The Daily 202: Trump’s $750 tax bill helps Biden sharpen pitch to working-class Whites who defected to GOP in 2016

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“We’re picking up an awful lot of the folks who used to be Democrats. They’re coming back home,” Biden told a small group of reporters. “They know they’ve been screwed by Trump, but also they’re not sure that there’s the old Democratic Party back looking at them, listening to them, and so I think it’s important.”

Biden made these comments at John Murtha Airport. Murtha, very much a creature of that “old Democratic Party,” represented Johnstown in Congress from 1974 until his death in 2010. The area’s realignment toward the GOP has accelerated during the intervening decade.

In 2016, Trump carried Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan by less than one percentage point each. All three states had voted for every Democratic presidential nominee in the previous six elections, including the two in which Biden was the vice-presidential nominee, before flipping to Trump. A key factor was that the president really ran up his score in rural areas like Johnstown.

Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes make it one of the most critical battlegrounds, and Biden predicted that over the next month he will be able to win over more Trump 2016 voters in rural counties like the ones he visited on Wednesday. “Even if we just cut the margin, it makes a gigantic difference,” Biden said at the airport named for Murtha. “A lot of White working-class Democrats thought we forgot them and didn’t pay attention. I want them to know – I mean sincerely – that I’m going to be your president. I hear them. I listen to them. I get it. I get their sense of being left behind.”

Exit polls show that Trump won White voters without four-year college degrees by more than 30 points both nationally and in Pennsylvania four years ago. This group accounts for about half of Pennsylvania’s electorate. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday showed Trump is only leading by 17 points among this constituency right now. That is a major reason Biden has opened up a 10 point lead among registered voters in the Keystone State. 

Excluding Democratic-leaning Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, our poll showed Trump getting 50 percent support to Biden’s 47 percent in western counties of Pennsylvania. In 2016, Trump won these counties by 29 points. Our poll also found that 92 percent of likely voters who said they supported Trump four years ago still support him, but 8 percent of them now back Biden. In contrast, 98 percent of Hillary Clinton’s voters say they support Biden.

Annie Linskey, who spent the day aboard Biden’s campaign train, says the whistle-stop tour evoked a sense that has not often been felt this campaign season: normalcy. Amid fall foliage, Biden attracted his biggest crowds since before the coronavirus forced him to suspend in-person events at the end of the primary season. But there were still reminders of the pandemic: Everyone onboard on the chartered Amtrak was asked to wear N95 masks, not simple cloth ones, and the team distributed little bottles of hand sanitizer with labels that said: “Build Back Better.”

Trump promised in 2016 to fight for “the forgotten man,” reviving a term that President Franklin Roosevelt had used during the New Deal. “But once he got into office, he forgot about them,” Biden said everywhere he went on Wednesday.

During his speech in Johnstown, Biden spoke directly to former Democrats who have perhaps grown disillusioned. He said that the debate showed that Trump is “a self-entitled, self-serving president who thinks everything is about him.” 

“The truth is he never respected us,” Biden said. “Behind closed doors, it’s been reported he calls his own supporters disgusting. He looks down his nose at working families just trying to do the right thing. And it’s been confirmed by multiple sources that he thinks that those of you who sign up to put their lives on the line for our country — our veterans and service members — are just a bunch of ‘suckers’ and ‘losers.’ It’s despicable. It’s not how I was raised, and I bet it’s not how any of you were raised either.”

Biden recounted how his mom used to always say to him, “Joey, nobody’s better than you, but everyone is your equal.” 

“Donald Trump may think there ought to be a different set of rules for him and his rich buddies: rules that let him get out of his taxes, get out of his responsibilities and get out of the consequences for every one of his mistakes,” Biden said. “I don’t. I think it’s about time we start rewarding work in this country, not wealth. I think it’s time working families get a break and the super wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share. They’re still going to be doing just fine.”

The Democratic nominee framed the race as a choice between Park Avenue and Scranton, Pa., where he grew up. “Look, I’ve dealt with guys like Trump my whole life,” Biden told the crowd. “Guys who look down on you because they’ve got a lot of money. Guys who think they’re better than you. Guys who might let you park their car at the country club – but would never let you in. Guys who inherited everything they ever got in life – then squandered it.”

Biden said he will never raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year. “Maybe you didn’t believe me that we could do it without raising taxes on the middle class, but I bet that was before you found out Donald Trump paid just $750 in income tax,” Biden said. “If Donald Trump and his Park Avenue pals start paying their fair share, we’ll have more than enough to finally build an economy that works for everyone.”

This sharpened message comes amid mounting evidence that the labor market is weakening, and the recession will probably be more painful than many still expect. “A cascade of new layoffs announced this week is putting pressure on an already strained labor market, as numerous large companies have said they plan to shed thousands of workers in the final months of 2020,” Eli Rosenberg reports. “The Labor Department on Thursday painted a grim picture of the jobs market even before these new layoffs picked up steam, saying another 837,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance were processed last week. And 650,000 people had new claims processed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for self-employed and gig workers, up slightly from 630,000 the week before. The total number of people claiming unemployment insurance ticked up slightly, to 26.5 million people for the week ending Sept. 12. … The Commerce Department on Thursday reported that personal incomes fell $543.5 billion, or 2.7 percent, in August and that disposable personal income also fell.”

Biden accused Trump of caring more about the strength of the Dow Jones Industrial Average than the numbers of jobless claims. “He doesn’t have a plan to help you get back on your feet or deliver relief to the people who most need the help,” Biden said in Johnstown. “He’s too busy planning his next big tax give away to the 100 richest folks in the country.” 

During the debate, Trump said everyone tries to pay as little in federal tax as possible “unless they are stupid.” He even tried to blame Biden for creating the tax credits not closing the loopholes in the tax code that allowed him to reduce how much he paid. “I don’t want to pay tax,” Trump said. “Like every other private person, unless they’re stupid, they go through the laws, and that’s what it is.” 

What the president did not note was that the New York Times story about the tax returns said Trump’s gargantuan business losses, among the largest of any taxpayer in America, facilitated most of his write-offs. That undercuts his self-portrayal as a business genius. 

One of the more caustic moments of the chaotic debate came when Trump, who attended the University of Pennsylvania, mocked Biden’s intellect. Speaking about the coronavirus, Biden said: “A lot more people are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker.” Trump interrupted to falsely accuse Biden of forgetting where he went to college (the University of Delaware) and to claim that he graduated the “lowest” in his class. (Records show Biden graduated 76th in a class of 85 at Syracuse Law School.)

“Did you use the word smart? Don’t ever use the word smart with me,” Trump told Biden. “Don’t ever use that word. There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”

Democratic strategist Jared Leopold, who grew up in Pennsylvania and was a senior adviser on Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign, posed a hypothetical question: “What would the coverage be if an Ivy League-educated Democrat mocked a Republican for his grades at a state school?”

More debate fallout

Trump’s belligerent debate performance stokes fears among Republicans. 

The president’s incendiary remarks on white supremacy and his baseless claims of electoral fraud had “GOP officials privately expressing alarm about the fallout with key voters as the president’s allies argued that he electrified his core supporters,” Robert Costa and Matt Viser report. “But few Republicans voiced outrage in the wake of Trump’s norm-shattering spectacle … including his statement that the extremist Proud Boys, a male-only far-right group known for street violence, should ‘stand back and stand by.’ Responses ranged from silence to muted criticism, reflecting how the GOP remains convinced that an alliance with Trump and his voters is crucial for its survival. … ‘There was fault on both sides,’ Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing a tough reelection contest, told reporters.”

Asked Wednesday about white supremacy, Trump told reporters that he had “always denounced any form of any of that.” He said he did not know who the Proud Boys were, and he tried to clarify his remarks from the previous evening: “They have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work.”

But the president’s “stand by” remark has already become a galvanizing movement for the reactionary right. “By Wednesday morning, the hashtag #WhiteSupremacy was trending on Twitter in the United States,” Derek Hawkins, Cleve Wootson Jr. and Craig Timberg report. “Trump’s comments were enshrined in memes, including one depicting Trump in one of the Proud Boys’ signature Fred Perry polo shirts. Another meme showed Trump’s ‘stand by’ quote alongside an image of bearded men carrying American flags and appearing to prepare for a fight. … One prominent Proud Boys supporter on Parler said Trump appeared to give permission for attacks on protesters, adding that ‘this makes me so happy.’ … For many members, the president’s remark was the validation they craved, quickly turning into a fundraising and recruitment drive while, experts worried, legitimizing the group’s violent tactics.”

“Trump’s debate-stage call for volunteers to stand watch at voting locations has prompted an enthusiastic response from known neo-Nazis and right-wing activists, leading many state election and law enforcement officials to prepare for voter intimidation, arrests and even violence on Election Day,” Amy Gardner, Joshua Partlow, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Josh Dawsey report. “The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee for months have promised to recruit as many as 50,000 poll watchers to monitor voting locations on Election Day. The campaign’s ‘Army for Trump’ website has contributed to that effort. … But more-extremist supporters appeared to be joining that effort Wednesday, raising the prospect for confrontation and intimidation at polling locations. ‘I got shivers,’ Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote in a post Wednesday. ‘I still have shivers. He is telling the people to stand by. As in: Get ready for war.’ …The Oath Keepers, a militia group that formed more than a decade ago that comprises current and former law enforcement and military members, also has pledged to have ‘volunteer security teams’ at Trump rallies and out on Election Day. … 

At least three Democratic attorneys general — in Massachusetts, Virginia and Nevada — have issued statements reminding the public that voter intimidation is illegal and that the law be enforced. Already, instances of suspected intimidation have popped up at early-voting locations. On Sept. 19, the second day of early voting in the Virginia suburbs of D.C., Trump supporters staged a rally outside a polling place, requiring voters to make their way past the crowd and prompting accusations of impropriety. … And in Philadelphia this week, at least one Trump supporter showed up at an election office to watch voters fill out absentee ballots and turn them in but was turned away. Trump alluded to the incident during Tuesday’s debate, falsely claiming that Philadelphia election officials were trying to hide fraud. … Earlier this year, Trump floated the idea of using law enforcement officers to patrol polling places, invoking tactics historically used to intimidate voters of color. … A federal law bars U.S. government officials from sending ‘armed men’ to the vicinity of polling places.”

  • Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature took the first step on Wednesday to create a committee that would have wide-ranging powers to investigate the vote, including the ability to subpoena election officials and members of the U.S. Postal Service while the election and vote counting are in progress. (Josh Partlow)
  • A laptop and several memory sticks used to program Philadelphia’s voting machines were stolen from an elections warehouse, officials said, setting off a scramble to ensure the machines hadn’t been compromised. It is unclear when the equipment was stolen and how. City officials vowed that the theft wouldn’t disrupt voting. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • After Trump claimed during the debate the “Portland sheriff” endorsed him, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese responded he has never supported the president and never will. (USA Today)
  • Former RNC chairman and Montana governor Marc Racicot announced he will vote for Biden. In an interview with Yellowstone Public Radio, Racicot spoke of the need for a president to have patience, decency and openness to contrary opinion, “qualities Racicot suggested are absent in the Trump administration,” the Missoulian reports.
  • “If the ‘suburban housewife’ he keeps talking about really is the whole deal, it’s hard to think [Trump] didn’t go backwards with her,” said former Tennessee Republican governor Bill Haslam. (NYT) 

The messy debate sparks calls for new rules to rein in Trump.

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would take swift action to add “additional structure” to the format of the remaining three debates to “ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly,” the group said in a statement. “The commission’s goal of tinkering with the format to produce a better result, at least for this race, faces an uphill task — namely, a president who showed himself willing to flout the existing rules and turn the debate into a street brawl,” Toluse Olorunnipa reports. “It’s not clear what kind of rule changes could be effective, given Trump’s forceful personality and his view that breaking the rules helps him appeal to his base.” 

  • The Post’s Editorial Board: “The debate was a disgrace. It showed us Trump’s assault on democracy is escalating.”
  • Conservative George Will: “For the sake of the country, cancel the remaining debates.”
  • Liberal Donna Edwards: “Cancel the remaining presidential debates. We can’t have a repeat of the first one.”

Nielsen said 64.7 million watched the debate, a decline from 84.4 million who watched the first debate in 2016. The figure may grow a bit later after smaller network counts are added in, Paul Farhi reports. The figures don’t include many millions more who streamed the debates. 

Moderator Chris Wallace called the night a “terrible missed opportunity.” The “Fox News Sunday” host said he “never dreamt” that the event “would go off the tracks the way it did”: “I guess I didn’t realize — and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 — that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate. … I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.” He told the New York Times that he flew home from Cleveland right after the debate … At the airport, he accepted a glass of champagne from Lachlan Murdoch, whose family controls the Fox Corporation, and Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News. “I didn’t feel much like celebrating,” Wallace told the Times from his home in Annapolis. “I’ve been involved in a certain amount of soul-searching.”

  • Commentators on the relentlessly pro-Trump “Fox & Friends” offered the president advice for how to perform better in Round 2. Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to George W. Bush, offered his counsel to Trump with the help of visual aids. Fleischer took out a small whiteboard on which he wrote a few remedial instructions: 1) Interrupt less. 2) Let Biden Flail. 3) Sum it up. (Farhi)
  • “Some of the most interesting reactions to Trump’s bullying behavior and Wallace’s inability to control the event came from the education world, with comparisons made between Trump’s behavior and that of kindergartners, and between Wallace’s performance and how a kindergarten teacher would have handled it,” Valerie Strauss reports.

Misinformation about Biden’s health spreads after the debate. 

A Trump campaign ad on Facebook, “which encourages people to ‘Check Joe’s Ears,’ and asked ‘Why won’t Sleepy Joe commit to an earpiece inspection,’ was viewed between 200 to 250,000 times and marketed primarily to people over 55 in Texas and Florida,” Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. On TikTok, “four grainy videos alleging that Biden was wearing a wire to ‘cheat’ during the debate racked up more than half a million combined views on Wednesday … Neither video shows any visual evidence of Biden wearing an electronic device of any kind. … Facebook said the falsehoods would undermine the legitimacy of the election, following the company’s previous announcement of a ban on new ads in the week before the election. … Twitter said it acted on a tip from the FBI to remove 130 accounts that appeared to originate in Iran and were attempting to sow disinformation during the presidential debate. … TikTok said it would remove the Biden video after being contacted by The Post.” 

  • Nearly every top post on Facebook after the debate is from a pro-Trump commentator, a major shift even from 2016. This means many Americans who primarily get their news from Facebook are living in a media ecosystem where Trump crushed Biden. (Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher) 
  • The White House is pressuring Senate Republicans on key committees to hold public hearings before the election to target social media companies. It’s working. The Senate Commerce Committee voted this morning to subpoena the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify on how they police content on their platforms, while the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a markup on new legislation aimed at addressing allegations of anti-conservative bias. (Politico)
  • Trump has been the “single largest driver” of misinformation about covid-19 on the web, according to researchers at Cornell University who analyzed 38 million articles about the pandemic in English-language media around the world. (NYT)

Some undecided voters watched the debate hoping for clarity. They got a useless mess. 

“Voters who declared themselves undecided in pre-debate interviews with The Post emerged from Tuesday’s 90-minute schoolyard melee with some more clarity about their choice, but mainly with overwhelming sadness and disappointment over the candidates’ guttersnipe manners and unseemly language,” Marc Fisher, Christine Spolar and Amy Wang report. “‘Everyone I know, liberal or conservative, was disgusted,’ said Erin Tollefsrud, a teacher in rural Minnesota who said before the debate that although she didn’t like Trump’s coarse rhetoric, she did appreciate his attention to rural America and his ability to ‘tell it like it is.’ ‘I would probably lean toward Biden now, but I wouldn’t be happy about it,’ she said. … ‘The vitriol from President Trump was unacceptable.’ … In battleground states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, undecided voters said that although neither candidate made a coherent case for how he would pull the country out of its coronavirus and economic crises, Biden seemed more eager to address Americans’ deep political divisions.”

Biden snubbed the left during the debate, but liberals held their fire because they loathe Trump.

Biden stiff-armed the Green New Deal liberal climate plan, offered a pointed reminder of his opposition to Medicare-for-all, boasted of defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders “by a whole hell of a lot” and sidestepped calls from the left to expand the Supreme Court and rejected. In Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the Democratic nominee said he has not recently spoken to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

“Biden’s debate comments, which reflected his commitment to winning over moderates in battleground states, prompted some concern among left-leaning activists, including at least one whose group reached out to his campaign to express his worries. But they were also followed by an embrace from some of the very liberal leaders Biden is keeping at arm’s length — including Ocasio-Cortez, one of the chief sponsors of the Green New Deal,” Sean Sullivan, David Weigel and Annie Linskey report. “Many do not want to be blamed for derailing his campaign, as they were in 2016.”

“Unfortunately, that’s the position we’re in right now,” said Heather Stockwell, who served as a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention and plans to vote for Biden. “We’re going at this from a medical perspective: We have to stop the bleeding and hemorrhaging right now.”

Former Trump manager Brad Parscale no longer has any job on the campaign. 

“We hope only for the best for Brad and his family,” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Josh Dawsey. Parscale was hospitalized for his own safety Sunday after allegedly threatening suicide while holding a handgun during a confrontation with his wife at his Florida home. In a statement given to Politico, Parscale’s wife denied being abused by her husband. According to a police report, Candice Parscale told multiple officers that her husband hit her and she was covered in bruises.

  • “The Trump family is worried that Parscale could turn on them and cooperate with law enforcement about possible campaign finance violations,” Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports. “The family is worried Brad will start talking,” a campaign adviser told him. Murtaugh called this story “utterly false.”
  • The Trump campaign has erased Parscale from its website. “The campaign has removed a video of Parscale from the homepage of its ‘Army for Trump’ election monitoring operation. It also deleted a page on the main campaign website featuring a video of Parscale and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and senior campaign adviser,” the Daily Beast reports.

Trump attacked Hunter Biden for his history with addiction. That could only increase stigma. 

“As saccharine as it sounds, the president of the United States is also the president of screw-ups, addicts and hopefuls like me and Hunter Biden. But Trump’s comments made clear that he believes that an addict’s actions can be used against our families to attack their character,” Eric Garcia writes for our Outlook section. “That will make us less willing to talk about our problems and get the help we need. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says explicitly that stigma can make people with substance abuse disorders less willing to seek treatment. … 

“I am sure the things Hunter did must have broken his father’s heart. I am sure they had conversations like the ones my mom had with me. So Joe Biden could have, rightly, brushed off Trump with another ‘will you shut up.’ … But instead, he met the moment head-on. ‘My son, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,’ he said — before saying that Hunter has fixed them, and then uttering the words every recovering addict wants to hear: ‘I am proud of my son.’” 

The debate stoked the perception overseas that America is in decline.

“There was a time when much of the world watched Trump’s conduct with a mix of worry and amusement, concerned about U.S. policy but content to watch the spectacle. That time has passed,” Emily Rauhala and Rick Noack report. “The global reaction … was somber and disquieted, as countries considered anew the increasingly real possibility that the U.S. president could challenge the results of November’s election, rattling the foundations of democracy and roiling the global economy. Though Trump’s presidency has been defined by moments of disruption and surprise, what unfolded Tuesday night still seemed like a turning point … 

For traditional U.S. allies, the debate was another sign that something is deeply wrong with a country and system that, while flawed, has served as a beacon for others. ‘The U.S. has always been a democratic role model,’ especially for Germany, but ‘our motherland of democracy has gone down a dangerous path,’ said Stephan Bierling, an international politics professor at the University of Regensburg in Germany … ‘That was gross,’ read the headline of an opinion piece in Canada’s Globe and Mail. … ‘Four years of Trumpism have largely contributed to weakening one of the greatest democracies in the world,’ warned an editorial in Le Monde, a French newspaper. ‘It’s a lesson for everyone else.’ … 

Views of the United States among some of its closest peers have slid to the lowest level in two decades, amid clashes with foreign partners and over the president’s handling of the pandemic. But even among U.S. critics there was a widespread assumption that American institutions would prevail. That confidence gave other countries the ability to watch the United States with a bit of a wink, treating the Trump administration as a circus that would pack up and leave town one day. As the election nears, observers in foreign capitols are less inclined to laugh.”

The coronavirus

House Democrats and the White House haven’t reached a relief aid deal.

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met Wednesday to discuss an economic-relief deal, and although they did not reach a final deal, House Democrats agreed to postpone a vote on a more partisan bill to give the bipartisan talks more time,” Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Rachael Bade report. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the sides were ‘very, very far apart,’ leaving it unclear whether any agreement struck by Pelosi and Mnuchin could pass muster with Senate Republicans.” 

  • Trump signed a spending bill early this morning that avoids a government shutdown by funding the federal government through early December. (Stein and Werner)
  • Thousands of airline employees will be furloughed starting today after congressional leaders and the White House failed to reach a relief deal. American was the first to announce its plans, saying it would begin furloughing 19,000 workers. United will furlough roughly 13,000. (Ian Duncan and Lori Aratani)

This recession is the most unequal in modern U.S. history.

“Recessions often hit poorer households harder, but this one is doing so at a scale that is the worst in generations,” Heather Long, Andrew Van Dam, Alyssa Flowers and Leslie Shapiro report. “While the nation overall has regained nearly half of the lost jobs, several key demographic groups have recovered more slowly, including mothers of school-age children, Black men, Black women, Hispanic men, Asian Americans, younger Americans (ages 25 to 34) and people without college degrees. White women, for example, have recovered 61 percent of the jobs they lost — the most of any demographic group — while Black women have recovered only 34 percent, according to Labor Department data through August. … The recession’s inequality is a reflection of the coronavirus itself, which has caused more deaths in low-income communities and severely affected jobs in restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues … Jobs in these places typically pay, on average, $17 an hour and were overwhelmingly held by women and people of color.” 

“You don’t want to cry, but sometimes you have no choice,” said James Barker, a Black handyman from Chicago who has seen his work opportunities dry up. He received his first call in months on Friday and was offered $12 an hour, half the rate he commanded pre-coronavirus. He needed the money, so he took the handyman job, which is only for a few days. “People need to know how unfair this has been,” he said.

The CDC softened a report on meatpacking risks.

“On April 22, the CDC issued a report with basic health recommendations to control the spread of the novel coronavirus at a meatpacking plant run by Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, S.D.,” Eli Rosenberg reports. “The original version of the report put forth these recommendations about worker safety, according to a copy acquired by The Post. But the final report sent to the plant included language that had been softened with qualifiers such as ‘whenever possible’ and ‘if feasible.’ The plant … was one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in the U.S. around that time. … Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and Labor say they believe political pressure from the office of CDC Director Robert Redfield explains why some of the language in the report was changed.” 

  • The CDC announced that a “no-sail order” for cruise ships will be extended through the end of October. An effort to keep the order in place through February was overruled because of political pressure and lobbying from Florida politicians. (Antonia Farzan)
  • The FDA widened its safety inquiry into the AstraZeneca vaccine. After reports that the vaccine caused a serious illness in one patient, the agency will “look at data from earlier trials of similar vaccines developed by the same scientists,” Reuters reports.
  • The CEO of Moderna said its vaccine won’t be ready until next spring. Stéphane Bancel also said the drugmaker won’t seek emergency authorization for the vaccine for frontline medical workers and other at-risk individuals until late November at the earliest, the Financial Times reports. He said Moderna won’t be ready for the FDA to approve the vaccine for use in the general public until at least late January. Then, if the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, approval is still unlikely until late March or early April.
  • The Agriculture Department began mandating that millions of boxes of surplus food sent to needy families include a letter from Trump claiming credit for the $4 billion program. Food banks and other nonprofits worry that distributing these Trump-branded boxes could be misconstrued as election activity. (Politico)
  • The Justice Department is investigating Medtronic, trying to determine whether acquisitions by the medical device maker limited competition in ventilator manufacturing. (WSJ) 
  • Mississippi – one of the last hot spots to make face coverings mandatory – appears to be the first to let its mandate lapse. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said he will continue to urge residents to wear masks in public, but he said “there is a difference between something being wise and something being a government mandate.” (Farzan)

Quote of the day

“You don’t get to go to the hospital. You don’t get to go to the morgue. And we needed something concrete to say, ‘She was here,’” said Heidi Case. Her daughter Brandi, who was 33 and pregnant, passed away from the coronavirus. (Theresa Vargas)

The new world order

As Kim Jong Un wooed Trump with “love letters,” he kept building his nuclear capability. 

“In a secret letter to Trump in December 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likened the two leaders’ budding friendship to a Hollywood romance. Future meetings with ‘Your Excellency,’ Kim wrote to Trump, would be ‘reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.’ Yet even as he penned the words, Kim was busy creating an illusion of a different kind,” Joby Warrick and Simon Denyer report. “At six of the country’s missile bases, trucks hauled rock from underground construction sites as workers dug a maze of new tunnels and bunkers, allowing North Korea to move weapons around like peas in a shell game. Southeast of the capital, meanwhile, new buildings sprouted across an industrial complex that was processing uranium for as many as 15 new bombs, according to current and former U.S. and South Korean officials, as well as a report by a United Nations panel of experts. …

While North Korea has refrained from carrying out provocative tests of its most advanced weapon systems, it never stopped working on them, U.S. intelligence officials said. Indeed, new evidence suggests that Kim took advantage of the lull by improving his ability to hide his most powerful weapons and shield them from future attacks. … For Kim’s part, the easing of tensions has opened new routes for circumventing sanctions while his factories quietly churn out more nuclear warheads and bigger missiles to carry them, current and former U.S. intelligence analysts and nuclear experts say. … The result, two years after the start of Trump’s unconventional peace overture, is a North Korea that U.S. officials say is better armed.”

A House Intelligence Committee report says China will soon eclipse the U.S. if we don’t change course.

“The document, written by Democrats on the panel, is the product of nearly a two-year investigation that began in early 2019. The report calls for ‘a significant realignment of resources,’ including a resumed focus on nonkinetic threats such as infectious diseases, climate change and technological advancements to develop an intelligence posture more responsive to the strategic and emerging threats posed by Beijing. It also calls for investing in developing the next generation of China analysts to be distributed throughout the intelligence community,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “The committee’s document does not criticize Trump, and on Tuesday, Democrats on the panel agreed, at the request of Republicans, to remove a line blaming his administration for a ‘lack of coherent response’ to the pandemic. The report does cite the pandemic as an example of how the United States’ primary focus on counterterrorism left Washington flat-footed when it came to identifying and understanding ‘soft’ threats.”

  • The pope refused to take a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Holy See said the pontiff doesn’t receive politicians during an election year. The move comes days after Pompeo, in an article, said the Catholic Church was risking its “moral authority” by renewing an agreement with China regarding the appointment of bishops. The Vatican accused Pompeo of trying to use that issue to attract voters in the U.S. election. (BBC)
  • Intelligence officials urged Trump’s spy chief not to disclose unverified Russian claims. National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe “ignored urgings from senior U.S. officials not to release information about Russian intelligence material containing unverified allegations about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Officials at the CIA and NSA … feared that sharing the information with Congress would give credence to unsubstantiated Kremlin-backed material.”
  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning. “Putin was behind the crime,” Navalny told Der Spiegel in Germany. (AP)
  • The Taliban negotiating team that will determine the future of Afghanistan in talks with the government comprises 21 men, several of whom are known for links to deadly attacks, including on civilians and Americans. The Taliban’s choice of negotiators provides a glimpse into the movement’s vision for Afghanistan’s future. (Susannah George, Aziz Tassal and Haq Nawaz Khan)
  • British opposition lawmakers expressed dismay over reports that Home Secretary Priti Patel has privately floated plans to send asylum seekers to Ascension Island, a remote British territory in the southern Atlantic. The British Home Office appears to have since scrapped plans to send asylum seekers to such far-flung locations. (Siobhán O’Grady)
  • Cuba has successfully contained a potential second surge of coronavirus infections and will lift lockdown restrictions for Havana, authorities said. With just one fatality reported for every 100,000 people — compared to more than 2,190 for every 100,000 in the United States — Cuba has fared better than many much more affluent nations, thanks party to its universal health care system. (Farzan)
  • An estimated 900 migrants in Honduras have formed a caravan and are heading north, despite the pandemic. Authorities said the migrants are on their way to Guatemala, which opened its borders two weeks ago. Many were wearing masks as they set off. (AP)

The Greenland ice sheet is on course to lose ice at its fastest rate in 12,000 years.

That’s according to a new study in the journal Nature. By 2100, the ice sheet will shrink to the size it was during the last time the world was hotter than it is today, per Andrew Freedman and Brady Dennis.

U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly, a top official at the Interior Department, has been delaying the release of a study that shows how oil and gas drilling in Alaska could encroach upon the territory of polar bears. The report examines areas that overlap with federal land that the Trump administration has opened up to oil and natural-gas development. The study has been ready for at least three months. But Reilly has questioned why it uses data collected by a former agency scientist now working for an advocacy group and why it does not count each polar bear den individually, among other things. (Juliet Eilperin and Desmond Butler)

Divided America

An appeals court upholds a lower court’s order to continue the census count. 

“A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found, 2 to 1, that blocking the ruling would allow the Census Bureau to continue winding down operations as it had started to do before a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction this month,” Tara Bahrampour reports. “The ruling comes a day after U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said she might hold the government in contempt after it suddenly announced Monday that the count would end Oct. 5, which Koh said was a violation of her preliminary injunction.”  

In 2006, Amy Coney Barrett publicly opposed abortion “from fertilization” onward.

Before she was a judge, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court “agreed to let her name appear with many of her neighbors in a newspaper insert under the statement, ‘We, the following citizens of Michiana, oppose abortion on demand and support the right to life from fertilization to natural death,’” National Review reports. “The insert was placed by St. Joseph County Right to Life. It appeared next to anti-Roe v. Wade commentary from the organization, but signatories were asked only to approve the statement. Barrett’s signature is the most direct confirmation we have received that she believes there should be limits on abortion.”

  • The Trump administration will no longer block abortion access for immigrant teens in custody. “The revised policy comes three years after the American Civil Liberties Union went to court on behalf of a pregnant 17-year-old from Central America. The lawsuit accused the government of imposing an unconstitutional abortion ban on hundreds of pregnant girls in federal custody each year,” Ann Marimow reports.

The release of grand jury proceedings in the Breonna Taylor case is postponed. 

“Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office requested a week-long extension after Jefferson County Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith ordered that his office file a recording with the court by noon Wednesday. Cameron (R) cited a need to protect witnesses by redacting personal information from the audio, which his spokeswoman said is more than 20 hours long,” Marisa Iati, Mark Berman and Hannah Knowles report. “Smith ruled that the attorney general’s office could have until noon Friday to upload the recording, Cameron spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said.”

  • Department of Homeland Security officials were directed to make public comments sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., according to documents obtained by NBC News. The talking points suggest that officials say that Rittenhouse “took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners.” 
  • “A two-page White House memo that directed federal agencies to halt ‘un-American’ and ‘divisive’ employee training has led to widening confusion and cancellations across the government, as stumped officials are unsure how to respond but fearful of backlash from Trump,” Yeganeh Torbati, Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein and Dawsey report. Trump said at the debate that he ended racial sensitivity training because “a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane.” Biden said Trump did so because “he’s a racist.”

Social media speed read

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Barrett greeted each other from a distance, but neither wore a mask, as the judge continued to make her rounds on the Hill:

Obama scored an online seat for the NBA Finals: 

And please enjoy this scene from the National Zoo’s Panda Cam: 

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers dissected Trump’s debate performance:

So did Stephen Colbert: 

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