the information realm to seek to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.

Democratic lawmakers are urging a government watchdog to look into allegations of federal surveillance of protests against police brutality.

They say the surveillance could have a chilling effect on peaceful protests and raises concerns government agencies could be circumventing rules for using surveillance technology. 

The act of protesting has played a central role in advancing civil rights in our country, and our Constitution protects the right of Americans to engage in peaceful protest unencumbered by government interference,” Reps. Anna G. Eshoo  (D-Calif.) and Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)  wrote in a letter to members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. 

The independent oversight board is focused on the government’s response to terrorism threats, which the trio says is appropriate given Trump’s labeling of Black Lives Matters protesters as terrorists

The letter is the latest in an ongoing push for oversight of federal agencies spying on peaceful protesters

Cyber insecurity

U.S. and European law enforcement charged fourteen individuals for laundering money stolen by a cybercriminal group.

“The criminal gangs behind some of the world’s most harmful malware families are among those cybercriminal groups that benefited from the services provided by QQAAZZ,” the Justice Department said in a news release

Chat room

This is how to NOT do a practice disinformation campaign:


  • Pitt Cyber and CMU CyLab are hosting the Cyberspace Solarium Commission for a conversation on a Strategic Approach to US Cybersecurity on Monday 1:30-3:30 pm.
  • New America will host an event “Will We Ever Vote on Our Phones” on Thursday at noon.
  • The USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative will host a final workshop on the lessons from the workshops its hosted in 50 states leading up to the election on October 28 at 1:30 p.m.
  • The Cybersecurity Coalition and the Cyber Threat Alliance will host CyberNextDC on November 17-18, from 11:00am-3:00pm ET.

In honor of last night’s West Wing reunion on HBO, here’s an interview with the cast.

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The Health 202: Health officials call an anti-lockdown paper ‘dangerous.’ Its authors say they just want the idea debated.

“I suspect if we had a chance to talk with Dr. Collins about what these ideas actually say instead of the misrepresentations, he wouldn’t have that response,” Bhattacharya told me in an interview yesterday.

The Barrington Declaration is triggering a heated and fraught debate over shutdowns as the winter approaches and infections rise.

The paper, co-written by two epidemiologists at Harvard University and the University of Oxford and signed by other academics and scientists, says measures to protect those most vulnerable to the virus should be the central goal of the public health response, rather than current shutdown policies. 

The authors argue that the harm from shuttering schools and businesses is so extensive that it’s not worth trying to limit the virus’s spread among healthy children and non-elderly adults. Targeted protections for the elderly and sick are the best way to minimize mortality and social harm, they wrote.

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits … is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” the paper says.

Yet the paper has provoked a firestorm within the scientific community — and is exposing fractures in the Trump administration.

The online document, published Wednesday by the medical journal Lancet, acknowledges the shutdowns have been damaging to people and the economy. Yet it rejects the idea that allowing the virus to spread unchecked among low-risk populations – an idea known as gaining herd immunity – would ultimately protect the vulnerable. The authors point to the nation’s already-steep death toll, noting that there could a hundreds of thousands more deaths if the virus is allowed to spread even among healthier Americans.

“This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence,” says the memo, co-written by Harvard epidemiologists Bill Hanage and Marc Lipsitch and signed by more than 80 scientists. “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed.”

Bhattacharya and his co-authors met last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who tweeted praise of their ideas afterward. 

Azar tweeted this last week:

But both Collins and Fauci have sharply criticized the declaration as departing from consensus among epidemiologists.

“Anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that that is nonsense and very dangerous, because … you will have killed a lot of people that would have been avoidable,” Fauci said.

Bhattacharya called the tension provoked by his letter “overwhelming.”

But he feels it sparked a conversation that was ignored up until now. While some have interpreted the declaration as a “let ‘er rip” strategy, he says that is a mischaracterization of the approach he is promoting. While the country will eventually reach herd immunity, the point at which 60 to 70 percent of the country is immune either from being infected or getting vaccinated, his aim is to protect the lives and well-being of the maximum number of people until that point is reached.

Bhattacharya insists there is “significant dissent” in the scientific community about whether the shutdowns are justified, given the significant negative downstream effects of the pandemic such as lost income, increased poverty, diminished education and heightened rates of depression and suicide.

Yet he acknowledged his view is a minority one at Stanford and many other U.S. universities. He said he has received better reception to his ideas from epidemiologists in other countries, especially the United Kingdom.

“It’s very difficult to talk about these issues at the moment at Stanford,” Bhattacharya told me. “Until covid, I’ve always felt free to express my thoughts. But I think since the covid era that has changed. I wish I could change it back.”

Critics of the Barrington Declaration fear it could lead to even more Americans ignoring safety guidelines.

This is a particular concern when it comes to how President Trump talks about the pandemic.

The president has repeated flouted precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. At an town hall last night, Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed that 85 percent of people wearing masks still contract the novel coronavirus — even as he insisted he supports mask-wearing.

Trump also repeated a phrase he has used frequently when asked about the merits of shutdowns. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” he told NBC News’s Savannah Guthrie. 

The possibility of further shutdowns is growing as coronavirus infections rise.

Yesterday, the United States topped 62,000 new coronavirus cases, the country’s highest daily count since it reported more than 66,000 cases on July 31, my colleagues report.

“Cases in the Midwest began to surge during October,” they write. “On Thursday, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado tallied new single-day highs for positive test results. Fourteen states exceeded their seven-day averages of new infections.”

A mash-up of models used by the CDC now projects 23,000 more coronavirus deaths over the next four weeks because of the rise in cases.

More from the dueling townhalls

Biden left open whether he would be willing to mandate a vaccine.

Former vice president Joe Biden dodged a question about whether he would make a coronavirus vaccine mandatory if elected president during Thursday’s ABC News town hall, which took place at the same time as Trump’s appearance on NBC News. The Democratic nominee suggested he might be open to requiring a vaccine, saying, “We should think about making it mandatory.” 

When pressed by moderator George Stephanopoulos about how he would enforce such a mandate, however, Biden quickly backtracked, saying he did not think it was within his power to order it.

“You can’t say, ‘Everyone has to do this,’ ” Biden said, adding, “just like you can’t have a mask mandate.”

Biden’s suggestion that he would not have the authority as president to impose a national mask mandate goes against comments he made last month in which he said his legal team thought a mandate would be possible. Legal scholars are divided on the question. Biden told the audience he would urge governors and mayors to push for masks and set a good example, as an alternative.

The Democratic nominee also affirmed he would be willing to receive a vaccine before the end of the year if it was approved by scientists. Both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), have expressed concerns that Trump could rush a vaccine not properly vetted before Election Day, a scenario that is now impossible under stricter approval standards the White House has signed off on.

Trump wouldn’t say whether he took a coronavirus test before his debate against Biden.

The president said during the town hall he did not remember if he took a test before the first presidential debate on Sept. 29. The terms of the debate stipulated that both candidates would receive a test, but doubts emerged over whether the president had complied with these rules when he tested positive for the virus just two days later. 

“I don’t know. I don’t even remember. I test all the time,” Trump said in response to a question from Guthrie about when he last received a negative test. Trump said he thought he “probably” took a test the day of the debate and told Guthrie she should ask his doctors.

Trump refused to say whether he supports overturning Roe v. Wade.

The president said he has not spoken to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett about Roe v. Wade and that it would be inappropriate to do so. 

When Guthrie pressed him, noting that most antiabortion conservatives would like to see the ruling overturned, Trump punted.

“I don’t want to do anything to influence anything right now,” Trump said, suggesting if he weighed in on the abortion case, it could be perceived as a signal to Barrett in the nomination hearings. 

During the presidential debates in 2016, Trump said he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, a commitment that was seen as an important appeal to religious voters with antiabortion views.

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: Trump’s Medicare drug discount plan faces uncertainty.

“Three weeks after President Trump announced the government would send tens of millions of older Americans $200 to help pay for medicine, the election-season idea is mired in uncertainty over whether such drug discount cards are legal, proper or will ever exist,” Amy Goldstein writes.

Since Trump included the idea in a health-care speech on Sept. 24, administration officials have scrambled to draft a proposal that would make the cards a reality. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, were told of the plan less than a day in advance.

Meanwhile, a group of three senior Democratic lawmakers is calling for the Government Accountability Office to issue an expedited review of the legality of the plan, which must be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Even some conservatives have perceived a “a whiff of vote-buying” in the plan, which the president has said he wants out before the election, Goldstein writes.

The project would be authorized through a legal provision allowing Medicare to try experiments to test the efficacy of changes in payments or reimbursement. Administration officials have said Trump’s plan will test whether lower drug costs increase compliance with medications, although experts have criticized the proposed experimental design for lacking a control group.

OOF: An investigative report from ProPublica details how the CDC lost the trust of the public.

The CDC came into its fight against the coronavirus already diminished by decades of budget contractions. The agency had cut over 300 posts oversees and no longer had an office inside the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention at the time the virus hit. 

In February, a series of crucial mistakes in developing a coronavirus test resulted in the agency sending faulty test kits to public health agencies across the country and losing precious time in the pivotal early days of the pandemic. It took three weeks for the CDC to send out new kits.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for the CDC came from near-constant interference by the White House and political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services. Officials from HHS sought to monitor and restrict communications from agency scientists. Meanwhile, the Trump administration ignored scientists’ suggestions about everything from quarantining cruise ships to guidelines for safe school reopenings. 

“Employees spoke openly about their ‘hill to die on’ — the political interference that would prompt them to leave. Yet again and again, they surrendered and did as they were told,” Bandler, Callahan, Rotella and Berg write. “Many feared that if they left and spoke out, the White House would stop consulting the CDC at all, and would push through even more dangerous policies.”

OUCH: Remdesivir did not decrease mortality among covid-19 patients, according to a World Health Organization study.

“Results from the WHO’s highly anticipated Solidarity trial, which studied the effects of remdesivir and three other potential drug regimens in 11,266 hospitalised patients, found that none of the treatments ‘substantially affected mortality,’ or reduced the need to ventilate patients, according to a copy of the study seen by the Financial Times,” the Financial Times’s Donato Paolo Mancini and Clive Cookson report.

The study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, found “remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and interferon regimens appeared to have little effect on in-hospital mortality,” the Financial Times reports.

Trump received a course of remdesivir earlier this month after he tested positive for the coronavirus. The therapy, which was initially developed as a treatment for Ebola, received emergency use authorization in the United States after a National Institutes of Health trial found that it decreased the average recovery time for patients with covid-19. The WHO trial did not find that the drug had a major impact on the length of hospital stays, although its focus was primarily on mortality.

“The WHO’s findings mean that the only drug proven to increase Covid-19 survival rates is dexamethasone, a cheap steroid that can be taken orally and is widely available around the world. The WHO has recommended the use of steroids for patients with severe cases of Covid-19,” Mancini and Cookson write.

Coronavirus latest

  • Coronavirus cases in Europe set records this week, overtaking the number of cases per capita in the United States, Michael Birnbaum reports.
  • Across 26 countries, eldercare home residents have accounted for an average of 47 percent of recorded coronavirus deaths, according to data collected by the International Long-Term Care Policy Network, a global collaboration between academics and policymakers, Adam Taylor reports.
  • Fauci told “CBS Evening News” that Americans may need to “bite the bullet” and cancel Thanksgiving.

  • Trump called for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to offer more money in stimulus negotiations with House Democrats, even as Senate Republicans advance a slimmed-down relief bill, Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.
  • A nonprofit watchdog filed a complaint against Trump’s physician, Sean Conley, calling for the Virginia Department of Health Professions to revoke the doctor’s license. The Checks and Balances Project alleges that Conley engaged in “unprofessional conduct” by failing to enforce public health guidelines in the White House and by misleading the public about the president’s condition during his hospitalization with covid-19.

Sugar rush

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Power Up: How much of a problem is a Trump job on your resume? Some Republicans are starting to wonder

Today, some of those same Republicans are now quietly on the job hunt  as President Trump’s standing in the polls continues to slide against Joe Biden with decision time in just 18 days. But now, these GOPers are hoping the Trump presidency isn’t a disqualifying blemish on their resumes or permanent Google footprint as the door revolves the other way and they seek to land, once again, in the private sector.

Gaining distance from Trump and some of his more incendiary statements is likely to be an easier task for some alumni than others.

  • Take Sean Spicer, for example, the most prominent example of a former Trump White House whose life after Trump has been heavily scrutinized. As the administration’s first press secretary, Spicer was forever memorialized by Melissa McCarthy’s brutal satire on Saturday Night Live — Trump’s gripe with the sendup was that Spicer was played by a woman — and for fantastically clinging to inflated totals of the crowd size that witnessed Trump’s inauguration. Spicer later said he regretted such claims.
  • Since leaving the administration three years ago, Spicer has landed a few gigs on television, such as a contestant with ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and a show on conservative-leaning Newsmax TV. He’s also penned two books.

But his career arc has veered far from the usual gigs secured by former White House press secretaries and senior administration officials. There’s been no cushy landing on K Street or high-profile consultancy at a major lobbying or public relations firm. It’s a fate that might be befall many others in Trumpworld if the president loses or even if they don’t relish staying on through a second term.

  • “There’s always a market for lobbyists but look at someone like Spicer who had high-profile gigs in the White House and where did he land?” Amanda Carpenter, a Trump critic, CNN contributor and former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) noted. “He’s a host on Newsmax right now. That’s not the kind of leg up to high-profile communications in the corporate world that’s the typical path … If he can’t do it, I think people with such a high profile will have similar problems.”

Spicer appreciates the concern but says he’s doing just fine. He’s thankful for all of the opportunities he says he’s had since leaving the White House. “I’m living a very happy life and provide for my family and children and for that I am very grateful,” said Spicer.

  • If Trump loses, “it’ll be challenging for Republicans everywhere” to find a new job, Spicer added. That’s just the way of Washington, where “[people] suck up to people with power and they let go of people who let go of it.”

Over a dozen Republican strategists, former Trump administration staffers, current Capitol Hill hands, and associates close to the Trump White House predict that many graduates of the Trump administration could have a tough time sticking a land in the private sector.

They say Trump’s shaky standing in the campaign — and his pull on down-ballot races — is already making Republicans especially nervous.

  • “Quiet conversations in Gmail are more active now than would be expected a month before an election,” said a senior Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. “I have a buddy in the administration who is starting to quietly move his resume around and he’s noticed people who he thought would be quicker to respond to inquiries have been less so. He called it ‘the Trump stink. How much Trump stink is on my resume right now?’”
  • Read our full story here. 

For some Trump officials, leaving the administration for the corporate world could be seamless and welcome — a necessary pit stop to refuel before placing their bets on a horse for the 2024 race. And job churn is always inevitable if there’s a transfer of power in Washington.

  • “Americans have short memories,” Rodney Faraon, a former CIA analyst and member of the president’s daily brief team in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, who is now a partner with Martin+Crumpton Group. “One would think that the GOP would, as John McCain would say, ‘return to normal order,’ and then we can finally debate issues on the basis of real substance. But that’s the big $64,000 question. What happens to the GOP after Trump?”

Former staffers who have departed the administration are already finding out. There has been record turnover in what has been a chaotic and fast-moving administration. 

Countless former Trump aides have landed smoothly on their feet. And some ex-administration and campaign officials have found refuge in the Trump reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee or in conservative media. Others who came to Washington to work for Trump were never going to slip in and out of the institutional D.C. class and aren’t likely to try to do so in a post-Trump world.

And that might be a good thing. While the revolving door between government and corporate America has swung swiftly for decades and made many former officials wealthy, it also has been the source of intense criticism from good government groups who argue it has a corrupting influence on public policy.

But Republicans say the former Trump aides most successful in making the transition are those who already had deep connections inside the Beltway. Those aides also stayed further away from the more controversial issues and investigations that have riddled the White House, these Republicans pointed out.

  • “Pence’s staff will be insulated more,” argued another GOP strategist who still works in Washington. “Especially as after-action reports come out about the role he played and the impact he was able to have on bigger decisions. His team ends up in a different boat.”

And, for some in Trumpworld, flouting the political-industrial complex and heading back to New York might be a relief. That group could include Trump’s family members, such as Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who serve as senior White House advisers. But as the president’s children have assumed more fulsome roles in the Republican Party, it’s unlikely they’ll fade into obscurity.

  • Trump is “going to get a lot of votes and win a lot of states and there are elected officials who have tied their boats not just to Trump but the movement and there will be plenty of opportunities for people to ride that movement,” a Trump campaign staffer told us. “But yes, it is hard to move into the corporate world. There’s just that stigma of being a Trump person. ”

Red lines: CEOs and businesses have become increasingly critical of the president for stoking racial rancor. Republicans who now work with Fortune 500 companies agree that any public defense of Trump on race and immigration — the hot-button issues on which Trump has staked his presidency — are the most problematic public positions to have taken for those seeking corporate gigs.

  • For others, like a former longtime intelligence officer who now works in the corporate world, red lines on hiring include a track record of politicizing intelligence, along with defending Trump on issues of race.
  • “If you’re against Black Lives Matter, if you’re pro-Proud Boys, and stuff like that? I won’t look at you at all,” the former officer noted.
  • “Good talented people will always be in demand in D.C. if you’re coming from an agency and understand policies that animate the marketplace,” said the first GOP strategist. “The challenge is when you actually get closer to the president himself. When you look at the people who have been defending the president vocally and are explaining some of the things he’s done, then things get trickier.”

The longtime GOP strategist who runs a public affairs firm that works with corporate clients recalled coming close to hiring a former Trump White House staffer until a Google search revealed the prospective hire’s track record defending Trump on race and immigration. It ground the interview process to a halt, the strategist said.

  • “A lot of people who came into this in 2015 and 2016, they knew that there would be a stigma going into this and it’ll likely last for a very long time,” said a Trump campaign staffer. “Probably for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that’s lost on anyone. ”

The campaign

TRUMP, BIDEN HOST DUELING TOWN HALLS: “The events — with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia — appeared to be broadcast from entirely different dimensions. The soft-spoken Biden leaned back in a white chair, relaxed and conversational as he hit upon notes of optimism and uplift. Trump’s appearance was heated and at times abrasive, with the candidate leaning forward as he defended his record and challenged the motivations of moderator Savannah Guthrie,” Michael Scherer, Jenna Johnson and Josh Dawsey report.

More on the president’s town hall: “Trump doubted the effectiveness of wearing of masks to prevent viral spread, refused to denounce the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, repeatedly declined to say whether he was tested for the coronavirus before the last debate and battled with Guthrie, who pressed him with details and a mastery of the facts that some moderators have not possessed when sparring with him,” our colleagues write.

  • One of the most notable exchanges was Trump’s refusal to denounce QAnon: “He 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 about the group before attempting to pivot the conversation to talk about left-wing radicals like self-described anti-fascist protesters.”
  • Trump also refused to apologize for spreading another conspiracy theory this week: “He retweeted a false conspiracy theory that holds that the Obama administration faked the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 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.”

This led to the line of the night:

Talk less, smile more?: A voter complimented Trump on his smile before diving into a question about DACA. But that’s not the end of the story. Paulette Dale, a registered Republican who was described as leaning toward Biden, still plans on supporting the former vice president.

  • She added the other question she had prepared to ask about climate change gets at her concerns about the president: “He’s very combative and he doesn’t believe in science, and that’s a big concern to me,” she said. “And by his own words, he knows more than the [military] generals, knows more than the public-health experts, knows more than anybody. I believe Joe Biden will listen to the experts.”
  • But, yes, she really does love Trump’s smile, though she’s “not a fan” of him: “I believe the man has a very nice smile; there was no reason not to comment on it,” Dale said. “Smiles are important to me. I like nice teeth.” 

Biden made little news during his town hall: “He spoke about taxes, fracking, outreach to Black voters, foreign relations and the pandemic. He was asked three sets of questions about racial justice and two about gay, lesbian and transgender rights,” our colleagues write.

  • “Biden reiterated the importance of wearing masks, again saying that if he were president he would pressure governors and local leaders to institute mask mandates. He said he would not impose fines for those who refused to take a coronavirus vaccine.” 

A Trump campaign adviser mocked his performance with an odd comparison:

We did get one key development: Biden and his campaign have tried to dodge whether he would expand the Supreme Court. So far, he has only offered he’s “not a fan” of court packing. But last night, Biden promised to take a firm position by Election Day, a reversal from his previous stance that Americans would only hear his thoughts after the campaign is over.

  • He also provided a little more insight into his thinking: “It depends on how much they rush this,” he said, adding of Senate Republicans working to quickly confirm Amy Coney Barrett’s to the Supreme Court. “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on.”

Or as CNN’s fact checker in chief Daniel Dale put it:

Here are some highlights from our colleagues: In total, they examined eight claims from Trump and four from Biden. (A reminder they don’t award their famous Pinocchios for claims made in live settings like town halls).  

  • A CDC study did not concluded 85 percent of people who wear masks get covid: “The top finding was that ‘close contact with a person with known covid-19 was more commonly reported among’ the positive cases (42 percent) than the negatives (14 percent) …,” our colleagues write. “The rate of mask-wearing is almost the same, so the takeaway from this study is that the positive cases had more contacts with a person with known covid-19 and dined out more.”
  • Thousands of ballots for Trump have not been ‘dumped in a garbage can’: The case Trump is referring to, from Pennsylvania, involves nine ballots, seven of which were for Trump, not ‘thousands,’” our colleagues write.
  • America is not turning the corner on covid: “The rate of new U.S. cases has been trending upward in recent weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as several states begin to reopen their economies amid what epidemiologists say could be a second wave of the virus,” our colleagues write.
  • The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers has not endorsed Biden: “Biden made this comment after moderator George Stephanopoulos noted that a member of Boilermakers Local 154, an important union in Pennsylvania, had expressed skepticism about Biden’s pledge to not end fracking,” our colleague writes. In fact, the union has not endorsed any candidate for president.
  • Trump did not eliminate funding for community policing: The program, known as Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), still exists. Trump in his 2019 budget plan proposed to cut the funding in half, but that’s not the same as zero,” our colleagues write.

Global power

  • The details: “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 Biden and his son Hunter.”

Even Trump himself was cautioned: “National security adviser Robert O’Brien cautioned Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia …,” our colleagues write.

  • But it’s not clear those concerns went anywhere: 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, a former official said, and dismissed concern about his lawyer’s activities by saying, ‘That’s Rudy.’”

On the Hill

BARRETT ON SWIFT COURSE TO CONFIRMATION: GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee set up an Oct. 22 vote on her nomination, despite procedural protests from Democrats,” Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian report

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would begin full consideration of her nomination a day later and he confidently predicted that she had the votes to win confirmation.

  • Democrats said a backlash is coming: “They predicted a voter backlash against the GOP for confirming a conservative whose jurisprudence is the polar opposite of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month. Citing her past statements and writings, Democrats repeatedly warned that Barrett could be a vote to overturn the landmark decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion, may undermine same-sex marriage and could put key health-care protections at risk.” 

Meanwhile, the left is targeting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee: “At the conclusion of the hearing, she thanked Graham for how he led the proceedings, and the two maskless senators hugged — amid a pandemic,” our colleagues write.

  • “Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group focused on the judiciary, called on Feinstein to step down as the panel’s top Democrat. If she won’t do so voluntarily, then other Democratic senators needed to intervene, the group said.” 

The people

THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS ABOUT TRUMP: “In the years since [Trump’s 2016 campaign], I’ve pored over books on the Trump era, trying to keep pace with the intellectuals, journalists, insiders, partisans, and activists who are grappling with the turmoil it has wrought. I’ve read some 150 of them thus far, and even that is just a fraction of the Trump canon. One of the ironies of our time is that a man who rarely reads, preferring the rage of cable news and Twitter for hours each day, has propelled an onslaught of book-length writing about his presidency,” Carlos Lozada writes in his new book “What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.”

  • On the countless tell-all tomes: “Too many books of the Trump era are more knee-jerk than incisive, more posing than probing, more righteous than right, more fixated on calling out the daily transgressions of the man in the Oval Office — this is not normal! — than on assessing their impact. They are illuminating in part because they reflect some of the same blind spots, resentments, and failures of imagination that gave us the Trump presidency itself, and that are likely to outlast it. Individually, these books try to show a way forward. Collectively, they reveal how we’re stuck …. ”

And the books that really matter: “The books that matter most right now are not necessarily those revealing White House intrigue, policy disputes, or official scandals, no matter how crucial those subjects. They are, instead, the books that enable and ennoble a national reexamination,” Carlos writes.

  • “They are the books that show how our current conflicts fit into the nation’s story, that hold fast to the American tradition of always seeing ourselves anew. They are the books on the white working class that do not oversimplify its motives or its politics, and the resistance volumes that resist dogma and exclusion. They are the studies on the decline of truth that leave room for self-doubt, and the works on immigration that find newcomers changing America from within, and being changed by it, too.”

Unlike ephemeral tweets, these will last: “Such books are not beholden to this moment, which is why they reveal so much about it. The most essential books of the Trump era are scarcely about Trump at all,” Carlos writes.

In the media

Coronavirus cases are rising across the country: “For the first time since early August, the number of newly reported coronavirus infections in the United States on Thursday topped 60,000. More than 36,000 people are hospitalized nationally with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, amid a long-feared autumnal rise of infections and serious illnesses,” Joel Achenbach and Jacqueline Dupree report.

Sen. Kamala Harris has suspended campaign travel after two people in her orbit tested positive for coronavirus: Harris tested negative for the virus on Wednesday, the campaign said. “A person who recently flew on the same plane as  Biden also tested positive, the campaign said, but that individual was never within 50 feet of the former vice president, who is not taking any additional steps to isolate himself,” Chelsea Janes and Sean Sullivan report.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) unloaded on Trump: “It’s hardly the first time that Sasse has leveled scathing criticisms at Trump. Sasse critics were quick to note that despite his rhetoric, the senator has often backed Trump when it counts — most prominently during the president’s impeachment trial,” the Omaha World Herald’s Joseph Morton reports. The paper says the comments were made during a Wednesday evening telephone town hall.

  • Tell us what you really think: “It isn’t just that he fails to lead our allies. It’s that the United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership. The way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending, I’ve criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists,” Sasse said. The senator’s statements were first reported by the Washington Examiner, which obtained audio of his answer to a question about why he criticizes the president.


THE PERFECT DRINK FOR A FIRESIDE CHAT: If you’re going to repeal Prohibition, you better have a drink ready. In her latest installment of “All the President’s Drinks,” Mary Beth Albright will teach you how to make a rum swizzle just like FDR would have ordered.  

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Trump rebrand as ‘great environmentalist’ could be a tough sell

“Who would have thought Trump is the great environmentalist?” Trump told a crowd in Florida last month when announcing, in an about-face, that he would ban oil drilling off of southern Atlantic states and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. “And I am. I am. I believe strongly in it.”

The announcement, which reversed an early Trump administration effort to open nearly all federal waters to oil and gas drilling, is one of the biggest policy turnarounds of his presidency.

But Trump’s effort to green up his record is more than a year in the making, only accelerating in the final stretch of the race against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The moves are meant to parry attacks from Biden, who is ahead in the polls, on Trump’s environmental record as concern about climate change grows among voters — especially young ones.

“Unlike Joe Biden, who is willing to sacrifice millions of US energy jobs to appease the radical left, President Trump and his administration are promoting both energy independence and environmental health through innovation,” Trump campaign spokesperson Courtney Parella said.

Yet Trump’s critics, many of whom have spent the past four years saying he has one of the worst environmental records of any president in U.S. history, are highly suspicious of the pivot. And any last-minute moves, they say, are too little and too late to sway to his side many voters concerned with these issues.

“This is an administration that spent four years bragging about how much fossil fuels they can get into the global economy,” said Jerry Taylor, a former global warming skeptic who now advocates for federal climate action as head of the Niskanen Center.

“At the 11th hour, these gestures, after four loud years of that, are extremely unlikely to resonate,” he added.

But this hasn’t stopped Trump from trying. In addition to the offshore oil moratorium, Trump signed a law in August investing $900 million a year into expanding everything from huge wildlife preserves to neighborhood baseball diamonds, while his Environmental Protection Agency backed funding for the restoration of the Great Lakes. Both moves are stark reversals of the administration’s previous positions.

And just this week, Trump created a new “subcabinet” to improve water quality and management and approved an executive order in support of a plan backed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to plant a trillion trees and suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

Trump and other Republicans are responding in part to a voting public that increasingly sees climate change as a crisis.

While Democrats and independents are more likely to think humans are warming the planet, a majority of Republicans — 60 percent — said they believe that as well, according to a poll conducted last year by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet years of undoing Obama-era efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants have helped cement the anti-environment reputation of Trump’s party.

The Democratic Party holds a 31 percentage point edge over the GOP when registered voters polled by Pew Research Center were asked which would be better at confronting climate change. That is the largest edge between the parties among a dozen issues included in the survey over the summer.

Despite his recent backpedalling on some environmental issues, however, Trump has been unable to maintain a steady message when it comes to the biggest one of them all — climate change.

During the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, he showed a fleeting willingness to acknowledge that humans are contributing to the problem “to an extent.”

But two weeks earlier, he shrugged off any links between rising temperatures and natural disasters during a briefing with California officials as the state saw its worst wildfire season on record. “It will start getting cooler,” he said, “you just watch.”

The muddled message could make his actions even harder to sell, especially since Biden consistently calls climate change an “existential threat” and is proposing to spend $2 trillion over four years to reduce emissions and prepare for its effects.

“I don’t know why the president says certain things that he says” about climate change, said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), a graduate of Yale’s forestry school who is behind the GOP’s trillion trees plan.

Westerman suggested Trump’s moves are informed by his background as a businessman. “But I do believe he recognizes a good deal when he sees one. And I think when he sees good policy, like the Trillion Trees Act, and he sees market-based conservation ideas, I think those are things that that he will embrace.”

But this has led to a piecemeal approach. For instance, while Trump’s executive order notes that one of the purposes of planting more trees is to “sequester atmospheric carbon,” it doesn’t directly mention the underlying problem such an action is meant to alleviate.

“It’s wild that the executive order doesn’t use the term ‘climate change,’ ” said Kate Kelly, director of public lands at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

George David Banks, who served as a climate adviser in the Trump White House during his first year in office, said that Trump does not have a deep ideological convictions on climate change and “doesn’t see the political benefit of pushing a climate change agenda with his base.”

“It’s difficult for any Republican to break through politically in the minds of voters who place environment at the top,” Banks said.

When Trump has tried to turn over a green new leaf, it’s usually on local — not global — issues.

When announcing the offshore oil moratorium in Florida, Trump emphasized how the ban would protect “your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean” from potential spills — not how it would forestall emissions from burning oil and gas.

Expanding offshore drilling proved to be unpopular among both Democrats and Republicans, worried about potential spills soiling tourism-dependent beaches. And the drop in oil prices during the coronavirus pandemic made offshore drilling less profitable.

And Trump’s August signing of a major environmental bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, that would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the first time since the 1960s, appeared designed to help Republican senators.

The White House has earlier called for slashing money to that program, but Trump changed his tune at the behest of Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), whose home states stand to gain from the funding. Both GOP lawmakers are in tough reelection races.

“When we walked into Roosevelt Room and we showed you the pictures of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and we pointed at that painting of Teddy Roosevelt, we knew it was going to be something very special for this country,” Gardner told Trump during the signing ceremony.

While not officially part of the Trump campaign, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler went on a whirlwind nationwide tour this fall to issue grants and highlight efforts to restore the Great Lakes, with stops in Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

His agency is weeks away from finalizing a new rule updating the way water companies test for lead contamination in drinking water, a policy meant to tackle pollution still plaguing Flint, Mich., and other Midwestern cities with large African-American populations Trump is trying to court.

“EPA has not forgotten what happened in Flint,” Wheeler said in Michigan in September. “What we need to do is ensure that nothing like that ever happens again anywhere in the country. Everyone, regardless of their ZIP code, deserves to have safe drinking water.”

The move will be a major update to the nearly 30-year-old regime for testing for lead. Still, some say it will not be enough to stop another generation from being exposed to the dangerous neurotoxin linked to developmental problems in children.

“The EPA has waved its hands a lot and done very little,” said Ronnie Levin, an instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who worked as a scientist at the agency for 37 years.

With a little less than three weeks until the election, it’s tough to say how far Trump’s pitch will move the needle. And historically, it has been tough for Republicans to win on environmental issues.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush flipped the script on Michael Dukakis, blaming the Massachusetts Democrat for pollution in the Boston Harbor. Once in office, Bush signed into law a major update to the Clean Air Act to curb acid rain.

Even with that record, it was hard for Bush to outflank a Democratic ticket in 1992 that included Al Gore, who as a senator from Tennessee was already known as an environmental champion.

“How much environmental support did he gain for those steps?” the Niskanen Center’s Taylor said of Bush. “Very little.”

But Susan McManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida, said Trump may have better luck with his environmental pitch in the Sunshine State, which is crucial to his reelection chances.

Republicans are able to win on environmental issues in Florida, she said, because of the “extremely strong linkage” between the state’s ecology and economy.

“Florida’s economy is totally contingent upon the coastal areas,” she said. “Whether it’s tourism, fishing — you name it — it’s a critical part of our economic fortunes.”

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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The Daily 202: First Amendment plays an unexpected starring role in Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing

“Redress or protest,” Sasse answered, referring to what the Bill of Rights describes as the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Barrett, who has taught law at Notre Dame for two decades and spent three years as a judge on the 7th Circuit, was good-natured about her brain freeze. “Sometimes softballs turn out not to be softballs,” she said later, referring to Sasse’s question.

Sasse lobbed what he intended to be another softball when he asked Barrett to explain why James Madison clustered those five freedoms together. This should have been particularly easy for someone who says her entire judicial philosophy is built around understanding the original intent of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the text of the Constitution.

“I don’t know what you’re getting at on that one,” said Barrett, 48. “You mean like what is the common denominator?”

“I don’t know why, actually,” the judge replied. “I’m sure there’s a story that I don’t know there about why those appeared in the First Amendment all together rather than being split up in different amendments.”

Sasse, who earned a doctorate at Yale in American history, explained to Barrett how the five freedoms were clustered because they are interconnecting. “You don’t really have freedom of religion if you don’t also have freedom of assembly,” he said. “You don’t really have freedom of speech if you can’t also publish your beliefs and advocate for them. You don’t really have any of those freedoms if you can’t protest at times and seek to redress grievances in times when government oversteps and tries to curtail any of those freedoms.”

These unforced errors came amid what was otherwise a very strong performance by Barrett, who answered questions for two full days with only a blank notepad in front of her. Notably, though, senators asked in one form or another about all five of the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment as they questioned her on Wednesday. While Democrats stayed mostly focused on health care and reproductive rights to score pre-election political points, senators from both parties nevertheless devoted a surprising amount of time to drilling down on jurisprudential concerns stemming from how the Supreme Court has chosen to interpret the First Amendment, from coronavirus lockdown orders to campaign finance and libel law to restrictions on protests outside abortion clinics.

Barrett used a First Amendment example to respond to criticism that her originalist legal philosophy is overly rigid. “The fact that there wasn’t the Internet or computers or blogs in 1791 doesn’t mean that the First Amendment’s free speech clause couldn’t apply to those things now,” she said. “It enshrines a principle, and we understand the principle as it was at the time, but then it’s capable of being applied to new circumstances.”

At another point, Barrett recounted her job interview with the late Justice Antonin Scalia to clerk for him in 1998. “He asked what area of the court’s precedent I thought needed to be better organized, and off-the-cuff I said, ‘Well, gosh, the First Amendment,’” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ Then I fell down a rabbit hole of trying to explain without success – because it is a very complicated area of the law – how one might see one’s way through the thicket of balancing the Establishment Clause against the Free Exercise Clause. … It’s been something that the court has struggled with for decades, to try to come to a sensible way to apply both of those clauses.”

Trying to respond to Democratic attacks that Roe v. Wade would be in peril with Barrett on the high court, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) highlighted Barrett’s vote as a judge to uphold a Chicago law which established a buffer area around abortion clinics. A three-judge panel upheld the ordinance, which says protesters cannot come within eight feet of individuals to demonstrate or hand out leaflets outside facilities that perform abortions. “You followed that precedent, and you did so as a jurist rather than following whatever personal predilection might have otherwise guided you or any other member of the panel,” Lee said.

Barrett noted that, as a lower court judge, she was bound to follow the Supreme Court decision in Hill v. Colorado that upheld similar restrictions. Once she is a justice, however, that would no longer be the case. Moreover, what Barrett did not say during her exchange with Lee is that the opinion she signed onto actually criticized the Supreme Court precedent as “incompatible with current First Amendment doctrine.”

Two GOP senators asked about the constitutionality of pandemic-related restrictions that have been imposed by Democratic governors. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) praised Barrett for ruling last month, along with two other judges on the circuit, against a lawsuit brought by the Republican Party of Illinois, which was aimed at overturning a lockdown order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D). The state party lawyers argued that it was unconstitutional for Pritzker to limit political gatherings to no more than 50 people while making an exemption for churches and religious organizations.

Barrett said she believes it is “permissible” for a governor “to carve out an exception for free exercise” of religion and “doing so didn’t compel the government to extend the same protection to everyone.” 

“The point that the panel opinion makes is that the free exercise of religion is singled out for its own protection in the First Amendment, rather than being a subset of speech,” she said. “And the position that the Illinois Republican Party took in that case would have been putting everything under the speech umbrella.”

When Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) asked about other governors restricting worship services amid the pandemic, Barrett explained that “the Supreme Court’s general position is that the government has a compelling interest in responding to a health crisis of this sort.” But she said a judge also needs to “look at the other amendments and other rights at play.” 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) brought up the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United during both of his rounds of questioning. On Wednesday, he questioned Barrett about conservatives on the court overturning a 40-year-old precedent in 2018 with their 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which restricted the power of labor unions to collect fees from non-union members on free speech grounds.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) sought to refute Whitehouse. “The Democratic dark money efforts dwarf the Republican dark money efforts, which is why without a twinge of hypocrisy Democratic members make this charge repeatedly,” he said. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used his time to express openness to passing new campaign finance laws. His Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, announced Sunday that he raised $57 million in the last three months, the biggest quarterly fundraising haul by any Senate candidate ever. Graham announced Wednesday that he raised $28 million in the same period, which is the most any Republican Senate candidate has ever raised in a quarter.

“Let’s go to Citizens United,” Graham told Barrett. “To my good friend, Senator Whitehouse, me and you are going to come closer and closer about regulating money ‘cause I don’t know what’s going on out there, but I can tell you there’s a lot of money being raised in this campaign,” Graham said. “I’d like to know where the hell some of it’s coming from!” 

Barrett responded that “Citizen United extends the protections of First Amendment to corporations who are engaged in political speech.” Graham asked her: “If Congress wanted to revisit that and somebody challenged it … what would you do? How would the process work?” Barrett gave a non-direct answer.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), whose father was a legendary sportswriter and columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, expressed alarm as she questioned Barrett on Wednesday about what she fears is Justice Clarence Thomas’s hostility toward press freedom. In a concurring opinion last year related to a defamation lawsuit brought against Bill Cosby, Thomas called on his fellow justices to reconsider the court’s 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. That ruling requires plaintiffs to demonstrate “actual malice” on the part of defendants who are public figures in order for them to prevail on a defamation claim. 

“Instead of simply applying the First Amendment as it was understood by the people who ratified it, the Court fashioned its own ‘federal rule[s]’ by balancing the ‘competing values at stake in defamation suits,’” Thomas wrote in McKee v. Cosby. “If the Constitution does not require public figures to satisfy an actual-malice standard in state-law defamation suits, then neither should we.”

Klobuchar asked Barrett whether she agrees that the court should reconsider the actual malice standard because it is inconsistent with the original meaning of the Constitution. “Well, I can’t really express a view on either New York Times v. Sullivan or Justice Thomas’s critique,” she said. “I can’t comment on matters of litigation or grade precedents that the court has already decided.”

Klobuchar also asked about the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Hayes, which relates to journalists being subpoenaed to appear before grand juries. “Many federal courts of appeals have recognized what’s called the reporter’s privilege, which protects a reporter’s First Amendment right to protect his or her sources from disclosure in certain circumstances,” she said. “The 7th Circuit, on which you serve, has rejected a constitutional basis for a reporter’s privilege. Under its original public meaning, does the First Amendment protect a reporter’s decision to protect a confidential source?”

Barrett refused to say. “That would be eliciting a legal conclusion from me, which I can’t answer in a hypothetical form in the hearing,” she said. “It’s also a question … that’s closely related to ones that are being litigated.” 

Klobuchar then asked, generally, whether Barrett would agree that, if reporters cannot protect their sources, they are less likely to be able to find confidential witnesses willing to share information about issues of public importance. Barrett declined to say. “The founders recognized that a free press is vital to a vibrant and strong democracy, and that’s why we need Supreme Court justices who understand the importance of protecting the rights of journalists,” said Klobuchar. 

This was part of a general pattern of evasiveness during her two days of testimony. Barrett refused to espouse a position on whether a president can pardon himself for past or future crimes, whether Trump could unilaterally delay the election if he wanted, whether voter intimidation is unlawful, and so much more.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) asked whether a president could refuse to comply with a court order. “The Supreme Court can’t control what the president obeys,” she said.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) asked whether it is morally wrong for government to take immigrant children away from their parents to try deterring immigration, as the Trump administration has done. “That’s a matter of hot political debate in which I can’t express a view or be drawn into as a judge,” she said. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked whether Barrett agrees that “voting discrimination still exists.” She declined to express an opinion. “These are very charged issues,” she said. Harris said it is “a known fact.” Barrett replied: “I think racial discrimination still exists. We have seen evidence of discrimination this summer.”

The Democratic vice-presidential nominee asked whether covid-19 is infectious and smoking causes cancer. Barrett said yes. Then Harris asked if climate change is real and a threat to human health. Barrett said she could not answer because it is a “very contentious matter” that is under public debate.

In addition to saying that she does not consider Roe v. Wade to be “super precedent,” Barrett also said it would be improper for her to endorse the court’s 1965 holding in Griswold v. Connecticut that states could not ban married couples from using contraceptives. Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pointed out that three other justices appointed by Republican presidents – John Roberts, Thomas and Sam Alito – did not hesitate to endorse Griswold at their own confirmation hearings. 

“I’m stunned,” said Blumenthal. 

“I can’t grade precedent,” said Barrett.

But Barrett was happy to endorse other Supreme Court precedents, including Brown v. Board of Education, which banned “separate but equal” schooling; Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage; and Marbury v. Madison, which created judicial review.

“Similarly, Barrett would not comment on the court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that struck laws criminalizing homosexual conduct or the court’s 2015 ruling [in Obergefell v. Hodges] that said same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry,” Robert Barnes, Seung Min Kim and Ann Marimow report. “Barrett several times told Democrats that her refusal to endorse certain decisions of the court did not mean they were endangered and said such questioners were pushing her to violate judicial canons of ethics and impartiality. She called it ‘shockingly unlikely’ that any state or federal lawmakers would reinstate bans on birth control and said the Supreme Court decision legalizing contraception is not ‘in danger of going anywhere.’” 

Several of the Democratic senators on the committee openly acknowledged during their questioning that Barrett will get confirmed, albeit on a party-line vote, to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Judiciary Committee is hearing from outside witnesses today and plans a vote on Oct. 22 to advance her nomination. She is on track to be confirmed by the full Senate the week after that.

Asked how she was hanging in there, Barrett mentioned that she had allowed herself to enjoy a glass of wine after finishing her first day before the committee. Over 12 hours, 22 senators had each gotten 30 minutes to ask questions. As her second and final day in the hot seat wrapped up, with the lawmakers all getting another 20 minutes, Graham told her as he gaveled the session to a close: “You can have two glasses of wine tonight.” 

“I plan on it,” she said.

Additional Supreme Court news:

  • First look: After Ginsburg’s death, MoveOn experienced a big surge in fundraising. With that money, the liberal group last week added $2 million to its advertising buys against Republican senators in South Carolina, Maine, and Arizona. During the Barrett hearings, the group has raised another $5 million, which it plans to spend on new commercials in those three states, plus Georgia, which Move On has added to its target list.
  • A coalition of more than 60 prosecutors and attorneys general from across America vowed not to enforce antiabortion laws, saying they won’t pursue cases, even if Roe is overturned. The statement invokes the power of prosecutorial discretion, which some have used to reduce or eliminate the prosecution of marijuana charges. (Tom Jackman
  • A federal judge ruled that Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period law for abortions is unconstitutional because it serves no legitimate purpose while placing an undue burden on women. The 2015 law requires women to make two trips to an abortion clinic, first for counseling and then, at least 48 hours later, for the procedure. (AP)
  • Barrett is perhaps the most conservative judge on the 7th Circuit, according to University of Virginia law professors who analyzed more than 1,700 cases before the court. (FiveThirtyEight)
  • Public calendars from Notre Dame’s law school show at least seven additional talks that were not disclosed on Barrett’s Senate paperwork, including one with the law school’s anti-abortion group. (CNN)

Quote of the day

“Obamacare is on the ballot,” Graham said during Barrett’s hearing.

Three stories that show how the sausage gets made

Videos show closed-door sessions of conservative activists, including White House coordination.

“A fresh-faced Republican activist named Charlie Kirk stepped into the spotlight at a closed-door gathering of leading conservatives and shared his delight about an impact of the coronavirus pandemic: the disruption of America’s universities. So many campuses had closed, he said, that up to a half-million left-leaning students probably would not vote. ‘So, please keep the campuses closed,’ Kirk, 26, said in August as the audience cheered,” Robert O’Harrow Jr. reports. “The gathering in Northern Virginia was organized by the Council for National Policy, a little-known group that has served for decades as a hub for a nationwide network of conservative activists and the donors who support them. Members include Ginni Thomas, wife of [Clarence Thomas], and Leonard Leo [of the Federalist Society], an outside adviser to [Trump] who has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars from undisclosed donors to support … the nominations of conservative federal judges.

“Videos provided to The Post — covering dozens of hours of CNP meetings over three days in February and three in August — offer an inside view of participants’ obsessions and fears at a pivotal moment in the conservative movement. … ‘This is a spiritual battle we are in. This is good versus evil,’ CNP’s executive committee president, Bill Walton, said on Aug. 21, addressing attendees at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. ‘We have to do everything we can to win.’ Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, … called on the audience to find a way to prevent mail-in ballots from being sent to voters. … 

“At the February meetings, attendees discussed plans for seeking an advantage in the upcoming vote. Two said the right will begin ‘ballot harvesting,’ a controversial technique that involves the collection and delivery of sealed absentee ballots from churches and other institutions. … Ralph Reed, chairman of the nonprofit Faith & Freedom Coalition, told the CNP audience that conservatives are embracing the technique … J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official and the president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a charity, … urged the activists not to worry about the criticism that might come their way. ‘Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor, you’re a racist and so forth,’ Adams said.

“Marcus Owens, a lawyer who led the Exempt Organizations Division at the IRS from 1990 to 2000, told The Post that participants’ comments on the videos raise potential issues of compliance with election laws and charity rules. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it on videotape and live,’ Owens said, referring to the overt partisan coordination among the nonprofit leaders. ‘It’s almost like a movie.’

Some participants spoke of a CNP-associated delegation that meets weekly with White House officials. They said the group, the Conservative Action Project, has helped to choose loyalists to run federal agencies and coordinate outside messages with nonprofit organizations to support administration policies and leaders. ‘It’s kind of this little secretive huddle that meets every Wednesday morning,’ Paul Teller, a Trump deputy and director of strategic initiatives for Vice President Pence, told the audience in August. …

“Kelly Shackelford was introduced as CNP vice president, chairman of CNP Action and leader of the First Liberty Institute, another organization registered as a tax-exempt charity. He bragged about extensive behind-the-scenes coordination by his group and other nonprofit organizations to influence the White House selection of federal judges. ‘Some of us literally opened a whole operation on judicial nominations and vetting,’ he said. ‘We poured millions of dollars into this to make sure the president … picks the best judges.’ Shackelford said he is among the nonprofit leaders now coordinating with the White House to support” Barrett’s confirmation.”

Three weeks before the election, Trump allies are again going after Hunter Biden.

“Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon … helped make public private materials purported to belong to Joe Biden’s son in an attempt to swing support to the struggling incumbent,” Matt Viser, Paul Sonne and Annie Linskey report. “The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged emails and other correspondence that the New York Post published Wednesday and said had come from the younger Biden’s computer and hard drive. … The New York Post, which is owned by conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, said its report was based on materials it said it heard about from Bannon and were provided by Giuliani. … The report Wednesday did not markedly advance what is already known about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, other than to suggest that at one point he gave Vadym Pozharskyi, a Ukrainian business colleague, ‘an opportunity’ to meet his father. The Biden campaign said the vice president’s schedule indicated no such meeting. … Hunter Biden’s attorney, George Mesires, told The Post that ‘this purported meeting never happened.’ Pozharskyi, who works for Burisma, the Ukrainian gas firm that included Hunter Biden on its board from 2014 to 2019, could not be reached for comment. …

“Wednesday’s report was met with skepticism, particularly from social media companies that sought to limit the spread of the news. Several intelligence experts also were skeptical of the report — and the stated origins of the hard drive purported to belong to Biden’s son — saying that it had the characteristics of a carefully planned information operation designed to affect an American election. Thomas Rid, author of ‘Active Measures,’ a book about disinformation, said hacking, forging and leaking information selectively are among the most effective disinformation methods, and raised suspicions about the material the New York Post published. ‘Usually when emails are leaked, what investigators look for is the actual email file, and we don’t have that here,’ Rid said, raising alarms that the emails do not include metadata, which can be used to verify the date, sender and recipient. …

John Paul MacIsaac, who said he owns a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Del., told The Post on Wednesday that the laptop in question was one of three damaged computers brought to his shop in April 2019. Repairing it required an involved process, he said, so he continued working on it using the password the customer provided. He said he determined the data could be moved to an external hard drive and asked the customer to return and provide a hard drive, which he said the customer did. MacIsaac, who described himself as legally blind, said that he was almost certain the customer was Hunter Biden. … 

MacIsaac said that he saw some of the contents, including what he described as multiple files, and contacted at least three members of Congress, whom he would not name. He also said that he contacted the FBI using an intermediary, whom he also would not name. He said the agents initially told him they didn’t want to take possession of the hard drive and instead made a copy of it, but returned later in the year with a subpoena to take it. … In late 2019, before he handed the equipment to the FBI, ­MacIsaac — who says he is fiscally conservative and socially liberal — made a copy of the contents of the hard drive. He grew frustrated that the contents of the laptop hadn’t become public, and over the summer he decided to contact Giuliani.”

Trump campaigns like a populist. But he governs as a plutocrat. Here’s the latest illustration.

“On the afternoon of Feb. 24, Trump declared on Twitter that the coronavirus was ‘very much under control’ in the United States [and] even added an observation for investors: ‘Stock market starting to look very good to me!’ But hours earlier, senior members of the president’s economic team, privately addressing board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, were less confident,” the New York Times reports. “Tomas J. Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president, told the group he could not yet estimate the effects of the virus on the American economy. … The next day, board members — many of them Republican donors — got another taste of government uncertainty from Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council.”

Hedge fund consultant William Callanan, who attended the gathering, wrote a memo explaining what he had heard, and it spread like wildfire across the top echelons of the investment world. “Traders spotted the immediate significance: The president’s aides appeared to be giving wealthy party donors an early warning of a potentially impactful contagion at a time when Mr. Trump was publicly insisting that the threat was nonexistent,” the Times notes. “Callanan described the Hoover briefings in a lengthy email he wrote to David Tepper, the founder of the well-known hedge fund Appaloosa Management … Inside Appaloosa, the email circulated among employees, who in turn briefed at least two outside investors … Those investors in turn passed the information to their own contacts, ultimately delivering aspects of the readout to at least seven investors in at least four money-management firms around the country within 24 hours. By late afternoon on Feb. 26, the day the email bounced from Appaloosa to other trading firms, U.S. stock markets had fallen close to 300 points from their high the previous week.”

More on the coronavirus

Kamala Harris canceled travel plans until Monday.

She announced the precaution after two people involved with her campaign tested positive for the coronavirus. The campaign identified the individuals as Liz Allen, Harris’s communications director, and a “non-staff flight crew member.” The senator was scheduled to make appearances in North Carolina this afternoon. Harris tested negative for the virus on Wednesday, and the campaign said she was not in close contact with those who got it.

The Trump administration acknowledges a relief deal is unlikely before the election.

“Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that a new economic relief bill is unlikely before the election, suggesting that Democrats are unwilling to give Trump a victory,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. “Mnuchin made his comments after an hour-long conversation he had earlier Wednesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). … Mnuchin made Pelosi a $1.8 trillion offer on Friday that she rejected as inadequate in many respects, including the administration not agreeing to specifics on a national coronavirus testing strategy. … Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter that Pelosi and Mnuchin had a ‘productive’ conversation and would speak again on Thursday. … Mnuchin criticized Pelosi’s focus on a comprehensive deal, saying they could and should act immediately to help specific sectors, such as airlines that have begun mass furloughs after federal aid expired at the end of September.”

The number of new unemployment claims jumped last week. States across the country processed 898,000 new unemployment claims, up more than 50,000 from the previous week, the largest increase in first time jobless applications in recent weeks. (Eli Rosenberg)

Emboldened by his own recovery from the virus, Trump keeps pushing for a return to normalcy.

“Despite the outbreak at the White House that also infected the first lady, their son and nearly a dozen top aides, Trump and his allies continue to downplay the virus, arguing that the country is ‘turning the corner’ and holding campaign events with thousands of supporters even as cases are increasing rapidly, especially in the Midwest,” Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “Several advisers hoped Trump’s experience would move him to speak more empathetically about a virus that has killed at least 215,000 Americans and infected nearly 8 million. Instead, Trump has seemed further emboldened, flouting public health guidelines to convince voters that life is returning to normal, according to current and former administration officials. … ‘He looks completely out of touch,’ said Mike DuHaime, a Republican consultant close to former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and campaign manager Bill Stepien, both of whom were infected with the virus. ‘He doesn’t appreciate what it would be like for a regular person. He gets the best medical treatment of everyone in the world and is acting like he’s Superman.’ … 

Private polling shared among campaign advisers, as well as public polls, shows Trump’s handling of the pandemic remains his biggest albatross — and is among the top concerns for voters in swing states. … ‘The smart move for him politically is to say, ‘I’m a changed man,’’ said one former senior administration official. … ‘If he doesn’t say, ‘Hey this is a bad disease, I was lucky, but I feel your pain, America,’ then he is toast. But maybe I’m wrong.’”

More broadly, Trump is struggling to sharpen his closing argument against Biden. “In the final stretch of the race, a trio of long-standing challenges have converged to create a daunting barrier to Trump’s reelection: the inability to drag down Biden’s favorability ratings, the lack of a clearly articulated ­second-term agenda, and a pandemic,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Dawsey report. “Trump is attempting to stage a historic comeback. But his actions and rhetoric in recent days have stumped even some of his allies who are trying to decipher his broader strategy — and, increasingly, questioning whether there is one.”

First Lady Melania Trump, 50, revealed that their son Barron, 14, tested positive after she and the 74-year-old president had, but they’ve all since tested negative. “Luckily he is a strong teenager and exhibited no symptoms,” she wrote in an essay published Wednesday by the White House. “I was very fortunate as my diagnosis came with minimal symptoms, though they hit me all at once and it seemed to be a roller coaster of symptoms in the days after. I experienced body aches, a cough and headaches, and felt extremely tired most of the time. I chose to go a more natural route in terms of medicine, opting more for vitamins and healthy food.”

The D.C. region’s caseload hits a two-month high. 

“The seven-day rolling average of new cases across Virginia, Maryland and the District stood at 1,801 — the highest since the average hit 1,916 cases Aug. 13. The increase has coincided with cooler temperatures and an outbreak at the White House, although local health officials say any connection to a late-September Rose Garden event is unclear,” Julie Zauzmer and Ovetta Wiggins report. “Among patients who contracted the novel coronavirus in D.C. in the first week of October, nearly a quarter had attended a social gathering of at least five people in the two weeks before they got sick, city Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said Wednesday. One out of 5 had eaten at a restaurant.”

‘Politics, far more than science, shaped school district decision-making.’

That is the conclusion of fascinating new research from political scientists Michael Hartney and Leslie Finger at Boston College and the University of Texas. They analyzed reopening plans for 10,000 public school districts and discovered that the percentage of students attending classes in-person this fall was strongly correlated with the share of the vote that Trump received in the surrounding county in 2016. (Antonia Farzan)

  • University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban tested positive. Saban, 68, said he’ll work from home while the team’s offensive coordinator oversees operations. Alabama, ranked second, is set to host third-ranked Georgia in a highly anticipated matchup on Saturday. (Des Bieler)
  • Saturday’s game between Florida and LSU was postponed until December after players for the Gators tested positive. (Cindy Boren and Matt Bonesteel)
  • Barred from attending football games, Nebraska fans will gather indoors for a watch party, seating in a physically distant pod arrangement. Masks will be required for all in attendance. (Bonesteel)

Several European countries set records for the number of new cases reported in a single day.

“In Germany, 6,638 cases were reported over the past 24 hours, while the Czech Republic announced a new high of 9,544 cases. Slovakia report 1,929 new cases, also its biggest one-day tally since the pandemic began,” Farzan reports. “Italy, Portugal and Slovenia have also seen record numbers of new cases in recent days.” 

  • France’s Emmanuel Macron announced a new curfew as infections rise. People will have to stay home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., starting Saturday, for at least four weeks. “It’s hard to be 20 in 2020,” Macron said, acknowledging the impact on young people who like to party. (James McAuley)
  • The British opposition is complaining that BCG consultants helping the government with testing and tracing are being paid around $9,000 per day, according to Sky News. That’s a discount from the firm’s normal rate, but it’s still equivalent to an annual salary of nearly $2 million per consultant. The average salary of a National Health Service nurse is about $42,000 a year. (Jennifer Hassan)

Tony Fauci tells Americans to consider canceling Thanksgiving plans.

The nation’s top infectious-disease expert told CBS that surging case numbers in many areas of the country may make it unwise to hold large family gatherings at Thanksgiving this year, particularly if elderly relatives or out-of-state travel are involved. “You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering, unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected,” Fauci said, adding that his own three children will not be coming home for Thanksgiving because his age puts him at elevated risk. (The Post)

More on the elections

Biden raised $383 million in September. 

Biden announced that his campaign and the DNC raised a record-breaking sum that leaves him flush with cash, Colby Itkowitz, Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Paulina Firozi report. The amount raised in one month beat the Democrats’ record-shattering August haul of $364.5 million. The Trump campaign hasn’t shared its September fundraising numbers yet. In August, Trump’s team and the Republican National Committee raised $210 million. “There is still a long way to go in this campaign, and we think this race is far closer than folks on this website think. Like a lot closer,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon tweeted of the $383 million haul.

The second presidential debate was supposed to be tonight, but it was canceled. Instead, the candidates will hold dueling town halls. Trump will appear on NBC in Miami and Biden will be on ABC in Philadelphia from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern.

Biden has an 11-point national lead over Trump, according to a new WSJ-NBC News poll, down from 14 points earlier this month. In a new Monmouth University poll, Biden is up 6 points. He is up 8 points in Georgia, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, which found Ohio neck and neck. Biden leads by 4 points in North Carolina, according to an NYT-Siena survey, which also found that Sen. Thom Tillis (R) trails Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by 4 points, despite the recent revelations that Cunningham sexted with a Democratic consultant who is not his wife.

Democratic enthusiasm nationwide is propelling an enormous wave of early voting. 

“Roughly 15 million Americans have already voted in the fall election, reflecting an extraordinary level of participation despite barriers erected by the coronavirus pandemic — and setting a trajectory that could result in the majority of voters casting ballots before Election Day for the first time in U.S. history,” Amy Gardner and Elise Viebeck report. “In Georgia this week, voters waited as long as 11 hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting. In North Carolina, nearly 1 in 5 of roughly 500,000 who have returned mail ballots so far did not vote in the last presidential election. In Michigan, more than 1 million people — roughly one-fourth of total turnout in 2016 — have already voted. The picture is so stark that election officials around the country are reporting record early turnout, much of it in person, meaning that more results could be available on election night than previously thought. 

“So far, much of the early voting appears to be driven by heightened enthusiasm among Democrats. Of the roughly 3.5 million voters who have cast ballots in six states that provide partisan breakdowns, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 2 to 1, according to a Washington Post analysis of data in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Additionally, those who have voted include disproportionate numbers of Black voters and women, according to state data — groups that favor Biden over Trump in recent polls.”

  • “With millions of mailed ballots already pouring in, early holiday shopping and mega retail events like Amazon’s Prime Day threaten to expose vulnerabilities inside the nation’s mail service, which already is dragging from skyrocketing package volumes,” Jacob Bogage and Abha Bhattarai report. (Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Post).
  • The California GOP said it will not comply with the state’s cease-and-desist order to get rid of its unauthorized ballot drop boxes. GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said the “Ballot harvesting program will continue,” CNN reports.
  • A federal judge ruled that North Carolina can extend its deadline to count absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day through Nov. 12, despite objections from the Trump campaign. The judge ruled, however, that absentee voters must still have a witness sign their ballots for them to be valid. (BuzzFeed News)
  • A federal judge extended Virginia’s voter registration deadline through Thursday after a severed fiber-optic cable kept voters from registering online most of Tuesday, which was supposed to have been the last day to do so. (Antonio Olivo)
  • Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he won’t vote for Trump. “The governor cannot support Donald Trump for president and is focused on seeing Massachusetts through the pandemic,” spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in a statement.

Other news that should be on your radar

  • The planet just recorded its hottest September since at least 1880, according to three of the authoritative temperature-tracking agencies in the world. The data shows that 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years on record, with the possibility of tying or breaking the milestone for the hottest year, set in 2016. (Andrew Freedman)
  • Two American hostages were released by Yemeni rebels in exchange for the release of 300 imprisoned militants. The agreement freeing Sandra Loli, an aid worker held hostage for three years, and Mikael Gidada, a businessman held for nearly a year, was only grudgingly accepted by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, which is angry Trump just pushed to put hundreds of rebels back on the battlefield, thereby prolonging the conflict. (Anne Gearan, Ali al Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan)
  • Kyrgyzstan’s president stepped down in an attempt to end protests engulfing his country after disputed parliamentary elections. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Thousands of protesters took over Bangkok’s busiest intersections, defying an emergency decree issued to put an end to months of anti-monarchy demonstrations in Thailand. The unrest has pushed the kingdom into a dangerous chapter of volatile politics, as a largely youth-led movement takes aim at the once-untouchable king. (Shibani Mahtani)
  • The U.S. Army plans to introduce a policy calling for more urgency in finding missing soldiers following a handful of high-profile disappearances at Fort Hood that left families frustrated over search efforts. (Alex Horton)
  • The number of migrants Border Patrol took into custody rose to a 13-month high in September, according to federal figures belying Trump’s attempts to tout his enforcement record. Agents made 54,771 apprehensions along the Mexican border last month, the highest total for the month of September since 2006. (Nick Miroff)
  • Amy Cooper, the New York White woman who drew national scorn after a Black man recorded her complaining to the 911 operator she was being harassed by him in New York’s Central Park, called police a second time and further lied by alleging he “tried to assault” her, according to prosecutors. She’s been charged with a misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an incident. (Shayna Jacobs)

Social media speed read

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tried out a hip mask: 

This is what Trump’s Iowa rally looked like last night, despite warnings from local and federal public health officials that it may become a “superspreader” event:

Videos of the day

President Barack Obama lashed out against Trump, saying he has removed all “guardrails,” during an interview with former aides for their “Pod Save America” podcast:

Jimmy Kimmel said voting advice is starting to sound like the stuff on emergency preparedness pamphlets: 

Trevor Noah explained the growing danger of militias: 

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The Technology 202: Amazon Prime Day opens the e-commerce giant up to political risks this year

These lines of attack could be front and center as the company has emerged as a punching bag for politicians from both parties, particularly Democrats, in the heated final weeks before Election Day. It could also add to the company’s regulatory headaches in Washington, where it was among the companies accused of engaging in monopoly tactics in a key report on the findings of the House antitrust investigation. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) 

Here are four stories we’re watching:

1. Employees say the company is loosening its coronavirus safety precautions to meet Prime Day demands. 

Amazon says employee safety is its top priority, but a lawsuit from employees at its Staten Island warehouse tells a different story. They allege that the company has recklessly reinstated dangerous warehouse productivity quotas that the company had previously said it would suspend during the pandemic, Josh Eidelson and Spencer Soper at Bloomberg News reports

The accusations could reignite criticism that the company, run by the richest man in the world, has not done enough to keep its employees safe during the pandemic. Amazon recently disclosed that nearly 20,000 of its employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, after intense public criticism for keeping quiet about the numbers. 

The plaintiffs allege that in the lead-up to the big sale, the company is again warning employees that slowness could get them fired and reminding them about productivity. One Staten Island employee reportedly had a “verbal coaching” from a manager. 

Amazon acknowledged to Bloomberg that it reinstated performance quotas, though the company said workers have adequate time to wash hands and take other safety precautions. 

“We have reinstated a portion of our process where a fraction of employees, less than 5% on average, may receive coaching for improvement as a result of extreme outliers in performance,” company spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said. “All of our measures continue to provide additional time for associates to practice social distancing, wash their hands and clean their work stations whenever needed.”

2. Employees are harnessing the public attention to pressure the company to improve working conditions. 

Workers at a warehouse in Shakopee, Minn., held their third annual Prime Day protest. The workers said their protest was focused on growing concerns that Amazon was silencing employees who were speaking up about alleged unsafe work conditions, particularly during the pandemic. 

“This is not fair. We are human beings. We need to be respected,” Fadumo, a worker at Amazon’s delivery station in Eagan, Minn., who said she would participate in yesterday’s protest told the Hill. Fadumo, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said Amazon had an unsafe work environment. 

And now the protests are spreading throughout the world. Amazon workers across Germany also held Prime Day protests, calling on the company to address low wages and working conditions. Amnesty International called on Amazon to respect worker’s rights, including the right to unionize, across its global locations. 

“We understand that some of our employees may want to join these events, and respect their rights to do so, but the fact is that Amazon provides much of what these groups are asking for – a safe work environment, industry-leading pay and competitive benefits,” the company told the Hill in a statement. 

3. The spike in packages from Amazon Prime Day threatens to strain the Postal Service during a critical election period. 

The system is already overwhelmed by packages, and now a surge is hitting at the same time millions of Americans are voting by mail for the first time because of concerns related to the pandemic, my colleagues Jacob Bogage and Abha Bhattarai report. 

“No one has been through this before,” Gregg Zegras, president of global e-commerce at parcel delivery service Pitney Bowes, told my colleagues. “We’re dealing with covid, we’re dealing with huge volumes, and now, with mail-in ballots. That is certainly creating challenges for providers of all sizes.”

Amazon typically hosts its self-created holiday in July, but it pushed it back this year because of constraints related to the pandemic. 

Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer wrote in an email that delivering election mail, which includes ballots, ballot applications and voter information, remains the agency’s “number one priority,” my colleagues report.  

4. Liberal politicians are calling for the company to be broken up. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the e-commerce giant’s top critics, used his megaphone to draw shoppers’ attention to his long-standing push to break Amazon up. From Twitter:

The tweet highlights the antitrust scrutiny of Amazon building in Washington, especially after the recent House report highlighted the conflicts of Amazon’s role as both a retailer of products and a marketplace where other sellers push their goods. 

The company has strongly pushed back on the increased antitrust scrutiny, including the recent House report. 

“All large organizations attract the attention of regulators, and we welcome that scrutiny. But large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong,” Amazon said in a recent blog post. 

Our top tabs

Social media companies are seeking to limit the spread of a New York Post report based on unsubstantiated documents. 

The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged emails and other correspondence targeting the Biden family that formed the basis of a New York Post story published Wednesday. Several intelligence experts also were skeptical of the report, telling my colleagues Matt Viser, Paul Sonne and Annie Linskey that it “had the characteristics of a carefully planned information operation designed to affect an American election.” 

Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon facilitated the release of the private materials purported to belong to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son. Both have attracted scrutiny by U.S. authorities in recent months. Here’s an explainer about what we know from Glenn Kessler.

Twitter’s July hack shows social media companies need their own regulator, New York’s financial watchdog says.

Recommendations from the New York State Department of Financial Services would subject social media companies to the same security oversight as many banks, James Rundle at the Wall Street Journal reports. The report stems from a July breach in which hackers were able to easily take over the accounts of prominent users including Joe Biden and Elon Musk to spread a financial scam.

“Social media platforms have quickly become the leading source of news and information, yet no regulator has adequate oversight of their cybersecurity. The fact that Twitter was vulnerable to an unsophisticated attack shows that self-regulation is not the answer,” Superintendent of Financial Services Linda Lacewell said in a statement.

The report called out Twitter’s lack of a chief cybersecurity officer between December 2019 and this September, when it hired a new chief information security officer. 

Twitter said it has made changes since the hack to strengthen its security.

“Protecting people’s privacy and security is a top priority for Twitter, and it is not a responsibility we take lightly,” the company told the Wall Street Journal in a statement. 

YouTube will start removing videos spreading misinformation about a coronavirus vaccine. 

The move demonstrates that social media companies are trying to get ahead of the next wave of misinformation that could coincide with a discovery of a vaccine. YouTube, Twitter and others have taken a hard line against coronavirus misinformation in written policies, but they’ve struggled to enforce them. 

“A covid-19 vaccine may be imminent, therefore we’re ensuring we have the right policies in place to be able to remove misinformation related to a covid-19 vaccine,” Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, told the Verge.

YouTube already bans videos that deny the coronavirus’s existence or otherwise contradict medical experts on the disease. YouTube still allows anti-vaccination content, although it removed ads from the videos last year.

Unlabeled false information about voting is still reaching millions of Facebook users even after fact-checking, researchers say.

In a review of 50 posts spreading election claims already debunked by Facebook’s independent fact-checkers, just over half contained labels showing the fact-check result, preliminary research from the global nonprofit Avaaz shows. 

The report highlights that even when election misinformation gets fact-checked, unlabeled versions of the claims still persist, leaving users unaware that they’re false or misleading.

For instance, on Sept. 28, conservative commentators Diamond and Silk shared an article alleging that anti-Trump postal workers were throwing mail-in ballots from Republican-leaning neighborhoods in the trash. Facebook added a label to post that “Independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact.” 

But two versions of the same news story showed up on two other pages without the label. One of the pages has over a million likes. The other had just over 80,000 likes.

The research is just a sample of the content users are seeing leading up to Election Day. The 50 posts generated a combined 1.5 million interactions and 24 million estimated views. Avaaz researchers focused on the top debunked voting misinformation targeting swing state voters for sample set.

Facebook spokeswoman Andrea Vallone said that the company is working to improve its ability to use AI to scale fact-checks from its 70 fact-checking organizations to tackle duplicate posts.

“We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation, but their findings don’t reflect the actions we’ve taken,” Vallone said in a statement. “There’s no playbook for a program like ours and we’re constantly working to improve it.” 

Rant and rave

Trump tracker

France will start taxing major U.S. tech companies in December after the White House failed to reach a deal.

The two nations agreed on a cease-fire in January in hopes of ironing out a new deal, but nothing has materialized, Politico Europe reports. The tax would be a huge blow to U.S. tech companies that have users in France. The White House has previously accused France of singling out U.S. tech companies with the tax.



  • The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) will convene a virtual unclassified hearing entitled, “Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, and ‘Infodemics’: Stopping the Spread Online” today at 1:30 p.m.
  • The Aspen Tech Policy Hub will hold a forum highlighting tools to improve access to information about covid-19 during the pandemic on Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET

Before you log off

The biggest iPhone update in years brings new designs and night selfies — but beware the 5G and environmental hype, Geoffrey A. Fowler reports.

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The Health 202: Amy Coney Barrett voted in a mock court to keep Obamacare

“What Barrett did in the moot court … was entirely consistent with what most right-of-center legal experts think should be done in the case,” said Ilya Somin, a conservative law professor at George Mason University who has joined with liberal professors in a brief asking the court to keep the ACA.

In the hearing, Barrett presented herself as open to preserving the ACA without the mandate to buy health coverage.

That’s the most important question in a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for Nov. 10, which Barrett may be able to hear as a member of the court given the speed at which the Senate is moving to confirm her. 

In the case, Texas is asking the court not only to strike down the law’s mandate to buy coverage but also to rule the rest of the law can’t persist without it. Such a broad ruling would upend the most significant health-care law in decades, stripping millions of people of insurance coverage and consumer protections.

The argument goes like this: Because Congress zeroed out the penalty for buying health coverage, the accompanying mandate is unconstitutional. This argument hinges on a 2012 decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the mandate on the basis that its penalty was a tax.

Legal experts say there’s a good chance the court could strike down the mandate. But there would be little real-life impact to Americans if the justices said the rest of the law is “severable” and could remain in place. 

Senators repeatedly brought up that question of severability over the three days of hearings.

They plied Barrett on whether she’s willing to leave laws in place if parts are found unconstitutional. In response to a line of questioning from Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Barrett said judges generally try to favor keeping a law in place by severing it from the parts that are unconstitutional.

“The presumption is always in favor of severability,” Barrett told Graham.

Barrett elaborated in later questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), comparing the concept of severability to a Jenga game: If one provision of a law is pulled out, would the entire law stay intact, or collapse?

But Barrett repeatedly told the senators she wouldn’t disclose how she might rule on specific cases, not just on the ACA lawsuit but also on other cases involving everything from voting rights to same-sex marriage.

When questioned over her vote in the mock court, Barrett clarified the case wasn’t designed to reflect her actual views.

“To the extent that people think I might have been signaling to the president or anyone else what my views on the Affordable Care Act are, they couldn’t have taken any signal from that,” she told the committee. “But I wasn’t trying got signal anything because it was a mock exercise.”

Indeed, Barrett’s vote in the mock lawsuit doesn’t guarantee where she’d land on the real-life Obamacare lawsuit.

Somin has argued the court isn’t likely to strike down the ACA even with the inclusion of Barrett. He felt her comments to the committee confirmed she is sympathetic to the idea of severability, even though she was careful not to say how she would rule in the Texas case.

“I don’t think she tipped her hand in any kind of definitive way,” Somin told me. “But she did confirm what we have suspected.”

Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, had even fewer takeaways from the hearing.

“We’ve learned that she understands severability doctrine — which is no surprise — and little else (and that’s all we could really hope to learn),” Adler wrote me in an email.

Abbe Gluck, a Yale law professor who teamed up with Somin and Adler on a brief asking the court to preserve the ACA, said Barrett was under heavy pressure to appear open to severing the ACA from the mandate — and feels Barrett’s comments don’t reveal anything about how she would actually rule as a justice.

“I do not think you can predict anything about where she will come down in California versus Texas from her remarks today,” Gluck said. “She understands what the doctrine is, but the doctrine still has to be applied.”

Yet Democrats pushed their message that voting to confirm Barrett amounts to a vote to ditch Obamacare.

They particularly focused on a law review article in which Barrett critiqued Roberts’s reasoning in his 2012 opinion upholding the health-care law. In that article, Barrett wrote that Roberts “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” 

When Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) questioned Barrett about the article, she responded that she is “not hostile” to the ACA — a phrase she repeated several times over the course of the hearing.

For his part, Durbin accused Republicans to rushing the confirmation process so Barrett could hear the ACA case in November.

“There is a political agenda here,” Durbin said. “November 10th is the absolute date they have to fill the vacancy if the president, and those who support him, and those who support the Republican platform are going to keep their promise to end the Affordable Care Act. They need that ninth justice, and that’s why it has to be hurried. Unfortunately, that is the cloud, the orange cloud over your nomination.”

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: Trump and Melania’s son Barron also tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Luckily he is a strong teenager and exhibited no symptoms,” Melania Trump wrote in an online post released by the White House. The first lady said that he tested positive around the same time as his parents but has since tested negative.

Melania Trump said that she experienced “body aches, a cough and headaches,” as well as fatigue. She described her symptoms, however, as “minimal” and said she opted for vitamins and healthy food over medicine. The president, who was hospitalized with the virus for three days, received therapies including steroids, supplemental oxygen and an experimental antibody treatment.

“I want people to know that I understand just how fortunate my family is to have received the kind of care that we did. If you are sick, or if you have a loved one who is sick—I am thinking of you and will be thinking of you every day,” the first lady wrote.

Trump said on Wednesday that Barron is fine, telling attendees at a rally in Iowa that his son “had it for such a short period of time, I don’t even think he knew he had it.” He cited the case as an example of young people being resilient to the virus, adding, “because they’re young and their immune systems are strong and they fight it off.”

OOF: Health officials plan an extra layer of vaccine scrutiny amid increasing public hesitancy.

“On top of rigorous final testing in tens of thousands of people, any COVID-19 vaccines cleared for widespread use will get additional safety evaluation as they’re rolled out,” the Associated Press’s Lauran Neergaard reports. “Among plans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Texting early vaccine recipients to check how they’re feeling, daily for the first week and then weekly out to six weeks.”

The move to add additional layers of scrutiny come as polls suggest public trust in a vaccine is declining. A new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that a quarter of Americans say they won’t get vaccinated and fewer than half of Americans (46 percent) say they want a vaccine. Another 29 percent are unsure. 

“The stakes are high: Shunning a COVID-19 shot could derail efforts to end the pandemic — while any surprise safety problems after one hits the market could reverberate into distrust of other routine vaccines,” Neergaard writes.

The Food and Drug Administration pushed back against the White House to issue rigorous guidance for any emergency use authorization, making it extremely unlikely a vaccine will be approved before Election Day. Scientists will also review the evidence for any vaccine in a public meeting before approval.

“The chances of there being secret hanky-panky are almost zero, because everything is going to be transparent,” Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-diseases expert, told the AP.

OUCH: The FDA is pushing back on the Trump administration’s attempt to rebrand a coronavirus vaccine emergency authorization.

The Department of Health and Human Services has pushed to alter the terminology around an emergency approval of a vaccine, relabeling it a “pre-licensure.” Department officials have pitched the change in terminology as a way of plugging a loophole to ensure elderly Americans are able to receive a vaccine for free. While Congress mandated that Medicare cover the cost of any licensed vaccine, it did not include drugs authorized for emergency use, potentially forcing millions to pay out of pocket, Politico’s Adam Cancryn reports.

But FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn “firmly opposed the idea, amid concerns that failing to stick to the FDA’s technical language would erode the agency’s credibility and open it up to accusations that it’s allowing politics to influence its role in the Trump administration’s vaccine hunt,” Cancryn reports.

One senior administration official told Politico that Hahn is worried the public might conflate the term “pre-licensure” with the shot being fully licensed, even though it will not have passed the significantly higher safety and efficacy standards needed for that designation. After a pair of early incidents in which the FDA was seen as overselling covid-19 treatments backed by the president, Hahn has sought to emphasize the agency’s independence and align himself with its career scientists.

But HHS officials argue the FDA is already holding a vaccine to higher standards than would be normal for an emergency authorization. They argue that a change in terminology would reflect those standards and avoid the need for Congress to get involved in a legislative fix around vaccine payment. 

Coronavirus leadership

The Trump administration’s covid-19 coordinator is under scrutiny for her role in hospital data debacle.

When Deborah Birx, a physician with a background in HIV/AIDS research, was tapped to lead the White House’s coronavirus task force, even Trump’s critics praised the appointment as a smart choice. Birx had strong scientific credentials and a reputation for data-driven leadership, Science’s Charles Piller writes

Some health experts and Centers for Disease Control leaders, however, have criticized Birx’s move to shut down the CDC’s system for collecting hospital data in favor of a private contractor. The decision was widely criticized and resulted in confusion in data reporting among hospitals and scientists.

“Interviews with nine current CDC employees, several of them senior agency leaders, and 20 former agency leaders and public health experts — as well as a review of more than 100 official emails, memos, and other documents — suggest Birx’s hospital data takeover fits a pattern in which she opposed CDC guidance, sometimes promoting President Donald Trump’s policies or views against scientific consensus,” Piller reports.

Some criticized Birx for not speaking up when Trump floated the idea of using disinfectant to combat covid-19 and for pressuring CDC officials to loosen guidance on schools reopening. Admirers of Birx say she has crossed the president in her insistence on masks and in comments portraying the severity of the virus.

“Birx is in a horribly difficult position,” Nancy Cox, former director of CDC’s influenza division, told Science. “She wants to stay in the good graces of the president and the rest of the administration while trying to do the right thing with respect to public health. Do I view her as a good scientist who gets things done? Yes.” 

Election 2020

Biden’s plan for combating the coronavirus calls for a more involved federal government.

When it comes to combating the virus, “Biden has staked his campaign on promising a more muscular federal role than Mr. Trump’s leave-it-to-the-states approach,” the New York Times’s Abby Goodnough and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report. “Many of his ideas carry echoes of Roosevelt’s New Deal vision of the robust role the U.S. government should play in helping the nation recover from a crisis.”

Biden has indicated he wants to mobilize 100,000 Americans to conduct contact tracing, appoint a “national supply chain commander” to coordinate the distribution of protective gear and tests, and aggressively invoke the Defense Production Act to build up supplies.

Biden has envoked the parallels with Roosevelt’s New Deal, commenting, “I’m kind of in a position that F.D.R. was,” in a recent interview with the New Yorker.

“But the country Mr. Biden would lead is very different from Roosevelt’s America, and his coronavirus response proposals may not be all that easy to put into place,” Goodnough and Stolberg write. “The pandemic has been caught up in partisan politics, and the public has lost faith in government institutions. And there will be no fireside chats in today’s fractious social media environment.”

The success of Biden’s approach, should he win, may depend on his ability to build support among both Democratic and Republican governors and to persuade Americans to follow public health advice.

Nature endorses Biden.

Nature, a top scientific journal, endorsed Biden for the U.S. presidency, joining other prestigious publications in the field, including the New England Journal of Medicine and Scientific American, which endorsed Biden in the first such show of support in its 175-year history.

No U.S. president in recent history has so relentlessly attacked and undermined so many valuable institutions, from science agencies to the media, the courts, the Department of Justice — and even the electoral system, the editorial board of Nature wrote.

Republicans are divided over whether to produce a replacement proposal for the ACA.

As an impending challenge to the ACA before the Supreme Court raises the possibility that the health law could be invalidated, some conservative lawmakers have expressed reluctance to put forward a replacement plan. Many argue that even with a 6-3 conservative majority should Amy Coney Barrett be confirmed, it is still unlikely the law will overturned, The Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Armour writes.

“Behind the scenes, the White House has hammered out some replacement proposals based on various scenarios, according to people familiar with the discussions who declined to provide specific details,” Armour writes. But it “doesn’t want to release specific replacement scenarios in part because the makeup of Congress could shift after the election, and there also are disagreements over parts of the proposals, according to one person familiar with the discussions.” 

The lack of a plan has left Republicans open to attack from Democrats, who argue Barrett’s nomination could risk the health care of 20 million Americans if the ACA is invalidated.

Some conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Galen group have been working on a replacement plan known as Health Care Choices, in which federal subsidies that go toward Medicaid expansion and ACA tax credits would instead go to grants for states to expand coverage for low-income individuals.

If the ACA is struck down and Democrats control Congress, on the other hand, they might be able to pass legislation that separates the health law from the individual mandate or reinstates a monetary penalty, both of which could legally save the ACA.

Videos from a group of conservative activists reveal discussions about voting access and health care.

Videos obtained by The Post from meetings with the Council for National Policy, a little-known group that serves as a hub for conservative activists and donors, show influential conservatives discussing election tactics and at times amplifying conspiracy theories around electoral fraud, The Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. reports.

Originally launched during the Reagan administration by figures in the religious right, the CNP is influential in conservative politics and maintains strong links to the White House. During one meeting in August a Republican activist Charlie Kirk celebrated the fact that university campuses were closed because it meant fewer left-leaning students would vote. 

Activists also described an advertising campaign led by a group of conservative nonprofits to aimed at swaying voters to a Republican free-market approach to health care during a rare open CNP session on August 21. The effort involves former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former health and human services secretary Tom Price, who said that organizers were asking allies in Congress to introduce a resolution that included themes around personalized health care. 

Sugar rush

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The Energy 202: Kamala Harris makes Amy Coney Barrett’s climate views a campaign issue

Calling the issue “very contentious,” Barrett said: “I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially when that is politically controversial.”

The probing from Harris (D-Calif.) was the culmination of a line of inquiries from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Barrett’s view on the changing climate and its causes. 

The questions reveal just how important Democrats expect the Supreme Court to be in allowing future administrations to confront climate change. 

A Democratic administration, if elected, may find itself defending laws and regulations meant to curb emissions in front of a court with a 6-3 conservative majority if Barrett is confirmed. The Democratic ticket is proposing a $2 trillion climate plan that may face legal challenges.

“I certainly do believe your views are relevant,” Harris said via videoconference.

Earlier in the hearing, Barrett told lawmakers during her last day of testimony that her views on climate change are not pertinent to the work she would do on the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I feel like I have views that are informed enough, and I haven’t studied scientific data,” she told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

She added that she doesn’t think she is “competent to opine on what causes global warming or not,” echoing her testimony from Tuesday insisting she is “not a scientist” when asked about climate change, dusting off an old Republican talking point.

But legal experts suggested judges should have some scientific literacy.

“One would expect that intelligent people (and judges) would be aware of what is happening to our climate because it has become so obvious by now,” Robert Percival, a director of the environmental law program at the University of Maryland, wrote in an email. “I suspect her refusal to acknowledge climate change is out of fear that she might offend the person who nominated her or his supporters in the fossil fuel industry.”

Michael Gerrard, a professor of energy and environmental law at Columbia, said there is little to no controversy among courts about the scientific reality of global warming.

Among scientists dedicating their lives to studying the climate, there is virtually no doubt about the basic physics of Earth’s atmosphere: The buildup of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases is making global temperatures go up.

“She has made political acceptance the test of scientific validity,” said Lisa Heinzerling, an environmental law professor at Georgetown. “Judge Barrett refused to say whether climate change is caused by humans but in so refusing she spoke loud and clear: Politics trumps science for her.”

When rendering judgments, Barrett said she would accept scientific findings from the Environmental Protection Agency when required to do so.

“If a case comes before me involving environmental regulation,” Barrett said during her exchange with Harris, “I certainly apply all applicable law, deferring when the law requires me to.”

In 2009, the EPA indeed determined that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases threatened public welfare by warming the planet.

But on Tuesday, she declined to offer her views on a crucial doctrine called Chevron deference — a principle giving the EPA and other agencies wide berth to interpret and implement ambiguous laws. Many conservative lawmakers and legal scholars, including the late Justice Antonin Scalia, took an antagonistic view toward the doctrine.

“The interpreter in our system should not be the agency that is enforcing the statute,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) told Barrett. “I think the courts should oversee this. Now, that’s just my opinion. So the the question that you probably can’t answer is, what is your opinion?”

“You’re right,” Barrett said. “I can’t answer.”

The Supreme Court will very soon be presiding over a climate case.

The high court is set to hear a case next year involving several oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, that are being sued by Baltimore. The city is seeking damages from sea-level rise and other impacts of global warming. Barrett’s father spent much of his career as a lawyer for Shell in Louisiana, a low-lying state losing acres a day to the sea.

The issue before the court is not the science of climate change, but a procedural matter that may determine where the case will be heard.

Still, the decision could have broad implications for a suite of other lawsuits from local governments from Hawaii to Rhode Island aiming to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for climate change. States and cities want the cases heard locally, while oil companies think they will find more favorable ground in the federal courts.

Barrett, a former clerk for Scalia, has like her mentor taken a narrow view of who can sue over environmental damages. During her three years as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, she wrote the majority opinion in at least two cases denying opponents standing in court.

Power plays

Candidates in Colorado’s hotly-contested Senate race trade barbs over environmental records and climate change.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper, Colorado’s former governor, sparred over oil and gas drilling and environmental issues during their final debate on Tuesday, the Colorado Sun reports. The race could prove pivotal in determining which party controls the Senate.

Gardner said that Hickenlooper’s plan, which calls for 100 percent renewable energy, would lead to thousands of layoffs.

“I don’t think we have to punish our economy in order to achieve reductions in pollution and to address climate change,” Gardner said.

Hickenlooper has said he wants to make fracking obsolete, a major shift from a candidate who once drank fracking fluid to show it was safe. He dodged a debate question about that stunt and his record defending the industry as governor.

When Gardner touted his role championing the Great American Outdoors Act, which provides funding to the national parks system, Hickenlooper shot back: “Just because you have one environmental bill doesn’t make you an environmentalist.” 

A new office for water issues will prioritize demands from farmers.

“President Donald Trump on Tuesday created what he called a ‘subcabinet’ for federal water issues, with a mandate that includes water-use changes sought by corporate farm interests and oil and gas,” the Associated Press reports. “An executive order from Trump put Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler in charge of the interagency water body.”

The executive order sets out priorities including increased dam and other water storage, which has long been a priority for farmers but which some environmental groups say could leave wildlife and habitats without enough water. The order also directs the new office to implement a water reuse plan, which could allow oil and gas companies to dispose of chemical-heavy wastewater on crops or in aquifers.

California Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water district and a former client of Bernhardt, stands to benefit from the new directives, per the AP. Bernhardt has denied that this represents a conflict of interest that could affect his work.


Earth had its warmest September on record and could be on track to have the hottest year.

“The planet just recorded its hottest September since at least 1880, according to three of the authoritative temperature-tracking agencies in the world,” our colleague Andrew Freedman reports. “The data, most of which was released Wednesday, shows that 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years on record, with the possibility of tying or breaking the milestone for the hottest year, set in 2016.” 

This year’s heat is particularly remarkable because it occurred during a La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean, a climate phenomenon that tends to lower global temperatures slightly. 

Europe, Asia and the Gulf of Mexico have had their warmest year so far, according to data from NOAA. Meanwhile rapid warming in the Arctic, including a bad wildfire season in Siberia, has raised concerns that a climate feedback loop may already be in play and could drive even faster warming. 

Thousands who fled Louisiana hurricanes languish in hotels.

Hurricane Laura created a diaspora of evacuees, many of whom have been without homes for six weeks, our colleague Dan Lamothe reports. More could end up in a similar situation after Hurricane Delta made landfall on Friday, just 15 miles east of where Laura slammed into shore. Many areas in southeastern Louisiana have been hit twice by devastating flooding and winds.

Evacuees are now “waiting for help, sometimes in seedy hotels far from home, hoping that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will come to their rescue with temporary homes, funding, anything,” Lamothe writes.

While some families have received federal assistance, others have had requests for hotel money or housing denied. Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, whose city has documented more than 6,000 evacuees, told The Post that he has pleaded with FEMA for a rapid housing plan and that he was told temporary units could arrive in the next couple of weeks.

Extinction events

Animal conservation groups plan to sue the government over protection of giraffes.

The Humane Society of the United States and and other animal welfare organizations allege that the federal government has failed to protect giraffes under the Endangered Species Act, ABC News reports. Although the Fish and Wildlife Service determined last year, after a separate lawsuit, that giraffes could potentially qualify for protection, the agency has not made any formal decision.

There are fewer than 69,000 wild adult giraffes in the world. A listing could prevent U.S. trophy hunters from targeting the animals and could restrict imports of products made from giraffe parts.

Some coronavirus vaccines use products from sharks, but drugmakers aren’t driving a mass slaughter.

Several companies make use of shark-liver squalene, an oily substance with immunity-boosting powers, as an ingredient in vaccines, the New York Times reports.

Although activists sounded the alarm earlier this month that efforts to create a viable inoculation could mean harvesting tissue from more than half a million sharks, researchers have said that it is almost impossible to make such estimates. Many promising vaccine candidates don’t use the substance at all, and even for those that do, it probably comes from sharks hunted for meat or fins or captured for bycatch.

Advocates for sharks acknowledge that far more fish-sourced squalene is routed toward cosmetics. Groups such as Shark Allies say that they don’t want companies to stop or delay vaccine production, but they hope companies will start testing alternatives.

Energy transitions

The worldwide number of methane hot spots soared, despite an economic slowdown.

The Paris-based firm Kayrros used satellite imagery to determine that the number of methane spots increased 32 percent this year, compared to the first eight months of 2019, our colleague Steven Mufson reports. “The largest contributors to rising methane releases were the United States, Russia, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Iran and Iraq,” with the biggest one of all coming from a pipeline in the United States.

Some of the leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, resulted from temporary pipeline shutdowns, while others resulted from long-term faulty maintenance. While the pandemic led to lower demand for natural gas, which consists primarily of methane, it also may have led to looser standards.

Philanthropies and investor funds are channeling money into climate technologies.

A growing number of philanthropies and mission-driven for-profit investment funds have begun channeling money toward promising clean technologies that could combat climate change but which might otherwise struggle to attract traditional investors, Katherine Ellison writes in The Post.

Prime Coalition, a nonprofit group in Cambridge, Mass., is one of a growing trend of fledgling nonprofit organizations looking to fund “tough tech” — technology that is often unsexy, capital intensive, and unlikely to generate immediate profits. The organization has funneled more than $24 million into such ventures as long as they can make a compelling case that they could save at least half a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions a year by 2050.

Meanwhile, on a much larger scale, Bill Gates’s for-profit Breakthrough Energy Ventures boasts a $1 billion fund focused on prioritizing climate impact over quick profits in its investments, Ellison writes.

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